Whoever named the Police trawling operation in the wake of the Savile allegations ’Operation Yewtree’ had a sense of humour. The Yewtree is famous for its slow growth and longevity, and its raucously attractive fruit which appeals to little birdies – but contains a deadly poisonous seed. Operation Yewtree has certainly lived up to that.
That seed was spawned yesterday. The private company ACPO – The Association of Chief Police Officers - are expected to approve a ‘National Scoping Panel’ to review complaints of sex abuse not pursued by Police or Prosecutors. ‘Not pursued by Police or Prosecutors’ could merely mean those cases which were reported to Police but not proceeded with because of lack of evidence, the unwillingness of alleged victims to give evidence in court; a nationwide ‘cold case’ review to see whether the guidelines for prosecution of today can be retrospectively applied to historic cases.
It could also mean another offspring of Operation Yewtree which resulted in the joint NSPCC/Metropolitan Police report ‘Giving Victims a Voice’ and trial by media and public opinion of the outpourings of hundreds of people who had been encouraged to come forward with their laughably spurious claims of satanic rituals and the detritus of severely damaged minds being given the same credence as children who really had been sexually abused.
If it is the former, then I am all in favour of it – with some reservations.
The first, and most important is that it should be conducted with the same level of secrecy afforded to, say, cases in the Court of Protection, where the lives and traumas of the mentally ill are not considered a subject for public conjecture. Those subjected to sexual abuse and those accused of that most heinous of crimes should be afforded the same dignity. It should be an outright offence for anyone, media, blogger, armchair detective, to identify any party to the proceedings, on pain of contempt of court, ahead of any successful prosecution.
Recently, allegations of sexual abuse have become a national game rivaling ‘Big Brother’. Who will be next to be outed from the ‘decent human being’ house by publicity hungry armchair detectives keen to feed the appetite of their army of sad Queens and sour Widows who hang on their every tweet? It has to stop. Sexual abuse of children is too serious a matter to be allowed to fuel celebrity television ambitions.
If this is to be a national scoping exercise to encompass every allegation of sexual abuse from every alleged victim regarding every alleged perpetrator then there is simply no requirement for publicity. The only possible justification for past trawling exercises was that victim (a) might not know that alleged perpetrator (b) was being investigated – however, if this is to be a series of regional panels examining every and all allegations by professionals in a calm and intensely private environment then there is simply no need for publicity.
No need for anyone to go to the media with their unresolved allegations, no need for prime time television to conduct their own half-baked investigations, no need for any leaking of names under investigation to be given out to publicity hungry would-be television pundits. No need to wait until someone is dead before voicing misgivings about their behaviour.
My second reservation would be – who is to serve on these National Scoping Panels? Dedicated and trained professional Police Officers; or is to be yet another Quango, leaving room for every empire building charity with a vested interest in demanding funds to cope ‘with the scale of the problem’ – I haven’t forgotten how hard the RSPCA lobbied to be allowed to enlarge their remit, once permitted we were treated to a series of TV ads bemoaning the fact that ‘Parliament had increased their work load’ and they now desperately need ‘more funds’ to cope with the work ‘forced upon them by legislation’.
Are we to have self appointed ‘child protection experts’ sitting on these panels? I was so fascinated by the fact that after 11 years on the beat, ‘child protection expert’ Mark Williams-Thomas had quit the force a matter of months after finally making it into CID, a unusual action to say the least, that I went to considerable length to track down his former Commanding Officer, now happily retired. So much for his ‘glittering career’, it took several attempts to jog his memory to even recollect who MWT was before he finally said ’Good God, is that the same man?’ I had been expecting to find that the ‘glittering career’ might have proved slightly tarnished hence the early retirement; but no, it was utterly unmemorable! Keen students of the Pollard report have been amused to find that the BBC paid this man £500 of licence payers money to use his ‘expertise and contacts’ to find out whether Surrey Police had taken the original ‘groping’ allegations from Duncroft seriously and investigated, only to see that he ‘e-mailed Surrey Police media department’ to ask them that very question. One of the researchers could have done exactly that, and saved the licence payers £500…crikey, a humble blogger could and would have done just that.
If Keir Starmer is serious, and intends to set up regional panels where anyone who believes themselves to be a victim of sexual abuse can go and have their allegations heard by calm professionals in a secure environment with absolutely no question of leaking to publicity hungry empire builders, news starved media employees, or self appointed ‘lay advisors’ dragging them round meeting halls to discuss the presence or otherwise of genital infections, then I am all in favour. It’s what we used to call Police Stations, but I quite accept that the reputation of Police Stations as a place where you expected to have your allegations taken seriously has been tarnished in the minds of some, and if renaming them ‘National Scoping Panel’ and putting them in a different building, with a wider remit will help, go for it.
It is not just the damage to reputations of those dragged in to the Savile net by media and public hysteria that concerns me – it is the damage to those genuinely sexually abused who must now feel that if they are one of the 90% of abuse cases that involve humble family members or the local plumber/bus driver/care worker that no one will be interested and that the only way to have your trauma taken seriously is to name a celebrity and invoke the public court of media.
The Home Affairs Committee in 2002 said that: ”A new genre of miscarriages of justice has arisen from the over-enthusiastic pursuit of these allegations”. That was in response to the last ‘moral outrage’ in the late 1990s when many were wrongfully convicted following allegations of historical child abuse in children’s homes and other institutions. There is a sense that the Police have become over cautious as a result, and a new approach is required.
Let that approach be uncontrovertibly professional and discrete; no more TV parading of victims half disguised in the shadows, no more media scoops; no more self appointed experts.