Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Dame Janet Smith BBC report into Jimmy Savile part two – ethos and culture

Dame Janet Smith not only sat in judgement on Jimmy Savile in her BBC report but she also condemned a whole way of life from our past. One quote that keeps reappearing in her report is ‘things were different in those days’ when discussing the post permissive, but pre feminist period, from the late 1960s to about the early 1980s. This post will try to identify what was so different about this earlier period compared to more recent years, and whether the Dame is right in deploring the outlook of society then, which she investigated as part of the background to her report.

It was part of her remit to ‘consider whether the culture and practices within the BBC during the years of Jimmy Savile’s employment enabled inappropriate sexual conduct to continue unchecked’. The BBC as a broadcaster came to realise that change was in the air, observing that ‘sexual behaviour which once would have been regarded as completely out of order is regarded as possibly acceptable, possibly normative, and the BBC is both trying to reflect this as a broadcaster and also is wrestling with some of the consequences of it’.

Many BBC staff and other witnesses reported that ‘attitudes towards sexual behaviour were more tolerant in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s than the attitudes we have today’. Dame Janet acknowledged that from the 1960s onwards ‘there was a rapid change in sexual and social mores, particularly among the younger generation’. Such changes were ascribed to the arrival of pop music and the loosening of censorship after the Lady Chatterley trial. Sex outside marriage became more widely acceptable, and there was a more general openness and frankness about sexual matters.

Dame Janet revealed that ‘at about this time, there was much discussion about whether there should be a reduction in the age at which a woman could consent to sexual intercourse.’ She continues ‘one argument advanced by those in favour of a reduction in the age of consent was that so many young people under the age of 16 were having sex; they were not only willing to do it but were not going to be stopped.’ She pointed out that the police could only prosecute those few cases where a complaint was made. Since the law was being widely disregarded, and had fallen out of step with social mores, it was argued by some that the age of consent should be reduced to 13. These were not arguments which convinced either legislators of the time, or Dame Janet, who proclaimed that ‘the law must be able to protect young people if they call for protection and should also seek to protect them from seduction by adults.’

Some commentators expressed the view ‘that people were not as aware of the significance of the age of consent as we are today, and that there was a much more relaxed approach to this question’. Dame Janet is correct when she acknowledges that during this period there was very little discussion about the ‘sexual abuse’ of young people, indeed the phrase had hardly been coined at that time. She concludes that the question that needs to be addressed is ‘whether, in the general population, the more relaxed attitudes towards heterosexual sex outside marriage included a more relaxed attitude towards underage sex and, in particular, a more relaxed attitude towards sex between an older man and a teenage girl.’

Witnesses revealed that attitudes towards the age of consent during this period had become very blurred, and that an increasing number of people regarded sex between a younger teenage girl and an older teenage boyfriend as acceptable, and that the important thing was to help her to avoid pregnancy. However, there appears to have been less social acceptance of sexual relations between a young teenage girl and a man in his thirties or older. Despite this there was little real sense of public outrage when such celebrity relationships were revealed in the press, perhaps due to the perception that such conduct was acceptable for celebrities. More generally the prevailing outlook, in the words of one witness, was that ‘the culture of the time was such that there was not a moral police attitude.’

Dame Janet does not buy into this permissive outlook. She condemned the viewpoint that such conduct, in the words of one witness, was ‘an unavoidable aspect of modern life and that there was nothing which could be done about it; the girls were willing and it was up to them.’ She believed that this attitude ‘was fostered or at any rate allowed to remain unchallenged because there were so few women in senior positions.’ She criticized the dominance of male management which she claimed created or permitted a ‘macho’ culture which allowed a casual attitude towards sex and what was acceptable behaviour, and also in attitudes towards women in the workplace.

