Looking beyond Our Ken
Friday 7 February, 2014
The acquittal of William Roache may well turn out to be an important moment in our legal history, so it is fitting that the story appears on every front page, and his picture on eight out of ten.
The flurry of celebrity arrests for incidents that followed the Jimmy Savile debacle had the smack of panic about it. But if women and children were genuinely being assaulted and abused by stars who felt they had droit de seigneur over anyone who took their fancy, it was right that they be called to account - no matter how ancient the offences.
The CPS is under fire today for taking the Roache case to trial, causing stress all round and costing the taxpayer a packet. But the whole area is fraught.
On one side we have people (mostly women) insisting that 'not guilty' does not mean 'innocent' or that the complainants lied. There are even some who want any man who ends up in the dock accused of rape to be convicted pour encourager les autres.
On the other hand, there are people (mostly men) who believe there is a witch hunt going on and that women are jumping on the bandwagon in the hope of a payday.
The newspapers today have taken a big stride into the latter camp. The Mail already had its tent pitched there and its heading How did it ever get to court? echoes the Why was he ever charged? on the day after Michael Le Vell was cleared of repeatedly assaulting a young girl.
The Sun and the Star, which both restrict their coverage to the front and a single spread, use 'witch hunt' on their inside headlines. So does the Telegraph - although it is more assiduous in putting it in the mouths of Coronation Street actors. The Guardian and Times join the chorus saying that the police and CPS face questions over their handling of the case.
Is it possible to achieve justice in cases rooted in the sixties and seventies, when groupies were a staple of the celebrity scene, when ordinary young men from ordinary backgrounds suddenly found themselves with untold riches and fame - and girls hanging on their every word?
Those stories about women throwing their knickers at Tom Jones weren't made up. The armies of screaming girls reaching out to the Beatles or the Bay City Rollers aren't a fiction - they are there on film. This was an era of a different morality, a decade and a half of sexual licence that hadn't been seen before and has been reined in since.
As so many have said, these young men didn't 'stop to ask for a birth certificate'. They couldn't believe their luck. If you look at those old archive films, many of the 13 and 14-year-olds look their age - but there are plenty of girls, more skilled in make-up, more mature in body, who could be anything from 14 to 17. The same applies today - and that's why anyone who looks under 25 is likely to be asked for ID before being served a half of shandy. But it wasn't like that then.
There will be women whose lives were seriously damaged by the selfish fumblings, and worse, of someone whose face was in the poster above their bed. But there are also thousands more who were teenagers at that time who went home upset and confused after an ordinary date that got out of hand. It seems strange to say it these days, but the boundary lines that were so sharp in the fifties - and are again today - were blurred then.
What is important now is that the succession of acquittals in the Coronation Street cases aren't taken as a sign that every accused celebrity is innocent, any more than the Savile horrors should have been seen as proof that every 1960s television personality was a paedophile.
So the police and the CPS have to work their way through the allegations and try to sort out the true predators (both male and female) and victims from the foolhardy and cavalier. It's an unenviable task, but they need to be seen to be doing it. As the Mirror says in its thoughtful leader, putting the case before a jury remains the best way.
No happy endings
In cyberspace, where all men are rapists and all women are moaners, there has been outrage at the assumption that the girl was lying and outrage that she should retain her anonymity.
She should be 'named and shamed' and 'dragged through the courts' for wasting police time.
Burying bad news
Rolf Harris being sent to jail was always going to capture the public imagination more than the sentencing of Andy Coulson. But surely the imprisonment of a man who had a key to No 10 was worth a slot further forward than page 31