Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Public and private personas.

I would not usually do things this way round, but I am going to cite a couple of references before I start. I hope people will note them, particularly  the first, from The Lawyer 2008, that substantiates a point that some people have challenged me on in the last couple of days.





It will have come as no surprise to those who followed events concerning  children in care in Jersey , and particularly Haut de la Garenne, that  Jimmy Savile has both been previously investigated (in 2007), and has now had accusers publicly supported by Esther Rantzen , somewhat backed up by Paul Gambaccini. Nor will it be any great surprise to those who follow such things that it has taken decades for the facts to dribble out, and for those who  knew or suspected, colluded as Ms Rantzen puts it, to come clean.

There will be those who dismiss the repeated accusations simply because they cannot believe that someone can be such a public figure and do a huge amount of charitable good work and simultaneously do such evil things.  To do so fails to recognise an important point.  The public persona is a construct; it may well not be the same as the private persona.  This is obvious for actors, but it often holds for politicians and entertainers, even sometimes writers.   It is one reason why in many of those professions the given name and the performance name differ.

I know barely any professional entertainers or actors personally, but I do know a fair few politicians both local and further afield.   There are those with whom I vehemently disagree politically, but like and trust personally.  There are yet others who are of a similar political persuasion to me, but with whom  I find it almost impossible to work.  Over years I have come to the conclusion that frequently the important distinguishing factor between the 2 groups is  congruity.  People whose actions and views are 'in synch', unless they are fundamentally abhorrent, are easier to  deal with than people who give a compatible impression, but whose actions are at odds to their position.

Unfortunately you generally have to be close to someone for sometime to know if they are really congruent.  The trap it is all to easy to fall into with public figures to assume you know them and therefore that their action are congruent.  In truth you only know the public persona.  Oftentimes a similar error occurs with people in a position of authority.  If they are in such a position it is taken because we know something of the position we know something of the person.   Why is this important?  Because given one voice against another, unless you are aware and conscious of such biases, it is likely you will trust or believe the famous person over the unknown; the holder of office over that ordinary person, the adult over the child.  It is one reason why, unless guarded against, the voice of children does not get heard.  And that is one reason why abuse can get to persist and go unreported and unchecked for so long.

There is another strand to this too.  It is what Margaret Thatcher summed up neatly when someone was nominated to her circle:  “Is he one of us?”  People are more likely to believe those who they perceive are more like themselves.  It is another source of bias.  It is also only a short step from there to groupthink: the  psychological condition that occurs within groups, in which the desire for harmony in  decision-making overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives.  Nothing better describes a bias.  It also goes someway to understanding how individual group members can go decades knowing or deeply suspecting something is wrong, yet not acting on that.  It is not an excuse, it is not a good reason for not acting or speaking clearly, especially when you know you will have the ear of the media or key decision makers, like Gambaccini above.

This piece is not about whether Jimmy Savile did obtain an injunction against the Sun about involvement at Haut de la Garenne.  Having engaged lawyers and initiated  action, both the publicity loving Sun and Mr Savile go silent.   There is one overriding likely reason for that.  Nor is it about whether Jimmy Savile did or maybe did not visit Haut de la Garenne, though there is a pretty convincing photograph still on the web, and of course dozens of children there at the time who could inform that view.

The real point of this piece is to learn some lessons and see some parallels.Having a high profile and reputations for public good works is not a guarantee or safeguard against atrocious personal actions. Ask yourself  what you really know about the personas of the people involved in the child abuse debacle in Jersey.  How much of what happened and did not happen in the past was shaped or determined by what people thought they knew about others rather than what they actually knew of the private person and the facts?  How will we ever get to the truth of this and learn the lessons unless we get under those public facades and what we think we know and get to the hard facts and the real personalities and motives of the participants. What the recent public 'revelations' regarding  Jimmy Savile means for us now is a proper, full open Committee of Inquiry.


  1. According to a story in the Mail today (cont. from page 1 on page 6):

    "It emerged Saville was a regular visitor to Haute de la Garenne, the notorious abuse-ridden Jersey children's home."

