Friday, October 23, 2009


After a great deal of somewhat scattergun controversy, BBC1’s Question Time was finally broadcast this evening. The programme usually manages to keep its nose clean but, on this occasion, it had extended an invitation to the leader of the British National Party, Nick Griffin. Called upon to justify the invitation, the BBC Director-General, Mark Thompson, wrote in the morning’s Guardian that “the BNP has demonstrated a level of support that would normally lead to an occasional invitation”.

An earlier leader in the paper disagreed. “The British National Party will be handed a gift … a specious legitimacy” it declared. Peter Hain, a veteran of the anti-apartheid movement as well as a British cabinet minister, went in for more overheated language: “The BBC will be showcasing the BNP”. Hardly, Peter. A letter-writer complained of the BBC giving the party “the oxygen of publicity”. Well, the company one keeps is instructive and quoting Thatcher suggests a wish to censor, ban and suppress unwelcome views (of any kind) rather than to confront perceived fascism.

I wholly support the BBC’s invitation to Griffin for one simple reason: I am a democrat. You can’t allow people to run for office and then deny them the access that such office ordinarily confers. Other minority parties have done their turn on Question Time once they have elected representatives. If you support democracy, you must accept the results it throws up. George W Bush had to face that, to his chagrin, when the Palestinians voted Hamas into power.

On this matter, then, I found myself in alarming agreement with Kelvin McKenzie who said on the news that the BBC could not be found to be at fault for inviting Griffin and that if you wanted to blame anyone, you had to blame the electorate.

Hain and – takes a nice picture, doesn't he – Griffin; from Guardian website

In his piece, Hain tried to absolve the electorate by implying they were ignorant. “At the European elections that triggered this BBC decision,” he wrote, “many voted for the BNP as a protest against the mainstream parties at the height of the MPs’ expenses scandal. Few of these voters would recognise, still less endorse, the BNP’s virulent racism”.

I wouldn’t be so sure. Whether you like it or not, there is still plenty of barely expressed racism around. When the MPs’ expenses are forgotten, there will still be people voting for the BNP and Hain will have to find another rationale. What Griffin aims to do is to harness that racism, make it seem respectable and hone it into a real political force.

Fortunately for us, Griffin is not an inspiring, charismatic, eloquent or even coherent leader. His positions are – on the evidence of this “showcase” – both confused and shifting. He is apt to pluck assertions out of the air that he cannot back up with evidence, rhetoric or homework. His attempts to be genial and apparently ready to laugh at himself are cheesy and unpersuasive. There is a natural constituency of Neanderthals who would happily back him if he couldn’t pronounce his own name – we glimpsed a selection of them playing at being his henchmen in news footage of his arrival at Television Centre – but, on the evidence of his performance on Question Time, it’s hard to imagine that a significant number would be moved to throw in their lot with him.

Mind you, if the impression of the entire establishment ganging up on him did him any favour, he could certainly look upon his appearance with considerable satisfaction. The mainstream politicos on the panel scrambled to get the most wounding pre-emptive strike in first. And, as it panned out, the programme’s focus was very heavily on Griffin, out of step on everything with everyone, not least on the only non-BNP-oriented question, which was about Jan Moir’s article on Stephen Gately. The BNP doesn’t do gay solidarity (though if Griffin cares to look at the history of the far right in Britain and elsewhere, he may find much that would not be to his taste in the sexual shenanigans department).

Amusingly, according to the OED, a griffin, as well as being a winged monster, is “a European newly arrived in India, and unaccustomed to Indian ways and peculiarities; a novice, new-comer, greenhorn” and also “a mulatto”. Perhaps Griffin was fated to spend his life struggling against what he sees as the diminution of the power of “indigenous people” of Britain. In allying that struggle to his denunciation of Islam as “wicked and vicious”, of the major parties for their policies on Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran, and of Hamas – he claims his is the only party unequivocally supportive of Israel – he may well have struck some chords. Wisely, the other panellists did not engage him very far on these issues.

In the event, the programme was fairly even-tempered. There had been dark anticipations of braying racists and anti-fascists in the studio but the Question Time audience is much more carefully vetted than its equivalent on Radio 4’s Any Questions? Indeed, only one (pretty innocuous) speaker from the floor appeared to be at all supportive of Griffin.

