Not since the glory days of Whitehall farce has there been such a long-running theatrical success in London for unsophisticated comedy as we have been getting lately from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
The plays famously staged by actor-manager Brian Rix half a century ago had them rolling in the aisles with comedy based on the embarrassment of silly characters being caught with their pants down in compromising situations. Much like that, IICSA was been caught playing a very silly game of musical chairpersons, in which a chair was snatched from under the bottoms of three successive lady judges, leaving them humiliatingly dumped on their judicial posteriors and out of the proceedings. Oh, how we laughed! See Heretic TOC’s “review” of the “show”: “The chair is dead, long live the chair!”
And then there was the barrister who dropped his briefs. Allegedly. The QC appointed as counsel to the inquiry suddenly found himself suspended from his job after being accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a lift – not very elevating! He was later cleared in a separate inquiry of any wrongdoing but then – what a rib-tickler this was – yet another inquiry decided the earlier inquiry had failed to inquire sufficiently, or in the right way.
The big difference between those original Whitehall farces and IICSA’s comedy of errors, of course, is that the latter laughs are an entirely unintended aspect of what are supposed to be deeply serious proceedings.
But the worlds of London theatre in the 1950s and the public inquiry theatricals now in progress have another major feature in common apart from the laughs. Those Brian Rix plays were performed at the Whitehall Theatre, close to the old Palace of Whitehall and hence right at the heart of the UK’s government and political complex, as summed up in the words “Whitehall” and “Westminster” – parliament being housed, of course, in the nearby Palace of Westminster.
Which is where the pantomime villain of my headline makes his timely entry, just as the panto season is coming up. And who should that villain be but – wait for it – ME!
Let me explain. Among the dozen or so separate strands of investigation on IICSA’s packed agenda is the Westminster one, which is probing “child sexual abuse” (CSA) and exploitation “involving people of public prominence associated with Westminster”. This strand will look into “evidence of conspiracy, cover-up, interference or tolerance” of CSA committed by Westminster V.I.P.s, and whether “governmental, political and law enforcement institutions were aware of and took appropriate steps; and whether there are adequate safeguarding and child protection policies in place within political parties, government departments and agencies”.
About a month ago I received an official communication from IICSA’s chief solicitor requesting me to submit evidence to the inquiry specifically in relation to this Westminster strand. Why? To respond to utterly farcical, laughably ridiculous conspiracy theory allegations to the effect that back in the day, in the 1970s and 80s, the government was being run by a secret paedophile elite with links to the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), an organisation I led for a number of years.
Blimey, I thought, in my old-fashioned way, you’re ’avin’ a laugh, gov, ain’t ya? What’s a small-time villain like me, an ’umble felon just like Fagin, hanging about with his little gang of boy pick-pockets, gonna be doin’ a-mingling with proper gentlemen like that? We might nick their fancy silk handkerchiefs, if we’re lucky, but that’s as close as it gets.
But public inquiries do not Have A Laugh. Distinctly challenged in the sense of humour department, they tend to be In Deadly Earnest. So when IICSA solicitor Martin Smith posted me a list of 10 specific questions about PIE’s alleged Westminster connections, I knew it was not to be taken lightly.
I could have ignored the letter. It was only a request for a response, after all, not a command. There was no suggestion – not at this stage at least – that I might be subpoenaed to appear in person and interrogated under oath. Nor was I in any sort of trouble, having been jailed long ago for my supposed misdeeds: this time they had bigger fish to fry, or so the conspiracy theorists wildly imagined.
Anyway, I decided there would be no harm in addressing these questions soberly and seriously, just as IISCA must have hoped. At the same time, though, I decided, this was a fantastic opportunity to give the inquiry a piece of my mind. So, after a lot of hard work in recent weeks, some of it spent digging out old PIE documents and going through them, a few days ago I submitted 10,000 words of evidence. Roughly the first third was taken up with answering Mr Smith’s questions. The rest ranged more widely, attacking the absurdity of the conspiracy theorists’ wider allegations, especially as regards PIE, the insanity of the “believe the victims” dogma, the deranged narcissism of extremists within the victim lobby, the rising tide of toxic victim feminism over several decades and the appalling waste of time and money going into IICSA’s utterly bogus, vulgar, populist activities.
Have I missed anything? Probably, but you get the drift.
The key questions on PIE were on whether we had members who were MPs, lords, or other “persons of public prominence” associated with Westminster, and on whether the organisation ever received government funding.
My answers are very full and forthcoming. Names are named! Secrets are revealed! But if you think I am going to blurt it all out here and now you can think again. I shan’t do that because I feel it is more important here to focus not on the questions the inquiry were asking but on the ones they are desperate to avoid. Not to worry, though, because I have posted my entire evidence here. Enjoy!
So, what is IICSA trying to avoid? Essentially, yet more embarrassment. Or, rather, embarrassment of a selective kind. The inquiry is perfectly happy to expose past institutional shortcomings. That is at the heart of its declared purpose, and fulfilling that purpose is bound to embarrass those who were in charge at the time.
That’s the good embarrassment, if you will, but there is also a bad sort: IICSA doesn’t want to see itself become nothing more than a laughing stock; nor does it want to dwell on police chiefs, politicians and others who have become an embarrassment to its own aims lately – people who have made fools of themselves or worse either by taking the “believe the victims” credo too far, or by generating baseless conspiracy theories that have come unstuck.
