EU referendum: who cares what the Queen thinks about Brexit?

We now know her intervention in the Scottish referendum was planned to the last detail

Independent on Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Queen is a meddler. She’s better at it than her eldest son but that just means she’s smarter than the Prince of Wales (not hard) or has better advisers. Crucially, she knows she doesn’t have to say anything incriminating because most of the press can be relied on to “interpret” her remarks in the right way, while repeating the lofty fiction that the monarch is politically neutral.

Nothing could be further from the truth, which is why The Sun’s story about the Queen supposedly expressing strong Eurosceptic views over a lunch in 2011 sounds plausible. The Palace has complained to the press regulator IPSO on what appears to be a rather technical ground, claiming that the “Queen backs Brexit” headline was inaccurate because the term hadn’t been coined at the time.

But the more interesting question is why someone broke ranks and passed on the Queen’s allegedly critical remarks about the EU at this point in the referendum campaign. The Queen has survived as long as she has, with her reputation mostly intact, because of the omerta that surrounds her conversations. It’s unusual for her political views to be repeated in public, which may be why she offers them without apparent reluctance or hesitation. When I heard her say at a Buckingham Palace party that she didn’t want Turkey to join the EU for a long time, she didn’t seem remotely anxious about offering a political and indeed unconstitutional opinion in front of numerous witnesses. If it really was the first time she had been so forthright at a social event, it’s a remarkable coincidence that she did it in front of a committed republican.

By contrast, the Queen’s public interventions are so subtle that they might best be described as gnomic. Thus she never actually said, at a key moment in the Scottish independence referendum, that she wanted the Scots to stay in the UK. She didn’t have to: she simply made some anodyne remarks to “well-wishers” outside Crathie Kirk, the parish church where members of the Royal Family worship when they stay at Balmoral, four days before the ballot. Her entire utterance amounted to 11 words – “Well, I hope people will think very carefully about the future” – and avoided any mention of the referendum. The Daily Mail swung into action, as it was supposed to do, reporting her remark as a “stark warning” about independence.

Was the Queen planning a similarly sphinx-like intervention close to the EU vote in June? Thanks to The Guardian, we now  know that her intervention in the Scottish referendum was orchestrated to the last detail after No 10 went into meltdown at the prospect of a “yes” vote. The wording was decided during negotiations between the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt and the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, it was designed to make her support for the union clear without actually saying so.

I can’t help wondering whether last week’s leak to The Sun, if that is what it was, amounted to a pre-emptive strike, designed to prevent the Queen taking sides (in a non-partisan way, of course) in the crucial week leading up to the EU referendum. At the same time, I also can’t help thinking that this way of doing things – political interference with zero accountability – is profoundly inimical to democracy. It offers the monarch boundless influence without ever having to justify herself or engage in anything as low-rent as a debate, which carries the risk of upsetting people. She never has to commit herself to anything in public, a privilege denied even to candidates for parish councils.

That she is allowed to get away with it is in some degree a habit, stretching back to a time when most of the country showed automatic deference to authority figures. But it’s also a reflection, I think, of a corrosive cynicism towards elected politicians, who are at least open about their allegiance and even, on occasion, willing to risk offending voters. The result is a credulity that leads people to put their faith in individuals who belong to the much-derided Establishment, even when their opinions are no more deserving of respect than those of someone sitting next to you on the bus.

Barely had the furore over The Sun’s “Brexit” headline begun to subside when another self-appointed opinion-maker entered the fray. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who shares with the Queen the privilege of holding a constitutional position without having had to do anything as vulgar as stand for office, explained in an interview with The House magazine that there is no “correct Christian view” on the EU referendum.

Even if you believe the UK is an imperfect democracy, the answer doesn’t lie in giving oracular status to the Royal Family and religious leaders. We need more accountability, not less, and the number one target should be the Queen’s clandestine political influence.

Protecting children means telling them about the world as it is

The government has rejected calls for compulsory sex and relationship education, but denying children essential knowledge puts them at risk

The Guardian, Thursday 10 March 2016

The myth of childhood innocence dies hard. Many parents hope that their kids won’t have to deal with the complex world of sex until they are in their teens, keeping childhood as one of the last places untouched by adult desires. But such hopes seem illusory in the face of evidence that the scale of child sexual abuse in this country is much greater than we previously believed, and is increasing due to technology.

A rise in prevalence, as opposed to reporting, is the development that everyone working in the area dreads. Following the exposure of Jimmy Savile, police forces were inundated with reports of rapes and sex attacks, almost universally believed to reflect a greater willingness of victims to go to the police. It was widely welcomed, not because a woman revealing that she has been raped is ever good news, but because confidence in the criminal justice system is essential to stopping rapists.

