Striding through the fields and rich-green everglades of the Yorkshire countryside, his 11-year-old son revelling in the rural bliss and clasping his trusty walking staff, the writer Will Self was within his rights to feel free and at ease.
What was to his mind a “blameless pursuit” appeared far more sinister to a college security guard, however, who contacted the police fearing the child was being led astray.
Mr Self’s ramble was brought to an abrupt end when he was hauled over to the roadside for questioning after being stopped by convoy of police cars. A protective custody officer was waiting in the wings in case his son had to be taken in to care by the social services. Mr Self, 51, revealed the incident over the weekend, saying he had been “treated like a criminal for no reason whatsoever”. He lashed out at a national attitude in which “paedophile hysteria... seems to warp people’s reason”.
“Can there be a more disturbing parable of the Britain we have become?” asked Mr Self in an article for The Mail on Sunday.
A statement from the chief executive of the Bishop Burton College, Jeanette Dawson, has said the security guard acted out of “concern” because the two ramblers were “a long way from their intended destination”.
But Mr Self believes that he was marked out as a potential sexual predator by the guard after he asked for permission to cut through the grounds of the agricultural college during a 11-day ramble last month.
“Staring me straight in the face he said that it was out of the question. The insinuation that I might pose some sort of threat to young people – in a word, that I might be a paedophile – was underscored by his eyes then sliding to my son.”
Two hours later, Mr Self was picked up on the B1248 motorway and asked to step into one of the police cars for questioning. “I said we were walking all the way from London to Whitby... he said he understood, but that he still had to ask me some questions because they had been called by a ‘concerned member of the public’.”
The police officer checked Mr Self’s name on the police computer before recalling he had seen Mr Self on the comedy TV series Shooting Stars. The officers quickly left after receiving an emergency call to a nearby pub.
Mr Self said: “Far from acting as some sort of local hero, the guard had abused a child himself, in particular by exposing my son to the spectacle of his father – who was guilty of nothing – being grilled by the police on the roadside.”
In a letter to Mr Self, the college’s human resources director Kate Calvert wrote: “I understand that the guard observed you in a village north of Bishop Burton. It was now around 7.30pm to 8.00pm and you had also told the guard you were from London and clearly did not know the area. He is adamant that in alerting the police he acted in good faith and out of concern for both of your safety.”