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1982: Judge halts 'obscenity' trial
Charges of gross indecency brought by Mary Whitehouse against a National Theatre director ended today after intervention by the Attorney-General - with both sides claiming victory.

Moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse had brought the private prosecution against director Michael Bogdanov over the play Romans in Britain, which features a male rape scene, under the Sexual Offences Act 1956.

A senior Treasury counsel, representing Attorney General Sir Michael Havers, appeared in court to end the case immediately after the prosecution withdrew its evidence.

Important legal point

It is understood Sir Michael took the decision because it was no longer in the public interest to pursue the hearing at the Central Criminal Court.

    On the third day of the trial the judge had made three rulings:
  • the Sexual Offences Act could be applied to events on the stage
  • a simulated sexual act could still amount to gross indecency
  • the motive of "sexual gratification" did not have to be proved for the offence to stand.

Mrs Whitehouse is said to have withdrawn the case because she had proved an important legal point.

But Mr Bogdanov, 43, who faced up to two years in prison if convicted under the Act, said the case had been withdrawn because Mrs Whitehouse, who has never seen the production, knew a jury would not rule in her favour.

He had denied being party to a simulated act of male homosexual rape during the play and said he had suffered a great deal of stress since the prosecution was first brought about 18 months ago.

The landmark case drew fears in arts circles that a victory for Mrs Whitehouse could lead to a return to severe censorship on productions or alternatively cause constant fear of prosecution amid artists and performers.

The case centred on a scene in Romans in Britain in which a young celt, who is also a trained Druid priest, is the subject of attempted buggery by a Roman soldier.

The play ran at the Olivier Theatre during the autumn and winter of 1980 and met with varied reviews.

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Mary Whitehouse
Mrs Whitehouse said she was safeguarding morality


In Context
The case caused a furore in the media and amongst the public who were shocked by Mrs Whitehouse's bold attack on a play and its possible implications.

Mrs Whitehouse said she was safeguarding morality in society but her case was seen as unnecessary meddling because the production had been billed as an 'adult play'.

Despite constant ridicule, Mrs Whitehouse pursued unwavering campaigns to limit sex in broadcasting.

She took on further prosecutions against a range of corporations and people.

Although largely perceived as a 'spoilsport' her moral crusade made her a household name in an increasingly open society.

Mrs Whitehouse died aged 91 after a long illness in November 2001.

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