Stuart Hall: The Sentence

 

I wanted to go to Preston Crown Court to witness Stuart Hall finally paying for his crimes against children. Something came up and I couldn’t. Just as well. I might have shouted at the judge or created a scene not allowed in our sombre houses of justice. Some justice. After pleading guilty to indecent assaults on thirteen girls, Hall got a mere fifteen months, two weeks per victim. The Judge decided that his sentences would run concurrently. It would have been ten years without his kindly adjustment which has wiped out the individuality of the girls, their particular experiences and pain. They’ve been turned into a shoal of fish, netted in by the ‘opportunistic’ paedophile. Thieves  stealing flash mobile phones have been put away for longer.

I have considered Judge Anthony Russell’s remarks carefully. Maybe he thought he was being objective and sensible, when in reality he was being unjust and unforgivably lenient, appearing to fall over himself not to cause the famous/infamous TV presenter too much discomfort. Hall did those terrible things but is old, so a ‘custodial sentence would be particularly difficult’ for him. Really? Our prisons are full of old men who never got any such tender, judicial consideration. The crimes were ‘historical’- a ghastly, distancing  word,  as if they happened in Tudor times. The victims are alive today and some still disabled by those memories and the failures of their family, communities and institutions to protect them. He gets a shorter prison term in effect, because he was able to hide his perversions for so long. Tell me how that makes sense or can, in any way, be right or fair.

Hall has only confessed to these thirteen crimes and got a 25% discount for that. He initially denied the charges and attacked the women, complained about vendettas against people in the public eye, celebs like himself.  Some of those he violated have not come forward and a rape charge has been denied and kept on file. I believe there are other serious accusations which now will never come to court. The victims will feel they are worthless and powerless again, exactly what Hall made them feel when he was abusing them.

Make no mistake, this criminal was confident he could do what he wanted and not pay a price. And how right he was. He knew how to get a shorter sentence, what crimes to admit. He has even made sure his house ( and probably other assets) were signed over to his wife so any civil case for damages will be limited by those astute decisions. And then he had all those dependable friends, middle class worthies, who gave him excellent character references in mitigation. One was Patricia Macmillan, a volunteer and chair of the East Cheshire branch of the NSPCC who praised his charitable donations, yes, really. She has now stepped down and is disowned by the charity. Like Savile, Hall clearly wiped his filthy acts  with banknotes.

Today, just as the many, many sufferers of other abusers were feeling strong enough to speak out, this judgement tells them not to take that step because it will only end in more tears and renewed grief.

 

Why do I feel especially churned up about this case? Not only because the sentence is so perverse, but because I found myself instigating this investigation, and over the months cooperated with the exceptionally committed Lancashire Police detectives who worked on the cases.

It started with a letter I received from one of Hall’s victims. Newspaper journalists and columnists get a lot of correspondence from readers wanting to share their problems or get help. Gratifyingly,  they trust and confide in us, even in these post-Leveson times. But this letter, three pages long,  was different from any other I had ever received. It was typed, anonymous and arrived in an envelope. As I read it I welled up- maybe because I have a young daughter- and, at first, thought it was just one more tragic tale I would have to read and file away. But the words and scenes graphically described haunted me. They will haunt you readers too. None of this was tested in court and so remains unproven.

The woman said she had decided to write to me because she was enraged to learn Hall was awarded an OBE and because she felt, after the Jimmy Savile revelations, the time was right: ‘Finally it seems our culture is thinking differently about sexual predators. Everything Stuart Hall did to me was dishonourable…once again I saw that oily perma-tanned creature on the television and had to leave the room. ( How do I tell my husband why I want to scream, vomit, throw a brick through the television screen?)’  Then she gave details which were blood curdling and made me lose that sense of security which keeps us sane. When in school in Manchester, he handed her a school prize and invited her to visit the BBC studios, telling the head teacher and her parents that she had the potential to be a good TV journalist. Everybody was flattered, most of all the shy, pretty and studious little girl. And so it began, years of being subjected to sexual acts, some, she alleged, violent, which left blood on the sheets. She went back again and again, because he had groomed her so efficiently. There are many other horrifying descriptions and accusations in this letter I dare not reveal because I must protect this woman.

