8 Nov 2012

The past on trial: the charge sheet

Since there is a clear pathology to a peculiar British disease, it is worth examining the symptoms.

Time after time the patient – the British state – presents with the same pattern of distress and it is only by recognising the familiar pattern that the same state may one day seek a cure.

Regrettably, we are not at that day yet, by any means.

Currently the patient is under examination because of serial child abuse in north Wales. But we should all sense by now that Wrexham’s simply the latest outbreak of the long-familiar disease – chronic is perhaps the medical term.

Many, many other places have seen the same pathology down the years, over and over again.

The symptoms

Consider Derry and Bloody Sunday. Or perhaps Sheffield and Hillsborough. Or why not head north to the Mull of Kintyre and the Chinook helicopter disaster. You will be able to call other examples to mind, I need not list them here.

To take one – Bloody Sunday. Now, 40-odd years on from that January day, the police find themselves involved in a murder investigation.

The events that day sparked the classic presentation of symptoms. First the disaster: unarmed civilians shot dead by British paratroopers at a civil rights demonstration.

Second the cover-up – the forces of the state, the army in this case, getting their version of events out first and fast – the army were attacked and acted reasonably.

Third the media lie – it follows from the cover-up that initial reports paint a neutral picture often at odds with the subsequent truth of it all.

Fourth, the judicial whitewash – after Bloody Sunday Prime Minister Ted Heath even said openly that the state was involved in a “propaganda war” with the emerging Provisional IRA so Lord Widgery’s inquiry would be short and limited: the classic recipe for the judicial whitewash we’ve seen again since.

Fifth, wilderness – the long years pass. The victims’ families campaign for year after year. Typically their voice will eventually be heard by sympathetic MPs and TV news, current affairs programmes and even dramas in the cases of both Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday. Momentum builds to the next symptom.

Sixth, the full inquiry – and there may be more than one. Many millions will be spent. Lord Saville’s Bloody Sunday became a vast judicial behemoth lasting several years and making many already rich lawyers millionaires. The British state’s seen nothing like it before or since.

Seventh, justice – finally after a generation or more, names are cleared. The truth is finally recognised and compensation paid long after the event. The part played by our armed forces, police forces and judges in dismissing uncomfortable facts and protecting those at fault and in positions of power is explicitly stated but often glossed over in terms of doing anything very much.

The prime ministers, the judges, the army or airforce top brass, the chief constables – they all get promoted, pensioned, knighted, rewarded, retired or they’re dead. Rarely – if ever – are they genuinely held to account.

Learning lessons?

Hillsborough saw the initial on-the-day smear of the victims by South Yorkshire police. The initial judicial inquiry was a limited affair which got us nowhere near justice. The long wilderness campaign complete with TV drama took a generation.

Only this year is the full extent of the cover-up coming to light and those responsible have not been brought to justice.

I have received word from the Hillsborough families campaigners that they do not want anybody from the British establishment to oversee the current investigation into the police. They are “vehemently opposed” to that and say only an international figure can command confidence. Can you blame them?

The Mull of Kintyre Chinook disaster saw the initial smearing of two pilots and loadmasters who couldn’t defend themselves – they were dead.

It keeps happening: a new geographical location; a familiar set of symptoms; a blinding inability to prevent the next outbreak.

The families of the victims often conclude in these grinding, painful situations that those charged with upholding the truth, so often suppress the truth. The victims get shot, crushed on the terracing, smashed to death in a helicopter – the men who then cover it all up get away with it.

And successive governments evidently learn nothing. Our police forces evidently learn nothing. Our armed services evidently learn nothing. Our judiciary evidently learn nothing. If they did, it would not happen over and over again, would it?

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17 reader comments

  1. Jono says:

    Chillingly accurate assessment! This shows what a country we live in!

  2. Philip says:

    The judiciary are part of the same club – if not the same lodge – so what do you expect! The British establishment exists to protect itself. That’s the system. The only thing you can say about it is that we’re probably no worse than anywhere else. Our delusion is that we think we’re better. If the media were doing their job – instead of pandering to our moronoic interest in celebrities – they’d be tackling these issues rather than phone hacking nonentities & worrying about whether some ninny is on “I’m a celebrity get me out of here”. The fact is – the so-called “fourth estate” is too much part of the establishment to want to get into these matters until the toast has alreday popped out of the toaster.

  3. RichB says:

    “Enjoyed” this, as usual, Alex.

    I wonder – perhaps Lockerbie needs added to your list ??

  4. Alan Scott says:

    Whilst these historic cases are in need of investigation I feel that there is an element of displacement activity going on here. Pursuing allegations against persons who can never be brought to trial seems odd when there are plenty of offenders still in circulation where action does not seem to be being taken. Examples would be the bent bankers who set fraudlent interest rates, police and other public officials who took corrupt payments for information and those journalists (and the proprietors of their organisations) who made the corrupt payments.

