The following documentaries, broadcast on consecutive Thursdays are both highly recommended. In their very different ways both shed light on how significant individuals and corporations are allowed to operate above the law:
Panorama: Tax, Lies and Videotape
first broadcast on BBC1 on Thursday 19th September at 8:30–9:00 pm
Editor: Tom Giles
Producer: Andrew Head
Reporter Richard Bilton closely scrutinises the Con-Dem government’s repeated claim that it is taking a tougher stance on tax evasion as well as closing loopholes in order to recoup a few of the multiple billions currently lost to the Treasury due to corporate tax avoidance. Teaming up with former tax inspector and current reporter for Private Eye magazine, Richard Brooks, together they reveal that instead of clamping down on tax avoidance, the government has in fact been making a concerted effort to open up even more loopholes for the corporate giants to exploit, with the justification offered that Britain needs “to make our tax system competitive”. Bilton comes to the rather startling conclusion that rather than closing tax havens down, the present government is instead turning the whole of the United Kingdom into what will quickly become the biggest tax haven in the world.
available on BBC iplayer until Tuesday 16th September 2014
Click here for link to BBC iplayer
Dispatches: The Paedophile MP – How Cyril Smith Got Away with It
first broadcast on Channel 4 on Thursday 12th September at 8:00pm-9:00pm
Executive Producer: Tom Porter
Reporter: Liz MacKean
When Cyril Smith died aged 82, a little more than three years ago, he was remembered with widespread affection. An inordinately large, jolly old man of the people who called a spade a spade. “A big-hearted man” said Menzies Campbell, “who, in everything he did, gave a hundred and five percent.” “Quite literally a larger than life figure, and he will be sorely, sorely missed” said Nick Clegg.
Glowing obituaries aside, however, there were also accusations that Cyril Smith was rather less than big-hearted and actually quite unlikely to be “sorely, sorely missed”. Allegations running as far back as 1979 when first aired by a small independent Rochdale Alternative Press and then immediately picked up on by Private Eye in the same year. The charge being that “Big Cyril” (the title of his autobiography) was guilty of sexually abusing teenagers at a local hostel, Cambridge House, he had also co-founded.
As with the case of Jimmy Savile, these allegations of child abuse persisted, yet Smith found it easy enough to ignore them when alive, and like Savile, had continued abusing his old victims and grooming new ones, in spite of the fact that the many allegations against him were known to be true by countless colleagues and others within their respective circles. Worse still, that these crimes were actively facilitated by a number of institutions and organisations and then ignored by police over a period of many decades.
In the Savile case, West Yorkshire Police have been directly accused of involvement in the cover-up, although their own report concluded that there was “no evidence” Savile had ever been protected from arrest or prosecution, even if there had been an “over-reliance on personal friendships” between Savile and some officers, and that “mistakes were made”.1 Mistakes were made… the old excuse. We hear it all the time: this official version of a shrug and a wink. Of course, sometimes mistakes can be criminal too.
When it came to the case of Cyril Smith, however, it appears that the police acted somewhat more promptly and responsibly. So although police again failed to proceed with the original investigation into offences committed at Cambridge House, when, a few years later in 1969, another complaint had been made, the police did indeed begin an official investigation.
But there was to be no prosecution of Smith. The police investigation certainly continued to gather evidence against him – his police file eventually running to eighty pages – however, it seems that Smith then sought and received support from friends in higher places. According to Dispatches, contacting his local MP, Jack McCann, who was also Deputy Chief Whip and a senior member of the Labour government, and in little more than a week later, receiving a response from the Director of Public Prosecutions as follows:
“Any charges of indecent assault founded on these allegations, as well as being somewhat stale, would be, in my view, completely without corroboration. Further, the character of some of these young men would be likely to render their evidence suspect.”
So the police file was marked NFA (“No further action”) with further investigation or prosecution deemed “not in the public interest”. After this, it was kept locked away in a safe by Special Branch in Lancashire.
Tony Robinson, a Detective Sergeant in Lancashire Special Branch, actually saw Smith’s file and he told Dispatches that he was “disgusted” by what was going on:
“It annoyed me that by virtue of a person’s position quite serious offences can be just pushed under the carpet. No further action taken… I could not understand at the time why a criminal file should come into the Special Branch offices to be kept in a locked safe. Certainly not Cyril Smith’s file – it was a straight criminal file – and we, by and large, should not have held that file. There was no need for us to hold it.”
