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Simon Campion-Brown on the complications of suspected cover-ups

Following in the wake of this week’s announcement by Home Secretary Teresa May that she is setting up an inquiry into the previous inquiry as to why 114 files sent to the Home Office by Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens in about 1990 on suspected child abuse and paedophilia activities by members of the ‘Establishment’ [the rumour-mill is whirring like a hamster wheel, but this definition is widely assumed to include senior politicians and clergy, some people connected to the royal family and Whitehall mandarins], we learn today that the Foreign Office had admitted that some flight records to and from the UK-owned Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia for 2002 have been partially-damaged and ‘lost’ due to water damage.

See here for a report on the latest revelation as featured on the website of THE INDEPENDENT

ParliamentWhen a potential scandal like the ‘Dickens Files’ issue, or indeed suspected British collusion in assisting CIA ‘extraordinary rendition’ activities, erupts, those in power – and the government of the day in particular – tend to go into overdrive.

It’s all very complicated, of course.

Firstly, there is undoubtedly a need that ‘something must be done’ – or should that be ‘something should been seen to be done’, or even ‘something should seem to be done’?

Secondly, there is the issue of time-lapse. The current government can distance itself from blame for the newly-emerging scandal, a key imperative in politics, to the extent that it didn’t happen on its watch.

Here the Coalition government has fruitful ground with which to work. Although the ‘Dickens Files’ issue occurred during a period when the Tories were in office, thankfully this was in the 1990s (Harold Wilson was once reputed to have said that a week is a long time in politics, so twenty years is a relative Ice Age).

renidtion2The ‘extraordinary rendition’ ticking time bomb occurred during the Downing Street tenure of Tony Blair and the Labour Party, which is a double plus: firstly, this means that Ed Miliband and his cohorts will need be wary of criticising the current Government because this might blow back in their faces; and secondly, of course, Tony Blair’s stock is now so low and terminally toxic that he can now be blamed for virtually anything without fear of contradiction.

Then there’s respect for the law.

Plainly, all sorts of issues immediately arise when the law is involved.

Might something be, or become, sub judice? The Government of the day must act responsibly, of course. Simply finding the missing 114 files – and/or simply allowing a list of the suspected miscreants to emerge during some sort of inquiry process, irrespective of any evidence or proof in support of specific allegations – may prejudice or stymie potential future prosecutions, either future or even now in the pipeline.

In short, on the one hand, the Government must take action in response to the media/public outrage generated by, for example, the ‘Dickens Files’ revelations – but, on the other, despite all the baying for blood, it must also be careful not to adversely affect the future likelihood of action being taken against those who may have offended which (from this perspective, you might argue, helpfully) is the one route that, we would all agree, is the best/only means whereby those have been abused can get their closure and/or justice.

The trouble with all of this is that, to an extent, by having to tread a careful line the Government inevitably risks being accused of insufficient action and, ultimately, becoming an accessory to the ‘cover up’ that – we, the uninitiated unencumbered by our lack of knowledge of any or all the facts – strongly suspect is at the heart of the problem.

PapersIn the wake of Operation Yewtree, and the Jimmy Savile scandal plus indeed Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris convictions, the emergence of the ‘Dickens Files’ story has added significant fuel to the ‘child abuse’ fire now burning brightly in Britain.

Barely a week goes by when the media does not feature new examples of historic allegations and/or a growing list of local authorities (I believe the number has reached at least 20 in the UK and Eire) and others who are currently conducting inquiries into abuse at boys’ homes or in ‘human traffic’ situations.

Throughout history there have been innumerable examples of ‘Establishment’ cover-ups. Many of them involved governments or senior figures who at the time, rightly or wrongly, operated one version or another of the guiding principle ‘What is in Britain’s national interest?’

One can understand how, during the 19th Century and the ‘high summer’ of the British Empire, those at the heart of power might have considered that – for hypothetical example – revealing that say 50% of British politicians might de facto be pederasts, bankrupts, adulterers, fraudsters, hypocrites, liars or petty criminals was probably something not conducive to maintaining Britain’s best reputation and interests in the world. Even if this was true – or indeed, as now may be the case, available to view under the Freedom Of Information Act and/or on a million websites accessible via Google within a click or two.

The trouble with the ‘Dickens Files’ and this new ‘extraordinary rendition’ story is that the average man (and natural cynic) on the Clapham omnibus like me finds it all too plausible that the ‘Establishment’ could/would deliberately bury or shred 114 files on the sexually depraved activities of prominent people and/or – in the case of ‘extraordinary rendition’ – that the British Government would publicly and forcefully deny that it was colluding with the CIA whilst simultaneously doing exactly that in secret.

The Establishment has got a long way to go with these ‘hot potatoes’ to convince the public that their hands are clean.

Which must make it very frustrating for them if – in actual fact – their pinkies are indeed spotless white.



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About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts