Chapter 11 : Home : Chapter 13
Chapter 12: The Big Bang
Stuart Henry, co-author of a book on self-help groups,1 which featured PIE in a not unsympathetic way, before we had captured public attention on any scale, recently suggested that the reaction to PIE's campaign had 'put the case for paedophilia back at least ten years'.2 The same view was put to me forcefully, even angrily, by a professor at the British Psychological Society's conference on Love and Attraction in Swansea in 1977.
'Who the hell do you think you are?' he said to me. 'Some kind of messiah?' He had clearly envisaged that the conference would be entirely an academic get-together, a place for quiet, rational discourse, unsullied by the coarse attentions of the press and its sensation-seeking public. He had wanted to introduce to an academic audience some ideas about paedophilia and child sexuality that were quite as 'advanced' as any I had to offer;3 but his ideas were to be safely couched in academic language, with an air of tentative, disinterested objectivity. Thus, carefully sown, the seeds of his radicalism would be nurtured in good soil, and would in their own good time propagate themselves more widely.
That cosy notion had been entirely wrecked by my arrival at the conference, as a retinue of a couple of dozen notebook- and microphone- and camera-wielders followed my every move, determined to make a villain or a martyr of me, preferably both. I had no great taste for being cast as a martyr or as a messiah, still less as a villain. I hadn't intended to be singled out personally at all, though that is what happened. But I had felt and so had we all in PIE, that a big publicity bang on paedophilia was necessary in order to get the subject onto the agenda for public debate. In the absence of an aggressive push on our part, we felt it might be hundreds of years, if ever, before the age-old taboos could be broken.
At the same time, put on the spot by that angry professor to say what I thought such recklessness would achieve, I had no answer. Our visions had all been hazy, the product of a desperate, un-thought-out sort of hope which we had hardly dared to subject to penetrating analysis, even had we been able to, We hadn't looked at history for any sense of dynamic, for any precise revolutionary dialectic. We just did what we felt it was in us to do, what we were bursting to do, which was to stand up and say loud and clear that we were pig sick of creeping in the shadows, of pretending to be something other than ourselves, of apologizing for feelings which within our deepest selves we knew were capable of a good and fine manifestation, not a wicked or perverted or 'sick' one.
If we had looked at history, what would we have found? That whenever really new, heretical ideas are propounded, ideas which threaten to rock the society in which they are put forward, they inevitably encounter a vicious and forceful opposition. Some might feel we have moved on a bit from the era of throwing Christians to the lions, or even of Christians themselves leaning heavily on the likes of Galileo. After all, look what Darwin managed to get away with. And dear old Karl Marx, who could calmly set the world alight from a comfortable chair in the Reading Room of the British Museum!
But we in PIE were under no illusions as to the reception we would get. We may not have thought it out carefully, but we knew in our bones that the fate awaiting us would probably be more like that reserved for the Tolpuddle Martyrs than for Darwin or Marx. We knew that we would be hitting a particularly sensitive nerve among practically every section of society. To isolate ourselves as a focus for universal hostility was indeed irrational, even downright crazy, and yet we still felt we had to do it.
Naturally, we didn't posit all this to ourselves in quite such stark terms. The tone, when I joined PIE, had already been set by Keith Hose, whose inspiration had been the openness and aggressiveness of the Gay Liberation Front in the opening years of the '70s. He could see that there was no shortage of hostility in society towards gays, but that this was being combated by rejecting the timidity of the past, by 'coming out', by wearing badges and going on marches, by 'zapping' pubs that refused to serve openly gay customers, by challenging dismissals from employment based on anti-gay discrimination.
What he, and I, and PIE generally, had thought about rather less, was the cautious, stealthy progress that had made all this possible in the first place such as the 'respectable', sober-suited closet-gay influence, in the Albany Trust and elsewhere, which by softly-softly tactics, by the skilful deployment of parliamentary lobbying techniques, by gentle public relations persuasion that was designed not to upset anyone, had managed to actually get a law passed in England and Wales, permitting homosexual activity between consenting male adults in private.
There was no way in which we in PIE were going to go through all that palaver. Not secretly or stealthily at any rate. We were just not prepared to wait for decades or centuries before declaring ourselves. It just wasn't in our nature. Instead, we naively supposed we could be both open and play the lobbying, public-relations game to some extent; we thought we could manipulate the Establishment and find allies within it, simultaneously with being the ogres of the popular press and the Church-based reactionaries like the Festival of Light.
With this in mind, we cheerfully sent off correspondence designed to establish links with appropriate professional bodies. The Inner London Probation Service, for instance. In the days before people had become fully alert as to our radical nature, we thought it might be possible to establish ourselves as a self-help agency, to which probation officers could refer anyone convicted of a paedophilic offence, on the (correct) principle that we could befriend and 'counsel' those involved more effectively than a professional with no great knowledge or understanding of the personal problems involved.
