No-one has been safe for a long time
A number of newspaper columnists have written recently of the case of Carl Beech, a.k.a. ‘Nick’, asking a pertinent question; if the horrendous ordeal undergone by high-profile public figures – as a result of Beech’s lies - can be experienced by them, what chance have the rest of us got?
Similar sentiments were expressed over the ordeal that Sir Cliff Richard went through, and – yet again – by others, such as Paul Gambaccini.
All these figures have in common two things. The first is that, as public personalities, anything they do, or anything that happens to them, becomes news. It is a little unfortunate but it is also one of the costs of being well-known. To a degree, one has to give up a little of one’s private life if one is going to be famous. Only a little though and only to a degree – everybody is entitled to have a private life no matter who they are. It is one of those things enshrined in both the European Human Rights Act, as well as the less commented upon UN Declaration on Human Rights (on which the European Act is based by the way and the UK is a signatory to both. A further point is that the European version is not a creation of the EU). So everybody has the right to live their lives as they please, and not be unduly interfered with by the state.
Or do they?
The second common factor for well-known personalities is that all of them, without exception, have the means – financial and in every other way – to defend themselves. This most ordinary people do not have.
It begs the obvious question; how many ordinary, unknown people in the UK now have criminal convictions for a crime they did not commit? The answer to that is thousands.
So the idea, the ideal if you like, that everybody has the right to a personal and private life free from undue interference is baloney. For every personality falsely accused, there are an astonishing number of unknown people also accused and who do not and never have had the means to defend themselves.
An immediate and usual consequence of an allegation being made – of any crime – is the instant loss of one’s job and thus income. If one is lucky, a suspension from working follows without losing one’s pay. This however, is not a given and if one is self-employed, the income vanishes along with reputation and the ability to live an ordinary life. A life that, until this point, most tend to take for granted.
In my book Comments of a Common Man Edition 3, I make the following point:
If you want to control people, there are two ways of doing it; the first is by being blatant and obvious, by using force and intimidation. That doesn’t work too well in a country like the UK (for the most part at least and…not yet) so the second is more subtle; by instilling fear. Of what doesn’t really matter. Just instil fear.
I wrote further that two things have been used more than any others to propagate fear – one is terrorism and the other is sex offending, particularly rape and offences against children, be that via pornography or by actual contact offending.
Terrorism has become an easy route to some degree. Every time some mentally unstable individual attacks a crowd, it is immediately deemed a ‘terror offence’. Granted it is terrifying to have some deranged loner using everyday items (like a hired van or ordinary kitchen implement) to kill people in substantial numbers and in a crowded place with little chance of escape. However, is that a reason, sufficient cause, to place restrictions on everyday activities? It depends on your view. Again however, if real terrorists are to win, they will do so by watching governments restrict freedom – and laugh all the way to their next act.
But it is sex offending that has been the real winner for governments. Over the past, slightly more than, two decades a real fear has grown around it. A fear fuelled by hyped-up mainstream media headlines that are designed to grab the attention; and let’s be honest, we have something of a love of being shocked. If we didn’t, screaming newspaper headlines about paedophiles roaming the streets attacking children wouldn’t work. Neither would equally banner-sized front page ‘exclusives’ about rapists ruthlessly preying on victims cut much ice.
So we buy the paper, mutter darkly under our breath about such scum – understandably so, but nevertheless, the public at large have bought the idea that there is a problem, a problem that gets greater with every passing day.
The rise of the internet has also played a starring role. Governments don’t like the internet, and they like even less social media. From one point of view this is again understandable. Certain platforms give people the ability to remain anonymous so there are those who feel able to misuse the internet to spread poison. Whatever that poison may be, terrorist propaganda, ‘how-to’ lessons on bomb-making and so on. This also includes the ability to spread pornography (of all kinds) and on a more mundane level, virulent messages of hate directed against anybody to whom the writer wishes.
Concerns over this are entirely justified – but is it a reason to restrict access? Not in a free country.
Consequently, to exercise that desired level of control, another method must be found. That method has been boosted by the astonishing rise of historic sex offence allegations, along with similar accusations of recent assaults and related alleged offences.