Now, though, one of the country’s most senior police officers is saying something very different about the increase in recorded cases of child abuse. Simon Bailey, chief constable of Norfolk and the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, believes that technology has made it easier for predators to search for victims online, driving an increase of more than 30% in recorded cases last year.

According to the NSPCC, a total of 45,456 child sexual offences were recorded in the UK, with some victims aged five or under. Shocking though that is, the figure is low compared to estimates contained in a report last year from the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield. It suggested that there had been between 400,000 and 450,000 victimsof child sexual abuse in England alone between 2012 and 2014.

There is always resistance to such estimates, which are based on different types of evidence including surveys of adult survivors, while the apparent mishandling of historical allegations against some well-known individuals has led to claims of a witch-hunt. But the NSPCC’s figures represent recorded cases of child sexual abuse and Bailey says that the police are seeing “exponential increases” year-on-year. He doesn’t believe that there has been a rise in the proportion of the population with a sexual interest in children, but technological advances have vastly expanded opportunities for paedophiles.

No one would argue that it is possible or even desirable to keep children away from the internet. But we are already living in a different universe in terms of child sexual exploitation: in 1990 it was estimated that there were approximately 7,000 indecent images of children in circulation in the UK and predators had to take enormous risks in order to share them. In 1978 a former diplomat, Sir Peter Hayman, was investigated by the police after he left a package of paedophile material on a London bus.

Now it is believed that there may be as many as 100m indecent images of children in circulation. There is so much material, in fact, that the police have been accused of unacceptable delays in getting round to interviewing people who have been flagged up as suspects. In 2014, Essex police were criticised for waiting nine months to question a deputy headteacher from Southend, who was later discovered to possess more than 400 films and still images of children undressing at his school and a local swimming pool.

Children cannot possibly be expected to anticipate this kind of behaviour from someone in a position of trust. That is why they need to be told about warning signs, making sure they know what to look for and who to tell if they are worried by someone’s behaviour. The obvious place for that to happen is in schools but a vociferous lobby exists, dedicated to opposing every attempt to introduce compulsory sex and relationships education on the ground that it would unnecessarily “sexualise” kids.

The truth is the opposite: denying children knowledge about the world puts them at risk from paedophiles who may inflict lifelong damage. But the present government flatly refuses to make personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) mandatory. Last month the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, rejected another call for compulsory PSHE, despite a campaign by MPs, peers and a coalition of 100 concerned organisations.

I regularly sit in meetings with senior police officers who deal with the horrors of child sexual abuse on a daily basis. They can’t say so publicly but they are tearing their hair out over our society’s failure to teach children how to spot predators. I’m afraid that childhood innocence may be something we can no longer afford if we’re serious about protecting kids from dangerous people.


Adam Johnson: men like the disgraced footballer rely on misogyny to operate

The no-holds-barred condemnation of the former England international feels like an unconscious attempt to compensate for past ambivalence – to put it mildly – towards the player and his sexual history

Independent on Sunday, 6 March 2016

Every time a public figure is exposed as a sexual predator – and it seems to happen with alarming frequency these days – the condemnation that follows is swift and merciless. Men such as Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile have been transformed overnight from popular entertainers into “perverts” and “paedophiles”, heaped with as much as calumny as they previously received plaudits. The latest big name to undergo this process is Adam Johnson, who was characterised as a “Paedo in his Speedos” on the front page of The Sun last week, next to a picture of the disgraced footballer in a pair of swimming trunks.

Whether it was an appropriate image to publish the day after Johnson was convicted of a sex offence against a 15-year-old girl (he was cleared of another charge) is another matter. The former Sunderland winger and English international has been warned by the judge to expect a “substantial” custodial sentence after pleading guilty to two lesser charges at the beginning of his trial. He faces going to jail for between four and 10 years for grooming the girl, kissing her and for sexual activity in his car.

It is not clear whether the use of an explicit image was intended as mockery of Johnson’s pride in his physique or a reference to his reputation as a stud. But as is often the way, today’s no-holds-barred condemnation of Johnson feels like an unconscious attempt to compensate for past ambivalence – to put it mildly – towards the player and his sexual history. I am not defending Johnson, who was described by his own QC, Orlando Pownall, as “immature, arrogant [and] promiscuous”, but not for the first time I am disturbed by an inexplicable (to me at least) tolerance of predatory  attitudes towards women and girls.

Sunderland AFC’s officials dealt with Johnson every day. “The only time he had to fend for himself was on the field, cheered on by thousands of adoring fans”, Pownall said during the trial. Didn’t the club notice his immaturity and arrogance, especially where sex was concerned? And weren’t they worried by the vile misogyny of some Sunderland fans, who responded to news of his arrest in March last year as though it was a tribute to his sexual prowess? Just days later, they were filmed, fists pumping, singing “Adam Johnson, he shags who he wants”.

