Making false allegations seems to be a national pastime, and it is particularly painful for totally innocent public figures. says Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph. “It is pretty clear that Field Marshal Lord Bramall is owed a full and heartfelt apology. Look at what he has been through. He is a 92-year-old veteran of D-Day, who was decorated by Monty for gallantry in capturing a Nazi outpost. He has served this country for decades, rising to become head of the Army, and had the good sense to speak out against the Iraq war in 2003.
But in the twilight of his career he has lived under a cloud of suspicion – after he was accused of rape and indecent assault, between 1976 and 1984, by a man who is anonymous and only known as “Nick”. Not a shred of evidence was ever produced to support these claims, and on Friday Lord Bramall received a brief email from the police telling him that there would be “no further action”.
I can well understand the rage of his friends and supporters. The investigation began last year, when 20 officers arrived unannounced at Lord Bramall’s house in Farnham, as he was having breakfast with his wife, Avril. They proceeded to search the premises, much to the alarm of his wife, who was suffering from dementia and has since died. The investigation then dragged on for nine months, and he was not even allowed to know the name of his accuser.
Now the case has finally been dropped. An old war hero’s name has been senselessly dragged through the mud, and all sorts of insults are being hurled at the police: that they have been stupid, insensitive, blundering, and so on. As it happens, I don’t think that the police really deserve this abuse. It is at moments like this – when tempers are running high – that it is important to keep a sense of proportion, and to recognise the extreme difficulty of the job we ask our police officers to do.
It is not so very long ago that Sir Jimmy Savile was thought to be a national treasure, a fund-raiser of genius, whose sheer love of humanity expressed itself in his curious willingness to work all night alone in the morgue. Cyril Smith was the genial and much loved fatso of the Liberal party, who went to his grave amid tearful tributes. Greville Janner was revered for his work with Holocaust survivors. All three of them are now alleged to have done very vile stuff. None would be let anywhere near a kindergarten. All would now be behind bars or facing prosecution.
My point is that terrible things turn out to have been done by very famous, very saintly-seeming people; and as Lord Guthrie said yesterday: “High rank and public service does not disbar a man from committing heinous crimes.” The police have a duty to follow the evidence – wherever it takes them. Imagine if it turned out that they had gone soft on the field marshal, just because he was so well-connected. Imagine if it looked as though our police were conniving in some establishment conspiracy to cover up rape or child abuse.
How would you feel if your children were involved? How would you feel if you were one of the victims, and no one would listen? The police have a duty to act without fear or favour. I can also understand the general reluctance – in principle – to offer an apology every time it is decided not to proceed with a case.
There will always be an evidentiary range, even in the cases that are dropped. Some cases (like Bramall’s) will end up seeming fatuous; some much less so. Sometimes the police will be so sure that they are on to something that an apology would stick in the throat. And in any case, new evidence may well turn up. They can’t apologise every time. Where do you draw the line? And why should the police apologise to Bramall, just because he is highly distinguished, and not to everyone who is the victim of some vexatious allegation?
There are plenty of wholly innocent people who are maliciously accused of all kinds of things – look at the young man at Durham University who was falsely accused of rape, and whose life was put on hold, his reputation jeopardised. Why should field marshals get an apology, and not everyone else?
Well, I think there is an answer to that – and it is that Lord Bramall’s very fame and distinction have helped to make things not better and easier for him, but much, much worse. If he hadn’t been Lord Bramall, the papers and websites would not have given the story so much of the publicity that aggravated his distress. And if he hadn’t been Lord Bramall, would the investigation have been conducted with quite such zeal?
Let us suppose that an anonymous “victim” approached the police with a series of outlandish and unproveable 40-year-old allegations against a group of blameless and excellent but otherwise obscure old codgers. Would the police have raided their houses? Would they have turned up, mob-handed, without a shred of evidence? Without a crime? Without a body? On one man’s say-so? And kept at it for months? I don’t think so.
The paradox is that it is precisely because he is an establishment figure – a KG, GCB, OBE, MC, a former Lord Lieutenant – that the police feel they have to show a scrupulous refusal to be intimidated. Indeed, you could argue that this is a fine thing about our country, that no one is too grand to be ruthlessly investigated. That, today, is not much consolation to Lord Bramall. His accuser is surely sad but delusional.
You can’t blame the police, in the current climate, for taking no chances. But in this case they were plainly barking up the wrong tree. I hope a way will be found of making amends, because being a British war hero didn’t help Bramall against these allegations; on the contrary, there was a sense in which his status simply made things worse. He deserves to put the last year behind him, and accept the continued thanks of his country.