All the mad and dangerous views on Barrister Barbara Hewson’s words on Operation Yewtree and child abuse

Published January 17, 2015 by misty534


BARBARA Hewson is a barrister. She was awarded an honorary fellowship of the University of Westminster for services to law. On the website of her employers, Hardwicke, we learn:

Amongst her many achievements, her citation referred to her work for equality for women at the Bar and in helping found the Association of Women Barristers; her championing of the rights of pregnant women to refuse medical treatment (R(S) v Collins, St George’s Health Care NHS Trust & Anr [1999] Fam 26); and her work defending home birth midwives’ right to practise, in both Ireland and England.

She fought to prove that Gareth Oates, an autistic 18-year-old who killed himself in front of a train, “had been neglected by many agencies”. She has written about family courts and how the State can abuse to vulnerable.

She has a particular interest in reproductive rights, and was the first member of the Bar to receive the Lawyer’s ‘Barrister of the Year’ Award, for her pioneering work opposing court-ordered treatment of pregnant women.

Hewson has a record of speaking truth to power.  So. What do we make of her views on Operation Yewtree, the Met’s investigation of historical sex abuse sparked by revelations on Sir Jimmy Savile?

Hewson writes in Spiked:

I do not support the persecution of old men. The manipulation of the rule of law by the Savile Inquisition – otherwise known as Operation Yewtree – and its attendant zealots poses a far graver threat to society than anything Jimmy Savile ever did.

And with that a media shitstorm erupted:

Now even a deputy speaker of the House of Commons is accused of male rape. This is an unfortunate consequence of the present mania for policing all aspects of personal life under the mantra of ‘child protection’.

We have been here before. England has a long history of do-gooders seeking to stamp out their version of sexual misconduct by force of the criminal law. In the eighteenth century, the quaintly named Society for the Reformation of Manners funded prosecutions of brothels, playwrights and gay men.

In the 1880s, the Social Purity movement repeatedly tried to increase the age of consent for girls from 13 to 16, despite parliament’s resistance. At that time, puberty for girls was at age 15 (now it is 10). The movement’s supporters portrayed women as fragile creatures needing protection from men’s animal impulses. Their efforts were finally rewarded after the maverick editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, WT Stead, set up his own secret commission to expose the sins of those in high places.

After procuring a 13-year-old girl, Stead ran a lurid exposé of the sex industry, memorably entitled ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’. His voyeuristic accounts under such titles as ‘Strapping girls down’ and ‘Why the cries of the victims are not heard’ electrified the Victorian public. The ensuing moral panic resulted in the age of consent being raised in 1885, as well as the criminalisation of gross indecency between men.

By contrast, the goings-on at the BBC in past decades are not a patch on what Stead exposed. Taking girls to one’s dressing room, bottom pinching and groping in cars hardly rank in the annals of depravity with flogging and rape in padded rooms. Yet the Victorian narrative of innocents despoiled by nasty men endures.

What is strikingly different today is how Britain’s law-enforcement apparatus has been infiltrated by moral crusaders, like the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC). Both groups take part in Operation Yewtree, which looks into alleged offences both by and not by Savile.

These pressure groups have a vested interest in universalising the notion of abuse, making it almost as prevalent as original sin, but with the modern complication that it carries no possibility of redemption, only ‘survival’. The problem with this approach is that it makes abuse banal, and reduces the sympathy that we should feel for victims of really serious assaults (1).

But the most remarkable facet of the Savile scandal is how adult complainants are invited to act like children. Hence we have witnessed the strange spectacle of mature adults calling a children’s charity to complain about the distant past.

The NSPCC and the Metropolitan Police Force produced a joint report into Savile’s alleged offending in January 2013, called Giving Victims a Voice. It states: ‘The volume of the allegations that have been made, most of them dating back many years, has made this an unusual and complex inquiry. On the whole victims are not known to each other [sic] and taken together their accounts paint a compelling picture of widespread sexual abuse by a predatory sex offender. We are therefore referring to them as “victims” rather than “complainants” and are not presenting the evidence they have provided as unproven allegations [italics added].’ The report also states that ‘more work still needs to be done to ensure that the vulnerable feel that the scales of justice have been rebalanced’.

Note how the police and NSPCC assume the roles of judge and jury. What neither acknowledges is that this national trawl for historical victims was an open invitation to all manner of folk to reinterpret their experience of the past as one of victimisation (2).

