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