Ed Miliband should be leading the calls for a wide-ranging abuse inquiry

Many different stories involving alleged organised or institutionalised abuse of children have been prominent in the press during since February: about the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), and their links to the National Council of Civil Liberties, about abuse in a range of top private schools (especially Colet Court and St Paul’s), about the hideous range of abuse carried out by late Liberal MP Cyril Smith and then further in special schools in Rochdale, trials (with both convictions and acquittals) of celebrities as a result of Operation Yewtree, further information concerning the shocking abuse cases in children’s homes run by Islington Council, and new stories relating to abuse in Lambeth, with suggestions that a detective was taken off the case after a cabinet minister from the Blair era became a suspect (see also here, here, here and here, whilst the inquiry into historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland (the largest inquiry of its type in the UK) opened at the beginning of the year. Other investigations continue, most notably Operations Fairbank, Fernbridge and Cayacos, resulting from the questions put to the House of Commons by Tom Watson MP in October 2012, and dealing in particular with suggestions of a VIP paedophile ring, involving senior politicians from various parties, and centered upon the terrible abuse scandal at the Elm Guest House in Barnes (see also the various links here), and the possibility that children may have even been trafficked to this place from a children’s home in Grafton Close in nearby Richmond to service VIP guests. Cyril Smith and the late Sir Anthony Blunt, former Master of the Queen’s Pictures and Soviet spy, have been named as visitors to Elm Guest House.


The courage of a few good politicians

The Labour MP for Rochdale, Simon Danczuk, co-author with Matthew Baker of the excellent Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith (London: Biteback Publishing, 2014) has reiterated the claims that Smith was not working alone, and was part of a wider VIP ring; indeed Danczuk has gone so far as to argue that if charges had been brought against Smith, he would have named others and the resulting scandal could have toppled a government. Certainly the same possibility would have applied for the Blair government if a serving minister there had been charged with the abuse of children.

Danczuk has indicated that he is considering using Parliamentary Privilege to name one especially prominent former cabinet minister who was part of a ring with Smith and involved at Elm Guest House. This is almost certainly a figure from the Thatcher era whose identity is well-known on the internet, but has not been otherwise made public in the mainstream media in this context, though he was named when such allegations were dismissed thirty years ago. Various reports from Exaro News and The People newspaper (see links above) have indicated that a former cabinet minister was involved, with stories of videos and the possibility of some survivors being able to identify this figure . I hope that if Danczuk is secure in his conviction here that he will indeed name this figure, as unfortunately there is reason (on the basis of precedent) to have doubts as to the possibility of full investigations being able to proceed without external interference. This name, if made public, may cause shockwaves both in the UK and wider afield, and in such a context it would be very hard to resist the call for a proper public inquiry (and, perhaps more importantly, it would be harder for darker forces to try and prevent the police investigating this figure properly).

Danczuk and Watson are heroic politicians for our time, both risking huge amounts of approbrium and antipathy from colleagues and others (as Watson has detailed in his tribute to Danczuk). As a campaigner and independent researcher into abuse in musical education and also into PIE (about which numerous earlier blog posts give primary source information) I have had the pleasure to meet with Watson. No words can praise highly enough his complete dedication to these issues, as demostrated earlier with the allegations about the media and phone hacking. A few other MPs have shown courage and determination with these issues: Lucy Powell, Labour MP for Manchester Central, has continued to pursue the issue of abuse in music education and safeguarding (with Chetham’s and the Royal Northern College of Music both lying within her constituency), whilst Conservative MP Tim Loughton, former Children’s Minister, also speaking out about the scale of organised abuse as can be read in a speech he made to Parliament last September detailed here in Hansard.

But these politicians (and a few others) are relatively few and far between. Others have tried to fudge or ignore the issues, perhaps knowing of the fact that a full inquiry could uncover information deeply unsettling for all the three major British political parties (and maybe several others as well). As the late Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens found, pursuing the issue of organised child abuse involving prominent individuals is a lonely cause. When Dickens claimed that children were being abused on a council estate in Islington, the Labour MP for Islington North (my own MP), Jeremy Corbyn, claimed that Dickens was ‘getting cheap publicity at the expense of innocent children’ (see here for more on this story). When Dickens tried in 1984 to introduce a bill proscribing organisations like PIE, Labour MP Clare Short claimed the reason for the bill was ‘publicity for the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens)’ and spoke of ‘cheap publicity stunts’.