The acute problems of proof which stale allegations entail also generates a demand that criminal courts should afford accusers therapy, by giving them ‘a voice’. This function is far removed from the courts’ traditional role, in which the state must prove defendants guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

What this infantilising of adult complainants ultimately requires is that we re-model our criminal-justice system on child-welfare courts. These courts (as I have written in spiked previously) have for some decades now applied a model of therapeutic jurisprudence, in which ‘the best interests of the child’ are paramount.

It is depressing, but true, that many reforms introduced in the name of child protection involve sweeping attacks on fundamental Anglo-American legal rights and safeguards, such as the presumption of innocence. This has ominous consequences for the rule of law, as US judge Arthur Christean pointed out: ‘Therapeutic jurisprudence marks a major and in many ways a truly radical shift in the historic function of courts of law and the basic purpose for which they have been established under our form of government. It also marks a fundamental shift in judges’ loyalty away from principles of due process and toward particular social policies. These policies are less concerned with judicial impartiality and fair hearings and more concerned with achieving particular results…’

The therapeutic model has certain analogies with a Soviet-style conception of justice, which emphasises outcomes over processes. It’s not difficult, then, to see why some celebrity elderly defendants, thrust into the glare of hostile publicity, including Dalek-style utterances from the police (‘offenders have nowhere to hide’), may conclude that resistance is useless. But the low-level misdemeanours with which Stuart Hall was charged are nothing like serious crime.

Touching a 17-year-old’s breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting one’s hand up a 16-year-old’s skirt, are not remotely comparable to the horrors of the Ealing Vicarage assaults and gang rape, or the Fordingbridge gang rape and murders, both dating from 1986. Anyone suggesting otherwise has lost touch with reality.

Ordinarily, Hall’s misdemeanors would not be prosecuted, and certainly not decades after the event. What we have here is the manipulation of the British criminal-justice system to produce scapegoats on demand. It is a grotesque spectacle.

It’s interesting that two complainants who waived anonymity have told how they rebuffed Hall’s advances. That is, they dealt with it at the time. Re-framing such experiences, as one solicitor did, as a ‘horrible personal tragedy’ is ironic, given that tragoidia means the fall of an honourable, worthy and important protagonist.

It’s time to end this prurient charade, which has nothing to do with justice or the public interest. Adults and law-enforcement agencies must stop fetishising victimhood. Instead, we should focus on arming today’s youngsters with the savoir-faire and social skills to avoid drifting into compromising situations, and prosecute modern crime. As for law reform, now regrettably necessary, my recommendations are: remove complainant anonymity; introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions; and reduce the age of consent to 13.

Right, then. What reactions did that get?

Daily Mail: “Outrage at barrister who called Stuart Hall’s crimes ‘low level’”

Miss Hewson, who is an abortion rights specialist, said the arrests of Rolf Harris, Dave Lee Travis, Jim Davidson and Max Clifford were driven by the need to produce ‘scapegoats on demand’.
But Susan Harrison, 61, who was indecently assaulted by Hall when she was 16, said it was wrong to make light of his crimes.

‘To call them low-level misdemeanours is not only incredibly hurtful to all the victims it is also utterly ridiculous,’ she said. ‘I don’t think Miss Hewson understands what it is like to be on the receiving end of this kind of abuse from a man who is trusted by your family and by society as a whole. What he did to me went on to ruin my life and I am still dealing with the aftermath now and to call it low level is just offensive.’

Alan Collins, of Pannone Solicitors, which represents many of Savile’s and 83-year-old Hall’s victims, called her comments ‘crazy’ and ‘ignorant’.

And worse still:

Hardwicke Chambers, where she is a junior barrister, expressed shock and said they were investigating.

The Mail then ads for reason not entirely clear:

Miss Hewson, 52,  lives in a £1million home in Islington, North London…

India Knight (Times):

I care, actually. I am uncomfortable with people’s names being bandied about before they are charged, and uncomfortable with the McCarthyite vigour with which those names are offered up to the public’s slavering maws, though, of course, the counter-argument is that naming names helps other victims come forward. I am also uncomfortable with the question of proof decades after an alleged event. But I care a lot.

Last week a high-profile barrister called Barbara Hewson wrote an article that called for the age of consent to be lowered to 13, on the basis that some of the Yewtree crimes were “low-level” and led only to “the persecution of old men”. What this amounted to, she wrote, was “the manipulation of the British criminal justice system to produce scapegoats on demand. It is a grotesque spectacle.”

