LONDON — A former British lawmaker diagnosed with severe dementia appeared briefly in court Friday after being threatened with arrest if he failed to attend a hearing on charges of sex crimes against children.
Greville Janner came to Westminster Magistrates’ Court after the failure of a last-minute attempt to appear via video link because of his ill health. He wore a soiled green cardigan and said, “Ooh this is wonderful,” as he entered the court.
The appearance will be seen as a victory to those who have campaigned to have him appear — regardless of his infirmities.
It comes at a time when Britain has seen a spate of investigations of historic sex abuse following the 2011 death of entertainer Jimmy Savile, when dozens came forward to say he had abused them. The shocking revelations touched off other investigations, and subsequent revelations have implicated other high-profile figures.
Prosecutors originally said they would not charge the 86-year-old Janner for alleged offenses against boys several decades ago because his Alzheimer’s meant he was not fit to stand trial. After those who claimed he abused them expressed outrage, the decision was reversed.
Janner was a Labour Party lawmaker from 1970-97 and later served in the House of Lords. He is accused of 22 offenses in 1960s, 70s and 80s, mostly in his central England constituency.
His family said he is innocent.
He faces a likely “trial of the facts” which determines whether a defendant committed the alleged offenses, but does not result in a verdict or a sentence. At most, the defendant could be placed under supervision or confined to a hospital.
Janner served as president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews from 1978 to 1984, and was a vice president of the World Jewish Congress until 2009.