In this correspondence we played down the fact that we were a campaigning body, but as an attempt to wear sheep's clothing this proved altogether too half-hearted: the wolfish form was spotted with consummate ease, so that the reply we received was terse and negative in the extreme. It appeared but only after trial and error, for none of us had the foresight to see it that we couldn't pass ourselves off as a sort of Alcoholics Anonymous just when it suited us, especially when most of the time we were busy promoting our tipple with the enthusiasm of a Guinness advertising campaign.
Our real mistake, however, was at a much deeper level than this. We could see 'the enemy' only where it was most obviously manifest. We knew the Whitehouse lobby had a broad populist appeal among the nation's churchgoers and was not without power and influence. We knew that most ordinary people had deep, gut feelings about the protection of children, and that many of them would see red about PIE so forcefully that they couldn't begin to give any rational consideration to our ideas.
We knew that the popular press would play on simple fear and prejudice, given half a chance. We knew that even amongst the most educated classes there were intransigently conservative elements who would share, and perhaps very effectively endorse, the gut reaction of the man in the street. Having recognized all these enemies, we mistakenly supposed that in other areas we might find, if not friends, then at least rational, liberally-minded people, who would be open to ideas. We didn't expect The Guardian newspaper to react in the same way as the News of the World. Yet to our astonishment and disgust, there has been precious little to choose between them, and this just about typifies the reaction of the liberal intellectual establishment across the land.
What we had failed to see was that normally intelligent, broad-minded people were just as capable of giving way to their initial, emotional sense of revulsion as anyone else: in making an appeal to their brains, to their education, we put too much faith in these factors. We were quite wrong in supposing that only religious maniacs and splenetic judges are ruled by factors outside the intellect. Of course, had we been preaching any one of dozens of other doctrines, our supposition would have been correct: there is no shortage of liberals who are prepared to take a sympathetic view of the Provisional IRA,4 despite their revulsion against the barbarity of kneecappings and the suffering of children who get in the way of the bullets and bombs and hatred.
Apparently violence, in the pursuit of a political end like nationalism, is somehow acceptable, no matter how horrific it may be. Yet for some reason that I cannot fathom, the non-violent love of children is regarded as more horrific, not less so. Those very liberals who, if they would not countenance, would at least talk calmly about the IRA atrocities, could not bring themselves to talk calmly and to think about paedophilia.
One of my colleagues at the Open University, who held a senior administrative position, was a classic case in point. He was a chap with a good degree from London School of Economics, a fairly left-wing Socialist, with a fine and subtle mind. One could discuss anything with him sensibly, religion, politics, even sexual ethics, up to a point. But paedophilia? Well, when he found out about my involvement with PIE his shock was so complete as to render him literally speechless. When I eventually persuaded him to at least try to apply his brain to the subject, it was as though some blocking factor had got into his mental circuitry, as though to stay on the subject for more than a few seconds caused overheating and blown fuses all over his head with the result that his usually fine mind just wouldn't function, but kept turning out apoplectic gibberish.
Despite these reactions, we were determined to conduct a no-holds-barred press campaign. We wouldn't temper our message with soothing reassurances. We would go in hard with the view that a fundamental, radical change in attitudes to sexuality and towards children in general was called for. The starker the message, the less it could be ignored and the more likely it was to start a real public debate. We recognized that we would have to sail through stormy waters, through shock/horror headlines, perhaps through sackings of our public representatives from their jobs and other forms of intimidation.
But at the same time we would win a measure of respect for our sincerity, and with the dying down of the initial revulsion, people would ask themselves why we had put so much at risk, and would begin to consider our ideas properly. In a few years time, when the trendy liberals had caught up, the really smart thing for the fashionable Hampstead hostess would be to gently drop into the conversation some tidbit about her little Julian's 'sensitive' relationship with film director X or famous artist Y!
I say we felt a strong press campaign was necessary. What I really mean is Keith Hose and myself, for although the PIE Executive Committee was behind us, the will to go public was primarily ours and there were those in the group who would have liked us to be a secret society. My own stance was perhaps the most aggressively outgoing of anyone in PIE. I was eager to launch the group in a big way, and thought I knew how to do so, simply by using press relations 'know-how' with which I had grown familiar during my work as a reporter with the Leicester Mercury and later as a Press Officer with the Open University. It would just be a mechanical matter, I supposed, of keeping the media informed as to what we were up to of generating newsworthy events and then plugging them by means of press releases, press conferences and so on.
That's how it worked in my job with the Open University, and it was as easy as falling off a log: I only had to pick up a phone to Fleet Street, or knock out a few paragraphs on the latest development in University policy and, hey presto!, there it was in the next day's Guardian or Daily Telegraph, or in The Times Higher Education Supplement on a Friday. The affairs of a large public body like the OU are automatically news news which the media not only cannot ignore, but in which they are avidly interested.