I believed her story and was so disturbed by it that I took the letter to my local police station even though I was worried about wasting police time. There was, after all, no name or address or any clue about the sender.  After a two hour wait with patient punters and impatient drunks – one of whom vomited on my shoe- I handed it in, not at all sure any actions would follow.

Four days later I had a call from DC Phill Rukin of Lancashire police, who had called to inform me they had received the letter and were starting to investigate Hall, until then not on their radar. They kept me in the loop and even located the letter writer with whom I finally had a conversation two weeks ago. She sounded relieved but still a little frightened. I cannot imagine how utterly betrayed she must feel now.  She has learnt that human beings deny truths they cannot bear to face up to and thus allow evil to carry on. And that some of those at the top of society, who have the responsibility to punish evildoers are also unable or unwilling to discharge that duty.

Judge Russell is, I fear one of those. But he is not alone. Just two weeks ago in Plymouth Crown Court, artist Graham Ovenden was convicted of the sexual abuse of three girls aged between 6 and 14.  And the goodly Judge Graham Cottle decided in his wisdom to hand out a 12 month suspended sentence, because Ovenden’s ‘steep fall from grace and tarnished reputation’ were punishment enough. He blindfolded and assaulted the young  girls and remains arrogant and unrepentant. David Hockney and Sir Peter Blake defended the paedophile. I looked at the some of the pictures- the girls are blushing, scared, as they stand before us, thin and nude, totally vulnerable. They sell for over £30,000 and Ovenden is still thought to be one of the greatest artists in the world.  The girls are not human, just objects for an image maker.

The same distorted arguments are made for child porn online. It’s freedom, say libertarians, while the courts release users with a nod. Nobody asks how those porn acts were filmed, where, by whom,  who the poor children are and what these filmmakers are doing to their bodies and heads.

That vomit on my shoe is proving impossible to clean off, a permanent reminder of how sick decent Britons must be feeling about Hall’s sentence.  The Attorney General has been asked to review both the Ovenden and Hall sentences. Don’t hold your breaths or expect proper retribution. The tariff may be increased slightly to calm down public opinion. Victims will have to swallow their rage, put up and shut up. That’s the system, the way it is. Has always been.

Daily Mail 11/7/2013

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a weekly columnist on the Independent

 

Race and the Met

Race and the Met

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

I hope Met bosses don’t go all defensive about this column or distrust my motives. Some of them have tried ( though failed) to eradicate the virus of pervasive police racism. A few took me to good lunches and provided me with extra security when I faced some frightening physical threats. So I owe them and would not malign either individuals or the force without good reason.  But having been an anti-racist activist all my adult life, I also know stories, dark secrets of black and Asian people failed or picked for special ill treatment by  Met officers, high and low.  From time to time these dank truths emerge, and the public is shocked. When will the police do more than pretend they understand and care? Their old statements of intent and good policies, just sheets of decorative wallpaper, are now frayed and fading. And, dishearteningly, contemporary promises and practices have not delivered.

This is in no way special pleading. White people are also victims of police malevolence and of hate crimes, and too often feel further punished by the criminal justice system. However, police officers rarely harbour generic prejudices against white UK nationals- though some, admittedly, do seem to loathe the Irish. The time does seem right to look again at the Met and race, since the media interviews with ex-undercover Met cop Peter Francis, who alleged that the police spied on and tried to discredit the Lawrence family and friends, Duwayne Brooks, in whose arms Stephen died, anti-racist groups and organisations monitoring racist attacks. How low can an institution get?

Predictably, the Met leadership and Home Secretary, Mayor Boris, all and sundry, have come out with their well rehearsed platitudes of disapproval, yes the same Boris who, with William Hague and others pronounced the McPherson inquiry an iniquitous ‘witch hunt’ of the noble constabulary. Some of us knew better.

I was there protesting, in 1983, with the poet Benjamin Zephaniah outside Stoke Newington Police station where a black man Colin Roach, 21, died of bullet wounds. I remember Cherry Groce, mother of eight, shot and paralyzed in 1985 by police in her home in Brixton and Cynthia Jarrett who died of a heart attack when police raided her home in Tottenham. Riots erupted and poor PC Blakelock was cruelly slain. Three innocent black men were convicted of the senseless murder and later freed.  History repeated itself when Mark Duggan, black and young, was shot dead in Tottenham in 2011 setting off the last urban riots. In 1993 I  wrote about Joy Gardener taped up and asphyxiated in front of her young son, when being arrested by immigration police. There have been many others. None of the policemen or women were held to account.  Most disturbing of all was watching Paul Condon at the McPherson inquiry- his curled contempt when giving evidence.

