We don’t expect anything much to happen at 9.30 on a Sunday morning.

It’s a time when usually I would be mooching about with a cup of coffee and looking forward to another coma-inducingly complex Brexit analysis on the Andrew Marr Show, where we are no longer, it seems, stuck on the “backstop” (that’s the ordinary backstop), or even the “backstop to the backstop”. We have made great progress. We have moved on, so that instead of failing to come to any agreement on backstops we are now hopelessly mired on the “transition”, and even the “transition from the transition” – and no, for those of you who haven’t been following closely, I am not talking about trans persons or any aspect of sex or sexuality.

But I soon will be, as you will be relieved to hear.

So. Sunday. No comforting coffee or mystifying Marr. Just an empty platform in a quiet London Tube station as I make my way to the start of a conference. With only the sound of my own footsteps for company I make my lonely way to the exit. As I turn a corner onto a staircase I see my first humans. A couple. Or so I think, as the stocky man and slim woman appear to be walking together side by side some distance up ahead of me.

So when he gives her a firm spank on the backside I guess it must be a relationship thing. You know, playful. Pert enough posterior, I must admit, barely covered by hot-pants of a provocative shortness I haven’t seen for decades in my own sartorially challenged thigh of the woods. The young lady was about 30. Had she been only 20 years younger I would certainly have envied her “boyfriend” or “partner”.

Expecting some lively banter between the two, I was quickly disillusioned. Without a word, and without looking back or in any way acknowledging the man, she quickened her pace up the steps. As the distance between spanker and spankee grew it became apparent he was drunk, lurching from side to side. I gave him a wide berth as I overtook. Not that I thought he would spank my elderly male backside (no hot pants there, I assure you!) but I didn’t want any sort of confrontation.

That same morning, though, I found myself voluntarily confronting about a hundred people over this incident when I raised it as a question in a conference session at the Barbican Centre titled “Consent classes: from school to parliament and beyond”. By the time I spoke, several of the feminist platform speakers had come on strong in various ways (no surprise), suggesting that teaching strict rules for consent to schoolchildren or students is vital but not enough; basically, the consensus was little short of “All men should be castrated”.

In this atmosphere, I confess, I didn’t have the balls to suggest that even young children can consent – I might not have kept them for long had I tried! In any case, I was curious to sound out opinion on the Tube station spanker.

“A funny thing happened on my way to the conference,” I began. Well, not really: to me it had been “funny peculiar” but no way did I want anyone to think I meant “funny ha-ha”. I was also acutely aware that many women complain of sexual harassment such as uninvited spanking on an almost daily basis. So I took pains to emphasise that in all my many years I had never before actually witnessed such an incident in front of my very eyes.

“What should I have done?” I asked. “Should I have intervened in any way?”

It was pleasant, I have to say, to find myself in a good-guy role for once, the role of the Concerned Bystander. OK, so I hadn’t actually done anything good. A proper “English gentleman” might have taken the scoundrel by the scruff of the neck and given him a damn good thrashing, but that would have been far too aggressively masculine to win the approval of this conference session.

No, just thinking vaguely the right thoughts in an ineffectual way was apparently good enough for this surprisingly easy-to-please audience. One of the sterner panel speakers, law professor Susan Edwards, author of Sex and Gender in the Legal Process, seemed to think it was important that my consciousness had been raised. Alisha Lobo, a university students’ “community officer”, said she would have intervened herself, but only to go and ask the woman if she was alright. As a man, though, could I have done this without raising worries about my ulterior motives?

A guy in the audience pointed out that everyone, including the perpetrator, knows that spanking a complete stranger in a Tube station is bad behaviour. Consent classes would make no difference.

The best answer came from panellist Joanna Williams, author of Women vs Feminism and associate editor of Spiked. Instead of getting all worked up over “someone touching someone’s bum on a Sunday morning at Barbican Tube station”, she said, women should be celebrating their freedom, gained not so long ago, to go out in the world as independent people. The present emphasis on victimhood through “harassment”, “micro-aggressions” and the like, risked sacrificing spontaneity, freedom and intimacy. The Tube spanker’s behaviour was definitely unpleasant but the cost of trying to eliminate such incidents through ever greater vigilance and sex-negativity was far too high.

I am happy to say she got a very vigorous round of applause.

The conference was the excellent annual Battle of Ideas chat-fest on topical controversies, from #MeToo to Brexit to climate change, organised by the Institute of Ideas, whose director, Claire Fox, will be known to many heretics as a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze. Those with an elephantine memory will recall that I wrote about this gathering a couple of years ago in “Are we (or they) driving kids crazy?

With Steve Freeman, my successor as chair of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), barbarically incarcerated on an indeterminate sentence of “imprisonment for public protection” (IPP) for the last seven years for child porn offences , I thought I should also attend the session on the policy of offender rehabilitation in prison, and whether it works.

Much of the session was focused, reasonably enough, on the lack of funding for getting offenders back on their feet when they leave the prison gate. Instead of getting the help they need they are left to wallow in unresolved problems, especially as regards drugs and alcohol, and a lack of skills that would enable them to gain and hold down a job. As a result, they soon find themselves back inside after re-offending: it is known as the revolving door syndrome.

