SARAH VINE Even a toe-rag like Brand should be given a fair hearing

SARAH VINE: A vulgar, crass narcissist. But even a toe-rag like him should surely be given a fair hearing

Ever since the MeToo movement took off, highlighting grotesque abuses of power and holding previously untouchable men to account, the question of what constitutes predatory sexual behaviour has been hotly debated. The movement has done much to free women from the unwanted clutches of predators; but there have been a few unintended consequences.

Aspects of MeToo have been weaponised for political purposes and there are moments when it feels like the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Sometimes it feels like even complimenting someone on their appearance can be construed as an act of aggression.

Meanwhile, pretty much any physical advance by a man, whether deliberately sexual or otherwise, carries the potential to be labelled abusive if framed in a certain way. And in the wrong hands or with the wrong intentions, this can be lethal: accusing someone of predatory sexual behaviour has become (along with accusations of racism or transphobia) a quick and easy way to discredit and/or destroy reputations and careers. One-time London Mayoral candidate Dan Korski, the BBC’s Huw Edwards, actor Noel Clarke, TV presenter Phillip Schofield, the former chair of Tesco… the list is endless.

Perhaps more importantly, alleged assaults are no longer examined, as they should be, in an objective court setting – but judged in the court of public opinion, often with limited facts and one-sided accounts and almost always overlayed by preconceptions and prejudice on both sides.

The allegations about the conduct of Russell Brand over a seven year period at the height of his fame are shocking

Separating the real predators from the merely misguided or inept is hard to do against a background of social media hysteria where any questioning of an alleged victim’s version of events is considered abusive, and where proof is not always required.

That said, the allegations about the conduct of Russell Brand over a seven year period at the height of his fame are shocking.

The former comedian – now a self-styled alternative lifestyle guru and wildly successful conspiracy theorist (he has 11 million followers on X, and 6.5 million YouTube subscribers) – stands accused of a catalogue of abusive behaviour, including rape and numerous sexual assaults.

In one instance, he is accused of having an abusive and controlling relationship with a 16-year-old girl while he was in his early 30s.

He would send a driver to pick her up from school, she alleges, and is accused once of subjecting her to a violent and humiliating sexual ordeal.

Three others describe various alleged instances of aggressive sexual coercion, including one rape, for which he is later said to have apologised via text message.

Hoping to pre-empt the accusations and, I imagine, control the narrative, Brand took to YouTube on Friday night to tell the world that he had received two ‘extremely disturbing letters’ which listed ‘a litany of extremely egregious and aggressive attacks, which are untrue’.

He said any relationships he had ‘during his time of promiscuity’ were ‘consensual’ before claiming he is the victim of a ‘co-ordinated media attack’. His video initially received the support of his wife’s sister, the TV presenter Kirsty Gallacher, and (perhaps somewhat unhelpfully) Elon Musk and online influencer Andrew Tate.

Accusing someone of predatory sexual behaviour has become a quick and easy way to discredit and/or destroy reputations and careers. Pictured – Phillip Schofield 

Huw Edwards was accused of paying a teen for sexually explicit photos. Police say there is no evidence he committed a crime

An allegation of groping was made against one-time London Mayoral candidate Dan Korski (right). Pictured with mayoral contenders Susan Hall (left) and Moz Hossain (centre) 

I’ve never been a fan of Brand. I’ve always found him crass, vulgar, attention-seeking – and not nearly as attractive as he thinks he is. When he first came to fame – thanks to TV’s Big Brother (also crass, vulgar and attention-seeking) – he was the personification of the kind of toe-rag any mother would dread their daughter bringing home.

There was the drug-taking, promiscuity – he claims to have slept with more than 1,000 women – the prostitutes, the idiotic politics and the ridiculous hair. Every time he opened his mouth, a stream of absurdities tumbled out, which made it all the more surprising that so many people, from politicians to the then Prince of Wales, took him seriously.

He dated some of the most glamorous women – Kate Moss, Jemima Khan – and married Katy Perry, not long before dumping her by text message.

He was eventually stopped in his tracks by his own arrogance in 2008, when he and fellow Radio 2 presenter Jonathan Ross left a series of lewd messages on the answer machine of Andrew Sachs, who played Manuel in Fawlty Towers, crudely alluding to Brand’s brief relationship with Sachs’s granddaughter.

The incident resulted in a flood of complaints to the BBC and led to the resignation of Radio 2’s Controller and Brand.

How Ross kept his job has always remained a mystery.

Given Brand’s general character and degeneracy, then, these allegations – while deeply shocking – don’t seem all that surprising. Kind, respectful men don’t generally ring up old men and boast about having sex with their grand-daughters, nor do they brag about having slept with more than 1,000 women. And since, by his own admission, Brand was often high, who knows what might have taken place while not in his right mind. For me, the most damning testimony is that of the woman who was 16 at the time of her relationship with him.

Technically, it may have beem consensual, but does a 16-year-old in a relationship with a 31-year-old ever really have a clue what she’s doing?

British actor Noel Clarke was accused of sexual harassment 

She alleges that he approached her one day out of the blue in London’s Leicester Square while she was shopping. ‘He took my bags from me which was quite disarming,’ she says.

‘He took one dress out and said to me, ‘You are going to wear this on our date this week’.’ When she told him that she was a virgin, he became ‘aroused’, calling her ‘My baby, my baby’, referring to her as ‘the child’, asking her to read Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita – and coaching her on how to explain their relationship to her parents.

Sixteen is not under age in Britain but still, for a man in his 30s to be sleeping with a girl in her teens is deeply distasteful.

No one with a shred of decency would do it, let alone all the other things she accuses him of doing. If he is capable of that, then what else might he be capable of?

Just because someone has a revolting manner and/or a chequered past does not mean they are a rapist. And it’s not as if Brand has ever made any secret of his behaviour.

But some of the women’s claims make me suspect there may be a little more than a media conspiracy to get Brand, as he claims.

Previously, comedian Katherine Ryan, who worked with Brand on a show called Roast Battle, has accused him in all but name of being a ‘sexual predator’. She spoke of confronting a colleague on a ‘popular TV show’, adding: ‘I raised it. I called him a predator to his face and in front of everyone.’

That’s quite a risk, both professional and personal, for someone such as Ryan to have taken.

But perhaps it is very telling that, shortly after the allegations dropped, Brand’s sister-in-law deleted her Instagram post in support of him.

Brand may be many things, but he’s not stupid. He’ll put up a fight, and things could get nasty. We will find out a lot more in the next few days. But whatever the outcome, it’s vital to remember that when it comes to allegations of such seriousness, everyone deserves a fair hearing. Even dubious individuals like Brand.

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