  5. pete says:

    an excellent piece! this country has continued to protect powerful sections of the community and made heroes of those guilty of horrific crimes. From Bloody Sunday to Orgreave to Hillsborough and a thousand unreported instances inbetween. The Hillsborough families are correct and itis time for the media in general to resume the role of investigation and reporting instead of feeding from the table scraps of celebrity and the corrupt

  6. quikimart says:

    Britain has a mixed bag of history, but latterly it has added greatly to the invasive, colonial past by protecting its establishment figures. Proud of Britain? Won’t be many. Brilliant article. Been thinking all above for twenty years, no journalist has broached this. Go get them.

  7. Reg Vernon says:

    People who stand to lose a lot, their jobs, reputations, liberty etc, will dissemble till the cows come home rather than own up and admit mistakes. To some extent, of course, this is natural. The remedy is to elevate the whistleblower to sainthood and reward them in proportion for their courage, because they are more often vilified than praised, persecuted and hounded out of employment.
    It seems to me that the culture of cover-up is endemic and that oaths of association sworn by Freemasons are a significant comfort to wrongdoers. It is well known that the judiciary, police and many echelons of local and mational government are riddled wih Freemasons. When people fail to exercise civic responsibility our society is damaged. Children, who have the least power, are damaged most. If we do nothing we will reap the world wind.

  8. David Yates says:

    A fantastic piece of journalism. I somehow feel that we will never get to the bottom of this story. It is so vital to society that we have strong investigatory journalists who are prepared to confront what is swept under the carpet by the few to prevent the masses knowing the truth. I’m afraid that we are suffering a long sickness in our society.

  9. Cassandra Solomon says:

    Present on Trial. How do you stop judicial corrution when it is happening now? Their cover-ups are so much better than everybody else’s. Some will even ban you from going to see your MP if they think you are going to talk about it.

  10. Col says:

    But they do learn, they learn how to white wash the plebs into thinking its the victims fault. Let’s hope the saville enquiry will be the first to be held to account by twitter and the Internet. Jersey, north Wales, islington kincora, Wrexham to all those victims we believe you.

  11. Andrew Fanning says:

    This report tonight gave me hope. Not hope that all our institutions great and small will realise their mistake and start to do the right thing for the right reason. They are corrupt on purpose, not inadvertently. Every institution in our land, in our history, suffers from this same “disease”. Those at the top have got there because they have no principals other than self-aggrandisement and they entrench themselves by building connections and teams of loyal, equally ambitious lackeys. There is no way to question such people or bring them to account and anyone who tries gets chewed up by the system. Speak out of turn or stand on principal and that is your career. If we live in a free, democratic and just society then every institution in the land should display those same qualities. I work in a school and it is an utterly corrupt environment in which nepotism, schmoozing, bullying and cover-up all work to hide the fact that we are failing to achieve what we are paid to achieve because of the sheer negligence and incompetence of our bosses. No, the report gave me hope not because I think that anything will ever change, but because it was the first time I have ever seen a mainstream British news channel actually dare to lay bare the fallacy that this land is the bastion of decency and fair play. Any country that can’t even protect its own children is sick, and yes, we should be re-assessing how we run every institution in this land. But we won’t.

    In any case, thanks for this top-class analysis in mainstream news. Pursue this angle every chance you get.

  12. Moyra Mackie says:

    The fact that you joined the dots and emphasised the HABIT the establishment has of covering up, denying, spinning when faced with events that they either see as threats or which they failed to handle professionally was excellent. One thing that disappointed and angered though – the complete failure to challenge Cameron’s linking paedophilia and abuse. It was only the retired policeman who made this point. Michael Crick was even worse in his “justification” of Cameron’s remarks. Cameron’s remarks were deeply depressing – conflating two unrelated issues and building this straw man is the first step to sweeping it under the rug – all in the name of “sense” and “reason”.

