A familiar feature of the British media scene is games of grandmother’s footsteps – in which newspapers egg each other on to cross boundaries and name names. Anyone following the reporting of historical child abuse allegations at the moment can see that this is taking place. An enquiry would cool the temperature and lessen the chance of an Alistair McAlpine incident – in other words, of false accusations being made.
A question that therefore follows is whether there is or isn’t a case for such an enquiry in the first place. Over 130 MPs believe that there is, and their number on the Conservative side includes Graham Brady, Sir John Randall, Sir Nicholas Soames, and Caroline Spelman. These are not excitable citizens. Douglas Carswell, George Freeman, Charlotte Leslie and Paul Maynard are among the other Tory backers.
Robert Buckland, an instinctive supporter of an enquiry, makes the point that terms of reference would need to be carefully considered: “Many victims have been used to getting their expectations raised, and then being let down. Before any enquiry is set up, there needs to be agreement and understanding as to the desired outcomes. I firmly believe that, wherever possible, criminal prosecution is the preferable means of redress, but the case of Savile is one that clearly cannot be covered by such an option.”
The Savile and Harris cases have proved that what was acceptable in one age simply isn’t in another – and should never have been in the first place. A case involving the world of politics has recently come to light: that of Cyril Smith. There is a history of slow institutional reaction in relation to child abuse claims – look no further than the BBC. As Buckland says, the terms of an enquiry need to be established. But the balance of the argument favours announcing and having one as soon as possible.
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