Dame Janet discovered that sexual harassment was commonplace in many parts of the BBC, creating an atmosphere where women found it difficult to report complaints. There were very few female managers and generally the attitude of male managers appeared unconcerned about the issue. One female witness described the situation as ‘there were lots of wandering hands, comments about your body, chaps just felt it was perfectly fine to put their hand on your bottom, and other places.’ In response one former male manager accepted that there were ‘touchy-feely people who would always go and put their arm around a girl’ but said that challenging such behaviour did not feature high on his list of priorities. However, he thought that the young women were ‘strong enough to stand up for themselves and could give as good as they got, and probably would have done’. On the subject of sexual activity between an older male and a young girl in her mid-teens, she concluded that ‘beginning in the 1960s and continuing over the next two decades, there was a relaxation in our attitude towards such behaviour.’ Within the BBC the Dame thought that ‘there was a general perception that many girls of 14 or 15 were ready and willing to have sex with their pop idols. They hung around waiting for them, behaving in an excited way’. Staff took the view that if they wanted to have sex with celebrities it was a matter for them and no one else’s business, even though the activity was unlawful.

She contrasted this viewpoint with the current outlook whereby ‘we are much more conscious of the damage which can be done to a young person who enters into an unequal relationship with an older, powerful, charismatic man for whom the relationship is casual and unimportant. We are now far more disapproving of such relationships. To that extent I do accept that things were different in those days’. Dame Janet claims that ‘our knowledge and understanding of the need for child protection has changed radically. Until the late 1980s, the sexual abuse of children was barely acknowledged to exist; it is now widely discussed. Our understanding of the circumstances in which this can occur and the devastating effects it can have on victims has grown and continues to increase almost daily.’

Dame Janet’s conclusions on child protection were that during the period between the 1960s and the 1990s, this was a subject that was very low on the BBC’s radar, that no clear policies or procedures existed and such matters were generally not discussed. Managers were unaware of ‘the dangers of bringing together disc jockeys and young girls in circumstances in which assignations of a sexual nature might be made.’ She emphasised some factors which were general in society during this period which contributed to this outlook. These were a failure to see sexual abuse of the young as a significant major problem, and to recognise the need to protect young people around the age of consent from exploitation by older men, underpinned by the prevailing outlook that, once a girl had reached the age of 16, anything went. Dame Janet added that there was a failure to recognise the seriousness of the harm which could be done to young people who might (albeit lawfully and willingly) be drawn into casual sexual contact with older men who were abusing the power given to them by their age or position.

Dame Janet summarises this situation in the phrase ‘moral danger’, defined as the risk to which young teenage girls might be exposed as the result of finding themselves in the company of older men and ‘liable to be involved in sexual conduct which might be unlawful on account of their youth or might be inappropriate and emotionally damaging to them on account of their lack of maturity.’

Dame Janet appears to combine the Victorian social purity of Josephine Butler, the anti permissiveness of Mary Whitehouse, and the strident feminist agenda of Harriet Harman. Her conclusions encapsulate the convergence between the feminist agitation over ‘rape culture’ and children’s charities fear mongering over ‘child sexual abuse’. The former has expanded to include any disapproved physical or verbal interaction between men and women, and the definition of the latter has been widened to include any social activity by men with females still in their teens. Dame Janet implicitly promotes the view that it is a legitimate role of the law, and those in positions of authority, to police in minute detail the interpersonal relations between those of the opposite sex in general and teenagers in particular.

As Dame Janet has recorded teenagers in the 1960s and 1970s were keen to escape the repressive and hard line sexual straightjacket which pre-permissive society had imposed on their parents and grandparents. Neither teenagers themselves, nor the BBC management responsible for organising Top of the Pops, would have welcomed the kind of intrusive surveillance which Dame Janet appears to be advocating under the pretext of child protection. Young people of that period would have been aghast in disbelief that the clock would again be turned back to an oppressive chaperoning regime that undermines young persons self reliance and personal autonomy, under the disguise of protecting the vulnerable. We really have to trust teenagers on the management of their personal relationships, and if they make mistakes as they surely will, then they will undoubtedly learn from the experience, and not allow it to blight the rest of their life which is what is happening under the therapy culture of today promoted by the likes of Dame Janet.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Dame Janet Smith BBC report into Jimmy Savile Part 1 - Accusations

The investigation carried out by Dame Janet Smith into the activities of Jimmy Savile at the BBC was set up in October 2012 in the wake of the ‘revelations’ made in the ITV programme Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile. At that time the reasonable assumption was made that the evidence presented in this programme was truthful and genuine. In fact, as the intrepid bloggers, Anna Raccoon, Moor Larkin & Rabbitaway have revealed, it was a compendium of falsehoods, fabrications and misleading exaggerations as outlined in this earlier blogpost here. This post attempts a belated analysis of the conclusions reached in the Dame’s report published in March 2016, and includes findings revealed by the above investigative bloggers.

