Imagine being asked by all your friends and peers to sign an open letter stating full and total support for men accused of sexual abuse and predatory behaviour at the outset of Operation Yewtree. Of course, the accused had the right to the presumption of innocence — and indeed we learnt the hard way the dangers of reporting before evidence had been heard, when some men were wrongly accused of crimes in the media and were later cleared.
But to circulate a petition en masse via social media, praising the accused for his contribution to British life and civic society, with copious reminders of the £40 million he raised for charity in his lifetime? Surely we would think better than to take such a stance? We could well accept a letter which calls on us to rally against a presumption of guilt in sections of the media. But a letter which outlandishly praises the accused and explains away the accusations as part of an ongoing campaign against him? That would surely be an extraordinary thing. Imagine that letter…
Jimmy Saville: Full Support
This open letter expresses our full support for Sir Jimmy Saville OBE. It also explains the reasons that underlie it.
Over and above the presumption of innocence to which Jimmy Saville, like everyone else, is entitled, we support him because such a stance is dictated by our ethical principles.
It is unthinkable that we withdraw our esteem and our confidence following accusations that are highly questionable at best.
In the light of the principle of universal justice, such an attitude would be profoundly unjust and by its very nature, must be rejected.
We express our support for Sir Jimmy Saville in the face of Operation Yewtree because we, like most people, have seen that the accusations levelled against him are now being treated by a section of the British political and media establishment as guilty verdicts.
The same accusations are part of an ongoing campaign that has attempted to demonise him ever since the beginning of his involvement as a philanthropist and media star in the early 1960s.
Jimmy Saville and his activities have never left people indifferent. But instead of confronting him in open debate, his opponents have unfailingly used the most underhanded methods to discredit him as a philanthropist and to discredit his charitable acts.
This is why we—who see Jimmy Saville’s struggle as our own—here reiterate our outright rejection of attempts to vilify him. These attempts will in no way lessen our respect for him in our eyes.
Finally, we feel it imperative to publicly express our support for Sir Jimmy Saville OBE, in the name of causes that transcend his person.
In full solidarity with the efforts of those women who denounce the culture of rape that has festered in the heart of our societies, we cannot close our eyes to the risks inherent in the extreme solutions that some representatives of the feminist movement would have us accept.
To insist that police forces accept the word of presumptive victims and to demand that the legal system treat these individuals justly and with an open mind is one thing.
To treat their accusations as truth with no regard for their merit is something else entirely.
To transform such accusations into public condemnations that destroy reputations, careers and the right of citizens to participate in civic life is more than we can accept.
We call upon all intellectuals and activists (women in particular) of all political and religious persuasions to join a sincere and urgent debate on this vital question.
Pursued with rigour and courage, any form of collective involvement must take into account both the grievances of the presumed victims and the possibility of false or slanderous accusations.
Though this letter may contain points with which we all could wholeheartedly agree, taken altogether such a letter just seems odd.
I am not saying that the accused does not deserve a character witness, or that friends should not rally to his defence. Nor am I saying that the debate alluded to in the letter should not take place. I simply object to the idea that we all need to express total support for a man because he as contributed much to civic society and has allegedly been the target of a vindictive campaign against him in the past. Those matters are completely unrelated to the complaints in question.
In this case, Jimmy Saville was indeed a great philanthropist, raising millions of pounds for worthy causes and, though often mocked my sections of the media, was much loved by the general public. Buildings were named after him, he was showered with awards and, after his death, great memorials were unveiled in tribute to him. He was apparently a great man in the eyes of millions. But the Metropolitan Police also reported that of the 450 complaints of abuse that had been made against him after his death, 214 would have been criminal offences if they had been reported at the time.
In sensitive cases like these, great eulogies are not required. A level head and the ability to be objective, withholding judgment until all the facts are known, are paramount. A person is indeed presumed innocent until proven guilty, but that presumption does not equal indifference to the claims of alleged victims: if that were the case, justice would never be served in any case. Justice requires us to take into account the claims of both the accused and the accuser, and if a judge rules that the case has merit, it will be tested in a court of law.
Twenty-one thousand signatures on an open letter stating full support for the accused are immaterial.