Until the Times and Sunday Times published reports on Russell Brand over the weekend, and Dispatches broadcast a film of their joint investigation, it was not widely known that the star is an alleged rapist and sexual abuser. The testimony of “Alice” (a pseudonym), who was 16 when Mr Brand, then aged 30, allegedly initiated a sexual relationship with her in London, shocked millions of people. She described him choking her with his penis and forcing her to swallow his saliva.
Another woman, “Nadia”, alleged that she was raped by Mr Brand in 2012 and has evidence of records from a rape crisis centre. She saved text messages that reveal him apologising, and her reply of “when a girl says NO it means no”. A third woman, “Phoebe”, recalled running from his house in bare feet, terrified by what she alleges were his attempts to initiate sex while naked and wearing a glazed expression.
Mr Brand’s behaviour is now under scrutiny as never before. But just as disturbing as the information placed in the public domain by these brave women is the fact that plenty of the material now being pored over is not new. Mr Brand made a career – and a fortune – out of the public’s enjoyment of his lewd, lascivious conduct. His acts included frequent references to his lack of self-control, obscene jokes, and behaviour such as kissing people (including journalists) on the mouth or removing his clothes. While most of those involved may have consented, in the sense that they laughed along and did not make complaints, it now seems obvious that Mr Brand habitually crossed lines to an unacceptable degree.
In a repulsive call that he made on his BBC Radio 2 show, five years before Jimmy Savile was exposed as a serial rapist, Mr Brand offered to send round his assistant with no clothes on. Only once, in 2008, did he appear to have been knocked off course. When he and a guest on his show, Jonathan Ross, left a voice message for the actor Andrew Sachs saying that Mr Brand had had sex with his granddaughter, the BBC received 44,000 complaints. Mr Brand and Radio 2’s controller, Lesley Douglas, both resigned. But he was soon back in the public eye, having reinvented himself as an anti-establishment commentator, appearing on Newsnight and Question Time, and writing for this newspaper.
There are outstanding questions for the BBC, Channel 4 and Endemol – the production company behind Big Brother – regarding records of Mr Brand’s behaviour when he worked for them. Investigations are now under way. The television and film industry knows that it has a problem, and a new body, the Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority, is in the process of being set up, with a remit to investigate complaints and provide a new layer of protection. The need for this is particularly urgent in a sector that is fragmented, rife with power imbalances, and heavily reliant on freelance workers.
Senior MPs have encouraged the women involved in the investigation to go to the police. The suggestion made by “Alice” that the law should change, so that it is not legal for an adult of 30 to have sex with a 16-year-old, deserves a hearing. But what measure of accountability – or justice – is achievable will also depend on the public, and on the giant internet businesses that are now Mr Brand’s most important platforms. This self-styled enemy of the mainstream media issued his denial of the allegations on Google-owned YouTube.
Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a response of up to 300 words by email to be considered for publication in our letters section, please click here.