Head Lines with Jonny Mitchell: People must have known of this abuse

HEAD LINES Jonny Mitchell.
HEAD LINES Jonny Mitchell.

Thornhill Community Academy’s straight-talking headteacher Jonny Mitchell showed the world what life in the classroom is really like in the award-winning TV documentary series Educating Yorkshire.

Now he writes exclusively for us.

Every week he will give us his take on life in and outside school from his hometown in Dewsbury.

I have listened intently to the legal proceedings involving Rolf Harris recently, as I did to those involving Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall beforehand. And you might think I am about to launch into a tirade of abuse at what these people have done to a huge number of innocent victims over an extensive period of time, how they have completely abused their celebrity and profile to violate children and young adults, and how they have been allowed to get away with it for such a long time. I could do, I suppose, but I don’t think I’d say anything in any way enlightening or which you couldn’t write yourselves, in all fairness.

I cannot imagine, nor do I want to, what their many victims must have experienced then or are experiencing now, or how what happened to them has affected their lives for so long.

But what I find most difficult to fathom is this: how was something not done about this before? Some of these people were, for one reason or another, almost national treasures. Savile was a knight of the realm, Harris surely not far behind at some point, Stuart Hall a genius of erudite football commentary. Perhaps with the exception of Saville, who was never really my cup of tea as a children’s TV personality, I grew up admiring these people, laughing at their antics, as close if you like to hero worship as you could come in the 70s and 80s. I feel personally sullied that I tuned into Rolf’s Cartoon Club and sang along, with the odd youthful tear, to Two Little Boys, guffawed at It’s a Knockout and wailed with laughter when the cub scouts had lunch on the Revolution. These are memories that will never fade from my childhood, and I dare say this will be the same for many.

But for all of these “men”, there will now forever be the notion that, whilst they were entertaining kids and parents on a Saturday evening, they were embroiled in sick acts of abuse, against the very people who held them in such high regard.

But, really, come on! Are we supposed to believe that people didn’t know what was going on? These guys worked day in, day out with people, some of whom will have known their every move. Even now, people who were around Savile and Harris remember how they had reputations for promiscuity and “groupie” culture. I know it was a different era, and perhaps permissiveness got in the way a bit, but surely somebody said something, perhaps even more than one person. Which leads me to conclude, perhaps naively, that the potential damage was not worth “outing” them, and that much more stood to be lost, probably for many people, than was worth risking for the sake of a few abused kids. “Shush now, it’s OK, he’s really famous, and we wouldn’t want it getting out now, would we? It can be our little secret...”

I’d like to think it didn’t happen like this, and these now convicted paedophiles were so very calculating that their deeds went largely unnoticed, if at all. And I wonder if the now infamous “dossier” presented to the Home Secretary 30 or so years ago will ever resurface.

But I cannot genuinely believe this to be the case. It takes only one good man to ignore evil for evil to flourish. I suggest there were plenty of good men about who did just this. And they should, for the sake of every child sickeningly abused by these “men”, hang their heads in absolute shame.