Britain, I fear, will soon sink beneath the sea under the sheer weight of sex abuse claims made in the wake of the Savile affair. The first great tsunami, late last year, rolled across the land in the form of hundreds of allegations against Savile himself; hard behind, a roiling tide fast engulfed fellow celebrities – singers, comedians, concert promoters – and a major inquiry into “historic abuse”, implicating senior figures “at the heart of government”, crested the waves of excitement.
Now, in the last few weeks, new allegations in all sorts of unexpected shapes and sizes, like the crazily miscellaneous flotsam that all great floods bear along, have crashed into the chaotic melee: look there’s a lord in ermine bobbing about, his political reputation floating off to oblivion! Then, can it really be…yes, it’s one of the nation’s favourite TV soap opera stars, charged with “child rape”. Plus one, two – no it’s three – God it’s gone up to four; bloody hell it’s FIVE musical maestros from one of the most famous music academies in the land: all of them facing the music for vilely fiddling with their violin students! And to cap it all, we spot a red-capped cardinal, no less, struggling at first in the turbulent waters, then going decisively under. He’ll not be seen at the new pope’s election!
All this in the little island nation that once proudly boasted Britannia rules the waves! So, how to quell this terrible tempest? What to do? Well, if you can’t rule the waves you can try waiving the rules, which is pretty much what has been announced today by Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, the weak-kneed, lily-livered former human rights lawyer of whom great things were hoped, now just a dedicated follower of moral panic-driven fashion.
Child sex abuse investigations, Starmer pronounced, put too much focus on the victims’ credibility and not enough on the suspects. He announced a shake-up of the existing guidelines, saying “we cannot afford another Savile moment”. Hundreds of cases where there was no prosecution could be re-examined. These new guidelines will be developed, with a public consultation of the draft proposals, over the coming months.
No details yet, then, but the implications are clear, and clearly dangerous. Starmer’s earlier reaction to a dodgy police enquiry into the Savile revelations was revealing. That was the one, it may be recalled, that declared hundreds of complainants should be considered as definite victims, rather than alleged victims, even though evidence had never been heard in court. Starmer lamely backed that ghastly report, thereby grievously undermining the principle “innocent under proved guilty”. Now he threatens further to erode this cornerstone of justice in ways he as an experienced lawyer should know beyond doubt will lead to terrible injustice.
The present rules are in place for a very good reason: they came after a whole string of major miscarriages of justice in completely bogus “Satanic abuse” cases when children were needlessly dragged from their homes and taken from their parents “into care” i.e. away from care, for months on end. More recently, about a decade ago, other wrongful convictions were overturned after a great panic over alleged abuse at children’s homes turned out to be just that. Men had been wrongly jailed for years, losing their livelihoods, their marriages, their reputation, their dignity, all to secure “justice”, in those cases, for bogus compensation seekers and flaky personalities drawn to the tawdry power and glory of being able to point accusing fingers, and become lauded as “courageous survivors”.
“A new genre of miscarriages of justice has arisen from the over-enthusiastic pursuit of these allegations”. Those were the words of the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee in 2002, but now the lessons of that time are being forgotten. Mark Newby, a solicitor who formed a panel to look at historic child abuse allegations, said today he was “gravely concerned” the balance might be shifted too far in favour of the victim. “We have to be really careful not to create a whole new genre of miscarriage because of the current atmosphere and pandemonium over these cases,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Too darned right! The perils of credulous belief in the stories of compensation hunters were highlighted vividly in a piece yesterday by the estimable blogger Anna Raccoon. Fellow heretics may recall that she was a pupil at Duncroft School, the one frequented by Jimmy Savile, and that she has blogged with admirable scepticism about the allegations.
I’d love to stop at this point, because that’s the main news right there already, in one super-compressed roll-up of many stories. The “crazily miscellaneous flotsam” does need some minimal picking and sorting, though, to note that not all of this stuff has been about child so-called sexual abuse. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, for instance, the UK’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric, resigned as head of the Scottish Catholic church after being accused of “inappropriate acts” towards fellow priests. His worst crime in my book was extreme hypocrisy: in recent years, he has been highly vitriolic in his denunciations of homosexuality, but has now admitted he engaged in homosexual acts himself. No great surprise in this really: we should also suspect that many of those who are most venomous against paedophilia are struggling to deny or repress their own inclinations.
Also worth mentioning is that the alleged sins of Lord Rennard, a senior member of the Liberal Democrats, currently a governing party in coalition with the Conservatives, were confined to extremely nebulous “inappropriate” behaviour towards some female politicians – not the most obviously “vulnerable” people, one would have thought. As Zoe Williams noted in the Guardian, “Used by the women in this case, it means touching anyone, anywhere, with whom you do not have a prior touching agreement.” So, no more than an unbidden arm around the shoulder, maybe? Yet these allegations were leading the national news for days on end. Rennard was allegedly forced to resign a party position over these accusations some years ago, but only recently have the women gone public. The “scandal” nearly cost the Lib Dems one of their safest seats in parliament in a crucial by-election last week.
What does it all mean? One obvious and grim interpretation is that victim feminism is more virulent than ever, driving zero tolerance of male transgressions (if that’s what they are) to ever more demented extremes. The good news, perhaps, is that the Lib Dems survived the crisis. Maybe the electorate as a whole doesn’t really give a damn about precisely where His Lordship’s hand was placed, or whether he “inappropriately” suggested going back to his place for a bit of hanky panky, or rumpy pumpy, or whatever words lordly lotharios use for these things. Not that I am advocating “sexual harassment” here. Just a sane sense of proportion. The thought that many voters out there have not abandoned such a sense of proportion is perhaps worth hanging onto. Or is that a case of a drowning man clutching at straws in the midst of all the tsunamis!