Thursday, 27 February 2014

A Slice of P.I.E

There has been much in the news recently about the links between the Paedophile Information Exchange (P.I.E)  with the National Council of Civil Liberties in the '70s and early 80s. The Daily Mail, riding it's moral high horse, has been busy casting aspersions about Labour's current deputy leader Harriet Harman and her MP husband Jack Dromney, both of whom worked for the NCCL during that time, and their association, acceptance and affiliation with P.I.E.

Harriet Harman and Jack Dromney have denied supporting P.I.E or any of the group's activities and aims, such as decriminalising incest, lowering the age of consent to ten and legalising sexually explicit photographs of children.

But then, who wouldn't ... clearly only a monster would but, sometimes, monsters are hard to spot.

In the early '90s I worked with the self-confessed paedophile and former chairman of P.I.E Tom O'Carroll at the Wakefield Express, a local weekly newspaper in the north of England. He was a sub-editor in the newsroom where I was a reporter.

It was, as he says himself in his self-penned biography, a place where his past could be "shrouded in obscurity." He'd been imprisoned for conspiracy to corrupt public morals during the '70s and written a book called 'Paedophilia. A Radical Case' in 1980 but we, who worked alongside him, had no idea about his past.

He was undeniably intelligent but a bit weird. He kept himself to himself, was taciturn, pedantic, and mostly unsociable. He was the butt of jokes among younger members of the newsroom staff. The staff member everyone dreaded being stuck in the office alone with, but only because it might mean having a conversation with him. He was also, by dint of being the only person willing, eventually voted in as the local NUJ branch's Father of the Chapel.

In this role he went to the NUJ conference where he was recognised for who, and what, he was by delegates who'd worked on stories about P.I.E in the 70s and 80s. News, even in 1994, travelled faster than light among the journalist pack. When he arrived back at work on Monday morning, he was promptly and unceremoniously sacked.

There was, on that Monday morning, a strange atmosphere in the newsroom. Shock and a shiver-in-the-skin revulsion that for four years we had shared our space, bits of our lives and our stories with, to all intents and purposes, a monster.

HOW did we not know?

WHY didn't we know?

Shouldn't we have been able to tell?

But how could we? Paedophiles don't come with a label attached, they don't have horns and forked tails and because they are what they are, they don't shout it out loud.

Now, 20 years later, I've heard Tom O'Carroll's voice again because he was interviewed on Radio Four's Today programme as part of the NCCL "scandal."  Hearing him was a shock and subsequently seeing him in the newspapers, a reminder that history is not always history.

Tom O'Carroll has always been extremely careful never to admit to having had sexual relations with a minor but writes in his biography that his work with P.I.E, his books, and his writings are his: "small contribution to sexual sanity." That his beliefs are just "swimming against the tide."  Reading his biography he seems, astonishingly, proud of his past, his reputation and his beliefs.

When I worked with O'Carroll he, unsurprisingly, didn't say much about his past, his present or his future. Or anything much at all. He was just a member of the subbing pool, a bit weird but apparently harmless. That I never realised how wrong we were makes me feel grubby, uncomfortable and strangely guilty because Tom O'Carroll was the most deluded and dangerous person I had ever met and I didn't notice.

He still is.

I hope people take notice now.

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