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A very British witch hunt – wild, furious and three decades late

With the good old 30-year rule, Britain can have self-righteous hysteria without anyone in charge ever suffering the consequences

12 July 2014

9:00 AM

12 July 2014

9:00 AM

I suppose we must accustom ourselves to the fact that some 30 years ago Britain was in the grip of a terrible paedo–geddon — even if, at the time, we did not quite know it. More shockingly still, it was not simply light entertainers who were fiddling about up and down the country, with their cunningly coded messages to children about having an ‘extra leg’ and sinister injunctions to restrain kangaroos. It was, it seems, everyone. The Home Office has announced an enormous inquiry into the whole business, covering a considerable number of major institutions — the government, the BBC, the Church of England and so on.

Some large organisations are missing from the current remit of this inquiry (which will, of course, be headed by an expensive QC): the AA, for example, and the Methodists. But there will surely be room for a separate investigation dealing with them and others like them. No stone will be left unturned, so long as it was a stone put there at least 30 years ago and the person hiding beneath it is either dead or as near dead as makes no practical difference.

This, so far, accords with a great British tradition — our much-cherished 30-year rule. If anything really scandalous occurs involving members of the establishment, we will only discover the truth three decades or so later, no matter how many inquiries are held in the interim. This was true of the Hillsborough tragedy and Bloody Sunday; it seems to me highly likely that in 2033 it will suddenly be revealed that Tony Blair misled the House of Commons and the public over the invasion of Iraq and the police will be seen carrying black plastic bags out of the retirement homes and hospices inhabited by former members of his cabinet, if black plastic bags have not been made illegal by then.

It is always 30 years because by then the people responsible have been well removed from even the most trivial levers of power, or have died. If the US were Britain, then round about now Woodward and Bernstein would be revealing to a shocked nation the true story of the Watergate break-in.

So, once again, we are being nonced out; we are always nonce-obsessive, or have been for a good 20 years or so, but now we’re really doing something about it — we’re putting the nonces away, and even when they’re handed a stiff sentence we’re screaming that it’s not enough, that it should be longer and longer, let the bastards die in jail. And the reason for our current paedomania, our nonce–phobia, is that we have a perfect storm of moral outrage and fashionable politics. We have long had the moral outrage; according to the writer Brendan O’Neill, this is a consequence of our loss, these days, of moral certainties. ‘This is why every element of the elite… has devoted itself to panicking about and posturing against paedophiles: they need these devils, wherever they might be found, to try to magic up a new morality in a post-moral era.’

That’s right — or at least partly right. It does not explain, though, why we are now so obsessive at an official level, why arrests are being made and convictions somehow acquired. And that is where the fashionable politics comes in. It has long been the case that the liberal left has argued that a) victims of sexual abuse are not believed when they report their stories to the police and that b) sexual abuse is much more widespread than most people believe and c) it is men, foul men, getting away with it, time after time, the consequence of a society in which men hold too much power. Every man a potential rapist, and so on.

I suspect the liberal left had a point with a), but now the whole shebang, the entire ideology is swallowed whole by officialdom and there is no room for a middle ground. So these days everyone who makes a complaint of having been sexually assaulted must, absolutely must, be telling the truth. It is a little like the official mindset regarding racism — to the effect that if a person believes that they have been the subject of racist abuse, or a racially motivated assault, then they have been, and that’s that, end of story, send the perpetrator down.

And so those of us who are even slightly sceptical of the furore and demands for retribution regarding claims of sexual abuse stretching back… hell, in some cases half a century, are castigated as ‘abuse deniers’, a deliberate nod to those people who deny that the Nazis murdered six million Jews. And it is there in the breathless, sweating, almost gleeful reports in our morning newspapers, that the ghastly albino Yorkshire disc jockey Jimmy Savile abused, oh I don’t know, what is it now — three million people? Not reports that three million people have come forward to claim that they were abused by Jimmy Savile, but that he abused them, without question, and there’s an end to the story. They must be believed. They are victims; they are brave to have come forward now having kept this dark, shattering secret for so many years.

So of course they must be believed. There is no other explanation. And this sexual abuse is so fundamentally evil, so beyond comprehension, that it is by itself responsible for every single misery which has befallen them in the 20 or 30 or 40 years hence — failed relationships, aspirations not achieved, mental breakdown, poverty, unhappiness, alcoholism, drug addiction. All of that the consequence of someone having behaved badly towards them several decades before. Maybe put a hand on their thigh. Maybe worse. And you dare not gainsay these furious litanies of complaint, because if you do then you are in some way complicit. It is a bizarre state of mind, in my opinion, that enables normally rational people to swallow this paradigm — the official paradigm now — whole, and does not question it at all, just accepts it as fact.

The Australian entertainer Rolf Harris was convicted of 12 sexual assaults, seven of them relating to the same person — a friend of his daughter. This is what the victim said after Harris had been sent down for five years and nine months:

‘As a young girl I had aspirations to have a career, settle down and have a family. However, as a direct result of his actions, this has never materialised. The knowledge of what he had done to me haunted me. However, his popularity with the British public made it harder for me to deal with.’

The last assault occurred when she was 19, six years after the first, although Harris claimed their ‘affair’ lasted until she was in her late twenties. Either way, she went back, time after time after time after time and was repeatedly assaulted. It was, then, a sort of eerie supernatural malevolence at work, something well beyond the realm of our understanding, that you would keep going back to this place where your life got ruined and that stopped you working or having a family. It requires a certain suspension of disbelief for us not to wonder if, at any point during those years, this woman did not have a voice in her head asking: ‘Can you tell what it is yet?’

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