November 17th, 2012


Friends and Relations

I have been largely absent from LJ for a few days, partly from the importunity of marking, and partly because I went to Romsey to visit my mother. I'm sad to see that in the meantime two of my friends have fallen out over a post relating to paedophilia and its aetiology. There are many things it occurs to me to say about that, but I could say none of them with authority so I think I'll refrain, except to note my sadness.

Meanwhile, though, here's a tangential puzzle, relating to the abuse in Wrexham. After the whole story about Lord McAlpine unravelled, news organizations (such as The Telegraph) noted that "evidence emerged yesterday suggesting that the peer had been mistaken for another member of the McAlpine family", now dead.

I was expecting to hear more about that other member in due course, but so far no further word about him has emerged, at least in my hearing. [ETA It's been pointed out to me that the name was indeed revealed, which makes the rest of this paragraph moot, but I let it stand as a testament to my own ignorance. The remaining paras still apply, however.] That strikes me as odd in itself. I assume that the enquiry is looking into the matter behind the scenes, but while Stephen Messham may be a less credible witness now than he was ten days ago, no one appears publicly to have questioned that he was abused, or indeed that he was abused by a relation of Lord McAlpine - so why the reticence? Of course, this unnamed person is said to be dead, but so are some of the other alleged actors in recent scandals, and that has not stopped the police from naming them and making public appeals for the victims of Jimmy Savile and (and now, it appears, Cyril Smith), to come forward, since living people may be implicated in the conspiracy. If that applies in their cases, why not in this case too, where conspiracy appears to have played a more central part?

I noticed the oddity of the omission, but thought little more about it until I heard Lord McAlpine's radio interview as I was driving to my mother's on the 15th. On being asked about the impact of the false accusations against him, he said: "I have a big family most of whom are engaged in business or charitable undertakings or whole range of things. They're well known. This was as damaging to them as it was to me."

Now that struck me as an even odder thing to say, if another McAlpine is in the frame. Won't the family still be damaged should the culprit turn out to be a relation of theirs, even if it's not the one everybody has heard of?

Perhaps it depends on the scope of the word "family", and whether McAlpine was using it in an nuclear, extended, or even clan sense. My mother, who was born and brought up in Wrexham, mentioned when I arrived at her house that "Wrexham is full of McAlpines", and that her own family had known several of them in her youth. The more numerous a family, the higher the chance that one of them will turn out to be a wrong'un. How close does the relationship have to be for one to feel damaged?