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Tragic Islington playwright Joe Orton escapes jail 50 years later

PUBLISHED: 14:17 01 February 2012

Joe Orton in Islington in 1964

Joe Orton in Islington in 1964

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Tragic playwright Joe Orton should have escaped jail for his notorious spree of defacing library books - that was the verdict of a re-enactment of his 1962 trial this week.

But a defence application to get the case thrown out for being motivated by homophobia was rejected by the judge presiding over this special hearing at Islington Museum on Friday.

The event was staged by professional barristers and a district judge to find out what punishment Orton and his partner Kenneth Halliwell would have faced today - 50 years after the original case - for damaging scores of books at Islington’s South Library, then the Essex Road Library, in Essex Road, Islington.

The pair, who lived in Noel Road, Islington, were originally caged for sixth months for theft and criminal damage - but second time round they got a more lenient five month sentence that was suspended for two years. There were also given a curfew, but Deputy District Judge Nigel Richardson rejected a prosecution bid to hand them an Asbo banning them from Islington’s libraries.

Cllr Greg Foxsmith, a criminal defence lawyer who organised the hearing, said: “The defence tried to get the proceedings stopped on the basis they were being picked on because they were homosexual. The judge rejected that as a frivolous application.

“We did it like a proper court hearing. The audience were the public gallery and had to rise when the judge entered and put their phones on silent - although they were allowed to tweet as in a modern trial.”

Cllr Foxsmith added: “We asked the audience what they thought the sentence should be, and one member said they should have been given the Turner Prize.

“I thought it was a fair verdict - although he might never have become a successful playwright without that time in jail. He did draw on his experience inside.”

Orton, whose works included Loot and Entertaining Mr Sloane, was bludgeoned to death at the age of 34 by Halliwell, who then committed suicide.


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