Sir Roger Gale
Member of Parliament for North Thanet (Margate, Herne Bay & The Villages)
Gale's View - Anonymity
February 12th 2014
I have neither the time nor the inclination to watch television soap operas. So far as I can see they appear to merge seamlessly from one depressing “storyline” into another, irrespective of channel or title of the show. I am sure that given a good digital editor I could, as a television director, have spliced together extracts from Emmerdale, Eastenders, Coronation Street and Doctors, to name but four, in a manner that would be indistinguishable were it not for the fact that individual actors in individual episodes are so very well known to the majority of viewers. Not only is the scriptwriters` penchant for misery and foul language interchangeable but the spoken word seems to me to be characteristically at such a permanent shout that there would probably be no need to balance the sound between edits. It is always at full volume. This attitude , of course, would place me in what the tabloids describe as an “out of touch and sneering middle-class minority” were it not for the fact that Suzy is wedded to the genre, actually appears to enjoy the non-stop diet of televisual gloom and keeps me in contact with what I “need to know”!
Now to the serious point that lies behind this misanthropic view of other people`s pleasures. The stars of these shows, like the TV disc jockeys of the “Top of the Pops” era, are huge in the “celebrity” stakes. They are household names, instantly recognised on the train or the bus or in the supermarket, on duty from the moment that they leave the safety of their own homes , expected to serve as “role models” and, of course, wide open to abuse, misrepresentation, exploitation and false accusation. Any gold-digger can, with anonymity and relative impunity, level a charge at a “TV star” and in this post–Saville age that charge has, by definition, to be investigated by the constabulary. Accusations that, ordinarily, would never see the light of day, much less be submitted to and pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service are now worried at with a tenacity that would make a fox-terrier look positively feeble for fear that `the authorities` might be perceived to be caving in to the pressures of star-status.
Into this category, clearly, has fallen Mr. William Roache who was participating in Coronation Street when the first Rovers` Return set was being built and Hyde Park was a pot-plant.
Bill Roache, who in the profession of which I used to be a part, is widely regarded as a gentleman. I have never worked with him and I cannot vouch for that status personally but the testimony of past and current members of the cast of that long-running series suggests that he is widely liked and has, hitherto, made few enemies in the course of a career that led, eventually, to the award of an Honour from Her Majesty the Queen.
Notwithstanding that, Mr Roache and, of course, his family, have been subjected to months of hell during which time he was `written out` of his show and effectively prevented from working before, eventually, a trial took place, his version of events was believed by the Court and he was cleared of all of the charges that had been levelled against him.
I can only begin to imagine the depths of despair that he, and those close to him, must have plumbed as he packed his toothbrush for his last appearance in the dock on the basis that he might just as easily have found himself the victim of a capricious verdict that would have sent him on his way to prison.
Throughout this time he, and others in similar situations, have been named and, by association, shamed. Although Bill Roache has walked from the Court a free man, without a stain on his character and able to resume his career in Coronation Street there will, inevitably, be those who will be saying “no smoke without fire” and suggesting that instead of being acquitted he “got off”. Worse, we are told that at least one of his accusers, who “cannot be named for legal reasons” now proposes the try to bring a civil action against him. If so, then my view is that at that point all bets are off and any anonymity should be waived.
I understand why those who have been the victims of the most vile crime of rape, and other sexual offences, should be granted the right to have their names protected. Even in a system of rightly open justice it must clearly be the case that were such women or, occasionally, men face the prospect of having their identities revealed then they would simply not press charges and the cause of justice would suffer as a result. I am less comfortable, though, with the police view that suspects should continue to be named “because it may encourage other victims or potentially witnesses to come forward”. It may, but it may also encourage others, particularly in the case of `celebrity trials` to jump on a passing bandwagon in the hope of receiving financial reward and on balance I am coming to the view that if anonymity is to be granted, as it must be, at all then it must be granted even-handedly.
How many careers, not just of celebrities but of teachers, for example, have been ruined and reputations and lives destroyed by people have made false accusations? In an age when the Press are all too eager to act as judge and jury without hearing any evidence (a fairly recent and widely publicised murder charge is a case in point) we surely must look again at the “naming and shaming” of the accused and I propose to ask the Attorney General to do just that.