You see I knew of Condon in a previous incarnation. My friend Frank Crichlow, a popular Trinidadian activist in Notting Hill Gate ran the Mangrove, a community music club and restaurant . In 1988, officers answerable to Condon – then Deputy Commissioner for west London- raided the Mangrove. Pictures were taken of illegal drugs- believed to have been planted by the law enforcers- and the subsequent case was thrown out. Crichlow was awarded record damages of £50,000 but he was never himself again. Condon, though, went on to a bigger job running the Met and now sits in the Lords and denies knowledge of any of these incidents.

Discrimination against officers of colour continues in our police forces; too many  citizens of colour still suffer racist violence and abuse. I see a link between the two. The Independent recently interviewed Kevin Maxwell, the mixed race, gay Met officer who said he resigned after being intimidated by his seniors because he spoke up about the racist and homophobic behaviour of some of his colleagues. An employment tribunal upheld 44 counts of harassment. Not that long ago, Gurpal Virdi a Sikh DS won his case of discrimination and then took another case to tribunal just two years later. Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, the highest serving Muslim in the Met, left and alleged discrimination. Several members of the National Black Police Association have made similar complaints some publically and some privately to me.

The Lawrences want another enquiry- not, in my view, a wise call. Enquiries are the perfect British answer to contentious events- they go on and on, people forget, the high emotions that led to them are dissipated. (Do you even remember there is a Chilcot Iraq inquiry still to report? )

What we need instead is perhaps a judge gathering all the evidence already in the public domain  of police collusion with or indifference to racist attacks, complaints made by black and Asian coppers, undercover operations against families and groups seeking justice, and those in charge when some of the worst cases surfaced. It should cover the period from the eighties to now, be produced fast and in clear, unambiguous language. And then a parliamentary committee should summon the Met leadership and to ask why, what and when, with future meetings scheduled in to make sure the force is operating fairly, effectively and with integrity. It can be done. And must for the sake of policing and the people of London.

 

 

 

From: Night Lawyer
Sent: 30 June 2013 16:58
To: Laurence Earle
Subject: RE: yasmin copy for legal pls

 

Hi,

 

Please note the legal marks in red below.

 

Many thanks.

 

Lois

 

From: Laurence Earle
Sent: 30 June 2013 15:38
To: Night Lawyer
Subject: yasmin copy for legal pls

 

 

 

From: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown [mailto:y.alibhai-brown@ntlworld.com]
Sent: 30 June 2013 15:38
To: Laurence Earle
Subject: Met and race

 

Race and the Met

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

I hope Met bosses don’t go all defensive about this column or distrust my motives. Some of them have tried ( though failed) to eradicate the virus of pervasive police racism. A few took me to good lunches and provided me with extra security when I faced some frightening physical threats. So I owe them and would not malign either individuals or the force without good reason. But having been an anti-racist activist all my adult life, I also know stories, dark secrets of black and Asian people failed or picked for special ill treatment by Met officers, high and low. From time to time these dank truths emerge, and the public is shocked. When will the police do more than pretend they understand and care? Their old statements of intent and good policies, just sheets of decorative wallpaper, are now frayed and fading. And, dishearteningly, contemporary promises and practices have not delivered.

This is in no way special pleading. White people are also victims of police malevolence and of hate crimes, and too often feel further punished by the criminal justice system. However, police officers rarely harbour generic prejudices against white UK nationals- though some, admittedly, do seem to loathe the Irish. The time does seem right to look again at the Met and race, since the media interviews with ex-undercover Met cop Peter Francis, who alleged that the police spied on and tried to discredit the Lawrence family and friends, Duwayne Brooks, in whose arms Stephen died, anti-racist groups and organisations monitoring racist attacks. IF THIS IS SO, how low can an institution get?

Predictably, the Met leadership and Home Secretary, Mayor Boris, all and sundry, have come out with their well rehearsed platitudes of disapproval, yes the same Boris who, with William Hague and others pronounced the McPherson inquiry an iniquitous ‘witch hunt’ of the noble constabulary. Some of us knew better.

