Sunday 6 July 2014

Beyond belief, or: suffer the little children: the story that must now be told

Lord Brittan on Geoffrey Dickens' dossier, now missing: As I recall, he came to my room at the Home Office with a substantial bundle of papers ...

Anyone who, like me,  has had a Catholic upbringing, will understand the real horror of discovery, in recent years, of a tolerance, within the church and its schools, of the sexual and physical abuse of children entrusted to its care. 

The revelations of the extent of this abuse continue to reverberate, both here and in Ireland, and has caused damage that is irreparable, to victims, of course, but also to the institutions involved. 

Writing about the experience of psychological abuse of my own school here in Broken Barnet, still provokes a constant flow of visits, some of them from victims who continue to suffer, years later, from the unspoken traumas of their childhood and education.

Institutionalised abuse, whether psychological, or sexual, is a demon that preyed on not just the church, Catholic or Anglican, in children's homes, or schools, and it is one that is only just beginning to be confronted, and one whose power, even now, presents a formidable enemy.

To a child, the identity of an abuser, or the background of organisation that may or may not be behind it, is immaterial: anyone who has any knowledge of the impact on a child knows that the impact of his or her personal experience continues to be felt in adult life, acknowledged or not.

And the abuse of children by individuals with the protection of a celebrity status, or the defence accorded to those in a position of power, is a subject that until now has eluded all attempts to hold it accountable.
In the midst of the truly nauseating revelations about predatory celebrity paedophiles like Jimmy Savile, and Rolf Harris, one fact has emerged, or seems to have emerged, and at least seems to have been accepted as undeniably true, and widely promoted by the mainstream media.

This is the claim that their activities succeeded, ultimately, because despite their fame, and status, the sexual assaults committed by them went unchallenged because they were 'hidden in plain sight', that is to say took place openly, but in a way that denied and  'normalised' the nature of the behaviour. Not just their victims, we hear, were 'groomed' and duped, but the whole nation.

Is that so? Or is the truth more likely that the same media outlets, the papers and broadcasting channels now so keen to report and exploit these stories could very well have - should have - pursued lines of investigation into allegations regarding these individuals over the decades during which rumours were circulating, but no action against them was taken?

Because there certainly were rumours about both of them, , as I can recall from my own teenage years, on an anecdotal basis: stories about Savile hanging around Piccadilly Circus, picking up vulnerable youths with another Radio 1 DJ, stories about Harris having, as Vanessa Feltz puts it in a story today 'wandering hands': and a woman who told me once about an 'indecent proposal' he made to her when she was a young student working in a well known department store. 

Were the News of the World and all the other tabloids too busy hacking the phones of missing schoolgirls, and adulterous ministers to bother investigating the sexual exploitation of children? Probably. 

Were any other journalists trying to cover stories like these? Yes, but you might only read such stories in publications like Private Eye, solely prepared to report the unreportable, and now struggling to raise an almost lone voice of sanity (and yes, clearly one must exclude the Daily Mail here) to question the impact of legislation designed to create the emasculated 'free press' approved of by Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan, Hacked Off, and the mysterious 'Media Reform Coalition'.

This week has seen, at last, the emergence of another story about historic child abuse, a story which will blow the lid off what was described in a feature on James O'Brien's show on LBC last week by Exaro editor Mark Watts as 'almost beyond belief' and possibly 'the biggest post war political scandal in the UK'

Really, you may be asking? Yes, really.  

(In fact, Mrs Angry must confess to bending poor James O'Brien's ear about this issue at a lunch recently - being the only woman in London who could make a fair stab at out-talking a chat show host, she felt it was her duty ...)

Listen to the discussion here ...

Hard to explain the significance of what lies behind all this, without sounding the alarm bells that warn of yet another conspiracy theory. And if you spend any amount of time googling the subject, you will come across a certain amount of over imaginative speculation of the David Icke type, some of which, perhaps,  may well, to indulge in one's own moment of conspiratorial madness, be deliberate misinformation, and an attempt to smear and detract from the truth.

