Blame the goats, pigs, caterpillars, slugs…

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In the wake of the great Jimmy Savile so-called child sexual abuse scandal of 2012, there has been a whole series of prosecutions of similarly high-profile figures in the UK for alleged sex offences. Interestingly, these are now producing a crop of acquittals as juries refuse to take the word of those claiming to be victims.

Most recent of them was that of Nigel Evans, a former deputy speaker of the House of Commons, hence quite a lynchpin of the country’s democratic governance. He was cleared of all charges this month, having been accused by seven men of offences ranging from molestation to rape. This followed the earlier acquittals of Michael Le Vell and Bill Roache, stars of Coronation Street, the world’s longest-running TV soap opera, and Dave Lee Travis, a DJ whose radio show emerged as a surprise favourite of Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader.

These cases were driven by a bandwagon factor. The Savile saga started a fashion for previously silent “victims” to come forward “bravely” with allegations of “historic abuse” from years earlier. A feature of most of these manifestations of victim culture was multiple accusers: it looks as though police and prosecutors were hoping to find strength in numbers: never mind the quality of the evidence, feel the quantity.

Now that these tactics have failed, mercifully, a backlash against prosecutorial zealotry has already started. This has to be a good thing, but it leaves open a question that has been with us since the Savile bandwagon began to roll. In that case, the “perpetrator” died before he could be brought to trial. But, as was noted by sceptics at the time, that did not stop the police pouring vast resources into gathering more and more Savile abuse yarns. Why?

There is an admirable BBC radio series called The Long View, which offers a historical perspective on current issues. I think it is time for us to follow that example:

In June 1494, a piglet was taken into custody in Clermont, France, for having “strangled and defaced a young child in its cradle”. It seems that the suspect would have been confined in the same cell and treated in much the same way as a human prisoner, before being tried in front of a court “as justice and reason would desire and require”. Witnesses were summoned and cross-examined, and once satisfied of the defendant’s guilt, the court held that the pig be “strangled on a gibbet of wood” so that “an example may be made and justice maintained”. (Grayshott, 2013)

The above is from a review of Animal Trials by Edward Payson Evans, first published in 1906 and reissued last year. According to Evans, such trials were commonplace, forming part of the fabric of medieval European justice. It wasn’t just pigs in the pillory or dogs in the dock. The courts put on trial an entire Noah’s Ark of criminal creatures including “caterpillars, flies, locusts, leeches, snails, slugs, worms, weevils, rats, mice, moles, turtle doves, pigs, bulls, cows, cocks, dogs, asses, mules, mares and goats”.

Great care was taken to observe due process and ensure a fair trial. In 1314, a bull was taken into custody by the officers of the Comte de Valois, after it escaped onto a road and killed someone. The death sentence was passed and carried out, but an appeal court later ruled that the bull had been wrongfully arrested, thus overturning the verdict on a technicality. In the case of a condemned French donkey, an appeal and retrial resulted in a sentence of hanging being commuted to being “simply knocked on the head”. Sometimes, the accused would be acquitted.

Some animals were accused along with their owners. In cases of bestiality, both parties were usually burned at the stake. In one case, from Vanves in 1750, an entire community formally swore to the good character of a female ass. The beast, their statement read, “had always shown herself to be virtuous and well behaved both at home and abroad and had never given occasion of scandal to anyone”.

We started with a question. What was the point of the police throwing resources into the Savile case, an apparently irrational exercise because you cannot bring a dead man to justice? These animal trials invite a very similar question. What was the purpose of all this elaborate ritual invested in the criminalization of beasts who knew nothing of the law or of any obligation to obey it? Punishing one animal would not deter another from similar transgressions.

Evans demonstrated that these trials were not meant as an exercise in preventive justice. The owners of the guilty animals were not generally held responsible, and were sometimes even compensated for the loss occasioned by the execution of their animals. The trials were actually part of an even longer tradition, going back to ancient times, in which inanimate objects were “punished”. In Athens, there were laws which required weapons that had killed people to be publicly condemned before being thrown beyond the boundaries of the city state. A statue of the athlete Nikon which had been pushed from its pedestal, crushing one of its assailants to death, was brought before a tribunal and sentenced to be cast into the sea.

Evans concluded that such acts should be seen as solemn acts of expiation by which the community could cleanse itself of things that had offended against the natural order, irrespective of the notional guilt of an animal or a thing. We will do well to note that astute observation carefully: there are times when innocence and guilt are not really the issue, even though the formal apparatus of justice proceeds as if it were. Far more important may be the perceived enormity of what has happened, an enormity which demands an equally great ritual response, no matter how preposterous the Theatre of Absurdity generated thereby.

Note, too, that what counts is perceived enormity. If your crops and vines are utterly laid waste by a plague of locusts, or if someone has been killed by an animal, the enormity of the event is obviously very real, and the psychological need for an act of expiation is easily understood. But not all such psychological need is so grounded in tangible ills. In more religious times than our own, transgressions against sexual mores would have been seen as putting oneself in dire peril of everlasting suffering in Hell. The fact that this peril is all in the mind does not make it any the less horrible, or real as a crippling fear.

