Following the infamous Soham murder case of 2002, when a school caretaker Ian Huntley was found guilty of murdering two girl pupils, the customary inquiry was put into motion. As often happens, it ignored the most important question, which was how Huntley was taken on by the school in the first place, and instead proposed a whole range of petty new regulations to stop the same sort of thing from happening again.
I don't recall the headmaster of the school ever being named in the press, though it was stated that the vetting of Huntley's job application had been farmed out to a private company. No details were given and it was not even clear whether Huntley had been required to provide any references and, if so, who had given them. It is a direct result of the failures in that case that regulations have been brought in, which resulted this week in a number of famous authors refusing to visit schools because they are required to pay £64 for a certificate proving that they are not convicted child molesters.
They are absolutely right to do so and one hopes that others – not merely authors – will follow their example and boycott schools. It is the responsibility of the schools to monitor those they employ at the risk of being exposed and penalised if it all goes wrong. They have no right to pass the buck and insist on visiting speakers providing proof of their bona fides – let alone making them pay for it.
But this sort of thing has become general practice, as I discovered recently at my local NatWest bank where I have been a customer for about 30 years. Before I could open a new deposit account I had to produce my passport, driving licence and a utility bill to prove that I was not a money-launderer.
Spot the truth amid the hoaxes
I suppose I ought to apologise to David Miliband. Three weeks ago, following a report in The Times, I quoted something which he had put on his website following the death of Michael Jackson. "Nobody has soared so high and dived so low. RIP Michael."
Thanks to the Daily Mail we now know that David Miliband never wrote this. Crowing over the fact that Sky News and people like me had been taken in, the Mail revealed that the Jackson quote had in fact been a hoax.
But not a very good one, they might have added, because although Miliband never said what was reported, he could perfectly well have done so. After all, it is almost de rigueur for today's politicians to demonstrate whenever possible a passion for pop music. When David Cameron, for example, was busy introducing himself to the British public he was asked the crucial question: did he prefer Blur or Oasis? I can't remember what answer he gave, but supposing he had said he didn't care for either of them and actually liked listening to Mozart, we should never have heard of him again.
Perhaps it will be shown that Ed Balls the Education Minister who recently was revealed "Twittering" on the internet and describing how he had made himself a Chinese meal has also been the victim of a hoaxer.
The truth of the matter is that nothing nowadays is too improbable or grotesque not to have been said by one of our leading politicians. And perhaps that ought to be a matter of some concern to the rest of us.
Approval from the Vatican – what would Oscar have thought?
Astonishment and a certain amount of ridicule have greeted the praise lavished on Oscar Wilde by the Vatican's official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano this week.
That is because Oscar is nowadays remembered only as a gay icon or, as The Independent reported yesterday, "a flamboyant and robust homosexual who delighted in outrage and scandalising Victorian society". A far cry, in other words, from the stuffy old Catholic church which is still, in the 21st century, riddled with debilitating homophobia.
It is overlooked – and for all I know the Vatican may have overlooked it as well – that aside from the plays and the witty epigrams, Oscar Wilde wrote movingly and at length about Jesus Christ both in The Soul of Man Under Socialism and De Profundis, written while he was serving a prison sentence in Reading jail. His thoughts may not have been wholly orthodox but there is no doubting the sincerity:
"With a width and wonder of imagination that fills one almost with awe, he took the entire world of the inarticulate, the voiceless world of pain as his kingdom, and made of himself its eternal mouthpiece. Those of whom I have spoken, who are dumb under oppression and 'whose silence is heard only of God' he chose as his brothers. He sought to become eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf and a cry in the lips of those whose tongues had been tied."
Worth bearing in mind by those who would like to think of Oscar Wilde merely as a witty iconoclast and gay rights pioneer.