And yet the truth, supported by evidence, and documentation, is itself so disturbing that it needs no embellishment or misinterpretation.

If you are surprised at the revelations now inching their way into the public domain about the lost files on child abuse submitted to Home Secretary Leon Brittan, and various other related stories, then that will be because until now, almost no one has reported them. 

You might have heard about such stories in the past, again in Private Eye, or more recently if you have followed the patient, scrupulously careful and courageous articles published on the Exaro website, largely the work of our old friend, veteran investigative journalist David Hencke.

For the past eighteen months, Exaro -motto - 'holding power to account' - has raised the issue of the historic organised sexual abuse of children, usually young boys, by individuals who  in some cases were high profile members of the establishment, and who appear to have eluded the course of justice by a sequence of failures by police and prosecuting procedures. 

In contrast to the cluster of high profile trials of celebrities facing charges on alleged, and in some cases now proven, historic sexual abuse, a number of politicians and other well known names have not yet had to face any proceedings, and the investigations into their alleged crimes have been delayed, or simply been dropped, for no clear reason.

The mainstream media, the daily papers, the broadcast channels, have all failed to cover the story, despite the clear evidence suggesting a major coverup over decades since some of the events occurred. 

Until this week.

A major breakthrough in the struggle to bring the issues into a wider focus came in the form of an exchange, ironically, in view of the background to much of this story, in the Margaret Thatcher room, at a meeting of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. 

You can watch the meeting here : from 16.49 onwards, see Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk, who has written a book about the appalling abuse of young boys by the late paedophile and Liberal member of parliament Cyril Smith, deliver a measured but powerful message to the committee on the questions raised by the failure properly to investigate allegations of child sexual abuse, then and now.

Explaining that he wanted to give a voice to the voiceless, the victims of such exploitation  who have been overlooked for so long, Danczuk refers to politics as 'the last refuge of child sex abuse deniers' and talks about the coverup of allegations by individuals high up in the 'food chain': he refers to Elm Guest House, an extablishment in Barnes in which it is alleged young boys - some reportedly from a local childrens' home - were made available for the sexual gratification of a number of high profile men, some with political connections. More articles on this subject may be found here.

Danczuk also referred to something which has been a major factor in the breakthrough, after so much silence, of the issue as a mainstream story - the call for an inquiry into the historic cases, and an overarching investigation into the matter, an idea originally backed by seven MPs, in a cross party move, and promoted by Exaro. This rapidly took off as a campaign on twitter,  and is a tribute to the power of social media as a conduit of grassroots activity. Over 140 MPs have now agreed to give their support to the call for an inquiry.

Mrs Angry thought she should do the right thing, and wrote to her MP, Conservative member for Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer. 

She wrote as a constituent, emphasising this was a non party political matter, and hoping therefore that he would give his own support, commenting:

It is unfortunate that such an inquiry should be necessary at all, but it seems clear to me, from the number of wide ranging cases now being being uncovered, and being familiar with some of the appalling allegations made by victims and survivors that there is a pressing need for a wide ranging investigation into not only the allegations of organised abuse, but also the way in which previous inquiries appear to have been obstructed or even silenced.

As my MP I hope that you will agree that the proposal by MPs from all parties is one you should support, and I ask that you do all you can to press for this inquiry to be established as soon as possible.

Normally when Mrs Angry writes to Mike Freer, an emergency alarm and flashing lights activate in his office, and he sends a panicked, if somewhat tight lipped response almost immediately. This time, however: no, nothing, and after a few days she was obliged to send a reminder.

Dear Mr Freer,

I wonder if I might trouble you for a response to this request. I really cannot see how a serious issue like suspected wide scale child abuse would be in anyway party political, or controversial, and clearly those behind calls for an inquiry would benefit from the momentum of significant cross party support.

