Wednesday, 7 November 2012

A loss of faith

Poster seen at the 20 October TUC march.

A few weeks ago, after details were revealed about what really happened at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium in 1989, when 96 Liverpool football fans died, my mother was on the phone.

A St Helens lass herself, she’s no football fan as such, but has always held a soft spot for both Liverpool FC and the city itself.

For pretty much the same length of time, she’s been a staunch C/conservative and believer in the inherent rightness of the Establishment. But the revelations had left her shocked – perhaps more than I’ve ever known before.

“How could they?” she asked, of the police decision to blood-test every victim, including children, to see if they had alcohol in their bodies. “How could they?”

But if she was struggling to come to terms with the enormity of what had been revealed about Hillsborough, then what has been trickling out since the first public allegations about Jimmy Savile must be taking her breath away.

If you’re looking for names in connection with allegations of abuse in North Wales some years ago, you won’t find them here – partly for the obvious legal reasons, but also because, even if not true, such suggestions can particularly severely tarnish the innocent.

And the issue as a whole is (or should be) way beyond the tribalism of partisan politics.

But if it is true that senior government figures were involved in abuse, then it goes further than individual politicians themselves.

It would be difficult to believe that the security forces didn’t know – certainly those on protection duties. The same can be said of the police.

If, as is now clear, many in the mainstream media knew about Savile, did nobody know about any implicated politicians – particularly given that we are now rather more aware of the links between press barons and police and politicians?

The tendrils of corruption seem to spread a long way.

In truth, there was never a total lack of corruption in this country. That is a myth. Read Dickens. Look at Hogarth. It’s there.

But there has been a belief constructed that this was never the case. And perhaps that is part of the problem – that in so doing, abusers have been protected.

It also seems worth questioning whether the culture of the English (male) public school is also an issue.

Some years ago, Channel 4 screen a very lengthy and heavyweight documentary called Sex and the Holy City. One of the issues that it looked at was child abuse by priests.

The point was made that if (as happened) parents threw children into seminaries, having decided, for them, that they would become priests and, therefore, be celibate, it halted their natural “psycho-sexual” development.

This makes a deal of sense – and I do wonder whether the English public school system does something similar.

Take the example of Andrew ‘Plebgate’ Mitchell MP.

It seems that Mitchell, who attended Rugby School, was known as ‘Thrasher’, because of what a disciplinarian he was.

Now this is someone who was a child/adolescent, who had the authority to deal with discipline toward other children/adolescents in the school. That nickname suggests that the discipline was meted out in physical fashion.

What sensible adult hands responsibility for disciplining other children or adolescents to a child or adolescent?


It doesn’t seem irrational to suggest that that would be a situation that is absolutely tailor made for abuse and bullying.

But let’s move on.

Given the way in which the Savile case has been grasped by some on the right as a way of beating up the BBC (calls for it to be dismantled, the licence scrapped etc), David Cameron seemed strangely reluctant to announce any review of Auntie.

It was the correct decision, because it would be naïve to imagine that the abuse of children and young people was unique to one organisation. Indeed, a great deal of what has emerged makes it quite clear that this is not the case.

But calling such an inquiry would have made a lot of sense in terms of pleasing a core of supporters.

And now it has been announced that there will be an inquiry into the Waterhouse inquiry that investigated abuse in North Wales and reported in 2000.

That inquiry decided that alleged abusers could not be identified in public.

It seems suspiciously as though the Prime Minister has been made aware of just what could come out and is desperately engaged in an exercise of attempting to bail water out of a boat that’s shipping a great deal more.

None of what is trickling through should really be any massive surprise to people. The Leveson Inquiry has pretty efficiently shone light on the links between politicians, media tycoons and editors, and the police.

Which is why Leveson is so important.

Elements of the media – the Sun, specifically – were complicit in smearing the victims and survivors of the Hillsborough disaster. The police made up lies about what happened: Rupert Murdoch's paper spread them.

Many in the UK, like my parents, have existed in a cosy bubble of belief in the innate superiority and incorruptibility of these islands.

You could point at the likes of Italy and laugh. But corruption in the UK was, if not unheard of, but a very quiet cry.

My mother’s own faith in the Establishment is such that, back in 1990, she preferred, quiet openly, to believe a Daily Mail report of what happened on the night Islington Council met to set the poll tax to what I saw that night, as a platform steward at the rally outside the town hall.

To précis: there had been no trouble early on. The local police were doing a perfectly good job, refusing to react to the few hecklers at the front of the rally.

The trouble only started when the Met came around the corner on horseback and in full riot gear.

That, at least, is what I saw. I got out of the way quickly after that.

But my mother was convinced that I was so politicised (as opposed to herself) that I could not be trusted: in effect, I would lie to my parents for political effect.

So for the likes of her, what we are seeing now must be particularly shocking.

And it is not going to go away – or get any ‘better’ any time soon.

The North Wales case is being talked of widely. It seems that, at the time, there were rumours of people dying in odd circumstances or disappearing.

Where it will end is impossible to guess.

And there are other cases that are similarly linked to widespread, inter-agency corruption, and which are also refusing to conveniently just go away quietly.

The murder of Daniel Morgan is just one such case. For an introduction to that, here is the first in a series of excellent posts by lawyer David Allen Green.

The Justice for Daniel campaign can be found here.

It’s difficult to avoid the feeling that something is rotten in the state of Britain.

You watch it unfold with a mixture of fascination and horror. But the loss of faith for some will be not be easy.


  1. Completely agree. Pandra's box of tricks has been well and truly opened and cans, sold in multiples, of worms opened all over the place. Let's also not forget the financial scandals eating away at what we are told is the heart of Britain's success story in world affairs.

    Not much public trust left in the media, politicians, police and enforcement agencies, financial institutions...... er anything left?

    Oh yes - the tittle tattle of the gossip mongers.

    1. Excellent point about financial; institutions, Rob. Spot on.

      Difficult to have much trust in any institutions, as you say.