The left, paedophile organisations, and organised abuse

During this period, as has been amply chronicled recently, there were sections of the left, even the far left. Investigation of pro-paedophile literature (which I have done extensively, finding an alarming amount of this in mainstream publications, including scholarly literature, which I will document at a later date) shows no shortage of individuals (even including several prominent feminists) who sought to link the issue of paedophilia to supposedly progressive attitudes towards gender and sexuality. NCCL were affiliated to PIE for an extended period, and took out advertisements in PIE publications Understanding Paedophilia and Magpie, whilst their 1976 evidence to the Criminal Law Revision Committee (some of which reads almost exactly in the manner of a good deal of pro-paedophile literature) included the astonishing claim that ‘Childhood sexual experiences, willingly engaged in, with an adult result in no identifiable damage’. It is clear that for a period NCCL (and also various gay rights organisations) were influenced, possibly even infiltrated, by paedophile campaigners, a process Christian Wolmar has traced (drawing in part upon first-hand experience of encountering paedophile groups) over a range of leftist organisations in the 1970s (this is also documented in Lucy Robinson’s book Gay Men and the Left in Post-War Britain: How the Personal got Political (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011)).

Current Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman MP was Legal Officer for the NCCL from 1978 to 1982; she joined the organisation two years after the Criminal Law Revision Committee submission, but no evidence has yet been provided of her – or her husband, Jack Dromey (who was on the committee of NCCL from 1970 to 1979, and has claimed to have opposed PIE but given no evidence for this) opposing the influence of PIE at the organisation.

How has Harman responded to the latest flurry of press attention? After the story was re-hashed in the Daily Mail in mid-February (having appeared sporadically for several years previously); it had become clearer how deeply PIE were involved with a wide range of abuse scandals, an involvement which has become even clearer in the subsequent months. In particular, the sinister figure of the late Peter Righton (files relating to whom provided the impetus for the police investigations which opened in 2012 – see also this 1994 documentary), who weaned his way to influential positions in the social work profession, was a high-up member of PIE, and has been linked to a network of abusers in public schools and to a range of cases of abuse in children’s homes; one victim has linked Righton to Cyril Smith (Smith may have met Righton when he was Liberal spokesperson on social services from 1976 to 1977). The journalist Eileen Fairweather, who broke the story of widespread abuse in Islington children’s homes for the Evening Standard, wrote of how one woman recalled being told openly by Righton at a social function in the 1970s how he enjoyed having sex with boys in children’s homes; Righton apparently assumed that as a lesbian she ‘wouldn’t break ranks’, and the woman went along with what she called ‘a typical gay man’s excuse – that he didn’t use force’ (she later gave a statement to the investigators) (cited in Christian Wolmar, Forgotten Children: The Secret Abuse Scandal in Children’s Homes (London: Vision Paperbacks, 2000)). Righton also wrote an endorsement which was used on the cover of Tom O’Carroll’s book Paedophilia: The Radical Case (ibid). Elsewhere, Fairweather has written of the deep links between Islington Council and PIE.

Harman’s first response was completely defensive: in a statement which was printed in the Mail on February 24th, she referred to the allegations as a ‘smear campaign’, and denied any connection with NCCL policy on lowering the age of consent to ten, or opposing the law on incest, as in the 1976 submission, pointing out that she did not work for NCCL until two years later, and denying that her involvement with NCCL implied any further support for PIE. However, as the paper pointed out, the 1976 submissions remained policy in 1978, when Harman joined, and she does not appear to have raised any objections then; furthermore, the affiliation continued throughout her time as Legal Officer. In a statement published together with Harman’s, Dromey argued that he was ‘at the forefront of repeated public condemnations of PIE and their despicable views’

As the media response grew louder, Harman appears to have realised that this would not be enough, and gave an interview with Laura Kuenssberg for Newsnight, again denying this amounted to anything more than a smear. She pointed out that PIE were one of a thousand organisations affiliated to NCCL, and that any organisation could affiliate. Ed Miliband (in what appears to have been his only statement on the whole controversy) backed Harman absolutely on the same day, reiterating her claim that the story amounted purely to a smear (Sam Coates, ‘Miliband backs Harman over ‘paedophile smears’, The Times, February 25th, 2014). It was later revealed that Harman and Dromey may not have been so confident about what journalists might find, and they trawled the NCCL archives in Hull themselves (their names can be found in the ledgers) on February 24th, five days after the story broke, and on the same day as the Newsnight interview. The Mail responded by pointing out that in the year when Harman joined the organisation, PIE was listed in the book The NCCL Guide to Your Rights as one of eighteen organisations which ‘may be helpful’ to readers, alongside the likes of the Family Planning Association and Rape Crisis Centre, and also that by 1982, the constitution of an affiliated institution had to be ‘approved by the Committee’ (PIE continued to be affiliated for a further year). The Telegraph also viewed other internal documents that cast serious doubts upon Harman’s claims that PIE had been ‘pushed to the margins’ back in 1976, before she went to NCCL, revealing that NCCL gay-rights spokesperson Nettie Pollard (probably the key link between NCCL and PIE, who has elsewhere herself been named as a member (#70) of PIE) had sat on a fourteen-strong NCCL gay rights committee with PIE chairman Tom O’Carroll (O’Carroll later thanked Pollard for her help in the foreword to his 1980 book Paedophilia: The Radical Case), and printed a letter from Harman forwarding a query from Pollard as to how to table amendments to the Protection of Children Bill in the Lords in 1978; this story was also pursued briefly in The Guardian. At this stage a spokesman for Harman had to concede that Pollard had promoted paedophilia and exploited the gay rights committee. Most damningly, the Mail printed a copy of the NCCL advert taken out in PIE journal Magpie in 1979 (which I had earlier revealed, though omitted at this stage to mention the earlier 1977 advert in Understanding Paedophilia).

Various of these articles drew attention in particular to how Harman herself urged changes to the 1978 Protection of Children Bill by saying that ‘images of children should only be considered pornographic if it could be proven the subject suffered’; this is perhaps the most crucial piece of information, and which comes dangerously close to PIE-style thinking, by positing that something only becomes pornographic if the child considers it as such (rather than in a statutory fashion). Though Harman protested that this was to stop parents being criminalised for taking beach or bathing pictures of their children (which would in itself be fair), these proposed amendments went further than that, as a lawyer would surely know.

As the furore continued, Patricia Hewitt made a reasonably decent and measured statement (after a period when she was uncontactable), claiming that NCCL was ‘naive and wrong to accept PIE’s claim to be a ‘campaigning and counselling organisation’ that ‘does not promote unlawful acts’, accepting responsibility and apologising, saying she ‘should have urged the executive committee to take stronger measures to protect NCCL’s integrity from the activities of PIE members and sympathisers’, though disclaiming any part in the ‘proposal to reduce the age of consent’, and saying nothing about the 1976 Criminal Law Revision Committee submission. Hewitt’s retirement from her position as a non-executive director of BT was also announced a few weeks later, though it is not clear whether this was related.

But there was no such humility from Harman, whose public school haughtiness deserves consideration just as does that of David Cameron or George Osborne; in an interview for The Times in early March, she adopted a contemptuous tone, continuing to refuse to apologise, talked about intending to be Deputy Prime Minister, and even talking about how she was ‘spending a lot of money on my hair, which is the same colour as when I was 33 [….] I’m not quite sufficiently politically correct to be able to stop it’, giving the impression that this mattered more than the ongoing stories about abuse (Sam Coates, ‘I want to be deputy PM, says Harman as she stands firm over paedophiles’, The Times, March 8th, 2014).

Former Head of the Obscene Publications Squad Michael Hames (author of The Dirty Squad (The Inside Story of the Obscene Publications Squad)) argued that ‘the NCCL legitimised the Paedophile Information Exchange’, and that Harman, Dromey and Hewitt ‘made a huge mistake. At the very least they should acknowledge, publicly, that they got it wrong’. But this would not be forthcoming from either Harman or Dromey. The current director of Liberty (the renamed NCCL), said that past paedophile infiltration of the organisation was a matter of ‘continuing disgust and horror’, statement endorsed by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

A civil liberties organisation should defend the civil liberties of all people, including those whose views they might otherwise despise and reject. The American Civil Liberties Union has defended the right to free speech of the Klu Klux Klan; in my view, they are absolutely right to do so, for using fascistic techniques of censorship is no way to combat fascist ideology and organisations. Paedophiles have rights and civil liberties as well (and I have no interest in debating with those people who would deny that they do); were the NCCL simply to be defending these, or indeed fighting against the rather archaic law of ‘Conspiracy to Corrupt Public Morals’, then their actions should be applauded. Furthermore, it would be rash to censor even a debate on the precise age of consent, which varies slightly between different Western countries.

But NCCL’s support for PIE went further than this. I do not believe Harman, Dromey or Hewitt to have been active supporters of the abuse of children themselves; however, at a time when PIE was at its height, they were all intimately involved with an organisation which not only allowed PIE to affiliate (would Harman have been so happy with a group which advocated that a man can beat his wife if she is disobedient, or a fundamentalist Christian anti-gay organisation?), but also advertised in its own deeply unpleasant publications (see the ample amount of material I have published on this blog here, here and here) and appear to have been influenced by aspects of PIE thinking in their policy, as well as having PIE members on their own committees. No clear evidence has been provided for any of these three figures having opposed this, unlike with Peter Hain, say. PIE’s strategy was to infiltrate and influence mainstream gay rights and civil liberties organisations towards their own ends; Harman, Dromey and Hewitt stand as appearing culpable in allowing this to happen, and in the process adding a degree of respectability to that very paedophile movement which looks to have been involved in the worst cases of organised abuse.

As further investigations into the latter continue, it would be a miracle if the involvement of leading PIE members is not evoked on many future occasions, and many more questions asked about just how this organisation and the ideologies it espoused came to win a degree of acceptance especially on the liberal left (two very thoughtful articles on this question have recently been published by Eileen Fairweather and Christian Wolmar). However, all figures associated with the Labour leadership appear to have treated this as an issue primarily of the reputations of Harman and Dromey (Hewitt is less active in politics today and no longer in Parliament). Harman’s own self-centered attitudes and absolute refusal to concede that this might be about more than her, has precluded the leadership from really commenting at all on the many other stories which have been further illuminated, an intolerable state of affairs. I would personally have difficulty campaigning for Labour if this situation continues.


The need for a decisive lead from Labour and Ed Miliband

The potential situation for Labour is grave: senior figures such as Harman, Dromey or Margaret Hodge (in charge of Islington Council during the period when paedophiles manage to infiltrate their children’s homes, and who tried to dismiss newspaper reports claiming this – but amazingly went on to become Children’s Minister under Tony Blair) stand likely to be found to have been at least complacent if not complicit in a situation which enabled PIE, and as a result widespread abuse, to flourish. If coupled with revelations about a Blairite cabinet minister, this could cast an unremovable shadow over the whole Blair era. Danczuk has written of how ‘it seemed that a fair few on the Left, including some who have subsequently become key figures in the Labour Party were fooled into giving this hideous group [PIE] shelter’, part of the situation which enabled Cyril Smith to act with relative impunity – he does not name the figures in question, but there is little question that he is referring to Hewitt, Harman and Dromey. The dismissive statements of Corbyn and Short, at a time when Dickens was fighting practically a one-man campaign against PIE, look like a form of petty tribalism which in this context could be dangerous; more ominously, some other Labour names have been mooted in terms of visitors to the Elm Guest House. Eileen Fairweather has described the type of Stalinist thinking to be encountered on the left when there are abuse allegations involving gay men, whilst some researchers into abuse committed by women, such as Michelle Elliott or Jackie Turton, have encountered similar resistance to any investigation of the subject. It would seem as if for some on the left, child abuse only matters when it can be exploited to serve a particular type of gender/sexuality politics; when the perpetrators are women or gay men, some might prefer that the abuse go unchecked*.

All of this remains at the level of allegations, for sure, but it seems unlikely that an investigation would not do damage to the Labour Party. But this is equally true for the Liberal Democrats because of Cyril Smith, and very much so for the Conservative Party, with a serious of prominent figures also having been mooted as Elm Guest House visitors (one of them still in the House of Commons today), not to mention the as yet far-from-clarified situation involving the late Peter Morrison, about whom I have blogged at length, involving allegations (based upon accounts by Conservative politicians) of cover-up and even bribery, and that Morrison was linked to the North Wales abuse scandals.

I am a member of the Labour Party; I was unable to stay supporting them following the Iraq War, but rejoined after Tony Blair left the leadership and have had high hopes of Ed Miliband, who I voted for as leader. I look to the Labour Party to protect the interests of ordinary citizens against powerful forms of exploitation, and can hardly imagine an issue Labour should be opposing and attacking more strongly than the existence of networks of VIPs using their position to exploit and abuse children sexually, protected through friends in high places. Miliband showed great resolve over the issue of Murdoch and hacking; now he needs to do the same of the issue of organised and institutional abuse. His silence (and that of most other senior Labour politicians) to date on the issue, save to defend Harman as mentioned earlier, is no response befitting of a Prime-Minister- and government-in-waiting; as with other party leaders, the impression given is of one more concerned about protecting the reputation of a few of his colleagues than in investigating extremely serious allegations of abuse (just as has been seen in numerous other institutions facing abuse or cover-up allegations relating to some of their members).

This should not be a partisan issue, and attempts by all sides to exploit it for party political advantage are crass in the extreme. Ed Miliband has the opportunity to change this and call for an all-purpose public inquiry with which he and his party will fully co-operate, which would put real pressure on the other parties to do the same, as he should also demand. This would require a similar level of commitment from his senior colleagues; if some are not prepared to give this commitment, then Miliband must make clear that he is no longer in a position to lend them support.

