It’s not been a great couple of weeks for Britain’s premier police force. Having to apologise for not passing on their concerns to the parents of the three runaway schoolgirls in front of a Parliamentary Select Committee headed by holier-than-thou Keith Vaz – a man whose shady exit from government a decade or so ago should have resulted in a similarly close encounter with the men from the Met (albeit with tables turned) – must have been a humbling exercise; and now it seems they are so desperate to justify the expense of an investigation prompted by the avaricious imagination of various interested parties that they are having to advertise for victims to come forward. Sorry, is this the service set up by Sir Robert Peel to enforce law and order or one of those despicable professional ambulance-chasing companies encouraging the compensation nation to sue their employers every time they inhale a work colleague’s fart? Makes one wonder how they define their current role and how far they’ve deviated from their initial aim.
It’s worth remembering that the introduction of the Metropolitan Police Force in 1829 was vehemently opposed by many; the prevailing opposition opined that such a notion went against ancient English ideas of liberty and freedom, that the government installing what was perceived as their own private army, answerable only to the Home Secretary, would be an outrageous curtailment of an Englishman’s rights. Recent events, in which precious resources have been diverted into heavy-handed and highly publicised Judge Dredd-style raids on the homes of elderly entertainers and distinguished war veterans, appear to vindicate the initial fears of what a police force would represent – even if it took almost 200 years to get here. The Met’s pioneering predecessors, the Bow Street Runners, had essentially been the bounty-hunting branch of the legal profession, formed by London’s then-Chief Magistrate, novelist Henry Fielding, to round-up runaway villains; their formation was intended to end the dubious careers of the thief-takers who had unofficially done the same job for an extortionate fee. The Runners were not there to patrol the streets in search of law-breaking or to quell civil disturbances; they were too small in number for that, and the army were generally called out in the case of the latter, anyway.
However, the infamous Peterloo Massacre of 1819, in which the local cavalry charged a political rally in Manchester, killing fifteen and injuring an estimated 400-700 others, exposed the limitations of soldiers in maintaining law and order. Something clearly had to be done. Perhaps Peel’s attempts to alleviate public disquiet over the formation of the Met when a loose collective of beadles, constables and justice of the peace’s had previously held the powers of arrest was behind his canny decisions to limit sergeant as the only rank in the new police force that had an equivalent in the army and to not arm them with rifles. As the role-model of the Met was gradually replicated across the country, it eventually became difficult to envisage how the British people had managed for so many centuries without a police force. But we did.
The news that so few ‘survivors’ of child sexual abuse with tangible evidence to back-up their claims are helping the police with their inquiries that the police need to publicly trawl for them comes as something of a surprise to those of us who assumed everyone whose childhood took place in the 60s or 70s was present at a necrophiliac paedophile gang-bang with the usual suspects either at BBC TV Centre or Dolphin Square. It’s not uncommon for the boys in blue to ‘advertise’ when a particularly perplexing crime has occurred or simply one in which the ability to charge the known perpetrators requires the intervention of witnesses to secure a prosecution; ‘Crimewatch’ has always relied upon public assistance, as did ‘Police 5’, with the recently departed Shaw Taylor advising viewers to keep ‘em peeled. But the manner of the request issued on Friday seemed especially unsettling in what it said about police priorities. This is not the police asking for witnesses of a recorded crime to come forward to enable detectives to complete their case; this is the police sending a signal to every fantasist straight out of therapy that their confused belief they were a victim of a celebrity rape counts as proof of a crime. And the consequence will be more high-profile raids and arrests resulting in months on bail without the guarantee of even being charged, not to mention the possibility of further show-trials in which the damage done by the amateur psychologist industry will be laid bare yet again.
I for one am slightly confused if this request relates to the Theresa May-sponsored inquiry yet to find a chairman that will satisfy the professional victims’ lobby or if it relates to the recent resurgence of accusations against Cyril Smith and the fourteen aborted investigations passed on to the IPCC last week. Perhaps too many inquiries spoil the broth, but the amount of unsubstantiated (not to say unchallenged) accusations currently being aired in the media by public figures who should know better highlights the wafer-thin texture of the foundations this current batch of proposed inquiries are built upon. So, the man whose fame rested solely on the fact that he was extremely overweight, who was mayor of an obscure northern town at a time when he was allegedly being protected by MI5 (not the most exciting case in George Smiley’s CV), would have had the ‘power’ to bring down a Labour government he had no connection with had his so-called crimes been exposed? Pull the other one!
The latest claims that Smith was the star of a police training video showing how paedophiles ensnare vulnerable youngsters at London railway stations – a video of which nobody bar Simple Simon seems to have heard, one that has never surfaced on You Tube or any other online facilitator of vintage footage – were broadcast by the BBC as though they were fact. As far as I’m aware, the police have yet to confirm or deny the existence of this training video, but no doubt they can always fall back on their legal inability to comment on an ongoing case as a means of avoiding that tricky one.
Instead, the blatantly threadbare nature of the actual evidence the police have to work with has forced them into adopting the tactics of their law-firm friends and the Clown Prosecution Service by asking if anyone out there was sexually abused by a household name back in that retrospectively wicked decade that dare not speak its name. Well, that won’t provoke any response, will it? If anyone short of a bob or two who has been paying attention to the news over the past couple of years has learnt anything as a consequence of recent events it is that there’s gold in them thar dead or dying famous faces. As if the reprehensible actions of those with a vested financial interest in the witch-hunt haven’t been appalling enough since 2012, the worrying development that the police are now shameless enough to go public about the morally questionable tactics they were secretly employing when a case was being built against the likes of William Roache is either an indication of desperation or the final confirmation that anyone can end up behind bars if enough donkeys respond to the dangling carrot that has been passed around like the proverbial parcel.
Like our landlady, I am reluctant to keep returning to this bloody subject; but every week seems to throw up another head-shaking element to the story that it would feel like a cop-out not to address it. For the police to inadvertently own up to the flimsy basis of the evidence available to them in order to progress with an investigation an incestuous coalition has thrust upon them is a sorry state of affairs indeed, and one that casts even further doubt as to its validity. At one time, innocent Irishmen were imprisoned because the pressure to finger someone for a horrible crime was overwhelming; now a different series of pressures are being applied to the police force that will result in further unwarranted imprisonments, not because the recipients of this ‘justice’ have the wrong accent, but because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – at least according to those who have bravely come forward.
Well, were you sexually abused as a child? Dial 999 and claim your cash prize today! Terms and conditions apply.