In our own times, there is less fretting over Hell but perhaps much more anxiety over missing out in the here and now. Modern advertising relentlessly pushes a sense of entitlement (“because you’re worth it!”), but what happens when people find they are not actually worth it? What is to be done when their shitty zero hours “job” is screaming at them, you’re worth fuck all, mate? Whether it’s material insecurity and failure in a relentlessly changing and competitive global economy, or personal relationship calamities in the fragile nuclear family, millions find that life has failed to live up to its billing in the glossy lifestyle mags.

But, never mind, capitalism is on hand to sell them other dodgy goods. The first task of the advertisers is to take the toxic brand called “personal failure” and repackage it as something more appealing and saleable, namely “victimhood”. Personal failure is a tough sell because our egos won’t let us think ill of ourselves if we can find a more palatable solution. As victims, though, we can be sold all sorts of stuff acceptably, from anti-depressants to therapy, on the basis that someone else is to blame for our troubles. Party politics gets in on the act by competitively pandering to the victim vote. A sign of the times is that former Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, who led the charge to reverse the “innocent until proven guilty” principle in the case of Jimmy Savile, is now rumoured to be seeking a political career on the back of this all-too-successful populist campaign.

For a bid to restore some balance and sanity to our view of Savile see the excellent blog by “rabbitaway”, including (but not only) the 18 April piece, “When Irish eyes are smiling!”

 

Grayshott, M., “The Pig Walked Free”, review in the London Review of Books, Vol. 35 No. 23, pages 37-38 (5 December 2013)

Home Secretary cheated justice by dying!

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It’s not Harman and co. the media should be after but Roy Jenkins, the former Home Secretary, who cunningly escaped justice by dying over a decade ago.

Unlike Jimmy Savile whose “victims” (alleged victims, actually, despite increasingly injudicious assertions to the contrary by people who ought to know better, including the politically ambitious former DPP Sir Keir Starmer) numbered only in the hundreds, Jenkins was responsible for policies that affected millions, ushering in the “permissive society” of the 1970s that was responsible for all manner of evils if you believe the likes of Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens – and many presumably do, judging by the sustained ferocity of the campaign against the radicalism of those times in sister paper the Daily Mail this past week.

The “evils” for which Jenkins – possibly the greatest reforming Home Secretary ever – was personally responsible included a stupendous swathe of landmark measures: abolition of the death penalty, liberalisation of the abortion law, the end of theatre censorship, introduction of a defence of literary merit into the law on obscene publications, decriminalization of homosexuality between consenting adult males. Jenkins saw the permissive society as a civilized society. Unlike today’s authoritarian Labour hierarchy who seem happy only when they are banning something, Jenkins was a socialist who believed in freedom. In terms of the French revolutionary slogan, he took liberty as seriously as equality – a rare combination given that these ideals are often seen as in tension with each other.

Jenkins also set the tone at the Home Office for a generation. In 1979, three years after his departure to become President of the European Commission, his former department of state published Sexual Offences, Consent and Sentencing (Home Office Research Study No. 54). It took the recognition of “under-age” consent seriously, using the term “partners” rather than “victims”.

Also – and this will raise eyebrows but I said it way back in 1980 in my book Paedophilia the Radical Case – we had it on reliable authority that Jenkins personally read PIE’s evidence to the Home Office Criminal Law Revision Committee on the age of consent and that our proposals for law reform caught his imagination. He is said to have been impressed but was of the opinion that politically “it hasn’t a hope in hell”.

Jenkins had himself been politically able to encourage thinking that was only marginally less radical than ours, though, thanks to intellectual developments in the previous decades, including the great surveys by Alfred Kinsey which had demonstrated that children can and do behave sexually, including experiencing sexual orgasm from infancy onwards. And, as Jon Henley pointed out in the Guardian in 2001, French thinkers had helped set the pace too:

Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and the… French health and education ministers Bernard Kouchner and Jack Lang were among the signatories of petitions in the 1970s calling for paedophilia to be decriminalised, it emerged….

A number of extraordinary documents have surfaced – in the wake of accusations of possible child sex abuse against the former student revolutionary Danny Cohn-Bendit that are forcing France’s intellectuals to confront the values of the May 1968 revolution and its aftermath, a period that witnessed probably the biggest change in sexual behaviour in recorded history.

The petitions were issued after a 1977 trial that saw three men jailed for non-violent sex offences against children aged 12 and 13.

“Three years in prison for caresses and kisses: enough is enough,” one petition, signed by Mr Kouchner and Mr Lang, said. “French law recognises in 12- and 13-year-olds a capacity for discernment that it can judge and punish,” said a second petition signed by Sartre and De Beauvoir, along with fellow intellectuals Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida; a leading child psychologist, Françoise Dolto; and writers Philippe Sollers, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Louis Aragon. “But it rejects such a capacity when the child’s emotional and sexual life is concerned. It should acknowledge the right of children and adolescents to have relations with whomever they choose.”