Then in the 1972 by-election, which followed from the death of Jack McCann, Smith himself was elected Liberal MP for the constituency of Rochdale. And four years later, when the Liberals came to power as part of the Lib-Lab pact, suddenly MI5 began taking more of an interest in the criminal file which Special Branch were holding.
Tony Robinson again:
“I was manning the office and the phone call came from the security service, the term being used “box 500 here” [the codeword validating the call as being from MI5] “We understand that you have a file on Mr Cyril Smith, the Liberal MP for Rochdale…” “Yes –” “We want that file sending down to this office this date by special courier. The fact that the security service wanted the file brought to my notice, obviously, that he was about to be vetted. And the file would obviously be very revealing… it would render him entirely unsuitable to hold any form of high office.”
Nevertheless, Smith did very well for himself, of course, and was awarded with a knighthood in 1988.
Click here for link to 4OD
It concerns me that some readers may think it insensitive or distasteful to link a programme about the on-going financial misdemeanours of a government in bed with large corporations to a very different documentary which details the more horrifying past crimes of a paedophile like Cyril Smith, especially when, in one way, the link is, I admit, a convenience of timing (the two programmes having been broadcast within a week of one another and my intention here being to recommend both). However, I can also see another and much better reason to make such a connection.
I will try to justify myself in greater detail below although the overriding reason for making the link is already contained in the title of the post: the hands off approach to our major financial fraudsters (whether tax avoiding or committing more serious offences) and the licence granted to Cyril Smith being indicative of a society riven by a two-tier tax and criminal justice system – benefit fraudsters subject to imprisonment, but bankers “too big to jail”; CRB (recently expanded to DBS) checks for the ordinary citizen, but secret service protection for Cyril Smith (and we just happen to know about Smith). To argue my case further, it will be helpful to return to the story of Jimmy Savile in order to draw comparisons and differences between his case and that of Cyril Smith.
Following the revelations about Jimmy Savile and subsequent setting up of Operation Yewtree, there have been a number of high profile arrests of other associated celebrities alleged to have been sex abusers, but as yet, and in spite of overwhelming evidence pointing to a widespread cover-ups involving institutions including at least one police force, 13 hospitals within the NHS, and the BBC, to my knowledge there have been no prosecutions at higher levels within any of these organisations – and do please correct me (by adding a comment and preferably a link) if I am wrong. Last December, it was indeed formally announced that “the strand of a police operation investigating abuse carried out by Jimmy Savile has been completed”:
Scotland Yard said Operation Yewtree, the inquiry into historic abuse, was collating its report and hoped to publish early in the New Year.2
And yet, from the very start of this extended police inquiry, it was already known that Savile had had access not only to patients at a number of hospitals including Stoke Mandeville (where he earned his reputation for being such a wonderful charity fundraiser), as well as many schools and children’s homes including Duncroft (and if further allegations are confirmed Haut de la Garenne in Jersey), but still more outrageously to high-security psychiatric hospitals Ashworth and Broadmoor. And just the fact that Savile was given the keys to Broadmoor3 presents us with quite staggering evidence of complicity at the very highest levels (quite possibly leading all the way to government), but it would seem that no-one is likely to be arrested and charged as an accessory to these crimes.
So the Savile investigation appears, to my mind and I imagine to many others, to have been as much about distraction and the maintaining of a cover-up than a genuine attempt to dredge up the appalling truth about child abuse at an institutional level. Certainly it is to be hoped that justice will be done in other ways, with Stuart Hall (recently convicted), Freddie Starr, Rolf Harris and others, if found guilty, being duly sentenced for their predatory crimes, but why stop there?
For the immunity which permitted Savile and Smith to carry on abusing throughout nearly the whole of their adult lives appears to have rubbed off on to many of their close associates, and especially those in positions above a certain social level: the managers and directors of the institutions where Savile and Smith were given free rein, and those in the police forces and secret services who also turned a blind eye. So the suspicion is that, if you like, there is a kind of “glass floor”, which once above, guarantees impunity – whether that is as a banker pushing fraudulent schemes and money-laundering, or as a person of high social standing (such as an MP) addicted to child abuse.
And we should perhaps just remind ourselves that both crimes destroy the lives of their victims, although in markedly different ways. The least fortunate victims of our current bout of white collar corruption already starving in many of the poorest nations, with millions in Europe and America also destitute: dependent on food banks, or, in the case of fifty million Americans, barely surviving on food stamps.