Sunderland suspended him for all of two weeks, then allowed him to go on playing (and earning almost £3m) for the best part of a year. Only days before his trial, he was photographed signing autographs for young fans at the club’s Stadium of Light. Johnson wasn’t sacked until the first day of his trial, when he pleaded guilty to the two lesser offences.

Officials say that was the first they knew of his intention to put in the guilty pleas, but Durham police insists the club’s chief executive was told at the time of his arrest that he had allegedly texted and kissed the under-age girl. The club knew a year ago about the serious nature of the charges and it knew that Johnson had a devoted following, including very young girls. “I absolutely idolised Adam,” his victim said in a statement after the trial.

Few teenagers are mature enough to understand that hero worship can be dangerous, which is why organisations such as football clubs and the BBC have a safeguarding responsibility towards fans. When Dame Janet Smith’s report on Savile’s crimes at the BBC came out 10 days ago, there was much talk of different times, as though his activities would not be tolerated today. But Savile was never arrested, and Sunderland’s support for a star who had been charged with serious sexual offences suggests things have changed less than we imagine.

The other thing that hasn’t gone away is victim-blaming. Johnson’s victim has been viciously attacked on social network sites; she has been described as a “slag” and a “slut” and accused of trying to make money out of the player. In her statement, she talked about the effect of the “horrible” names she had been called, saying she sometimes felt “broken”. It’s very similar to the abuse heaped on the woman assaulted by Ched Evans, the former Sheffield United player and Welsh international who was convicted of rape four years ago. Evans has always maintained his innocence and his case has just been referred back to the Court of Appeal, but nothing can excuse the shrill misogyny of the campaign against his victim.

What lies behind all this, I think, is an inexcusable tolerance towards attitudes that demean women and are distasteful to more thoughtful, modern men. Bragging about the size of your sexual organ, as Donald Trump did in a TV debate last week, isn’t illegal and it doesn’t make someone a sexual predator. But the fact that it didn’t instantly destroy his credibility as a presidential candidate shows that primitive versions of masculinity appeal to alarming numbers of people. When macho attitudes are so widely tolerated, no wonder some men think they can get away with behaving extremely badly.

Trials should not cause victims extra pain – time after time, their characters and integrity are ripped apart in court

The Rotherham sex abuse case shows that little has changed since the death of Frances Andrade in 2013

Independent on Sunday, 28 February 2016

Arshid Hussain needs to use a wheelchair after being shot in the abdomen. When he was named as a defendant in a trial which was going to take place 40 miles from his home in East Yorkshire, a video link was installed in his house so he could follow the proceedings from his bed. The case began in December but he turned up in person on only one occasion and decided that he was too unwell to give evidence.

On Wednesday, as the verdicts in the case were being read out, Hussain’s wife called an ambulance. He was rushed to hospital in Scunthorpe, a development described by a prosecution lawyer as an apparently deliberate attempt to frustrate the judicial process, before being released and taken into custody that evening. On Friday, Hussain, 40, was sentenced to 35 years in prison after being found guilty of 23 serious sex offences.

I wouldn’t normally make a song and dance about the way a defendant has been treated during a criminal trial. But the contrast between the special measures put in place for Hussain and the ordeal his victims were subjected to in court is almost unbearable to contemplate. Like the case of Frances Andrade, the professional violinist who died of an overdose in 2013 after a bruising experience on the witness stand, it raises questions about the extremely adversarial nature of trials involving serious sexual offences.

Andrade was accused of lying by the barrister acting for her former music teacher, Michael Brewer, who labelled her a “fantasist” in his evidence. She died the following day and never knew that she’d been vindicated: Brewer was convicted of five charges of indecent assault and jailed for six years. The coroner at her inquest said that Andrade was “extremely traumatised” by her experience and demanded new rules to ensure that vulnerable witnesses are given greater support.

It’s hard to imagine a more traumatic experience than giving evidence against the Hussain brothers and their accomplices, whose horrific abuse of 15 vulnerable girls in Rotherham emerged during their trial at Sheffield Crown Court. Hussain’s younger brothers Bannaras (who pleaded guilty in December) and Basharat were sentenced to 19 and 25 years respectively; their uncle, Qurban Ali, got 10 years. Karen MacGregor, who lured girls to her home and pimped them out, was jailed for 13 years. Shelley Davies, who stayed at MacGregor’s house, argued that she too was a victim and received an 18-month suspended sentence.

The charge sheet, which included rape, forced prostitution, assault occasioning bodily harm, indecent assault, conspiracy to procure prostitutes, conspiracy to rape, and forced imprisonment, doesn’t come close to conveying the damage inflicted on the victims. The trial followed publication last year of a report which concluded that 1,400 girls had been abused in Rotherham over a long period.

