Leader: Hall’s guilt prompts more questions of BBC

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TIME does not forget an assault. And when the indecent assault of young girls is involved, it doesn’t completely heal.

Any concern over the pursuit of offences committed by BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall stretching back 46 years were quickly dissipated when details of the scale and nature of the assaults became known yesterday.

Hall at first protested his innocence. But when his time came in court, he admitted 14 charges of indecently assaulting girls, including one aged nine. Three charges of indecent assault and one of rape are to lie on the court file. An apology to his victims, such as it was, came through his lawyer, who added that “his disgrace is complete”. For someone who had such a prominent status in the corridors of the BBC for many years, the crash from a state of invulnerability to a ruined reputation will inflict a deserved agony.

There will be some who argue that offences committed decades ago, stretching back to the period between 1967 and 1985, should not be investigated. Have not times changed and memory distorted with the passage of years? But public mores on this matter have not changed.

Assault of this type and scale is unacceptable. And the crime of sexual assault, backed up by the credible testimony of victims, is a crime, whenever it took place. A sexual assault on a minor is especially reprehensible. The passage of time neither excuses nor mitigates it.

The admission of guilt by Hall, coming in the wake of the Savile scandal, cannot but raise searching questions about the culture within the BBC and the behaviour that prevailed for so long.

The fact that Savile was no lone predator – that Hall, described by the Chief Crown Prosecutor as an “opportunistic predator” who went about his assaults with forethought and guile while employed by the BBC, is an uncomfortable truth for the BBC.

That Savile and now Hall were able to get away with such behaviour for so long has to raise further questions about prevailing cultures within the BBC, particularly with the views of one victim saying that Hall’s colleagues must have been aware of his predatory nature and his former colleagues admitting that questionable practices involving women in his rooms were common knowledge.

The BBC says it is appalled by the disgraceful actions of Hall and says that it has changed and that incidents of sexual assault are very rare. The revelations of the past year would certainly merit wider and thorough investigation.

After the Savile scandal emerged, the BBC announced inquiries, particularly as some of the alleged assaults took place on BBC premises. What is curious since the Hall admission of guilt is the lack of similar moves by the BBC. Perhaps there are good reasons for this that have yet to come to light, but the public have a right to ask in this case too, and a right to know the answers.

Extremists exacerbated famine

A MASSIVE human tragedy made all the worse by fundamentalist ideology: it is hard for the outside world not to feel outrage over the action of extremist Islamist militants to ban food aid in south-central Somalia at the height of devastating famine.

A study of the 2011 Somalia tragedy estimates that 133,000 children under five years old perished, with child deaths approaching 20 per cent in some communities. The total number of deaths is now put at 260,000. As many as 120,000 adults and children are reckoned to have died before the crisis was officially declared a famine.

Philippe Lazzarini, the chief UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, has a very clear idea why the international response was so sluggish: more than a dozen aid groups were banned from operating in south-central Somalia by the extremist Islamist group al-Shabab, a hardline anti-West political decision that made saving lives “extraordinarily difficult”.

In the months before famine was declared, the crisis did not receive the amount of attention it should have, in part because of the access denied to the media and other outside organisations by al-Shabab. “The extraordinary challenge of access,” he says, “explains why the early response, despite the early warning, did not really take place.”

This is a shocking conclusion, leaving little doubt that this was a human tragedy that could have been avoided. Al-Shabab has now been driven out of most of Somalia and the country has had an opportunity to recover. If nothing else, the report serves as a powerful warning to other African countries to deny such fundamentalists a foothold lest this appalling tragedy is ever repeated.