How fickle is public opinion - how disquieting the present aura of disbelief and fury against those who allege abuse by men in high places. Do we really think it was all much better when Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall and other famous villains expected to get away with sexual crimes and did? Or when predatory politicians believed they had free licence to paw, molest, make lewd remarks and sometimes assault women and men at will? I fear we may indeed be pushed back to that future – and that real victims of well-known men will retreat back into their dark misery.
Actor William Roache, DJ Dave Lee Travis and now MP Nigel Evans were properly tried in a court of law and the jury found them not guilty. The evidence did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accusations were true. We should support and thank the police and CPS for a job well done. Yes, a job well done.
Even though I have previously written about rich and eminent violators, I realise now that I knew nothing really about the systematic cover ups - the way that the state and circles of influence protected people – people who could break, groom, rape and subjugate children and the most vulnerable, knowing that they could make a call or two and never face justice or lose their reputations.
A new biography of the late Rochdale Lib Dem MP Cyril Smith has been published by an insider, Simon Danczuk, the Lib Dem MP in Smith’s old constituency. Smith, who seemed the sort of kindly chap who’d have golden wrapped toffees in his pocket, was a tyrannical, habitual paedophile. He was governor of 29 schools, set up youth charities and used these positions, says Danczuk, “to prowl from classroom to classroom, youth club to youth club”, choosing his prey.
More disgustingly, the Lib Dem hierarchy did nothing because - well, there was that key seat he kept winning for them. When the police tried repeatedly to investigate Smith, “officers were told they would be sacked and were gagged by the Official Secrets Act”. These cover-ups were ordered from “the very top of the establishment”. Another example – as with Savile – of how most of those abused by well-known figures all those years ago would not have dared to complain, and the few who did were doubly punished for not keeping their secrets.
I get so many readers writing in to express shock and anger at the way Asian grooming gangs are protected by their own communities, one of which operated in Rochdale. Inexplicably, some of the rage is directed at me because I am Asian Muslim, when I have always written about these crimes. Do they ever see how the community of white power also protects their own? Or is that normal life, the way it just is?
When Stuart Hall was convicted (for crimes that only came to light after I passed to the police a letter from a woman who had been violated by him when she was a schoolgirl) there were shrill protests about “witch hunts against old men”. Those who protested obviously regarded these crimes as low-level misdemeanours – a case of doing what was “perfectly acceptable” back in the old days. But rightly, Hall’s initial 15-month sentence was doubled by the Court of Appeal.
Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor of the North West of England, is a Muslim and man of integrity. He initiated prosecutions against Hall, and the Rochdale sex trafficking gang. He asserts: “We have a duty to listen to those who make complaints of serious offences... and assess the evidence against the same evidential standards we use for all criminal cases, no matter who makes the complaints or who the complaint is against”. But the police and crown lawyers are only human and in recent months must have felt tremendous pressure to back off. Just as they did when they tried to get Smith.
Since the Roache, Travis and now Evans acquittals the police and CPS are being mocked or attacked - by MPs, peers and pundits. Support groups for rape and abuse victims - End Violence Against Women, for example - are right to be concerned that this mood of scepticism and blame will deter victims from coming forward. And may make the police and CPS more cautious, even afraid, of moving against alleged high-profile perpetrators.
The losers as ever will be the lost ones. One of them stopped me near the BBC last week – a beautiful woman but very thin and nervy. She claimed she’d been raped by a celeb now in his forties. She was going to go to the police but had now decided against. “They’ll say I’m a liar, mad, or want money. They’ll finish me off”. I don’t know his name, nor hers. But I do know we are back in the bad old days.