Doing the wrong thing

Like The Revenant and The Big Short, Spotlight is yet another Oscar contender ‘based on true events’ — although it has now been suggested that The Revenant was 99.7 per cent made up. (Does this matter? Only, I suppose, in the sense that you should know what you’re watching.) But we’re on firm ground with Spotlight, where the events — the Boston Globe’s uncovering of systemic child abuse by Catholic priests in Massachusetts — are a matter of record, although how you make a film about something so awful, I don’t know. Personally, I wanted the film to give it to the Church with both barrels, and let rip with

The Met have found no evidence for an abuse network linked to No10. It’s time they admitted it

Almost exactly three years ago, Tom Watson stood up in parliament and demanded the Metropolitan police investigate ‘clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No. 10’. It was an incendiary claim which, because it was made during Prime Minister’s Questions and broadcast on live television, set hares running on social media and beyond. We know, now, that the police found no evidence to support an allegation of rape made against Leon Brittan by a woman known as ‘Jane’. But the question remains: what about that link to No. 10? I have spent much of the past three years looking into this. Working for BBC Panorama means following the

Tacitus on Edward Heath

The press and police have been condemned for the way they fall on mere rumour and plaster it across the headlines, Sir Edward Heath’s ‘paedophilia’ being the latest example. The Roman historian Tacitus (c. ad 56–118) well understood the phenomenon. ‘Rumour is not always wrong; it is sometimes correct,’ Tacitus asserts, well aware that the occasional accurate rumour reinforced the potential credibility of the many false ones; and he understood why they played such a part in the world of the emperors, ‘where men’s throats were slit with a whisper’ (Juvenal). His historical point was the contrast between the freedom of information that he believed Romans enjoyed under the republic,

Ted talk

There was a grim inevitability that the name Edward Heath would one day be trawled up in connection with allegations of sexual abuse of children. As one of our few unmarried prime ministers, Heath always attracted speculation about his sexuality. The public image of a private man wedded to his career, content to spend his spare time playing music and sailing, has long given way to a presumption that he must have been a repressed homosexual. Because of our national obsession with paedophilia, this in turn has all too easily morphed into the suspicion that he had a sexual interest in underage boys. Anyone who tells the police that they

Barometer | 25 June 2015

The spirit of 1945 No one would have been more surprised at the sight of 100,000 people marching in London under the banner ‘End Austerity Now’ and demanding ‘Tories Out’ than Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade and briefly Chancellor of the Exchequer in Attlee’s government. — Hard though it might be to remember now, but austerity was once a proud Labour policy. The rationale of the policy, devised by Cripps, was that by suppressing private consumption, resources could be spent instead on boosting exports. — Any anti-austerity march in 1947 would have been led by the Conservatives, whose slogans of the time included ‘Starve with Strachey’

Salvation through music

Ours is the era of everybody’s autobiography. Bookshops groan with misery-lit memoirs — Never Let Me Go, Dysfunction Without Tears — which dilate on anorexia, alcoholism, cruel bereavement. When is a life worth telling? B.S. Johnson, the London-born novelist (and tireless chronicler of himself), put the most revealing sexual details into his autobiographical novels of the 1960s. They might have amounted to mere solipsistic spouting, were the writing not so good. James Rhodes, a 40-year-old classical musician, was repeatedly raped at his London prep school in the early 1980s. In his memoir, Instrumental, Rhodes tells how he found salvation in music and became one of our leading concert pianists. Written

His dark materials | 4 June 2015

Have you heard the one about girlfriend-killer Oscar Pistorius not having a leg to stand on? Or what about the Germanwings knock-knock joke? If you find gags like these funny, you could come and stand with me on the terraces at Brentford FC. When we played Leeds United earlier in the season, we chanted at them, ‘He’s one of your own, he’s one of your own, Jimmy Savile, he’s one of your own.’ The general public has never wasted much time making up jokes about tragic public events. Making light of high-profile tragedies is a perfectly understandable human reaction, even if it might be frowned upon by some. And what

Snow White or black beauty?

God Help the Child, Toni Morrison’s 11th novel, hearkens back to two of her earliest. Like The Bluest Eye, it is a story of internalised racism and paedophilia; like Tar Baby it is a fable about sexual and racial autonomy in the form of a love story between a beautiful, vain woman and a man who thinks she has lost her moral compass. But unlike those earlier efforts, Morrison’s latest book offers only the most inconsequential answers to questions of grave consequence. Her abiding interest has always been self-possession and self-recovery, an especially charged problem for black people in a racist culture; but this novel reads like a précis of

‘The truth is hard’: an interview with Roger Scruton

To the extent that Britain has philosophers, we do not expect them to address issues of any relevance to the rest of us. They may pursue some hermeneutic byway perhaps, but not the urgent or profound issues of our time. Roger Scruton has always been an exception in this regard, as in many others. He has spent his adult life thinking and writing about the nature of love, the nation state, belonging, alienation, beauty, home and England. But even his closest readers may gulp at the relevance of his latest subject matter. His new novel, The Disappeared, is set in the north of England and centres on the recent rape-gang

Muswell Hill reviewed: a guide on how to sock it to London trendies

Torben Betts is much admired by his near-namesake Quentin Letts for socking it to London trendies. Letts is one of the few individuals who enjoys the twin blessings of a Critics’ Circle membership card and a functioning brain so his views deserve serious attention. The title of Betts’s 2012 play Muswell Hill shifts its target into the cross hairs with no subtlety whatsoever. Curtain up. Married couple, Jess and Mat, are nervily tidying their yuppie dream home in expectation of supper guests. Jess is a sex-bomb accountant. Mat is a blankly handsome scribbler whose debut novel keeps getting rejected. Then a missile strikes. Mat casually mentions his acquaintanceship with an