Between 1987 and 2003, Arshid Hussain used very young girls for sex, passing them on to his brothers and prostituting them to other men. When one of his teenage victims tried to end contact with him after having his baby, he held her by the throat and threatened to throw her from a balcony at Rotherham market. She says she reported the assault to the police but was ignored, one of many claims which are now the subject of an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Chilling statements from the victims were read out in court on Friday. One girl described the Hussain brothers urinating on her like “a pack of animals” while the sister of another victim characterised her as a “broken human being”. The prosecutor, Michelle Colborne QC, said that the victims had felt “dirty, ashamed and guilty” since they were teenagers. She listed lasting effects of the abuse they suffered, including eating disorders and self-harm.

When Colborne visited one of the witnesses at home before she testified, she found her shaking and “almost physically sick” at the prospect of giving evidence. Her fears were justified: the victims were repeatedly accused of lying in order to claim compensation from the police and the council. Unlike the jury, defence lawyers knew that Bannaras Hussain had admitted a string of offences against almost half of the witnesses. But they went on to accuse four of the women of inventing evidence against the other defendants.

A Sheffield newspaper, The Star, reported that one of the women “was scratching her arms in anguish during a break in proceedings and required a social worker to sit with her for reassurance”. Another defence barrister was asked to tone down her cross-examination of the same witness after both the judge and the prosecution expressed concern that the lawyer was shouting.

Is this really how a civilised country treats women who have been multiply raped from the age of 13 or 14? The 2009 Coroners and Justice Act introduced special provisions for adult complainants in sexual offence trials, including allowing video-taped statements as evidence. After the Andrade case, the Director of Public Prosecutions announced three pilot areas where prosecuting barristers would use new guidance to support victims but its provisions – meeting witnesses in advance and explaining the defence case – still don’t address the core problem.

Time after time, victims have had their characters and integrity ripped apart by defence barristers who will stop at nothing to get an acquittal. “They’re just doing their job,” we’re told. Meanwhile, judges are reluctant to intervene in case they’re accused of obstructing justice.

Frankly, I’m sick of these high-minded excuses. And I’m ashamed of a criminal justice system that appears to believe that justice can be achieved only by further humiliating deeply traumatised women.

It’s big in Japan

A huge hit in Asia – and a game-changer for detective fiction

Sunday Times, 28 February 2016

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama, trans Jonathan Lloyd-Davies

Fourteen years have passed since a seven-year-old girl was abducted and murdered in a provincial city in Japan. The crime has never been solved, an outcome damaging to the reputation of any police force but especially so in a country where saving face is important. When the head of the national police in Tokyo suddenly takes an interest in this tragic cold case, his impending visit to City D provokes a ferocious power struggle among local detectives.

Six Four is the code name of the case, as well as the title of Hideo Yokoyama’s superb novel, which is something of a sensation in Japan and has already sold 1.3m copies there. The murder takes place in the 64th year of the Showa period, otherwise known as the long reign of the Emperor Hirohito, which ended with his death in 1989. The code name is an acknowledgment of the shame felt by detectives who failed to catch the perpetrator, prompting them to make a defiant promise to “drag the kidnapper right back into the 64th year of Showa”.

Such glimpses into the collective mind-set of the police force in City D are both strange and fascinating. If the detectives are acutely aware of their status, so are members of the press, who have their own room in police headquarters and display a sense of entitlement that might surprise British crime reporters. Yokoyama used to be an investigative journalist before he began writing fiction and his portrait of how the Japanese press operates is unflattering, posing questions about the potentially devastating impact of this intense scrutiny on officers and operations.

Superintendent Yoshinobu Mikami, currently head of media relations at police HQ, was one of the detectives who sat with the kidnapped girl’s parents during the tense negotiations with the abductor in 1989. Unknown to the reporters who believe he’s unnecessarily withholding information on a series of cases, Mikami’s teenage daughter has run away from home. He has just returned from a four-hour trip by bullet train to view the body of a girl who turned out to be a stranger, the third time in three months that he has had to steel himself for such an ordeal.

Mikami suspects that the chief police’s visit to City D is a PR exercise rather than a genuine attempt to revive the investigation, but it is his job to notify the dead child’s father. Yoshio Amamiya is a widower, living next to a shrine to his daughter, and the parallels between the two men’s lives torment Mikami. When he begins to dig into the old case, speaking to colleagues who were involved in the botched ransom drop, he stumbles across a fatal error at the heart of the original investigation.

This is gripping stuff, fast-paced and involving endless conflicts of loyalties, but Yokoyama has something unexpected up his sleeve. A classic plot about a decent cop painstakingly uncovering corruption suddenly turns into one of the most remarkable revenge dramas in modern detective fiction. All the clues are there, in retrospect, but in a kind of shadow plot that will leave even the most observant reader gasping.