For victims, the sexual abuse experienced in childhood has a long lasting impact upon their physical and psychological well being even in their adult lives: to come forward and report what has happened takes enormous courage, and should be supported by those who are in a position to examine their allegations, or instigate investigations into such incidences.

A reply is in hand, was the rather terse reply.  

And then: 

Thank you for contacting me about historic allegations of child abuse.

I appreciate your concern about this issue. Child abuse is an abhorrent crime, no matter when, or where, it occurs. It is important that the Government is committed to tackling it, in whatever form it takes.

Both the historical cases of child abuse and recent cases of organised sexual exploitation raise a number of important issues for the Government, social services, the police, the criminal justice system and others. It is important that we learn lessons from these reviews of historic child abuse cases. That is why the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, Damian Green, is leading a National Group which will work across government to urgently address any missed opportunities to protect children and vulnerable people.

There are a number of inquiries taking place into historic child sex abuse cases, including criminal investigations. It is important we allow these to run their course before taking further action.

I join the Government in urging anyone with concerns or information to report them to the police. I am glad that the Government has made clear that if anyone has concerns about police handling of such complaints they should report them to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It is important that these authorities act on the information provided to them.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Oh, thought Mrs Angry. Rather disappointing. Still, for the first time ever, my MP has, rather touchingly, thanked me -twice - for taking the time to contact him.

Let's have another go:

Thank you for your response. I have to say that I find it disappointing, especially as I noted yesterday that during PMQs, David Cameron indicated that he was not entirely unsympathetic to the idea of an inquiry, should it be necessary.

I think it is clear, from everything I have read about the different investigations that are in place, that there is a need to have in place some overarching body that will look at the wider scope of these separate cases, and ensure that everything is being done to protect the best interests of victims, and prevent pressure being brought to bear from any quarter to obstruct the proper process of investigation.

It is simply not enough to say that individual cases where there may be concern about failures in the police investigations should be reported to the IPCC.  This is dealing with the matter piecemeal, rather than addressing the real issues behind what may appears to be a determined resistance to follow lines of enquiry which may lead to sensitive areas others may wish to protect.

It takes enormous courage for victims to come forward and undergo further trauma caused by the revisiting of their experiences, and it seems to me that they are owed every form of assistance in order that they receive the justice that has been denied to them for so long.

More than 42 MPs have now shown their support for this campaign, and I hope that you will reconsider your own decision.

A semi literate reply in response:

There is a longstanding practice that overarching inquiries are not undertaken whilst existing inquiries - which may result in criminal prosecutions. This has been respected so as not to jeopardise any prosecutions. The most important thing for any victim is surely to see perpetrators prosecuted

Undaunted, Mrs Angry lobbed another response back at him:

Thank you, but I think perhaps you are not familiar with the many instances where prosecutions are not going to be pursued because investigations are dropped, or evidence ignored, or lost. 

Perhaps you are aware that Greater Manchester Police dropped their enquiries into the sexual abuse of boys by Cyril Smith. 

Why? Clearly he is not alive and cannot be prosecuted, but the same applies to the case of Jimmy Savile. The allegations regarding Elm Guest House are deeply alarming, yet appear to be resulting in nothing but further delays and prevarications ...

An inquiry would not jeopardise prosecutions if correctly organised: it may actually help to ensure that prosecutions that would otherwise be avoided do actually take place.
No response, and then ... hello, Mrs Angry came across an article which had a variety of responses from MPs  to constituents on this matter, and do you know, readers, she spotted one or two - including one from Andrew Lansley, no less - were exactly the same as the original one sent to her by Mike Freer. Back again, then: 

Dear Mr Freer

I wrote to you last week about a matter I feel strongly about, on a personal basis, asking you as my MP to support a cross party call for an inquiry into a number of cases of historic child sexual abuse.

Rather naively, as it turned out, I thought that any reasonable person would support such an inquiry, if they are acquainted with the facts, and are familiar with the sequence of failure to pursue much of the evidence of these cases.

