Radio 4’s Today programme reported on Friday that the NSPCC had made a freedom of information request regarding police investigations into online child abuse. It revealed that police forces were overwhelmed by the number of images they were obliged to view and that there was a severe shortage of staff able to extract images from the thousands of computers seized each year and pass them on to officers for investigation. As a result officers were forced to be selective about who they investigated and who they pursued for prosecution. Many abusers are getting off Scott-free.
Figures from Lancashire, for example, showed police had seized 754 computers in 2013 but only had three technicians working to extract and decrypt data.
The Today programme interviewed retired detective sergeant Sharon Girling OBE who reported that some computers could contain hundreds of thousands or even a million images which officers had to view in an attempt to identify and protect the children. Any delay in the process put these children at additional risk. She said that anyone who saw these children’s eyes or heard their voices would demand that more money and resources should be poured into this work.
Listeners to Today will perhaps have contrasted this story with the joint operation conducted by the NSPCC and the police known as Operation Yewtree. This involved 30 police officers at a cost of over £2 million to investigate historic allegations – some 50 years old – against just 15 elderly men, most of whom were celebrities; four have not yet been identified. Most of the allegations – some 450 out of 589 – were against Jimmy Savile who was, of course, dead and unable to harm anyone further. None of the allegations against him will be tested in court, and they remain forever unproven.
Despite the founding principle of Yewtree that all complainants would automatically be believed and treated as victims, it has had very mixed success in achieving convictions. In 8 cases no prosecution has followed. The joint police/NSPCC report declared, ‘We are referring to them as “victims” rather than “complainants” and are not presenting the evidence they have provided as unproven allegations’. The most successful prosecution to date has been that of Max Clifford who was charged with 11 offences including one against a girl of 14. He was found guilty in April on 8 of the charges, but not of the offence against the 14-year-old. Despite this, papers like the Mail were keen to call him a ‘repulsive paedophile’.
Rolf Harris, too, was labelled a paedophile by the tabloids although the allegation on which this was based, involving the alleged groping of an 8-year-old, was almost certainly bogus. I have already commented that it is implausible to suggest that at the height of his fame, with Two Little Boys at Number One, he was performing in a tiny council-run community centre with room for an audience of no more than 150. There is no record of such an appearance either in the local press or in council files. A trawl of local residents produced none who remembered such an event. 33 pornographic images found on Harris’s computer turned out to be of girls over the age of 18.
Despite the lack of evidence or convictions, Operation Yewtree has been touted as an operation against child abuse and paedophilia – hence the involvement of the NSPCC. Other than Gary Glitter, who was already known to be a paedophile, the operation has turned up no new child abusers, and hasn’t protected a single child. The lives of the presumed victims, now in their 40s and 50s, have not been changed.
Consider these two descriptions of sexual assault from the point of view of the victims. The first takes place in the context of a 2012 chat show; there has been some light-hearted and irreverent banter about the allegations which have recently emerged against Jimmy Savile, then one guest says this,
Woman: I have to say my only story like that is, um, er, Mr X did once – I don’t know whether intentionally or accidentally – grab my boob, so let’s put that out there (the pun is deliberate).
Man 1: Wow, did he kind of run towards you and grab it and run off?
Man 2: And what situation were you in where…
Woman: Well, I smoked at that time and he was talking about my lungs, and he said, ‘Oh, darling, you’re clogging up your little lungs,’ and then gradually my lungs became something different.
Man: I think that was intentional.
Woman: Well, who knows, I mean, I don’t like to besmirch his good character: he seems like such a lovely man, er, but yeah, so, I don’t know, I don’t know.
The second description is an excerpt from a victim impact statement read out in a 2014 courtroom:
I was a naive and trusting 22-year-old when I was subjected to an unprovoked and terrifying physical assault at my place of work.
I was too paralysed with fear to confront my assailant but immediately told my boss.
Remembering the incident still takes me back to feeling like a scared, vulnerable young woman.
Being called a liar and fantasist and being forced to relive the events of the past has been painful.
Ok, hands up those who are aware that these are two accounts of the same event, related by the same woman. Remarkable isn’t it? Of course, we know the second account wasn’t written by the woman herself, who even used this incident as material for a stand-up routine, it has been sexed up by the lawyers for maximum impact.
Remarkable, too, is the fact that the alleged perpetrator, Dave Lee Travis, was first arrested on 15th November 2012 and charged initially with 12 offences and later, when the case failed to secure a conviction, with another 3. Of the 15 allegations this is the only one on which he was found guilty, and he was finally handed a suspended 3 month sentence on 26th September. Incredibly, the case has now been passed to the Attorney General’s office because the sentence is considered by some to be too lenient.
A name has been given to this phenomenon whereby what appeared to be innocent and a little bit naughty a year or so ago has become the very epitome of depraved sexuality this year. Travis has now been branded an inveterate sexual predator and, because one of his accusers, whose account was not accepted by the jury, was only 17 at the time of her alleged assault, he has even been called a paedophile, an epithet which may well stick. The name given is ‘Savilisation’; and the phenomenon is spreading rapidly.
Yewtree officially closed in December 2012, but other investigations continue. Investigations ran alongside Yewtree of Coronation Street actors William Roache and Michael Le Vell, who were both separately found not guilty; the investigation of Cliff Richard continues.
Jim Davidson was initially accused of the sexual assault of two women in their twenties. The prosecution was dropped before it got to trial, but Davidson still estimated he had spent half a million on legal fees. It is very costly to defend oneself against these sort of allegations. Nevertheless, merely being associated with Yewtree has cast a shadow from which Davidson will find it difficult to emerge.
When Stephen Fry suggested at a Labour fundraising gala in July that Labour stood for essential values including belief in the presumption of innocence he was accused of a rant and insensitivity. He should have known his audience would reject the very idea that false allegations can be made. There is no recognition amongst those who condemned him that false allegations are an appalling waste of finite resources, and a distraction from the real business of protecting children. Merely questioning Yewtree or the conduct of the police results in shrill allegations that one is defending paedophiles; this is nonsense, not least because Yewtree hasn’t conclusively exposed any paedophiles, but it is terrifying how many succumb to this hysteria.
Yewtree is not only consuming a disproportionate amount of scarce resources to achieve insignificant results, it has become a vehicle for the NSPCC’s campaign, and been exploited by the police for entertainment value – policing as reality TV show – all based on the fundamental but false belief that no one makes false allegations.
Under Yewtree the rule of law is collapsing; the presumption of innocence has been all but abolished and far from responding to genuine complaints of crime the police are trawling for crimes which have never been reported and have very probably never been committed. In the meantime real children are subjected to real abuse and exploitation by banal nonentities who lack the press-appeal of the sexy crusade against innocent celebrities like Davidson, Jimmy Tarbuck or Freddy Starr.