Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Grooming the Nation

With publication of the joint report by ACPO and NSPCC into allegations of sex offending by Jimmy Savile, we are now in possession of damning evidence that confirms he was without doubt this country's most prolific sex offender. In total 214 criminal offences are recorded in 28 police areas, committed over 50 years. 

Death may have robbed us of ever getting justice, however the joint report 'Giving Victims a Voice' is already proving cathartic for many and with some saying it's a relief to be believed at long last. The discussion as to exactly how Savile was able to get away with so much offending, effectively 'hiding in full sight' as the authors termed it, will go on for some time and the reverberations for our institutions and beliefs will continue to be felt for years.

Amongst other things, it forces us to look again at the 60's and 70's and our perceptions of what exactly was going on during this period of 'liberation'. According to this extremely thoughtful blog post by a fellow DJ, we even have to look carefully at Savile's version of DJ history that puts himself as being the first to use twin record decks. It seems he really did hoodwink us all, including Alison Bellamy the author of last years biography, as he went about 'grooming the nation' - another memorable phrase coined by the report authors. 

By one of those very strange accidents of timing, publication of the Savile report pretty well coincided with a whole raft of official figures on sex offending being released in a joint report by the Ministry of Justice, Home Office and Office of National Statistics.  I note that Inspector Gadget was quick off the mark in highlighting the somewhat astonishing anomaly that whilst some 400,000 sex offences apparently go unreported each year, crime is officially said to be 'falling'. 

So here we have official confirmation of what many of us suspected, namely that sex offending of all types is much more prevalent than generally thought to be the case. For a whole raft of reasons and graphically illustrated by the Saville case, victims are extremely loathe to report incidents to the police. Even if they do and the police take the matter seriously, the Crown Prosecution Service have to be convinced that a case is worth prosecuting. If the case gets to court and the victim feels up to the strain of giving evidence, the Jury has to be convinced and the conviction rate for rape in particular is extremely low.

But as if this scenario wasn't bad enough, probation officers also know from experience that as a type of convicted offender, the degree of denial and minimisation amongst sex offenders is considerable. I discussed the issue here following a report on HMP Wakefield by Nick Hardwick HM Chief Inspector of Prisons last year. He noted that:-   

‘The most significant concern we identified at our last inspection in 2009 remained. Almost half the men at Wakefield were in denial about their offence – to some degree refusing to take responsibility for their offending. There were no programmes available at Wakefield to tackle the behaviour and attitudes of men in denial and, as a consequence, little effective work was done with them.’

Now Wakefield is a maximum security prison holding 750 inmates, most of whom are serving life sentences and many have convictions relating to the most serious sex offences imaginable. So that's at least 300 men saying they are innocent in just one jail. This point was picked up by Paul Sullivan writing in the prisoners newspaper 'Inside Time' last November in questioning if it was right for the HMI to concern himself with in effect making a judgement on issues of denial by prisoners. He went on to set the scene as he sees it:-

'With the removal of the need for evidence in trials for alleged sexual offences (1994 Criminal Justice Act), the payment of massive compensation to accusers (even if there is no conviction or even trial), the burgeoning of police trawling and allegations of historic abuse, for which there is no defence or alibi after many decades, and the recent concerns of helpful evidence going ‘missing’ and failure to disclose evidence that would help the defence, the window for innocent men being convicted and locked up is open wide and, despite mountainous hurdles placed in the way of any men trying to have a conviction overturned many hundreds do succeed each year, - although NOMS will not admit to having a figure many support groups keep track.'

So, having negotiated all the hurdles that lie in the way of obtaining a conviction, here we have in one paragraph what I feel is a pretty distorted view of the process and an alarmingly naive belief in the veracity of significant levels of denial amongst sex offenders. I have to say that it's a view that is widely held however, but one I hope the Savile case might help in dispelling. The truth is that of course some wrongful convictions do occur in our adversarial justice system and some false allegations are made, especially in relation to rape, but it's a question of degree isn't it, and clearly the figures just don't add up do they?

1 comment:

  1. Robert the Biker16 January 2013 at 15:15

    Well, quite, there's after all nowhere like prison for meeting innocent men is there!
    Having said that, I do consider the Saville affair to have been one of the most grotesque witchcraft trials on record!