The same applies to some extent in relation to many campaigning groups, as long as the group in question is seen as 'worthy' and basic goodwill exists between it and the newspaper. But PIE was an entirely different kettle of fish. By the time I came to be heavily involved with PIE, there had already been some publicity about us in The Guardian, but a press release on our all-important age of consent policy document had gone down like the proverbial concrete parachute. Throughout the whole of 1976, and the first half of the following year, PIE was hardly mentioned in the press at all.
A press release on the substantial findings of a survey of our own membership was sent to something like 120 media outlets, including the Press Association. It was given coverage in New Society and The Doctor, plus a few 'alternative' press sources and the odd provincial here and there, but otherwise nothing, During this period I also pursued, with great energy but no success whatever, a number of TV documentary programmes, such as World In Action, Tonight and This Week, each of which said a programme was 'a real possibility', or words to that effect, but in fact did nothing.
Predictably, many would feel, the only time we surfaced publicly was when someone was putting the knife into us, either to prevent us from doing something positive or to libel us. An example of the former occurred when Mary Whitehouse publicly attacked our association with the Albany Trust. We had developed a contact with the prestigious and 'respectable' Albany Trust, which had been founded many years before, with heavyweight backing, for the counselling of sexual minorities, as a result of the MIND Sexual Minorities Workshop attended by Keith Hose. In 1976 PIE, and PAL, had been invited to help with the writing of a short question-and-answer format booklet on paedophilia which was to have been published by the Trust.
PIE responded with some enthusiasm not surprisingly, allies being few and far between and during the course of that year Keith Hose and I, together with a nominee of the Albany Trust, spent what felt like a vast number of committee hours in thrashing out the detailed text of the booklet. When we had done so, we went over the whole business again, in a further series of meetings with some of the Trust's senior personnel. Towards the end of these it looked to us as though the Trust was going to accept the fruit of our joint labours, though this was never ratified by a full meeting of the Trustees.
Then, just at the critical moment, enter the deus ex machina, Mary Whitehouse. A story appeared in the press in which she claimed that public funds were being used indirectly to subsidize 'paedophile groups'. She said that the Albany Trust partly government-grant-supported was itself 'supporting' such groups.
She had got her facts wrong, of course, but I don't suppose that bothered her too much. We didn't receive a penny from the Trust. On the contrary, Keith and I were giving our services free, so in that sense we were supporting them. But the damage had been done. Under pressure, the Trust couldn't stand by it's dangerous connection with us, no matter how slight and tenacious that connection was.
The Trustees decided not to go ahead with the publication of the booklet, giving as their public reason that it wasn't sufficiently 'objective'. Even that didn't let them off the hook: a whole year later the issue was raised in Parliament by Sir Bernard Braine, and despite being told by the then Home Office Minister, Brynmor John, that he had no evidence that public money was going to PIE, the issue rumbled on well into 1978 in a succession of accusations and denials in the letters columns of The Guardian and The Times.
The boot went in again in May 1977 when there appeared, out of the blue, a five-column Guardian piece in the regular Tom Crabtree column. It too was dreadful. But at least it was all about PIE, and on the hopeful young starlet's principle that 'all publicity is good publicity' we were not that downhearted, and hoped it might lead to other things.
These did not transpire; on the contrary, it began to dawn on us that the 'liberal' Guardian was prepared to use foul means - as well as fair - against us. In the article, Crabtree had half-implied that we were a furtive, shady group by suggesting that PIE should 'come out into the open and argue their case where everybody can hear it' as if that wasn't exactly what we were bursting for a chance to do!
At the same time, no one in PIE was approached for a comment before the article appeared, and afterwards, despite several letters and phone calls to the paper, we were denied any reply whatever. We took the case to the Press Council and, I am delighted to say, won.
But by the time the judgement had been given some publicity, in December 1977, all this seemed small beer: in the meantime there were countless press reports about us, many of which we might have successfully taken to the Press Council. And a dozen or so organizations and individuals whom we might have successfully sued, for libel and breach of contract, if we had had the money and the time to do so.
For in the late summer of 1977 everything finally came together. One decisive spark set off the most almighty conflagration, fuelled by a series of coincidental events events which some people, hilariously crediting me with a genius I don't possess, thought I had cunningly arranged; or at least, they supposed that I had engineered all the publicity associated with them in a great and devious plan.
Individually, the events seem unremarkable, and are in fact only four in number: a public meeting, which PIE proposed to hold in a London hotel; the annual conference of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), at Nottingham; a British Psychological Society (BPS) conference at Swansea, on the theme 'Love and Attraction'; and, finally, a PIE public meeting held at the Conway Hall, London.
