Kasabian singer, Tom Meighan, was yesterday sentenced to 200 hours of community service for a sustained physical attack on his girlfriend. The judge commented that “I could have sent you to prison.” Why on earth didn’t he?
Meighan’s actions should have qualified for the most serious category of assault. The attack was sustained over a period of time until the police arrived, and the fact that he tried to strangle his girlfriend means that there was clear evidence of intention to cause greater harm. There were plenty of aggravating factors too, yet, somehow, he skipped prison, sending a message to the millions of women who experience domestic abuse every year that these crimes against us are not serious.
The music industry has long had intersecting problems with drug and alcohol abuse and violence, propped up by the damaging but enduring template of a Rock God (next time you sing along to Delilah or Hey Joe, consider for a moment the words beneath the song). Unlike other industries, it is yet to have its #MeToo reckoning and there are elements of this case that might explain why.
In his sentencing decision, the judge noted that the publicity that the case would invariably attract was “added punishment.” What he failed to see is that Meighan’s fame, wealth and power are part of the unequal context in which the abuse took place – and if reputational damage is a mitigating factor, then surely powerful men will always get away with domestic violence?
Other mitigating factors were that Meighan does a bit of charity work from time to time, and that he accepted responsibility for his crime at the earliest opportunity. Well, not quite. He denied it until he sobered up and saw the CCTV footage and, according to former bandmates, who until yesterday were still describing his departure as a struggle with “personal issues”, he misled fans by choosing not to tell them what he had done. Instead, he thanked them for their love and support and promised he’d see them very soon. That doesn’t exactly scream remorse to me.
Something that was not a mitigating factor was his girlfriend’s decision not to support the prosecution. The judge was very clear that he could draw no inference from her decision and that it should not mean the crime is treated any less seriously. This might seem odd, but it is one of the things our justice system has right when it comes to domestic violence. Victimless prosecutions, as they are unhelpfully misnamed, recognise that the controlling nature of domestic abuse can make it really hard for a victim to testify, and that the prosecutor has a responsibility to consider the public interest. There is no doubt in my mind, therefore, that the sentencing in this case was too lenient.
The coronavirus pandemic has seen a surge in reported domestic abuse cases, which has shifted public consciousness because people are finally able to imagine what it would be like to be trapped at home with an abuser. As we emerge from lockdown, it is vital that women are able to trust the criminal justice system to take these crimes seriously – as things stand, most of these cases never even reach court. According to the CPS’ own figures, last year there was a 15% drop in prosecutions across domestic abuse and sexual offences. The whole system is letting women down, which is why the Women’s Equality Party is calling for a root-and-branch review of how the Criminal Justice System handles cases involving violence against women.
Despite this, there is hope: this week the Domestic Abuse Bill finally passed into law and buried in the detail of the text was a clause that may have significantly changed the outcome of this case. Thanks to survivors and campaigners, non-fatal strangulation will carry a separate and more serious charge in recognition of the fact that strangulation is the second most common cause of death in domestic violence cases. I only wish it had come sooner.
Mandu Reid is leader of the Women’s Equality Party.