Luke Johnson: The police and liberal media have skewed priorities

The police and media became obsessed by the phone-hacking scandal, while much more serious crimes were ignored.

by Luke Johnson
Last Updated: 01 Oct 2014

It is curious how the authorities, and indeed the media, can suffer from a misguided sense of priority - especially when it involves sensitive issues of race and politics.

Take the emphasis given to the phone-hacking trials. Organisations such as the Guardian and the BBC have lavished untold amounts of resources on this seedy affair. The police and Crown Prosecution Service have spent more than £100m of taxpayers' money on the various trials. So far there have been few convictions, and those who have been found guilty have been given fairly short sentences, which I think reflects the relative unimportance of the offences committed.

However, the National Theatre thought the whole matter was of such significance it commissioned a play on the subject. Meanwhile, the right-on actor George Clooney is to star in a movie about the phone-hacking scandal. Clearly, the entertainment establishment believes this is a truly shocking subject that needs to be exposed.

By contrast, the many cases of sex abuse and grooming of underage white girls by Muslim men of largely Pakistani origin in towns such as Oxford, Telford, Rochdale, Derby and Rotherham have received considerably less coverage. Yet these crimes have obviously been very widespread and are dramatically more serious than any possible offence regarding phone-hacking. At least 20 perpetrators are now serving sentences of 10 years or more for their crimes - demonstrating that judges at least know which the really wicked offences are. Meanwhile, there is a belief that thousands of girls suffered at the hands of these monstrous paedophiles over many years. It rather puts all the grandstanding about phone-hacking into perspective.

In cases such as Rotherham, the local social services and police have proved deeply incompetent and possibly even corrupt.

I know from personal experience how the West Yorkshire Police fell prey to a misguided policy of political correctness. In early May 2004, when I had been chairman of Channel 4 for just a few months, a row broke out about a serious documentary exposing child abuse called Edge of the City, filmed in Bradford by Anna Hall. The police put pressure on us to withdraw the film because of concerns about 'community disorder'. Mark Thompson, the then CEO at Channel 4, decided that we should delay transmission. I regret to say I supported his decision. It was not the channel's finest hour. We did broadcast the programme in August that year, but in an obscure slot with little advance publicity, and it caused barely a ripple.

Three years later, Channel 4 was heavily criticised for permitting allegedly racist comments to be broadcast during Celebrity Big Brother. But we received virtually no criticism for backing down over the initial showing of the Edge of the City documentary. I know which action was actually the more shameful and did more potential harm.

Unquestionably, the media organisation that really broke this story was News International. For three years from 2011, it devoted significant resources and gave considerable coverage to its investigations. Journalist Andrew Norfolk has won awards for his work. This put pressure on the police, CPS and councils to help stamp out and prosecute the attackers of vulnerable girls, often in local authority care, albeit years after they should have done. The Times newspaper did a magnificent job and deserves huge applause.

Meanwhile, those who hate Rupert Murdoch and his politics - such as the Guardian, the BBC and all too many showbiz luvvies - focus only on their phone-hacking misdeeds, where most of the victims were celebrities who court publicity for a living.

Channel 4 showed two more follow-up documentaries on the subject of sex gangs in 2011 and 2013, but by then the story had become mainstream.

Now I suspect even the Yorkshire police are taking the issue seriously, but only because they were obliged to by external political and media pressure. Interestingly, virtually every single council - and indeed MP - in every location where such cases have come to court is Labour. Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham between 1994 and 2012, said, as a 'Guardian reader and liberal leftie', he had avoided confronting the Muslim community about the scandal when in office.

These stories of mass sex abuse in gritty ex-mill towns are rather less glamorous than eavesdropping on the indiscretions of famous actors. But which matters more? The entire saga reflects a gruesome combination of political correctness gone mad, institutional cowardice, official incompetence on a grand scale and the debased nature of power and culture in many Labour strongholds.

Let us hope that Hacked Off and similar self-interested lobbyists never manage to censor our media so much that our news organisations are prevented from exposing such criminality and neglect by the authorities. As Edmund Burke wrote: 'All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.'

Luke Johnson is chairman of Risk Capital Partners. Follow him on Twitter: @LukeJohnsonRCP

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