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Jackson Innocent - Hope For Benson-Pope?

Jackson Innocent - Hope For Benson-Pope?

By Lyndon Hood

David Benson-Pope
Jury Still Out Michael Jackson In
An Assertive Moment
Could lessons from the Jackson trial be applied to the Benson-Pope case?

Earlier today, in a California courtroom, the jury in Michael Jackson's child abuse trial returned verdicts of not guilty on all charges. This has reinforced my belief that celebrity cases involving the mistreatment of children are best tried by the media.

Much like those involving the mistreatment of pets.

In the system I propose, the case of either side would be presented in a simplified manner, explained by arbiters who barely understand the issues themselves, and manipulated by supporters of either side as best they are able. If the opinion the public forms is unclear, the issue could I suppose be put to some kind of vote.

This method, which works so well for celebrity dancing competitions and general elections, is surely sufficiently robust to deal with a mere act of criminal depravity.

However, one point raised by the Jackson trial's jury and, more close to home, by the Schapelle Corby case's whole population of Australia, has yet to be properly absorbed by the New Zealand media.

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At some point we must face the fact that the public, or a sample of its members, can on rare occasions find an accused person to be not guilty.

This is of course at odds with all a journalist's instincts and experience. All the more so due to the additional complications in the case of Mr Benson-Pope.

Pundits are so used to the rule against the issuing of blanket denials by politicians - so aware of the perils of denying everything - that it results in a kind of trained reflex; anyone issuing a straightforward declaration that an accusation is entirely untrue is naturally considered to have just got themselves into serious trouble.

If we add to this the fact that he has the support of his colleagues, the conclusion of guilt seems inescapable.

Yet in the case of Mr Jackson we have an instance that flies in the face of this logical necessity. If there is a lesson to be learned here, how does it apply to New Zealand's own celebrity villian?

It hardly bears thinking about. We may be forced to admit that, despite the obvious ulterior motives of those who made the accusations public, despite a wealth of support from former students and fellow-teachers, despite even his comprehensive and unambiguous public denial of any wrongdoing, David Benson-Pope may nonetheless be innocent.

There is some consolation to be had. The tennis ball thing is just so straightforwardly amusing that mention of Benson-Pope will give rise to images of sports-equipment for years after the story loses its legs. And, of course, newspaper cartoonists would keep drawing him with the mad stare of a slathering attack dog even if he were somehow conclusively proven innocent.

And indeed, the saga need not begin and end with the veracity of the accusations. There are many controversial questions yet to be asked. It is still unclear, for example, whether section 59 of the Crimes Act permits Rodney Hide to keep flogging a dead horse. And, of course, there is the increasing likelihood that a tit-for-tat privileges complaint will be laid against Mr Hide, for implying in the house that the ACT party is likely to be in Parliament after the next election.

Despite what some people might have you believe, the jury is still out.



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