Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale
Update on 30 September 2016. Yesterday the lead lawyer for the official British inquiry into historic child abuse was sacked, after protesting internally about changes to the workings of the inquiry. So we are recirculating a post we wrote last month. In hindsight, our post is too trusting of Dame Goddard, who now appears to have been trying to narrow the scope of the inquiry. But the general context we provide is still useful.
On August 6th we wrote: Something smells bad. Yesterday Dame Lowell Goddard resigned as chair of the British inquiry into historic child abuse. The form her resignation took was extraordinary. Her letter to the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, said in its entirety:
I regret to advise that I am offering you my resignation as chair of the Independent Inquiry into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, with immediate respect. I trust you will accept this decision.
No one in British public life resigns in this way. There are always reasons in the resignation letter. This reads like a letter from someone who is furious, and perhaps has also just been sacked. Under pressure to say more, Goddard then released a clarifying statement, the substantive part of which said it had been difficult to leave her ‘beloved family’ in New Zealand to work in Britain, and then said:
The conduct of any public inquiry is not an easy task, let alone one of the magnitude of this. Compounding the many difficulties was its legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off and with hindsight it would have been better to have started completely afresh. While it has been a struggle in many respects, I am confident there have been achievements and some very real gains for victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in getting their voices heard.
Which leaves us understanding only that there had been a legacy of failure and her job was a struggle. But a struggle with who, against what? The most extraordinary thing is that the media have not even attempted to answer that question.
It would seem that the chair of the inquiry has been bullied into quitting, and cannot or will not say why. This utter silence mirrors the silence that surrounds all allegations of sexual abuse by the powerful. As we have argued elsewhere, there seems to be a pattern. Most members of the elite do not abuse or rape. But when they do, other members of the elite and managers then cover up, often to protect the power and reputation of their institution. When allegations resurface, there are then a large number of people who were not abusers but still have to cover-up their earlier cover-ups.
To make a better guess about what is going on, we need to place this resignation in context. In the wake of the Jimmy Saville scandal, hundreds of other people came forward to the police with allegations of abuse by powerful men years ago. The authorities in Britain were under considerable pressure to do something. Theresa May, then Home Secretary and now Prime Minister, appointed an official inquiry to investigate these allegations. Her first appointment to chair the inquiry had to resign after the chair’s brother was accused of suppressing evidence of abuse when he was Home Secretary in the 1980s. May’s second appointment as chair had to resign after the revelation of her close ties to the wife of another alleged abuser, Leon Brittain. Goddard was May’s third appointment sixteen months ago, chosen because she was a judge in New Zealand, and so had few links to the British establishment.
But since that appointment, the political situation has shifted, and those who would suppress any real inquiry are much more confident. After a good deal of internal debate, the elite have now adopted a two fold strategy. They have decided to protect powerful white abusers, and to protect those managers and police who have covered up abuse. At the same time, they are pursuing well publicised prosecutions of prominent white entertainers on the one hand, and of criminal gangs led by Muslims on the other hand.
The two strategies are linked. The prosecutions make it seem like the authorities are responding to a widespread feeling that they should do something. But they also conceal the protection of the powerful.
Let us take two examples. Earlier this year the Metropolitan Police wound up their long running investigation of allegations of sexual abuse against several prominent people, including a former Home Secretary and a former Defense Chief of Staff. The police said they had decided that the testimony of the main witness was not reliable. The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Bernard Hogan-Howe, wrote a key opinion piece in the Guardian, saying that the police had begun to err too far on the side of believing those who alleged rape and sexual abuse. Commission Hogan-Howe said that the balance should be restored in ways that would also protect the legal rights of the accused.
We do not know – cannot know – which allegations were justified, and which not. Clearly, there have been allegations in the past of Satanic and murderous abuse, which were quite unfounded. So in this case, the fact that witness alleged there had been a murder should ring alarm bells.
Equally clearly, a decision by the police not to press charges in a case of rape or abuse does not mean the people involved are innocent. The great majority of rape allegations are well founded, but few of those well founded allegations result in prosecutions.
