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Ian Brady: Strange case of ‘Preventing lawful burial’

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There is something distinctly odd about the arrest of Moors murderer Ian Brady’s mental health advocate Jackie Powell on suspicion of “preventing the burial of a body without lawful excuse”.

No charges have been levelled yet and she has been bailed for three months. But one must wonder whether arrest and bail are appropriate at all.

Let’s start with the offence. It is a common law offence, hence not found in statute, and in the leading modern case (1973) there was a question as to whether it existed at all. In the event the Court of Appeal decided there was, indeed, an offence of “preventing the lawful and decent burial of a body without lawful excuse”. A few other cases have followed with sentences of between a year and three years.

The police and press seem to have missed out the “lawful and decent” bit – but they are crucial.

The 1973 case, R v Hunter, Atkinson and MacKinder ([1973] 3 W.L.R. 374) arose out of the death of a 17-year-old girl, Joyce King, possibly during horseplay or as a result of rape. Her body was hidden under paving stones to be found in a decomposed state by some schoolboys four months later.

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