The talk is all Brexit here in Britain, from breakfast to bedtime, and quite rightly so given its huge importance – that and the political shenanigans that have foisted a new prime minister on the country and threaten to shatter the main opposition party. But Heretic TOC is going to show Brexit the exit today as there has also been a lot of Kind news that should not pass unnoticed: not just the now horribly routine draconian sentences but a thoroughly mixed bag of significant stories, with glimmers here and there of resistance to the mainstream abuse narrative. Forgive me for trying to cram a pint into a half-pint pot, but it may be best this time if I pass fairly briskly from one item to another, giving lots of links to fuller accounts.
Let’s get the really nasty stuff out of the way first. Particularly shocking to me personally was a long sentence imposed on one of two guys who had been leading members of Paedophile Action for Liberation (PAL) back in the 1970s. They were Doug Slade, then serving as a petty officer with the Royal Navy, and Chris Skeaping, a racing driver. Slade was sentenced earlier this month to 24 years for truly “historic” sex offences – over 50 years ago, in 1965 – after being extradited from the Philippines; Skeaping awaits sentence. Along with child welfare officer Ian Melville, they were blasted as “The vilest men in Britain” in the tabloid Sunday People’s exposé of PAL in 1975. PAL collapsed in disarray as an independent organisation soon after that and was eventually incorporated into the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), which I later chaired. None of the PAL leaders ever became active in the running of PIE and I do not remember any of them even becoming members, though they may have done.
I met Doug and Chris on a couple of occasions, though. While they were never as committed to the political side as some of us in PIE, they struck me as decent enough guys who would never have been coercive in their relationships with youngsters. The salient point about their case, I suggest, is that it would not have happened but for the Daily Mail, who say they “persuaded” one of Slade’s former young boyfriends in the UK to shop him to the police. Once that happened, it was possible for the authorities to get him back from the Philippines last year, where he had been living as a “wealthy businessman” by this time. In other words, the complaint was not spontaneous. Even an NSPCC spokesperson quoted in the Mail’s account implicitly concedes that Slade’s offences were with boys who could well have been willing at the time.
For sheer vindictiveness, though, it is hard to top the response of compo king solicitor Peter Garsden, who has insisted that Slade’s sentence was too light, based on the malignant dogma that “sexual abuse imposes a life sentence of suffering on any victim”.
Fortunately, the falsity of this overworked mantra was made apparent in other news this month, about the chair of the Scottish government’s inquiry into historical child abuse, Susan O’Brien QC. According to the Guardian, published correspondence revealed that at the end of one training session O’Brien referred to a survivor of child sex abuse who had described it as “the best thing that had ever happened” to them! For letting the cat slip out of the bag in this way, O’Brien was threatened by a government minister with the sack, even though her inquiry was supposed to be independent. Clearly she was not going to be able to do the job without government meddling so she resigned. Good for her! It was the second such resignation in double-quick time. Panel member Michael Lamb, a psychology professor at Cambridge University, quit a week before saying the inquiry had been “doomed” by government interference. Good for him! Not good, though, for the credibility of government inquiries in this field.
From the vindictive and the meddling to the downright inhumane. In breach, I would say, of the human right to a private and family life, jailed footballer Adam Johnson was banned from talking to his own daughter because he had broken a sex offender rule stating that he was not to contact children. Guards had overheard him on the phone to his 17-month-old baby daughter after the couple’s mother passed the phone to the child. But the only offence that had put him in prison was of consensual sex with a girl of 15. There was never any suggestion that his own baby was at risk, so enforcement of the rule was utterly unnecessary as well as destructive and cruel.
Inhumane in a different way was the prosecution of a man thought to be the oldest defendant in British legal history, who appeared in court last month at the age of 101 charged with historic sexual offences against three children. His trial has been scheduled for December. Even supposing he makes it that far, which must be in doubt, one has to wonder what purpose is served by hounding him towards his grave.
OK, that’s all the really bad news out of the way. So what chinks of light can we discern? Well, never mind mere chinks, how about this for a great big sunbeam: A judge has allowed a paedophile music teacher to continue working with children after hearing letters of support from 12 of his pupils’ parents. A Daily Mirror report said that Neil Deller, 42, was charged after child porn featuring images “of girls as young as three and bestiality” were found on his computer. But he continued to give private lessons following his arrest two years ago and the parents of many pupils wrote positive references about him. These were presented to Judge Christopher Ball QC who spared Deller jail and refused to ban him from teaching children aged under 18.
Well done Judge Ball! He clearly has balls, as he could easily have been spit-roasted in the media for such a bravely unfashionable decision – although he has just retired at the end of an often outspoken and controversial career and perhaps felt he had little to lose. Congratulations, too, to the independently-minded parents who gave the teacher their support and made the judge’s action possible.
