Denise Robertson: We need to keep our heads on abuse scandals for victims' sake

It is impossible to get away from child sexual abuse at the moment. Open a newspaper, turn on a radio or television, it’s there

Jimmy Saville
Jimmy Saville

It is impossible to get away from child sexual abuse at the moment. Open a newspaper, turn on a radio or television, it’s there. First there was the revelation of abuse by Catholic priests, then the Savile revelations followed by other high-profile showbiz convictions.

Now, the suggestion that Parliamentarians are involved. The media are waiting for the next star to be named or the next political reputation to be besmirched.

A child psychologist claimed on Radio 4 that blanket coverage was affecting all children. According to her, they are wondering what is going on and sense parents’ reluctance to talk about it.

On Radio Four a victim, now adult, wondered why people were anxious for all the salacious details. “Isn’t admitting I was abused enough?” she asked.

Anxious as I am to see abuse stamped out – I hear from too many victims to want anything else – I think we need to keep our heads.

Some priests abused. The vast majority did not.

Some so-called stars put their fame to ill use. Most did not.

As for politicians, remember McAlpine.

We need to seek out the truth but if the search becomes a menace in itself we will be no better off. Some say those 114 files were deliberately buried, but a reported 36,000 Home Office dossiers have disappeared over time and the National Archive contains a reported 112 miles of files so mistakes are possible.

I understand the NSPCC’s desire to make the reporting of abuse mandatory but most abuse occurs within the home and I fear that young people may be deterred from confiding if they feel disclosure will lead to an immediate police report.

I told an earlier Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse: “Children need to know they can tell someone without fearing they will bring the house down.”

Those words appeared in the final report. We need to make sure that no victim is beneath the law and no abuser, no matter how high, above it.

To do that, we need to keep our heads.

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As the debate rages about assisted dying and even Archbishops differ, I wonder why we ever departed from a situation where doctors could ease the passing of those enduring a painful death without fear of litigation.

The old adage “Thou shalt not kill but need not strive officiously to keep alive” still works for me.

I have seen too many people I loved die. None of them died in dreadful pain but I was glad when they were at peace.

I have sometimes been able to calm the fears of people dreading a loved one’s end. In most cases, if they are receiving hospice-standard care it need not be an ordeal but there are a few, a very few conditions, which need something more.

I feel that should be left to the discretion of doctors, as it once was.

Unfortunately, in this litigious age, no doctor is prepared to take that risk.

Sooner or later we will have to find a formula which satisfies the needs of those who fear their end and the fears of the vulnerable that that end will be prematurely forced upon them.

Last week a columnist, someone I know and like, suggested that those “not mentally alert” could be included. If ever there was a slippery slope this is it!

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Last week my journey to the old Ealing film studios at Boreham Wood took me through a London I had never before visited. Wonderful individual houses, built when expense was no problem and architects’ imagination could run riot.

They were impressive but, the driver mournfully informed me, they all belonged to foreigners because no Londoner could afford them. A London boxroom can command an astronomical rent, a house with two bedrooms a king’s ransom.

So where does that leave the thousands of men and women who keep London running but earn little above the minimum wage?

Will the price of accommodation in cities lead eventually to a Johannesburg situation, with workers bussed in from shanty towns on the outskirts? And this is not just a London problem. There will always be people who can’t afford or don’t have a deposit for the much-vaunted “affordable” housing. And those people will, in all probability, be the modestly paid who keep things going. Why aren’t we building pockets of social housing all over Britain?

Last week I read of a shortage of bricks. The industry went from about 80 brickworks in 2007 to a reported 50 as demand slumped. EU limits on sulphur dioxide emissions resulted in the closure of kilns, which added to the problem.

There was a stockpile at first but, as the Government’s Help to Buy scheme took hold, demand picked up. Now there is a shortage and reportedly the bigger firms demand to be served first, starving whatever meagre social housing build exists.

Surely workers have a right to accommodation within reasonable reach of their place of work. If they do, it’s up to Government to ensure it’s there.

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