The police will have been pleased with their coverage in the media this week. Operation Notarise – which involved every UK constabulary, and arrested 660 paedophiles around the country – made front-page news.
The National Crime Agency issued a statement which claimed that more than 50,000 people in the UK are accessing images of child abuse and that their findings “raised questions for society”. The timing of these remarks ought to be treated with caution. While we should be concerned at the danger posed to children by sexual predators, can it be any coincidence that the police managed to get footage of their raids on the main evening news bulletins – with journalists from the BBC given special access – just days after a detective chief inspector, who has recently retired, appeared on the BBC making serious allegations about his former colleagues?
The police love to moan about how journalists manipulate news, how we are interested only in knocking them down. But isn’t the truth a little more complicated? When it comes to news management, senior policemen are world-class experts at burying the bad stuff and highlighting the good.
Why are we being told about Operation Notarise now, as it has being going on for six months? It is of concern that the people arrested for child abuse come from all strata of society, and many are professionals in positions of trust. These arrests highlight how hard it is to control and monitor what’s available on the internet. At the same time, we should be extremely concerned that the police find it so hard to deal with complaints from ordinary members of the public.
Last month, the Independent Police Complaints Commission found “significant failings” in the way that three metropolitan police forces – West Midlands, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire – dealt with allegations of discrimination made by the public. Of 170 complaints, only 94 allegations were investigated and none was upheld. Interestingly, 32 allegations of discrimination were made by the police themselves – over half of which were upheld.
Another bit of bad news arrived for the police this week. Retired detective chief inspector Clive Driscoll told Newsnight that, in 1998, when he was conducting an inquiry into alleged inappropriate activity at children’s homes in Lambeth in the 1980s, he shared the names of famous local and national politicians who were said to be involved with some of his colleagues. Shortly afterwards, DCI Driscoll says, he was removed from the project.
He also told Newsnight that he believed important documents were withheld by the police from the Ellison review into the murder of Stephen Lawrence – a new official investigation is currently under way into whether alleged “discreditable conduct” may have undermined the inquiry.
Earlier this month, meanwhile, an inquest concluded that the death of Cherry Groce in 1985, shot during a raid on her home, was the result of “multiple police failures”. It has taken her family 29 years to achieve justice. Of course, I want paedophiles to be brought to book, but don’t be seduced by police manipulation of the news agenda.
Countryside punters aren’t scared of contemporary art
In deepest Somerset, it can be hard to get a mobile phone signal, or Radio 4. Lanes are narrow; hedges can be 10ft high. It’s a magical, secretive place, lush and inviting at this time of year.
Imagine how bizarre it is to drive along a country road and suddenly encounter a giant clock face on a pole, a modern scarecrow or perhaps a sun dial. The contemporary art dealers Hauser & Wirth has five galleries, in Switzerland, London and the US, but it’s taken a huge gamble by opening vast premises in renovated farm buildings near the village of Bruton, Somerset.
I was filming nearby and popped in for a peek. I didn’t think many would make the journey to this mecca for challenging art but, happily, visitors were plentiful, turning up in all age groups, shapes and sizes. There were pugs, pushchairs, grannies and babies, foreign tourists and nosy locals. Swanky art collectors brushed shoulders with curious pensioners on holiday. And it’s free.
It’s always so energising to see a big gamble succeed – and modern art holds no fear for most people since the abolition of museum admission charges. There’s an excellent bar and café, and a vast new garden designed by landscape artist Piet Oudolf, who created the High Line elevated garden in New York. Disused barns have been renovated as interconnecting galleries, with new spaces subtly blending in to the old and the opening exhibition by Phyllida Barlow – which includes giant hanging pom poms you are allowed to touch – is a hoot.
I left with my spirits uplifted by the sight of so many people enjoying contemporary art. It proves the average punter is far more receptive to new ideas than you might think.
To the motor museum, for a drive down memory lane
Just down the road from Hauser & Wirth in Somerset is another pilgrimage site: the Haynes International Motor Museum, near Sparkford. I first visited this collection of cars more than 25 years ago, but now it’s rehoused in huge and sleek new premises.
The Haynes family has made its money from publishing car manuals, and this expansion was entirely privately funded. The place is heaving with men of a certain age – luckily there are sofas and a lounge area provided for their womenfolk, so the men can salivate for hours over the superb collection of sports cars, American classics and various dream rides, including the E‑Type Jaguar and some very special Bentleys. Even though I know nothing about car maintenance, my life has been enriched by special cars – and I was delirious with joy at being allowed to take for a spin the model I used to pass my first driving test (in California, after just three lessons), a flamboyant Mustang convertible. My original was flamingo pink, leased from Rent-a-Wreck.
I’m not a fan of Top Gear and all that silly posing, but I spent a happy two hours here remembering all the fun I’ve had driving over the years. So many of us could write our life histories through our relationship with cars – although I won’t mention my ex-husband’s vehicle I wrote off on the way to my first UK test. Far too embarrassing.
Why did TV chef Rachel Khoo need a cookery course?
The Duchess of Cambridge has more kitchens than most people, two in her new home in Kensington Palace – one for entertaining and one for cosy suppers – and one more at her residence on the Sandringham estate.
Television chef Rachel Khoo recently let slip that some time ago Kate attended a two-week cookery course at Leiths school in Kensington, London, which may help her to extend her repertoire now that she has so many hi-tech gadgets. Khoo claimed she took notes for her classmate for a few days when the duchess was sick and unable to attend.
Kate’s lack of confidence in the kitchen is understandable, but I wondered why Khoo, who fronted a series entitled The Little Paris Kitchen, ever felt she needed to go on a course.