Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Mail Is At It Again ... But What Is Really At Stake?

The Mail on Sunday has obviously failed to do its homework - again! It referred to me today (as before) as a friend of Jeremy Corbyn. It clearly implies that my original creation of Exaro was partisan. Apparently, Exaro is now a 'rogue' news site though, in fact, the roguery is coming from the Mail itself. Its journalists are lazy. They not only failed to contact me for fact-checking but they completely ignored an extremely clear statement by me that was drawn directly to their attention on their web site. It is, of course, for Exaro and not me to comment on Exaro's editorial position but it is reasonable for me to comment on references to me and to have opinions as an outsider on what may be going on here.

My statement was explicit about my non-relationship with Jeremy Corbyn (basically, I knew him somewhat in the 1990s but have not seen him since) while the journal failed to note that I had also stated clearly and unequivocally that I had no control or influence over editorial decision-making and that Exaro was strictly non-partisan. Maybe they thought I was lying ... if so, they should have at least had the decency to say so to my face.

The latest bit of hysteria includes an assault on the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, another politician I rather admire, alongside Tom Watson, for his basic integrity and for reasons that have little to do with the child abuse investigation. Although I am now a Labour man again (as of a few weeks ago), I am not so shallow as suddenly to cease to admire someone if they are on the opposing side. For the record, I have never met Goldsmith.

The campaign that is going on week after week appears to have some purpose - ostensibly to restore the reputation of certain persons, in fact it increasingly looks as if it is designed to force the Metropolitan Police to close down or contain their child abuse investigation. The latest wheeze is to pressure the High Tory Command in Government not to reappoint the redoubtable Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe (current Metropolitan Police Commissioner and a committed reformer). In an accompanying article, the Mail leads: 
Scotland Yard chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe is under pressure to quit after the force admitted it refused to drop a baseless rape claim against former Home Secretary Leon Brittan over fears of a public backlash. 
You might like to note at this point that news has broken in the last day or so that the National Crime Agency had started an investigation into alleged corruption in the Stephen Lawrence case. This may seem wholly unconnected to the child abuse investigation but, as we shall see, allegations of police corruption are a material element in both sets of investigation. The State is becoming very active in dealing with aspects of policing that are troubling if only through active investigation without prejudice.

This may be part of a political struggle of immense importance to our country. Operation Midland is only one of many investigations across the country - if it is taken down, all the others are weakened. We might even add the suggestion of an investigation into complaints about police behaviour at Orgreave to the mix - as reported by Exaro - as a sign that reform is in the air. In this latter case, as others, the issue is community trust in the police which leads us on to the possible 'why' of all this.

Why might reformers want to be so active in their turning over of stones other than because it was the right thing to do? The 'ulterior strategic motive' is standard procedure in public life so why not here as well. I would suggest that it is because trust in the police, alleged police corruption and even links to organised crime have become a much more vital national security issue in recent years on two grounds: a) a public that does not trust the police will not come forward and provide vital intelligence on crime and, indeed, terrorism, and b) organised crime is no longer a national business contained within its limited remit and left to prey on those without a voice (like the kids in the care system).

Organised crime, for example, is now a multinational operation, accumulating capital at a ferocious rate, capable of suborning lower paid public servants at every level, involved in human and arms trafficking as well as more conventional crime, drugs and the sex trade, and even holding the potential to be an armed state within the State in extreme conditions. What happened in Northern Ireland could happen in British cities if the Police do not get a grip on things. And alliances between crime and terrorism are at the back of every security official's mind. The relatively new National Crime Agency exists to deal with this threat. Running any major investigation without infiltration by well-funded organised crime is now a key part of the reform agenda.

The point is not that there is any necessary connection between corruption allegations and organised crime and child abuse and turning a blind eye to the actions of our political police (there may or may not be) but only that all are examples of things that require thorough investigation and reform if our trust in the police is to be maintained. And, at times, these things may, indeed overlap and, if they do overlap, we need to know about it.

I retain considerable faith (perhaps stupidly in the eyes of some) in the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office to continue to do what is right - which is to investigate allegations without pressure from any party, including (though it undertakes no such pressure to my knowledge) Exaro News. If the current Commissioner is forced out (or rather his mandate is not renewed) by a politically-directed media campaign based on implicit political threats, questions must be raised about who runs Britain and whether the rest of us can feel safe in our beds if we cross those who do. This is not to say that we should not be concerned about 'excesses' by reformers (we should be) but only that the correction of any alleged excesses must not fall into the trap of damaging the reform process.