The Smith report is extensive running to well over 700 pages. Its primary conclusion was that although many BBC staff claimed to have heard rumours about Jimmy Savile the senior management of the BBC were never presented with any evidence of wrongdoing. The reason for reaching this conclusion in the report is that there was no record of any junior or middle management staff ever communicating their concerns about Savile to senior management. However, as will be explained in some detail below, the real reason why senior management heard nothing is because there was nothing to hear that was worth communicating. The allegations against Savile appear to fall into three categories, hearsay and rumour, the relatively harmless and trivial, and the fantastical.

The Dame doesn’t take too long before she tells us where she is coming from when she declares ‘in early October 2012, the country was deeply shocked about revelations that Savile, the well-known and well-loved television personality and charity fundraiser had in fact been a prolific sex offender.’ She repeats this again later ‘in the weeks following the disclosures about Savile’s sexual misconduct in October 2012’. This viewpoint can only have been reached by swallowing wholesale the deceptions in the Exposure programme.

Whilst this casual acceptance would be understandable at the start of the investigation, it becomes untenable by the time the report was published, given the amount of contradictory evidence that had been unearthed and placed in the public domain by the investigative bloggers. So her default position throughout the investigation is based on the falsehood that Savile must have been a sexual predator because that is what the Exposure programme supposedly uncovered beyond reasonable doubt. The Dame need not be censured too much about this, she only fell into the same trap that just about everybody else did, namely accepting the Exposure deceits without question or investigation. So all her deliberations must be viewed critically through the prism of her overt confirmation bias that Savile was a ‘prolific sex offender’, a viewpoint which must seriously have influenced the objectivity of her conclusions. In short, she has assumed his guilt and then set about building a case to justify it.

Dame Janet declared that ‘I have applied the civil standard of proof. That is to say that I have accepted evidence if I think that, on the balance of probabilities, it is true and accurate.’ In fact it soon becomes apparent that she has deviated quite considerably from this already fairly low standard of proof. What she has instead done is invariably accept that the accusers’ claims are true, unless there is fairly clear proof that they are lying. She has approached her investigation with the ingrained belief that Savile was a sexual predator and that his ‘victims’ should be believed. As we have seen in other well publicised cases this seems to be standard practice among prosecuting authorities these days.

We first need to examine the allegations relating to the Exposure programme that involve the BBC. To her credit Dame Janet firmly dismisses the testimony of Wilfred De’ath who repeated to her the tale he told in the TV programme. The Dame however got hold of a bundle of BBC documents which cast doubt on De’ath’s claims. She re-interviewed him and concluded that his account ‘contained so many inaccuracies’ that no reliance can be placed upon it.

The testimonies of Val and Angie formed a crucial part of the Exposure programme’s agenda of demonising Savile, and Dame Janet has related their claims in some depth. They are described as two of a group of teenage girls who formed what she terms the ‘London Team’. The accounts of Val and Angie are substantially the same as that given on the Exposure programme, although much additional detail has been provided. Their close relationship with Savile lasted for a period of at least five years before it ended, although they remained in contact with Savile for some time afterwards.

What the Dame failed to grasp is that Val and Angie are the same pair as the two women who wrote to Louis Theroux, revealed in a later part of the report. In their letter to Theroux they corrected the impression he gave in his TV programme that Savile did not have regular girlfriends. They also confirmed that neither of them experienced any abuse from Savile, making it clear that their relationships with him had been consensual, and that they had stayed on friendly terms with him for some time afterwards. So the only conclusion that can be reached is that, in fundamentally changing their stories to one of abusive behaviour, both Val and Angie have provided false testimony to the Exposure programme and to Dame Janet’s investigation.