Quercus £16.99


The Morning They Came For Us – unsparing account of Syrians’ suffering

Janine di Giovanni’s reports of life under the Assad regime during the civil war are nightmarish, but unflinching

The Observer, Sunday 28 February 2016

When I first visited Syria, about 20 years ago, it was outwardly calm but with an atmosphere of underlying unease. After I gave a lecture at a university in Homs, I met a group of postgraduate students for coffee and was bombarded with questions about everyday life in a western secular society. I thought I’d been careful to avoid politics but when I got back to Damascus I discovered I’d been banned from speaking at the university there. A mukhabarat informer had been in the coffee shop.

A few years later, when I chaired an English PEN committee that campaigned on behalf of imprisoned writers, I heard first-hand about the torture that went on in the country’s prisons. One of the most notorious jails was close to Palmyra, where opponents of the government had their joints ripped apart on a horrific instrument of torture called the “German chair”. I used to wonder what would happen when decades of this brutal repression became intolerable and ordinary Syrians rose against Assad.

The answer turned out to be an extraordinarily savage civil war. It is a story that encompasses a massive refugee crisis and a whole series of war crimes, including rape of the regime’s opponents, male and female alike, and the use of chemical weapons. Now Russia’s entry into the conflict appears to have turned the odds in President Assad’s favour, while causing significant civilian casualties.

What life is like for ordinary Syrians who have stayed behind is the subject of Janine di Giovanni’s heartbreaking book. It is an account of her travels in Syria during a six-month period in 2012. Wealthy Damascenes are still in denial, gathering around the pool at Di Giovanni’s hotel to drink beer while smoke rises from shelling in the suburbs.

She cuts from this scene to Latakia, a coastal city close to the birthplace of Hafez al-Assad, the president’s father, who held the country in a stranglehold for almost 30 years. A young woman called Nada, who carried medical supplies to opposition fighters and broadcast reports calling for a democratic Syria, describes how she received a panicked phone call from a friend, telling her he had been arrested. “Can you get here right away?” he begged. “They want to talk to you, too.”

It was a pre-arranged signal, giving Nada time to run, but she had nowhere to go. She destroyed anything that might incriminate her but it made no difference when the knock came in the early morning, two days later. Nada spent the next eight months being tortured and made to listen as other prisoners were stripped, beaten and forced to drink urine. She was also raped, something confirmed by one of her friends, although Nada herself is unable to talk about it.

Di Giovanni confronts the nightmarish subject of sexual violence as a means of terrorising prisoners early in this extremely harrowing book. Her account of rapes in Assad’s prisons is unsensational but unsparing, a tone she maintains when she meets Hussein, a student from Homs. Hussein was never a fighter but that didn’t stop him being arrested and his story about being tortured by men who described themselves as doctors is too graphic to repeat. He survived only because another doctor took pity on him, certifying him dead so he would be taken to the morgue, where a nurse helped him escape.

Di Giovanni has reported on many conflicts. “I swore to myself, after Bosnia, that I would never live through another war that would consume me,” she writes. But she cannot bear the feeling of standing by and doing nothing, even if the best she can do is to make a record of suffering. This is no small thing: it is individual stories, rather than victims counted in the millions, that reveal the terrible cost of leaving dictators in place for the sake of “stability”.

The Morning They Came for Us is published by Bloomsbury (£16.99)


How the BBC’s ‘macho culture’ allowed girls to be sexually abused

Daily Telegraph, Friday 26 February 2016

The BBC is one of this country’s best-known institutions. Most of us assumed it was properly run, which is why Dame Janet Smith’s review of the Jimmy Savile scandal is the equivalent of a hand grenade, tossed into the corridors of the corporation to devastating effect. Dame Janet doesn’t claim that senior management knew about Savile’s crimes but she has identified a ‘macho culture’ which allowed him to prey on teenage (and younger) children for almost half a century.

Ironically, the review has found that it was especially pronounced in Light Entertainment and at Radio 1, which was supposed to be the corporation’s flagship youth station. Dame Janet paints a picture of the BBC struggling to adapt to a brash youth culture and completely failing to reflect the modern world: the corporation had very few women in management roles and female staff found it hard to report sexual harassment.

In a staggeringly deferential and masculine culture, male DJs and presenters were treated with ‘kid gloves’ and regarded as ‘untouchable’. When a junior female employee at Television Centre summoned up the courage to complain to her supervisor that she’d been assaulted by Savile, she was told ‘Keep your mouth shut, he is a VIP’.

These revelations destroy the lame old excuse that a gender imbalance in the workplace does no real harm. It’s not as though male-dominated offices and factories were unusual in the 1970s and 80s, and in that sense at least the BBC was far from unique; male bosses were so much the rule that the occasional woman in a senior position was regarded, at best, as a novelty.

