It was the moment justice finally caught up with shamed Stuart Hall. Steve Canavan was in court to witness his ultimate fall from grace.
Stuart Hall rarely looks his age. He’s like a kid that never grew up. But as he sat in the dock at Preston Crown Court, after being sentenced to 15 months in prison, he looked every inch his 83 years.
His face was grey and shell shocked, his fall from grace complete as he was jailed for indecently assaulting 13 females, the youngest aged nine, over an 18-year period.
One of his victims was attacked in Blackpool. At an event at the Winter Gardens in the mid-1970s, Hall “touched and fondled her breasts”.
Dressed yesterday in a dark blue suit, white shirt and navy tie, Hall rubbed his face, grimaced, and occasionally shook his head throughout his three-hour sentencing.
It was a far cry from the Stuart Hall the nation saw in It’s A Knockout, or during all those years as a presenter on BBC’s Look North. It was a far cry from the Stuart Hall I knew too.
Last time I saw him was in November, a month before his arrest, when he was handing out a prize at a media awards night.
Our table watched as Hall, with trademark energy, skipped on stage with a grin on his face.
He grabbed the microphone from the compere and as any Radio 5Live listener will be familiar with, began to rattle off a lengthy and ridiculous anecdote.
Told by anyone else, it might have been greeted with an embarrassing silence. But this was Stuart Hall, doyen of the airwaves, with a cheeky smile and an infectious lust for life that was impossible not to like.
He’d told a completely unsuitable tale but, hey, it was Stuart so it was OK.
The previous occasion I’d met him was in the press box at Bolton Wanderers.
I was football writer for The Gazette and Blackpool were in the Premier League.
I bumped into Hall on several occasions that season, in his role as a reporter for 5Live.
He was dressed in a leopard-print fur overcoat that enveloped him from neck to toe. He looked like Zsa Zsa Gabor, utterly ridiculous, and despite doing the same job as everyone else in the room – ie, report on football – was the undoubted star.
Every journalist in the press room fell over themselves to exchange a greeting. No one mentioned his daft coat. “It’s OK, it’s just Stuart,” they’d say.
And perhaps that’s a clue as to how Hall was allowed to get away with his crimes for so long.
If he did something inappropriate it was OK because “it’s just Stuart”.
If you’re an eccentric star, like a Hall or a Jimmy Savile, society seems to be more tolerant of behaviour or actions that, carried out by others, would be deemed entirely unsuitable and plain wrong.
The truth is that between 1967 and 1986, Hall was a paedophile, a danger to women, and – at the peak of his fame – committed some truly awful crimes.
The court heard how a 13-year-old victim was assaulted after they had played tennis, when he is said to have told her: “Sometimes thank you was not enough in words”; a 10-year-old girl was told to cuddle him “like she would one of her teddies” after he had given her steak and Champagne; a 15-year-old girl was abused in Hall’s dressing room at the BBC; a 13-year-old assaulted while she was drunk and unwell at a family party and described the attack as a “frenzied maul”.
The fact he initially denied these claims, branding them “nonsense” and “completely untrue”, added to his victims’ distress.
Hall wakes today in jail stripped of his national treasure status.
Awarded an OBE in the 2012 New Year’s Honours list and a familiar face and voice in British broadcasting for half a century, his reputation is in tatters.
I greatly admired Hall for his media work. In an era where so much of what we consume is bland and boring, he was refreshingly different. Listening to one of his football reports was like tuning into Shakespeare. He was a natural.
But his talent hid a dark secret, one which can never, ever be forgiven. It doesn’t matter how old he is, he has to take responsibility and be punished for the crimes he committed against innocent and vulnerable young females.
Savile got away with it, others must not.
Cases reveal abuse of power
Disgraced veteran broadcaster Stuart Hall abused his celebrity status to indecently assault 13 young girls, said the judge who jailed him for 15 months.
Hall, 83, exploited his role as a popular BBC presenter to target four of his victims, while he assaulted another four on the pretence of giving elocution lessons to them at his home.
Sentencing him at Preston Crown Court, Judge Anthony Russell said the public now knew there was “a darker side” to Hall.
But the length of the jail term was criticised as “unduly lenient” yesterday by shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry, who urged Attorney General Dominic Grieve to look at the matter.
The former It’s A Knockout presenter pleaded guilty to 14 counts of indecent assault in April, despite earlier describing all the claims against him as “cruel, pernicious and spurious”.
Hall, from Prestbury Road, Wilmslow, Cheshire, was charged on December 5 with indecently assaulting three young girls.
More women came forward as a result of publicity and Hall was rearrested before he later admitted sexual offences which took place from 1967 to 1987.
The youngest girl was aged just nine.
Hall’s barrister, Crispin Aylett, said 27 years had passed since the last offence and that Hall had led an “unblemished life” over those years.
But Judge Russell told Hall: “All of them (cases) reveal an abuse of power by you because your status gave you an influence which you abused.”
Hall was placed on the Sex Offenders Register for 10 years and as “a wealthy man” was ordered to pay prosecution costs of £11,522.