By the early 1970s the gay liberation movement was in full swing in the UK and campaigning organisations such as the Gay Liberation Front, and even the more conservative Campaign for Homosexual Equality, did not in those days entirely set their face against paedophilia. It was a time for debate, in which many felt that the now vilified Paedophile Information Exchange was in the vanguard of change because its policies promised to set children free as well as the adults attracted to them.

It was into these heady circumstances, which now seem so distant and exotic, that Mesdames Hewitt and Harman leapt when they decided to join the then very trendy National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL). I believe they thought the job would make a promising platform from which to launch careers as Labour party politicians. I say this with the benefit of hindsight, knowing now what I did not know at the time, namely that they would both become cabinet ministers in Labour governments. Harriet Harman is now Deputy Leader of the Labour party and her husband, trade unionist Jack Dromey, who also served with the NCCL in the 1970s, became Labour’s Treasurer.

For a week or so now this trio has been under immense, sustained, pressure from the Daily Mail and other media to explain why they worked with an organisation that had its own radical policy on sexual law reform, including lowering the age of consent to 14 (or 10, “provided it is demonstrated that consent was clearly given by the child”) and why they allowed the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), castigated by the media as a “vile”, “perverted”, etc. organisation of “predatory paedophiles” to remain affiliated to the NCCL.

The truth of the matter is that none of these three was at all enthusiastic about PIE’s involvement. I know because I was a regular participant in meetings of the NCCL’s gay rights sub-committee in the late 1970s, representing PIE. None of the trio ever attended a meeting of that committee during the sessions I attended and I have no direct evidence of what they thought about PIE. The talk reaching me at the time, though, suggested that they were hostile to PIE, not supportive. To that extent, current Labour leader Ed Miliband is right to support his deputy, as he has done, against any suggestion that she (or indeed the other two) ever actively worked to promote “paedophile rights”.

Not that PIE itself campaigned for any “right” of paedophiles to have sex with children, as the media love to insinuate. Our aim was sexual self-determination for all, regardless of age. The realisation of this aim would merely have legalised adult-child sexual acts in the event of a child being a willing partner.

Of course, I would greatly prefer Miliband to be boldly radical, like Roy Jenkins, but that is a hopeless proposition in the current climate of opinion. It seems to me that in the very different atmosphere of the 1970s Hewitt, Harman and Dromey made a very different calculation. While they did not like PIE and did nothing to support our objectives, they were afraid of appearing insufficiently “right on”; consequently they were nothing like as strenuous and public in their efforts to distance themselves from PIE as they are now claiming. Dromey, in particular, is quoted in the Mail as saying “During my time on the NCCL executive, I was at the forefront of repeated public condemnations of PIE and their despicable views.” That’s news to me, and the Mail said it was unable to locate any such public statements. Maybe by “public” he meant imprecations muttered to cronies at his local pub. I do not know what they did behind the scenes to combat the prevailing radical mood but I do know that they allowed me – or permitted NCCL to allow me – to continue attending the gay rights sub-committee during their watch. My presence was never challenged. I always felt welcome. Eventually, I resigned as Chair of PIE when I was facing a charge of conspiracy to corrupt public morals. That was the logical time to end my attendance at NCCL meetings.

I am scribbling this at midnight because my entire day has been taken up with variously fending off and succumbing to approaches by the media – the Mail (again), the Sun, ITN, BBC (three or four different people throughout the day), the Guardian. Have I missed anyone? Probably, it’s been frenetic. Most of them seemed interested in absolutely nothing beyond the role played by the Labour trio in relation to PIE in the 1970s. The wider context appeared to concern them not one jot.

I should just mention Andrew Gilligan’s piece for the Daily Telegraph a few days ago though, as this was a bit different (“The ‘right’ to sleep with children was one ‘civil liberty’ that NCCL supported”, 21 Feb.). Remember Gilligan? He’s the guy who used to work for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme who famously made a broadcast in May 2003 in which he claimed that the British Government had “sexed up” a report in order to exaggerate the WMD capabilities of Saddam Hussein. He resigned from the BBC in 2004, in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry, after Lord Hutton questioned the reliability of his evidence. In the view of many (including me) he has since been vindicated.

Not that I’m enthusiastic about his report on PIE, for which he trawled through Paedophilia the Radical Case in order to rip my words out of context in a highly unsympathetic way. It was an interesting piece, though, not least for this claim:

PIE’s members, mostly educated and middle-class, were good at finding “progressive” academics – some useful idiots, others rather more sinister – to fight their cause.

I emailed him today (sorry, yesterday, as I’m now well past midnight) to ask which of these academics he regards as idiots and which as sinister – and why. No response yet, but he’s known to be nocturnal so he might fire off a reply about 3am!

If cardinal sinners and lordly lotharios float your boat…

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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!

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