Women in more junior positions were made to feel like outsiders, expected to flirt with colleagues or prove that we were ‘one of the lads’ by putting up with so-called ‘banter’. In one of the first newspaper offices I worked in, the news editor asked me to make tea while I was in the middle of writing a story. When I suggested a tea rota, all the men turned up the following day with a thermos flask.

Politics was as male-dominated as the BBC. It’s often forgotten that Margaret Thatcher was one of only eight women on the Conservative benches in the House of Commons when she became prime minister in 1979. Female MPs who arrived in Parliament after an election were astonished to discover that the Palace of Westminster had a shooting range but no childcare facilities.

That’s because the people who hold senior positions in organisations shape them, often unconsciously, in their own image. At the BBC, neither sexual harassment nor child protection was taken seriously because the men in charge didn’t regard other men, particularly if they were household names, as a potential risk. In one of the most damning phrases in her review, Dame Janet identifies an ‘atmosphere of fear’ which discouraged staff from complaining or raising concerns.

Even if they witnessed an assault, junior female staff would have known the consequences of making a complaint about someone as famous as Savile or the presenter Stuart Hall. We now know that the two men assaulted a total of 93 victims at the BBC.

What the Smith review describes is an extreme version of a lads’ culture in the very sections of the BBC that were designed to appeal to teenagers. If women who worked for the corporation felt unable to complain, girls who made up the studio audience for popular programmes stood no chance at all of being taken seriously.

Dame Janet records an occasion when two teenage girls complained that they had been assaulted by Savile on Top of the Pops, only to have their complaints ‘brushed aside’ and never passed on to management. ‘One girl was told to move out of the way of the camera and the other was ejected from the building and left on the street’, says the review.

It’s inevitable that the BBC should go through a period of heart-searching after such appalling failures. Senior executives may be tempted to believe that the corporation’s gender problem is in the past but it has faced persistent allegations of discrimination against older women in recent years, not least from the former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly, who won an ageism case against the BBC. After the Smith review was published, O’Reilly tweeted that BBC staff were ‘still afraid to speak up’ and feared the ‘personal consequences’ of making complaints.

Dame Janet believes that Savile and Hall might have been exposed earlier had it not been for ‘cultural factors’ at the BBC. It’s tempting to think all that’s in the past and it’s certainly true that most organisations, including the BBC, have many more women in senior positions these days. But I don’t think we can assume that our leading companies and institutions are entirely free of the toxic assumptions that persisted in the workplace for decades.






Now we know: the BBC’s macho culture protected predatory men for decades

Male celebrities treated like kings, young girls dismissed as ‘groupies’ – this is a highly gendered sex scandal

The Guardian, Thursday 25 February 2016

The charge could not be more damning: we now know that one of this country’s most admired institutions allowed a hugely prolific sexual predator to flourish in its midst for almost half a century. Dame Janet Smith’s report into the crimes committed by Jimmy Savile in connection with his work at the BBC has identified 72 victims, beginning with the rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1959. The DJ’s last known assault occurred during a recording of Top of the Pops in 2006.

Savile was not the sole beneficiary of a culture that regarded celebrities as untouchable; another report has found that the presenter Stuart Hall abused 21 victims, the youngest of whom was just 10 years old, at the BBC between 1967 and 1991. There is no doubt that the BBC was (and is) in awe of what’s called “talent”, or that a culture of deference towards celebrity has a lot to answer for. But despite all the hand-wringing that’s gone on since Savile was exposed, I’m still waiting for an acknowledgement of the single most salient fact: like most scandals involving sexual abuse on this scale, this is a highly gendered phenomenon.

We are not talking about an atmosphere at the BBC in which well-known women used their power to abuse teenagers and children. Dame Janet’s observation about a “macho culture” is the closest anyone has come to recognising that the BBCempowered male celebrities, placing them in positions where they had unrestricted access to very young girls and boys. From the standpoint of the 21st century, it was a nightmare scenario in terms of safeguarding procedures, failing to consider even for a moment what unscrupulous predators might do with that opportunity.

How different those old Top of the Pops clips look now we know what was really going on. Back in the 1960s, pop culture – characterised by teenage girls in knee-length white boots bopping to the latest top 10 hits – used to appear both modern and benign; it was a welcome reaction against the drab postwar world of the 1950s, when punitive attitudes towards sex forced many reluctant couples into early and unwanted marriages. The darker side of that seemingly innocent world of grinning DJs, rakish pop stars and adoring fans was kept inside the industry, where roadies remained silent about band members who habitually had sex with under-age girls.

When it did come out into the open, girls who slept with pop stars were described dismissively as “groupies”, following an age-old double standard that excuses adult men from responsibility for their sexual conduct. “All kinds of things went on and I do mean young girls throwing themselves at [pop stars] in their dressing rooms, at concert halls, at gigs, whatever,” said the celebrity publicist Max Clifford in 2012. Clifford – who is currently serving eight years for indecent assaults – added that he had been contacted by dozens of big names from the 1960s and 70s who were “frightened to death” of being dragged into the Savile scandal.