It was a different story at the gates of Television Centre where angry demonstrators breached the security cordon. This is not too difficult: David Cassidy fans managed it in the early 1970s. BBC News made great play of the build-up to the transmission, so much so that three (count ‘em) reporters were deployed to the TC gates for the 6.00 pm bulletin. Well, I suppose it was nice for them to get out of the office. I just hope they didn’t put in for excessive expenses.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


It’s pretty hard, I suggest, for any sentient being to hold back from weighing in against the Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir and her drippingly poisonous piece about the death of Stephen Gately. For a gay man, it is impossible.

The column in question may be read at the following address:

The title of the article has been changed; it was originally “Why there was nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death”. The headline change does not remove the first version’s implication from the article itself. Moir – who is not, as far as I am aware, medically qualified, a coroner, a resident of Mallorca (where Gately’s death took place), an intimate of Gately’s circle or indeed an investigative journalist with particular contacts in, say, the police – is evidently just another homophobic bigot who has decided on a whim (or under deadline pressure) to air her prejudices to the naturally receptive Mail readership.

Unfortunately for her, there is a big online community with a fast response capability these days and if, in years gone by, one could let off a fart in a newspaper and not have it smelt, nowadays the public domain knows no limits. I have not had a copy of the Daily Mail in my hands since before David English’s time but I have read the column. One should declare one has read it because Moir’s first line of defence is as pathetic as her column is nasty: “I wonder how many of the people complaining have fully read [my column]”. Well, dear, it’s not like the Christian lobby bleating about Jerry Springer – The Musical, the seeing of which would require effort and expenditure of time and money when obeying what the flock leader prescribes is so much easier. Reading an article as thin as yours takes two minutes and can be done online. We don’t need to leave ourselves open to being caught out in not having read it. We’ll leave unthinking bias to you.

Stephen Gately, a natural

Nor, also unlike those censorious delusionists, are we organising to bring you down. Moir complains of “what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign”. Who does she think organised it? The Stasi? Just because many people have a similar response to a piece of junk, it doesn’t render that response illegitimate. I have not discussed it with anyone else and I have read almost nothing of the complaints, over a thousand, made about the piece to the Press Complaints Commission. In that case, Moir will probably dismiss me as a lonely crank. So be it.

Moir’s defence concludes that “it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones’. I agree. Her homophobia and bigotry is far more than mere undertones. It is out front. Her central point is that “whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one”. You could argue that, not being privy to the coroner’s evidence, the events of the night when he died or any other germane material, Moir is simply in no position to pontificate on the nature of Gately’s demise. But that isn’t the fox she is after. The clue is in the word “natural”, the age-old complaint against homosexuality.

Moir says in her defence that she is “on the record in supporting” civil partnerships. In her article, though, she says that this event “strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships”. I know of no one in a civil partnership (I and my partner included) who subscribes to such a myth. It is one of Moir’s making. She goes on that “gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages”. No they aren’t. It is only heterosexuals and gay Christians who ever use the term “gay marriage”.

Gately: a nice cup of tea

My partner and I did not enter into a civil partnership because we wanted to ape straights, nor do we think of our arrangements as remotely like marriage. We did it so that, if I should die first, my estate will go to my partner rather than to my alcoholic cousin whom I haven’t seen for years, who has never been to the house and who would only drink away the money he made from its sale.

Moir links Gately’s death to the suicide of Kevin McGee, the former partner of Matt Lucas (she calls McGee “the former husband” of Matt Lucas, another term gay people don’t actually use; I am not my partner’s husband or his wife; we are not heterosexuals in drag). This is of course, in Moir’s own term, “mischievous” to say the least. Apart from sexual orientation, nothing links the two cases. But Moir wants to propose that Gately’s life was “shadowed by dark appetites or fractured by private vice”. She has no evidence to describe Gately’s life in those terms – or, for that matter, to accuse him of “public” vice, which I guess she would find preferable. Unless, that is, being gay is to still to be considered a dark appetite or a private vice. To consider so would reasonably enough be dismissed as homophobic. If not, what could be termed homophobia?

In her completely speculative account of the night Gately died, he and his partner Andrew Cowles took another man back to their apartment. “It is not disrespectful” she essays “to assume that a game of canasta … was not what was on the cards”. It is certainly presumptuous. Moir assumes that her readers imagine, as she evidently does, that gay men go at it like knives and that no encounter with another man can possibly be with anything non-carnal in mind. Who knows? Maybe they did play canasta. People do and gays are people too. Maybe, as Boy George once put it, they’d “rather have a nice cup of tea”.

