Nicholas Farrell

Think Britain’s tabloid journalists are bad? Try Italy’s tabloid judges

Think Britain's tabloid journalists are bad? Try Italy's tabloid judges
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There is a small light at the end of the tunnel but it comes too late, I fear, to save Italy from the abyss:  Silvio Berlusconi was yesterday acquitted on appeal of committing Bunga Bunga with Ruby the Heart-Stealer when she was sweet 17 for which he had been sentenced to seven years in prison. Che bello!

Yet if ever a reason were needed for Britain to have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with European courts of any kind, and the European Arrest Warrant in particular, we need look no further than the Berlusconi Bunga Bunga trial.

If it could happen to him, a media tycoon and four times Italian Prime Minister, it could happen to you. We are all guilty of something - if need be - as the 20-year-long judicial jihad waged by the Italian magistratura against Berlusconi demonstrates so clearly.

Let us be frank: the European Arrest Warrant gives a judicial system such as Italy’s the power to come and get you in Britain and bang you up in an Italian jail, for up to a year, on suspicion that you committed a crime while it tries to find sufficient evidence to charge you.

This is totally at odds with the British way of doing justice. In Britain, a suspect can be held in custody for a maximum of 96 hours without charge – or in the special case of a terrorist suspect 28 days.

It gets worse, of course. For how could it not when Italians are involved? Once put under investigation in a place like Italy you enter, like Josef K. in Franz Kafka’s The Trial, a life-destroying and tortuously slow judicial system where the process regularly takes 10 years to conclude. Worse still, Italian courts pay only lip service to the sacred ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ principle and invariably convict on the basis of 'he must have done it' and sod the evidence. Either way, whether pronounced guilty or innocent, the suspect emerges at the end of the process a ruined man.

Miraculously, Berlusconi has won his appeal against conviction in the Bunga Bunga trial but justice has come too late to save either his shattered reputation or, in all probability, his political career. And let us not forget: in Italy, the prosecution can still appeal against the appeal!

The Bunga Bunga business made Berlusconi an international laughing stock, forced his resignation as Italian Premier in November 2011, and led to him being sentenced in June 2013 to seven years in prison for under-age prostitution and abuse of office.

Since his resignation, Italy has had three un-elected Prime Ministers and things have just gone from bad to worse.

Now that he has been acquitted, who will pay for the stratospheric damage done by this ludicrous trial, not just to the reputation of Berlusconi who in the 2008 elections had secured the biggest majority of any post-war Italian Prime Minister, but to the Italian economy? No one, of course.

In Britain, people whine on with some justification about intrusive tabloid journalists. But Britain’s tabloid boys are mere pussycats compared to Italy’s tabloid judges who – like Robespierre and his revolutionary courts - are politically motivated and possess terrifying powers that they use in an arbitrary way for political ends.

They do not limit themselves to hacking text messages. They hack the phone calls themselves, of all and sundry, at industrial levels and, if it serves their purpose, which in Berlusconi’s case it always did, they leak the transcripts of those phone calls to the media which then publish them verbatim – well before even formal charges are laid let alone a trial has begun. Such grotesque contempt of court happens on a daily basis in Italy but no Italian judge or journalist ever gets prosecuted and no one bats an eyelid.

The Bunga Bunga trial would never have happened in a normal country – not even in a Britain gripped as it is by medieval mass paedomania.

Let me try to explain why. At the time of the alleged offences in 2010 Berlusconi was 73 and a prostate cancer survivor. Ok, so let us assume that with Viagra and all the rest of it, he could still get it up.

Where was the evidence that he did in fact get it up with Ruby? Well – here’s the funny thing - there was none. Both he and she  - the alleged victim - denied sex and there were no witnesses to them having sex. So, no sex, no crime, no?

As for the abuse of office charge, this was based on a phone call Berlusconi made to a police station in Milan one night after Ruby had been arrested for suspected theft and she had phoned him for help. He had duly obliged. None of the police officers he spoke to on the phone that night felt that he had abused his office to force their hand in any way. In other words, he had simply behaved as any gentleman would to help a damsel in distress.

Yet, thanks to that phone call (for which he got six years in jail) and the presence of Ruby the Heart-Stealer on a couple of occasions at his Milan home during his regular parties (for which he got one year) the phrase Bunga Bunga went viral and he was tried and convicted for being a paedophile whore-monger.

All thanks to Italy’s tabloid judges and their friends in the media – the very same media that insists that as a result of media tycoon Berlusconi there is no media freedom in Italy.