The Day G.C. Jones Lost Libel Case Against The Looking Glass

On April 26, 1911, A.’.A.’. co-founder George Cecil Jones lost his libel case against the Looking Glass, one of the sensational tabloids of the era. In a piece defaming Crowley the preceding year, the paper named Jones and Allan Bennett at close friends of Crowley’s, then hinted heavily at a homosexual relationship between Crowley and Bennett which implied Jones shared such inclinations. This is at a time when homosexual acts were illegal in the U.K. and  punishable under the law. Here’s an account posted online, part of an extensive profile of Jones.

“Cecil Jones wouldn’t back down either, and the case reached court in April 1911.  Cecil Jones had to go into the witness box and help put his own case: he was asked questions to this end by Mr Simmons, his own barrister; and then asked more difficult ones by Mr Schiller, barrister for The Looking Glass’ publishers.  It’s very difficult to come out of such an ordeal with dignity.  Cecil Jones was under a great deal of stress – had been for several months, I imagine – but reading a verbatim report of his cross-examination, I thought he didn’t help his own cause at all.  What you need in these circumstances (or so it seems to me) is a convincing performance of innocence wronged which gains the jury’s sympathy.  Cecil Jones (in my view) came over as irritable, argumentative and a bit too clever for his own good.  He sounded brusque, if not arrogant, and created the wrong impression.

“Schiller was building a case on the basis of guilt by association.  He focused much of his cross-examination on eliciting what kind of relationship there had been between Cecil Jones and Crowley, around 1899 and also more recently.  He asked what Cecil Jones thought of Crowley, what he’d known about him, then and now, and whether they were still in touch.  Cecil Jones’ replies were that, yes, he still considered Crowley a friend of his.  When Schiller asked what exactly that meant, Cecil Jones told him that he still saw Crowley every two months or so and spoke to him regularly on the phone.  Schiller made quite a bit out of the fact that Cecil Jones had introduced Crowley to his wife and that she knew him quite well; giving the jury the impression that if she knew Crowley, Mrs Jones was not quite a lady.  And then de Wend Fenton, the editor of The Looking Glass (acting as his own barrister), got Cecil Jones to admit that he had continued to associate with Crowley despite thinking of him as (to quote de Wend Fenton) “a notoriously evil person”.

“When Cecil Jones was finally able to leave the witness box, Samuel Liddell Mathers and then Edward William Berridge were called as ex members of GD – to give evidence on the side of The Looking Glass.  Mr Schiller wanted to ask them what sort of an organisation the GD was, and what was known about Crowley by its members in 1899-1900. Mathers contradicted some statements Cecil Jones had made earlier, about whether or not the GD had been a Rosicrucian organisation.  I can’t quite see why the exact nature of the GD should matter to the trial, but the fact that Mathers was so sure something Jones had said in the witness box was wrong, can’t have gone down well with a jury probably already prejudiced against Jones. And Berridge’s evidence – although stopped by an objection made by Cecil Jones’ barrister – made it clear that in early 1900 some members of the GD at least had heard rumours that Crowley was homosexual.

“Crowley was in court for both the days of the trial.  In his memoirs he said that he went in disguise and no one recognised him, but that isn’t true.  During his cross-examination Cecil Jones admitted that he could see Crowley in the court-room.  The jury were probably aware that Crowley had chosen not to sue and Mr Schiller left them wondering why Cecil Jones hadn’t asked Crowley to give evidence on his behalf. There was a moment, after Berridge’s evidence, when Cecil Jones’ barrister Mr Simmons hovered on the brink of asking the judge to call Crowley as a witness; but he didn’t actually do so, and as a result, the only person who was called to speak on Cecil Jones’ side was John Fuller.  [Crowley biographer, Richard] Kaczynski suggests that Fuller’s evidence came too late to counter all the insinuations that had been made by earlier witnesses.  I’d also point out that Fuller had only known Crowley since 1906.  The case was about events and ‘who knew what’ during a period before Fuller and Crowley had met.

“Mr Schiller’s summing-up on behalf of The Looking Glass’ publishers persuaded the judge (if he hadn’t made up his mind already) that, “If a man values his own reputation so cheaply that he does not mind associating with that kind of creature, he must not complain if comment is made about it”.  The jury agreed as well, and decided that the offending words in The Looking Glass were fair comment, and consequently not a libel.  Normally, the loser of such a case would have to pay the legal costs of both sides, so the penalty Cecil Jones might have faced would have been heavy financially as well as in terms of his reputation; though the decision about costs is up to the judge and he may not have ordered Jones to pay for all the lawyers.

“By not suing for libel, Crowley had saved himself from the kind of outcome to a libel trial that had engulfed Oscar Wilde in 1895.  By not calling him as a witness, Cecil Jones too had prevented Crowley being arrested for homosexual offences.  By not volunteering to be a witness, Crowley had saved himself by bringing down public humiliation on his friend.  When the trial was over, John Fuller asked Cecil Jones why he hadn’t had a subpoena issued, forcing Crowley to be a witness or face charges of contempt of court.  Jones had replied that if Crowley wouldn’t volunteer to help him, he certainly wasn’t going to beg.  Fuller thought that Jones had been very honourable, though misguided.”

Read the entire profile here:


Frater Lux Ad Mundi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *