TV Licensing's Ian Doyle.
A Crown Court Judge has quashed the conviction of one of Britain's most outspoken opponents of TV Licensing, leaving serious questions hanging over the courtroom conduct of the errant organisation.
TV Licensing is a trading named used by the companies that enforce and administer the TV licence fee on behalf of the statutory Licensing Authority, the BBC. Capita Business Services Ltd. holds the TV Licensing field operations contract and employ TV Licensing visiting officers like the one pictured above. It is important to note that the BBC, as Licensing Authority, is ultimately responsible for all matters relating to TV Licensing, which includes the malicious proceedings mentioned in this article.
Michael Shakespeare, 54, from the leafy suburbs of Essex, has been a thorn in the side of TV Licensing for more than three decades. Like tens of thousands of others across Britain he has adopted a lifestyle where he has no legal need for a TV licence. He objects strongly to TV Licensing's oppressive methods of enquiry, but whereas other innocents have submitted to TV Licensing after years of attrition Shakespeare has stood resolute in opposing their coercive tactics.
Shakespeare's obstinance set him on an unavoidable collision course with TV Licensing. Only now, with a recent hearing at Basildon Crown Court (case no. A200110181) having quashed his wrongful conviction for licence fee evasion, can we reveal just how low TV Licensing are prepared to stoop in revenge against their opponents.
Like many of the legally licence free Shakespeare was incensed at TV Licensing's arrogant persistence in sending him monthly threatograms. Every month he'd put the letters, which are daubed with accusatory red print and riddled with legal half-truths, in the bin where they belong. He also objected to TV Licensing visiting his property, so he exercised his lawful right to film their employees as they landed on his doorstep. He uploaded the videos to YouTube in an effort to educate others in a similar position. The mystique of some of TV Licensing's innermost workings were exposed for public scrutiny and they did not like this one bit. TV Licensing squirmed under the public spotlight, thousands of YouTube visitors pouring scorn on the voyeuristic tendencies of their inadequate employees.
Eventually, after years of TV Licensing water torture, Shakespeare decided to allow them access to his home to confirm once and for all that his equipment could not receive/record a live TV signal. In his invitation he made it quite clear that if TV Licensing were to accept his offer their employees would be filmed as they nosed about.
TV Licensing accepted those terms by sending a visiting officer by the name of Ian Doyle to Shakespeare's home. We wrote about Doyle's visit shortly after it occurred, saying: "Evidently proficient at his job, he went to the trouble of scrolling through every TV channel to check there was no reception. There was nothing. The marvels of digital TV mean that television reception is now an all or nothing game, with even the slightest detuning erasing all trace of a picture". True to his word Shakespeare filmed Doyle's visit and uploaded it to YouTube. This was when things began to get interesting.
As our article at the time suggested Doyle didn't appear to find any incriminating evidence during his visit to Shakespeare's home. The video showed Doyle systematically checking each TV set with negative results for a live signal. Doyle said nothing in the audio of that video that suggested evidence of live TV reception. It now transpires, according to testimony at the recent appeal hearing, that Doyle went as far as reassuring Shakespeare that his search had uncovered no evidence of unlicensed TV use.
Despite this TV Licensing decided to summon Shakespeare for an offence under section 363 of the Communications Act 2003 - namely that he had used/installed equipment to receive live TV programmes without a licence.
News of the summons came as an understandable shock to Shakespeare, who had been reassured by Doyle that there was no evidence against him.
It would appear TV Licensing were dissatisfied with the outcome of Doyle's search, so vexatiously sought alternative evidence against their opponent. Scratching around in the dirt they became aware of the existence of video footage of Doyle's search on YouTube. They analysed the footage closely, picking over every minute detail in the hope they would find the nugget of evidence that Doyle had missed.
TV Licensing went to the extraordinary lengths of downloading Shakespeare's own video from YouTube and presenting it as prosecution evidence against him. Below is the copy of the video that Capita submitted at the initial Magistrates Court trial.
The pivotal piece of evidence, according to TV Licensing, was the frozen TV image at 1:10 in the video. TV Licensing alleged that the image was frozen because Shakespeare, with foresight the envy of professional astrologists, cut the aerial lead the moment he heard TV Licensing man Doyle ring the doorbell. According to TV Licensing he had been watching BBC One's The One Show without a licence just moments earlier.
The Magistrates were obviously convinced by TV Licensing's account of events because they convicted Shakespeare on the basis of it.
But something didn't quite add up, hence Shakespeare's determination to be heard in a higher court. There is the distinct impression that Magistrates are so unaware of the finer intricacies of TV licence law that they consider TV Licensing's evidence as sacrosanct. The Crown Court is more legally aware and robust in its analysis.
I am not going to type much more, because the BBC and Capita's lawyers are undoubtedly picking over my words despite this entire story having been played out in the public domain. What I will do, to cut to the epilogue, is draw your attention to this thread that mysteriously appeared on the TV Licence Resistance forum shortly after Shakespeare's conviction was quashed on appeal.
It was purportedly started by Garth Hannaford, who is a solicitor working for Capita in relation to their TV Licensing enforcement work. We don't think it really was started by him, but by someone else who wanted to leak the outcome of Shakespeare's appeal for their own purposes.
Whether their intentions were honourable or not the genie is well and truly out of the bottle, exposing in glorious Technicolor their account of TV Licensing's conduct. Having spoken to the people involved we know that this account is a very accurate reflection of how holes were picked in TV Licensing's video evidence.
Shakespeare has now published details of his appeal success on the BBC Resistance forums. A copy of his McKenzie friend's notes, in case they are expunged from the forum, are available to download here. These notes are a contemporaneous account of the Judge's summing up and ruling in the case.
We might never know the full story of how TV Licensing callously persecuted an innocent man in the sanctity of his own home. What we do know is their evidence was so unconvincing that it left a Crown Court Judge with no option but to uphold Shakespeare's appeal and quash his conviction.
That much is beyond dispute.
Edit (12/8/12): Michael's case has made his local newspaper.
Edit (7/7/13): Just tying up lose ends by linking this BBC FOIA disclosure document to the Shakespeare case. Page 11 features an email from the BBC to Capita's Garth Hannaford which is a very interesting read, not least because it confirms the fact TV Licensing were concerned about publicity surrounding the case.