You don’t have to be Ben Sullivan’s friend to worry the reaction is getting out of hand

Amid the open letters and calls for Union “consent workshops”, the right to a fair trial is being ignored

Ben Sullivan is no friend of The Tab.

After he threatened us with an injunction and spent Union members’ money on lawyers to threaten us, I have a pretty low opinion of the guy. We spent considerable time and effort to expose his pettiness, vanity and stupidity.

We also broke the story of his arrest on suspicion of rape. I have had to defend that decision to his friends, who say we have ruined his life. A piece in the Spectator by Nigel Evans this week brings home how damaging a rape accusation can be to one person’s life.

But I believe it was entirely fair to name him when he was arrested on suspicion of rape. He is a public figure, the news was about to break elsewhere (and by elsewhere I mean everywhere) and, most importantly, there is good evidence to show naming people who are arrested can benefit the justice system.

Ben Sullivan is on police bail until mid June.

Ben Sullivan is on police bail until mid June.

If rape suspects are to be given anonymity before they are charged, that is a question for the law, not news editors.

But naming someone is very different to suggesting they are guilty. And some of what has been said and written with reckless stupidity since Ben Sullivan was arrested is astounding.

The open letter published yesterday calling for Ben Sullivan to resign was, in my honest view and in the view of our experienced lawyer, unwise and unfair. Its contents could possibly interfere with the proper administration of justice. That is contempt of court, which carries a penalty of six months in prison and could cause any criminal proceedings to collapse.

Since The Tab and our lawyer made that point to some of the signatories of the letter, many of them have tried to retract their signature. The New Statesman and the Cherwell pulled the letter from their websites after we got in touch.

Chunks of that letter, which can’t be reproduced here, may affect a jury member’s opinion of Ben Sullivan if they had read it. And it was signed by respected people who call themselves journalists, such as Laurie Penny and Caroline Criado-Perez. It was also briefly published by the New Statesman. Their names carry weight, and have an enormous impact on people’s opinions. I think they have behaved irresponsibly.

Do those people know for sure that Ben Sullivan is guilty? It actually doesn’t matter, because it isn’t for them to decide. The irony is that by potentially affecting the outcome of a trial, these outspoken people may lead to criminal proceedings being abandoned, the result they presumably dread the most.

Laurie Penny was among the people who signed an open letter calling on Sullivan to resign

Laurie Penny was among the people who signed an open letter calling on Sullivan to resign

Oxford, like most universities and most ancient institutions, has a problem with sexism. There is, rightly, a growing clamour for more to be done about sexual assault.

For the last few years the tide has been turning against an entrenched culture of sexism that ranges from casual, idiotic behaviour to extreme violence. Now is the time for things to change forever, for better.

But there is a danger of this turning into a moral panic, a witch hunt where the rule of law and the right to a fair trial are put at risk. No one will benefit from that.

I spoke to Ben Sullivan himself the night before police woke him in his bed to arrest him. He vehemently denied the allegations were true.

Do I believe him? It doesn’t matter – I’m not the one who decides, and nor are you.

Jack Rivlin is the Editor-in-chief of The Tab


  1. Hodor? 21st May 2014 at 2:58 pm


  2. captain sensible 21st May 2014 at 3:02 pm

    why is a 14 year old the editor of a media company?

    • EH 21st May 2014 at 3:32 pm

      and what do you do for a living?

      • varangarian 23rd May 2014 at 12:28 pm

        He’s the guitarist with The Damned

  3. DimBart 21st May 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Laurie Penny seems to be the Max Clifford of feminism. Gobby, sanctimonious and some of the tales she tells are, in my opinion, hard to believe.

    • Andy 22nd May 2014 at 9:12 am

      Yes, well she missed a very good opportunity to keep her gob shut.

  4. S.U.B 21st May 2014 at 3:53 pm

    “there is good evidence to show naming people who are arrested can benefit the justice system.”
    MASSIVE CITATION NEEDED. By naming people all you are doing is contributing to the very culture of presumed guilt and repercussions thereof you try to decry in this article.

    • thetab 21st May 2014 at 4:05 pm

      John Worboys – After he was first arrested six years ago, several more women came forward to disclose that he had attacked them.

      Stuart Hall
      Max Clifford
      Jimmy Savile

      In all cases more people came forward after an arrest. There are lots of other examples. It’s a big plank of Yewtree.


      • Jingleballix 21st May 2014 at 4:37 pm

        Jack – i don’t know about this Ben Sullivan guy; but do you know that the law gives specific credence to an ‘early complaint’ in sexual cases………the big, big problem with Yewtree cases is the absence of an early complaint.

        Justice is being morphed and manipulated…….in some cases being made up for money – or the search for it.

        Can you comprehend this?

      • S.U.B 21st May 2014 at 4:38 pm

        Okay, that’s fair. Why then, is it not enough to release their name after they have been charged? if the accusation is not entirely baseless, there must be enough for a charge to be brought. Then, at least, there is justification for the above reason – but not before charges have been brought. Others that may have been abused can still come forward at that point; but if the charges are dropped we cannot reverse the damage done to an entirely innocent person’s life.