[*As for example in the case of the American feminist Kate Millett, who when asked in an interview (originally published in Loving Boys (New York: Semiotext(e), 1980), pp. 80-83) ‘Do you think that a tender loving erotic relationship can exist between a boy and a man?’ she replied ‘Of course, or between a female child and an older woman’ and also said that ‘ part of a free society would be that you could choose whomever you fancied, and children should be able to freely choose as well’. Millett’s book Sexual Politics (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1969) remains a standard feminist text, but I believe on the basis of this interview anything she says about sexual politics should be considered suspect. ]

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New stories and convictions of abuse in musical education, and the film of the Institute of Ideas debate

In the last few weeks a series of new stories have come out relating to abuse in musical education. One of those was about the pianist and composer Ian Lake, who taught at Watford School of Music and the Royal College of Music (RCM), had received a little-reported conviction of a sexual offence (of which details remain hazy) in 1995, but was revealed to be a serial abuser; I wrote about the Lake story here. One of the victims spoke of how she went to the then-principal of the RCM, Michael Gough Matthews (who was Principal from 1985 to 1993, and who died last year), and whilst she was given a change of teacher, nothing else happened, so Lake was free to do the same to others. This type of process has been described by multiple victims at different institutions (including, for example, victims of Ryszard Bakst at the Royal Northern College of Music). Matthews’ successor as Principal, Dame Janet Ritterman, who was Principal at the RCM at the time when Lake was convicted (and is now Chancellor of Middlesex University), has been contacted for comment about what was known about Lake, but has declined to respond. One victim was very keen to make clear how safe and relieved she felt after speaking to the journalist Paul Gallagher, and has posted to that effect under another name as a comment under my blog post on Lake.

An article in today’s Independent names another late teacher at the RCM, Hervey Alan, as having attempted a sexual assault on a student; again, when she complained, she received a change of teacher, but no further action was taken. Furthermore, the victim (who was also a student of Lake’s on the piano) underwent a second attempted assault from a college porter, about which nothing was done after she complained. This woman has also detailed the ways in which not being prepared to respond to sexual advances in the professional world could hinder one’s career, a story which is all too familiar, and needs to be considered seriously alongside all the other dimensions to this issue. I have argued for a while that the granting of unchecked power to prominent musicians, administrators, and fixers almost invites the corruption of such power, and more, rather than less, state intervention is needed to ensure that proper employment practices are observed in a freelance world. Many musicians would hate this, for sure, and claim it represented an unwarranted intrusion by government into a field which should be driven by ‘purely musical’ concerns, but in my view the latter serve as a smokescreen for cynical and callous power games.

Several other stories have come to light recently. Robin Zebaida, pianist and examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM, responsible for the ‘grade’ exams that many young musicians take) since 1998, was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year old girl at the same time as he was seducing her mother; Zebaida received a two-year conditional discharge, was made to sign the sex offenders register for two years, and pay a £15 victim surcharge. The trial heard of romantic evenings with plentiful alcohol with Zebaida kissing the mother whilst groping the daughter; Zebaida would also claim he touched the daughter lightly on account of back problems she suffered following a car crash which had killed her father and brother. (see reports here, here and here; and also ‘Pianist guilty of sex assault on teenager’, The Daily Telegraph, 3/12/13 – not available online). I am not aware of the ABRSM having made any comment.

In November, Philip Evans, music teacher at the private King Edward’s School, Edgbaston, Birmingham (which dates from 1552 and was set up by Edward VI), pleaded guilty to seven sexual assaults, ten charges of making indecent photographs of children, and six counts of voyeurism; more than 400 000 indecent images were found on his computer (Press Association, ‘Teacher Admits Sexual Assault, 28/11/13). The trial found that Evans, who had also acted as an RAF ‘leader’ in the school’s Combined Cadet Force, had abused teenage boys whilst pretending to measure them for their school uniforms, and installed high tech equipment in changing rooms and showers to film pupils. Evans was sentenced in December to three years and eight months imprisonment (see reports here, here – and here).

A further case was overshadowed by the Michael Brewer trial last year; that of music teacher at various East London schools and choirmaster Michael Crombie. Crombie had first gone on trial in November 2010, then aged 73, on 28 charges of indecent assault upon nine girls aged under 16 and child pornography offences from between 1992 and 2002. The court heard that Crombie had forced young girls to strip and duck their heads in a fish tank, then he would video them. He told one girl aged between 10 and 12 that this technique, ‘bubbling’, would help improve her recorder playing. The court saw a video of a young girl with her wrists and legs bound with his tie, trying to break free and gasping for air before being pushed back into the water. Crombie would also take girls on his lap and molest them under the pretext of helping them with breathing exercises. The court heard that victims were unable to complain because of Crombie’s eminence (he was also a Rotary Club member). He was found guilty of 26 of the charges and jailed for seven years, as well as being ordered to sign the sex offenders’ register for life, and banned from unsupervised contact with children (see here, and here; also ‘Teacher ‘filmed pupils in his bath’’, Metro, 18/11/10, Fiona Hamilton, ‘Music teacher abused girls during lessons’, The Times, 27/11/10, Mike Sullivan, ‘Perv Sir’s ‘drown’ sessions’, The Sun, 27/11/10, not available online).