I was there protesting, in 1983, with the poet Benjamin Zephaniah outside Stoke Newington Police station where a black man Colin Roach, 21, died of bullet wounds. I remember Cherry Groce, mother of eight, shot and paralyzed in 1985 by police in her home in Brixton and Cynthia Jarrett who died of a heart attack when police raided her home in Tottenham. Riots erupted and poor PC Blakelock was cruelly slain. Three innocent black men were convicted of the senseless murder and later freed. History repeated itself when Mark Duggan, black and young, was shot dead in Tottenham in 2011 setting off the last urban riots. In 1993 I wrote about Joy Gardener taped up and RESTRAINED [DELETE IN BRACKETS asphyxiated] in front of her young son, when being arrested by immigration police. SHE COLLAPSED AND DIED 4 DAYS LATER. There have been many others. None of the policemen or women were held to account. Most disturbing of all was watching Paul Condon at the McPherson inquiry- his curled contempt when giving evidence.

You see I knew of Condon in a previous incarnation. My friend Frank Crichlow, a popular Trinidadian activist in Notting Hill Gate ran the Mangrove, a community music club and restaurant . In 1988, officers answerable to Condon – then Deputy Commissioner for west London- RAIDED [DELETE IN BRACKETS smashed up END DELETE] the Mangrove. Pictures were taken of illegal drugs WHICH WERE – believed to have been planted. [DELETE IN BRACKETS by the law enforcers] [DELETE- and END DELETE] The SUBSEQUENT case AGAINST CRICHLOW was thrown out. Crichlow was awarded record damages of £50,000 but he was never himself again. Condon, though, went on to a bigger job running the Met and now sits in the Lords and denies BEING ACCOUNTABLE [DELETE IN BRACKETS any wrong doing, ever END DELETE].

Discrimination against officers of colour continues in our police forces; too many citizens of colour still suffer racist violence and abuse. I see a link between the two. The Independent recently interviewed Kevin Maxwell, the mixed race, gay Met officer who said he resigned after being intimidated by his seniors because he spoke up about the racist and homophobic behaviour of some of his colleagues. An employment tribunal upheld 44 counts of harassment. Not that long ago, Gurpal Virdi a Sikh DS won his case of discrimination and then took another case to tribunal just two years later. Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, the highest serving Muslim in the Met, left and alleged discrimination. Several members of the National Black Police Association have made similar complaints some publically and some privately to me.

The Lawrences want another enquiry- not, in my view, a wise call. Enquiries are the perfect British answer to contentious events- they go on and on, people forget, the high emotions that led to them are dissipated. (Do you even remember there is a Chilcot Iraq inquiry still to report? )

What we need instead is perhaps a judge gathering all the evidence already in the public domain of police collusion with or indifference to racist attacks, complaints made by black and Asian coppers, undercover operations against families and groups seeking justice, and those in charge when some of the worst cases surfaced. It should cover the period from the eighties to now, be produced fast and in clear, unambiguous language. And then a parliamentary committee should summon the Met leadership and to ask why, what and when, with future meetings scheduled in to make sure the force is operating fairly, effectively and with integrity. It can be done. And must for the sake of policing and the people of London.

 

 

 

From: Night Lawyer
Sent: 30 June 2013 16:58
To: Laurence Earle
Subject: RE: yasmin copy for legal pls

 

Hi,

 

Please note the legal marks in red below.

 

Many thanks.

 

Lois

 

From: Laurence Earle
Sent: 30 June 2013 15:38
To: Night Lawyer
Subject: yasmin copy for legal pls

 

 

 

I hope Met bosses don’t go all defensive about this column or distrust my motives. Some of them have tried ( though failed) to eradicate the virus of pervasive police racism. A few took me to good lunches and provided me with extra security when I faced some frightening physical threats. So I owe them and would not malign either individuals or the force without good reason. But having been an anti-racist activist all my adult life, I also know stories, dark secrets of black and Asian people failed or picked for special ill treatment by Met officers, high and low. From time to time these dank truths emerge, and the public is shocked. When will the police do more than pretend they understand and care? Their old statements of intent and good policies, just sheets of decorative wallpaper, are now frayed and fading. And, dishearteningly, contemporary promises and practices have not delivered.

