Sensational as the vertiginous plunge of Sir Jimmy Savile’s reputation has been in Britain, sinking from national treasure knighted by the Queen and the Pope to reviled pervert, the Oktoberfest of news about him turns out to have been merely the hors d’oeuvre ahead of a Christmas feast of celebrity arrests for the tabloids to gorge on.
There was little surprise when “usual suspect” glam rocker Garry Glitter had his collar felt yet again (not so glam these days, sadly), but comedian Freddie Starr, DJ Dave Lee Travis and TV presenter Stuart Hall were quite another matter. And now, most stunningly of all, bearing in mind his aura of sober respectability, Max Clifford, PR to the stars, has found himself in clink. This master of spin will need all his skill to spin himself out of trouble.
This stuff could fill the Heretic TOC blog for page after page, just as it is doing in the British press, but there is good reason to focus on just one, rather different, element of the current obsession with sex offences in Britain. It is an element that we are told, not very convincingly, has nothing whatever to do with the spate of allegations against celebrities. I refer to yesterday’s announcement from the Sentencing Council that under new draft guidelines sentences for rapists and other sex offenders in England and Wales “could become tougher”, in the words of a BBC online report, “to recognise the long-term psychological harm they cause”.
On BBC radio’s flagship Today programme, Lord Justice Treacy, a member of the Sentencing Council, said the guidelines had not been affected by the Savile case, which is still under investigation. While this could be true, the final draft of the guidelines will inevitably be deeply affected by the current public mood, strongly influenced as it is, day after day, by a steady stream of horror stories, real or imagined, now surfacing in relation to “historic” offences dating back many decades.
One aspect of all this that was downplayed by the BBC and the press, is that these guidelines have been published as the basis for a formal public consultation period that will last from now until 14 March next year. So, evidence-based submissions will be received and, in theory at least, taken into account.
Accordingly, Heretic TOC readers who feel they have something to say now have a chance to do so. You will need to visit the website of the Sentencing Council for instructions; the exercise will require reading the 370-page consultation document and then commenting on the draft proposals. It will not be a quick or easy task, but could be a worthwhile one if you have something substantial to say, especially if you can back it up credibly, from legal, academic, etc. sources, including perhaps documented cases in which you have been personally involved.
I propose to make my own submission, which will readily concede that psychological harm is important but will question its inevitability or likelihood in non-coercive cases.
This will not be my first such endeavour. Ten years ago I made a submission on sentencing in child pornography cases. Was it worthwhile? Did it make a difference? The Sunday Express did its best to make a connection between “softer sentences” recommended by the then Sentencing Advisory Panel and my input. I have no idea whether there was any truth in the story. I doubt I can take much credit, if any. However, if we fail even to have a go at making a difference can we then absolve ourselves of all blame for the result?