In December 2012, Crombie admitted 47 further counts of indecent assaults upon children between 1964 and 1993, and two counts of sexual activity with a child; these included 16 cases which took place at Beal Grammar School and Wanstead High School when Crombie was a teacher there; most of the others occurred when he worked as a private music tutor between 1991 and 2002. 30 new victims, aged between 11 and 17 at the time of the offences, had come forward, after one had been outraged by Crombie’s asking her to act as a character reference during his previous trial in 2010. She described how he would regularly kiss her, ask her to turn up to lessons naked, and imagine how she would feel if he were to rape her, leading to her running out screaming. Another said he told her whilst groping and kissing ‘if you sing the notes right this wouldn’t be happening’. Crombie had had a sexual fling with a 14-year old girl to who he was teaching bassoon at Beal Grammar School, her parents ultimately trusting him to babysit her at home. He would persuade her to perform sex acts upon him in the school’s music room cupboard and also while he was driving. In January 2013, Crombie received a seven-year jail sentence, his earlier sentence having been reduced to five on appeal, so that he had been due for release in May 2013. The judge sharply criticised the school authorities for allowing Crombie to carry on unchallenged for 30 years, noting that complaints had been made to the school on a number of occasion, but no adequate action had been taken (see here, here, and here; also Press Association, ‘Ex-Music Teacher admits Sex Attacks’, 21/12/12; Press Association, ‘Judge criticises School Authorities’, 25/1/13).

An independent inquiry was launched by the Local Safeguarding Childen’s Board at Redbridge, considering which safeguarding systems and processes were in place during the period of Crombie’s serial abuse; this does not appear to have been completed yet (‘Independent inquiry launched into Redbridge music teacher’s abuse of young girls since the 1960s’, Ilford Recorder, 31/1/13).

Following the first conviction, Norman Lebrecht wrote:

And then ask why it always has to be music teachers, and why so often in Britain. Is it because music, like sport, has tactile teaching elements that attract perverts? Or does music grant a license to perverts to act out their fantasies?
I have no statistics to hand, but it’s Don Giovanni to a string quartet that there are ten times as many music teachers who are caught molesting pupils as chemistry or geography beaks. Now why is that? Does music, in some obscure way, attract sadists and corrupters?

Now Greater Manchester Police have made clear that they are considering extradition proceedings against former Chetham’s teacher Chris Ling, about whom multiple accusations of child abuse were made public in February 2013 (see the reports in The Guardian here,here, here, and here. An earlier investigation in 1990, after Ling had left the UK for the US, was dropped, then reopened in 2013, as part of Operation Kiso. Ling had indicated that he might return to the UK for questioning, but never came back. Three other current or former Chetham’s teachers – violin teachers Wen Zhou Li and Malcolm Layfield and conducting teacher Nicholas Smith – and one from the RNCM – double bassist Duncan McTier (now a professor at the Royal Academy of Music) – have all been arrested and the Crown Prosecution Service are currently considering whether to bring charges or rape and/or sexual assault against them
(here, here, and here. Also, The Independent named leading early music director Philip Pickett as the former Guildhall School tutor who has been arrested on multiple counts of rape and sexual assault.

Lucy Powell, Labour MP for Manchester Central, whose constituency includes both Chetham’s and the RNCM, and also Shadow Spokesperson for Childcare, has made clear her support either for a special inquiry into abuse in musical education as part of Operation Yewtree, or a separate public inquiry. Various other MPs have expressed their support, not least former Children’s Minister, Conservative MP Tim Loughton, who tweeted on January 6th ‘Calls for single overarching enquiry into historic child abuse post Savile louder than ever-I’ve asked the PM twice now, will try again’ (@timloughton).

There are so many more cases past and present of which I have been made aware, and cannot share for reasons of confidentiality; and only a small minority take the related issues of widespread bullying, psychological and emotional abuse in both music education and the music profession seriously (see my previous post inviting people to come forward and talk about this subject). If more people knew the extent of this, they would see the necessity of pushing, and not stopping pushing, for action. Hopefully some of the recent revelations may impress on more the seriousness. I have very good reason to believe that these issues are far from merely historic, and that in various institutions abuse may be continuing to this day, and even that some abusers may be using distant foreign trips connected to musical education for this purpose.

One place where a majority of the participants certainly thought otherwise was the Institute of Ideas debate at the Barbican Centre in October 2013, about which I earlier blogged here. The full debate can now be viewed online here – I invite people to watch it and see the rather contemptuous way in which the issues is treated in particular by panellists Heather Piper, Frank Furedi and chair Clare Fox. With the exception primarily of the important contribution by Professor of Education and Music Psychology Susan Hallam, most of the contributions from the panel and indeed from the floor (with the exception of rather angry responses by myself and another former Chetham’s pupil) seem most concerned about any disruption or change to the situation for music teachers, how it would be so terrible for there to be limits on physical contact, how the important thing is about how music ‘touches the soul’, and so on. I felt quite sick after this debate, and the way it was cynically engineered so as to trivialise the whole issue. The rot at the heart of the classical music world needs to be addressed properly as a matter of urgency, however much some will sneer, minimise or dismiss the issue, shy away from things or protect others in the interests of furthering their own career.


