Sleaze Britannia

We British often like to peer into the bedrooms of dictators.  When dictatorships fall we have almost come to expect a torrent of sleaze to come pouring out of their bedrooms, the wilder and more depraved the better.   We like to imagine fallen tyrants as if they were characters in a de Sade novel; decadent libertines locked away in some castle where they are able to pursue their morbid desires unchecked by legality or morality.

Stories of rape, the sexual abuse of children and minors, whether real or invented,  confirm certain regimes as fundamentally evil and rotten to the core.  Thus it seems logical that Stalin’s vile NKVD chief Lavrenti Beria was a sexual predator who used to cruise Moscow looking for young girls to rape; that the elderly Mao used to have young virgins brought to his bedroom because he believed it would made him live longer; or that Kim Il Sung established a ‘pleasure brigade’ of young women for the same reason;  that Idi Amin had sex with his sister, that Ceaucescu’s son Niku supposedly had a ‘rape room’ etc, etc

The list is endless, and endlessly salacious.   Such depravity can easily appear to be  some kind of inevitable consequence of dictatorship,  as the abuse of power in the bedroom were symptomatic of wider political tyranny, or so we like to imagine.

Once upon a time we assumed that powerful men could not get away with such things in our country because  a) we live in a democracy and our system has checks and balances that limit the abuse of power both publicly and in private and b) we British are inherently nicer than other people and so are our leaders c) British sexual life is all jolly Carry On  and picture postcard stuff of the kind that Orwell liked, with redfaced men in seaside postcards, Sid James’s wink, three-in-a-bed ‘romps’ with vicars etc, etc.

Recent events are rapidly disabusing us of this illusion.   We now know that the necrophiliac knight and child rapist Sir James Savile was able to get away with some of the vilest sexual crimes in British history, with the active complicity of the police, hospital executives, politicians,  BBC big shots and many other members of the great and good, all of whom chose to look away or did not reveal what they knew.

We know this generically, but not specifically, because the extent of this collusion has yet to be revealed and much of it has already been swept under the carpet, and so has the network of power that nurtured and protected Savile   Accountability has been reduced to removing him from Top of the Pops reruns in an attempt to erase the former national treasure from public consciousness as comprehensively as Stalin once removed Trotsky from photographs of Lenin.

And then there is the small matter of a paedophile network at Westminister involving leading politicians, who according to two former Scotland Yard officers, were considered ‘untouchable.’   If the allegations that have surfaced so far are true, then these politicians were part of a network that forced young children from care homes to take part in sex orgies, in which at least two boys may have been murdered.

Lavrenti Beria should eat his rotten heart out, because he obviously didn’t need the NKVD.  Not with a government that mysteriously seems to have destroyed or lost a crucial dossier which might have shed light on these events.  Or a prime minister like Margaret Thatcher, who once told one of her ministers to ‘clean up his sexual act’ because he was having sex with children from care homes, and did nothing when he didn’t ‘clean it up.’ Or a government like the one we have now, which appears to be intent on doing everything it can to sabotage any attempt to carry out a full investigation into these events, probably because so many Tory politicians may have been involved in them.

And not only politicians.  There are also the ‘celebrities’ whose names continue to crop up in connection with the Elm Street guest house.   There are the M15 officers who appear to have used abused boys at the Kincora Boys Home in Belfast as ‘bait’ in an intelligence operation during the ‘dirty war’ in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.  According to the Telegraph,  these officers colluded with a paedophile network based round the home which may have included ‘prominent people, both here and in the UK. It has been claimed that the security services were prepared to blackmail key figures as a means of controlling elements within loyalism and unionism as the Troubles flared.’

Nice.   But the government ensured last year that the public won’t find out about that either,  by excluding Kincora from its ongoing institutional abuse inquiry last year.   When it comes to rape and sexual abuse, certain individuals and institutions are just too big to fail.     Take our own Prince Andrew.   A Florida lawsuit against banker/paedophile/pimp Jeffrey Epstein contains a statement by one of his underaged victims accusing HRH of forcibly having sex with her, in an arrangement supposedly facilitated by Epstein and Robert Maxwell’s daughter.