The first of these, planned for 1 September, was arranged by PIE's Secretary, 'David'. For a long time he had been in correspondence with one of the best-known continental experts on paedophilia, the Dutch lawyer Dr Edward Brongersma, a man of considerable eminence, as reflected in the fact that he was a member of the Senate of the Netherlands. David knew that Dr Brongersma was due to be in England in September, for a tour which was scheduled to include giving the opening address to the CHE conference, leading a workshop on paedophilia at that same conference, and attending the BPS conference. Would Dr Brongersma be so kind, David asked, as to address a public meeting held by PIE while he was in England?
Dr Brongersma was prepared to be so kind. Accordingly, a hotel was booked for the event, tickets were printed (admission £1.50), something like a hundred and fifty complimentary tickets were sent to the press and to organizations we hoped would be interested, like MIND (the national association for mental health) and the National Council for Civil Liberties. The event was intended primarily for the press, rather than the general public, though we did advertise it in Time Out and A New Society. So we were well pleased when we had a number of RSVP slips sent back to us, telling us that certain national papers including the Times would be in attendance.
In the event, it didn't happen like that. The press tickets, together with an explanatory news release, had gone out well in advance ‒ giving plenty of time for Gerard Kemp, of the Daily Telegraph, to interview David, the outcome being an article of two whole columns. This appeared on August 23 a day which marked the most decisive turning point in PIE's short history.
Typically, (to give the necessary impression of shadiness) we were introduced as a group 'which calls itself' the Paedophile Information Exchange; we were 'a comparatively shadowy organization', operating from an accommodation address. The article went into great detail about our operating methods and sources of finance dragging up the Albany Trust connection in a way which was to give Mary Whitehouse more fuel for her attack.
In fairness, the rest of the article was unexceptionable, with quite a lot of space given to David's views. In fact, I have a sneaky suspicion that Kemp, and not a few Telegraph readers, may have been rather taken aback, and even impressed, by what they learned of David's background: seventy-three years of age, MA Wadham College, Oxford, served in the Welsh Guards, and also a one-time colonial administrator (1926-8 Assistant District Commissioner, Nigeria). Here was no callow student politician, no ten-a-penny revolutionary half-way to a sociology degree! No, this was a man of some distinction, albeit rather unconventional.
But I digress. The significance of Kemp's article, unlike any that had appeared in The Guardian, or elsewhere, was that it was noticed. The whole of Fleet Street read it, and every paper decided there was an angle they either could, or positively had to, follow up. The following day, on holiday from my job at the Open University, I spent nearly fifteen hours answering calls from the national and provincial press, and almost as long the day after that.
The result was explosive. The Daily Mirror ran the story as a front page lead, with the headline 'CHILDREN IN SEX SHOCKER', with appropriately horrified comments from the likes of Rhodes Boyson, and an editorial in which we were urged to 'crawl back under the stone' from which we came. Other papers carried reports in a similar vein, and some began to exert pressure on the management of the hotel which had accepted our booking for September 1. The pressure came not only from the press. Once the hotel had been identified, the manager had to contend with threats to smash windows and disrupt the meeting. Some even threatened to burn the place down and kill the manager if the meeting went ahead, according to hotel staff I talked to.
Not surprisingly, the hotel decided not to allow us to go ahead with the meeting, and the next morning's Daily Mirror rejoiced in the fact with another front-page lead story headed 'BOOTED OUT!' They reported that the staff had threatened to strike in protest against the meeting and that £1,500 pounds worth of bookings had been cancelled.
Faced with ejection from the hotel, Keith Hose and I made a number of vain attempts to find an alternative venue for the meeting by September 1 which was now only a week away. Having put ourselves firmly in the focus of public attention, we were desperately anxious for the meeting to go ahead as planned; otherwise, we figured, it would look as though we were running away, as though, at the first sign of trouble, we were crawling back under our stone.
Obviously, it would be next to impossible to get a hotel to take us in the atmosphere that had developed. The original hotel had tried to offload us by contacting a number of college venues on our behalf, but without success. For a few days, incredibly, it looked as though we might find sanctuary in the most traditional, yet unlikely, source: the Church. For we had managed to get hold of a sympathetic vicar who was prepared to loan us his church hall.
Thus, by the time the Sunday Mirror published on 28 August, it was reported that PIE was 'hell-bent on airing their revolting views in public', and that we had a new meeting place, kept secret in order to forestall trouble. 'Whatever the obstacle,' I was quoted as saying, 'we are absolutely determined to hold our first-ever public meeting,' We were as good as our word, too, though it took a week or two longer than we had planned, when our secret venue failed to materialize unfortunately, the vicar in question took fright when, after seeking the advice of the Bishop of Truro, he was advised against giving us the hall. 5
That Sunday Mirror story brought a new element into our relations with the press. For the first time there was an open attempt to victimize PIE's leaders by hounding them out of their jobs. This is what the Mirror editorial said:
'The Open University, which employs Mr. Tom O'Carroll, says that what any staff member does in his own time is his own business. However, it DOES expect to discuss Mr. O'Carroll's paedophile activities with him on his return from holiday. We say the Open University should go further. IT SHOULD FIRE HIM IMMEDIATELY.'
