Too close for comfort: The sex trial of a reality tv star

7 Feb
Reality tv star and singer Jeff Anderson, performing in 2013.  Image © Robert JE Simpson.

Reality tv star and singer Jeff Anderson, performing in 2013.
Image © Robert JE Simpson.

Over the last few years we’ve become used to reevaluating childhood heroes as ongoing revelations of sex scandals rock iconic British entertainers. While the majority of us accept that the behaviors were wrong, there’s a temptation to dampen the impact with an acceptance that culture was different in the 60s and 70s. But for the most we’re at a distance – shocked but not directly affected.

Wednesday started oddly. Switching on my social media platforms I was presented with a link: “The Voice contestant Jeff Anderson charged in Downpatrick Court with 15 sexual offences“. Clicking on through I found myself somewhat agog at the list of offences, the result of a two-year investigation by police.

Not that a minor celebrity being accused of sexual crimes is anything new or particularly surprising, but this one struck a nerve because I’ve met Jeff and know him slightly. In fact he’s a friend of the family, and at one point a regular visitor to our house. My brother was drummer in a band with him. I’ve photographed him, filmed him, sat with him at dinner at family events. I’d even been talking with someone else in media circles about collaborating on a filmed project that would highlight Jeff and the band as it was pre-2013. For the first time I find myself taken back by the media reportage.

Seeing someone you know being hauled before the authorities like this is strange. The vitriol and comment freely made online (often uninformed) can be hard reading. Its like an out-of-body experience at times. The press is limited by law with regards what it can report. The general public doesn’t understand this, and in between wide speculations, fire insults and further accusations without any consideration for the wheels of justice. No matter how hard you look, you struggle to find someone going on record defending him (even though we live in a ‘innocent until proven guilty’ society). But there’s plenty of vocalised assumption that if an accusation is made then it must be true.

I last saw Jeff a year or so ago in a shop in Belfast’s Botanic – I popped him a tweet but didn’t hear back. Our last proper conversation would have been summer 2013. I’m not entirely sure when I first met him, several years prior to that I guess. In all that time on a personal level, I found him to be pleasant, a bit quiet, but friendly and polite. He’d had some success as a contestant on ITV’s Superstar series (causing the band to go on hiatus for a period), and coming back from that with ego suitably inflated, I can understand what people didn’t like about him, but overall no worse than many in this industry.

One has to separate one’s knowledge of the person and/or their work and the gravitas of the accusations in a case like this. No matter how likeable I found him in person, the charges all centre around a lack of consent, and as someone who has been at the wrong end of sexual abuse myself I cannot condone such behaviour, and I cannot help but view the charges through the tainted eyes of one who knows how difficult it is to take a stand against an abuser. In other words, on a personal level I’m not merely disappointed, but shocked and horrified. One strongly suspects that if the charges are only being made public now following a 2 year investigation then the PSNI (the Northern Irish Police) must have a decent body of evidence with which to proceed.

The list of charges as detailed here are:

  • Theft of photographs belonging to a female, June 2011.
  • Possession of an indecent photo or pseudo-photograph of a child, September 22, 2013.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between August 2005 and March 2007.
  • Indecent assault on a female child between August 1, 2005 and March 31, 2007.
  • Possession of an indecent photo or pseudo-photograph of a child on September 22, 2013.
  • Possession of an indecent photo or pseudo-photograph of a child on September 22, 2013.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between April 1, 2006 and May 31, 2006.
  • Indecent assault on a female child between April 1, 2006 and May 31, 2006.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between January 1, 2010 and December 30, 2010.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between January 1, 2010 and December 30, 2010.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between January 1, 2012 and April 1, 2012.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between May 2011 and February 2012.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between May 2011 and May 2013.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between November 1, 2011 and November 30, 2011.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between February 2011 and August 2013.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between December 15, 2012 and March 30, 2013.

Anderson is now 25 years of age. The charges date back to 2005 when he would have been 15.  Reading through the charges several make mention of voyeurism and assault on children. The charges relating to 2005-2007 presumably then involve minors at a time when Anderson himself was close in age or a minor himself. This doesn’t diminish the seriousness of the charge, but may indicate a slight muddying of the waters. This isn’t an instance of a 50 year old radio DJ preying on a 14 year old for sexual favours. We have yet to be given exact details of the crime of which he is accused, but its worth stressing that mention of ‘child’ in the charges doesn’t necessarily indicate a paedophilic element – an association we’ve come to expect from the Operation Yewtree investigations and which some media outlets have implicated in their use of ‘Child Sex’.

Its clear that there are multiple charges of voyeurism – that is taking pictures or videos of others without their knowledge. The charges cover the entire period of 2005-2013. The ages of the other parties are not given, nor is any further detail at this stage. The timescale involved means its impossible to view everything with any sort of excuse for the excess of youth. A man in his 20s cannot ignore the importance of consent.

Thankfully this is now in the hands of the PSNI and the courts, and he will be tried according to the evidence – not public opinion – and we have to put our faith in the justice system to handle him appropriately. With this there is also a responsibility to be careful what is posted on social media. A quick dig around over the last few days has uncovered further allegations and reading between the lines, alongside snide commentary which prejudges and potentially prejudices the case. Anyone who is part of the investigation or was in court needs to be particularly careful. Those who are privy to further information need to pass this on to the authorities and not broadcast accusations on social media, as sympathetic as I may feel to their frustration.

There may be other victims too who wish to make additional claims, and its vital that these are done through proper channels. It is incredibly difficult to put oneself forward in a prosecution like this, but the existing case may give extra comfort and support to anyone in that position. If you have further information that might be relevant to the case, get in touch with the PSNI.

Anderson it was reported, was driven off from court in a Jaguar – a comment I took to be an inference to his/his family’s affluence, and a subtle way to present him as unlikeable. That and mention of his beard – a needless reference considering every photo used in the stories includes his beard. Much is also made of his appearance on BBC’s The Voice, no doubt reminding readers of the ongoing sex scandals dating back as far as the 1960s featuring men employed by (but not only by) the BBC. Jeff appeared in one episode of the BBC1 show during the auditions, but didn’t get picked. His CV includes work as an extra on Series 2 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and more notably ITV’s Superstar (2012) in which he made it through to Night 6 of the finals before going on to serve as understudy in the UK tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. He’s been involved in musical theatre and flitting between London and Ireland since then. The BBC end of things really is small in terms of his recognition and CV.

According to the reports in the press, he has been allowed to travel to London and Ireland while searching for work.  It remains to be seen how the entertainment industry greets someone awaiting trial for a string of sexual crimes.

Since news of the charges went public Anderson has removed most of his web presence. His Twitter has been deactivated, plus his Facebook and website. Other online presences haven’t been updated in some time. I’m not providing links as I don’t want to encourage harassment. Several members of his old band are on record as having not been involved with him in some time, and have stressed the importance of taking information to the police.

There will be those of course who don’t believe the charges, or won’t believe all of them. Those who know the man personally may find it difficult to equate the person they know to the person painted by the newspaper articles. There will be others who choose to say nothing. Silence is not something which should be punished – nobody has an obligation to express their opinions in public. I considered staying completely silent myself, but with previous blog posts relating to similar cases, and my own experiences of abuse, it would be an obvious omission if I didn’t raise the case. I’ll be following it and once it goes through the courts I’ll comment in more detail.

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