You sent me - eventually - a response which informed me you thought any inquiry was unnecessary. I tried to engage you on the perfectly valid reasons why I thought this was misinformed - you failed to respond to my last email.

I now discover that the first response you sent me was not yours, but the words of someone else: it seems a stock answer is being sent by some MPs to constituents in the guise of a proper explanation, and I have seen several examples, including one sent in the name of Andrew Lansley.

I have to say I am really appalled by such a cavalier attitude from you, and find it insulting that you cannot be bothered to formulate your own views, and express them in your own words to a constituent, when dealing with a subject of such significance.

It is easy to succumb to the theory of conspiracy when dealing with cases of organised abuse on such a scale: one would hope that any organised resistance to a full and honest investigation of these matters was no longer possible, or likely. It seems that that may be a misguided view.

Please tell me who wrote the response you sent me last week, and explain why you and other MPs are giving the same answer, rather than addressing the issues raised by your constituents.

That was sent on the 17th June. No reply from Mr Freer, as yet. Of course our staunchly loyal Tory MP may have overlooked the email in the excitement of being appointed party Vice Chair, on the previous day, ie 16th June.

Back to the HOC committee. At around 17.11 pm, the footage shows that Simon Danczuk, after alluding to Elm Guest House, moves on to the subject of the 'Dickens Dossier', submitted to the Home Office in the 1980s, with allegations regarding paedophile activity that included individuals associated with government. This dossier, of course, is now 'missing'.

The Chair, Keith Vaz, had a question for Mr Danczuk: what year was this? In the mid eighties. And, he asked, apparently at a loss to remember - who was the Home Secretary?

Sir Leon Brittan, replied Mr Danzcuk.

Mr Vaz and Mr Danzcuk agreed that it would be 'useful' for Sir Leon Brittan to share his knowledge and understanding about what happened to the Dickens Dossier.

Tory MP Mark Reckless rather recklessly tried to throw a spanner in the works by  attempting to suggest we should feel compassion for what he claimed were 'a number' of MPs who felt they had been 'bullied' into supporting the call for an inquiry. He also tried suggesting the inquiry would be too expensive, and merely an opportunity for lawyers to make money. His concern for the 'bullying' of unnamed MPs was notably not extended, in this discussion, to the suffering of the victims of abuse. In short, his performance was the voice of those in power, and in retreat, who would prefer this issue, and these people, to be silenced once more.

The day after this meeting, however, Leon Brittan issued a statement - or rather two - in which he remembered something that he had appeared previously to have forgotten, that is to say the submission to him by Geoffrey Dickens of the dossier in question, and its handling by his officials.

As I recall, he said, he came to my room at the Home Office with a substantial bundle of papers.

Those papers, apparently, have gone missing, or have been destroyed.

Since then, the story has moved at last to where it should have been - reported by the mainstream media, and in the public domain. 

On Friday the Prime Minister was forced into trying to appear to respond to pressure by announcing a review of the events surrounding the 'loss' of the dossier. The words he used sounded curiously like the words in the response from Freer, above: platitudes meant to obstruct further questions, and stonewall any real investigation. 

The signs are, of course, that no one any longer has faith in such 'reviews', and that Pandora's box, now open, may not be closed. 

Public interest is growing, at a breathtaking pace, and of course, once an issue is found that is bound to sell a large number of newpapers, we may rest assured that nothing will stop the story being pursued to the utmost boundary of possibility.

In the meanwhile, let's remember that if it were not for the determination of an independent investigative website, and the momentum of a campaign fought via the virtual battlefields of social media, the horrible truths that lie within the lost pages of the Dickens dossier, and the even darker secrets that are yet to be revealed, would still remain buried under a cover of silence. 

Nothing is more precious than the innocence of a child, and no one is more vulnerable than a child in care: it is time to give a voice to the voiceless, the children to whom a duty of care was ignored by society, and exploited with the complicity of those who held the ultimate responsibility for their well being.

