Catholic Herald, 15 July 1988
The invasion of privacy is a buzz phrase nowadays. It usually refers to junk mail, or the accessibility of medical records, or personal credit accounts.
Recent events in Cleveland have exposed, in a particularly public and shocking way, the invasion of that most private of citadels, the family. If anything good is to come out of the whole ghastly business, it will be at the expense of much suffering by the innocent families involved.
Some undermining of confidence in the social services and the medical profession is inevitable. It may be that in future, as a result of the Cleveland case, we will be more alert to a crime that revolts every decent citizen. But the price is too high if even one family suffers such sore distress. And pretty cold comfort for those going through the anguish of unjustified suspicion and loss of reputation.
The more one thinks about it the more monstrous do the accusations, where unsubstantiated, seem. Children and parents alike are trapped in the full glare of media attention which must be about as comfortable as flies on pins under microscopes. My acquaintance with the Northern character encourages me to think these families won’t be short of neighbourly goodwill in their vale of tears. They will need every ounce of inner strength and togetherness to pull out of such harrowing circumstances. If one could speak to them directly, one might offer the consolation of the One who was so unjustly accused.
By comparison my own experience of being unjustly accused is quite absurdly trivial. Leaving a well-known store weighed down with purchases, I set all the security alarm bells off. Red-faced and dumb-struck I was led away by a bevy of shop assistants, to all intent and purposes an arrested shop-lifter. In fact one of them had neglected to remove one of those rubbery tags from a pair of trousers I had bought, and this innocuous item had set all the bells ringing. I felt publicly humiliated.
I certainly didn’t receive such public exoneration, for how could the manager, however well-intentioned, re-assemble the circumstances exactly as they were, and publicly apologise. My initial shock-horror gave way to fury, but by that time I was back at home and could only vent my feelings in a letter.
In due course I received a politely apologetic reply and assurances of attempts to prevent such occurences in future. Which reminds me slightly of the reactions of the medical fraternity when they come under attack for some gross blunder.
I am reluctant to take a swipe at the medical profession and the Health Service, though as an ex-employee and regular customer I feel quite justified in levelling my sights at their shortcomings. Doctors are held in the awed esteem reserved for demi-gods.
By and large they do a jolly good job. Urged on by a public that aspires to live forever in A1 condition, they have been forced into the role of high-priests of the body-cult. The Health Service is seen as a sacred cow in the Elysian field. Nothing brings out the disagreeable self-righteous smugness of the British like the contemplation of our Health Service.
But any consultant or cleaner, porter or patient will admit that it is ripe for a radical overhaul. I hope the fortieth anniversary cake-cutting ceremonies will be tempered by some serious forward thinking as well as some quite justifiable, retrospective applause.