Law & Order: SVU - Saturday January 12

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The Law & Order spin-off following New York’s elite special victims unit concludes its fifth series tonight. In the season finale, a spy cam in a public toilet records a woman’s sexual attack on a 12year-old boy. But when Benson and Stabler identify the culprit, they find her motives are more complicated than they first appeared.

A chance discovery of a spy cam in a coffee shop toilet leads the detectives to suspect a pervert may be planting cameras in cubicles all over the city. They trace the device to an electronics store where a woman named Charlie Donato admits that she makes them to order, while another witness claims to have seen the culprit leaving the café in a cab. The cops acquire the man’s address from the taxi firm and discover that it is Charlie’s home. She confesses that she supplied her brother Wade with one of the cameras, and cops find a stash of home-made voyeur DVDs in the apartment.

Wade Donato is arrested and confesses to filming men and women in public toilets. He convinces the cops to reduce the charges against him by tipping them off to another crime that he inadvertently caught on camera. Spooling through the footage, the detectives find a recording of a sex attack on a young boy. “The toilet pervert caught a sexual assault,” Cragen says.

Wade tells the cops the assault occurred in a Central Park bathroom near to some football pitches. From the video, the police capture a clear image of the boy and of the attacker’s clothes and manicured fingernails. “Our molester’s a woman,” Fin concludes.

The boy is identified as 12-year-old Shane Madden, who was playing football for his school team on the day of the attack. When questioned at school, Shane refuses to talk about the assault, while his former nanny is one of several witnesses who points the finger of blame at the boy’s alcoholic mother, Jackie. “When she’s drunk, Mrs Madden has no idea what she’s doing,” she says.

However, a video from the football game shows that Jackie Madden was wearing different clothes to the attacker. Stabler’s attention turns to Shane’s school principal, Meredith Rice, when he sees her talking to the boy in private. Teachers at the school report that Meredith has pulled Shane out of class a number of times recently, while her stepson reports that she has been acting “weird”. With the net closing in on her, Meredith suddenly flees, taking Shane with her, only to be stopped by police and arrested.

At the station, Meredith confesses to assaulting Shane, but insists that since then, their relationship has been consensual. The principal’s increasingly erratic behaviour culminates when she kisses Stabler in the interrogation room and he throws her against the wall – provoking a seizure. Meredith is rushed to hospital, leaving Stabler to face the wrath of Internal Affairs. “I thought I used appropriate force,” he says.

A CT scan reveals that Meredith’s behaviour is due to a large brain tumour. The tumour is successfully removed, only for the doctor to reveal that the condition could absolve Meredith of her crime. “Frontal lobe damage can diminish impulse control,” she says. Meredith herself admits that she was unable to resist the impulses that made her abuse Shane. “I knew it was wrong but the urges were so strong that they just took over my mind,” she tells Dr Huang. When another brain scan indicates that Meredith is now “cured”, ADA Novak is left with a moral dilemma – should she prosecute a woman who was seemingly not responsible for her actions?

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