To see how hysterical and even Salem-like modern Britain’s obsession with child sexual abuse has become, look no further than the Michael Le Vell case.
At every stage of the Coronation Street star’s trial for child rape – from the decision to bring the case to court in the first place to the disturbingly salacious media coverage of the accuser’s claims to the unhinged reaction of feminists to the not-guilty verdict – we have been treated to an unappetising spectacle of demon-hunting more befitting of the Dark Ages than a twenty-first-century democracy. We have seen what happens when the urge to uncover and point a collective finger at ‘evil’ takes centre stage in public life: rational debate dies, truth gets a kicking, and justice itself is openly called into question.
The Le Vell case was questionable from the very start. The decision of the Crown Prosecution Service to bring charges against Le Vell was highly peculiar given that, in the words of one news report, there was ‘not a shred of evidence’ against him – ‘no medical evidence, no forensics, no witnesses, no suspicious computer records’, nothing. To say the case was flimsy is a profound understatement – it was non-existent, emanating entirely from the head of what we now know to have been a very unreliable teenager.
It is striking that the CPS initially refused to pursue the case, when the accuser first made a complaint in September 2011, yet changed its mind earlier this year when the accuser claimed to have suddenly remembered, through a ‘flashback’, more occasions on which Le Vell raped her. After two decades of families being torn apart by false memory syndrome – where individuals come to believe that they were abused or raped or dragged to a forest by Satanists, when they weren’t – you would think the CPS would know better than to bring a very serious case to court on the basis of a sudden flashback. It seems not.
Of course, something else changed between September 2011 and this year – the Jimmy Savile sex-abuse scandal exploded and the hunting down of any 1970s celeb alleged to have done untoward things with young women or girls became a frenzied national sport. And it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that it was the emergence of this febrile, abuse-obsessed, celebrity-hunting climate that encouraged the CPS to rethink its refusal to pursue a sex-abuse case against a high-profile star of Coronation Street, however fact-lite it may have been. As one reporter puts it, ‘Prosecuting well-known individuals such as Le Vell attracts huge publicity for the police and the CPS, who appear determined to be seen to be taking action [against child sexual abuse]’, and in such circumstances ‘Le Vell’s innocence or guilt were immaterial’.