On Saturday night, at a dinner party, the talk was all about Fiona Woolf and the wide ranging, government inquiry on historic child abuse. She was appointed by Theresa May after Baroness Butler-Sloss, the first choice, stepped down before she had started. Objectors claimed her brother, Sir Michael Havers, was the Attorney General when the police and the Crown Prosecution Service failed to investigate serious cases. Now Woolf has had to resign after it emerged that she was friendly with Leon Brittan and his wife. Brittan denies failing to act on a dossier on child abuse which was handed to his department. It’s all a mess. The Establishment’s face is scarlet with fury and embarrassment.
The search is on for a replacement and names are being thrown into top hats. Human rights barrister Baroness Helena Kennedy has been mentioned by many, but she has, apparently, declined. The left-wing lawyer Michael Mansfield is keen but Mrs May is unlikely to pick him. Alexis Jay, who wrote a report on the Rotherham paedophile rings, may be on the list. But should we be talking less about who and more about how and why?
With no disrespect to the victims and families, I think this exercise is yet another expensive, time consuming and cynical strategy to placate those who have suffered without really holding institutions and individuals to account. How long have we waited for the Chilcot inquiry report? Do you even care what it contains? That, I suggest, is the point.
Sometimes when activists and relatives persist and do not abide by these unspoken covenants, they get results. The 1981 Scarman report into inner city riots, and the Stephen Lawrence, Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday inquiries were worth the time and effort. But this one into child sexual abuse may well be counterproductive and ineffectual. Where does it start and where does it finish? The greatest minds, best evidence gatherers, legal and other experts cannot properly examine the churches, BBC, paedophile rings of the powerful and wealthy, families, Asian grooming gangs, internet entrappers, and then the agencies which have failed children. The inquiry could take 20 years; panel members could get too old to remember much by then or die even, so too those who want their stories told.
The Archbishop of Canterbury says child abuse is rampant in our society. A weekend YouGov poll found that 12 per cent of those polled said they or a family member had been victims – that is about 6 million people if one extrapolates from those numbers.
The focus this week has almost entirely been on Asian groomers and their crimes against the innocents. Nazir Afzal, chief crown prosecutor in the North of England, wants Asians to change some of the values within their communities and families, in particular their dreadful anti-white prejudices. They should, he says, learn to see white girls as their own and care more. He gave the example of his 15-year-old young son, who saw young white girls with older Asian men and told his dad, who informed the police. I have often written and spoken out against Asian rapists of children and the cultures that sustain such abominable behaviours.
Who could lead the abuse inquiry?
Who could lead the abuse inquiry?
1/6 Brian Moore, 52
A former England rugby player and qualified solicitor who was sexually abused as a child by a teacher. Once s staunch Labour supporter, he now holds both left- and right-wing views
2/6 Alexis Jay
A professor who specialises in social work, she is the independent chair of the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (Celcis) and a Rotherham sex abuse scandal expert. She was appointed expert adviser to the child abuse inquiry in September
3/6 Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, 64
A formidable British barrister, broadcaster and Labour member of the Lords who has experience in cases of domestic and child abuse
4/6 Sir Alan Ward, 76
Retired and accomplished Court of Appeal judge with experience in family disputes, he helped Ian McEwan with his recent book on the Children Act
5/6 Lady Justice Hallett, 64
Respected Court of Appeal judge with extensive criminal experience who was coroner of the 7/7 inquests. There might be hesitancy over losing a serving judge to an inquiry with an indefinite duration
6/6 Lord Carlile of Berriew, 66
A Liberal Democrat peer who is one of Britain’s top legal experts, acting as the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation from 2005-11. He is known for not being afraid to speak out against the authorities
But the social evil goes way beyond one ethnicity or group. Yet again we have heard ignorant commentators claiming “political correctness” and “multiculturalism” are to blame. Did churches hide abuse because of political correctness and multiculturalism? Was Jimmy Savile a Pakistani? Posh public schools have harboured abusers; the BBC, hospitals, social services and police have not protected victims from predators. Catching and punishing Asian paedophiles will make no difference to the other circles of hell.
It is alarming too how there has been no mention at all of child abuse within families and how that is kept hidden for years, perhaps forever. Some of the victims in the northern towns, were in care homes and some, according to a retired social worker who talked to me, were taken away because they were being abused. This week, a victim of Asian groomers phoned me because she remembered that I had helped to get justice for one of the girls who was lured and used by the TV presenter Stuart Hall. She didn’t want to give her name. On the phone she described how her uncle had “done it to me since when I was, like a child.” He drove his car to the woods and repeatedly assaulted her. When she cried he slapped her. Her mum didn’t believe her. She was taken into care and when she was 13, was picked up by an Asian taxi driver. The rest you can imagine. The child never stood a chance.
Finally, the sexualisation of young children carries on apace and is barely mentioned in the rising public outrage. This environment must incite and reassure child molesters. Advertisers, internet providers, manufacturers, the media and popular culture need to be confronted and made to act responsibly, but it won’t be because big business can do what it pleases.
How will one inquiry examine all the scenarios, networks, allegiances, conspiracies and behaviours? It raises expectations which will be dashed and cause victims more pain. This promise cannot be kept.
David Mitchell’s peep at politics is refreshing and wise
He is the affable, gentle, bright but not brash, amusing guy with the nerdy hair and baffled look who stars in the hugely popular TV series, Peep Show. And he is always on some fun panel or other, which can get annoying. All that has made him famous and, I expect, awfully rich. In 2012, he married Victoria Coren, the columnist, wit, presenter, and renowned world-class poker player. His cup runneth over.
He could have become smug and greedy or developed a gated, closed-off mentality. Too many talented, iconoclastic, radical people turn into selfish sods when they find success. Mitchell remains himself and still appears honourable. (Now David, I do hope you are not sneakily employing some smart accountant to oversee offshore accounts.) Moreover, he writes stirringly about the world, injustice, inequality, the insanity of the present global system.
A collection of his ruminations, Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse, has just been published. Those who have given up on politics, public morality and the future should read it. Here is a comic genius able to see how the nation has lost its light and soul, turned sour and furious, while those who own everything still carry on regardless. The answer is not a revolution, but temperance, “tranquil reflection” and care, “so we don’t destroy something precious”.
Mitchell will no doubt be shouted down by internet bullies. I hope they don’t get to him. Such wise and reflective voices are necessary in our noisy, tumultuous era.Reuse content