In the Exposure programme Fiona, a former Duncroft approved school pupil, claimed that Savile assaulted her in a dressing room at BBC Television Centre after the recording of the Clunk-Click TV programme. In Dame Janet’s report the witness C30, a former Duncroft pupil, makes similar claims against Savile that were made by Fiona in Exposure, so it appears likely that they are both the same individual. Intriguingly the Dame concluded that ‘there are a number of elements of her evidence (C30) which are open to question and I do not feel able to make a decision about her claim of abuse, beyond saying that it might have happened and it might not’. Evidence has come to light that Fiona arrived at Duncroft only after the Clunk-Click series ended, and thus her testimony on Exposure (and to the Dame if she is C30) must be false.

In the Exposure programme another Duncroft pupil Charlotte claimed that Savile assaulted her in his caravan during the recording of a radio show, which could only have been Savile’s Travels. However, there is no evidence in the BBC records of such a programme being made from Duncroft, nor is there evidence in the Duncroft records that Charlotte was placed in isolation after she complained to teachers about this supposed incident. As there is no reference in the Smith report to this allegation it must be concluded that it was another attempt by the Exposure producers to defame the memory of Savile. To summarise, five of the six most damaging claims against Savile in the Exposure programme involved him working at or for the BBC. As can be seen from the above analysis, all of them are false.

To tie up the Duncroft saga, the Smith report does serve a useful purpose as it reveals how Savile came to visit Duncroft School in the first place. Witness A22 was a former resident at Duncroft who introduced Savile to the school after she met him at a social event. In the words of the report ‘her evidence is that he always behaved impeccably and her account contradicts much of what the other Duncroft witnesses say about Savile. A22 was clearly very close to Savile and thought very highly of him. She had a relationship with him after she left Duncroft. I have no reason to doubt her evidence that, while she was at Duncroft, Savile behaved impeccably in her presence’. Full details about A22’s relationship with Savile can be found on the Anna Raccoon website.

Having dealt with the Exposure stories it is time to examine some of the more fantastical claims made in the Smith report. Kevin Cook, as a nine year old, was one of a party of scouts who attended Jim’ll Fix It in January 1977 who shared a badge given to the whole troupe. Cook claimed that Savile took him aside and asked whether he would like a badge of his own, to which he answered yes. He then claims that Savile told him that he would have to ‘earn’ his badge and took him to a dressing room where he carried out sexual acts on Cook. This activity was interrupted by another man entering the dressing room.

However, Cook has come up with two separate stories about this second unidentified man. In the first the man immediately leaves, in the second he also starts to participate in the abuse against Cook, that also involves some violence. The Dame declared that this ‘change in Mr Cook’s account made it difficult for me to make up my mind whether his account was true’. She re-interviews him and accepts his explanation that ‘he had found talking about the second stage of the abuse even more embarrassing than the first’. She then concludes that she is ‘quite satisfied that his account was true and that both men had abused him’

However Moor Larkin has uncovered this revealing comment on an ITV discussion board ‘my husband was also one of the scouts that attended that day with this chap, he was chaperoned everywhere with an adult and had no problems at all.’ In a later part of the report Dame Janet commends the strict chaperoning regime on Jim’ll Fix It. This required that a child was always accompanied by a parent, chaperone or member of staff. Dame Janet stated ‘I am satisfied that that rule was strictly followed’. Moreover, according to BBC staff, Savile’s dressing room was usually so full of people that he would never be alone with a child, and his door was almost always open. It is difficult to believe that this young scout would not have been missed by the rest of the group and the leader, that he would have remained silent on the matter to his scout friends afterwards, especially after he got his individual badge, and that he would not have raised the matter at some point with his parents, but instead kept quiet about it for over 35 years.

One of the more bizarre incidents of alleged abuse by Savile took place whilst he was dressed in a Womble suit. C9 was a ten year old boy when he was taken by his grandfather to Top of the Pops. C46 was a twelve year old girl with her aunt at the same recording in late 1973. None of them had a ticket, they were waiting in the queue hoping to get in. Savile suddenly appeared at the entrance and agreed to take in the two children leaving the adults outside. Savile appeared throughout the show in a Womble suit. After the show was over they were both brought together to Savile’s dressing room. Savile took off his Womble outfit and proceeded to carry out a sex act on the boy, which was painful and caused some bleeding. He then carried out another sex act with the girl. Savile told them not to tell anyone as it was their secret, and he then left the room. They were then escorted to the exit by a member of staff where they rejoined the two waiting adults. Neither the boy nor the girl ever told anybody about this incident.