I would have preferred a session given over entirely to the horror-story that the IPP system has become. The idea was supposed to be that “dangerous” prisoners, including sex offenders,  should only be released when they are no longer considered dangerous. In theory this need take only as long as necessary to successfully complete a treatment programme aimed at rehabilitation – which might mean a matter of months rather than years. In practice, staffing and other difficulties have meant that the required courses have often been long delayed, and the Parole Board has been reluctant to release anyone labelled “dangerous” for fear of the media shit-storm that would ensue in the event of any further offending.

Also, there has been a huge problem for heretics. In order to “pass” the Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP) the offender has needed to convince the assessors running the courses that he (it’s usually a male) has changed his beliefs and no longer has an “offence supporting attitude” or a so-called “cognitive distortion” that makes him think consensual sex with minors is OK. A lot of us would struggle with this test, wouldn’t we?

Then, last year, came the shock news (no surprise to me but it was to the authorities) that the SOTP doesn’t actually work, and that those who have successfully completed the courses re-offend at a higher rate than those who do not! Logically, then, if you cannot “cure” offenders who are too “dangerous” to release, they must remain locked up.

So it’s a nightmare scenario for the remaining IPP prisoners, who find themselves stuck in a legal limbo that neither the parole authorities nor the politicians dare tackle. It has become a gulag system, much like the endless “civil commitment” faced by many sex offenders in the U.S. i.e. continuing detention behind bars long after their sentence has ended, waiting for a “cure” that does not exist. Note that the IPP is officially a life sentence, although the offence leading to it can be relatively minor, with a minimum term (sometimes called the “tariff”) that might be under a year. In Steve’s case it was two and a half years and he has so far served seven.

Nobody at the Barbican even mentioned sex offenders until I raised the subject.

Wouldn’t it be a far better use of resources, I asked, now that the SOTP is known to be useless, to spend the money instead on practical post-release help, making sure ex-offenders have somewhere to live and so forth? Whether the remaining IPP prisoners should in justice be released immediately, after completing their tariff, was a follow-up question I had in mind, albeit the session was too short to take it.

The panel included Jerry Petherick, previously a prison governor responsible for HMP Dartmoor and now the director in charge of all the G4S prisons in the UK, including HMP Rye Hill, where all the inmates are sex offenders. To my surprise, this guy from the hard-nosed capitalist business of making money out of locking people up came across as surprisingly pleasant and well-meaning, notwithstanding the terrible mess his company has made of riot-stricken HMP Birmingham, now taken back into state control.

And judging by the answer he gave me he is pleasant and well-meaning but with little to offer but waffle and bureaucratic bullshit. He spoke of the “demise” of the SOTP, saying it had caused “real uncertainty as to how and how effectively it will be replaced”. How indeed. He didn’t get much further.

In the chair was Pamela Dow, a former director of strategy with the Ministry of Justice. She claimed the SOTP had worked well in its early phase when it was in the hands of experienced clinical psychologists, but when it was rolled out over the whole prison estate it was not given enough funding and was delivered by poorly trained staff.

I totally believe her. But again unanswered was the question of what comes next?

Nobody mentioned the new Kaizen programme, perhaps because there is some embarrassment over this fancy-sounding rebranding of the SOTP, re-launched with a few untested tweaks. This is designed to be a more “holistic” (great buzzword!) course for supposedly high risk offenders such as Steve,  incorporating “biological, social and psychological factors”, whatever that means. There is also the Horizon programme for lower risk offenders. As a blog associated with the journal Sexual Abuse pointed out, these courses may be evidence-informed but they are not evidence-based. Citing forensic psychologist Ruth Mann, the bloggers suspect that we can see “the evil twin of evidence-based policy-making” at work in this case, namely “policy-based evidence-making”.

But there may be some faint hope for better policy. The holistic approach (soothingly served up to me by Mr Pecksniff, sorry Petherick, when I button-holed him at the end of the session) could actually have something going for it. In the damning academic evaluation of the SOTP, one of the possible reasons given for the programme’s failure was its one-size-fits-all nature, with violent young rapists considered just the same as gentle and often elderly kind inmates.

I could have told them this. In fact I did, in an article published in the house journal of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) a few years ago. Maybe someone has noticed at last. My main point was that heretics like us do not take kindly (pun intended!) to having it dinned into us that we must have “cognitive distortions” and lack empathy. Either of these failings could be a factor (as one would expect when children are manipulated or coercively molested) but it ain’t necessarily so. And if it ain’t so we won’t buy it. We will instead either be in open revolt against the objectives of the course or seethe in quiet resentment. Either way, the programme will fail.

Far better, I said, would be to have programmes that respect the individuality of the inmates concerned, giving participants the opportunity to discuss their beliefs freely, and any evidence they know of that supports them. Resistance to the prescribed ideology should not on its own be taken to indicate that an inmate is still dangerous when a fair and intelligent evaluation of their expressed views would suggest the opposite.

Steve could pass that course, and rightly so.