Moir says that Cowles and the guest went to the bedroom together. She has no basis for that assertion. Gately died asleep on the couch. He wasn’t conscious. I don’t know what makes his death “lonely”. Like most other people, he died alone because, save in war, large-scale accident or explosion, people are apt to die one at a time. She says that “it has just been revealed that [Gately] smoked cannabis on the night he died”. Big deal. But hardly a dark appetite or a fracturing shadow.

Frump and looker

Like so much journalism, Moir’s piece is full of innuendo – the “undertones” she affects to scorn – that doesn’t stand up and, because it’s not spelt out, doesn’t need to, she believes. Well, I don’t go in for innuendo, I call it as I see it. Jan Moir is a nasty old frump, no doubt jealous of Gately’s looks and charm. After all, as can be seen from the likeness here, her glamorous by-line shot is extremely flattering. If she thinks that’s what she looks like, she’s living in cloud cuckoo land. So, like frumpy high-horse merchants down the ages, she is terribly afraid that someone somewhere might be having fun. She wants the world to know that, if you have fun and follow your heart, you will be punished, even unto death. And she doesn’t care if what she sicks up in her column turns people’s stomachs and greatly distresses the bereaved. It’s easy for journalists to imagine that, because of the hallowed “freedom of the press", they can write what they affect to think without any consequence. So it’s bracing that so many companies have withdrawn their advertising from the Mail’s website, reluctant to be associated with such primitive views. Next time she airs her narrow little prejudices, perhaps she will think before committing herself.


A few belated words on the recent developments over MPs’ expenses. Politicians get a bad press on the whole; as I have just indicated, I think the press deserves a bad press. But I do believe that members are justified in objecting to the rewriting of history that has been indulged by Sir Thomas Legg in his letters to MPs. Members who broke the law – and there clearly are some – should be prosecuted. But all those who put in claims that were accepted and ratified by the proper offices are justified in feeling aggrieved that they are being caned for it now. If the rules were bad, unclear or full of holes, someone – probably any one of decades’ worth of Leaders of the House – should have addressed them.

Not a pop star, just an old Legg

I had rather hoped that Jacqui Smith, in her formal apology to the house demanded by Legg, would get up on her hind legs and tell him to blow it out his backside. But she is an obedient soldier and she is quietly taking a peerage after the election. Others who are steaming about it, and steaming rather more because their leaders are telling them to pay up and shut up, ought to get together and act. Some of them are not standing for re-election, others know that their chances of re-election are slim. Those who believe they are hard done-by should jointly resign their seats forthwith, thereby forcing a fusillade of by-elections.

For Labour that would be disastrous. It might be less than good news for the opposition parties too. Those with the stomach for it could further stir the pot by putting in a last-minute candidature as an independent, thereby further damaging the chances of the defending party. The widely touted public outrage may be less deeply felt than the conventional wisdom has it. Had the evidently popular Ian Gibson, forced to stand down from his Norwich North seat by the Labour Party, stood as an independent at the by-election that his angry resignation precipitated, the result might have more interesting than the comfortable win for that nodding-donkey girl for the Tories.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Apart from Vanessa George and her fellow abusers of toddlers, there have been two other stories touching on paedophilia in the last week. One concerns Roman Polanski, picked up in Zurich after being on the lam in Europe for more than thirty years. The movie director had at the time admitted to having sex in Los Angeles with a 13 year-old girl. He has lived safe from extradition in France but the Swiss authorities had no compunction about seizing him as soon as he arrived there to receive an award. An international warrant for his arrest was opened only as recently as 2005: I have been unable to discover why it took 27 years to issue this. Now Polanski awaits transfer to California and, presumably, a prison sentence that will see him out: he is 76.

An initial outpouring of scorn from the Hollywood establishment and the French community of cinéastes, aimed at the Swiss authorities, has been countered by a resurgence of outrage among American women, inside as well as outside the movie business. Both stances, it seems to me, have merit and mischief in equal measure.

To take the anti-Polanski case first: by all accounts, Polanski’s encounter with the 13 year-old – characterised by one of his few women supporters, Whoopi Goldberg, as “not rape-rape” – was very far from consensual. The girl repeatedly rebuffed the 44 year-old’s advances; he plied her with alcohol and Quaaludes; he sodomised as well as penetrating her in the regular manner and with his tongue. He admitted his guilt to the sex charges as part of a plea bargain to avoid being tried for rape, administering a drug to a minor and other serious offences. Polanski’s lawyers understood that he would receive a probationary sentence but a loose-tongued judge let it be known that both jail and deportation were on the cards. Having been granted a stay, Polanski fled and settled in France.