Dame Janet acknowledged that there were some inconsistencies and improbabilities in their accounts. These relate to the nature of the attacks and the state of undress, that children this young would unlikely to be allowed in the audience, one of the bands had pre-recorded their performance and were not at this show and inaccurate descriptions of how the acts were presented. Both C9 and C46 were represented by the same firm of solicitors. Despite all this the Dame is convinced that both are telling the truth. Some further facts have come to light. Mike Batt created The Wombles and the suits were the responsibility of his mother. According to Mike Batt because of their expensive cost, she never let them out of her sight. Moreover, the Womble outfits cannot be opened from the front, so Savile may have needed some assistance in the removal.

Another questionable account comes from C42, a 15 year old girl living in Manchester. She attended a recording of Top of the Pops in June 1970, travelling to London by train with a friend. They were both met at the studio by the programme’s photographer Harry Goodwin. At the end of the recordings Mr Goodwin introduced them to Jimmy Savile, who invited C42 to his dressing room for some signed photographs, leaving her friend with Mr Goodwin. Savile then carried out various sexual acts with her in the dressing room, before she managed to escape and rejoin her friend in the cafeteria. Mr Goodwin invited them out for a meal but C42 said she was unhappy and wanted to return to Euston station to catch a train for home. She never mentioned the incident to anyone until the Savile scandal broke in 2012.

During this period Top of the Pops was recorded at BBC TV Centre on Wednesdays between 7.30-10 pm for transmission the following day. So it would not have been possible for C42 to escape from her ordeal in Savile’s dressing room earlier than about 10.30 pm but maybe as late as 11 pm. Thus it was far too late for her to contemplate both having a meal and returning to Euston station to travel home to Manchester as the last train would have long since left by then. It is also difficult to believe that two 15 year old would be allowed to travel from Manchester to London during term time, and be able to make an unfamiliar and complicated journey across London.

Leisha Brookes was about nine years old in 1976 when she was first taken to BBC TV Centre by her stepfather’s friend Douglas Sillitoe, who worked for the BBC as a scene painter. He took her to the television centre about once a fortnight over a two year period, and she had access to many parts of the building, where she often saw or met celebrities. She claims that she was abused by about 30 of Sillitoe’s work colleagues at the BBC. One of these men was Savile, who she recognised from Jim’ll Fix It. She claimed he ‘promised to show her his big chair although he never did’. Leisha claims that when she was 19 she made a long statement to Merseyside police about the sexual abuse she had suffered including that from Savile. However, she claims that the police did not take any action on the ground that there was not enough evidence. Dame Janet concludes that she may have been abused by Silitoe’s colleagues as part of a paedophile ring, but accepts her claim that she was definitely abused by Savile.

Because the alleged offences took place in London, Merseyside police would have sent her witness statement to the Metropolitan police. However, enquiries of the Metropolitan police have proved fruitless as no trace of the complaint or any statement was found. As an adult Leisha Brookes has been repeatedly prosecuted for the non payment of her TV licence. Previous to 2012 her justification for non payment was for ‘personal reasons’. However in 2013 she refused to pay as a protest against her abuse ‘by Jimmy Savile and 35 other men at the BBC's headquarters’ that ‘wrecked her life, leading to mental health problems and suicide attempts’ It is difficult to believe that a paedophile ring of about 30 men would have operated at the TV centre without it coming to light. It is also unlikely that a major celebrity such Jimmy Savile would have been part of a ring comprising ordinary workmen. It must be concluded that her allegations appear to be extremely fanciful.

C38 was a 15 year old youth from Newcastle-upon-Tyne when he travelled by car with his elder brother and a friend to Top Of The Pops in the winter of 1964/65. His elder brother and friend were let in by the doorman but C38 was refused entry because he was too young. Because he wanted to keep in the warmth he decided to stay in the foyer until his companions returned after the end of the recording. During his wait C38 went into the gent’s toilet where he was soon joined by Savile and a companion. Without speaking to him Savile then proceeded to carry out various sex acts which C38 found painful. In shock he ran out of the building and down the road where he waited outside until the recording was over. He did not speak to his brother about this incident.