Why? No reason given. The impression one gets is that the Sunday Mirror wanted to see something dreadful happen to me to placate the righteous wrath of the people, and that this sentiment had nothing whatever to do with my capacity to do my job. Incidentally, I don't know whether the Sunday Mirror staff belong to the National Union of Journalists, but if they do, it appears they haven't read their own union's code of' professional conduct. This states, inter alia, that 'A journalist shall not originate material which encourages discrimination on grounds of race, colour, creed, gender or sexual orientation' (my italics).
A slightly, but only slightly, more veiled attack against PIE's Treasurer, 'Charles', had been made just a couple of days before, in the Daily Telegraph, when it proclaimed 'Child sex man is youth group administrator'. The Telegraph had taken the trouble to track him down to his job, which was as chief administrator of a young people's welfare organization which was heavily dependent on local authority funding, and money from the Gulbenkian Foundation.
Bravely, the management council of this organization did not at once collapse in the face of media pressure, though they were terribly vulnerable to the withdrawal of financial support. Initially, their reaction was to require Charles to resign from the treasurership of PIE which he did but they refused to accept his proffered resignation from his job.
Not long afterwards, however, the pressures on them became too much to withstand, and in order to prevent the entire organization from collapsing, which would have caused twelve redundancies, to say nothing of the end of the group's work, Charles offered his resignation again. This time it was gratefully accepted so that Charles was left looking for another job, and PIE, at a time when all kinds of pressures were on us, was left looking for another Treasurer: a seat so hot that no one was keen to jump into it.
Important as this was, the pace at the time was so hectic that I had no time at all to even think about it, for within hours of the Telegraph story appearing about Charles, I was due to register at the Nottingham CHE conference, and I had plenty to do in those hours. I don't propose to relate in detail the story of this conference, though there is a wealth of anecdote I could go into.
It was at Nottingham, for instance, that I first encountered large numbers of gays speaking in angry solidarity against the way PIE had been hounded by the press and against the pressures brought by commercial interests, such as hotel managements, against the discussion of paedophilia (the planned CHE workshop on paedophilia had to be moved out of the Albany Hotel, Nottingham, to humbler premises, when owners Trust House Forte took exception to it).
On the weekend after the Nottingham conference, we saw for the first time some good, positive publicity: The Observer did a long piece on Brongersma, under the heading 'Britain "intolerant" on child sex'. The Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph also carried excellent articles. Could it be, I asked myself, that our strategy was paying off already: shock/horror, followed immediately by more serious coverage in the 'quality' press?
The euphoria turned out to be short lived, but part of the reason for it was also the fact that some of those articles had been generated by an unlikely new ally: a Dominican priest by the name of Father Michael Ingram. He it was behind The Sunday Times headline 'Priest to reveal startling facts on paedophilia', and The Sunday Telegraph's 'Sex offenders "can aid child"'.
I had known Father Michael for some time. I had received his hospitality at the Holy Cross Priory, Leicester, where he lived, and I had read his study of ninety-one man-boy paedophilic relationships a study which had come out of his work as a child psychologist at St Thomas's Hospital, London, and with the Leicester Family Service Unit.
I had long known that, although he did not defend paedophilia as such, he knew that a lot of relationships were loving ones, in which more good was done than harm. What's more, I knew that his study, giving substance to these views, had not been published, and I felt that it deserved to be which is why I arranged for him to attend the Swansea conference on Love and Attraction, to give his paper there.
The whole thing had been arranged many months in advance. Father Michael had at one time contemplated publishing his paper in the United States where incidentally, his views on sexuality appear to be held in more esteem than in Britain, Harvard University having invited him to give a series of lectures on sexual ethics but readily accepted my suggestion that Swansea would provide a good platform. Accordingly, I contacted the conference organizers on his behalf, and they accepted his paper without demur.
They accepted my registration too: I had applied to attend simply to find out what the academic world had to say about child sexuality and paedophilia, which were both on the agenda. I welcomed media interest in the conference, not because I was seeking publicity for PIE, as was alleged, but because I hoped attention would be drawn to the Ingram paper and to several others which I had reason to suppose would take a radical line (as they did).
In the event, the conference organizers were panicked ‒ by the heavy involvement of the press ‒ into turning the presentation of the paedophilia/child sexuality papers into a secret session. At least some of the academics presenting these papers agreed with the decision, and perhaps they were right, for by this time the mood of the press was such as to guarantee that its involvement would generate only heat, and no light.
