ESTABLISHMENT FIASCO – The appointment and resignation of Baroness Butler Sloss

Was this panic in action?  On July 7, the British Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced a wide ranging inquiry in which a panel of experts will examine evidence that successive governments, charities, political parties, the NHS, the BBC and the Church failed to protect children from paedophiles.  The day before, she had ruled it out. 

It is reasonable to think that her appointment of Baroness Butler-Sloss to chair this hastily cobbled together inquiry was made in that same panicky rush, for it is obvious that Ms May did not do her homework.

Superficially, the appointment looked like a good one. Baroness Butler Sloss has had an illustrious legal career. In 1979 she became the fourth woman to be appointed a High Court judge, assigned to the Family Division. In 1988, she became the first woman appointed as a Lord Justice of Appeal (judge of the Court of Appeal), having chaired the Cleveland child abuse inquiry in the previous year. In 1999, she became President of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice, the first woman to hold this position and the highest-ranking woman judge in the United Kingdom until Brenda Hale became the first female Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, in January 2004. She retired as a High Court judge in 2005at the age of 73.

This is properly impressive, but it is not the whole story.  As soon as the appointment was announced objections were raised. Much of what was said and continues to be said is vicious and possibly libellous and certainly does not need to be re-aired here.

One incontrovertible thing, however, makes it evident to any reasonable person that Baroness Butler Sloss was not an appropriate choice for this position. She is the sister of the late Lord Havers of St Edmondsbury, who, as Sir Michael Havers served as Attorney-General for England and Wales and Northern Ireland from 1979 to 1987 under Margaret Thatcher.

In 1981, Sir Michael Havers warned Geoffrey Dickens not to name senior diplomat Sir Peter Hayman as a paedophile in the House of Commons. Dickens ignored his advice, and was publicly condemned by Havers, who said “All Mr Dickens has done is make certain that Sir Peter’s shame and embarrassment is known to the world. There cannot be any justification whatsoever for what has happened. How can the public have gained by this? How can it be in the public interest to name this man?

Baroness Butler Sloss claims not to have known of her brother’s involvement in this episode, in which his instinct was to cover up, and he clearly identified more with the shame felt by the exposed high-ranking paedophile than the need to protect other children, or indeed to condemn lawbreaking.  She may well be telling the truth, but it is not the issue.

This is the issue: Given that much of the alleged political cover-up which this new inquiry will investigate occurred when Havers was highly influential, and concerns the government of which he was a member, no relative of his could be expected to conduct the inquiry. That it was not immediately clear to the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister, and indeed the Baroness herself, almost beggars belief.  But when objections were first raised, the Prime Minister’s spokesman expressed irritation that anyone could question her integrity.  No doubt she has integrity, but that is not sufficient. 

Thankfully, six days after her appointment Baroness Butler Sloss did recognise how inappropriate her appointment was and resigned.

As I think about it, however, it becomes clear to me why there was so much surprise and resistance to the idea among many commentators and politicians that the appointment was wrong. The word that springs to mind is “entitlement”.

Entitlement is a theme which runs through the entire matter.

The abuse of children must be grounded in entitlement. Adult men, whether they are priests, politicians, judges, lawyers, doctors, or garbage collectors must think they are somehow entitled to sexually abuse children.

Attorneys-General and other people in high places must think they are entitled to protect their friends and colleagues from public exposure when they commit crimes. I refer to Michael Havers’ statement again:

All Mr Dickens has done is make certain that Sir Peter’s shame and embarrassment is known to the world. There cannot be any justification whatsoever for what has happened. How can the public have gained by this? How can it be in the public interest to name this man?"

I wonder if he would have asked the same question about the naming of an unemployed person who had burgled a house or over-claimed on a social security payment. I suspect not.

Home Secretaries must think they are entitled to appoint one of their own to oversee inquiries into the activities of others of their own.

The public demand for an inquiry into paedophile activity among Britain’s elite combined with the negative public reaction to the appointment of Baroness Butler Sloss should teach the government in general and the Home Secretary in particular one important lesson when it comes to appointing the replacement for Baroness Butler Sloss.

The new chairperson must be a person with absolutely no connection to the British Establishment – no connection to the House of Commons, no connection to the House of Lords, no connection to the legal or medical professions no connection to the Church of England or any other church, and no connection to the police.  That is a big list of exclusions but it still leaves millions of women and men who might have a passion for truth without fear or favour.