Many have rightly attacked the police for their handling of the demented accusations against Field Marshal Lord Bramall, now at last dropped. They ostentatiously descended on his village in huge numbers, chatted about the case in the pub and pointlessly searched his house for ten hours. But one needs to understand that their pursuit of Lord Bramall — though not their exact methods — is the result of the system. Because the doctrine has now been established that all ‘victims’ must be ‘believed’, the police must take seriously every sex abuse accusation made and record the accusation as a reported crime (hence the huge increase in sex abuse figures). Even if you walked in off the street and told the police that you had been sexually abused by the Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, or Sir David Attenborough or the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta (the criminal law seems now to be reaching beyond the grave), they would have to pursue the claim, and would be open to disciplinary action and media obloquy if they did not. This happens, in fact, every day, when people make malicious or insane accusations against people who are not famous and whose lives are duly ruined.
At least in a criminal case, the evidence must eventually be publicly heard. This is not true, obviously, of civil child abuse cases, and it is doubly untrue when they are settled against people who are dead. The more I look at how the late Bishop George Bell of Chichester has been pronounced by his own diocese to have abused a child roughly 65 years ago, the less can I see that any proper process was followed. No defence of Bell was offered. No corroboration of the one accuser’s claim was produced. The names of those deciding against Bell have not been released, nor the amount of money paid to the complainant, nor who bore the legal costs, nor whether legal proceedings were formally begun. We do not know which experts interviewed the complainant, nor in what their expertise consisted. We do not even know that the experts, when looking at the claim, were aware that it was made against Bell or whether he was unnamed. We are invited to infer that the alleged offences took place in the Bishop’s Palace, but we do not know that, nor how serious they were. We do not properly understand why, after 65 years, the facts somehow became plain, having appeared less so in 1995, and having never been raised before 1995. We have not been told why the police were consulted on the matter, since it is not the job of the police to investigate crimes where the alleged perpetrator is dead; nor why the church authorities, to justify their actions, saw fit to publish the opinion of the police that they would have arrested Bell if they’d had a chance. We don’t know why the Dean of Chichester had nothing to do with the investigating panel, and what the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury was in directing the current Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner. We do know that Dr Warner said the church was acting in the interests of ‘transparency’, but it is hard to think of a process more opaque. So admirers of Bishop Bell (from whom I now have a heavy postbag) will not let the matter rest until they know what the process was by which his own church destroyed him.
Airey Neave was born 100 years ago this Saturday. He was the queenmaker — the Tory backbencher who could reach backbench colleagues beyond Margaret Thatcher’s reach and persuade them to choose her as their new leader. He was also the first British officer to escape from Colditz, one of those involved in the Nuremburg trials, an intelligence officer and an accomplished writer. Mrs Thatcher became leader in February 1975 and Neave became her chief of staff and Northern Ireland spokesman. On 30 March 1979, five weeks before Mrs Thatcher won her first general election, Neave was killed by a bomb planted on his car in the House of Commons car park by the Irish National Liberation Army. ‘Some devils got him,’ she said that day. ‘They must never, never, never be allowed to triumph.’ In October 1984, Mrs Thatcher herself narrowly escaped death when the IRA blew up the Grand Hotel in Brighton on the night before her party conference speech. On 30 July 1990, a few months before her fall, the IRA murdered Ian Gow with a car bomb at his house in Sussex. Gow had been Neave’s parliamentary private secretary, and after Neave’s murder, became Mrs Thatcher’s outstandingly successful PPS. Like Neave, he held strong unionist views about Ireland. So Mrs Thatcher’s career as Prime Minister was book-ended and punctuated by Irish Republican attacks aimed directly at her and those closest to her. It would be an exaggeration to say that ‘some devils’ were allowed to triumph, but it would be a statement of plain fact to say that Jeremy Corbyn (and Ken Livingstone and John McDonnell) led the way in welcoming the devils’ leaders and blaming Britain, not the terrorists, for IRA violence. This should not be forgotten.
I have always thought that China could not ultimately succeed as a polity — and even as an economy — so long as its elite remained in power without democracy and the rule of law. So far, I have been spectacularly wrong. China’s consistent reform since 1978 is the longest-running example of a single successful strategy in the history of modern government. But I haven’t completely abandoned my theory. Markets and capitalism require transparency, and that is exactly what the Chinese stock market lacks. So when there is a shock, you cannot trust it. And if you cannot trust it, you run away. This happens a good deal in the far-from-transparent West, but our system is, to some extent, self-remedying. Is China’s? The alarming thing is, we don’t know.
What do you understand by ‘a case’ of wine? Twelve bottles surely. A reader writes to warn that, in the mind of Tesco’s, ‘a case’ consists of six bottles. A case where every little doesn’t help.