8 July 2014

A culture of cover-up

Yesterday I saw part of an interview with ex-MP David Mellor who stepped into the Geoffrey Dickens 'missing dossier' debate on behalf of his old friend and colleague Leon Brittan. Mellor's position seemed to be that his friend Leon had been caught up in a witch-hunt and, as far as Mellor was concerned, Leon had always behaved quite properly which, Mellor believed, was a matter of record. Mellor went on to do a bit of mud-slinging at Labour over some of their member's relationship with the Paedophile Information Exchange, clearly in an effort to claim the moral high ground for the Conservatives.

Then, this morning on the BBC's 'Today' programme, an interview with Tim Fortescue (Conservative MP for Liverpool Garston between '66 and '74) was played where Fortescue, a government Whip in the Heath administration between '70 and '73, said the following:

"For anyone with any sense, who was in trouble would come to the Whips and tell them the truth, and say now, 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 erm er, 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…….and if I mean, 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."

What do these vignette's tell us about the current 'missing dossier' debate. What it tells us is that, from the viewpoint of politicians, everything is about politics, power and influence. It would seem that child abuse was not seen by the Whips Office as being something that should be disclosed and punished but as something which could deliver influence. If the Geoffrey Dickens dossier had found its way to the Whips Office, it might simply have been seen as a tool to ensure compliance on the part of anyone named.

There is no doubt that times have changed and, in the light of Savile, sexual abuse is now taken rather more seriously than it was in the 1970s and 1980s but, underlying this change in society's attitude, there is the engrained behaviour of establishment organisations like government, like the civil service, like the Police. The tendency for such organisations to deliver favours or close ranks and protect their own reputation.

I remember, many many years ago, in the playground at my primary school, I saw a friend of mine being roughed-up by some of the class bullies. Being a pretty scrawny kid, I knew that stepping-in would probably go badly for me so my next option was to get help from the teacher who was on playground duty. The teacher did step in and sort out the problem but they then took me aside and told me not to tell tales. To say that this left me confused is something of an understatement. In my young eyes, my friend was being beaten up which seemed like a bad thing and I wanted to help yet when I did it seemed that I was in the wrong. And that was my first experience of the consequences, in our society, of 'whistle-blowing'. We are told that we should do the right thing yet, when we do it, it would seem that the whistle-blower pays the highest price.

What is required today is for those individuals who it is suggested were abused by 'high ranking politicians', for those individuals to step forward and tell their stories. But even today, in our changed times, will any of them feel safe enough to step forward or will they fear the consequences enough to maintain their silence? And if they did step forward, would David Mellor honour their courage more than he clearly honours his political friendships?

Also of interest:

Greville Janner, VIP child abuse and the mysterious death of Frank Beck | thecolemanexperience

Full set of reports from the 1991 Frank Beck Trial #1 | Desiring Progress

The 1984 “Cabinet Minister Scandal” | spotlight