Theresa May better start facing up to the terrible mistake she made in setting up the historic sex abuse inquiry. And face the decision to close it down.
I accepted Sky News’s invitation to make this case on Friday afternoon up against Peter Saunders, of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood charity (NAPAC) which he founded, and a professional victim. He treated me as misguided, heartless and in need of re-education.
There was nothing wrong with the inquiry he said. Indeed there was much hope. Despite the fiasco it has descended into. Needless to say he and his charity are likely to be significant beneficiaries. His charity was set up, according to my Google searches, as a key recommendation by the National Commission of Inquiry into the Prevention of Child Abuse. I have no doubt as to his personal belief in the power of public revelation and public shaming for change, but no doubt the inquiry’s continuation will keep him and his charity in business for years to come with no end to the compensation claims down the line.
My views on encouraging people to define themselves as victims and publicly to dramatise their victimhood are already known. In August I wrote here the time for Mrs May to end this farce was already overdue. Despite the departure of Lowell Goddard it has staggered on in the midst of acrimony and questioning of the legal competence of its new chair, social worker Alexis Jay.
The exit this week of its two leading lawyers, on top of a succession of sacked chairwomen, now has taken the inquiry beyond parody.
The fact is that the use of a statutory inquiry – a default government response to public concern – was misconceived in this instance from the start. This mechanism is appropriate for inquiries into single catastrophic incidents, but not for the unlimited (by time and space) investigation of virtually every institution of the state and society – for putting under the microscope largely unprovable allegations of abuse that can date back to 1940.
When Mrs May, in the febrile post Savile atmosphere, set it up she bought into a collective hysteria led by the Crown Prosecution Service and an over-zealous Met Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe in their search for victims – and their hounding of suspects.
This pandering to aggressive new victim groups, giving into demands for an unquestioning belief in every survivor’s testimony – the premise that all accounts must be treated as true – has ceded them a cultural identity and special legal status all of their own. It was a terrible mistake.
She jump-started the craziest example of politically correct government process that could have been dreamt up.
Nor will she thanked. At best this inquiry is an exercise in futility. At worst it will generate a perpetual and worsening cycle of aggrievement as inevitably, with each new hiccup, it stokes anger and discontent, rather than solves it.
Encouraging a collective obsession with searching out victims whether they are victims or not; finding culprits whether they are or not; and providing the mainstream media with a non stop sex abuse drama to report, follow and dramatise, is simply unhealthy – societally and individually.
Revisiting memories collectively is frankly toxic and far from therapeutic. It will hype up disaffection and discontent rather than lead to ‘closure’. That’s before you consider the fertile field for fantasy, false memory, conspiracy theories or blame that the sexual abuse panic has already created.
Every unhappy adult could be drawn into its ambit. With new historic allegations running to the tune of 100 a week, while victim groups compete for precedence in their status and representation, that looks pretty much like what’s happening.
The language of survivor and victim is deeply manipulative and encourages an unhealthy dramatisation of suffering. This was all too apparent to me from Mr Saunders’s response to my critique on Sky News. He could not tolerate ‘dissent’. I had to be bad and lacking in humanity.
He descended to personal abuse from the start, saying he knew where Kathy Gyngell is coming from while offering bullying invitations for me to come and be put straight by visiting the charity and listening into their phone line.
No individual investigation was valid or sufficient on its own – a public spectacle was an essential part of the process to change our institutionalised culture of sex abuse. Well there were lot of assumptions there. But there was no room for scepticism that sexual abuse supersedes all other neglect, cruelty and maltreatment in society.
Why anyway the need for all this attention seeking when there is no statute of limitation on the police to instigate and investigate specific historic allegations?
It is these that need investigating – conducted within the due process of the law – and ideally privately for the sake of the accuser and the accused. Yet the demand for a public circus appears to have overridden this specific police duty.
In the meanwhile, thanks to government largesse, lawyers have found a new paradise – a license to print money – dished out by the inquiry for evermore contracts like ‘providing truth project support services’.
Last year’s £18 million budget included an astonishing £400,000 salary for the senior lawyer. Surely it would have been better spent on our overstretched child protection and care services and in closing the legal loopholes that are allowing the continuing sexual abuse of girls in Rotherham?