Sarah Champion MP Speculates on MPs Committing Child Sex Abuse, Reaffirms “Believe the Victim” Principle

Politics Home reports:

EXCL Sitting MPs ‘probably involved in some form of child abuse’, claims Labour backbencher

The article was published yesterday, although I had to double-check the date: not so long ago sensational tales about “VIP Westminster paedophiles” provided a near-constant stream of sensational headlines (and not just in tabloids), but in the wake of the Operation Midland fiasco and the damp squib of the posthumous investigation into Edward Heath the mood these days is largely cautious and sceptical.

However, it turns out that the “Labour backbencher” is not claiming some special inside knowledge (unlike John Mann MP, who boasts about having Geoffrey Dickens’s “dossier”), but is simply speculating based on statistical probability:

Sarah Champion, who was part of Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench until August last year, said there was “no way that there aren’t people who are sitting MPs who aren’t involved in some way or another, or a member of their family is… One in 20 children will have a sexual assault against them. When you look at something inappropriate happening to them that drops dramatically to one in four girls and one in eight boys.”

The article is a companion piece to an interview published on the same site (as part of The House magazine), which also includes criticisms of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Champion believes it is wrong that the IICSA will not rule on whether allegations are true or not, and she is critical of its decision to refer to “complainants” rather than “victims”:

“It’s horrible because I don’t think people understand the stigma the sloppy use of English puts on people,” she says.  “To call someone a complainant, I get that legally it might be the right term, but it’s the message that you’re sending these people. You’re just causing trouble for the sake of it. It’s not right.”

I happen to agree that in situations where there is very strong prima facie supporting evidence that abuse or an assault has actually occurred it would be pedantic to shun the term “victim”. Most obviously, the term “complainant” cannot apply in murder cases, and there are many other situations where it is obvious that a crime has taken place even if we do not yet have a suspect, let alone a confirmed perpetrator. To refer to a “victim” in such instances is not prejudicial, as the defence in any trial following is most likely to be that the wrong person has been identified, rather than that the crime did not happen.

However, justice demands greater circumspection when the facts of an allegation are in dispute and supporting evidence of the reality of the crime is weak or lacking. To describe an accuser as a “victim” rather than as a “complainant” is to signal that the accuser is to be believed, and before the conclusion of any investigation this is the very definition of prejudice. It is not “causing trouble for the sake of it” to want to avoid this, and in the wake of Operation Midland’s smears and various false allegations against celebrities such a dismissive attitude simply won’t do (not to mention the current non-disclosure scandals, in which undermining evidence has been withheld from defence teams – most seriously in relation to allegations of rape, but also seen in other cases, such as an accusation of harassment).

Champion appears to have a specific case in mind here: a couple of days ago she re-affirmed her confidence in allegations made by Esther Baker, who is a core participant in the IICSA. Baker alleges that she was abused as a child in woodland by VIPs in ritualistic circumstances, and also that she was taken by night from her home in the Midlands to Dolphin Square in London. In particular, in early 2015 she accused the then-MP John Hemming of having been one of her abusers (even though she had been in contact with him shortly beforehand); the allegation was not substantiated by police, and Hemming is now pursuing legal action of his own (in a recent article, he revealed that Baker has also accused a “well-known, much-respected politician, now dead”).

Champion’s public support for Baker was provided in response to a complaint Baker had made on Twitter about the journalist Sean O’Neill, who has written critically about her allegations. Baker described O’Neill as “the… guy who asked me if I was sure I was raped by the guy I said I was because he’d denied it so I must have it wrong”; Champion’s reply was to quote her Tweet and to add:

One day they’ll believe the victim – but it feels a very long way off!

This can only be understood as an expression of confidence in the unsubstantiated  – and problematic – allegations against Hemming.

One wonders whether we should also infer that Champion is in agreement with Baker about other cases; in particular, Baker continues to insist that Operation Midland’s “Nick” was telling the truth, even going so far as to mock someone as a “cow bag” for asserting that Lord Bramall was innocent. Does Champion also believe in “Nick”? Why not, if a complainant is a victim and we must “believe the victim”?

Last month, I noted that Champion had facilitated plans to bring the “Wall of Silence” exhibition to the Houses of Parliament. The project displays testimonies of child sex abuse by adult survivors, but it problematically has also promoted allegations of “VIP abuse” that have been discredited. On 1 February the project’s organiser, a well-meaning man named Mike Peirce, announced that the invitation had been rescinded, and that he would publish the reason why as soon as he was provided with one.

[UPDATE 2019: Nick can now be named as Carl Beech, and as “Carl Survivor” he was also the poster-child for the Wall of Silence exhibition. His claims have been found to have been fraudulent. More details here].

Footnote: Criticism of Theresa May

The interview has also received media attention due to Champion’s criticism of Theresa May:

…after six years fighting CSE from the Opposition benches, the Labour MP is concerned that for the current Prime Minister the issue has “dropped off the radar”.

When Champion met David Cameron she was impressed with his dedication to the cause following a visit to her constituency to see up close the scars the abuse had left on the community. But she does not believe that Theresa May shares his commitment.

“I do not feel with this government that it is a priority at all,” she says.

“David Cameron got it and I think he got it because I went to him as a dad rather than going to him as a politician. And I got him to meet some of the survivors of Rotherham and one of the mums whose child went through it. So, we engaged with him on that level, which is why he then crusaded as a dad, wanting it for other people’s children.

“Theresa May was great when she was Home Secretary and then as soon as she shifted to PM it’s dropped off the radar. It’s clearly not a priority for them.”

The obvious implication here is that Theresa May is deficient in her concern because she does not herself have children. Thus The Sun has run with:

‘LOW BLOW’ Labour MP Sarah Champion says Theresa May ‘doesn’t fully understand child abuse’ because she’s not a mum

The “low blow” comment was provided Mark Garnier MP; the paper also quotes the Conserative vice chair Helen Grant as calling the claim “an outrageous slur”, and the word “slur” is also used by the paper as its own description. However, the use of quote marks in the headline is misleading: Champion did not provide the quote attributed to her, even though the idea it expresses is implicit in her actual comments. Thus on Twitter she has now responded with

For the record, I have not –  would not – say anything about Theresa May’s ability as a politician based on where [sic] or not she is a mother. Absolute rubbish and lies

UPDATE: Later in the day, The radio station LBC produced a Tweet asking:

Labour MP Sarah Champion has claimed that Theresa May ‘does not fully understand child abuse’ because she is not a parent. Should she apologise?

Champion responded by asking LBC “Why are you regurgitating this lie started by The Sun?”, and she told another user that she had “reported” the Tweet. She also gave a “Like” to a Tweet expressing the view that “That darn Scum needs shutting down”, which raises the question of why, then, she provided an op-ed for the newspaper last August. Her piece was infamously headlined “British Pakistani men ARE raping and exploiting white girls… and it’s time we faced up to it”; on publication she initially said she was “thrilled” by its appearance, but as controversy grew she then complained that the article had been “stripped of nuance” by the paper’s editors.