How I exposed Stuart Hall's sex abuse: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on the letter that kick-started the investigation
The Independent columnist tells how an anonymous message from a reader claiming abuse at the hands of the veteran broadcaster launched the inquiry that ended with his admission of guilt in court yesterday
Friday 03 May 2013
I have been waiting anxiously for this moment, the moment when Stuart Hall would either be found guilty or innocent of the sexual abuse of young girls.
Last year I became personally involved in this saga and that involvement led to the investigation by Lancashire Police which ended with Hall's confession. His victims must have feared that with his power and money he would fight their allegations and win. He initially denied all charges and made statements about his "innocence" and distress at being falsely accused. All that posturing is over. What a release that must be for the abused. I feel a sense of relief too.
It all started with an unsigned, anonymous letter sent to me via The Independent last May. We often get missives from readers – not only about the views we express but about their sorrows and misfortunes. The story she told cut away the undeclared certainties of life we all take for granted, rely on. She was a "shy, intelligent, studious, pretty girl", young for her years, who was going to go to university one day. He was invited to the school to hand out annual prizes and she was one of the prize winners After the ceremony the head summoned her to say Hall was so impressed with her, he had asked her to visit the BBC studios.
"To have a man of my father's age take a benevolent interest in me seemed wonderful to a girl of my history," she writes. She went to the studios encouraged by her mum and head teacher. And went back again, and once more. He seemed caring. Then, having groomed her, she alleges, he got her drunk and started the abuse. She kept going back. His mates, she claims, helped Hall with his filthy hobby.
The sex acts hurt. Sometimes she bled. She hated it but "craved what he gave me in other ways. Attention and a sense of being wanted, something that was signally missing elsewhere in my life. And I felt then that he was affectionate with me. How it makes my skin crawl to write that. Sadly the world is too full of girls (and boys) who are looking for love and find too late they have found sex with a predator instead".
I was deeply touched by her openness: "Why am I writing about this now? Because I was enraged when I saw [Hall] had received his OBE this year. Because it seems that our culture is thinking differently about sexual predators... The furore over Jimmy Savile has spurred me on." No one did anything then to stop that serial abuser. She, I imagine, hoped Hall would answer for his crimes before he escaped to the other side.
Her sense of urgency and injustice got to me and I knew I couldn't just file the letter away. So, I went to my police station in Ealing, sat for almost two hours waiting to hand it in and feeling a bit foolish. The small reception area was crowded that day with victims of robberies and assaults, some addicts and a couple of drunk bores. I almost left a couple of times because it was taking so long and because I wasn't sure what they would do with an anonymous letter.
Was I wasting police time? They had nothing to go on, just three typed, eloquent pages and a scribbled note at the bottom, offering to meet up as long as I could guarantee anonymity. But there was no indication of how I could contact her for such a meeting. When, finally, it was my turn, the officer recording the "incident" looked uninterested. Still, I had done my citizen duty and that, I thought, was that.
It wasn't. A few weeks later I had a call from Detective Constable Rukin of Lancashire Police. Officers wanted to come over to interview me. Hall had not been on their "radar" but after the letter forwarded by Ealing Police, a line of inquiry had been opened. So they came, two nice gents who asked many questions and, I expect, checked out whether I had anything against Hall or was a paranoid fantasist. Stupidly, I had thrown away the envelope that might have given a clue about where the woman lived. From then to now, the police have regularly phoned and updated me on the lines of inquiry. They asked me to put up a call for the woman on my website, which I did. On Thursday DC Rukin confirmed that had they not been sent this letter, Hall would never have been investigated.
Lancashire Police have displayed exemplary professionalism and commitment. They followed a lead that was, at best, slight. More impressively still, the investigating team ignored social status and fame. Fame and money can influence law enforcers. Not this time. Police investigators and interviewers also got Hall to accept his crimes and take responsibility, so women abused by him will not have to relive their horrors in court. I believe they have now interviewed the woman who wrote to me. I hope she was one of the girls Hall now accepts he did abuse.
She will, I hope, now at last find some peace. She should be so very proud that decades after being entrapped and abused by a manipulative man, she was able to express her anger, hurt, sense of guilt and betrayal so honestly to a stranger.
Finally, I know we journalists are thought heartless by millions of Britons. But it is heartening that there are readers who trust us. Most of us try hard not to break the faith they have in us.
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