Integrity: the power of independent action

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An article in today’s Independent newspaper by columnist Jasmin Alibhai-Brown reveals how an anonymous letter sent to her by one of TV presenter Stuart Hall‘s child victims was instrumental in securing his recent conviction for the sexual abuse of young girls. (This article contains upsetting details of sex abuse.)

Whilst recently re-watching TV footage of Mark Williams-Thomas‘ ITV ‘Exposed’ documentaries and the subsequent Panorama episode, I was once again struck by a certain pattern of behaviour: how many players in the Savile scandal – over the course of four decades – visibly squirmed whilst trying to explain how they managed to ignore both persistent rumours, first-hand witnesses and their gut instincts about Savile’s violent, predatory tendencies. To varying degrees they knew, but did nothing…

How refreshing then, to see someone with a moderate level of media clout actually take up the baton and, like Williams-Thomas, use her position for the greater good. Reporting the – anonymous – complaint may have come to naught, she may not have been believed; but she listened to her conscience and took the chance and as a result a dangerous criminal has been apprehended. Unlike Savile he is still alive to face punishment.

Some, including the Mirror‘s FleetStreetFox have argued against the publicising of investigations into public figures accused of historic offences, citing the old saw of damaged reputations. The conviction of serial offenders such as Hall firmly refutes this position. Hall initially feigned innocence and vowed to fight the allegations; but publicity surrounding his case encouraged fresh witnesses to come forward and in the face of overwhelming evidence he capitulated and pled guilty.

There’s a lesson here: honesty, integrity and co-operation bring results. The old boys network, built on career-insecurity and awe that protected the likes of Savile is not insurmountable. Two days ago it was announced that Yewtree detectives will fly to Sydney, Australia to interview a 43 year-old witness to improper conduct on the part of Rolf Harris back in the ’90s. Like so many witnesses to such crimes, her fear of not being believed was an overwhelming factor in her failure to come forward previously. This is what hierarchy, what patriarchy does: it creates artificial power structures where the word of one person is worth less than that of another; where concealment of wrongdoing, of criminality is a surer way of maintaining an illusion of personal, or career safety than is honesty.

The cost to our individual and collective conscience, integrity and health is high, however. I hope Savile‘s – on occasion, inadvertant or naive – colluders, as well as his victims can live with that. I suspect both will continue to be troubled.

Alibhai-Brown has shown herself to be a woman of integrity; and thru her example, several of Hall‘s victims are, one hopes, on the road to regaining theirs.

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