Evening all; pull up a chair and pin your ears back.
I have, this evening, had a long talk with Miss Margaret Jones, headmistress of Duncroft for many years. It was almost 50 years since we had spoken directly to each other, and it was riveting. She was as corruscatingly honest and direct as I remember. Anybody who is under the impression that because she is 91, she might be slightly short on the marbles is in for a shock. Her power of recall is exceptional – and will prove to be devastating. As sharp as a box of scalpels – I can’t say that I am surprised; if anybody was going to stay on the ball, she was always a good candidate.
Until this evening, only a couple of old girls had her phone number. I was not one of them. She sent word to me this evening that she would like me to phone her because things had happened today – and because she has also been following my blog for the past week. I am still not in a position to prove that I have told the truth, and the whole truth, but I now have the private satisfaction of knowing that she has told me that she asked me to phone her because she knew I was speaking the truth and applauded me for having done so. I have taken a lot of schtick over the past week for speaking out – a lot of it from people who have never met me, but imagine that they know all about me. This statement will do nothing to change their mind, and frankly I couldn’t care less; their opinion of me is meaningless, Internet chatter. What my husband thinks of me – and Miss Jones – is what counts to me. I wouldn’t have had the life that I have, and by extension, wouldn’t have the husband that I have, were it not for her.
I am saying this now, for, as my regular readers are well aware, I also have cancer. I have just undergone a six month revolutionary treatment, and in the next couple of weeks have to decide whether I am going to have more treatment in the future. That is a major decision that my husband and I must make together in peace and quiet. Sadly, as a result of events today, he has been forced to divulge a secret that he had been hugging to himself for some days. Last week was our 20th wedding anniversary, and on Friday he had booked a rather wonderful hotel in Paris for us, planning to whisk me away to some peace and quiet, to talk of the future and get away from all this. He only told me because he thought that with the seriousness of what is happening and the amount of press enquiries that I am fielding, I might prefer to stay here. Not a bit of it – my husband and my health are more important than a squalid little press story. We will be leaving here early on Friday morning, and I will be turning moderation on at that time which means no ones comments will be released until I return. I am making a point of saying this now, so that those who know me and trust me will understand – those who only wish to denigrate my attempts to get at the truth will no doubt have a field day saying that I have ‘run off’.
So what has happened today? As I said, only two girls had her phone number, and only her family – including Meirion – and the Panorama team knew her address, despite many claims to the contrary. Somebody, one of those people, gave that information to the Daily Mail, and thus Claire Ellicott of the Daily Mail, she of the totally erroneous report detailing Bebe Roberts’ claim to have been assaulted on Duncroft premises 9 years before Jimmy Savile ever set foot in the school, turned up on Miss Jones’ doorstep. Armed with a concealed tape recorder.
The only other person from the press who has ever approached her was Emily Plowden from Panorama, who approached her two days before transmission of the ITV programme – and almost a year after her nephew Meirion first tried to put together his Newsnight programme. Until Emily turned up, Miss Jones had no inkling whatsoever of claims of illegal behaviour. She and her nephew had not been in communication for many years.
She has not been contacted by any police officers in respect of allegations made of assaults that may have happened to girls in her charge. Ever.
That is not to say that she has had no inkling of what has been going on though – with her ex-girls, not with Savile, I hasten to add. Merely that she had no idea that a television programme was being made about it – or at least about the version of events it attempted to portray. She is totally aware of who is who behind all the false identifies; who has obtained confidential information from girl’s pasts that should never have been in any ‘civilian’ hands, what pressure has been put on people to speak in a particular way – or that information would be revealed. She knows precisely who has a relationship with each television company and with which newspapers – I have laughed and cried with her for over an hour.
I wish I could share it with you, it is an extraordinary tale – but I have given my word that I won’t. For good reason. She is still a canny old bird, a tad deaf, but the marbles swirling with the efficiency of Colossus 11. She is waiting to see who hangs themselves with which piece of rope. Then she will strike.
It won’t be to the media. She has talked at length to her legal advisors – not to protect herself, but in view of her age… She has no faith whatsoever in the honour or ethics of any of the media. ‘They don’t check their sources’ is what she said. My sentiments exactly. She is happy to co-operate with the police. (As is the other ex-staff member I have spoken to at length this week).
She has given no interview to the media. She was presented by Claire Ellicott with a list of nine christian names, no surnames, of girls who claim to have reported assaults by Savile on themselves to her at Duncroft. She told her that she had no comment to make. She did answer a couple of questions. Then she spotted the concealed tape recorder. Now she waits to see what the Mail version of this encounter proves to be.
God help anyone who doesn’t stick strictly to the truth.
She is, she told me, 91 years old, she doesn’t know how much longer she will live. She has no family left that she is close to, or whose reputation she cares to protect. I can understand that frame of mind, unfortunately I share it myself at the moment. It gives you a strength that would not be understood by those who seek their five minutes of fame and fortune. Photographs sold, confidences broken, for a few bucks.
Blimey, I could write a book after that phone call – damn shame I’ve given my word to keep quiet. I’ve just had the interview the media would die for.
Comments will be on until the early hours of Friday. Don’t know when I shall be back – Mr G won’t tell me. I knew something was up – its the first time in 20 years he hasn’t asked me at least three times by a Wednesday – what I was cooking for Sunday lunch!
*Edited to add: Two items of interest that are not breaking any confidences. Both concern cigarettes.
One, I said earlier that we were given cigarettes each week. I had not appreciated, or had forgotten, that the school leaving age was 15 in 1964. Hence when I arrived, I was past school leaving age and no longer entitled to a full time education. (I did say that education was limited and afternoons only). We were free to go out to work legally – except that we couldn’t, we were locked up. Hence the requirement that we spent our mornings cleaning the buildings, working in the kitchens and the laundry. For this we were allocated a minimal pocket money which was never actually handed to us. It could have been saved up, but if we wanted cigarettes or sweets, the staff would buy them for us. In other words, we were buying our own cigarettes rather than being bribed for good behaviour in the way I may have implied. Obviously the more ‘work’ we did, as opposed to misbehaving, the more money we had for more cigarettes. The Home Office generosity certainly didn’t extend to supplying cigarettes for us. Bang goes my claim for my 20 a day habit! Ah well….
Two – Miss Jones was considerably amused at my powers of recollection as to the various brands of cigarettes smoked by the staff, vis a vis our obsession with collecting dog ends….seems my memory is damn near as good as hers. Bridie Keenan did smoke Piccadilly No 6 unfiltered, and Miss Jones did smoke Craven ‘A’. Neither brand is still available I believe, but I can describe the packets perfectly – and even though I have such a clear memory of the packet design, I have ever smoked either brand. So much for the ‘plain packs’ campaign. 50 years later.