Images of the tickets to Top of the Pops from the 1964/65 period are still in the public domain, and clearly state that the minimum age for entry was 14. So C38 should have had no problems gaining entrance to the recording on grounds of age. The minimum age for entry was raised to 16 at a later date. Moreover, a car journey between Newcastle and Manchester in winter over the Pennines would have been a rather hazardous adventure for three youths in the largely pre-motorway era, particularly the night time return journey. In must be concluded that this is another very questionable account.

C39 was a 16 year old girl from Liverpool who attended Top of the Pops with a group of friends in 1964. After the recording she became separated from her friends, and in looking for them came across Savile. She told him that she was lost and that she and her companions were good friends with The Hollies pop group. Savile suggested that the group would probably be at a local nightspot and offered to take her there in his car. However, at the door C39 was refused entry because of her age. Savile went in alone but on his return claimed that he could not find The Hollies or her friends. After trying several more night clubs, without success in tracking down her friends, C39 agreed to spend the night at Savile’s flat, as by then it was too late to catch the train home to Liverpool. She described his flat as being part of a large Victorian property. During the night Savile entered her room and proceeded to rape her. She left in the morning and told her friend what had happened. Her friend informed her that The Hollies had in fact been at the first night club with their companions, but warned C39 that if they mentioned what had happened they would get no more tickets to Top of the Pops, so she told nobody else.

There are some problems with this account. The Dickinson Road studios, where Top of the Pops was recorded, are located in a converted church and due to the small size it would be very difficult for C39 to become completely detached from her companions, particularly as they would also be looking for her after they became separated. It is difficult to believe that she would have been refused entry to the night club when accompanied by a national celebrity such as Savile, particularly as her friends of a similar age had already been let in. In a time before ID requirements she would almost certainly have been waved through, even if there were some doubts about her age. One further point casting doubt on her claims is that, according to Moor Larkin, from 1963 Savile’s flat in Salford was part of a modern block, not a large Victorian house. Given all this, C39 is another case in which the wool appears to have been pulled over Dame Janet’s eyes.

Quite a few of the assaults recorded in the report would come under the heading of unsolicited touching. Whilst this behaviour can clearly be annoying to some women, the frequency which it seems to have occurred before the rise of feminism suggests that it was not as unacceptable to all women as it is considered now. Unlike the drab and scruffy attire worn by many women today, at that time most of them dressed in a feminine way that appealed to men, and many were flattered and reassured when they received physical evidence that they were attractive. However, this is not behaviour which can be condoned as it is clearly invasive and disrespectful to women.

One thing in common about all these alleged assaults is that the person now making the accusation either told nobody about it at the time, or if they did, they never took it further by using the BBC’s complaints procedure or informing the police. The usual reasons given for this are that either they thought they would not be believed or that they did not want to make a fuss or cause trouble. However, the law on sexual assaults is there for anyone who wants its protection and always has been. Common sense dictates that if an assault is not reported it will not be investigated. Contrary to what is often claimed today, the police have always treated sexual assault cases seriously, but to discover the truth they require evidence and full information as close as possible to the time when the assault took place. If genuine victims of assault say nothing about it at the time they have only themselves to blame if perpetrators get away with it, and so it is no use whingeing about the unfairness of it all decades later.

It must be concluded that Dame Janet’s report is almost worthless in discovering the truth about Jimmy Savile’s sexual escapades. She has made only the most cursory investigation into the allegations, treating the interviews as almost a therapy session, rather than seriously probing the claimants to tease out inconsistencies and improbabilities in their accounts. Her starting point has been that Savile was already a proven ‘prolific sexual predator’, and she has bent over backwards to accept the claims presented to her, no matter how fanciful or fantastical they might appear, or contrary to common sense. Part 2 of this blogpost will take a look at the culture and ethos of the BBC and wider society during the pre-feminist period which seems to have provoked Dame Janet’s ire.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

More gay liberation 1950s style

British governments like to promote themselves as presiding over a country noted for its values of tolerance and inclusion. They cite the widespread acceptance of gay people and same sex marriage as an example of our moral superiority over previous generations and some other less ‘advanced’ societies. What they overlook is that this lifestyle has only relatively recently been considered acceptable. Until 1967 consenting adult males were imprisoned for homosexual activity in private, and as late as the early 1990s the penalty for the homosexual offence that their icon Alan Turing was convicted of could still attract a five years sentence. It is therefore worth a trip back in time to the late 1950s to examine the justification for what is now considered by many to be extreme intolerance towards a persecuted minority.

