Sufficient evidence to prosecute but not to convict. Doug Richard walks a free man.

 

Isn’t it funny how numbers make all the difference? If a girl is 16 and has sex with a 56-year-old it’s a bit iffy, but her choice after all. If she is 13, and has sex with that same 56-year-old, it’s morally abhorrent and he’s a paedophile. But wait: what if the 56-year-old apologetically claims ignorance? He just couldn’t know that she was at least three years younger than what is deemed legal for sexual liaisons. Then, at least in this case, he gets off scot-free and she is no more than a little ‘Lolita’.

On Friday, the 29th of January the American entrepreneur and millionaire, Doug Richard was officially cleared of all charges pertaining to sex with a minor, including causing and inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. He was acquitted by a jury of eight women and four men who took four hours and fifteen minutes to deliberate over the verdict at the Old Bailey Court.

This is certainly wonderful news for Mr Richard, who allegedly cried after hearing the ‘not guilty’ outcome; not such good news for the mother of the 13-year-old who is reported to have said: ‘We are all devastated’, ‘… I don’t trust anyone now. It has been distressing’.

During the five-day trial the unsavoury details of Mr Richard’s and the 13-year-old’s relations came up for scrutiny. At least the following is known: they met at an adult ‘Seeking Arrangement’ website where Doug Richard posed as a ‘Sugar Daddy’ and the young girl offered herself as a ‘Sugar Baby’. The site’s premise is that successful, handsome men find confident good-looking women who want to experience the ‘finer things in life’. Arrangements were then made in January, 2015 to meet the 13-year-old together with her 15-year-old friend at Liverpool Street station, and after coffee the teenagers agreed to go to a £149 per night London apartment. Once there, having gained consent from the 13-year-old, Mr Richard proceeded to engage in various sexual acts with her, including sexual intercourse. Each girl then received £60 in cash which the defendant referred to as a ‘gift’.

Two things are certain here: that sexual activity took place and that it was illegal. A law has been broken and yet our legal system has proved impotent to do anything about it. This makes me think of something that Nabokov’s Lolita indirectly addressed. To those unfamiliar with the 1955 novel, it tells the tragic tale of the destructive passion, and even love, of a man in his late thirties towards a girl of 12 years.

At the time of publication it was a piece of sensationalisms, with many thinking it to be a Marquis de Sade-style work of obscenity. This it was not. Nabokov’s inspiration for writing the novel was far nobler. It developed out of what he perceived to be a social problem plaguing American society though he never meant for the story to be taken as a literal account of American life. That problem is partly suggested in the book’s prologue and is best quoted:

‘ … and still more important to us … is the ethical impact the book should have on the serious reader; for in this poignant personal study there lurks a general lesson; the wayward child, the egotistic mother, the panting maniac — these are not only vivid characters in a unique story: they warn us of dangerous trends; they point out potent evils “Lolita” should make all of us — parents, social workers, educators — apply ourselves with still greater vigilance and vision to the task of bringing up a better generation in a safer world’ — Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita.

Now, I do not mean to suggest that Doug Richard is Nabokov’s nymphet-loving Humbert. But what is clear is that something has gone awfully wrong when a 56-year-old man can have sex with a 13-year-old girl and when that same girl can have access of this nature to a grown man. There are also details about this particular case that simply raise incredulity. For instance, the fact that on hearing the girl’s age Mr Richard is quoted as saying, ‘Under 16, wow’ — and this despite having seen her delicate 5ft under 6 stone frame.

Who is to blame here? The adult male ‘… looking for role play and fantasy relationships involving submission’, the mislead child, or perhaps her family? It is impossible to answer this without going into conjecture. Clear enough, there was simply insufficient evidence to prove that Doug Richard could have suspected the girl to be underage; these things usually cannot be proven without having access to a person’s mind. She may have looked child-like but in a court, mays, ifs and maybes just don’t cut it: you need tangible proof.

Regardless of the particulars that led to Friday’s acquittal, cases like these cannot be ignored. The law must protect those who are vulnerable, even if they do not seek its protection. It must serve as an example of higher morality when conscience and reason fail. In the present matter, it has shown itself to exist as a mere technical apparatus for when the evidence fits — and this is dangerous. Today it was a consenting nubile 13-year-old, tomorrow something far worse; and every time, the corridor of justice needed for a better society gets narrower.