It is 15 years since the publication of the Macpherson Report into the investigation of the death of Stephen Lawrence. The report may have done some good by making the police take crime against black people more seriously, but its main legacy is bad. Macpherson promulgated the doctrine that ‘A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.’ If the incident is thus defined then there is literally no end to racist incidents; and if the (self-defining) victims — or anyone else — can define a racist incident thus then the person alleged by them to be guilty is automatically convicted.
This principle that victimhood is self-chosen and cannot be questioned is now being applied more widely. It is the rule governing the alleged sexual assaults by the late Jimmy Savile, and it would seem to be the line of reasoning (or rather, lack of reasoning) which has brought famous people like Dave Lee Travis and Bill Roache to court. I hope it is not affecting the judgment of the Crown Prosecution Service as it forces a retrial of Travis on two of the charges. The same dogma has induced the Liberal Democrats to demand that Lord Rennard should say sorry for his supposed sexual harassment as they published a report finding no court-standard evidence against him: he was innocent until proved innocent, one might say.
Clearly there is a serious difficulty about the fact that some wrongs, especially sexual ones, are hard to prove, and so powerful people tend to escape punishment, but one does not correct past mistakes by making new, symmetrically bad ones which also go against justice.
This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Notes in this week’s magazine.