For instance, IICSA has decided not to talk about the collapse of Operation Midland, set up by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in 2014 to investigate lurid and very far-fetched allegations of sexual assault, brutality and murder by paedophiles in high places. The operation was closed in 2016 when it was eventually concluded that the star witness, a supposed victim named publicly only as “Nick”, was just a fantasist who had led the police up the garden path.
One good reason for IICSA to avoid this issue at the moment is that it is presently before the courts: “Nick” has been charged with perverting the course of justice and is due to stand trial in March. But the inquiry could easily wait until after the trial. In its preliminary hearing on the Westminster strand IICSA gave other reasons, too, the decisive one being “that possible failings in these police investigations are remote from the central purpose of this inquiry”.
To me this sounds like an excuse. It enables IICSA to dodge the key issue – very much central to its inquiries – of the basis on which you decide that “victims” really are victims. At once time, and quite properly, accused persons were deemed innocent until proven guilty in court, and those making allegations of a crime against themselves were called “complainants” not “victims”, right up until the court verdict. This presumption of innocence was grievously undermined when the MPS proclaimed in a joint report with the NSPCC that those who had made complaints against the late TV star Jimmy Savile should be called victims rather than complainants even though no case had ever been brought to trial and Savile was no longer around to defend himself.
This “believe the victim” tendency reached it apogee when Supt Kenny McDonald, the head of Operation Midland, said the police believed the accuser “Nick” and declared that his claims were “credible and true”. They were neither. Anyone with an ounce of common sense could have seen that the claims were ridiculous. While it would have been wrong simply to laugh “Nick” out of the police station when he first made his complaint – some investigation was in order – the unforgiveable folly was to put dogma above evidence by declaring the claims to be true when that could only properly have been a matter for a court to decide.
It may also be significant – in terms of IICSA avoiding embarrassment – that missing from the 10 questions put to me by the inquiry was anything about the fanciful allegations trumpeted by tabloid journalist Don Hale, although these claims had been mentioned in the preliminary hearings.
Sunday Times journalist James Gillespie asked me about Hale’s claims in an interview I gave him by email in 2015. He wrote:
The journalist Don Hale, who claims [1970s politician] Barbara Castle gave him a “dossier” alleging a number of politicians were active supporters of PIE, says [former prime minister] Ted Heath regularly attended meetings. He also says that the late Tory MP Rhodes Boyson would distribute [PIE’s] Magpie magazine and organise speakers in support of PIE. Further, he claims that PIE had an office in Westminster staffed by two people. Is any of this true?
Most of it was so ridiculous that, as I replied to Gillespie, it hardly seemed to require any rebuttal from me. I added that “I will do my best to spell out why these claims are such nonsense, although the conspiracy addicts cannot be expected to listen.”
The only half-true bit is that my successor as chair of PIE, Steve Smith (now Freeman) did indeed have an office in Westminster, in the basement of the Home Office no less, where he worked with another PIE member! But it was most definitely the government’s office, not PIE’s, and the PIE members were not PIE staff: they were paid to do work there for the government. Yes, it sounds odd and so it was. Some heretics may recall that I blogged about it.
As regards the preposterous claim that Edward Heath, Conservative prime minister in the early 1970s, had attended PIE meetings, it ignored the fact that our leanings and contacts were clearly on the Left of British politics, far away from Ted’s Tories on the Right. The same flaw in Hale’s claims applies to an even greater extent in the case of Rhodes Boyson, who was a hard-liner on the Right of his party, a former headmaster who had been very keen on stern discipline and favoured caning as a punishment. In PIE we were utterly against that, as shown by a magazine we had that was devoted to children’s rights, where we took an explicit stance against such corporal punishment.
The fact that so many of the allegations made by the likes of Don Hale, “Nick” and others have remained unsubstantiated and have rightly been judged fake news, ought to be a massive embarrassment to IICSA. One would think so, given that the inquiry appears to be taking such “news” mighty seriously, rather than exercising healthy scepticism.
By the time the IICSA has digested my extensive witness statement, they may well conclude it would be unwise to call me to give evidence in person at the public hearing scheduled for March (fixture clash here with the trial of “Nick”!) on the Westminster strand precisely because I might give voice to unwelcome scepticism. In comments made here at Heretic TOC a few days ago (27 Nov @ 14:02), I mentioned the possibility of finding myself in “hand-to-hand combat” with Prof. Alexis Jay, who handled the famous inquiry into street grooming in Rotherham. She is now in charge of IICSA as the inquiry’s fourth chair, so we could certainly come face-to-face in the proceedings.
Once the barrister dealing with the Westminster strand, who appears to be Andrew O’Connor QC, has read my evidence, he will be aware that my scepticism extends to the work of Prof. Jay herself. In my submission I noted she had “conducted what became a very high-profile report on Rotherham, concluding that at least 1,400 children were subjected to sexual exploitation there between 1997 and 2013”. She won’t like what I said, including several paragraphs casting doubt on the claim that all of those 1,400 “victims” were really victims. Among them, I said, were those who, far from wanting to be rescued from their “abusers”, saw Prof. Jay’s work as an unwelcome interference with their private lives. Come to think of it, I can’t see anyone at IICSA’s theatre of fantastical abuse nightmares wanting me to turn up and get them “woke”.