This is in no way special pleading. White people are also victims of police malevolence and of hate crimes, and too often feel further punished by the criminal justice system. However, police officers rarely harbour generic prejudices against white UK nationals- though some, admittedly, do seem to loathe the Irish. The time does seem right to look again at the Met and race, since
the media interviews with ex-undercover Met cop Peter Francis, who alleged that the police spied on and tried to discredit the Lawrence family and friends, Duwayne Brooks, in whose arms Stephen died, anti-racist groups and organisations monitoring racist attacks. If this is true, one wonders how low can an institution get?

Predictably, the Met leadership and Home Secretary, Mayor Boris, all and sundry, have come out with their well rehearsed platitudes of disapproval, yes the same Boris who, with William Hague and others pronounced the McPherson inquiry an iniquitous ‘witch hunt’ of the noble constabulary. Some of us knew better.

I was there protesting, in 1983, with the poet Benjamin Zephaniah outside Stoke Newington Police station where a black man Colin Roach, 21, died of bullet wounds. I remember Cherry Groce, mother of eight, shot and paralyzed in 1985 by police in her home in Brixton and Cynthia Jarrett who died of a heart attack when police raided her home in Tottenham. Riots erupted and poor PC Blakelock was cruelly slain. Three innocent black men were convicted of the senseless murder and later freed. History repeated itself when Mark Duggan, black and young, was shot dead in Tottenham in 2011 setting off the last urban riots. In 1993 I wrote about Joy Gardener taped up and restrained in front of her young son, when being arrested by immigration police.  There have been many others. None of the policemen or women were held to account. Most disturbing of all was watching Paul Condon at the McPherson inquiry- his curled contempt when giving evidence.

You see I knew of Condon in a previous incarnation. My friend Frank Crichlow, a popular Trinidadian activist in Notting Hill Gate ran the Mangrove, a community music club and restaurant . In 1988, officers answerable to Condon – then Deputy Commissioner for west London- raided the Mangrove. Pictures were taken of illegal drugs which were believed to have been planted by the law enforcers. The subsequent case against Crichlow was thrown out. Crichlow was awarded record damages of £50,000 but he was never himself again. Condon, though, went on to a bigger job running the Met and now sits in the Lords and denies knowledge of any of these incidents.

Discrimination against officers of colour continues in our police forces; too many citizens of colour still suffer racist violence and abuse. I see a link between the two. The Independent recently interviewed Kevin Maxwell, the mixed race, gay Met officer who said he resigned after being intimidated by his seniors because he spoke up about the racist and homophobic behaviour of some of his colleagues. An employment tribunal upheld 44 counts of harassment. Not that long ago, Gurpal Virdi a Sikh DS won his case of discrimination and then took another case to tribunal just two years later. Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, the highest serving Muslim in the Met, left and alleged discrimination. Several members of the National Black Police Association have made similar complaints some publically and some privately to me.

The Lawrences want another enquiry- not, in my view, a wise call. Enquiries are the perfect British answer to contentious events- they go on and on, people forget, the high emotions that led to them are dissipated. (Do you even remember there is a Chilcot Iraq inquiry still to report? )

What we need instead is perhaps a judge gathering all the evidence already in the public domain of police collusion with or indifference to racist attacks, complaints made by black and Asian coppers, undercover operations against families and groups seeking justice, and those in charge when some of the worst cases surfaced. It should cover the period from the eighties to now, be produced fast and in clear, unambiguous language. And then a parliamentary committee should summon the Met leadership and to ask why, what and when, with future meetings scheduled in to make sure the force is operating fairly, effectively and with integrity. It can be done. And must for the sake of policing and the people of London.

The Independent 1/7/2013

 

 

Young Women have Failed Feminism

 

Kate appeared at the Queen’s birthday parade, big with baby, smiling, blooming. She, who wore an ice- cream pink outfit, PINK!, is a perfect icon of today’s womanhood- rich and canny, compliant in public, not fearsomely feminist but sweetly feminine, a princess who, unlike rebellious Diana, may just live happily ever after because she fits in and fits our times. Hundreds of thousands of young, female undergraduates want Kate’s life and luck. Why that should be so is too depressing for me to ponder. But it is so.

