Pete Townshend is currently touring with The Who, and apparently storming out of interviews when they bring up his current status as a registered sex offender. The party line seems to be that he was not “found guilty” and that this whole registration thing is some kind of bureaucratic mix-up or pro-forma technicality. Townshend in fact received a “caution”.
A caution in the UK is a specific non-custodial sentence that carries an explicit admission of guilt. When presented with a caution, a suspect could decide to contest it in court and plead innocence. It’s basically a version of a plea bargain, designed to avoid clogging up the court system. In order to be cautioned, a defendant must have made a complete confession in the presence of police.
Townshend’s PR people keep spinning this as a “not guilty” result, but in fact a caution is an automatic guilty plea. Under the Sex Offenders Act 1997, Townshend was placed on the ViSOR (Violent and Sex Offender Register) list, which went online on January 1st, 2003. I believe he will be listed for five years. If he avoids perpatrating a similar crime during that time, his name will be removed from the list.
It’s interesting to note that Townshend’s offence (using his credit card to purchase child porn) occured during 1999. Had he been caught for a similar offence during 2000 or on, he would have been subject to the new Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (or the even stricter Sexual Offences Act 2003). He would not have been able to obtain a caution and would have faced a mandatory custodial sentence.
Townshend himself continually presents himself as massively confused about what exactly he has done and his “innocence” or “guilt”: What I did was wrong. And stupid. My culpability is clear, but my innocence is absolute.
Comparisons with other pop stars os his generation such as Gary Glitter and Jonathan King are interesting. They all seem to exhibit peculiarly British sensibilities regarding their guilt and/or innocence with respect to their behaviours.