Corruption takes many forms, and although we are accustomed and thus inclined to think of it in terms of crimes like bribery and fraud, corruption doesn’t always begin and end with transfers of money. After all, there are a great many of forms of deception besides fraud and, alongside bribery, plenty of alternative methods of coercion, sometimes violent, and including, to offer a very relevant example, blackmail. So when a politician like Smith is found to have been compromised by a sex scandal locked away by MI5, then the question also becomes one about democracy itself. A question that expands and asks what do the secret service hold in their files on our current batch of politicians?
We are living at a time when corruption of financial kinds is not only rampant but also more blatant than perhaps ever before, even if criminality within the banking sector is hardly news – here, for instance, is a breakdown of recorded crimes committed during the last century posted last Thursday [Sept 19th] by washingtonsblog with links throughout. But then, today’s financial system isn’t just riddled with fraud, thanks to the invention of derivatives, it is largely built from it.
At the same time, our most senior politicians are increasingly bought and paid for by corporate lobbyists – after a few years in office, the select few then offered multi-million pound salaries “to work for” J. P. Morgan or Goldman Sachs. None of this is a secret.
In short, we have become a society sick with corruption – by which I mean widespread moral disintegration. Although, at the same time, and conversely, it is easy to see that in other significant ways our society has also been changed for the better – fine examples being the backlash against racism and the rights won by women, gays, and the disabled – and thanks to our heightened concern over child abuse, it seems that once again another vulnerable group is now being granted long-overdue protection.
So when we hear about Savile and Smith, and see that their vile crimes have at last been investigated, it is quite possible to believe – especially since I think we are all aching to believe – that here, at last, is some evidence of a society getting to grips with a problem of the past. However, when we discover that these latest investigations have really scratched no deeper than the surface, then should we not be demanding much more again? Or do we simply accept that there has always been one rule for some, and another rule for the rest of us… when this is the sordid bottom line of all corruption.
Clarification and correction:
In the article I had originally written:
And yet, prior to this extended police inquiry, it was already known that Savile had had access not only to patients at 13 hospitals including Stoke Mandeville (the hospital where he had earned his reputation for being such a wonderful charity fundraiser), as well as many schools and childrens’ homes including Duncroft (and if further allegations are confirmed Haut de la Garenne in Jersey), but still more outrageously to high-security psychiatric hospitals Ashworth and Broadmoor.
In fact the precise start of Operation Yewtree remains unclear to me, although by Thursday 4th October, the Metropolitan Police Service certainly announced that it had “agreed to take the national lead in assessing the recent information regarding allegations made against the late Jimmy Savile”, the same statement adding that: “It is not an investigation at this stage.”* There is also no mention as yet of “Operation Yewtree”. All I am certain of is that Operation Yewtree began in October.
What I can also be sure of is that less than a week later [Oct 10th]‡, the BBC was reporting on abuse at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, and that two days later [Oct 12th], the Guardian was already reporting on abuse at Stoke Mandeville hospital, Leeds general infirmary, the Haut de la Garenne children’s home in Jersey and Duncroft approved girls’ school in Staines, Surrey.† There is also a report in the Daily Star [Oct 14th] linking Savile to abuse at “two other highsecure units, Ashworth Hospital in Merseyside and Rampton, Notts.”••
I have therefore edited the original version to read as it now does, replacing “prior to” with “from the very start” and “13 hospitals” with “a number of hospitals including Stoke Mandeville”.
Savile had been involved with Broadmoor for quite some time – West London Mental Health NHS Trust, which now runs the hospital, believes his involvement as a volunteer began in the late 1960s or early 70s. He had become part of the furniture, being given, no one seems to know quite when, an office in the grounds of the hospital, a bedroom, which he called his “cell”, above it, and – astonishingly – his own personal set of keys to the hospital wards.
But it now seems clear the apparently genial celebrity, while telling reporters he was the “voluntary assistant entertainments officer”, had been using his position to abuse inmates with impunity.
From an article entitled “Jimmy Savile’s Broadmoor role came with a bedroom and keys” written by Esther Addley, published by the Guardian on October 12, 2012. http://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/oct/12/jimmy-savile-broadmoor-volunteer-role
The same article continuing:
Broadmoor may be the institution where Savile was given the most senior position, but allegations of abuse have now been linked to at least five other establishments – the BBC, Stoke Mandeville hospital, Leeds general infirmary, the Haut de la Garenne children’s home in Jersey and Duncroft approved girls’ school in Staines, Surrey. At Duncroft, according to some reports, he would stay in the headmistress’s quarters. At Stoke Mandeville, too, he had his own room, as well as an office.