Hewson got both barrels for her article (which you can read at, but the piece put forward a reasoned and intelligent argument. I know from conversations I’ve had that many people agree with her on the “low-level” front, if not the age of consent part; and I know that many people think that some of the women coming forward are opportunistic, in it for the money and possibly either exaggerating or lying outright.

I strongly disagree with Hewson, though I can understand why she makes some of the points that she does. And despite the outrage her remarks have provoked, she speaks for more people than her detractors imagine (I’m ignoring the age of consent part because it’s just mad — a rapist’s charter).

Peter Watt, director of the NSPCC helpline:

These outdated and simply ill-informed views would be shocking to hear from anyone but to hear them from a highly experienced barrister simply beggars belief. Stuart Hall has pleaded guilty to abusing children as young as nine years old, we think most people would agree that crimes of this nature are incredibly serious. Thankfully the law, and most people, are very clear on this matter. To minimise and trivialise the impact of these offences for victims in this way is all but denying that they have in fact suffered abuse at all. Any suggestion of lowering the age of consent could put more young people at risk from those who prey on vulnerable young people.”

Hardwicke Chambers:

We are shocked by the views expressed in Barbara Hewson’s article in Spiked (8 May 2013).

We did not see or approve the article pre-publication and we completely dissociate ourselves from its content and any related views she may have expressed via social media or any other media outlets.

Fleet Street Fox (Daily Mirror):

But there is a third option if we want to rid the world of paedophiles. It would be easier, and quicker, but it would take a bit of selling to the voters.

We could legalise it.

She quotes Hewson. Then:

We could do all that, but we probably won’t on the basis that it’s ABSOLUTELY BARKING MAD. If we have a time limit on some of the most serious crimes it’s possible to commit, we’ll need one on everything. Nazi war criminals? Oh, forget them. Genocidal Serbs? Too long ago. Fred West? Look, it was the 1970s, things were different then.

If we lower the age of consent we’ll be making adulthood happen faster. Sex at 13, driving at 14, let ‘em vote and marry and pay taxes and leave school and oh look at that, it’s the 19th century again. And anyone who goes to the police or their teacher with a complaint of sexual abuse will have their name and face plastered on posters all over the neighbourhood under the phrase ‘STUPID CHILD’.

There would be no rapists, no paedophiles, no victims, and the police could get back to the important business of arresting journalists who’ve embarrassed the rich and powerful.

The long-term effect would be that the TV presenters, dirty old men, perverts, and local oddballs of the future would be the only people to go unmolested…

When I was 13 I had thick NHS specs, braces, acne and a mullet. I communicated by slamming doors and overdoing the eyeliner.

Sex was not only the last thing on my mind, it was terrifying and utterly impossible. I couldn’t consent to being looked at, never mind anything more.

Yet as bonkers as all this sounds someone has suggested it.

Barrister Barbara Hewson says Operation Yewtree is akin to the Spanish Inquisition, that do-gooders tackling child abuse is similar to making homosexuality illegal, and that ‘low-level misdemeanours’ such as those Stuart Hall confessed to last week should not be prosecuted.

Except no-one is burning paedophiles alive, paedophilia is nowhere near the same as sexual activity between consenting adults, and Stuart Hall did not just touch someone’s bum.

He confessed to assaulting girls aged nine to 17 in a variety of ways, some minor and some more serious. Not a single one of them consented to it, regardless of whether they were legally able to.

One told how ‘ I was never aroused, so there was a lot of blood’ .

Eilis O’Hanlon (Irish Indy):

There must have been people who felt uneasy as Operation Yewtree, set up initially to investigate crimes committed by the late paedophile Jimmy Savile, transmuted into a sort of big-game hunt, with TV stars instead of elephants as targets – but they said nothing, because to show any doubts about the conduct of the investigation is to invite accusations of belittling child abuse…

…the vehemence of the reaction against Barbara Hewson demonstrates that she was certainly right to compare the public mood around this issue to a witch-hunt, since it is in the nature of witch-hunts to not only shout down opposition, but also to attack what you think someone said, or what you wish they’d said, rather than what they did say.

Some of the more hysterical reactions to Hewson’s Spiked article even said that she was trying to protect child abusers from prosecution, or that she was blaming victims for not being streetwise enough to resist rapists, which is crazy.

All she said was that it is important to draw distinctions between acts we morally disapprove of and those which are actually criminal.

Rape Crisis England & Wales:

Rape Crisis (England and Wales) is shocked and deeply concerned by the offensive, ill-informed and damaging on-line article from barrister Barbara Hewson regarding Operation Yewtree.

