A bunch of my journo friends regularly amuse themselves towards the end of the week by sharing their pick of the most improbable headlines they've seen recently.
One of the most memorable they've ever turned up came from the UK's Daily Mirror a couple of months ago - I was just strumming a pretend banjo.
A middle-aged man on a morning commuter train had been accused of 'public indecency' after a female fellow passenger complained that he appeared to be masturbating under a newspaper that he'd placed across his lap.
His defence was that he had been playing air banjo... under the newspaper. And, well, yes, he might have scratched his balls a bit as well, but chaps do that, it's perfectly normal. And his laboured breathing was caused by a chest infection.
Apparently, evidence was produced to show that the man was indeed a banjo player, and thus might have been practising his musicianship without his, er, instrument. At the climax (ahem) of his defence, he performed an elaborate mime of the suspect conduct, which produced widespread sniggers in court, but was sufficient to persuade a majority of the jurors of his possible innocence.
This is one of the reasons why I never fancied practising criminal law. I couldn't motivate myself to go to such extraordinary lengths in concocting a defence. Or, if I had been able to come up with something like this, I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to carry it off with a straight face.
As a sometime lawyer, the most intriguing aspect of this story for me is the judge's summing up. As reported, it would seem that the judge in effect offered supplementary evidence of his own (on the prevalence and naturalness of men "rearranging themselves") and virtually instructed the jury to acquit. This is very, very naughty. It's the most outrageously prejudicial summing up I've heard... since this one.