I have been waiting anxiously for this moment, the moment when Stuart Hall would either be found guilty or innocent of the sexual abuse of young girls. Last year I became personally involved in this saga and that involvement led to the investigation by Lancashire Police which ended with Hall’s confession yesterday. His victims must have feared that with his power and money he would fight their allegations and win. He did initially deny all charges and made statements about his ‘innocence’ and distress at being falsely accused of terrible crimes. All that posturing is over. What a release that must be for the abused. I feel a sense of relief too.
It all started with an unsigned, anonymous letter sent to me via the Independent several months ago. We journalists and columnists often get missives from readers- not only about the views we express but about their sorrows and misfortunes. These days most such communication arrives via email. But this epistle came by post, in an envelope with a stamp. Perhaps that’s why it stood out.
The story she told cut away the undeclared certainties of life we all take for granted, rely on. She was a ‘shy, intelligent, studious, pretty girl’ young for her years, who was going to go to university one day. He was invited to the school to hand out annual prizes and she was one of the prize winners After the ceremony the head summoned her to say Hall was so impressed with her, he had asked her to visit the local BBC studios. He said she ‘could have a future in television journalism’.
Her parents had had an acrimonious divorce and she didn’t like the new man in her mum’s life so ‘ to have a man of my father’s age take a benevolent interest in me seemed wonderful to a girl of my history’. She went to the studios encouraged by her mum and Head. And went back again, and once more. He seemed caring and helpful. Then, having groomed her. she alleges, he got her drunk and started the abuse. She kept going back. His mates, including an MP who is now a Peer, she claims, helped Hall with his filthy hobby. The sex acts hurt. Sometimes she bled. She hated it but ‘craved what he gave me in other ways. Attention and a sense of being wanted, something that was signally missing elsewhere in my life. And I felt them that he was affectionate with me. How it makes my skin crawl to write that. Sadly the world is too full of girls (and boys) who are looking for love and find too late they have found sex with a predator instead’.
The woman who wrote all this and more, will, I hope, now finally find some peace. She should be so very proud that decades after being entrapped and abused by a manipulative and famous man, she was able to express her anger, hurt, sense of guilt and betrayal so honestly to this columnist, a stranger. I was deeply touched by her openness and the courage it must have taken to put down on paper what had been done to her: ‘ Why am I writing about this now? Because I was enraged when I saw [Hall] had received his OBE this year. Because it seems that our culture is thinking differently about sexual predators…The furore over Jimmy Savile has spurred me on’ No one did anything back then to stop that celeb, serial abuser. She, I imagine, hoped that Hall would answer for his crimes before he escaped to the other side.
Her sense of urgency and injustice got to me and I knew I couldn’t just file the letter away and let it go. So, I went to my local police station in Ealing one afternoon, sat for almost two hours waiting to hand it in and feeling a bit foolish. The small reception area was crowded that day with victims of robberies and assaults, some addicts and a couple of drunk bores. I almost left a couple of times because it was taking so long and also because I wasn’t sure what they would do with an anonymous letter. Was I wasting police time? They had nothing to go on, just three typed, eloquent pages and a scribbled note at the bottom in black ink, offering to meet up as long as I could guarantee anonymity. But there was no indication of how I could contact her for such a meeting. When, finally, it was my turn, the officer recording the ‘incident’ looked uninterested and slightly peeved. Still, I had been a concerned citizen, done my citizen duty and that, I thought was that.
It wasn’t. A few weeks later I had a call from DC Phill Rukin of Lancashire Police. They wanted to come over to interview me. Hall had not been on their ‘radar’ but after the letter forwarded by Ealing Police, a line of inquiry had been opened up. So they came, two nice gents who asked many questions about the letter and I expect checked out whether I had anything against Hall or was a paranoid fantasist. Stupidly, I had thrown away the envelope which might have given a clue about where the woman lived. From then to now, the DC’s have regularly phoned and updated me on the lines of inquiry, unexpected but welcome courtesy and inclusion. They asked me to put up a call for the woman on my website, which I did. On Thursday Rukin confirmed to me that had they not been sent this letter, Hall would never have been investigated.
Lancashire Police have displayed exemplary professionalism and commitment. They followed a lead that was, at best, slight. More impressively still, the investigating team evidently ignored social status and fame. In times past and even today fame and money can influence law enforcers. Not this time. Police investigators and interviewers also got Hall to accept his crimes and take responsibility, so women abused by him will not have to relive their horrors in court or face hostile questioning. From what I know, I believe they have now found and interviewed the woman who wrote to me. I do hope she was one of the girls Hall now accepts he did abuse.
Finally, I know we journalists are thought wicked and heartless by millions of Britons, and even more so since the hacking and other scandals. But it is heartening that there are readers who trust us and seek our help. Most of us try hard not to break the faith they have in us.
The Independent 3rd May 2013