Swansea turned out to be a catalogue of disasters, memorable chiefly for the fact that porters, kitchen staff and other auxiliary workers at the conference threatened to go on strike if I were allowed to stay, and for the disgraceful fact that the University, who were hosts to the conference, gave way to their demands disgraceful, that is, not because I am anybody special, but because of the University's unwillingness to back the principle of free academic discussion, a principle which ought to be dear to its corporate heart. The conference did at least produce one lighter moment, however, as reported in Medical News a couple of weeks later by Eric Trimmer. 6 He wrote:
'Up in the Press room at the university one day, I met a very charming and lively little boy who was passing his time making paper aeroplanes out of abstracts of delegates' papers
'I asked his father, one of the Department of Psychology, if he was hiding him up there in case Tom O'Carroll was about.
' "Good God no, man," he replied in an accent straight out of Milk Wood, "he's such a little horror at home I'm hoping they do meet up. Might cure both of them."'
By the time I left Swansea (without meeting the Little Horror, unfortunately!) PIE had managed to arrange a fairly secure venue in which to hold the meeting that had been intended for the London hotel. This was scheduled for Monday, 19 September, 1977, at the Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London.
Red Lion Square. An evocative name, which had come to be almost synonymous with political violence. It had been the scene of famous clashes between extreme right and extreme left, and in 1974 a demonstrator had died there. Would our humble little gathering be as fraught, I wondered. There was now not the remotest chance of it going ahead quietly.
PIE was big news, and our new venue had already been given out in all the national newspapers. (one thing we could be sure of: in the event of violence, it wouldn't be a contest between the big battalions, of left versus right. For who would be the heavy infantry fighting for PIE? We could expect plenty against us. Lots of brave souls would enlist in what they knew would be the winning side. But what of our side? Were we going to go like lambs to the slaughter? The thought wasn't exactly attractive.
Keith Hose and myself for we had been making most of the emergency decisions when it had not been possible to consult the whole Executive Committee had from the outset been firm in our resolution not to be bullied out of the decision to hold a public meeting. We wanted to show that we were not going to crawl back under our stone, as the Daily Mirror had suggested, and that because our views were deeply and strongly felt, we would stick to our right to put them forward even in the face of physical danger.
At the same time, I couldn't help wondering whether in making an appeal to `Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood ...' we would be relying on atavistic sentiments which had no place in our philosophy. Did we have to prove our courage when we really wanted to show that paedophiles are often kind and gentle, loving and non-violent people? There's too much courage, I told myself. A little less of the `masculine' virtues wouldn't do the world any harm, as the hippies and the draft dodgers and other `unpatriotic' Americans had shown at the time of Vietnam.
In the event, we decided to stick to our guns, and went ahead with extensive support for which we shall be eternally grateful from GLF veterans who agreed to act as stewards for the meeting. Richard McCance, Vice Chairperson of CHE at the time of writing, was one of our number. This is how he reported the meeting.
'Linking arms, marching abreast, women and men together, we succeeded in entering the hall, despite flower, fruit and veg., despite being clawed and spat at, kicked and punched by many of the hundred or so who awaited our arrival like starved dogs. Over the next hour about another hundred staggered in, like the battle-scarred reporter from the Daily Telegraph, his face bleeding, raked down by fingernails. Others arrived with torn clothing. Those who tried to enter on their own were led away bleeding from head wounds to a police van. There were only four policemen on duty at this time.
'As the meeting began, I looked at the growing crowd (now several hundred strong) and recognized from previous demos several prominent National Front thugs and sympathizers male and female including Dereck Day, who was featured in the Observer article on the National Front.
'In the hall we tried to listen attentively to the PIE speakers but the constant strains of "kill them, kill them" from the crowd, who were beating on the door, made this difficult. I was frightened and could not concentrate properly.
'The meeting ended half an hour earlier than planned in a bid to surprise the mob outside. Those who could run fast were advised to form ranks. The elderly and several disabled had to wait for further instructions. It all felt like abandoning ship into a cruel sea.
'Many of us were set upon individually by the crowd. A Jewish brother, his glasses stamped on, was kicked and punched. The police, now about thirty in number, reacted lethargically.
'Survival instincts are strong. I removed my gay badge and masqueraded as a het when challenged by a potential assailant. They seemed surprised that most of us were not old men in faded brown raincoats. We were all sorts gay, paedophile, straight, press people, academics, coming to listen to what PIE had to say.