What wonderful lives these people lead.  Now of course we know that Andrew has royal blood and that no one called the Duke of York would possibly have behaved like this.  But even if he did,   he was only doing what certain men who are rich and/or powerful enough feel themselves entitled to do.

Because for some men, power will always bring a license to have sex with whoever they want and regardless of whether the objects of their desire have any say in the matter.   And it also brings impunity, whether their power stems from dictatorship or the corruptions of elite democracies that allow certain categories of people to behave according to an entirely different set of standards to everyone else.

And the result, in this country, is a tottering mountain of sleaze that too many people would like to ignore or bury somewhere underground.

We should do everything we can to see that they don’t succeed, and not only for the victims of their crimes, because a society that allows the wealthy and the powerful to get away with rape, sexual abuse of children and even murder is  a society without justice,  and a political and moral travesty that shames us all.

 

Savile Country

The more we learn about the horrendous crimes committted by the creature that was Sir James Wilson Vincent Savile, the more it becomes clear that the former ‘national treasure’ was one of the most prolific and psychopathic sexual predators in British history – a man without a shred of pity, compassion or human empathy.  Last week Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt ‘apologized’ for these crimes and said that they should  ‘shake this house and the country to the core’.

Somehow I suspect that both the house and the country will remain resolutely unshaken.   Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Savile’s crimes is the stunning discrepancy between the essentially revolting and horrific nature of the man himself, and the public perception of Savile during his lifetime.

Too many people glorified, honoured and revered him.  Too many either got him grossly wrong – or ignored evidence of his wrongness and turned a blind eye to his crimes, or at worst, actually colluded in them and covered them up.  In this sense,  Savile’s crimes tell us somethingabout the kind of country that Britain was – and to some extent still is, and the institutions and attitudes that made them possible.

1) Britain was – and to a large extent still is – a country dominated by men.  Whatever his personal sexual pecularities and proclivities for babies, old people and the dead, Savile exhibited a certain sense of male entitlement that regarded female bodies of whatever age as objects for his sexual gratification, and nothing else.   Nothing specially British about that – but Savile’s views on women – and minors – were clearly shared by many of his BBC colleagues and by other men too, or were at least not deemed worthy of challenge.

2) Britain is a country in which power confers carte blanche in certain circles to do whatever you want, to whomever you want.  The West Yorkshire police officers who were members of Savile’s ‘Friday morning club’ and may have helped cover up his crimes; the BBC managers who failed to investigate Savile and did not even have the guts to allow a documentary about his crimes to go out on air; the hospital managers who ignored complaints about his behavior – all of these were individuals in positions of public responsibility who grossly failed in their duty to enforce and uphold the law, to care and protect the weak and vulnerable, or tell the truth about Savile because the truth was too unpleasant for them.   So far none of them have been exposed or paid a price for it.

3) Britain is a country filled with people who are essentially deferential towards those above them, who will always shut up and be silent when told to, just as some police and hospital staff did when they made complaints about Savile to their line or senior managers and were ordered not to mention them again.   Some may do so out of fear of being libelled or losing their jobs, others subordinate their moral principles to the overriding goal of advancing their own careers and ‘getting on’.  Savile was a particularly horrendous beneficiary of such cowardice and moral turpitude.

3) Britain is a society where too many people regard the rich and famous with the dim-witted reverential fascination once reserved for viscounts and barons.  Some of Savile’s starry-eyed admirers clearly saw him a source of money, status or prestige, and his power also stemmed from his fame and his proximity to other famous people.

Savile was a flashy trashy product of the celebrity pseudo-aristocracy that emerged from the crossover of pop music and fashion in the 60s.   He used that position to worm his way into the heart of the British establishment, and also to exert sexual power over the wannabe young girls who gravitated towards him.  Like his sleazy peer Max Clifford, and some of his BBC colleagues, Savile used his proximity to the stars to extract sexual ‘favors’ – and there were clearly those who were willing victims.

4) Britain is a society where fame makes people credulous and stupid.  Granted, Prince Charles and Princess Diana didn’t know that he was a sexual predator and a necrophiliac who wore jewellery made from dead people’s glass eyes, but you have to be a pretty poor judge of character to believe that such a man could counsel you about your marriage.

