We Need A Free Press To Save Us From Child Abuse And Westminster Demons
WHY are we wasting money on this when we could be spending it on that?’ is a favourite argument of the partisan. It’s usually spurious. But this collection of front pages does make you wonder how the Press came to be the arch-villains of the unholy trinity of politicians, police, Press. And that in turn prompts further questions about the extent and expense of the phone-hacking inquiry.
In the top row we have two peers (one Labour, one Conservative) under suspicion for rape, and the disappearance of 114 files from a 1983 dossier alleging that a number of public figures were involved in child sex abuse. At the bottom we have more allegations against Rolf Harris, who was jailed for sexual assault on Friday.
Putting Operation Yewtree and celebrity sex predators aside for a moment, let us remember that we also have the Cyril Smith allegations rumbling along in the background – thanks almost entirely to the Daily Mail.
Those with short memories might also be reminded of the MPs’ expenses scandal and the men who drained moats or built duck houses with our money, the women who manipulated the capital gains tax system or declined to pay for their own bath plugs. We know about them thanks to the Daily Telegraph.
These are the people running our country; the people who decided that the law wasn’t strong enough to keep the Press in line, that a £5m public inquiry followed by a royal charter to set new parameters of behaviour was required.
MPs accepted after the expenses scandal – without the benefit of a public inquiry – that they couldn’t be trusted to police themselves, so an independent parliamentary standards authority was created. It’s made a huge difference. In 2009, the year of the scandal, MPs’ expenses totalled £95.4m. In the year to last September, the total was £98m.
The police, particularly the Metropolitan force, meanwhile remain mired in corruption allegations that any number of public inquiries and new brooms at the top have been unable to stamp out. They have failed properly to investigate murder and wholesale sexual abuse among other crimes – including phone hacking at the News of the World. Stephen Lawrence’s killers were finally brought to justice not through dogged detective work, but in large part because of the law-breaking bravery of Stuart Steven when editor of the Mail on Sunday.
Eight out of ten of today’s front pages are devoted to historic crimes and alleged crimes involving men in high places abusing vulnerable women and children; offences dating back to the 60s, 70s and 80s; crimes and alleged crimes that were widely known about, yet which troubled neither police nor politicians until very recently.
Police operations looking into old journalistic misdeeds are ongoing, and the Daniel Morgan inquiry is unlikely to do anything other than give sections of the Press an even worse name, but SubScribe has not so far heard any suggestion that journalists were involved in sex abuse rings or systematically defraud the taxpayer.
Those who believe that arm’s length statutory control of the Press is essential might care to show how police behaviour has improved since the establishment of the IPCC in 2004 and how MPs have curbed their excesses since IPSA was set up in 2009.
There are chancers and criminals in every walk of life, but they tend to gravitate towards areas of power, influence and money. So a few police officers are corrupt, a few MPs are criminally greedy, a few celebrities are sex abusers, a few journalists are unethical. It’s all a matter of proportion.
If the Press is allowed to do its job, if good people are attracted to public life, and if the law is allowed to function, we’ll come out on the right side – eventually. Then we can work together to defeat the financial sharks who rob us all.
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