One has to say at this point that to be forced or otherwise coerced into a sex act is indeed a terrible thing. Sex can be one of the most pleasurable things we can do, whether it is solitary, between two people or sometimes more – provided it is entered into by the free choice of those involved. And it is a private thing, something we do behind our closed doors, because we want to and because we wish to do whatever it is we choose to do without anybody else able to watch (or for that matter, even knowing about it). On the basis that such acts are within the law – which is fairly easy-going when it comes to our choices in this respect – there isn’t a problem.
The idea of others being able to view is why pornography is such big business. There is a substantial demand for it, which again is why there is and always has been a huge volume of pornography available.
But it is once more, the idea of force that is wrong. To be made to do something that should be a private and personal choice is one of the most awful things one person can do to another. So when it does happen, it is entirely right that those doing the forcing must be brought to book for it. Proving it happened though is another matter – it goes on behind closed doors remember.
If there are just two people involved, it becomes a matter of the word of one against the other, and there is little doubt that in the past the UK police have not been as diligent as they might have been in taking such cases seriously. But the net result now is that police action has become skewed too far in the direction of the accuser. And since publication on the Government’s website of the details of the Criminal Compensation Act (CCA), and the amounts of money that one can get, became known (it was just before the case of Jimmy Savile by the way), the number of allegations has shot up, especially those against the elderly, the dying and the dead. And they also have against the living, most especially those who do not have money to hire a decent lawyer – for it is not just those who are famous that this can happen to.
And it is the CCA that has enabled this to take place. Under the provisions of it, if one can come up with a convincing enough story, compensation is awarded and without any criminal trial taking place, without any guilty verdict being reached.
Let’s use my own history as an example: my Father was a radio broadcaster, my mother a singer. I grew up surrounded by some very well-known people. I went to concerts and other events, often on my own, to see many of those famous people. All I would have to do is make up a story about a dead pop star – and since a significant number of those who helped me meet such stars within the industry are also now dead, nobody could cast any doubt upon such a story. With death having claimed them, no investigation could take place, no trial could happen – so it would be pay day. All I would have to do is demonstrate that I was in the same place at the same time as the deceased star and money would be mine. Money made from a lie – because, even though this may disappoint some, not one of those famous stars ever laid a finger on me. Not one – and yes, I did meet Rolf Harris, twice. Jimmy Savile also, along with many others. But none were guilty of any offence against me, of any kind, at all - ever.
But I could still say they were – and nobody could say otherwise. I will of course, not do so. I find the prospect as appalling as any real offence.
And it is, in its way, just as bad. Such allegations destroy lives and when it is the innocent whose lives are destroyed, is this not as bad as destroying the life of an innocent child who really is the victim of a sexually-motivated crime? The point needs to be made; as a child, one can recover. One can seek and receive help. It can be done.
But as an adult on the end of a false allegation recovery is almost impossible. For instead of help there is only hatred. There is only vilification. The genuinely guilty may well be deserving of that but how does one determine guilt from innocence? It is here that we as a country have failed.
The UK police will routinely descend upon anybody they perceive to have some possibility of guilt and equally routinely seize all manner of personal property and possessions, sometimes without a search warrant. Yes, you read correctly – the police do not need a warrant to raid your home and/or office – to find out how and why buy my book, Comments of a Common Man. Its only £9.99 and you can order it from Amazon.
Having done so, the police then store seized property for months and even longer than a year before getting around to looking at it. This is because they now seize so much that they do not have the resources to look any quicker. The accused is thus left in limbo, unable to work, unable to live as the rest of society does. And with no income, they will fall into the benefits net and have to rely on legal aid funding to find a lawyer. If that is, they can – cuts to legal aid by both Labour and Tory governments since 1997 has left many law firms unwilling to take on such cases. And given the length of time the police take to ‘investigate’ things, people have gone bankrupt; what were previously well-run and profitable small businesses have gone bust because the tools needed to work are held by the police for such lengthy periods of time.
With the passage of that time, the police then have to find something, anything, to justify their actions (or lack of them) and will often suggest that unlawful material will have been found on a personal computer – but as it stands, this is not shown to the accused.
Surprised? I’m sure you are but it is again a routine procedure; unlawful material is unlawful so the accused is not allowed to see it…
With no practical means of defending themselves, huge numbers of accused people end up pleading guilty just to get the thing done and over with. Or so