Sex, lies and El Sistema

The two trendiest words in classical music are ‘El Sistema’. That’s the name for the high-intensity programme of instrumental coaching that turned kids from the slums of Venezuela into the thrilling Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra (SBYO), conducted by hot young maestro Gustavo Dudamel before he was poached by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Or so the legend goes. When the SBYO was booked for the Proms in 2011, the concert sold out in three hours. Sir Simon Rattle, no less, declared El Sistema to be ‘the most important thing happening to classical music anywhere in the world’. Audiences wept at the sight of former street urchins producing a tumultuous, triumphant —

An unorthodox detective novel about Waitrose-country paedos

W.H. Auden was addicted to detective fiction. In his 1948 essay ‘The Guilty Vicarage’, he analysed the craving, which he claimed was similar to an addiction to tobacco or alcohol. He suggested among other things that the genre allows the addict to indulge in a fantasy in which our guilt is purged, and we are restored to a state of innocence, to the Garden of Eden. When literary novelists turn to crime fiction (as they so often do these days), the results are not always happy. Susan Hill is a welcome exception. Her Simon Serrailler novels have developed into a series whose appeal stretches beyond its genre. Why? Perhaps Auden

I thought paedophiles were rare – but then I read the newspapers

One problem from which I am confident I don’t suffer is paedophilia. I have always liked picking up babies and hugging them, especially my own children or grandchildren, but never in the ‘Rolfie deserves a cuddle’ kind of way. The idea of sexually lusting after children seems to me not only abhorrent but also almost unimaginable. If anything is against nature, it must be to regard children as sexual objects. I have always known, of course, that paedophiles exist. I was aware of it when, as an eight-year-old, I went to a prep school in Berkshire where the headmaster would snog the prettiest boys (alas, not me) in their dormitory

Matthew Parris

What kind of idiot tries to stand in the way of a national child abuse panic? I do

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Matthew Parris and Dr Liz Davies discuss the child abuse enquiry” startat=48] Listen [/audioplayer]As essay titles go, ‘On losing an argument with Tim Loughton MP’ may fail to catch the imagination; but there we are: I don’t need to be re-elected. You know before you start when you’re on a losing wicket, and I had fully expected to lose this argument, which was on live television with Adam Boulton. But I thought the attempt might be interesting. I’d been inspired by a thoroughly sensible contribution to the subject on the Today programme, by Peter Bottomley MP. The subject was whether we really needed an ‘overarching’ public inquiry to

Portrait of the week | 10 July 2014

Home Theresa May, the Home Secretary, ordered a review, taking perhaps ten weeks, by Peter Wanless, the head of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, of how her department, the police and prosecutors handled historical child sex-abuse allegations. There would also be a large-scale inquiry by the retired judge Lady Butler-Sloss. These came in response to a ferment of speculation into what the late Geoffrey Dickens had alleged in 1984 in a folder of information he gave to Leon Brittan, then Home Secretary. In 2013 the folder was found not to have been kept. Rolf Harris, the entertainer, aged 84, was jailed for five years and nine

Spectator letters: A surgeon writes on assisted dying, and an estate agent answers Harry Mount

Real help for those in pain Sir: The fickleness of existence is exemplified by the fact that being Tony Blair’s ex-flatmate puts you in the position of further eroding the moral fabric of the nation without ever having had stood for office. An advert for Charlie Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill is rather cynically placed opposite Jenny McCartney’s nuanced examination of the implications of this potential legislation (‘Terminally confused’, 5 July). Among other points, Ms McCartney quite correctly reprises the ‘slippery slope’ argument, which in the case of legalised abortion turned out to have been prophetic. One of her issues is the involvement of medical staff. Apart from the actual executioner’s

Sex, secrets, and self-mortification: the dark side of the confessional

I have a confession to make. I really enjoyed this book. It’s been a while since I admitted something of the sort, and I feel ashamed, because, although it’s smartly, smoothly written, my pleasure was partly based on titillation. I smirked — I occasionally snickered — at the madder facts of self-mortification, whereby in the Middle Ages the (frequently female) faithful might flaunt their holiness in acts of rank humility. Elizabeth of Hungary kissed the feet of lepers; Margaret Marie Alacoque ate vomit; Catherine of Genoa, it’s said, sucked the pus of a plague victim. More than this, though, John Cornwell’s history of confession is preoccupied with sex, which always

Zero tolerance for people who watch fairy-folk sex cartoons

A man in New Zealand has just been sent to prison for three months for watching cartoons of pixies, elves and trolls enjoying sexual intercourse. I don’t know, from the court report, if this was inter-species fairy-folk sex, i.e. if it was a nasty scene of one of those enormous, wart-festooned Norse Huldrefolk applying himself with great vigour to the epicene and vulnerable form of a mere elf. This information is not recorded. We know simply that Ronald Clark was dispatched to chokey and a local campaigner against child abuse said outside the court that while the convicted man had watched only cartoons of these creatures having sex, it was

Long life: Polite silence on my old prep school’s possible paedophile

It is usually a mistake to return to places one has known as a child. I have only once been back to the large, white-stuccoed, early-Victorian manor house in Hertfordshire where I was born and brought up, and it was a dispiriting experience. Although the house was near to the town of Ware, less than an hour’s drive from central London, it was set in unspoiled country alongside a village in which the names of some of the inhabitants had been there in the Domesday Book. Apart from a small row of bleak pre-war council houses on the edge of the village, there was nothing there to offend the eye