But they weren’t the only ones with poor judgement.  Margaret Thatcher once condemned the ‘permissive society’ and claimed that ‘ A society must have rules if it is to be civilised.’   Yet the necrophiliac paedophile who raped brain-damaged young girls was her friend, and became a Christmas guest of the Thatcher family for eleven years.  And then there was  Mary Whitehouse, the arch-puritan and defender of childhood innocence, who praised Savile’s show for providing ‘wholesome family entertainment’ in 1977.

And the millions of tv viewers who preferred to believe in a pop-eyed peroxide fairy godfather who went around ‘fixing’ things, rather than looking for ways to ‘fix’ things themselves, and ignored inconvenient facts that contradicted that image.  We are, after all, talking about a man who publicly expressed his fondness for dead people and who once joked to a young paraplegic patient ‘ now I can have my way with you’ in an interview with a national newspaper.  Yet this utter creep was regarded by a large swathe of the British public as some kind of secular saint.

5) Britain is a Tory country, steeped in Tory ideology.  Savile was lionised by Tory governments and the Thatcher government in particular.  Hunt is quite right to criticize his predecessor Edwina Currie for allowing a DJ free access to a top security mental hospital because Savile promised to break a union strike and impose new working patterns on the staff.  But his  appointment took place at a time when the Thatcher government was closing dozens of mental hospitals under its ‘care in the community’ program – closures which made thousands of mental patients homeless and without any care at all.

For Currie and her colleagues, closures were accompanied by a drive to impose  new ‘working patterns’ on hospital staff who were still in their jobs, so why not get someone like Savile to help ‘fix it’ for them?   The Tories always love to bring in unqualified outsiders when they are trying to break up or ‘discipline’ the public sector.  To the Thatcher government, the mentally-ill were little more than a burden on the public purse, powerless and therefore worthless deviants who were natural victims of public sector cuts.   Why would such a government look too closely into who had responsibility for them, if that person was singing from the same political page?

Savile’s appeal to the Tory party also stemmed from his charitable work.   To a government that viscerally loathed the whole concept of a tax-funded health service, and upheld ‘Victorian values’ as a model for ‘post-industrial’ British society, Savile’s philantrophy and  corporate fundraising was also a model for the NHS – a future-in-the-past in which health and education were no longer dependent on state funding but on the whims of entrepreneurs and self-made men.

At Stoke Mandeville, for example, Savile raised millions of pounds from Japanese corporations to pay for a hospital that should have been financed publicly.  No wonder its  management team let Savile run it as if it were his own personal property and turned a blind eye to complaints and rumours.  How many of ‘Savile’s hospitals’ did the same thing, in order not to jeapordize their funding streams?

So yes, let Savile ‘shake the country to the core.’   Because a country that allowed such things to happen deserves to be shaken.  And let us name those who should be named and ask the questions that should be asked, not just about him, but about those who made his crimes possible.

That would be pretty much the only good thing that could come out of this infinitely sad and disgusting business.

The friends of Jimmy Savile

It is now clear that the freakish peroxide conman Jimmy Savile was one of the nastiest and most vicious paedophiles in British history.   At present, according to new research commissioned from the NSPCC by BBC’s Panorama there are more than 500 reports of abuse against him, and that figure is almost certainly an understatement, given the almost complete freedom that Savile enjoyed to do whatever he liked to whomever he liked.

His victims include mental patients at the Broadmoor hospital, children as young as ten to thirteen, including a young girl recovering from a brain operation.   And now, just when we thought we’d heard it all, the NSPCC reports that one of his victims was a two-year-year old toddler.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that this activity was conducted over a 40-year period, much of it while Savile was one of the most famous and admired people in the country,whose ghastly vapid zaniness enraptured large sections of the British public, not to mention a powerful coterie of politicians, civil servants, tv and radio executives and producers, hospital and charity directors.

Since the Savile scandal broke, there has been a great deal of anguished questioning and soul-searching about the de facto state of impunity that he appears to have enjoyed over such a long time.  Being British, we like to tell ourselves that it was all some kind of mistake or oversight on the part of our well-meaning establishment, something that can be sorted out by a few inquries and a new set of ‘guidelines’, for example, about how and when teenage girls can be allowed backstage to hang out with BBC celebrities.

