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Mad, mad world

Is there so little happening that the press are content to focus on the ridiculous?

Is there so little happening that the press are content to focus on the ridiculous?

I must say I do like writing for Pharmaceutical Marketing. The editor is both understanding and accommodating. She will sometimes gently suggest a topic that I might attempt, but the rest of the time I am free to roam the pharmaceutical world, the NHS, Europe, America, the globe, or right next door, in search of stories and points of view that interest me, annoy me and make me want to get something off my chest.

It is cathartic, deeply mending for the spirit and sometimes restores my faith in an industry that, frankly, I love to death but drives me barmy.

This month I am writing in the context of the fact that it is Christmas, the year end and all the usual stuff that comes with reflection, looking back and cogitating on what is past and predicting what might be in the future.

It is in this frame of mind that I intend to report on the recent bike sex scandal, that has sparked a legal debate.

This is the case of a man convicted of simulating sex with his bicycle. Of itself, interesting, lurid and definitely the product of a free press that is trying not to be a licentious press.

This story comes with an overtone of human rights and with a definite theme of the right each individual has to privacy. Internet message boards have been clogged with people wanting to comment on this peculiar incident.

Frankly, I would have dismissed the story if its provenance had not been Auntie. Yes, the BBC reported on the story, it is true and comes with the authority of the world's most imperious public broadcasting network.

The person in question is one Robert Stewart, 51, from Ayr in Scotland.

Mr Stewart was reported by cleaners at a hostel where he lived. Apparently, they unlocked his door (having knocked and got no reply) and found him having 'sex' with his bicycle. As a result the police were called and the luckless Mr Stewart was put on the Sex Offenders Register.

Was this an overreaction on the part of the Sheriff? And yes, in Scotland the prosecuting officials are called Sheriffs.

Saddled with prosecution, Mr Stewart decided to ride out his predicament and admit the offence. He was duly charged with a sexually aggravated breach of the peace by 'conducting himself in a disorderly manner and simulating sex'.

For his trouble, Mr Stewart has been placed on the register for three years, and given a period of probation.

This, I admit is prurient. However, what is interesting is that more than a million people have read the story on the BBC News website and it has been hotly debated on forums across the world-wide web.

The question being asked is: Would they have done the same to a woman with a sex toy? Enter human rights expert, John Scott. Apart from the fact that the sex toy was manufactured for the purpose, and a bicycle wasn't, I really don't see that the two acts are all that different, said Scott.

Concern has not stopped here. There are implications for the future. What about privacy. Mr Stewart was with his bike in the locked room he lawfully occupied. It is the cleaners who, without consent, opened the door.

The Sex Offenders Register, Section 80 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, states that a person should be put on the register 'if the court determines that there was a significant sexual aspect to the offender's behaviour in committing the offence'.

In the interests of completeness, I have researched this troubling matter further. I have discovered this is not the first legal case involving someone simulating sex with an unusual object.

In 1997, Robert Watt, 38, was fined £100 for trying to have sex with a shoe in an Edinburgh street. Hardly the soul of discretion. There is more. Mr Watt has form! In 2002, he was arrested for simulating sex with a traffic cone in front of a crowd of people.

Earlier this year sentence was deferred on teenager, Steven Marshall, from Galashiels, who admitted simulating sex with a pavement while drunk. Probably, reported in the gutter press.

BBC News Scotland reported our new friend the human rights lawyer John Scott as saying: It certainly prompts questions about what people can and can't do behind closed doors with inanimate objects.

John, you are right.

Apparently, the problem is Mr Stewart, in an effort to avoid publicity and public humiliation and the disapprobation of the Cycling Touring Club, pleaded guilty to a breach of the peace. Thus the issues of privacy weren't tested by the court.

Back to the Sheriff; he had to act on the guilty plea and the only decision he had to make was whether, or not, there was a sexual nature to the offence.

So, here is my advice for the New Year. Firstly, if you do not want to end up on the Sex Offenders Register, and saddled with a criminal record, feel free to engage in this sort of activity, but do your own cleaning and don't plead guilty. This case should not prevent you.

Secondly, if you know anyone in the office who wants a bicycle for Xmas you may end up seeing them in a new light.

Thirdly, please, dear pharma industry, try and have a more interesting, innovative, ground-breaking, pioneering, profitable, attention-grabbing, motivating, alluring, appealing, engaging year in 2008 - and I will try and write about it.

Happy Christmas!

The author
Roy Lilley is a (sometimes controversial) healthcare author and broadcaster

10th December 2007


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