As someone who grew up in the North-west of England, Stuart Hall was a fixture of my childhood. Television viewers in the rest of the country were familiar with him as the manically laughing presenter of It’s a Knockout, but we also knew him as the often deeply serious anchor of the Look North evening news programme. He was Northern royalty – a powerful, establishment figure not to be trifled with.
So I can well imagine the fear experienced by the girls and women he sexually abused, a dread that prevented them going to the authorities. The worry they would simply not be believed, that he and his influential associates would see to it that their lives were ruined, was very real.
How gratifying it was, then, to know that The Independent had a hand in bringing Hall to justice. It was our own columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown who first alerted the police to him when she forwarded an anonymous letter she’d received from a reader in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal. As journalists, we get many letters making accusations against well-known organisations and individuals. All too frequently, they can be dismissed as bogus, exaggerated or simply impossible to prove.
The letter to Yasmin was different. It was full of detail that could be checked; there was no over-stating his foul behaviour, that he’d groomed, and then sexually exploited, the author when she was a young teenager in the 1970s; no hyperbole attached to the pain he’d caused. All credit to the police for acting on the letter. It would have been far easier for them, and for Yasmin, to have binned it. They chose not to, and as they subsequently confirmed, had they not been sent the letter there would have been no prosecution.
When I left the office on Thursday, having seen Hall plead guilty to 14 counts of sexual assault, involving 13 victims, I was elated. Thanks to a journalist from The Independent, justice had been done. The little people I could relate to from my past, had won.