Yet for all the talk of different times and attitudes, rape was as much a criminal offence in the 1960s and 70s as it is today. So was sex with girls under 16, the legal age of consent which has been enshrined in English law since 1885. The aim of that law was to protect vulnerable girls from predatory men, not the other way round, but pop culture created a free-for-all that held teenage girls responsible even for criminal behaviour.

In such circumstances, it was inevitable that victims would not be listened to, a prejudice that would surface in a different context – but with similarly disastrous outcomes – when very young girls were targeted by predatory gangs in Rotherham, Rochdale and other English towns several decades later.

Shocking though the Savile revelations are, they have to be seen in a wider context. His behaviour was enabled by a revolution in sexual behaviour that was supposed to liberate both sexes, but actually offered endless opportunities to unscrupulous men. Its effects were far-reaching, creating poisonous attitudes towards victims of sexual abuse that are still being recycled in rape trials today. But it has also prompted a feminist critique that is vital if we’re ever going to understand the context that men like Savile operate in, and stop them at an early stage in their criminal careers.


Junior doctors’ strike: this is about more than pay. It’s about what the NHS is for

Jeremy Hunt’s imposition of a contract on the junior doctors is only the start of an assault on the health service

Independent on Sunday, 14 February 2016

One day last week, I came out of a Tube station in central London to hear a cacophony of car horns. It was the sound of drivers tooting their support as striking junior doctors marched across Westminster Bridge, hands linked. Most of us love the NHS and the junior doctors, who are so passionate and articulate when they talk about their work, represent the best of it.

The very next day the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, told the House of Commons that he intends to unilaterally impose the contract at the heart of the bitter dispute. The doctors’ union, the British Medical Association, reacted angrily and so did opposition MPs. No wonder: it was a display of naked authority, signalling the imbalance of power between doctors and public opinion, on the one hand, and the Government, on the other. Within hours, Hunt’s claim to have the backing of “senior NHS leaders” began to look threadbare, as more than half of the supposed signatories to a letter of support distanced themselves from it.

Another politician, at another time, might have been embarrassed. But Hunt’s habitual expression of slight bafflement conceals a steely self-confidence that’s enabled him to emerge unscathed from what could have been career-breaking moments, including a difficult session (in his previous incarnation as culture secretary) before the Leveson inquiry in 2012. A message read out at the inquiry showed Hunt, who was about to become the minister responsible for overseeing a bid by Rupert Murdoch’s company to take control of the broadcaster BskyB, congratulating Murdoch’s son James as it cleared possible obstacles. Revelations about his chummy relationship with the Murdochs led to Hunt being described as “beleaguered”, an adjective used when journalists can’t quite believe that someone who is getting such terrible coverage is still in place. In the event, he was promoted to Health Secretary.

I’ve come to the conclusion, in other words, that Hunt is unembarrassable. For a government that’s impatient with the BMA and takes the view that doctors were treated much too generously by Labour health secretaries, that makes him the ideal candidate to take on a group of workers who have a special place in the public’s affections. I don’t think many people believe this is an argument about Saturday working, which is what Hunt says it comes down to, but I am also not sure that the BMA understands what formidable opponents it has taken on. It is hard to see what the doctors can do next, now that they have staged two one-day strikes to so little effect.

Unlike strikes and picket lines, which encourage a communal spirit, Hunt has created a situation where individual doctors will have to decide whether to sign the new contract. They will have to take into account their own circumstances, including how to pay the rent or a mortgage, which is why it’s hard to see Hunt’s move as anything other than deliberately divisive. The dispute has been dragging on for a very long time and junior doctors are already demoralised, with good reason. The signs are that some are already exploring other options, producing anecdotal evidence about hospitals in Australia and New Zealand being staffed by an influx of British doctors.

This is very bad news for the NHS and all of us who use it as patients. While ministers try to present the dispute as turning on pay and conditions, it seems pretty clear that what is at stake is an idea about what the NHS is for and how it operates. At the beginning of their careers, doctors used to be attached to a consultant, accompanying him or her on ward rounds and seeing the same patients. There was continuity of care, support from other members of the team and a chance to see how patients progressed. Now junior doctors are basically shift workers, moved around to fill gaps on rotas, which isn’t good for them or their patients. It’s especially difficult for couples where both partners are doctors or have children who need childcare on weekends. The lack of continuity is frustrating for everyone, doctors and patients alike.