I don’t doubt that Polanski is and always has been pretty much of a sleazeball. From the outset (Knife in the Water, Repulsion, Cul-de-sac, Dance of the Vampires), his work has been characterised by, to put it kindly, moral ambiguity. Soon after he settled in Europe, Polanski took up with Nastassja, the daughter of the German movie actor Klaus Kinski, whom he cast in the name role in his Hardy-based movie Tess. When their relationship began, Kinski was 15.

Polanski's knifeguy (screen grab)

Polanski launched the Hollywood phase of his career with Rosemary’s Baby and crested the wave with his masterpiece, Chinatown. His capacity to behave inordinately has always led me to suspect that there was a particular reason why the director cast himself as one of the hoods that assault the private eye JJ Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson in that succulently dark movie. I fancy that when Polanski’s hood yanked his blade through the crease where Gittes’ nose meets his face, Polanski did it for real. The act is so convincingly violent that the scene was cut when the movie was screened on ITV, rendering Nicholson’s subsequent heavily bandaged appearance impenetrable. See what you reckon: the sequence is posted on YouTube:

Wounded Jack (still)

Nicholson is himself no slouch at diving into low-life behaviour and assuming that women are furnished for his pleasure, of course. It was in his house that the assault on the 13 year-old took place. Do you think Jack has two-way mirrors in his guest bedrooms?

Five years ago, Polanski sued Vanity Fair for publishing a claim that he publicly groped a young woman shortly after the funeral of his wife. The court found in his favour and awarded him £50,000. The case was heard in London rather than New York, with Polanski giving his evidence by video link from Paris. I hope no one will accuse me of libel if I describe the case as in every way a very rum affair.

Director and star (publicity shot)

What are the arguments in the director’s favour? I certainly do not hold that wealth or fame ought to render anybody above the law or beyond its reach. I do feel, however, that the passage of time changes the quality of the case. Towards the end of his life, I found myself having very mixed feelings about the dogged quest of Simon Wiesenthal to bring former concentration camp officers to justice. I do not propose that the crime lessens with time. But I would submit that the criminal lessens with time. I felt much queasiness at the spectacle of ancient relics dug out of their bunkers to be expected to defend their dimly recalled actions from forty or fifty years before. Something of the same qualm attaches itself to the dwindling figure of the one-time enfant terrible of cinematic psychodrama.

Of course, I know full well (not least from close acquaintance with personal experience) that the abuse meted out to children takes time – often decades – to be assimilated and processed into a cause upon which action may be based. Polanski’s victim – I think we may regard her as such – took time to bring pressure to bear on her abuser. Her suit against him was settled out of court in 1993 and she may or may not have received half a million dollars. Her position now is that she “forgives” him and would prefer to let the matter rest. If that is genuinely her view (even if succoured or tainted by cash), it is a consideration that ought to be part of the assessment of this case. What will the Californian judicial system do if she declines to testify against him in a new hearing?

What is more, Polanski’s life and career have certainly been hobbled to a degree by his situation as a fugitive from justice. After Tess, he wasn’t able to get a movie made for seven years and that was the lamentable Pirates. In the 31 years since he fled, he has only completed nine features, as many as he made in the previous 14. In itself, this is a form of punishment. The crime deserves much harsher punishment; or it would, had it been committed in the last decade.

The other recent matter concerns another outrage perpetrated more than thirty years ago. At age ten, Brooke Shields was photographed plastered with makeup and standing naked in a bathtub. The image played its part in winning her a role in Pretty Baby, an American movie made by another European film-maker much interested in precocious sexuality, Louis Malle. Some 13 years after it was taken, the photograph was re-photographed by Richard Prince, an artist whose shtik is to revisit the images of others, and included in a book called Spiritual America. This sparked an almighty row, not about the nature of the photograph itself but about the nature of copyright.

This autumn, Tate Modern has mounted a London exhibition of various kinds of pop art, including the Prince image of Shields. Before the show opened, the Metropolitan police, having got wind of what was afoot, visited the gallery to ensure, as a spokesman put it, that the curator didn’t “inadvertently break the law or cause any offence to their visitors”. The second half of this formulation would appear to be beyond the pay grade of even a high-ranking officer in the Public Taste Squad. As a result, the Prince photocopy was removed from display but many other exhibits of a tremendously explicit kind were permitted to remain.