The corruption issue cross-connects to the child abuse investigation and this is shown in Duncan Campbell's piece which appeared in March 2015:
"Now [March 2015] the Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating 14 separate referrals of alleged corruption in the Met relating to child sex offences from the 1970s to the 2000s. Offers of immunity need to be made to any police officers still with information so that, finally, the jigsaw puzzle can be completed in all its dark and depressing detail."
This gets to the heart of the matter - only half the probes into alleged child abuse cover ups (according to the Daily Mirror) result from claims by 'survivors' and non-police officers. It is not right to imply (as the BBC appears to have done) that the 'survivors' who have retracted or may be questionable are all the 'survivors' who 'matter' nor that an allegation or claim is false when it is merely unproven. The other half of probes apparently come from former serving police and security officers. This is devastating and perhaps scary to those who have a stake in keeping a lid on things. We can legitimately ask what sort of governance do we have that left an investigative journalist to uncover the disgust and rage of decent men at what they were (allegedly) asked to do. If they are not all fantasists, their lack of a voice in itself tells us something about a culture of 'cover up' and it is only fortuitous that a 'secret' forum in which concerns were expressed came to light.

The anti-investigation campaigners are certainly pinpointing some 'not proven' cases (which may be proven to be true or false at a later stage or which may always prove to 'unproven'), an exercise not entirely without merit if they were doing so in good faith and perhaps not as a means to some other end. However, what is going on here has darker effects, whether intended or not by the media or even those sincerely angered by the effects of investigation on friends or relations - vulnerable witnesses are at risk of being deterred or frightened into withdrawal of claims while those making claims from within the services are at risk of being made anxious that they could face serious problems of their own often at an advanced age.

There are issues surrounding the Official Secrets Act according to Campbell (an Act seriously misused if used to cover up an investigation into child abuse) and pension rights. Meanwhile, one sex abuse victim was hospitalised following a suicide attempt after the BBC Panorama 'expose'. Much is at stake beyond the immediate reputation of a few big wigs.

All that is required, from the point of view of those who may have something to fear from further inquiry, is for the flow of intelligence to the investigating officers to dry up. The investigation then fails to proceed to trial because of inadequate evidence (which also means that, in fact, doubt and suspicion might remain over particular persons if the investigation does not have enough evidence to exonerate them). If (and we say if) bad things have been done, justice will not be done.

We have seen already how important elements in the Establishment were mobilised to protect the former Bishop of Lewes in the early 1990s. Such attitudes do not suddenly disappear two decades later. Anyone who has done bad things can certainly put up with the conspiracy theories of the 'great unwashed' (I am subject to them as well) so long as they are not disgraced, sent to jail or dragged through the court of public opinion (which is, of course, never actually our opinion but only that of the media). Vagueness and innuendo may be preferable to clarity as the lesser evil.

Again, let us be clear - all the claims may prove to be claims that cannot stand up to scrutiny with the DPP. They may, indeed, all be false claims by fantasists and liars. But the police think the claims are credible enough to be investigated. And we have seen that there have been 14 referrals (or more) of alleged corruption in child abuse investigation cases already. And we note that the entirely separate determination to uncover corruption in the Stephen Lawrence case shows determination to look into possible miscarriages of justice. Something is up here ... something that cannot or should not be hidden from us by politically motivated and evasive attacks on Tom Watson, Zac Goldsmith and a 'rogue' Exaro.

I leave you to decide what is the right thing to do under these circumstances. Personally, I remain convinced that the interests of the People and of the State cohere in clearing out the Augean Stables and dealing with innuendo and rumour on all sides by means of a decisive investigation that can come to conclusions where there can be no suspicion of cover up and no room for conspiracy theory. Let us keep an open mind - it is quite possible that the police may uncover things quite different from our current beliefs and expectations on all sides.

It is certainly not enough simply to organise matters in secret so that, if serious state tolerance of child abuse has taken place, it could not happen again. Investigation into what has happened, how it happened and who did what to whom is absolutely necessary in order to put in the right practical reforms that are trusted by the population at large, otherwise we will make more mistakes. Bluntly, the life chances of thousands of kids is still and ultimately infinitely more important than the reputations of those of us at the top of society. I will take whatever the Mail, Times and others throw at me rather than not see this through to its end and am prepared for any outcome other than cover up. The very commitment by the ESRC to funding academic work on the 'hidden history' of official failure to deal with child abuse is just one aspect of the case that shows that our administrative structures are currently serious about reform and so should we all be. Yes, we should curb excesses and show restraint but any compromise on that reform could be disastrous for our trust in the State itself, let alone the police - that way madness lies.