People are finally starting to express some serious concerns about the injustices committed by the British Inquisition Against Historical Cases of Sex Abuse. The tawdry spectacle of the child-protection industry, along with sections of the police and the media, trying to brand former prime minister Ted Heath as a serial child abuser says far more about the accusers’ own morally corrupt imagination than it does about the accused.
Moral crusades always have the kind of appetite that can never be satiated. There’s always more evil to uncover. And the invention in recent years of the crime of historical sex abuse provides an unprecedented opportunity to keep uncovering, forever, hitherto unknown misdeeds from the past. Tragically, the zealous mindset that fuels this 21st-century demonology invariably unleashes more evil than was perpetrated by any of the targets of the zealous campaigners.
The campaign of vilification against Heath follows the usual pattern. The Wiltshire police, with the assistance of the always publicity-hungry NSPCC, set up a helpline for people who think they may have been abused by Heath, and then waited for the usual response. It is worth noting that these days a ‘helpline’ means helping the inquisitors nail their target. The language that was used to invite people to get in touch with the helpline was instructive:
‘Sir Edward Heath has been named in relation to offences concerning children. He lived in Salisbury for many years and we would like to hear from anyone who has any relevant information that may assist us in our enquiries or anyone who believes they may have been a victim.’
Note how the invitation informs the world that Heath has been ‘named’. There is no need to indicate who named him, since the very fact he has been named is sufficient proof of his malevolence. The incantation of the phrase ‘has been named’ conveys a feeling that the gods have spoken. Once that occurs, the target’s reputation is already in tatters. Once the ‘naming’ has occurred, the demonisation is already well under way. Whatever is the outcome of this inquisition, the very act of naming ensures that Heath’s reputation will never recover.
In line with current practice, the police’s invitation to the public also showed how open-ended is the inquisition’s hunt for information. It asks for contact from ‘anyone who believes they may have been a victim’. The phrasing here exposes a central feature of the inquisitorial process. It doesn’t confine its request for information to those who are victims; it wants to hear from anyone who ‘believes they may have been a victim’. The focus of the request is not actual victims but people who might think that they could have been victims, possibly, maybe. In effect, it encourages people to engage with the past in a highly imaginative way and to believe that they, too, are victims. And because the police invitation does not specify what these people are victims of, it provides even more scope for the imaginative reconstruction of victimhood.