        • S.U.B 21st May 2014 at 4:39 pm

          I worded myself badly at the end there; I meant “If charges cannot be brought” rather than “if charges are dropped” in the final sentence.

      • ZimbaZumba 21st May 2014 at 11:07 pm

        It is a balance between between the damage done to the individual and the possible gains to society. The individual is not at the mercy of the “tyranny of the majority”

        To simply state one side of this balance as a complete argument is banal. The interim and long term consequences of someone under suspicion or charged with a sexual offense are profound, especially if publicised.

      • Roberto Matus 22nd May 2014 at 4:00 am

        anecdotal evidence which doesn’t carry enough weight in order to compensate for the damaged inflicted in the accussed who is still innocent before proven guilty.

        • Andy 22nd May 2014 at 9:19 am

          You mean ‘Innocent until proven Guilty’.

      • Andy 22nd May 2014 at 9:17 am

        I knew Jimmy Savile slightly and he was a weirdo, but that doesn’t make him guilty. And it is very easy to accuse the dead – they can’t answer back.

    • Prudence Juris 21st May 2014 at 4:06 pm

      An arrest is news. Speculation as to guilt is not. Free circulation of news is always good for society.

      • anon 21st May 2014 at 4:33 pm

        Why don’t we circulate the news of the accuser then? “News is always good for society.”

        • Prudence Juris 21st May 2014 at 7:33 pm

          You often prune sentences to get what you want?

          • Alison Tieman 22nd May 2014 at 12:38 am

            His “prune” changed nothing of the meaning.

        • Andy 22nd May 2014 at 9:38 am

          We use to do so in Rape Cases, just like we do in every other case. But the likes of Laurie Penny forced a change in the Law.

          The problem with that is that it is easy to accuse when hidden behind the curtain of anonymity. Even if the case is dismissed the accuser still keeps that anonymity unless it is lifted by the Judge, and that is rare. Look at the Bill Roache case where one of his accusers was forced to admit under cross examination, after her story had been picked apart, that she could not be sure the event she described had ever taken place – they hadn’t. Has she been named ? No.

    • Oxford veteran 21st May 2014 at 4:42 pm

      What if naming someone alerts others to be more careful of that person because of what he or she might have done or even encourage them to do something about it? If the articles are based on corroborated facts and do not suggest guilt or otherwise, and the journalists aren’t regurgitating these details daily using different words (unlike in those articles accusing the celebrities and the court cases), how are they contributing to a culture of presumed guilt? Or are the whispers and speculation among so many of us the cause of opinions swinging one way or the other?
      I’m guilty of being part of the discussions about this. Now I try to change the subject if I can because I’ve realised that it’s possible that someone in my group of friends could be a victim of some kind of assault since coming to Oxford, and they still can’t talk about it. Hearing the chat can only make it so much worse. Hopefully innocence or guilt will be proven in due course without interference, intentional or not.

  5. Ol' Ketamine Williams 21st May 2014 at 3:59 pm

    The Tab gon’ fucked up now

  6. James 21st May 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Brilliant article

  7. Jingleballix 21st May 2014 at 4:41 pm

    You don’t have to be Ben Sullivan’s friend to worry the reaction is getting out of hand……… your by-line

    But before that you boasted………..”Oxford Union president Ben Sullivan arrested on suspicion of rape” by Zachary Spiro EXCLUSIVE

    Ben Sullivan brought in for questioning relating to alleged rape and attempted rape.

    Oxford Union President Ben Sullivan was today arrested by police on suspicion of one count of rape and and one count of attempted rape.
    The Tab understands he was woken at approximately 7.10am this morning and taken to a local police station.

    Yeah – it really looks like you were concerned about ‘things getting out of hand’.


    • thetab 21st May 2014 at 5:42 pm

      tha is literally how you report an arrest. It’s protected by a law called Qualified Privilege. (sorry to sound like a dick)


      • Dr Seuss 21st May 2014 at 7:46 pm

        Qualified Privilege does not apply to reporting by the media; there is no reciprocal duty to impart/receive information (Dauntex v Flatley).

        You should be considering a defence under public interest (s4 DA 2013) instead.

        • thetab 22nd May 2014 at 7:44 am

          Qualified privilege does apply to media – section 15 of defamation act. But you’re right, its not relevant here – its Responsible Journalism and Justification here. Sorry for getting that wrong!


  8. MC73 21st May 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Laurie Penny is possibly the most malicious and stupid journalist working in the UK today. Which is almost an achievement.

  9. Bursar 21st May 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Why hasn’t anyone brought allegations against Sunny Jain yet?

  10. Bursar 21st May 2014 at 5:21 pm

    AND RIVLIN SACK SPIRO. I have a strong sense of humour but he is taking this just too far.

    I might have to build another gate to lock him out!!

