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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 May, 2003, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
Caution lifts clouds over Townshend
By Dominic Bailey
BBC News Online

The police caution for musician Pete Townshend is a chance to put the episode of paedophile allegations, headlines, public scrutiny and uncertainty behind him.

Admitting to accessing a child porn website for research has left a black mark on the glittering career of a surviving rock legend.

Pete Townshend
Pete Townshend received a police caution

It also means the former guitarist with rock band The Who will be placed on the Sex Offenders Register for five years.

The episode may even boost sales for the autobiography he said the research was for, but whether the public will forgive his indiscretion only time will tell.

Mr Townshend, who has always shied from press interviews, was thrown back into the media spotlight in January this year.

A newspaper claimed a British musician was among people identified by US detectives investigating a pay-per-view child pornography web site and The Who guitarist's name was quickly put to the story.

Arrest

Police in the UK and United States have been working together to track down paedophiles using child porn sites on the internet.

The investigation, called Operation Ore in the UK, has resulted in the arrest of more than 1,600 people and thousands of other names are being investigated.

Celebrity suspects or people such as teachers and care workers exposed as being on the list inevitably attract press coverage.

I was worried this might happen and I think this could be the most damaging thing to my career
Pete Townshend

Mr Townshend decided to act before he had even been visited by the police.

He released a statement saying: "I am not a paedophile. I think paedophilia is appalling.

"To fight against paedophilia, you have to know what's out there."

He said he had already been in contact with the police but had not had a reply.

Officers duly arrived at the star's house in Richmond, Surrey, on 13 January and seized computers.

Witch-hunt

He was arrested and interviewed at Twickenham police station before being released on police bail.

The sparse, shock headlines conjured comparisons with shamed contemporaries from the 60s and 70s pop world - rock star Gary Glitter, who was jailed for child porn offences, and impresario Jonathan King, still serving a sentence for child abuse.

The Who and Pete Townshend (R)
Pete Townshend and The Who are considered rock legends

But show business friends rallied around Mr Townshend.

The Who's frontman Roger Daltrey said he thought there had been a "witch-hunt" and added: "I think he is telling the truth."

Model and actress Jerry Hall and DJ Paul Gambaccini also defended the musician.

The coverage and speculation about Mr Townshend, his career and whether he could be guilty continued throughout the week and into the weekend papers.

Lyrics, songs, his musical Tommy and other projects were scrutinised.

Even Mr Townshend himself, in his statement, said he had half expected the attention.

Damaging

He said he had been writing his childhood autobiography for past seven years.

"I believe I was sexually abused between the age of five and six-and-a-half when in the care of my maternal grandmother who was mentally ill at the time.

computer
Police are investigating hundreds of suspected porn users

"I cannot remember clearly what happened, but my creative work tends to throw up nasty shadows - particularly in Tommy."

But he added: "I was worried this might happen and I think this could be the most damaging thing to my career."

Four months on, when the arrest had slipped from the minds of most people, the police caution brings the episode to a partial close.

His arrest has briefly shone a light on the issues of child abuse and its legacy, the cruelty of child pornography and the dangers of accessing such pornography on the internet - even for research purposes.

Whether Mr Townshend's celebrity status is enough for him to weather the storm remains to be seen.

But his autobiography, whenever it may appear, has certainly had most unconventional publicity.




SEE ALSO:
Townshend victim of 'witch-hunt'
11 Feb 03  |  UK News
Who star Townshend bailed
14 Jan 03  |  UK News
Townshend 'wrong' over child porn
12 Jan 03  |  UK News


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