If I specifically address today’s comment piece in The Times by David Aaronovitch, it is not because I have failed to recognise that other articles in other newspapers aren’t also misleading their readership by deliberately conflating genuine allegations of abuse with false ones, it is simply because the issues are already complex and it is easier to address the broad point using David Aaronovitch’s comment piece as an example.
David appears to tackle the subject of non-recent child sexual abuse allegations against establishment figures as if it were a formal debate at university in which the proposition before the society is ‘This house accepts that David Aaronovitch was right about Establishment Child Abuse allegations from the beginning’.
In such a debate both sides would speak, no quarter would be given to the opposition, and any concession would only be a tactical withdrawal from an indefensible point before bringing to bear the full power of one’s own argument – and on conclusion the assembled members would vote on which side had won. There would be a winner and a loser, the proposition would be carried or it would not.
Unfortunately, the issue of child sexual abuse is not very well suited to such a format. Each and every allegation must be examined on the evidence. This, of course, means that it is impossible to draw up hard and fast general rules, the kind so beloved of ideologists of every persuasion. Such ideological rule making abrogates the necessity for critical thinking – why trouble yourself to consider a complicated issue case by case when it is far less taxing to the mind to have recourse to a general rule that can be applied instinctively, once learnt by rote? Of course, that history has demonstrated time and again that such general ideological rules, when applied, can be dangerous, can be comfortably set aside – for the polemicist understands that such easy answers are tempting and each generation must learn for itself the folly of applying generalities to complex issues.
“A few of us (at the beginning, very few of us) watched this process with alarm. From Watson’s acorn — or alleged acorn because, of course, no names were named and no cases detailed — grew a forest of lusty oaks.”
I would suggest that at the genesis of this sturdy English oak metaphor lies a desire on David Aaronovitch’s part to be validated, an altogether different and more personal acorn if you like. So, let’s look at that. Has David Aaronovitch been one of the very few who has called this correctly right from the start?
David mentions Tom Watson’s PMQ. He writes;
Nearly two years have passed since the Savile scandal broke and — in its wake — the MP Tom Watson (now Labour’s deputy leader) stood up in the House of Commons and asked David Cameron to ensure that the police “investigate clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and No 10”. In that time, the idea of a Westminster paedophile ring has entered the popular folklore of British politics. It has been deployed by social media partisans in the Scottish referendum campaign, in support of Ukip, and by just about anyone short of a stick to beat politicians with.
A few of us (at the beginning, very few of us) watched this process with alarm. From Watson’s acorn — or alleged acorn because, of course, no names were named and no cases detailed — grew a forest of lusty oaks. A phenomenon arose akin to a latterday McCarthyism, a general assertion that has relied on its own vigour to grow, rather than on anything as footling as evidence.
David is not the only journalist in recent weeks who has attempted to link Tom Watson’s original question to the Prime Minister [24 October 2012] and subsequent allegations of a ‘Westminster Paedophile Ring’ that have been reported in the media. Is it fair to do so?
Actually it is not – and conflating these entirely separate issues risks misleading readers.
Here are the facts
- The evidence that Tom Watson referred to was retrieved by the Metropolitan Police. The specific piece of evidence regarding a PIE member boasting to Peter Righton that ‘a senior aide to a former Prime Minister could smuggle indecent images of children from abroad’ was found in the seven boxes of evidence that the police recovered from a repository in Leicestershire. So, to be absolutely clear, the police have in their possession the evidence that Tom Watson referred to in his question.
- As a direct result of Tom Watson’s question and the investigation that followed, so far two men have been convicted for offences against children. Charles Napier was sentenced to 13 years and Richard Alston is due to be sentenced on September 28th.
- As a direct consequence of Tom Watson’s PMQ and the police investigation that followed, so far 24 survivors of child sexual abuse have seen justice done.
- The police investigation that followed from the PMQ is ongoing and the evidence that was retrieved is still being acted on.
All in all, not a bad day’s work by Tom Watson and Peter McKelvie, his source…
The point that I’m trying to make is not that David Aaronovitch has been entirely wrong or that anyone else, including myself, has been entirely right. This isn’t a university debate and justice will not be the winner if it is treated as such. Each case must be considered on the evidence.
To conflate significantly different cases just because they might superficially resemble each other is just a way of duping readers. Yes, there have been a few false allegations that have been reported in the media in the last few years but there have been many more truthful allegations reported that have led to the convictions of child abusers.
On a subject where the public have been ill-informed for decades, don’t we owe it to them to make the effort to better inform them ?