Her opening assertion – that ongoing legal investigations pose a ‘far graver threat to society’ than a prominent public figure who raped and sexually assaulted women and children across decades – suggests a cynical attempt to self-publicise by generating controversy for its own sake. This impression is supported by all the comments that follow in the rest of the article.

From the range of objectionable points Ms Hewson makes, Rape Crisis is particularly concerned by her apparent attack on and dismissal of the experiences of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. This betrays not only a complete lack of empathy but also an ignorance of the long-term impacts of sexual violence that is particularly dangerous in a legal professional.

Of the 60,000 women and girls our Rape Crisis Centres provide specialist support to each year, over 60% have come to us because of an incident of sexual violence that happened more than three years ago and we know that around a third of those sexually abused as children reach adulthood without having told anyone about it. The women we work with tell us that prominent amongst the numerous reasons for this, as well as the power and control wielded by their abusers, are shame, self-blame and a fear of not being believed, all of which are perpetuated and reinforced by the kinds of views Ms Hewson so aggressively presents in her article.

In this context, Rape Crisis (England and Wales) also finds it incomprehensible that a legal professional would call for the removal of sexual violence victims’ right to lifelong anonymity. When we know that only around 15% of the estimated 85,000 women who are raped and 400,000 who are sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year ever report to the police, it is unjustifiable to suggest that adding to the stress and trauma of the experience for victims can do anything to improve levels of justice.

Another Angry Woman:

Let me tell you, Ms Hewson, victimhood is not something to be fetished or enjoyed. As many have already said your remarks represent the fear that all victims have of being disbelieved and the accusations of being attention seeking liars who enjoy victimhood. Abuse is something that haunts and damages you for the rest of your life, effects all the decisions you make, the friends and relationships you choose, the relationships with your family and how you feel about yourself. It will have you awake screaming & crying in the middle of the night, make you afraid of your own shadow and make you hate yourself and the body you live in. It can make you want to hurt yourself, cause resentment and anger towards others and makes it hard to trust anyone. Your remarks show just how much you, as a supposedly impartial party, know nothing about the experience of a victim.

I am one of the victims you seem to know so much about. I have twice been subjected to the selfish actions of a man, a family friend, in a position of power who wanted to rape a trusting little girl, initially aged just 11 and then 13, who didn’t understand what was going on…

I am still living with extreme feelings of worthlessness and the urge to hurt myself because of the damage sexual abuse has done to me…

Ms Hewson, the fact that you as an esteemed barrister in a position of authority see it fit to perpetuate the rape apologism and victim blaming that is already so prevalent in our society and prevents victims coming forward, speaks volumes about how out of touch you are and how little you understand about sexual abuse. It’s all very well from your privileged position to fire off soundbites about “fetishing victimhood” and “persecuting old men”, but you cannot even begin to understand how damaging, disrespectful and false those statements are.

Delusions of Candour:

I no longer work in the field of law enforcement but I believe that it is still the case that in order for charges to be brought the CPS must consider that they have a reasonable chance of obtaining a conviction. I agree that the media’s habit of gleefully naming every individual arrested as part of Yewtree is unpleasant and unnecessary, and perhaps gives credence to the suggestion that those accused of rape should also be granted anonymity. However this is no reason for stripping rape complainants of their right to anonymity.

Ms Hewson continues “It’s time to end this prurient charade, which has nothing to do with justice or the public interest. Adults and law-enforcement agencies must stop fetishising victimhood. Instead, we should focus on arming today’s youngsters with the savoir-faire and social skills to avoid drifting into compromising situations, and prosecute modern crime.”. It’s almost as though she’s claiming that with the right skills and knowledge sexual predators can be avoided – a common theme of victim-blaming. But as a barrister surely Ms Hewson knows that rape and sexual assault is never the fault of the victim? I agree that young people should be taught what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of sexual behaviour but that in no way means that assault can be avoided if one has the appropriate “social skills”.

Although Ms Hewson’s article has moments where it is interesting and thought-provoking it is also ill-considered and her employers, Hardwicke Chambers, have been quick to distance themselves from it. It is a shame that this article seems likely to overshadow her reputation as a passionate advocate for abortion rights and her opposition to the court-ordered treatment of pregnant women. I hope that Ms Hewson’s views aren’t widely shared among her fellow legal professionals; meanwhile I imagine there are few victims of sexual assault or rape who would want her in their courtroom.

Hewson says critics have called for her to be raped.


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