A 41 year-old man from Scotland has pleaded guilty to four charges of culpable and reckless conduct after being accused of not disclosing his HIV status to four women between 2003 and 2008, only one of whom became HIV-positive. Although there have been almost 20 convictions for reckless HIV transmission in the UK since 2001 (of which only two were in Scotland), this is the first time that a conviction for HIV exposure following non-disclosure has been successfully prosecuted in the United Kingdom, although Scottish law has always allowed for this possibility.
The case of Mark Devereaux has been widedly reported in both Scottish and English media. While reports on BBC Online, the Scotsman, and STV.tv were somewhat neutral, tabloid coverage has been typically stigmatising, including today’s Scottish Sun (Headline: “HIV fiend is lowest of the low” – inexplicably, he is named as Richard Devereaux in the article); Scottish Daily Record (which calls him a “callous predator”); and the UK-wide Daily Express (Headline: “HIV rat facing prison for infecting his lover’).
Most of the articles focus on the fact that the 28 year-old woman who became HIV-positive was diagnosed during routine prenatal screening. She subsequently terminated the twins she was expecting with Devereaux. Some also refer to a fifth woman who was diagnosed alongside Devereaux in 1994. All of the articles rubbish Mr Devereaux’s defence that he was in denial because the proseucution provide evidence that he was taking antiretrovirals – as if the two are incompatible!
BBC Online also followed up its news story with a second report published today focusing on the reaction by the HIV sector, and specifically its concern that this conviction will lead to more arrests for non-disclosure without transmission in Scotland.
Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National Aids Trust (NAT), said: “It is totally unjust to single out people with an HIV diagnosis for punishment for unprotected sex – we all need to be wiser and safer, looking after ourselves and those we have sex with.
“Most HIV transmissions are from people who have never had an HIV test.
“We recommend that the Scottish Executive change the law so that people with HIV cannot be charged with culpable and reckless conduct if no transmission took place.”
Roy Kilpatrick, chief executive of HIV Scotland, said: “We are particularly worried about the fact that prosecutions were brought in this case in respect of three sexual partners of Mr Devereaux who had not contracted HIV.
“We recognise that the primary motivation for bringing this prosecution must have been the actual transmission of HIV and that the prosecution would have felt it necessary to put the full context before the court.
“However, it would be alarming if the charges brought in this case open the door for future prosecutions in cases where no harm has been caused.”
He said that bringing prosecutions where no harm had been caused would stigmatise people living with HIV.
Mr Kilpatrick called for a clear statement of Scottish prosecution policy.