In August 1954 the Conservative government commissioned a committee under the chairmanship of Sir John Wolfenden to investigate whether the law needed to be changed on homosexuality (and also prostitution), and their findings were published in September 1957. A previous blogpost analysed the views of the House of Lords on the recommendation of the committee to legalise homosexual relations for males over the age of 21. This post examines the views of MPs towards the Wolfenden Report.

The parliamentary debate was opened by the Home Secretary R A Butler who recognised that ‘the perennial dilemmas of organised society is, how far the law should seek to regulate the behaviour of individuals…. and what is the sphere which it is proper to leave to the dictates of the individual conscience.’ The main issue he thought needed to be considered was whether ‘such conduct between consenting adults in private is injurious to society, or is it a matter entirely for the private consciences of the parties concerned.’ The Committee had argued that to carry the criminal law beyond its proper sphere is to undermine the moral responsibility of the individual. The Home Secretary agreed that ‘in a free society there are few things more important than to sustain the sense of individual responsibility’, but that this argument can only be accepted ‘if one is convinced that society will not be harmed by so doing.’ This is the dilemma faced on many issues even today namely, when should the rights of individuals take precedence over the collective concerns and interests of wider society.

The Home Secretary asked the question ‘can we be certain that homosexual conduct between consenting adults is not a source of harm to others’ and raised his concern ‘that a homosexual group may tend to draw in and corrupt those who are led by curiosity or weakness into homosexual society.’ In practice this fear turned out to be much exaggerated, as only those with a homosexual inclination are likely to be interested in such a practice. He was also worried that there was ‘a very large section of the population who strongly repudiate homosexual conduct and whose moral sense would be offended by an alteration of the law which would seem to imply approval or tolerance of what they regard as a great social evil.’ Therefore, on this basis, the Home Secretary concluded that the Government ‘would not be justified in proposing legislation to carry out the recommendations of the Committee.’ However he did express his personal concern for the problems created by blackmail, and whether a prison term was appropriate for the ‘redemption’ of those convicted of homosexual offences. The country would have to wait almost a decade before the government of the day reached a different conclusion on this matter.

The Labour front bench MP Anthony Greenwood spoke on behalf of the opposition. He was reassured that nobody was suggesting ‘relaxing the law on homosexual offences involving males under 21 years of age. I do not think that anybody would press for a relaxation of the law in that direction.’ But of course, this was precisely the activity for which Alan Turing was convicted. One female MP put the matter succinctly ‘when a man of 21 and over goes to a young fellow of 18, the younger can say at present that this is a crime as well as a sin. He will no longer have this reinforcement behind him. The tempter will be able to say to him - it is all right, Parliament has approved it.’ In time she would be proven right.

Greenwood went on to suggest that ‘what we have to decide is whether men who, for a reason we do not understand - which may be hereditary, environmental or physical, practise homosexuality, should live their lives under the shadow of the law and at the mercy of the blackmailer’. He concluded that ‘this state of affairs cannot be seriously justified. Life is harsh enough for these people without society adding to their burden. The fact that the law is largely unenforced, and, indeed, largely unenforceable, is certainly no reason for retaining it.’ He did however rather spoil this enlightened outlook by adding ‘It seems to me that one is as likely to cure a homosexual of his perversion by sending him to an all-male prison as one is likely to cure a drunkard by incarcerating him in a brewery.’

One MP clarified how a private activity managed to come to the attention of the authorities by pointing out that ‘the evidence is almost invariably obtained by one or other of the parties turning what is called Queen's evidence and in consideration for not being himself prosecuted giving evidence against his partner. It may be considered as somewhat objectionable that in these circumstances a conviction should depend upon the evidence of an accomplice.’ This should be borne in mind when assuming all homosexuals were victims of this law, when in fact quite a few were collaborators in it. The MP also highlighted a surprising statistic that only one eighth of convictions for homosexual offences were between adults over 21 in private. During the debate an estimate was given that there were about 500,000 practicing homosexuals in the country, but only a 100 or so were convicted of homosexual activity with another male over 21 in private each year. As there was realistically only a very slim chance of an individual being convicted of this offence, it was argued that the law provided little in the way of a deterrent.