But the really important result of all this is that the newspapers welcomed this change in balance, and condemned the way the police had behaved. The message was clear, from all quarters – the period of pursuing politicians is over. And more generally, women and men who report rape or abuse will be handled less sympathetically.
This might all have given the public the impression that politicians, judges, senior police officers and newspaper editors were not taking sexual abuse seriously. To forestall this, there have been continued prosecutions of the less powerful. Almost all of these recent prosecutions are welcome, and long past due. There are exceptions. The most striking is the conviction of football player Adam Johnson to six years in prison for sex with a 15 year old girl. There was no suggestion that the sex was forced, the point was that she was underage. It was what in America is called ‘statutory rape’.
What Johnson did would have been legal in France, Germany, and 24 other countries in Europe, where the age of consent in 15 or 14. All British newspapers reported this as if Johnson were a monster. The Sun published a picture of Johnson in a tight bathing suit, his genitals clearly outlined, under the headline ‘A Paedo in his Speedos’. The newspapers agreed that Sunderland Football Club should have sacked Johnson before his trial, and the chief executive of the club was forced to resign. These were the same newspapers who had welcomed Commissioner Hogan-Howe’s statement that the balance should shift back more towards the rights of the accused, and the police should no longer start by believing people who reported rape or sexual abuse.
Adam Johnson was a very well paid football player, a rich man. But in terms of class power he was a nobody. There have been other, utterly justified, prosecutions, however. Recent cases in Oxford, Bristol, Rochdale and Rotherham have seen the conviction of criminal gangs who had been involved in cruel, violent and terrifying compulsion of young women, many of them underage, into prosecution. In Rotherham, it is estimated that 1,400 young women were abused over many years, and in Oxford over 300.
As has been widely reported most, though not all, of the people convicted are ‘ethnic’ Muslims, although not necessarily believers. They are not, as is often said, all Pakistanis, but come from many different immigrant groups. This is part of a much wider pattern found in many countries, where some among poor groups of immigrants turn to organised crime. In the United States, for instance, for much of the twentieth century organised illegal prostitution was controlled by mafias led by Italians or Jews. This does not say anything about the culture or morals of Muslims, Italians, or Jews.
Moreover, there has been organised child abuse and Britain for a long time. In Rochdale, for example, local MP Cyril Smith was at the center of a ring of abusers for decades. As Simon Danczuk says in his book on that scandal, later ‘Muslim’ gangs in that town have been continuing a long white, Christian tradition.
However, these long standing abuse rings could not have continued without cover ups by senior officers in the police, social services, the councils and the local political parties. In Rotherham, there have now been 100 official complaints that 42 different police officers either refused to take reports of sexual abuse seriously, or covered up the abuse. Some of these are accusations of negligence, and some are accusations that the particular police officers were taking money. But don’t hold your breath that we will say any of these police enforcers in jail.
We have written in detail about the Oxford case on this blog. It is clear that there senior officials in the police, the political parties, and the social services were told many times what was happening, and decided to do nothing. Ideally, those people should be prosecuted. At the very least, they should be investigated, named and sacked. Nothing of the kind is likely to happen in Oxford. The official inquiry has already reported that it was’institutional failure’ and no individual was to blame.
This context illuminates what Goddard could have meant by a ‘legacy of failure’, and why she found the job such a ‘struggle’. We cannot know exactly why she resigned. Nor can we know what positions she took in the internal politics of the inquiry. But that is the point. That is why there is such a strange smell to the affair.
For now, it looks as if the defenders of silence are winning. However, we also know that very large numbers of new people have been coming forward to give evidence to the inquiry. Some of that evidence must be explosive. From beginning to end, the exposure of historic abuse has been driven by the individual courage and collective organisation of the survivors of abuse. We admire them enormously, and we can safely assume that pressure will continue.
Sexual Violence and Class Inequality
Cover-ups and Resistance inside the Police Force
Strike against rape at South African university