Since the Jimmy Savile scandal exploded into public consciousness in October 2012, the number of celebrities suspected of child abuse has grown almost exponentially. This is not surprising given officialdom’s obsession with unmasking celebrity paedophiles. Indeed, a dedicated national police team was assembled last summer, under the name Operation Hydrant, to investigate the link between child sex abuse and ‘prominent public figures’. Last week, Operation Hydrant officers revealed that they are investigating 1,400 suspects, including 261 high-profile figures. And that is just the beginning. Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on child abuse, insisted that by the time Operation Hydrant gets into its stride, it will have ‘discovered’ hundreds of thousands of hitherto unknown victims of child sex abuse.
It seems that the number of reports of child sexual abuse is likely to continue increasing into the indefinite future. That’s because the Operation Hydrant style of policing – which relies on inviting the public to come forward and report child abusers – creates a constantly rising number of abuse allegations. As Bailey said, ‘what we are seeing is an absolutely unprecedented increase in the number of reports [being made]’. Moral crusaders linked to Operation Hydrant and the child-protection industry insist that the sheer scale of the accusations made against public figures and others shows that child abuse is becoming a pandemic. ‘The scale and scope of sexual abuse of children committed in the past can often seem overwhelming’, noted Gabrielle Shaw, the chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood.
It seems, then, that there is an expectation that more and more people will be investigated as potential child-abuse suspects. And little wonder. The imperative of an investigation like Operation Hydrant is actively to search for allegations. The traditional role of the police – to solve crimes brought to the police’s attention – has been transformed. This new inquisitorial form of policing is oriented towards the discovery of crimes not yet reported. So by regularly calling for people to come forth as victims of abuse, the police are indulging in a form of crime construction. Moreover, they have sought to inflate the number of victims by using the attention generated by the naming of particular celebrity suspects to appeal for more of their victims to come forward. Such publicity, therefore, encourages more and more denunciations of the suspect.
In the case of inquisitorial policing, the solving of a crime is a relatively minor issue. Inquisitorial policing is all about getting evidence against the targets of an accusation. And what is important is not the quality, but the quantity of evidence – the greater the number of denunciations of a suspect, the greater the likelihood of a successful conviction. Increasing the number of denunciations, therefore, is integral to inquisitorial policing because corroborative statements provide the evidence used to charge and convict the accused.
The dramatic reorientation of policing, from solving reported crimes to searching for ones that have not been reported, is rarely noted. Yet large trawling operations, such as Operation Hydrant, are an exercise in crime construction. It is likely, of course, that such operations may from time to time uncover genuine cases of horrific criminal behaviour. But they will do so at a very high cost to the system of justice.