Joanna Yeates murder trial: Why the judge was right to rule out Vincent Tabak’s porn habits

The decision of the judge in the Joanna Yeates murder trial to rule evidence of Vincent Tabak’s use of strangulation porn inadmissible has sparked intense debate in the aftermath of today’s guilty verdict.

A jury at Bristol Crown Court this afternoon ruled by a 10-2 majority that the Dutch engineer strangled the 25-year-old landscape architect at her flat in the city on the night of December 17 last year before dumping her body on a snowy roadside.

Within minutes of the decision being announced the details of Tabak’s pornography habits and use of escorts were circulating freely. Many online observers expressed shock and outrage that this evidence had been ruled inadmissible – but this was the right course for Mr Justice Field to take.

Vincent Tabak may be, in the words of the judge, a dangerous and deceitful man. He is now a convicted murderer facing 20 years in prison. But at the start of the trial he was a defendant who, like every one of us, deserved the opportunity to present an unprejudiced defence of his liberty.

To those who argue the inadmissible evidence should have been heard: imagine yourself as one of the twelve men and women of the jury. Can you convince yourself that the knowledge of Tabak’s viewing habits would not have substantially increased your certainty in his guilt and his intent to harm Miss Yeates? I know I would find it hard to look at the man in the dock – innocent until proven guilty – with quite the same eyes after learning of this information.

Yes, but doesn’t the very act of watching these images suggest an intent to live out such fantasies was behind Tabak’s murderous actions? Maybe so, but this is not an assumption that should be made at the start of a trial. Videos or images of abuse and violence are abhorrent and their use for gratification is appalling. But watching them should not be seen, particularly in the eyes of the law, as a precursor to acting out such terrible scenes in reality.

Had police found journals on Tabak’s computer describing his desire to carry out such acts, or evidence detailing a clear intention to do harm to his neighbour, then of course this should have been used in evidence at his trial. It would be compelling proof of the intent behind his subsequent actions.

But they did not. They discovered he had watched pornography showing violence similar to that he displayed towards Miss Yeates. These are not one and the same, and that is why I believe the judge was right to rule the evidence inadmissible.

Put simply, I do not believe that the films we watch, the books we read or the music we listen to – however offensive to others – should be used to infer criminal guilt.

Tabak has been found guilty on the evidence relating directly to his terrible crime. That the verdict of the court was reached after the fairest trial possible should be reason for satisfaction, muted of course by the terrible loss suffered by the Yeates family.

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3 thoughts on “Joanna Yeates murder trial: Why the judge was right to rule out Vincent Tabak’s porn habits

  1. Apparently he watched pornography featuring blonde women being choked and women being put into the boot of a car. It mirrors what happened to poor Joanna a little too closely to be dismissed for me. None of the case made sense, Tabak didn’t seem like a killer or indeed a particularly strange person and I think without this evidence, a killer was in danger of being convicted of only manslaughter.

    His pornography habit, in my opinion at least, was incredibly relevant to the trial. I do not see in which way it could not be. I agree that the books we read and the films we watch should not indicate our guilt, but films, books and other media that mirror a crime we are suspected of committing so closely cannot be dismissed, surely? “They discovered he had watched pornography showing violence similar to that he displayed towards Miss Yeates.” Yes, they are not one and the same but surely it shows that he had an obsession with strangulation and the way in which Miss Yeates was killed makes that highly relevant.

  2. I agree with both posts above , the evidence ruled inadmissible in court was surely too relevant to the case to not be put before the Jury ? and I as well as others are shocked this evidence was withheld. There is a huge difference between what we watch and do to what we actually do in real life, that we all know but the similarities in this withheld evidence are strikingly similar to how poor jo lost her life ..that in itself leads me to believe that this evidence should therefore have been put before the Jury . Although I understand the reasons the judge decided against it ..I think in a case like this the sole discretion of the judge is not the best idea and i think there should be more involvement in deciding these matters ie police opinion / cps and more so the families involved etc before decisions like this can be made .

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