Institutions & Fear - Exaro's Latest 'Scoop'

Exaro, the investigative news site that we helped found, has a major 'scoop' this morning, publishing 37,500 words of extracts from Dame Janet Smith's report on Sir Jimmy Savile's paedophile activities within the BBC.

Exaro terms it a 'searing indictment' of the BBC although the general charges - a 'very deferential culture', 'untouchable' people and 'above the law' executives - could describe every British institution of the 1980s and still some today. Banks, political parties, newspapers and advertising agencies still have 'untouchable' people.

The VIP child abuse scandal (of which this story is only one part and not even the only part of Savile's own depradations on the young and the vulnerable) is nothing if not confused. Old 'cold cases' are re-emerging as are proven failures of past investigation. We have some admittedly less than reliable testimony offset by security state whistleblowers, ex-bishops going to prison and dead prominent politicians clearly as guilty as sin alongside those named and shamed probably unfairly. However, the Government and the police are taking the matter very seriously.

There is something going on here where the wood has to be seen amidst the many trees. The police in particular are being surprisingly (given historic precedent) robust in pursuing their enquiries. Recent attempts to intimidate whistleblowers and victims through the media have failed. A major academic enquiry is under way into the historical context of institutional child abuse. Lurking under all this is the suspicion, fuelled by the Kincora case originally, that there is a link between cover up and the security apparat somewhere in the total picture.

Our own view is that Dame Janet Smith directs us to the nub of a much wider cultural problem. While there have been significant reforms since the 1980s (notably in the police itself), British institutional life, especially that ruled by the 'Establishment', has required excessive deference, has allowed managers and administrators too much unaccountable power and has permitted some individuals untouchable status for commercial, cultural or political reasons. Actual crimes are committed by a tiny minority but 'cover-ups' involve structures of power involving many more.

Perhaps some of these wider issues will be taken up in Exaro's Panel Debate next week which may address the question whether cover up has been accidental, arising unwittingly from the essential nature of our institutional structures, or deliberate, a conscious attempt to preserve the institution from public scrutiny by a few anxious managers living in fear of consequences to themselves 'from above'. The answer is probably both ... the managers are the systems, surprisingly shaky structures built on fear and ambition. But let us always retain an open mind.


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