The British media is currently engrossed in one of its periodic bouts of moralistic pearl clutching over the story of an unnamed but “well-known” presenter who is alleged to have paid thousands of pounds over a period of some years to a teenager in return for sexually explicit photos. Phillip Schofield must be breathing a huge sigh of relief right now that the media focus has turned to someone even creepier and more disasteful.
Sexual contact between a teenager and a much older adult man is abusive and exploitative even when the younger person is over the legal age of consent. What is lawful is not always right. The gross imbalance in experience, income, and power makes the relationship alarmingly problematic and renders the concept of consent moot in a moral, if not legal sense. The older, more powerful, and wealthier the older person is, the more coercive and controlling the relationship is likely to be. However although in this case the young person was reportedly first induced to send explicit photos to the older man when they were 17 and over the age of consent, an offence may still have been committed.
Although the age of consent is 16, the minimum age at which people are allowed to send explicit photographs is 18. According to the Observer newspaper: “One key legal issue is whether the young person sent the BBC presenter any pictures when they were 17, which could amount to possession of child sexual abuse images, a serious criminal charge that incurs a minimum of six months’ prison. If explicit photos were exchanged only after they turned 18, it is possible that no law was broken.” But then, not breaking any laws is not the same as behaving appropriately or in a non-abusive manner.
Over the weekend we were informed by various talking heads that the presenter at the centre of these allegations cannot be named because no criminal charges have yet been brought. All over Scotland you could hear the sound of SNP members laughing so hard that they cracked their ribs. On Sunday, BBC director Tim Davie was preaching that everyone who has not been charged with any crime has the right to privacy while just a couple of weeks ago the BBC was outside Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon’s home, giving abundant visual clues to ensure that the whole world knew where they lived. In at least one report I saw, their house number was clearly visible.
Naturally with this story getting wall to wall coverage in the newspapers it was going to be interesting to see how the BBC handled it in its weekend look at what the papers were saying. And true to form BBC Scotland was its usual predictable self. The BBC Scotland Sunday Show spent just two minutes quickly trotting through the BBC presenter sex pics story which dominates the newspapers. And then it spent six minutes on a made up story that wasn’t in any newspaper about an imaginary SNP split. The BBC has been morally and politically bankrupt for many years, its primary purpose in Scotland is to fend off Scottish independence at all costs. As such its supposed role of holding power to account is merely performative. The only power that is to be held to account is devolved power.
That said, it is still hugely hypocritical that ministers and MPs are criticising the BBC for not taking sexual misbehaviour seriously. At the last count more than 40 MPs have been investigated for it, two are on bail, two are currently in prison, and there are reports that others are under police investigation. Open Democracy reported recently that a Conservative MP on police bail after being accused of rape has been given the go-ahead by his local party to stand in the next general election. He has not been suspended by the Conservative party, bear that in mind the next time that Douglas Ross demands that Humza Yousaf suspend Nicola Sturgeon. A significant number of Conservative MPs have come under fire for allegations of sexually abusive behaviour.
Tamworth MP Chris Pincher has been suspended from Parliament for eight weeks after an investigation was launched when he was alleged to have groped two men at the Conservative Carlton Club. Six further allegations against Pincher later emerged, involving behaviour over a decade.
Neil Parish resigned from his seat in Devon after admitting to watching porn in the Commons on two occasions. More serious was the case of Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan who was jailed for 18 months in May 2022 for groping a 15-year-old boy in 2008.
David Warburton, who represented Somerton and Frome, had the Tory whip removed after he was allegations of cocaine use and sexual harrassment emerged. Warburton resigned as an MP in June, admitting to the use of cocaine, but continuing to deny allegations of sexual harrassment. Instead he asserted that the Me Too movement had gone “too far.” Because he’s the real victim here, you understand.
Former Conservative minister Andrew Griffiths was found to have raped and physically abused his wife by a family court judge who considered evidence at a private trial in 2021. Griffiths stepped down as an MP prior to the 2019 General Election.
Former Tory MP Charlie Elphicke was jailed for two years in September 2020 after being found guilty of three counts of sexual assault following a month-long trial.
Rob Roberts, the MP for Delyn was allowed to rejoin the Conservatives despite an independent investigation finding he had sexually harassed a junior member of staff.
Meanwhile the BBC has, with no explanation, dropped a Panorama inquiry into claims of sexual harassment of junior staff by Westminster MPs. It is of course entirely coincidental that the Conservatives effectively appoint the BBC’s governors. The documentary has been months in the making, had been due to be broadcast this summer, but has now been removed from future broadcast schedules without any public explanation from the BBC. One of the contributors, a former parliamentary employee who had waived her right to anonymity in order to talk about her experiences said that she had not been given a satisfactory explanation for the cancellation of the programme.
Mhairi Black, in her recent letter announcing that she would not be seeking re-election, denounced the toxic culture of Westminster, she was not wrong. It’s a toxicity which spreads its tentacles into every British institution. They say rot progresses from the head down, and the Westminster Parliament is a toxic putrid cesspit of sleaze, corruption, abuse, dysfunction, and the waste of billions of pounds of public money. But hey, ferries! And Brendan O’Hara and Angus MacNeil had an argument. That’s what’s really important here. Ammarite?
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