Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Wednesday, 4 July 2007 15:41 UK

'Extreme' porn proposals spark row

By Chris Summers
BBC News

A man addicted to violent porn websites has been convicted for the second time of murdering a teacher.

Legislation to ban such sites is going through Parliament, but a small group of otherwise law-abiding people say the changes will criminalise them.

Graham Coutts in interview room
Coutts lied throughout police interviews and two trials

Jane Longhurst's killer Graham Coutts admitted he was addicted to violent pornography websites.

The 39-year-old musician had downloaded hundreds of images of women being raped and strangled as well as pictures purporting to show necrophilia.

Coutts was found guilty of murder in 2004 but the conviction was quashed on a technicality.

'Acting out a fantasy'

His second trial at the Old Bailey, which jailed him for life, heard he was a regular visitor to websites depicting extreme material.

He accessed these sites only hours before killing Miss Longhurst and again in the weeks that he kept her body in a self-storage facility in Brighton.

Jane Longhurst
Jane would still be here if it wasn't for the internet
Malcolm Sentance, boyfriend

His barrister, Christopher Sallon QC, asked him at one point: "The suggestion is you were acting out a fantasy from a pornographic image that you accessed with the internet? Were you charged up and sexually aroused by Jane Longhurst, dead, with a ligature on?"

Coutts denied it. But then he had lied about so much else, including his claim she had agreed to sex on the day she disappeared and acquiesced when he suggested a sex game involving her being partially strangled with a pair of tights.

After the original trial Miss Longhurst's mother, Liz, organised a petition of 50,000 people and succeeded in persuading the home secretary to introduce legislation banning the downloading and possession of violent or "extreme" pornography.

The current fears around the possible impact of 'violent pornography' on the internet seem very similar to previous 'moral panics'
Dr Meg Barker

She said: "I feel pressure should be brought to bear on internet service providers (ISPs) to close down or filter out these pornographic sites, so that people like Jane's killer may no longer feed their sick imaginations and do harm to others."

Ms Longhurst's former partner Malcolm Sentance said at the time: "Jane would still be here if it wasn't for the internet."

The ban was included in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, details of which were announced by the government last week.

The Bill has yet to be debated by Parliament but there is growing opposition to the clause among a small but vociferous community who say they will be criminalised.

The community, comprising people involved in bondage, domination and sado-masochism (BDSM), has organised a petition against the new legislation, which 1,800 people have signed.

Deborah Hyde, of the pressure group Backlash, argues that perverted predators like Coutts will always exist and no amount of "kneejerk" legislation would prevent them from killing.

'Not good law'

She said the vast majority of BDSM people believed in consensual activities and would not wish to inflict actual harm on their partners. They did not want to view snuff movies or actual cruelty but would be criminalised for watching pornography which was acted out by actors.

Ms Hyde said the government had already widened the description of "extreme" pornography to include some gay porn.

She said: "The government is trying to put us in the same category as rapists, murderers and paedophiles.

"I want to make the world a safer place but this law will not help. It is not good law and it is being rushed through. There is a lot of research which says that giving access to this sort of material actually reduces crimes against women."

Liz Longhurst, mother of Jane
Liz Longhurst does not want another family to suffer as she has

Helen and John, who live in the Midlands, are opposed to the legislation. They say they are in a loving relationship which just happens to involve domination and submissiveness.

Helen said the government was overreacting to the Jane Longhurst case: "The supply of BDSM stuff has gone up hugely but there is no killing spree. If all this violent pornography is causing people to go psycho where are all the damaged people?

"Do you ban alcohol just because some people are alcoholics?"

Dr Meg Barker, a senior lecturer in psychology at London South Bank University, said: "The current fears around the possible impact of 'violent pornography' on the internet seem very similar to previous 'moral panics' there have been from penny dreadfuls in Victorian times, to horror comics in the 1950s, to video nasties in the 1980s."

"Images of consensual, or fictitious, acts between adults should not be criminalised," she said, adding that there was evidence that "kinky" and S&M activities were on the increase among "normal" heterosexual couples.

But Labour MP Martin Salter, who has worked closely with Mrs Longhurst in pushing the legislation, rejected the BDSM community's claims their civil liberties were being undermined.

'Unbalanced mind'

He said: "No-one is stopping people doing weird stuff to each other but they would be strongly advised not to put it on the internet.

"At the end of the day it is all too easy for this stuff to trigger an unbalanced mind."

A man looks at mainstream pornographic DVDs
The legislation is designed to tackle porn in the internet age

Mr Salter, MP for Reading West, said: "These snuff movies and other stuff are seriously disturbing. Many police officers who have to view it as part of their job have to undergo psychological counselling."

He insisted the law did not ban anything which was not already illegal under the Obscene Publications Act.

"It simply plugs a hole in the law because the Obscene Publications Act is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard as far as the internet is concerned. This new law is designed to meet the challenge of the internet."

But Ms Hyde said the Obscene Publications Act targeted the producers while the new act would criminalise the consumers.

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