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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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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?

Yes, it's a shame about Wemyss and me. I maintain he completely misunderstood my post, but there you go. There's no arguing with someone when they're as cross as he was.

With reference to your main point it seems to me as if everyone is currently running scared of saying anything rude about anyone called McAlpine for fear of the old boy's feral lawyers.

Well, keeping silent about the accused's name will do no good for the family name.
People will try to guess "Which one of the dead members of the family was guilty?" And several people at once will be suspected (maybe they acted weird or whatever). And the callous among the public will make bets.
So in their place I would disclose the (first) name ans clear the names of all the other McAlpines.

A friend over at Dreamwidth has pointed me to the Guardian report, which has filled in some details that I (not following the case particularly closely) was unaware of. However, I'm not less confused than I was before as to what the mistaken identity may have consisted in.

First I had to click the link to see which Cyril Smith.

This pattern of sudden revelations of not just one incident but chronic continuing abuse by wellknown and well loved public figures, who just happen to have fairly recently died, plus the awkward withdrawal of a claim against a man who is not dead, and pinnimg it instead on one who is, is very disturbing. I can think of two entirely opposite explanations for this pattern, and both are horrifying.

I agree. Sadly it's also quite possible that both horrifying explanations are at least partly true. (Assuming that they are, as I am guessing, a) that there was indeed systematic abuse by many well-known people in power, and b) that there's a hysterical witch-hunt in which anyone seems to be fair game.)

Edited at 2012-11-18 04:15 pm (UTC)

Yes. The horror of B is self explanatory, and the horror of A is that you cannot go after them until they are dead, no matter how much of an open secret the abuse is.

In a way, the conditions are perfect for a witch hunt, in as much as the British public have found over the last few years that almost all their revered institutions have been systematically corrupt to an extent I don't think many suspected.

The press really were hacking people's phones.
The police and coroner really did cover up the disaster at Hillsborough.
MPs really did fiddle their expenses.
Bankers and other business people really do pay themselves for failure and take morally indefensible methods to avoid paying their way.
The church (and arguably the BBC) really did protect child abusers, either tacitly or as a matter of policy.

At this point it's very hard to point to any person or institution and say, "Well, I trust them at any rate," and the public are certainly not in the mood to be lectured on questions of right or wrong behaviour by any of these groups. The brake pads of faith (if I can update Matthew Arnold) that prevent the slide into dark places have worn awfully thin.

If there is hope, it lies in the British people's genius for inertia.

Edited at 2012-11-18 04:36 pm (UTC)

I speak as the victim of abuse from outside the family. Like so many of the victims now coming forward it took me years to process what had happened so I get very ratty over the 'why didn't they come forward sooner?' discourse.

The guy who abused me was a teacher and is long dead, so why would I cause his family (if there is any) discomfort? What would be the point as it would only leave me feeling dreadful all over again- feeling abused all over again.

I've managed to deal with it and prefer to leave the folder in the drawer marked 'solved'.

I think that's perfectly understandable and justified. The only counter-argument would be if there were an organized ring, some of whose members were still alive and perhaps still abusing others. Obviously I have no idea whether that's the case here.