'As I was pummelled and kicked I appealed to a policeman for help, but I was told to "Get the hell out of here". Eventually three of us managed to stop a passing cab and escape.' 7
To my amazement, the meeting itself went just about as well as possible in the circumstances. We had been worried about disruption inside the hall, with people storming the platform after all, this was a public meeting, to which any of the mob outside could have come if they paid their money and showed no obvious signs of being hell-bent on disruption. But as everyone coming into the hall was being labelled by the crowd as a 'pervert' including people who were trying to get into a regular Bible Class in another part of the building there may have been an understandable reluctance to do so.
Among the hundred-plus people in attendance, there was not so much as a single heckler, and the press was probably the largest single category. In lieu of Dr Brongersma as our guest speaker, we had lined up a mystery man (Father Ingram), who had been announced to the press simply as 'a child psychologist'.
In the event, he could not turn up either, as his church superiors forbad him to do so at the last minute. But having got so far, Keith and I had been determined not to let the little matter of having no guest speaker stop us from holding our meeting. Father Ingram was there in spirit, as they say, and, more tangibly, he had given us a copy of his intended speech.
Keith chaired the meeting and I read out the speech, which in itself was so moderate, reasonable and academic that it was hard to believe it could bear any relationship at all to all the turmoil around us. Even the questions afterwards were strangely academic, and totally unreal in the midst of all the shouting and banging on the doors.
The next morning the papers gave the meeting full coverage after their own fashion. In most of them it was the lead story of the day, but significantly it was the righteous indignation of 'ordinary mums' that was played up, and not the slightest attention was paid to the discussion in the hall.
What has been the permanent impact of those four weeks, if any? Before then, 'child molesters' had always been considered the lowest-of-the-low. Now, the same thing was felt about 'paedophiles' to most people it was just a new word for an old vice, without any understanding having been gained. In view of the nature of the press coverage, particularly in the Daily Mirror and the other 'populars', this was hardly surprising: it was just a catalogue of revulsion and hate, without any discussion of ideas.
Now I am not quite so naive as to suppose there would have been: I was always well aware, and so were we all in PIE, that news stories cannot he used as a means of persuasion towards accepting unfamiliar, and perhaps difficult, new concepts.
But we had hoped to achieve something just by getting people to realize that radical paedophiles exist, and that they have a philosophy which the more thoughtful of them might ultimately read about in a book by Tom O'Carroll, or whoever. And this realization could only be achieved, by a tiny, limited-resources group like ours, not by careful, patient, secretive, high-level lobbying, but by speaking out loud in public and simply having to ride out the inevitable initial period of hysteria. I believe the strategy was right, but in the heat of the moment grave tactical errors were made, for which I personally must take the blame.
These are best exemplified in an interview I gave with the Daily Mirror in which I was quoted as saying, 'We would abolish the age of consent completely and intercourse would be allowed at all ages.' This was taking uncompromising openness too far by half. I should have insisted on the non-coital nature of most consenting paedophilic relations, and the almost exclusive involvement of children in higher age groups, and left it at that. I did say these things, but inevitably they never saw the light of day in view of my more sensational offerings.
I half knew they wouldn't too, but again the irrational crept into things: as a breed, we paedophiles had been hiding and running for so long that when it came to the point of having a chance to put two fingers up to the Daily Mirror to say, in effect, 'Print what you bloody well like in your stupid rag and we'll have the serious debate elsewhere' the temptation was overwhelming.
The popular press apart, the impact of those weeks has been far from entirely negative. Since then, PIE has been asked to provide speakers for undergraduate meetings at many universities, including the Oxford Union,8 plus postgraduate meetings of trainee social workers, gay group gatherings, and even the annual conference of the Rational Association of Youth Clubs.
In addition, written requests for information have come from many parts of the world, usually from academic psychologists and sociologists, and sometimes from serious journalists. It has fallen on me to fulfil many of the speaking engagements, and I have been pleasantly surprised by the usually unhysterical and sometimes even sympathetic reaction to what I have had to say. While there continues to be an undercurrent of this sort, I cannot see the future as entirely black.
But reactions such as these have not been the ones to catch the eye. More prominent has been the 'child porn' scare campaign and, in mid 1978, concerted action against PIE by the News of the World and the police. I do not propose to go into the passing of the Child Protection Act: as a saga of sensationalism and hysteria it is worth a volume on its own. All I want to express here is a sense of regret that we in PIE arguably gave the issue a head of political steam which might otherwise have been difficult to generate.
It is also worth pointing out that in at least one disgraceful instance, the media's determination to get 'a good story' meant that they were not above exploiting children themselves. I refer to a BBC Tonight programme, which I have reason to believe was damaging to one child in a way which his involvement in erotic pictures had never been. In the context of their big exposé, the programme showed on screen the faces of children who had been photographed. Reviewing the programme in The Observer, W. Stephen Gilbert rightly asked:
'How responsible is it to show the faces of those photographed kids on TV? Might it not be more damaging to expose them in this way than only to the customers of "dirty book" shops?'