But there is another, less-comforting view that we might also consider; namely that our establishment is not really very decent or well-meaning at all, and that Savile is the most visible symbol of a more deep-seated moral corruption that pervades some of the most powerful institutions in the country.  Consider, for example, Edwina Currie’s incredible performance on yesterday’s BBC Panorama investigation into Savile’s activities at Broadmoor yesterday.

As former Health Minister, Currie approved a request from a ‘senior civil servant’ to make Savile head of a task force at Broadmoor, after staff had taken industrial action regarding overtime.   In effect, Savile, a DJ with no qualifications and no knowledge of mental health issues, became de facto director of the largest secure mental health hospital in the country.

According to Currie, Savile was brought in specifically to break the strike.  When he promised to undermine the strike by revealing that staff were sub-letting houses, Currie admitted to the Panorama interviewer that this was ‘blackmail’ but nevertheless insisted that ‘ If this meant we could break the strike and help the patients then the ends justified the means.’

How wonderfully Thatcherite of her.   We all know how Savile ‘helped the patients’, or rather helped himself to them.  And what does La Currie have to say about this?  Wait for it: ‘ If I’d have known I would have said ” Jimmy give me the keys,” and it would have stopped.’

Pause and reflect on that statement for a moment, if you will.   So even now, knowing everything that she does about Savile’s activities, Currie says that if there had been reports that her appointee was  sexually abusing mentally-ill patients, she would simply have taken away ‘the keys’ rather than tell the police and have him arrested.

The interview does not reveal whether she would have done this to save her own or her government’s reputation.   But it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that she didn’t – and perhaps still doesn’t –  think that his offences were serious enough to arrest him for.  And it’s statements like these that reveal, however inadvertently, the climate of impunity that surrounded Savile.  It wasn’t just that he was rich and famous – qualities that tend to turn far more intelligent people than Currie goggle-eyed.

What this horrendous case suggests, like so many other high-profile paedophile episodes in recent years, is that once you rise above a certain level of power, fame or wealth in British society, you will have a very good chance of being able to get away with abusing vulnerable children at will, secure in the knowledge that you are surrounded and protected by people who have no interest in or concern with anyone less rich, powerful or famous than you are and will ignore what you do or even cover it up when necessary.

In Savile’s case, this zone of impunity crucially included the police, particularly in his stamping ground of West Yorkshire.   In 2013, a retired Leeds police officer told the Telegraph how he had once reported an incident involving Savile and a minor, only to be told:  ‘Shut up, son.  He’s got friends in high places.’

Savile carefully cultivated a circle of active and retired Leeds police officers, some of whom were members of his ‘Friday morning club’ where he held court at his penthouse flat.  One of them was Mick Starkey, a now-retired police officer who acted as Savile’s chauffeur, and who is under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for his alleged involvement in facilitating the ‘soft’ interrogation that Savile received from Surrey police in 2009.

The fact that an active police inspector was acting as the chauffeur and minder of  a man now known to be a psycopathic sexual predator ought to raise a number of eyebrows, at the very least, about the cosy relationship that Savile enjoyed with the police and the reasons for it.

Perhaps the IPCC report will shed some light on the matter, but then again maybe not, because we are talking about a weak institution that a parliamentary investigation into the death of Ian Tomlinson at the hands of the Met, concluded ‘has neither the powers nor the resources that it needs to get to the truth when the integrity of the police is in doubt.’

The integrity of the West Yorkshire Police is most certainly in doubt over this particular episode, as is the integrity of so many institutions that protected Savile.  But no one should ever underestimate the ability of the British establishment to exonerate and find excuses for itself – particularly in a case as vile as this one in which so many high-profile reputations run the risk of being tarnished.

Few people can be surprised by the fact that a 2013 investigation by West Yorkshire Police concluded that Savile’s contacts with police had not protected him from arrest or prosecution.   That may or may not be true, but the police cannot be the ones who decide the matter, and a society that lets this one go without a full investigation is not only paving the way for more Saviles in the future – it is also doing a grave injustice to the people whose lives he wrecked.

 

 

Saint Jimmy

I never much liked Jimmy Savile when he was alive.    On Top of the Pops he came over to me as a fake eccentric, hollow, faintly grotesque, and not nearly as loveable as he clearly appeared to regard himself.