The case of Ian Lake, and reflections on the year

A new report in today’s Independent, by pioneering journalist Paul Gallagher, lifts the lid upon another sorry episode in the history of abuse in musical education – the story of pianist and composer Ian Lake (1935-2004), piano teacher at Watford School of Music, Associated Board examiner and professor at the Royal College of Music for almost 30 years. Lake wrote three books of Music for Young Pianists (New York: Chappel & Co, 1966); his piano piece The Milky Way ) was on the Associated Board syllabus at one point; this became well-known amongst young pianists. He toured the world as an examiner, and also created a concert series for contemporary music, Music in our Time, which ran in London from 1960 to 1970, through which many young composers (many of whom now have significant reputations) received their first major breaks.

Lake’s name is not entirely new in this context; he was convicted in 1995 on sexual offences, though neither the nature of the conviction nor the sentence (which remains unclear) were widely reported at the time or since, and he was able to continue his concert career soon afterwards. At the time of his death in 2004, one obituary by composer and pianist John White minimised this fact, writing:

Ian Lake’s later years were clouded by a conviction for sexual offences in 1995. But he continued his concert career. Strongly self-willed and stubborn, he had set himself several demanding tasks in the weeks following the diagnosis of his cancer a few months ago, including the recording, with his son Jeremy, of his own arrangements for cello and piano of pieces by G.I. Gurdjieff and Thomas de Hartmann. The recording sessions went well and represent a satisfactory completion of the last project he was able to undertake.

Another obituary by composer Christopher Hobbs in The Guardian (Christopher Hobbs, ‘Obituaries: Ian Lake: Pianist who championed contemporary composers’, The Guardian, 7/9/04, not available for general access online) did not even mention the conviction.

I and some others have known for a while of various further serious allegations concerning Lake’s actions during the course of his career; now some of his victims, including one man who was abused by Lake from the age of 10, have chosen to speak out. According to his account, Lake was simply removed from his position at some point during his study in the 1970s, but was left free to teach elsewhere; others have spoken of the abuse they encountered at Lake’s hands at the RCM. One former principal of the RCM, Dame Janet Ritterman, under whose directorship Lake continued to teach (and was convicted) declined to answer as to what was known about Lake’s history of abuse. Responses of others in the musical world have been disappointing; too many musicians (including the writers of the obituaries mentioned above) were well-disposed towards Lake for how he had helped their own careers to want to think about how he might have also been responsible for terrible acts leading to a range of destroyed and tormented lives.

As more and more revelations about abusive teachers have emerged, some have branded these a ‘witch hunt’ (one commenter argued that ‘people such as Ian Pace are simply fuelling an environment of paranoia and mistrust which is looking more like a witchhunt every day’) and have often implied that the musicianly qualities of individuals like Lake somehow mitigate their other actions. It is hard to imagine many taking this attitude towards a caretaker, postal worker or comprehensive school teacher accused of similar offences; somehow a distorted morality applies different principles according to class and artistic prestige.

The full extent and scale of Lake’s activities may not be known properly, nor would victims stand a chance of being heard safely and gaining some degree of closure, without a public inquiry of the type for which I and others have been campaigning through the course of this year. Various MPs, including Lucy Powell (Labour, Manchester Central, Shadow Minister for Childcare, and whose constituency contains Chetham’s and the Royal Northern College of Music) and Tim Loughton (Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham, former Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families), have made clear their own support for this type of judicial inquiry, and I continue to hope that the government will recognise the pressing need for this. Since around 1990, there have been sporadic reports about abuse in music education, which have come to a head this year; I have compiled a summary of these in another blog post here.

Following a minor involvement with the Michael Brewer trial (about which trial I will post a thorough account with full references at a later date) and having been the hoster of the petition for a public inquiry into all types of abuse in musical education, I have become deeply involved in this issue during the course of this year, and the effect has been sobering and often distressing. Whilst collating signatures for the petition, a great many people wrote to me with a plethora of awful allegations concerning abuse at all five specialist music schools (Chetham’s, the Yehudi Menuhin School, the Purcell School, Wells Cathedral School and St Mary’s Music School) and all the major conservatoires as well (not to mention at choir schools, summer courses, from private teachers, and more – and also in various other countries as well as the UK). To be in possession of such a range of allegations, but unable to pass them on without permission in each individual case, creates a sense of grave responsibility. As well as the direct allegations of abusive teachers, I was made aware of much more information concerning how other people working at these institutions systematically sought to cover up for and protect such teachers, often delivering short shrift to those who complained, or even attempting to bully or blackmail them into silence, more concerned about the reputation of the institutions than the welfare of their pupils. Furthermore, some have tried to excuse such actions on grounds of some type of artistic temperament, alleging that disdain for abuse represented nothing more than a fear of ‘passion’ or ‘intimacy’ (see my post here – the debate in question in full, with question, can be viewed here).