Other stories appeared this week about beautiful women having plastic surgery and pretty Kim Sears, girlfriend of tennis champion Andy Murray, who is still waiting for a proposal. We learnt that the next Bridget Jones is being made about that hopeless and dependent woman addicted to dieting and romance. Yes I have watched these films and laughed, but then thought of the grim messages they convey. And the popular confessional journo,  Liz Jones had extracts published from her memoir. Her is a taster:’ [I wish] someone had told me I was normal and acceptable then I wouldn’t  have spent my life trying so hard to be better than I am. Lying. Manipulating. Tanning. Plucking. Jogging. Dieting.’

Shame on those women between twenty and forty who have squandered the hard won achievements of original feminism. And to add insult to self-injury, these younger generations seem proud that they dissed and dumped all we fought for. We expected better and more from those who followed. It is, I know, very fashionable these days for the young to blame baby boomers for being ‘selfish’ and spoiling it all. Well enough of that. I squarely blame the young, who, through foolish apathy and criminal self-indulgence, sometimes uninformed loathing of the women’s movement, have ensured that our social, political and economic environment is less fulfilling, much less safe, less equal and less nurturing than it was even in the 70s and 80s when we old Fems were burning bras and raising hell.  There are exceptions. There are always exceptions but what matters are the common narratives and those, alas, are regressive and anti-women.

Are they proud, the ‘post-feminists’, when their eyes scan the landscape? Cathy Mackinnon, radical feminist campaigner and theorist in the eighties, wrote compellingly of how ‘the eroticization of dominance and submission’ creates social norms for male/female relationships way beyond the bedroom. So what do we get now? The bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey, a God-awful S&M trilogy, mainstreaming the idea of male domination and ‘knowing’ female submission. The almost total pornification of Britain is now used without any embarrassment by males, aided and abetted by females. Internet porn sewage swills around and is defended in the name of ‘freedom’. In one Sunday tabloid I found a full page advert for porn DVDs. You too could have Black and White BabesUni Girls in Sex Heaven, Gang Babes, Teen Group Sex costing a pound each.  Meanwhile most modern girls suffer from body image problems; many find it hard to say no to sex; too many boys associate sex with porn images where females are roughly taken and look like Barbie dolls. Prominent feminists used to say pornography is a metaphor for women’s defeat in the long
war for respect and parity. We are defeated.

A report by the IPPR think tank found that ambitious, middle class, professional women are now more or less equal to their male counterparts, but that those on low wages and with little power are actually doing worse. I went to Ladywood, Birmingham last week, where 70% of children are raised by lone mums with little money. They do their best and most look much older than they really are, both  mums and children. The cuts are hitting women much more savagely than men. Childcare costs price the willing poor out of the legit job market, so many are forced into twilight jobs with slave wages. ( This is happening to men too)  .

Rape and murder of women, horrendous in real life, are now a favourite subjects for slick thrillers, in which lady detectives lead the investigations. Domestic violence remains high and facilities to help the women are closing down. There was a shocking reminder of how vulnerable even the most powerful women can be when pictures were printed in a Sunday newspaper, allegedly showing domestic goddess Nigella Lawson being choked by her husband Charles Saatchi at an outside table of a restaurant. She was in tears.

With such a depressing scenario, it was good to hear that journalist Charlotte Raven, 43, once wild  child of Thatcherism, was to re-launch Spare Rib, the influential feminist mag which started in 1972 and died in 1993. It was going to be engaging, promised Raven, surprising, political and sharp. And then in marched Marsha Rowe and Rosie Boycott, the two original founders, who threatened to sue Raven if she used their title name. Two such powerful pioneers, both of whom I like and admire, have shown themselves petty, frankly narcissistic and unworthy feminists. Damn pity that. We needed this mag to appear and succeed.

But never mind, soon Kate and William’s baby will be born, and young British women will rejoice and talk about little else. Transformative politics? Not for them. They have cuter things on their little minds.

