Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
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Tuesday 12 March 2013

Nothing to see here.

FIFTY years ago a young man who had been raped by a celebrity plucked up the courage to report it.

He was told to "forget about it" and "move on".

In 1964 a policeman wrote down allegations about a TV star visiting a paedophile brothel, staffed by children from a state-run home. No-one looked into it.

In the 1970s a man went to police after his girlfriend tearfully told him she had been assaulted by a famous man as a child. He was warned he "could be arrested for making such allegations".

Fourteen years ago an anonymous letter named a household name as a paedophile. It was marked 'sensitive' and forgotten about.

Ten years ago a woman came forward to say a star had groped her when she was 15. The file was marked 'restricted' and no-one else got to see it.

More recently, a victim who rang a newspaper to say a famous man had attacked them was urged, quite rightly, to report it to the police. The police then urged her not to pursue the case.

The man at the centre of each of those allegations was Jimmy Savile, a BBC star for decades, a pen-pal to Prime Ministers, and idolised by children the length and breadth of the country.

And do you know what? Each of those instances when something was reported and nothing was done is fair enough.

Human error is a fact of life, even more so in 1963 when things weren't put on a computer. It is understandable that one officer with too much to do, with a low opinion of sex abuse victims, or an old-fashioned disbelief that someone famous can also be bad, might overlook, ignore, or disdain whatever he was told.

What's outrageous is that we're expected to believe every officer who heard similar stories at police forces in Sussex, Surrey, Cheshire, Merseyside, West Yorkshire, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Met over 50 years and did nothing about it was equally thick, busy or thoughtless.

We're expected to believe that the senior officers whose job was to read those reports when they were filed have no questions to answer. We're supposed to ignore the fact that for someone to mark a file 'restricted' or 'sensitive' it has to be read by someone who knows full well that sort of thing is for state secrets and not perverts, and that such words mean they're filed in a corner of the deepest basement and are never seen again.

Even if you put those failings to one side, we are expected to be happy that our police forces found just seven reports of Savile's behaviour in their files when more than 600 people have since come forward to claim they were among his victims.

A screw-up is bad enough. A cover-up is a disgrace. But police who don't notice or get told about a man raping children all over the country is an utter abomination of everything our officers of the law are supposed to stand for.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary snuck out its report on Savile at midnight, when it was far too late to be reported in any but the latest editions of the nation's newspapers. It used words like 'mistakes' and 'failures' and 'concerns', as though what has happened here is equivalent to slipping a grade in the end-of-term exams.

No - what happened here is hundreds of children were raped by a man who could have been stopped in 1963.

And in 1964. And the 1970s. And 1998. And 2007.

That's not a 'mistake'. It's not a 'failure'. It's not a goddamn 'concern'. It's a horror, a nightmare, a terrifying, appalling thing which proves that the power of celebrity and wealth and its associated ability to obliterate the truth with lawyers can fool the whole world into giving up its innocence.

Savile was no doubt helped by a lack of technology. Had all these complaints been put on a computer database they would have been more concrete and easy to trace, but that is starting to happen only now. When three victims went to police as recently as 2007, the investigating officers weren't able to see the 'restricted' files. The anonymous letter sent in 1998 could not be seen by other forces until 2011.

And he was helped, far more, by the law. Until 1988 any allegation of child sex abuse needed to be witnessed by a third party to ensure a conviction. Being the victim and speaking up was not enough; another adult who witnessed it needed to point the finger too. Perverts rarely seek an audience and if they do it's among like-minded people so there weren't many convictions, beyond flashers who exposed themselves to several witnesses.

That's why, when we were growing up, you just had 'dirty old men' - grooming and paedophiles were virtually impossible to prosecute, and if no-one gets to hear about such things you can't imagine they'd ever happen.

That alone made it easier for Savile to do what he did, because what he did was considered impossible.

But we still had 23 years between the law being changed and Savile dying in 2011 to hold him to account. We had four years after three people came forward to Surrey Police in 2007 for his victims to know they had safety in numbers.

Yet those hundreds of people did not put their hands up for 50 years. They were scared of being hated, of fighting a rich man, of revisiting their abuse, and probably thought the police wouldn't do very much.

The fact they were right about that should make us all stop and think. Think about the way rape victims are named on social media, or accused of inviting their abuse; the way a much-needed reform to our libel laws which would stop people like Savile quashing their victims is at risk of being overturned by idiots; and the way you'd be treated, today, if you walked into a police station and complained of something similar.

A report into a police unit investigating rapes recently found officers failed to believe victims and put pressure on them to withdraw their statements to up their crime detection rates. The top police officer in the country, Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, apologised but dismissed the problem as 'relatively historic'.

It was in 2009. Hardly in need of archaeology, but it shows we still have plenty of dinosaurs.

The most awful thing about the Savile report is that the woman who wrote it says "there is a distinct possibility that such failures could be repeated".

And what is happening to our police force as a result of all this failing to detect serious crimes which end up being exposed only by journalists, scandals and inquiries?

The number of frontline officers is at its lowest for a decade. The number that remain have had their pay cut several times, and despite the fact the Prime Minister crows every Wednesday in the House of Commons that 'crime is down' it cannot be unrelated to the fact there are fewer people to detect it.

On top of that any police officer who speaks to a journalist without approval from above faces arrest or at the least a bollocking. Even if they're not doing it for money, whistleblowing of the kind that might have exposed Savile sooner has been outlawed as 'misconduct'.

The police, that body of people we rely upon to look after us, has become more secretive than ever just at the time that we want to know what the hell it's been up to. From phone-hacking to Savile, to the Sapphire units to arresting members of a free Press and its own officers, the public have an unshakeable right to know exactly what the police are doing and to whom and why.

Yet all we're told - the public, the Press, the ordinary officers - is to move along, stay back, and if you get any closer you'll be nicked.

It is not a 'distinct possibility' it could all happen again. With laws enforced by a body which punishes itself and everyone else for scrutinising it, which dismisses rape, tells victims to 'forget about it' and insists any problems are mere human error, it is an iron-clad certainty.

Which means they're policing the victims more thoroughly than they do the criminals.

What helmets.