Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Paedoph-Isles

There's not a great deal to say about paedophilia scares either silly or sensible in the wake of Chris Morris's instant-classic Brass Eye special on the subject, but Aaro says good things in this week's column, and I'm happy to start my professional career as an Aaronovitch Watcher by saying that this is one of the best columns I've seen from him, and the best I've read on this particular subject. It's better than Polly Toynbee's column in today's Graun, for example, as there's more about the matter of sex offenders in schools, and a bit less about the beastly hounding of Ruth Kelly, and it's the former that is the issue that matters. Toynbee commendably manages to work in a mention of the former Chief Inspector of Schoolgirls into her column, but Aaro's is comfortably the stronger piece.

It wouldn't be an Aaro column without its irritating moments, of course. Understatement trumps overstatement, and it'd be a more quietly impressive column without the Aaro-bombast at the start about just how brave he is to be writing it. I'm not sure it was worth throwing in a dig at Shami Chakrabarti towards the end, who has quite enough on her plate at the moment; and I really didn't want the mental image of Aaro ogling the waitress while drinking my morning coffee.

But the good things far outnumber the clunky. Aaro rightly stresses the distinction between looking and doing, reminds us that sex offenders come in more or less troubling varieties, and points out that "the decisions of the successive secretaries of state, tribunals and officials seem to have been broadly right. There is no crisis." Pretty straightforward observations, indeed, but not ones we're encountering often enough in the frenzy of the last few days. And he takes us one by one through the list of nine sex offenders who have been permitted to teach in schools, to consider their records, and the decisions that were made about them, elegantly to puncture the crazy, crazy claims of the Daily Mail about the "“chilling roll call" of paedophiles in schools. "In fact", Aaro writes, "before the weekend, the only cited case of a sex offender coming back into teaching and committing a crime was that of Steven Taylor, who was on the sex offender’s list, and who subsequently raped an 11-year-old girl student in 2001." One offence too many, of course, and we all hope the background to the case has been thoroughly investigated; but the singular of "episode" isn't usually "systemic crisis", and not many people are willing to be pointing this out. David "vulnerability, fallibility" Aaronovitch is just the man to do it. And even on this delicate territory, he can still be funny, especially on the subject of little Darryl, and that's good, too.

In short, this is probably as good a column as you can write on the subject without heading into fullblown feminism (for which, see here). I'll probably be sacked by my fellow Aaro-watchers for starting off with quite so much praise, but this week, I think, he deserves it.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Backword Dave said...

Good God, what is Toynbee on about? I don't think I've actually read her for nearly 20 years, but I was starting to build up a vicarious affection based solely on attacks by Scott Brugess and Tim Worstall. Now you've gone and spoiled that!

I mean, "Inside and outside the cabinet, everyone I have spoken to condemns the prime minister for recklessly appointing her too soon, inexperienced for a portfolio that is a stack of unstable dynamite" isn't even close to grammatical. Dynamite is always unstable, BTW. Experience is over-rated anyway: Blair pretty much admits to being inexperienced when he became Prime Minister. And I think Thatcher was inexperienced when she was Education Secretary; did do the old Milk-Snatcher any harm. (OK, Thatcher had three previous front bench jobs to Kelly's two.)

Aaro is, as you say, the better of the two. He's still lax: "Another, Paul Reeve, the PE teacher whose exposure started this whole furore, was cautioned by the police in 2003 for accessing banned images of children on the internet." AFAIK, images can't be "banned" unless a censor has seen them, and a) there is no interweb censor and b) even so "banned" from what or whom? Paul Reeve's credit card details were found by Operation Ore: he paid to access those images. This isn't comparable to reading Lady Chatterley in the 1950s or something.

I think he's wrong here too: "And people should be prosecuted for paying for or encouraging the production of child porn [which Paul Reeve did -- DW]; they are rightly put on the sex offenders register. But that doesn’t mean that they are paedophiles." But that's because he seems to think there's a narrow definition of "paedophile" meaning people who are an active risk, and I don't think that's the case.

But apart from his belief that things aren't so bad now and his apparent belief that Operation Ore should have gone further and Paul Reeve should have been prosecuted for paying for paedophilic images, it's the best thing he's written for the Thunderer.

1/17/2006 03:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Bertram said...

Toynbee has this going for her, that she takes the opportunity to kick the sanctimonious and hypocritical Chris Woodhead.

But Aaro is on good form, though I think that if he's going to refer to "Gibson's more detailed history" a mention of his 2 and a half year sentence for fraud and theft (swindling old people whist working as a "financial adviser") might have been a good idea. Now *that* might be a good reason to keep him out of school.

1/17/2006 04:07:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschetta Boy said...

I've expanded on that very theme in a semi-dissenting opinion above ... I note that Melanie Philips has kept gob shut on this issue to date, presumably because she is still a mate of Woodhead?

1/17/2006 04:14:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschetta Boy said...

No, I was wrong. Good god how does she sleep at night.

1/17/2006 04:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Bertram said...

Not just wrong, but barkingly, madly wrong. On her view anyone convicted of a sex offence against a child should be automatically disqualified. But, of course, there are not a few 17 year-olds convicted for having sex with under-age partners and there are even cases where under-age boys have been prosecuted for sex with those younger than themselves. It would be insane to disqualify someone from teaching for life just because they had sex with a 13-year-old when they were 14!

1/17/2006 04:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Bertram said...

Sorry, the "barkingly, madly wrong" refers to MP not BB!

1/17/2006 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

"accessing banned images"

Chalk that up as another item of clunk, backword dave.

But note that it seems to be police bureaucracy clunk: he's just copying the words everyone else is using to describe this case.

We think this can be expanded to "having paid with his credit card to view nasty kiddyporn on a website", because that's what Operation Ore has been about, but I think Aaro is here staying to the official script, and that there's some document somewhere that only says that PR was on the register for "accessing banned images", however unsatisfactory that phrase is in the grand scheme of thing.

1/17/2006 06:37:00 PM  
Anonymous bruschettaboy said...

It would be insane to disqualify someone from teaching for life just because they had sex with a 13-year-old when they were 14!

particularly if you were simultaneously pushing the view that having had sex with a 17-year-old when you were 29 (and married with a fifteen month old daughter, classy!).

This is a wonderful blast from the past ...

1/17/2006 06:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Backword Dave said...

MP: "Shouldn’t the very fact that a sex offence has been committed against a child be enough to bar someone from teaching, period?" [Para 2]

"First we discovered that Paul Reeve had been cleared by the education department to work as a PE teacher in schools even though he had accepted a caution for accessing paedophile pornography on the internet.
"We are told that although he was accordingly placed on the register of sex offenders he had not been placed on the list of individuals banned from teaching.
"Why this was not done remains unclear, but those who reviewed his case appear to have believed his claim that he had downloaded child pornography by accident. If this is so, it implies that these reviewers simply chose to ignore the fact that accepting a caution necessarily means an admission of guilt." [Paras 6-8]

Unclear? But he hadn't committed a sex offence against a child which is Phillips' own reason for barring someone from teaching! And that eighth paragraph is ridiculous.

I wrote the above before I read CC's comment about "accessing banned images" and I accept the correction. (I forget to hit "publish.") I can see why Aaro played it safe with that one, but I have some difficulty accepting that Paul Reeve didn't pay but accessed the images. (If his card, or the number, were stolen, fair enough.)

1/17/2006 08:48:00 PM  

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