The US courts have ruled that neither the original photograph nor Prince’s treatment of it is pornographic and it has hence been displayed several times publicly in America with impunity. In London, however, it is evidently deemed to be liable to attract and inflame paedophiles. This contrast with the stance in the States must be rather a disappointment to those who, in attacking Polanski, made the tart remark that in Europe “they” don’t bother over much about the rights of 13 year-old girls.

I have not visited the Tate Modern show. Frankly, I wouldn’t piss on a Jeff Koons if it caught fire. I find the Brooke Shields image rather repellent but my readers will judge for themselves. Shields herself tried to buy back the rights to the image but failed.

Brooke no interference

One intriguing element unites these two cases. The original shot of Shields was commissioned by Teri Schmonn. She is none other than Brooke’s mother. Mrs Shields commissioned the work from Garry Gross who has said that “the photo has been infamous from the day I took it and I intended it to be”. He was working for the Playboy group at the time. Polanski used photography as his pretext for getting his 13 year-old alone with him and then getting her to remove clothing. But he would never have got her into Nicholson’s house if he hadn’t first asked her mother, telling her that he wanted to shoot her for French Vogue. Given his history and reputation, you might think the mother would at least insist that the girl be chaperoned.

We can all climb onto very high horses when it comes to the thorny matter of paedophilia. But when it comes down to it, I blame the parents.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


To all but a vanishingly small number of people, the notion of sexual activity between a pre-pubescent child and an adult is about as repellent as a notion could be. The Plymouth nursery teacher Vanessa George and her internet contacts, who have admitted guilt to up to 13 specimen charges of child abuse, will be reviled and shunned in jail and will no doubt need to be isolated for their own protection. They will receive long sentences: keeping them from harm will be a tough job, even if the warders in whose care they will reside do not collude with those who would mete out to them the kind of rough justice that is the norm in prison.

Paedophilia is widely seen as the most despicable crime of the age, quite as bad as murder for gain, worse perhaps than drug-dealing, worse certainly than adult-on-adult rape, than crimes passionnels, than embezzlement and fraud, even than fiddling parliamentary expenses. It was not always so. When I was a child, scoutmasters and vicars “diddling” boys were apt to be taken as a mild hazard, almost a rite of passage for well-adjusted lads. The benignity and lightness of the term “diddling” speaks volumes. And in an era when it was thought acceptable for a man to administer a playful smack to the backside of a woman or a girl who was not his social superior and when young men talked easily about underage girls being “jailbait”, presumptuous intimacy, even to an advanced degree, was not the “hang-up” it became later, even though it was not thought to be a fit topic for public remark or decent conversation.

Of course, beneath this paradoxical veneer of unmentionability and relaxation, a great deal of vile and damaging abuse took place, particularly under the cover of religious instruction. It was hard for children to testify that such abuse took place because they were liable to be disbelieved or even assumed to be in large degree themselves culpable. Much misery and trauma was buried in the recesses of young minds, only to emerge later in replicative behaviour, in mental and/or physical self-harm and, for the lucky ones, in healing therapy.

The George case has raised a curious amount of bewilderment that women should have indulged in a crime popularly thought to be a monopoly of men. But it is necessary to understand what lies at the base of child abuse to begin to comprehend both how such abuse comes to be indulged and why it is indulged by both sexes. The key to it – as to rape, spouse-beating and cruelty to animals – is power.

All of us, women and men and indeed children, desire to exert some kind of power over someone or something. At a very basic level, it is an assertion of our humanity, our personality, our individuality. So we create little worlds in which we are absolute monarch. That little world might be a family or a team of players or an office or a vast corporation. It might be a “pack” of one owner and just one cat or dog, the latter of whom is obliged to obey and take direction. It might be an aquarium of tropical fish or a display of fossils or a wardrobe of frocks or a library of books or an array of cheese labels or a collection of dolls or an action man toy with accessories. It may be perfectly inanimate but it is still a dominion. All of these are “worlds” over which we wield the more or less kindly power of the benevolent despots of 18th century Europe.