The Government’s grasp of the public finances looks increasingly shaky, and I don’t doubt that ministers are terrified by the rising cost of healthcare. It doesn’t want to shoulder the blame as people’s experience of the NHS gets worse, as it inevitably will if it continues to try to provide a universal service without funding it properly. Hunt is still trying to divert our attention, quoting alarming statistics about elevated death rates in hospitals on weekends, even though the reason more patients die on Saturdays and Sundays is that they are sicker than those who are admitted on weekdays. Hospitals already provide a seven-day service but extending clinics and routine appointments to weekends won’t just mean changes to how junior doctors work. It will require all kinds of support staff and diagnostic facilities, at a cost the Government hasn’t quantified.

Around the time of the last general election, I kept hearing people say they weren’t going to vote because it doesn’t make any difference. The result was not just a Conservative government but the destruction of Labour and the Lib Dems as an effective opposition, allowing ministers with a modest majority to govern as though they have won by a landslide. This is only the beginning: once they’ve dealt with the junior doctors, consultants and nurses will be next in the firing line.

Observing the warm public expressions of support for junior doctors up and down the country last week, I couldn’t help remembering the miners’ strike just over 30 years ago. Millions of people love the NHS but when the stakes are so high, love may not be enough.


Reporting a rape shouldn’t be treated differently from any other crime

Bernard Hogan-Howe’s plan to drop the presumption that victims are telling the truth risks taking us back to dark days of distrust

The Guardian, 11 February 2016

For many years, women and girls who told the police they had been raped faced an uncertain outcome. In Rotherham and other English towns, underage girls were not believed when they said they had been targeted by gangs, and the abuse continued for years. In London, serious flaws in the handling of allegations led to cases where extremely violent men remained free to commit further offences.

Now the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, has suggested a controversial change to reforms that were introduced after a series of damning reports by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The IPCC found that John Worboys, the black-cab driver who is believed to have drugged and sexually assaulted at least 85 women in London, attacked seven more women after he was arrested and released in 2007. One victim said she had been “lied to and laughed at” when she reported the assault.

Another IPCC report into the conduct in south London of the Sapphire sex crimes unit found that an officer encouraged a woman to drop a rape accusation against a man called Jean Say, who went on to murder both his children in 2011. The report said the Southwark team’s wider failure to believe victims was “wholly inappropriate” and criticised a lack of resources, describing the team as “under-performing and over-stretched”.

It was scandals such as these that prompted the Met to declare that rape victims would be believed in the first instance. This was a turning point in the history of sex crime investigation, finally placing reports of serious sex crimes on the same footing as other offences. You wouldn’t expect a police officer to laugh in your face if you reported a burglary or to suggest, without evidence, that your car hadn’t really been stolen.

That’s why I disagree profoundly with Hogan-Howe’s suggestion that the policy of automatically believing victims could be reversed. Let’s be clear about this: an initial response of belief doesn’t mean that the allegation shouldn’t be swiftly and thoroughly investigated, as with any other crime, and terminated if it turns out not to be credible. Historical allegations present special difficulties, but the successful prosecutions of Stuart Hall, Max Clifford and Rolf Harris show that these are not insurmountable.

The discovery of further victims is a key part of the process, which is why I’m also unconvinced by Hogan-Howe’s suggestion that men facing allegations of sexual offences should be offered anonymity until they are charged. Some suspects won’t even get to that stage unless other victims come forward.

Hogan-Howe’s intervention comes at a time when he is having to respond to fierce criticism of Operation Midland, his force’s inquiry into historical allegations about an alleged VIP paedophile ring. Headlines demanding an apology or his resignation have continued for days, and Hogan-Howe has announced a review of the investigation. But one apparently mishandled inquiry into historical allegations is no reason to reverse reforms that were intended to address a much wider issue.

My personal view is this: the most serious problem about rape in this country is that the overwhelming majority of rapists get away with it. A Home Office study published in 2009 estimated that between 75% and 95% of rape offences in England and Wales went unreported each year, mainly because victims were too afraid or ashamed to go to the police.

The number of reports has risen substantially since then, but most rapes never even appear in crime statistics. The Metropolitan police recorded 5,410 rapes in London last year, an implausibly low figure for a city with a population of 8.5 million. That’s an increase of 9% cent on 2014, but it’s happening at a time when police resources are being cut to the bone.

Attrition rates in rape cases in London are above the average for England and Wales, and there is little support for victims. Most will never get to meet an independent sexual violence adviser, whose role is to support women through the gruelling trial process. Senior officers complain to me that London has far too few – with estimates as low as 25.

Those of us who work in the field of sexual violence already fear that the criminal justice system won’t be able to cope with the rising number of rapes reported. The risk is huge: if police and prosecutors don’t manage to bring more cases to a successful conclusion, we’ll go back to the dark days of victims automatically distrusting the police.

And if Hogan-Howe is serious about reducing horrendous levels of sexual violence, he should be arguing for more resources for his officers, greater support for victims and compulsory education in schools about sexual predators.