The impression I got from the interview was reinforced by the letter in his defence from 38 paediatricians that appeared in yesterday’s Guardian. The authors state that:
There is a determined campaign to deny the existence and reality of child abuse in all its forms, led by a small group, aided and abetted by some journalists and politicians.
This claim by the letter’s signatories seems to me wrong in itself and sinister in its attempt to smear anyone who disagrees with their view of child protection.
I can’t claim any expertise in child protection. But having a passing interest in miscarriages of justice and having read the work of at least some of those who write about such issues, I have never come across anybody who denies that child abuse happens and indeed is a serious problem in modern society.
Authors and journalists such as Richard Webster and Bob Woffinden, and politicians such as John Hemming and Claire Curtis-Thomas, campaign on behalf of those who they believe have been wrongly accused of child abuse. Often they are at pains to stress that child abuse itself is very real and even point out that false accusations are likely to make it harder in the long run to tackle genuine instances of abuse.
So why do the authors of the Guardian letter make the accusation? After all, no one would accuse those who are campaigning on behalf of Barry George in the Jill Dando case of ‘denying the existence of murder’ or being apologists for murderers.
It seems to me that through a combination of professional and moral hubris, David Southall and his defenders have made their own views about child abuse a matter of faith rather than evidence. They believe that they are dealing an evil so widespread that it requires them to act with missionary zeal to proclaim what they believe about the prevalence of harm done by parents to their children. In this worldview evidence counts for very little. It is a battle between true believers and heretics or ‘deniers’.
If the views of the 38 paediatricians are typical of the profession, then from beginning of children’s lives, parents and doctors, whose care is essential to their wellbeing, are working in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion. The dangers of this are obvious: that families will be destroyed through false allegations (something that itself has devastating consequences for children’s wellbeing); that innocent parents of sick children will not seek medical help for fear of being accused of harming them; and that with resources wasted on harassing the innocent, the genuinely guilty will not be discovered in time.
It is worth remarking at this point that in the last couple of weeks, new evidence has emerged questioning the murder conviction of one childminder, while another has been convicted of manslaughter, despite protesting her innocence, and a ‘Sally Clark’-style campaign is already under way on her behalf. In each case expert witnesses were key to the conviction.