Achieving the right balance between an open and a closed mind is difficult.
No-one wants to believe the people they know and trust could be guilty of something awful but we should not close our minds to the possibility that those in positions of power may have committed evil acts.
Too often that judgement call has been made wrongly. More than 400 people now claim to have been abused by Jimmy Savile and the vast majority are believed by detectives. Yet for decades, the police, NHS managers and the media refused to deal with the rumours and complaints against him. If there is one positive from the Savile fiasco, it is the realisation that status alone must not protect an individual from allegations of sexual abuse.
Other entertainers – Rolf Harris, Gary Glitter and Stuart Hall – exploited their fame and status to commit sexual crimes, as did the senior Liberal MPs Sir Cyril Smith and Sir Clement Freud. Other well-known politicians might have, too.
The Labour MP and peer Greville Janner was accused during his lifetime of sexually abusing children, yet he never faced trial. Lawyers who have conducted official case reviews now accept that he should have been charged and prosecuted, as the revised edition of our recently republished book, Abuse of Trust, explains.
Allegations against Lord Janner first appeared publicly during the prosecution of Frank Beck, a Leicestershire children’s care home manager. He and fellow care worker Colin Fiddaman committed multiple of acts of abuse of children in their care. They also abused fellow care workers to the extent that the co-workers were intimidated into colluding and engaging in the abuse of the children. Beck was convicted, but Fiddaman died on the run.
Council care managers and the police were told of the abuse and should have investigated but they dismissed the allegations. Children ran away from the homes, told police of the awful torture they had endured and, tragically, were returned to the homes to be abused all over again.
Beck and Fiddaman combined their employment as child care workers with local political activism. Both stood for election for the Liberal Party. Beck became an influential local councillor, advising the local Liberal Party, which held the balance of power in a hung council, on child care policy. His senior managers lacked the confidence to challenge him.
What to watch out for: The factors behind the Leicestershire scandal
- Weak management at director level
- Masonic influence affecting senior managerial recruitment
- Workers hired despite inappropriate job references
- No agreed policy on therapy/treatment of children
- Little oversight of children’s homes
- Allegations not investigated
- Children disbelieved
- Politicians’ conflicts of interest not challenged
- Visits to children’s homes not controlled
Those incidents took place in the 1980s and it would be reassuring to tell ourselves that it could not happen again but that would be mistaken. The scandal in Leicestershire children’s homes cautions us against blindly trusting those with status. That does not mean giving credibility to malicious and unfounded complaints but we must use the same standards when considering those who have risen to the top of society as we do when listening to the least powerful.
The allegations against Greville Janner should have been tested in court. Our book explains how the police repeatedly received allegations and investigated them, yet because of failures within the police and the prosecution services, he was never prosecuted. As the police now accept, the allegations were credible and included accusations that Lord Janner abused boys in care, in concert with Beck. Janner was not prosecuted because his status protected him.
Some abusers, such as Beck and Fiddaman, committed abuse because they could. They exercised complete, sadistic control and fear over all around them. Whether they became child care workers in order to do this we simply cannot tell, but some abusers clearly enter professions and gain roles simply to obtain access to children to abuse.
For years, recruitment systems have recognised this risk with care home workers and teachers. Until now, politicians have apparently been above suspicion, yet they have also been given access to vulnerable children. Even after care home workers fell under scrutiny due to their access to children, politicians often continued to enjoy inappropriate access to children’s homes. A few exploited that privileged access. We will learn more about that abuse in the years to come. In the meantime our book offers a pertinent case study of the abuse of the political process that should give local authorities cause for concern today.
Paul Gosling, author (with Mark D’Arcy), Abuse of Trust (ISBN: 9780993040788)