An MP who sat on the Wolfenden Committee pointed out the wide disparity in enforcement between different police authorities stating that ‘some chief constables prefer to put the telescope to the blind eye unless some specific complaint is put firmly in front of them. Other chief constables take the view that here is an offence with a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life and, therefore, that they must show the same zeal in following up possible offences as they would in a case of manslaughter’. He also stated that there was a ‘most regrettable tendency to prosecute extremely stale offences. Some of the examples which we give are shocking, of offences disclosed by accident three, four and five years after they were committed.’ Today, of course, the authorities prosecute sexcrimes which were first reported over 50 years later, yet we are supposed to believe that we live in a tolerant and enlightened society. The MP concluded that the justification for a change in the law was ‘to swing the majority of homosexuals, practising and non-practising, on to the side of the law, against those whose preference is for boys and those who offend against public decency.’

Other MPs took a very different view, such as one who believed that ‘humanity would eventually revert to an animal existence if this cult was so allowed to spread that, as in ancient Greece, it overwhelmed the community at large’. Another expressed similar sentiments ‘these unnatural practices, if persisted in, spell death to the souls of those who indulge in them. Great nations have fallen and empires been destroyed because corruption became widespread and socially acceptable.’ This highly alarmist viewpoint has never come anywhere near close to being fulfilled. But it does illustrate the fear mongering and exaggeration, whether through ignorance or design, which often motivates zealots attacking disapproved sexual behaviour.

Then, as now, the fear of what might happen to children was raised, One MP expressed the view that ‘I should very much resent any of my children coming into intimate contact with homosexuals, I would do all I can to keep such gentlemen as far away as possible from my own children.’ By children he presumably meant his sons. Another MP conjured up the ancient past by mentioning that the ‘study of the sexual habits of Greece and Rome serves to confirm that homosexual instincts soon make themselves apparent whenever they are given free rein. It is perfectly true that if one adopts a lax attitude towards homosexuality one promotes its growth.’ In fact what did occur was not a growth in homosexuality, but a huge increase in the belief that it was a supposedly normal, and thus acceptable (or even virtuous), sexual activity.

This same MP came out with another trope fondly believed at the time that ‘because the homosexual in society has a very difficult place indeed. He becomes against society. He becomes bitter, his mind becomes twisted and distorted because he feels he is not as other men are. It is essential in the interests of the man himself that we should do everything to discourage him. He is always beset by fears of discovery. The more sensitive ones wear a hunted look. They are not happy in their life.’ The MP seemed unable to comprehend that the ‘hunted look’ might be due to the law making homosexual acts criminal.

The medical treatment of homosexuals to change there sexual orientation is condemned utterly today. But back then it was seen as a solution as suggested by an MP who found ‘that it was remarkably easy to cure these people with the aid of hormone treatment. By reducing the sexual tension of the individual, this treatment can so suppress it that a reorientation of ideas has time to take place so that sexual desires take a more natural form’. Today, although hormone treatment is deemed unacceptable for homosexuals, it has suddenly become fashionable for kids undergoing ‘gender reassignment’. The agendas may change but the mental confusion still seems to stay the same.

A Labour MP, who subsequently became a cabinet minister, declared that the law on homosexuality was ‘obsolete and unjust, mainly because it infringes a basic principle of individual freedom’. He added that ‘I do not believe that the State or the criminal law has any right to interfere with the conduct of the individual, unless that conduct has some effect upon some other people.’ Moreover this MP feared that ‘once we depart from this principle and start arguing that, because we dislike some practice, or because we ourselves think it morally wrong, we should therefore legally prohibit other people from doing it, even though it has no effect upon anyone else, we are on a very slippery slope. This seems to me to be the beginning of all intolerance. It is a road which leads eventually to concentration camps and to the persecution of heretics’. He was quite right, a sane voice floating in a sea of nonsense. With our current obsession with disapproved sexual activities we appear to be heading in the same direction as he feared, but with the added handicap that today’s self styled ‘progressive’ thinkers are inciting the mob, not fighting the injustice.