Last week the focus was on Alex Salmond and his acquittal on all 13 charges of a variety of sexual assault types, brought by 9 different women employed by the Scottish Government. Last night it was the story of Carl Beech who alleged the existence of a high level, establishment paedophile ring that had murdered three children in the 1970s and 1980s. He was later found to have been a ‘fantasist’ and was himself convicted of child abuse charges in 2019 relating to the possession of indecent images.
There were similarities between both cases, as they both followed key social developments. The fall-out from the Jimmy Savile case led to a string of revelations about public figures, and Beech’s allegations first made public in 2014 seemed to chime with a sense of a culture of institutional child abuse the current IICSA inquiry is trying to assess and understand. The police made it clear early on that they believed his accounts were credible, and an extensive set of enquiries were launched, but which in due course were closed down.
In Salmond’s case, in the wake of the emerging ‘Me too’ movement, the Scottish Government had invited its staff to report current and past concerns about inappropriate behaviour. From these reports a criminal case was constructed about Salmond’s alleged behaviour and he stood trial in March this year. The defence was predicated on persuading the jury that the acts graphically described in the press, were not in fact criminal. A Radio 4 documentary, also last week, seemed to locate the case in the context of an internal Scottish National Party power struggle.
‘Me too’ and the post-Savile climate have enabled many people who were abused or mistreated to come forward and tell their stories, to seek justice and recognition, and as necessary care and support. The Past Cases Review was an example of how the Methodist Church endeavoured to encourage reporting and import some transparency into an often murky mixture of rumours, half knowledge and quiet personal suffering. The overarching aim of all such initiatives is to prevent something similar happening in the future.
But where does Salmond’s acquittal and Beech’s exposure and conviction leave ‘the truth’? How have these two cases affected those who still may want to come forward to tell their stories of hurt and pain? One commentator last night said ‘(the Beech case) has set back the survivor cause by many years’. A fear of not being believed is a powerful incentive to keep quiet. The Church will always need to work hard to make itself a safe space to listen and act decisively on what it has heard.