Sunday, 28 October 2012

Newsnight, the BBC and Savile

In almost all of the coverage of Newsnight, the BBC and the Savile scandal, people have been missing the main point. They are treating this as a news story, handled badly or well by Newsnight according to opinion. But it isn't.

From the moment Karin Ward mentioned Gary Glitter it was an allegation of a serious time committed on BBC premises by a living person. At that moment, the news story should have taken second priority behind passing the issue up the management chain so the authorities could be informed. Even had Glitter not been mentioned, the word should still have gone straight to the top of management because if Savile has been able to hoodwink the BBC for so long about this, there was still the possibility that the BBC's procedures even today are still inadequate.

But Newsnight didn't do that. They held onto the story so they could make a big public splash. That might be good journalism, but it stinks as a child protection measure. Had the abuse happened elsewhere, e.g. a school, we would expect the head teacher to be informed and the authorities immediately after, even though from experience I know that doesn't actually happen at some schools.

Panorama didn't notice the child protection aspect. They just treated it as a news story badly managed by Newsnight.

After making an apology to the victims, George Entwistle has also concentrated solely on the journalistic aspects of the issue. It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that Newsnight ought to have informed his predecessor for child protection reasons.

And the MPs on the Select Committee who grilled Entwistle have also comprehensively missed the point. They grilled him on how Newsnight covered the story.

When is everyone covering this going to stop thinking as journalists and start looking at the child protection issues? If the abuse has remained hidden and unaddressed until now, there is nothing to prevent there from being another Savile still at the BBC.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Mandatory reporting of child sex abuse

The following Letter to the Editor was published in The Times on Friday 19th October.

The Government should act without delay to pass a law on mandatory reporting of known or suspected child abuse

Sir, Child sex abuse cases have some very important similarities. Many cases involve abuse that occurred in an institutional context, usually in a school. In these cases the abuser was able to work himself into a position of trust, and the management of the institution had knowledge or suspicions of abuses and did not pass those concerns on to the authorities. In every case, the abuser was able to commit further serious crimes after those concerns had first come to light. Had the concerns been promptly reported to the authorities, it is at least likely that the abuses could have been stopped at a much earlier stage, and much avoidable suffering prevented.

Unbelievably, Britain has no law requiring schools or other institutions responsible for the care of children to report allegations or incidents of child sex abuse. A head teacher can know that one of his or her staff has sexually assaulted one of the pupils and he or she has no legal obligation to report anything to anybody. This has happened in some cases.

A law on mandatory reporting of child abuse was passed last year in the Republic of Ireland, with a sentence of up to five years’ imprisonment for failing to report abuse. A similar law is urgently needed in Britain to ensure that people can report without fear of losing their jobs, and that their employers are prompt in passing those concerns to the authorities.

The Government should act without delay to pass a law on mandatory reporting of known or suspected child abuse in all environments where adults act in loco parentis.

Jonathan West, Lucy Duckworth,; Ken Acons, Rosminian Boys Group; Piers Brogan, Chairman of Rosminian Boys Group; Bob Brecher, Professor, University of Brighton; Helen Charlton, Minster and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors; Tracey Emmott, director, Emmott Snell Solicitors; Michael Ghersie, chartered accountant; Valerie Gibbs, vicar; David Greenwood, chairman of; Phil Johnson, Eastbourne Survivors Group; Rory Johnston, Rosminian Boys Group; Anne Lawrence, barrister, Atlas Chambers; Francis Lionnet, communications consultant; Donald MacFaul, Dere Street Barristers; Olenka Frenkiel, investigative journalist; Clint McMillian, Rosminian Boys Group; John Poppleton, product manager; Peter Saunders, CEO, Napac; Richard Scorer, partner, Pannone LLP Solicitors; Michael Sheridan, accountant; Sam Simeonides, Rosminian Boys Group; Matthew Starrett-Bigg, Rosminian Boys Group; Anna Whiting, campaigner; Clare Whiting, art director; Julian Whiting, ex-police officer, campaigner; Mrs Lorena Whiting, campaigner; The Rev Peter Whiting, Baptist minister; Sophie Whiting, teacher; Alex Wilson, Rosminian Boys Group; Rory O’Neill, Rosminian Boys Group

Friday, 5 October 2012

Anonymity for teachers

On October 1st, a new law came into effect protecting the anonymity of teacher accused of child abuse. According to an Info Update from the DfE

It is an offence to report information that could lead to the identification (e.g. name or school) of a teacher who is subject to an allegation of a criminal offence made by, or on behalf of, a registered pupil at the school. Any publication of such an allegation that identifies the teacher involved before they are charged with a criminal offence will be in breach of the restrictions. Such restrictions would remain unless or until the teacher is charged with a criminal offence, a warrant for arrest is issued, or until the Secretary of State or GTC for Wales publishes info about an investigation or decision in a disciplinary case arising from the allegation.
Had Jimmy Savile been alive and a teacher, it would have been an offence for the recent reports about him to be published.

The DfE website contains a nauseating statement on the subject
In The Coalition: our programme for government, the Government made a commitment to give anonymity to teachers accused by pupils and to take other measures to protect against false allegations. A survey commissioned by the Department found that of the 2827 allegations of abuse made against school teachers in 2009/10, almost one-fifth (19 per cent) were considered to be unfounded (no evidence or proper basis which supports the allegation being made). False allegations can blight careers and ruin lives.
I'm particularly outraged by the slide from "unfounded" to "False" in successive sentences, which gives the impression that all unfounded allegations are false.

Parents, please realise that you are on your own. If your child is being abused at school, the school has no statutory obligation to report anything it knows. The only have to "have regard for" statutory guidance which says that they should report it. They can regard the guidance all they like and then they can perfectly legally decide that they will handle all such allegations in-house without making any report to the authorities.

And if they don't report it to the authorities, of course no charges will ever be made, and so you are permanently barred from publishing anything about it. All you can do (if you child tells you about it, which they might not) is go to the police yourself.