I knew nothing about his private life and cared even less, and I wasn’t aware of the horrendous allegations that are now pouring out almost daily.  Now that I do know,  I find his creepy showbiz persona not merely dislikeable, but thoroughly repellent.

At the same time, perhaps the most depressing and disturbing aspect of Savile’s decades-long career as a national icon/charity fundraiser and serial rapist/sexual predator is not just the scale and depravity of his crimes, but the fact that he was allowed to get away with them for so long.

Savile has been variously depicted as an arch-manipulator and a brilliant con-man,  which he may well have been.   But the allegations against him suggest that quite often these skills were not even necessary,  and that he was able to carry out his crimes in the secure knowledge that nothing was going to happen to him.

When Savile reportedly laughed in the face of one of his victims who threatened to report him, he had clearly come to regard himself as legally untouchable, and this impunity was due to at best an extraordinary willingness of the various institutions he was involved with to turn a blind eye to his crimes.

These institutions include the BBC, Stoke Mandeville and Broadmoor hospital, and others that will undoubtedly be added to the list, all of whom either failed to respond to rumors and allegations that might have uncovered Savile’s crimes, and at times directly facilitated them.

How can it be that a former wrestler and nightclub manager was placed in charge of a high-security mental hospital and given the run of its facilities?  How was it that nurses at Stoke Mandeville hospital could have been aware that Savile was regularly abusing young patients in their wards, and that such knowledge did not reach the police or the hospital management?

Were Savile’s immediate colleagues, technicians, make up crew etc aware of what was taking place in his dressing room and if so why did they not report it?

The failure of so many institutions to contemplate the dark side of Savile suggests a culture of impunity not dissimilar to the recent sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church, in which powerful institutions close ranks and engage in collective omertá to preserve their reputations – even if it allows the abuse and exploitation of children and vulnerable young people to go uninvestigated and unpunished.

In the case of the Church, the reasons for this code of silence are obvious: a  supposedly benevolent religious institution whose priests are given unique access to young people precisely because of their reputation for goodness and purity is not likely to be keen to reveal information to the public that would damage this saintly aura.

Savile cultivated his own saintly aura, and his credulous and adoring admirers were equally keen to place a halo on his peroxide head, whether it was Margaret Thatcher or Pope John Paul II.

But the general unwillingness to look beneath the surface of this ‘national treasure’ – a horrendous media concept,  even when used to describe far less loathsome individuals than Savile – appears to be have been driven not so much by a desire to preserve the reputations of the institutions associated with him, but by the two forces that have done so much to corrupt British society over the last few decades: celebrity and money.

On one hand Savile’s fame made him a prime asset for the BBC, which may have led senior managers to ignore the rumors and allegations that persistently surrounded its star presenter.   At the same time Savile – like many rich men in Britain before and since – was able to use his money to threaten tabloid newspapers with libel.

Savile’s money – or his ability to raise it – clearly shaped the responses of many institutions and individuals towards him.  His fundraising abilities  appear to have made him so important and useful to certain hospitals that they were willing to give him a private office on their premises – regardless of what was taking place in them.

The result was  a culture of impunity in which this truly disgusting and contemptible fraud was able to rape mentally-ill patients at Broadmoor and sexually abuse an adolescent girl recovering from a brain operation, in which few people bothered to report such activities and were routinely ignored when they did.

Savile got away with it and died with his halo intact, a knighthood from the Queen and a Papal Knighthood from John Paul II, among the many other awards heaped upon him.    Now his reputation has turned to dust and posterity has directed the vilification and contempt that he should have received when he was alive – in addition to a long prison sentence.

But no amount of ‘heartfelt apologies’ from the institutions he worked with should be allowed to prevent further investigation into the individuals and organizations that effectively granted him carte blanche for so many years.

On the contrary, if this ghastly episode is to have any positive outcome,  it can only be hoped that Savile’s victims continue to come forward, and that those who turned a blind eye to his crimes or even directly facilitated them are publicly shamed and – if necessary – brought to justice.

And the institutions that acted as his enablers or preferred to look away should also pay compensation to his victims for the contemptible cowardice, stupidity and self-interest, which made Saint Jimmy feel – with good reason – that he could do whatever he liked,  and that no one who mattered would ever give a damn.