Hillsborough, Savile and the handcart to hell

We’ve made progress, but we can’t be complacent

Britain’s institutions have taken a kicking recently. The cover up over Hillsborough, long suspected, has now been confirmed. New instances arise every day both of Jimmy Savile’s alleged assaults and of failures by those in power to have confronted him.

Let’s be clear. Savile, Hillsborough and other well publicised cases of abuse show the most rotten side of our society: the inability of most of us to challenge the most powerful among us, compounding the betrayal of the most vulnerable.

But look at some of the contemporary footage of Hillsborough, or Savile in his pomp (more difficult now that the editions of Top of the Pops that he presented have, rightly, been removed from the BBC FOUR schedule) and what stands out is how dated it all seems. Decrepit stadia largely replaced (though, incredibly, the West Stand – AKA Leppings Lane end – at Hillsborough remains), thanks in the main to the Taylor Report. We have moved on from the standards of 1989. Similarly, during the last thirty years, child protection and safeguarding have come into their own. A huge amount of work has gone into ensuring that vulnerable people are kept far safer than could have been the case in the days of Showaddywaddy. We are disgusted by these images precisely because we judge them by contemporary standards. There is growing awareness of the need to protect the vulnerable, and a greater understanding of the need to challenge the powerful.

Of course, we cannot be complacent. Society will always include the vulnerable, and there will always be predators looking to take advantage of them. There are loud voices in society who describe safeguarding measures as this or that ‘gone mad’, who hark back to a time when abuse was ignored or swept under the carpet. (These voices were, of course, among the quickest to condemn the hapless BBC for not acting swiftly in the case of Savile.) Vulnerable people are being abused today. The war is not won because it cannot be won. But just as drink driving became unacceptable in society over a few decades, so there is greater repugnance towards the betrayal of children, or the smearing of innocent people. This work done by the NSPCC and other organisations working with young people and vulnerable adults, by government and by individuals, by the families of the 96, will have a lasting effect.

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