  13. Derrick McGuire says:

    Excellent insightful blog, Alex. You set standards only a handful of media/press commentators can get near.
    The British establishment is guilty of the most profound contempt for the people they are employed to represent and protect and there is one other example which fits the analysis you`ve laid out for us here. A Scottish one.
    I`m talking about North Sea Oil.
    First, the disaster. With the discovery of oil, the UK government was suddenly imperilled by the possibility of a breakthrough by the SNP. Both Labour and the Tories were aware of the difference a popular SNP could make to Scots` representation in the House of Commons and both were equally fearful and hostile to the prospect.
    Second, the cover-up. After Callaghan`s “Think of all those lovely noughts” comment on the difference all those millions of oil revenues would make to the UK`s balance of payments deficit, the SNP started their “It`s Scotland`s Oil” campaign. Labour and the Tories responded with warnings to Scots that we spend so much more than we earn as a country that oil revenues would never cover the difference and it was going to run out soon anyway.
    Third, the media lie. Then, as now, every single news outlet in Scotland,whether broadcast or printed was not only hostile to the idea of Scottish independence, but also treated the SNP in a manner roughly equating to how the UK media regarded the Monster Raving Loonies, so their connivance with the establishment didn`t even need to be asked.
    Fourth, not a judicial cover-up, a political one. When he submitted his report into the true value of North Sea Oil in an Independent Scotland in the mid-70s to the Labour government, ministers must have been close to heart failure. Phrases like “Chronic, almost embarassing revenue surpluses” and “Scots could have one of the hardest currencies, like the Swiss” meant that there was only one course of action to take – bury the report altogether, never ever acknowledge it`s contents and keep repeating the assertion that Scotland, uniquely in the world, was simply incapable of running it`s own affairs.
    Fifth, the wilderness. With the McCrone Report safely buried, Labour, with help from the Tories, spent the next 30 years ramming home the message that Scots were “Too wee, too poor and too thick” to do any better with Scottish taxes and revenues and we`d be better off just continuing to give everything to London and leaving it up to them (often in the guise of a “Scottish” MP) to decide how much of our own money they`d deign to spend up here.
    Sixth, not an inquiry as much as the exposure of a previous one. After it`s 30 years marked “Top Secret”, the McCrone Report finally sees the light of day in 2005 and the truth about how affluent an independent Scotland could have been, in the face of three decades of assertion to the contrary by unionist politicians, can finally be ascertained.
    Seventh ? Well there isn`t one in this case. Largely because the situation whereby no newspaper or TV channel is sympathetic to Independence and all are at times hostile to the SNP, still prevails. The report has received no widespread coverage and consequently, the majority of Scots have no idea of it`s existence, never mind it`s explosive content.
    The press and media have starved this document of publicity to the extent that democracy itself, as it has been for the best part of forty years now, is denied.
    For democracy to work at all, the ordinary voter in the street must have access to a fair, accurate and balanced account of the issues which matter and which can make a difference so that he or she can make properly informed decisions which truly reflect their opinions and aspirations.
    In this regard, I believe the Scottish media and press to be collectively guilty of a deliberate, concerted and, sadly, succesful subvertion of the democratic process. A serious charge, yes, but one which a dispassionate observer could substantiate with ease with the most cursory of glances through the range of Scottish current affairs output.
    Of course, the bulk of the press & media are private businesses perfectly entitled to adopt whichever editorial stance the choose but a) with such unanimity, what happens to plurality ? and b) the BBC are bound by charter obligations of balance and impartiality.
    What is hardest to take is the realisation that, when the wagons are circled so tightly, the demonstrable one-sidedness of political coverage in Scotland is portrayed as considered consensus of opinion and the truth, whatever that is, is pushed out of the picture and there is not a thing we can do about it.
    Where is our seventh stage, Alex ?

  14. Hamish says:

    There are no comments on this issue. This was a startling report stating explicitly what I have often felt is the way our country works. Could the issue of paedophillia be the one that cuts through the apathy that many state actors rely on to “manage” national scandals?
    Everyone has or at least was a child and we can all imagine the horror and terror that those poor unfortunates we subjected to. It is utterly possible to imagine members of our elites working in paedophile rings and getting away with it. If a skanky DJ could live in open view then why shouldn’t real power and money men just simply get away with it.
    I think the only institutions in the UK capable of lifting the lid on this are campaigning journalists in the Guardian and on Channel 4 with the help of brave MPs and local councillors and officials who have access to information, as well as perhaps the odd decent copper who may have been thwarted in their efforts to bring the monsters down.
    However, it is depressing to surmise that none of this will ever out. If Conservative people were involved in this, how could it not destroy their party? Who could ever vote for the “Tory paedo cover up party”? Is anyone with power going to “allow” this to happen, or can journalists surface evidence to make the charges stick?

  15. Philip Edwards says:


    A first class, well-overdue piece. The problem does indeed infect our culture from top to bottom. It is insidious, poisonous and cowardly. It will pervade the corridors of power until it is cauterised root and branch. Don’t kid yourself Theresa May and the rest of the neocon suburban gang won’t try to bury it under bullshit and delay. We’ve been here before.

    As for this utter nonsense about the 60s and 70s……which editorial genius decided to go with that basket of old fish heads? Both of those decades involved greater open challenges to neocon power than any of the go-along-to-get-along decades since (remember Kinnock’s “dented shield”?). This is why there have been attempts to demonise those eras and why fear was instituted to prevent a repeat. What was the silence but fear – fear of unemployment, fear of retribution by the establishment?

    The fact is we are now faced with a cultural invoice for organised corruption that was instigated from the first day of the Thatcher government in 1979. Do I really need to list those horrors? Isn’t that your job? Didn’t enough conscientious individuals warn what would happen, then and since?

    Shouldn’t you be interviewing those neocon journos who manufactured the propaganda (and still do)? People like Andrew Neill, Edward Pearce, Ian Jack, Peter Hitchens, Kelvin Mackenzie, Trevor Kavanagh and all the other members of that sordid cast of media spivs.

    It would be exhilarating to think this is the start of a thorough cultural house clean. But give me one good reason why I should believe journalists who have lied about and ignored the truth for so long.

  16. LouisaUnsigned says:

    Cllr Gregory of Wrexham told Cathy Newman in her excellent interview that all the North Wales perpetrators who were not named in the Waterhouse review but who have been named on the list compiled by the sixty victims in the self-help group, and handed to C4news, were all members of a Masonic Lodge. Why can’t we say that we consider membership of the freemasons to be a conflict of interest which should bar any police officer from working on the investigations of the cover-ups of both Savile and Bryn Estyn.

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