  11. Redrose82 21st May 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Respected ? Laurie Penny. Come off it.

  12. GOBLINWORLD 21st May 2014 at 5:35 pm

    Who agrees that Spiro looks like a constipated goblin?

  13. Lisa's slate 21st May 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit

  14. Spiro 21st May 2014 at 5:53 pm

    Has everyone not seen Spiro with Kostas and Crawford every single day? How can anyone think he’s not biased?
    DEAR MR RIVLIN – I suggest you sack Zachary Spiro as these “astounding and stupid” things you say people have written and said about this case – he has actually been liking all of the LIBELLOUS comments (most of them being on Cuntry Living, as well). So control your journalists is what I’d say.

  15. Dorilant 21st May 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Ah yes, Tab and Co. attempt real journalism. Akin to watching young Simba work on his roar. Don’t let the moral pangs keep you up at night Rivers.

    Oh, and sack ZSpiro? He’d be a real’n’proper kant if he wasn’t so boring.

  16. Barry 21st May 2014 at 9:29 pm

    Who is Laurie Penny?

  17. edtastic 21st May 2014 at 9:59 pm

    “Oxford, like most universities and most ancient institutions, has a problem with sexism. There is, rightly, a growing clamour for more to be done about sexual assault.”

    Sexism does not cause sexual assault and the conflation of the two issues is a serious problem. Sexual assault is a human issue with female and male perpetrators/victims of all ages and classes. It’s a HUMAN ISSUE! Sexism on the other hand would be about actual discrimination against a person because of their sex which does not include things like taking sexual interest in a person because of their sex.

    Sexual harassment is not sexism. That again would be humans showing sexual interest when it’s not wanted or appropriate which again deals in both sexes, all races, classes and ages. Sexism would be firing a man for having sex with a student while retaining a female teacher who did the same.

    We need to separate sexism from human sexuality. Conflating the two is a power grab by feminists desperate to protect their manufactured position of moral authority.

    • Alyson Cruise 27th May 2014 at 1:56 pm

      Science has shown that sexism does, in fact, cause sexual assault. As one example, telling a joke about women’s place being in the kitchen increases both rape myth belief and self-reported willingness to rape.

      Prejudiced Norm theory, first outlined by Ford and Ferguson 2004, has been consistently supported in study after study. What’s your source?

  18. Are you serious? 21st May 2014 at 10:04 pm

    This article is so hypocritical

    • Are you serious? 21st May 2014 at 10:05 pm

      AND badly written

  19. UoS 21st May 2014 at 11:52 pm

    Why the f*** anybody would care what that dozy bint Laurie Penny thinks is beyond me.

  20. AASFAF 22nd May 2014 at 4:15 pm

    What happens when you indulge feminists. They’ve ruined Oxford

  21. Hehehe 23rd May 2014 at 11:44 pm

    laurie penny is a nasty mongrel

  22. Getting out of hand indeed 25th May 2014 at 3:08 am

    I totally read the last bit as ‘Rivlin spoke in bed with Sullivan the night before’

  23. Ciaran Goggins 25th May 2014 at 8:20 pm

    Either Ben Sullivan is granted anonymity along with his accuser (false allegations 12% England 2013 HMIC) OR both sides are named. Current legislation contrary ECtHR.

    • booby 26th May 2014 at 5:51 pm

      If you insist on naming (and thereby shaming) the accusee, you should name (and thereby shame) the accuser. That statement sounds shocking, and it is. Think about WHY it’s shocking, really think about it, and you see why nobody who is accused of such crimes should be publicly named until proven guilty. The press is NOT a court of law!!

      • Ciaran Goggins 26th May 2014 at 7:27 pm

        Either X was raped or was not. Why not extend anonymity to murder, shoplifting? Finally, what is happening in Ben’s case and that of many others is in contravention of several articles of human rights law. Oh yes, now I get it, Britain thinks civil liberties are optional. Vote Norsefire.

        • Alyson Cruise 27th May 2014 at 1:58 pm

          Because murder and shoplifting are different crimes.

          Sort of shocked you haven’t realised this.

          • Ciaran Goggins 27th May 2014 at 3:57 pm

            “Different”? You want your Dad, Brother, Son to be the one in eight (12%) who currently faces a false rape charge?

  24. John_Page 27th May 2014 at 9:35 am

    Whatever happened to innocent until proved guilty? Or do such niceties not apply to the jumped up, opinionated morality police?

  25. Zoe 29th May 2014 at 7:57 pm

    I don’t really see how reading the open letter (which asks that he step aside whilst under investigation, which is not the same as an assumption of guilt) would prejudice a jury any more or less than reading what has been written in the press elsewhere. It adds absolutely nothing to the bare ‘facts’ of the case other than the fact the union doesn’t seem to be taking it seriously.

  26. Dissapointed 21st May 2014 at 5:29 pm

    This comment is shameful.

  27. Surfbort 21st May 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Go look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you’re proud of posting that about a rape allegation.

  28. LOL 21st May 2014 at 5:57 pm

    I just did. It was great. Soz mate

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