A petition by Tom Watson, started only today, has already, at the time of writing, on Sunday, at 10.15 pm, has already received an absolutely astonishing current total of 48,118 signatures. 

Tom Watson is the MP who first had the courage and integrity to begin the outing of this unmentionable subject: it is a fitting tribute to him that so many are supporting him today, in this way.

If you want to show your support, please write to your MP (even if it is Mike Freer), and ask them to press for an inquiry,  and sign the petition:


Red Sonia said...

I, too, was a bright child. When I was 10 we had a spelling test and I was the only child who got 100% right. My (always) sadistic teacher had told us that for every wrong answer we would get a lash of the cane on our hands. Several children had many lashes in front of the whole class. When he got to me, he said "Well, you will get just one lash for luck". I put my hands firmly behind my back, stared at him and said "No, I won't" and continued to glare at him. He moved on to the next child and I received no punishment.

I think I can date my burning desire to always do my best to help the powerless from that day.

Mrs Angry said...

Yes, my experience of being regularly 'chastised' by a similarly sadistic teacher when I was six was absolutely one of the reasons I formed such a detestation of the abuse of power, and the hypocrisy of most establishments. When I wrote about this, I had comments from one person who said, at least you were able to go home at the end of the day. For those who lived in the orphanage behind the school ... life was pretty bleak.

I thought Danczuk's comment about giving a voice to the voiceless was very important: those children had no voice then, and are probably not able to speak out now, so it is important to create a forum where they feel they can and will be listened to.

Anonymous said...

I'm Simply Appalled Mrs A . & Let Me Thank you For Taking this up !! Again . I touched on it Last Week & could Never match your Writing skills !! But my Observation of this is !! That it is Very Well Known what Has Taken place in parliament by our MP,S . Better to Keep Quite !!! If you want promotion Ah Mr Freer !!! Should there Really Be Any kind of Debate !! About An inquiry !! OF Course NOT !!! Well There Is An Answer !! If They Won't Have A Public inquiry Into IT !! Lets Do It Ourselves !!

Mrs Angry said...

Hmm, Anon: well, now we know there will be an inquiry, although we must hope it reaches the expectations and standard of investigation we need. Mr Freer was apparently not at all interested in the announcement, and spent his time tweeting pictures of the Tour de France instead.

Anonymous said...

Thank you mrs A . They Are saying that an Enquiry could take up to 2yrs !! Mmm General Election Out the Way !! Hey wait a minute ! Doesn't that sound familier ! Hugh Rayner comes to mind !! But I Digress , The Culture of Cover up in parliament is Very Well Known !! It goes you Dish the Dirt on Me & I Do the same to You !!! & there is a Lot of Dirt !!! This Should Be Pursued With The Greatest of Vigour !!! The Hurt pain & scars Live with them forever !! There Are a Lot of Broken Adults out there who were innocent children once !! Mike Freer is a Discrace !!! Makes you wonder WHAT HE knows !!!

Anonymous said...

Yes we can! we can put your children on ship and send them to remote lands so you won't see them - ever again. we can abuse your children, we can beat the shit out of you in school, we can put you in jail for what ever reason we want.
in other countries those are perverts. in this country, it is class issue, part of the power structure and the oppression of the working class.

Mrs Angry said...

Well, Anon 20:10, I have to say I am surprised, and genuinely disappointed in Mr Freer. Political differences aside, I would have assumed he would support the cause of an inquiry, but then again he has made a point of putting loyalty to government policy as a priority, and until the u turn, ignoring the call for an inquiry was the agreed position.

I would prefer an MP with the courage and independence of mind to make up his own opinion: and to desist from tweeting about cycling rather than the momentous decision to investigate a matter of such importance and sensitivity.

Anon 16:31 - indeed, which is why we must be eternally vigilant, and always fight for justice, even in the face of seemingly undefeatable opposition.