I am confident that the answer is an emphatic 'yes'. I know the man who photographed the children referred to in that Tonight programme. I have interviewed him at length about his relationship with the boys, and secured a second opinion from someone who knew them. The man, a former teacher, had a number of excellent references attesting to his professional ability particularly his capacity for dealing with difficult and delinquent youngsters, who seemed to benefit from his commitment to them: a commitment often not shared by the parents. The mother of one of his boys was a prostitute, whose time seemed to be more or less entirely taken up by her clients.
He, by contrast, gave the lad a lot of time and a lot of love. But of course, the laws of libel, combined with the conventional wisdom that the paedophile, or the 'pornographer', must be the 'baddy', would prevent anything critical being said by Tonight, or by the media generally, about the 'distraught' parents who find their children have been involved in 'child porn'. Half the time the parents couldn't give a damn, but of course they couldn't admit that to the TV people, and it is something the TV people wouldn't want to know anyway, because it would ruin their preconceived 'angle'.
And what of the children, liberated from their awful enslavement in the porn world when the TV come along? Word reached me that at least one of those who had been shown on the Tonight programme was recognized by his schoolmates. Since then, he has been persecuted at school, and both he and his parents have been taunted so much by neighbours that the family have had to move out of the district. Does that make the 'frank and fearless' documentary-makers happy, as they go off on their next assignment?
In addition to the interest expressed in PIE by the universities and so on, and in addition to the furore over 'child porn', which we unwittingly helped to fuel, there was a third major reaction to PIE's campaigning, though it appeared to be entirely detached from the events of 1977. This made itself felt on one devastating weekend in June 1978, when we not only fell victim to a Sunday press exposé that was in many ways a repeat of the attack on PAL three years earlier this time almost an entire three pages of the News of the World, in which seven members were named, with photographs but in addition several of our committee members' homes (including my own) were raided by the police and dozens of our files were taken away.
We have reason to believe that there had been cooperation between the News of the World and the police, and in the case of the former the timing of the coup is explicable enough; the exposé was based on a report of our annual general meeting, held the week before. The meeting had been infiltrated by an agent from the News of the World, who had become a PIE member some months before; a photographer had been posted outside the building.
We suspect there was another reason for police involvement at this time. Ostensibly, the police in question, from the Obscene Publications Squad, were interested, as you might expect, in obscene publications. But we think it may be more than coincidental that only a few weeks before the raid PIE at last published the booklet on paedophilia which had been turned down by the Albany Trust. Copies of the booklet had been mailed to every member of the House of Commons, plus a range of assorted bishops and barons, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Like so many things, it seemed a good idea at the time; but now I believe this particular exercise was such a red flag to so many important Parliamentary bulls that political pressure on the police to 'knobble' us became irresistible. This was a point I put to one of the detectives working on the case, in what later turned out to be a full-scale inquiry into all of PIE's activities, culminating in a 60,000 word report submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the prosecution of PIE activists for 'conspiracy to corrupt public morals': the detective in question said that action had been initiated at a high level, and that he was not in a position to know the thinking behind it but, significantly, he showed no reluctance to agree that I could be right.
This review of the way in which PIE has been received in the twenty-six months (at the time of' writing) following the events of August-September 1977 leaves many questions for PIE about the future. At times, it has seemed that no matter what we try to do we face huge, and usually insuperable, obstacles; we are now no nearer than ever to being able to hold a meeting a simple task which practically every organization, from the pub darts team to the United Nations, takes for granted without the threat of violent disruption or 'exposure' in the press. Above all for many months the impending conspiracy trial is bound to ensure a major diversion of attention and energy away from the pursuance of our objectives as an organization.
Faced with these problems, we have sometimes found it a morale-boosting exercise to look at what is happening to radical paedophile groups abroad for PIE is by no means unique and in the context of this book, the experience of such groups in two countries, the United States and Holland, is of particular interest.
Ch 12 - Notes and References
1. Stuart Henry and David Robinson, Self-Help and Health: Mutual Aid for Modern Problems, Martin Robertson, London, 1977. ^
2. New Society, 22 June, 1978, p. 656. ^
3. By this time, September 1977, I was Chairperson of PIE. ^
4. I'm not suggesting that all such sympathy is misplaced: the torture of captured terrorists by the state, for instance, is indefensible in my view. ^
5. The vicar was not from the Truro diocese. The Bishop of Truro happened to be the Chairman of a relevant Church of England committee. ^
6. Medical News, 21 September, 1977. ^
7. Richard McCance, 'National Front attack P.I.E.', Broadsheet, October 1977, p. 3. ^
8. This was a personal invitation from the President of the Oxford Union. Unfortunately, the meeting never took place, as the President in question took fright when his decision ran into criticism and he withdrew the invitation. ^
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