The Independent 17/6/2013

 

 

 

 

Remembered and Forgotten Histories

 

The government has just agreed to pay twenty million pounds to over five thousand Kenyans tortured under British rule during the Mau Mau uprising in the fifties. William Hague, in a commendably sober speech, accepted that the victims had suffered pain and grief. Out rode Military expert Sir Max Hastings, apoplectic, a very furious Mad Max. Gabriel Gatehouse, the BBC Radio4 reporter who interviewed survivors:  ‘should die of shame’, roared the Knight of the realm. Kenyan Human Rights organisations and native oral testimonies could not be trusted; the real baddies were the Mau Mau;  no other nation guilty of crimes ever pays compensation and expresses endless guilt and finally there ‘comes a moment when you have to draw a line under it’.  Actually Sir, the Japanese did compensate our POWs in 2000 and Germany has never stopped paying for what it did to Jewish people.

The UK chooses to relive historical episodes of glory- and there were indeed many of those- but also glorifies those periods which were anything but glorious, and wilfully edits out the dark, unholy, inconvenient parts of the national story. Several other ex-imperial nations do the same. In Turkey it is illegal to talk publicly about the Armenian genocide by the Ottomans ; France has neatly erased its vicious rule in Arab lands; the US only remembers its own dead in the Vietnam War not the devastation of that country and its people. GB proudly remembers the Abolitionists but gets very tetchy when asked to remember slavery without which there would have been no need for Abolition. The Raj is still seen as a civilizing mission not as a project of greed and subjugation. Not all the empire builders were personally evil, but occupation and unwanted rule is always morally objectionable. Tony Blair was probably taught too much of the aggrandizing stuff and not enough about the ethics of Empire. The Scots, in any case, in spite of being totally involved, have offloaded all culpability for slavery and Empire on to the English. Their post-devolution history has been polished up well. But it is a flattering, falsifying mirror.

Indian history, as retold by William Dalrymple and Pankaj Mishra, among others, is very different from the ‘patriotic’ accounts Britons been fed for over a century. The 1857, Indian Uprising, for example was a violent rebellion during which British men, women and children were murdered  (so too was the Mau Mau insurrection)  but the reprisals were much crueller and against many more people, many innocent. Our War on Terror is just as asymmetrical.

Today we get to hear plans to mark the centenary of the start of World War 1. The coalition government wants to spin this terrible conflict into another victory fest in 2014. Brits addicted to war memorialising will cheer. Michael Gove will have our children remembering only the ‘greatness’ of the Great War and David Cameron will pledge millions of pounds for events which will stress the national spirit and be as affirming as ‘the diamond Jubilee celebrations’. I bet Max Hastings won’t  ask for a line to be drawn under that bit of the nation’s past.

A group of writers, actors and politicians, including Jude Law, Tony Benn, Harriet Walter, Tim Pigott-Smith, Ralph Steadman, Simon Callow, Michael Morpurgo and Carol Anne Duffy has expressed concern that such a ‘military disaster and human catastrophe’ is to be turned into another big party: ‘We believe it is important to remember that this was a war that was driven by big powers’ competition for influence around the globe and caused a degree of suffering all too clear in the statistical record of 16 million people dead and 20 million wounded’.  After 1916 soldiers were conscripted from the poorest of families.  The officer classes saw them as fodder.  Traumatised soldiers, as we know, were shot. In school back in Uganda, I learnt the only words of Latin I know,  Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. His poems got into my heart and there they stay.

Let’s not expect the Establishment keepers of our past to dwell unduly on those facts and figures or to acknowledge the land grabs in Africa in the latter part of the 19th Century which led to that gruesome war or to remember how it played out on that continent. With the focus forever on the fields of Flanders, forgotten are those other theatres of that war, in East Africa, Iraq, Egypt and elsewhere.

In Tanganyika, where my mother was born, the Germans played dirty and the British fought back using over 130,000 African and Indian soldiers, thousands of them who died horrible deaths. Her father told her stories of, yes, torture by whites on both sides, trees bent over with strung up bodies, some pregnant women, and fear you could smell on people and in homes. Edward Paice’s book Tip and Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa, ( Phoenix, 2007) finally broke the long conspiracy of partiality.

The historical truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth matters. It is hard to get at and forever contested, but the aspiration still matters more than almost anything else in a nation’s self-portrait.  With incomplete verities and doctored narratives, younger generations are bound to repeat the mistakes and vanities of the past. There will be a third global war because not enough lessons were learnt about earlier, major modern conflicts. And then our world will end.

The Independent 1/7/2013