The long journey to establishing a national inquiry into sex abuse, announced by the Home Secretary, represents the culmination of many years of campaigning by brave survivors to raise awareness of this terrible crime.
But, for me, it began when I saw the terrible damage that child grooming was doing to Rochdale in 2012. It wasn’t just the nature of the crimes that I found sickening, it was the slow realisation of how this was tearing apart the fabric of communities, crushing people’s hopes and destroying lives. The stories I heard absolutely chilled me and I knew then that I wanted victims’ voices to be heard.
From that day on I’ve spoken to victims all round the country and, thanks to their courage and determination, I was able to expose the late MP, Cyril Smith, as a paedophile and open the can of worms that’s seen the establishment come under intense scrutiny and subsequently seen former cabinet minister Norman Tebbit acknowledge that there may well have been a child abuse cover up in Government during the 1980s.
Right now, with missing documents and police investigations into allegations of sexual abuse, there is a febrile and fearful atmosphere around Westminster. Parliament’s reputation is already at a low ebb. But there’s a very real chance it could sink to new depths unless we see the kind of leadership and appetite to confront the problem of terrible abuses of power that have been exposed right across the establishment.
Child abuse is all too frequently a voiceless crime. Thousands of abused children will never speak a word of what happened to them because they do not think anyone will believe them or that the authorities will do anything about it. People live with this terrible burden all their life.
That’s why it’s so important that this inquiry tells the unheard story of victims who were treated as worthless by powerful abusers. Politicians cannot hope to improve social mobility until they realise how crimes against vulnerable people are damaging the life chances in communities everywhere.
For this inquiry to succeed a national story that’s never been properly told will have to be heard. This is the story of victims, frontline police officers, social workers and campaigners. The narrative of what happens at the coalface is all too frequently drowned out by the controlling story of the establishment; the version from the top of how decisions were made to protect vested interests.
When he spoke out at the weekend, Norman Tebbit reflected on how the thinking in the 1980s was that it was more important to protect “the establishment, the system” than delve too far into “a few things [that] had gone wrong”. This, he admitted, in arguably the understatement of the year, has been shown to be spectacularly wrong. It was then and it is now. No child should be denied justice to protect the reputation of establishment figures and that’s why it’s right that the terrible crime of child abuse is finally dragged from the shadows.