As I have argued elsewhere, all of this is symptomatic of a twisted set of values in the music world, dominated by a culture of prestige which translates musical hierarchies into wider hierarchies between human beings; some individuals’ well-being and livelihoods are deemed more worthy than others, who are easily dehumanised and viewed as little more than thorns in the sides of hallowed musicians. This is a pattern I have observed in various manifestations for many years in the musical world (and have also noticed the extent to which such hierarchies relate not simply to individuals’ prowess and achievements as musicians, but also to their social class), and it legitimises many wider forms of bullying, psychological abuse, blatant discrimination and exclusion, and a generally macho and brutal musical culture, at least where starry musicians are involved. All of this is masked by a veneer of culture and civilised values which is supposed to result from the elevating power of classical music; the reality is very far from this.

Nonetheless, many musicians (and especially former students at specialist music schools) have lent their support for a full inquiry into abuse in musical education. With only a few exceptions, this has not been matched from those in senior positions at institutions, or for that matter from musicologists. Scholars and academics should be amongst those best placed to undertake critical investigation into the wider cultures and ideologies of music-making (and there are certainly some researching musical education who have gone some way towards doing so). However, with increasing numbers of academic positions being held by practitioners rather than scholars, and the wider effect of the new ‘impact’ requirement upon scholarly production (placing great value, and concomitant implications for research funding for academic departments, upon work which in one or other sense can be shown to have an impact outside of academia) leads to more and more academics producing deferential and sometimes hagiographic writings about musicians and musical institutions from whom they might potentially receive external favour and advancement.

A major police investigation, Operation Kiso, was mounted by Greater Manchester Police, leading to four arrests to date. A former long-term teacher at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama has also been arrested on multiple occasions. Some other investigations continue. Revelations have been made public about various individuals who are now dead, including Lake, leading piano teacher at Chetham’s and the RNCM, Ryzsard Bakst, co-founder and director of music at the Yehudi Menuhin School, Marcel Gazelle (see my blog post with links to other reports on Gazelle), former Dean of Manchester Cathedral (in daily contact with choristers from Chetham’s), Robert Waddington (this blog post includes for links to articles), and Menuhin school cello teacher Maurice Gendron. There are quite a number of other late individuals about whom I have been made privy to allegations, but it is not possible for the police to undertake prosecutions for obvious reasons. Also, cases of abuse where the victim was aged 16 or above, before 2003, or cases of psychological and emotional abuse, or physical abuse (for which there are statutory limitations for reporting), and of course institutional complicity, cannot be addressed simply by criminal prosecutions.

There are various considerations here. The presumption of innocence is vital, as is the principle by which individuals cannot be prosecuted for acts which were not criminal offences at the time they were committed. But this does not make the effects of the latter acts any less serious. When faced by cases of sexual offences (or domestic violence, or racial crimes), some on the left can resort to a black-and-white Old Testament style moralising that might even make the Daily Mail blush. Simply demonising such offenders, calling them scum and so on, may provide a focus for some abstracted hatred in need of an outlet (such as is directed by others towards immigrants, benefit claimants, and so on), but this trivialises the issue by reducing it simply to one of human wickedness, which minimises the issues of institutional responsibility and the culture which allows, arguably even sometimes encourages, abuse to occur. Many abusers are deeply disturbed individuals, sometimes the victims of abuse themselves, or having been nurtured in a culture where it is normalised (one recent allegations suggests that some students of abusive teachers at music schools may have gone on to repeat such behaviour themselves); they need not only to be kept away from vulnerable children, but also to be helped. It is also simplistic to present abuse as a one-dimensional issue of gender; some sexual abusers have been female (including Kay Brewer, former wife of Michael Brewer, who was convicted alongside her ex-husband), there are many allegations of non-sexual abuse on the part of female teachers and musicians, some of the staunchest and most unyielding defenders and apologists for abusive teachers have also been female, whilst some of their most fervent antagonists have been male.

The press coverage over the course of this year has on the whole been well-researched and measured rather than hysterical, and some articles have chosen to dwell on deeper issues than just the identity of abusers (see in particular articles in the Telegraph here, here, and here, as well as the report following the Channel 4 News investigation which named Gazelle. But both police and media can only ever go a certain way in addressing the wider issues, for the reasons given above. The campaign for a full public inquiry must proceed, and once again I implore all those in agreement to write to their MPs to solicit their support (for details on doing this, see here).