Women demonstrated outside the BBC after the broadcaster refused to withdraw a new reality TV show which they claimed gratuitously depicted a rape trial for no other reason than to get big viewing figures.
The Verdict, aired over four nights, included a so-called celebrity jury. Among the 12 were ex-Eastenders star Patsy Palmer, discredited Tory ex-MP Michael Portillo, convicted perjurer Jeffrey Archer and sleazy former England footballer Stan Collymore, who made headlines in 1998 when he publicly assaulted his then partner Ulrika Jonsson in a bar in Paris during the World Cup. Collymore was also charged with threatening to kill his estranged wife, Estelle, in 2004. Jonsson described him as a monster in her autobiography Honest.
Sarah Maguire, who works for Justice For Women, an organisation that campaigns for women they believe have suffered injustices at the hand of the criminal system, said that the BBC were simply battling the ratings war with a deliberate misfit concoction of jurors and headline-grabbing controversy. Regarding Collymore's comment that a five per cent conviction rate for rape is 'too high', she said: "We did not have to sit through five hours of this to have it confirmed he has the mentality of a wife-beater."
The women who protested outside the BBC saw the programme as, even for reality TV shows, scraping the bottom of the sensationalist barrel. One demonstrator, Cheryl Stafford, said: "We formally lodged a complaint in person and again asked the BBC to withdraw The Verdict. But, they have chosen to go ahead and further trivialise the trauma that rape victims undergo. For victims of rape, justice is very rare indeed and the conviction rate continues to fall."
The BBC defended their decision to broadcast by stating that the programme was designed to educate and create a forum for debate. The producer Stephen Lambert told The Guardian: "There's a major issue about rape trials: why are there so few convictions? Barristers, and I guess the rest of us, really want to have an insight into how juries make up their mind in such cases."
But Sarah Maguire rejected this claim. She said: "The inevitable outcome is that any woman watching who has been the victim of rape will be deterred from taking a case forward."