Vanessa George from site

Adults abuse children because, in a formulation you have encountered, “they can”. That’s what abuse of power is. Simultaneously, there is an utterly different impulse that informs this issue. There are, always were, always will be kids who themselves want to investigate the enticing world of sexuality, who go out looking to initiate encounters with older people, indeed with adults. A number of gay men of my acquaintance sought encounters with older boys and yes, with grown men, before they were themselves pubescent. Innocent beyond my years, I never imagined such things occurred until I was an adult myself and saw that it was so. But some kids, one way or another, get sexualised and respond to the stimulus with excitement and bravado. I submit that there is a vast difference in the nature of the experience of a sexual encounter between a child and someone older where the child is desirous to explore and more than willing to initiate an exploration in which that child’s parameters are respected, and an uncomprehending child being coerced into a sexual encounter by an adult who, whatever her or his rationalisation, is imposing desires upon the child. Don’t misunderstand this distinction. I do not advocate paedophiliac gratification. I merely submit that not all experiences are commensurate.

Some 35 years ago, when I was reporting full-time on the affairs of television, I had occasion to meet, in his capacity as a press officer for the Open University, a man called Tom O’Carroll. At the time that I met him, O’Carroll already had a public profile that overwhelmed his promotional function. He was the most widely known officer of an outfit called the Paedophile Information Exchange. I found him charming and articulate, perhaps (I may be projecting, of course) somewhat intense and hunted-looking. He was sacked from his post shortly after our meeting.

These were the early days of gay liberation. O’Carroll’s particular interest was in boys so he was, properly termed, a pederast rather than a paedophile. In the intervening years (it seems; I have not been in touch with him), he has not moved on from this enthusiasm. Indeed, he has served some time in jail and he has published a book called Paedophilia: The Radical Case. I have not acquired a copy.

Initially the gay community was uncertain how to react to its pederast sub-culture. The age of consent – then 21 for gay male congress, since the 1967 act that decriminalised consensual acts between two adult men in private – was a major issue and a proper cause célèbre, given that the magic number for females remained 16. At the same time, gay men, grappling with all the ramifications of the new obligation to "come out", found themselves having to fend off a common misperception, that a gay man was necessarily also a pederast. As the perceived public revulsion for homosexuality began to erode, it still seemed that “violation” of teenaged males gave greater offence (to women as well as to men) than the comparable advantage taken of females who (by women as well as men) were still viewed in an objectifying fashion.

Paedophilia, insofar as it was contemplated at all in the 1970s and 1980s, referred almost exclusively to boys who, the prevailing wisdom had it, required far greater protection from “predatory” men than did girls. Girls were very widely seen, in crude terms, as “asking for it”. After all, didn’t they all dress in a manner designed to provoke men? If they didn’t, they were frigid or lesbian. Damned if they did, damned if they didn’t.

In recent years, the internet and, a long way afterwards, broadcast television have, between them, exposed children of even very young ages to the sort of sexual material that adults, let alone children, were denied last century. The onus to monitor this exposure has firmly been put upon parents, and parents have not notably accepted the onus. We have all learned a new term: “grooming”. This is the process by which paedophiles soften up children with whom they have made contact by email and webchat, frequently themselves posing as youngsters. There has been loud outrage, well fuelled by the tabloids, and people from estates who don’t even know what the word “paedophile” means – the office of a blameless paediatrician was attacked by one howling mob – have marched and yelled. Supposed sex offenders, named by the press, have their homes and persons attacked. At the same time, the children who are thought to be in danger frequently know – at a superficial level – more about sexual technique and specialised tastes than do their indignant parents.

Tom O'Carroll, a recent pciture from The Northern Echo

Then of course the health and safety movement has hung children about with so many supposedly protective restrictions that the streets, once the favoured playground of the urban young, are empty of anyone not in a gang. So the kids stay indoors, watch porn on their PCs, pass a sedentary childhood eating fast food instead of running around and are thought to be safe and … um … healthy. There’s a lot wrong here.

I return to the issue of power. Many pathetic but harmless individuals gaze longingly at children and images of children but will not impose themselves on some unwilling object of lust because the need to exert power doesn’t inform their inclinations. Looking at images of children, especially grossly pornographic images, is deemed to make an important contribution to the creation of such images because money changes hands, thereby giving the perpetrators of the photographed abuse the motivation to continue. There is clearly an argument for requiring that the customers for such material account for their patronage. But I maintain that the coercion of children, the use of subtle and not so subtle power over the vulnerable is the true offence in these transactions. The internet is full of material uploaded by boys of all ages (girls too, for aught I know) displaying and abusing themselves and their fellows for their own gratification and the gratification of anyone who cares to look at it. Not all children are in any or in every sense wholly innocent.