    I also read another story online, which pictures Saville with killer Sutcliff.

    Surely that mean the COI has to be far stronger than the Williamson.

  2. Savile accused of abuse at Haut de la Garenne

    SIR Jimmy Savile was accused of an indecent assault at Haut de la Garenne in the 1970s, according to the States police.

    The allegation against the late television presenter and Radio 1 DJ was made during the police investigation into child abuse at the former children’s home.

    The police say that the allegation was investigated but there was insufficient evidence to proceed.

    No charges were brought and the information has only now been made public.

    Sir Jimmy, who died in October last year aged 84, has been accused of sexually abusing underage girls in an ITV documentary to be aired tomorrow.

    He was a regular visitor to Jersey between the 1960s and 2003.

    So much for 'no recollection' of ever having visited

  3. Thanks for flagging that up. It really does make the point as clear as could be. Savile engaged lawyers and QC to prevent publication of stories and a picture about him linked to Haut de la Garenne. He claimed no recollection of ever visiting.

    Now ask yourself why he thought he could get away with such behaviour when the facts were contrary. It suggests he had friends in high and influential places and thought he could rely on them.

  4. Would Jimmy savile have been called in for an interview at the States of Jersey police or were the allegations put aside with one of the numberous insufficient evidence cases.

    1. I don't know the answer to that. It may well depend on when the complaint was made. Under Harper's time the compllainant would have been given fair consideration, and the poice may well have contacted Mr Savile. Under other regimes it may have been very different. It is the sort of question the Committee of Inquiry should persue - police procedures and actions in response to allegations of this type are germane.

  5. This is a well written explanation of how cultural views of the presumed superiority of those in higher position may shape the way highly suspicious behaviour is viewed. After all, who holds a lowlier status than the small child who has no understanding of the cruel system of his own protection?

    As a student of the media effects on society, I find the comments sections of both mainstream and independent media in Jersey to be particularly enlightening. When the weight of strong evidence falls on the side of the abuse accusers, comments defending the accused tend to become increasingly fervent and bitter, as though the defender of the status quo is desperate to hang on to fragile illusions. Eventually, this defensiveness takes the form of personal attacks on the messenger or abuse victim with hostile name-calling becoming the norm. The level of emotional struggle behind the name calling is apparent, and disturbing.

  6. Easy to read and to the point of being enlightening. In the same vein as Terry Le Suer was sold as a safe pare of hands and we needed GST and to be fair still got elected, but Jersey is slowly going down hill as the financial foundation is badly flawed. Then we were told bu Chief Minister Frank Walker that Harcourt had the ruler run over them and were a strong and honest company and the preferred developer to dig up, mess up for three years the weighbridge area of St Helier to build office blocks and apartments and a tunnel.

    How so very strange Harcourt were largely to blame for bringing down the Irish bank that had to be bailed out by Government in Ireland. As the second largest lender they owed a mere 250,000,000 Euros. Harcourt obviously were very short of money. Had they gone ahead massively underfunded with the Financial qtr? It would be Jersey bailing this developer out as the EU economy dived.

    So You are correct Dr Forskitt, to few questions to people in power is a drastic mistake. The truth is that people trust the super intelligent people like Hitler, and look at the effect he had on the world and the millions of souls lost, are the Jersey people also so weak they will allow the loss of the integrity and well being of their island ?

  7. You draw attention to important issues - individual and social psychology, group think and power structures. I hope these themes are further explored prior and during to the COI.

  8. And Jersey has just appointed Moynihan to save the finance industry. You couldn't make it up! He was at AIB for over 30 years and is currently CEO. Allied Irish Banks. Anyone remember what happened to the Irish banks followed by the Irish economy during that time? Didn't CEO Moynihan have any advice for those other high flyers in AIB back in the auld country? If not, why not? If he did, it didn't work.

    I wonder what the calibre of the advice he will be offering to those tasked with saving our rapidly contracting major industry will be?