Parents were backing a teacher in trouble on the other side of the Atlantic too. Alexandria Vera, a 24-year-old English teacher, found herself pregnant, apparently by a pupil who was 13 at the start of a sustained relationship. In unusually sympathetic and understanding newspaper coverage, a story in the Santa Monica Observer pointed out that all concerned – the teacher, the boy and his parents – were Hispanic and that “in traditional Mexican culture, teenagers are allowed to have sexual relationships, and couples where the woman is older than the man are commonplace and not denigrated”. The parents had known and approved of the relationship, letting the boy stay with Vera overnight.
Charged with “continuous sexual abuse of a child”, Vera was granted bail last month. Her trial is expected to start any day now. Unfortunately, if she is convicted of the felony charge in question, it looks as though the judge will not have any discretion to take Mexican culture into account. A harsh sentence will be mandatory.
On the celebrity front, things are looking up for veteran pop star Sir Cliff Richard following the high-profile police raid on his Berkshire home nearly two years ago, conducted as part of an investigation into an alleged historic sex offence against a boy in 1985 – though the police in this instance used the euphemism “non-recent”, as though embarrassed (as they should be) by their destruction of people’s lives decades after the event. Or in this case non-event, as it seems, because the CPS finally announced last month that there is “insufficient evidence” to support a prosecution. And just a couple of days ago Sir Cliff launched legal action against the BBC and police for turning his life upside down. The Daily Mail had earlier reported that was about to start a £1mn action for worldwide damage to his reputation after the beeb filmed the police raid on his home. Good luck to him!
Broadcaster, writer, politician and chef Sir Clement Freud, meanwhile, who was himself accorded national treasure status like Sir Cliff, avoided the latter’s problems by very sensibly dying in 2009 while the going was good. This was well ahead of the open season on celebs that began with the posthumous fall from grace of that other once-dazzling knight, Sir Jimmy Savile. So why is “Clay” Freud, as he was known to family and friends, better off dead? If an ITV documentary (which I have not seen) and a Daily Mail report are to be believed, it is because he had at least a couple of sexual dalliances with underage teen girls, one of whom claims he “brutally raped” her later on when she was 18. I’m not sure how seriously we can take the rape claim but the rest does seem highly credible, on the basis of reported admissions by the old boy’s widow: Lady Freud, accused of setting up a three-in-a-bed scenario with herself, a 14-year-old girl and her husband, doesn’t exactly seem to have worked hard at indignant denial. Instead, she meekly apologised for Clay’s feet of clay.
Now another bit of good news: well, good in a way. Stephen Rice, a producer with the Australian TV documentary strand 60 Minutes, has been sacked. I do not know Mr Rice and would not normally celebrate an individual’s career setback, but I must confess to a warm glow of schadenfreude over the reputational damage caused to 60 Minutes from the disastrous misadventure that got the producer and the show into deep trouble in the Middle East, when four crew members found themselves locked up in Beirut for two weeks by the Lebanese authorities, suspected of complicity with a child abduction. A tragically broken family is at the heart of the disaster and that is certainly no cause for joy. But good could come of it if 60 Minutes is made to behave more responsibly in future. It was this same low-grade, grossly sensationalist TV series, it may be remembered, who interviewed me when I was trying to defend my friend Charles Napier at the height of the Westminster so-called VIP paedophilia scandal. 60 Minutes was among those media outfits that chose to believe and play up the now discredited lies of several fantasist opportunists who had concocted bizarre, obviously suspect, and gravely defamatory yarns about VIPs, including Edward Heath, the late former prime minister whose main achievement was to take Britain into the European Economic Community, which later became the European Union, which the nation has just voted to leave…
And so, perhaps inevitably, back to Brexit. My final glimmer of light in this blog comes from the day of the referendum vote itself. That is when I heard on the radio about a new report by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) drawing attention to the continued plight of prisoners who remain on indeterminate (IPP) sentences in the UK, despite what the PRT described as “near universal criticism of the sentence from judges, Parole Board members, HM Prisons Inspectorate, the Prison Governors’ Association, staff, prisoners and their families”. Steven Adrian Freeman, my successor as chair of PIE, has been languishing in prison on one of the sentences long after completing the 30-month “tariff” originally set by the court in his case.
Justice secretary Michael Gove said in a recent speech “there are a significant number of IPP prisoners who are still in jail after having served their full tariff who need to be given hope that they can contribute positively to society in the future.”
Without all the Brexit turmoil, Gove might well have decided it was time to scrap the IPP. But new prime minister Theresa May takes over today and Gove could be out of his job when she picks her new cabinet. Or he could be told to get on with it. May herself has already made some encouraging noises, hinting that she wants to be a reforming leader and sounding almost like former opposition leader Ed Miliband. Perhaps she will look favourably on prison reform. We can only hope that time will be found for legislation that includes the abolition of IPP. But many good ideas are bound to be crowded out, and the new government will inevitably find much of its time taken up by Brexit.