Will Black is a writer and journalist with a background in anthropology and mental health care.
His latest book, Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires which will be on general release next week, examines the corrupting influence powerful psychopaths have on societies.
The Magna Carta (or ‘Great Charter’) was agreed 800 years ago. The treaty, between King John and rebel barons, gave the barons protection from the King abusing his power and meant the Monarch was an equal under law. No more would someone be above the law just because of a fortunate birth. That was the idea anyway. It didn’t stem from John coming over with a sudden case of ethics, but a desperate move by a beleaguered and unpopular King.
Seen in context, the Magna Carta was a pragmatic but ultimately unsuccessful attempt by a failing ruler to appease angry noblemen and avert a civil war. In actuality, neither side stuck to the deal and John died of dysentery in the field the next year, after civil war had broken out.
Nevertheless, it is regarded, in the UK and other countries, as a pivotal step towards democracy. Principles of the treaty have echoes in the American Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.
People on different positions of the political spectrum raise concerns about various written constitutions and treaties designed to unite diverse populations. Ukippers and other Eurosceptics talk with fear and loathing about the ‘United States of Europe’. Those who would like more gun control in the US make the point that a 1791 document giving citizens the right to bear arms made more sense when arms were muskets rather than semi-automatic assault rifles capable of killing a classroom full of children in moments.
My key concern today, however, having been thinking about the Magna Carta and the current state of British politics, is that our progress in the last 800 years has been disappointing. The idea was to move from a position where the Monarch is above the law, but we have merely moved to a system where certain powerful people are also above the law. For this to happen, a number of systems and individuals have to actively perpetuate it.
Not only have some turned a blind eye to ‘VIP’ crime, but there are strong suggestions that powerful people sometimes use information about other powerful people committing crimes to manipulate them. Government whips are disciplinarians of political parties and their job is to ensure MPs vote the way the party wants. In recent decades ‘dirt books’ were kept on MPs by whips and, should the need arise to exert leverage on their voting decisions, the threat was there to expose things about the individual. In reality, overt threats would be a last resort, as most parliamentarians with secrets to protect from the public would keep in check.
Interviewed in 1995, Tim Fortescue, a whip in Ted Heath’s government between 1970 and 1973, candidly explained that serious crimes were covered up by the whips, in order to gain control over MPs. He stated: “Anyone with any sense, who was in trouble, would come to the whips and tell them the truth, and say ‘now listen, I’m in a jam, can you help?’ It might be debt, it might be a scandal involving small boys, or any kind of scandal in which a member seemed likely to be mixed up in. They’d come and ask if we could help and if we could, we did. And we would do everything we can because we would store up brownie points…that sounds a pretty, pretty nasty reason, but it’s one of the reasons because if we could get a chap out of trouble then, he will do as we ask forever more.”
With each new allegation of parliamentarian involvement in child abuse – and even murder – those words seem more and more outrageous. The recent death of former home secretary Leon Brittan has enabled the news media to mention allegations that had been circulating by other means for many years. In June 2014, Brittan was questioned by police about the alleged rape, in 1967, of a teenager. The focus on Brittan intensified in October 2014 when Labour MP Jim Hood, speaking in the House of Commons, referred to allegations that the Lord had “improper conduct with children”. Parliamentary privilege protected Mr Hood from defamation action and also allowed newspapers, blogs and broadcasters to refer to the allegation without being dragged into expensive libel trials.
More details have emerged since Brittan died last month. Writing in The Mirror, MP Tom Watson said: “I’ve spoken to a woman who said he raped her in 1967. And I’ve spoken to a man who was a child when he says Brittan raped him. And I know of two others who have made similar claims of abuse. To these people, the Establishment has closed rank and slammed down the shutters. They talk of their devastation. Today, one survivor said to me that Brittan ‘showed me no kindness or warmth.’ That Brittan was ‘as close to evil as a human being could get in my view’.”
When he died, aged 75, Brittan was being investigated for the alleged abuse of several children. Some of the cases relate to Elm Guest House, a former venue in south west London where, it is claimed, ‘VIPs’ abused children trafficked from care homes. Others relate to Dolphin Square, a block of luxurious flats in Pimlico, London. The proximity of the building to the Houses of Parliament, MI5 and MI6 premises has made it a popular residence for MPs, intelligence staff and civil servants.
Dolphin Square has been linked to the abuse of trafficked children by powerful people. One witness known as Nick, who gave information to the police following interviews by Exaro News and the Sunday People, reports seeing a Tory MP kill a 12-year-old boy by strangling him at Dolphin Square in the 1980s. Nick has also spoken of another victim of the ring, aged 10 or 11, being deliberately run over and killed. Another murder claim being investigated by police is that a boy was beaten to death in front of Brittan by two men.
Nick claims Leon Brittan raped him numerous times from the age of 11, at Dolphin Square and other locations. In relation to the evidence given by Nick, lead investigator Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald has said: “Nick has been spoken to by experienced officers from child abuse teams and experienced officers from murder investigations. They and I believe what Nick is saying is credible and true.” At least two further witnesses have given evidence to detectives about abuse by Brittan and others at Dolphin Square.
It is heartening that these allegations are now being taken seriously. However, campaigners and survivors I have contact with are outraged that Leon Brittan died without facing allegations in court. If, rather than consider the impact on victims, one looked at these sort of allegations against members of the Establishment as a threat to social stability, then there is some twisted logic in sweeping them under the carpet. In that callous way of thinking, social order is King. And, like in a game of chess, it must be protected at all costs. If a pawn gets mown down, so be it.
I agree that society is sovereign and should be protected, but ultimately these allegations coming to light is not the real threat to society. Networks of twisted, corrupt powerful people raping children are the problem here. Justifications that politicians and the intelligence service may use to sacrifice justice to protect society are spurious. It is not society that is protected by serious crimes being swept under the carpet but a rotten decrepit Establishment. One thing that really does anger and destabilise society is certain people acting as though they are above the law. King John found that out to his peril, but some callous power obsessed ‘elites’ of our era haven’t learned that lesson.