Little people

David Steel
Spitting image

“We found, in particular, that institutions regularly put their own reputations or political interests before child protection”.

– The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Theatre director and neurologist Dr Jonathan Miller, when directing King Lear, drew parallels with a famous scene in the film “The Third Man”, starring Orson Welles.

Welles’ character, Harry Lime has been diluting antibiotics in post-war Vienna, making big money, but at the expense of children dying from under-treated infection.

In the relevant scene, Lime takes a visitor to the top of a giant ferris wheel, and surveying the people far below, asks whether they would care if one of those dots stopped moving.

Miller makes the point that to commit these unspeakable acts, Lime has first to see others incorrectly – as little people, ants, dots. In Lear, Miller argues that a blinded character takes the opposite journey, retrieving his emotional insight by falling, by coming back down to the scale of ordinary folk.

Today’s report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse makes this contrast all too clear. Perpetrators preyed on children. Others knew of it but did nothing, or shielded perpetrators from action. Some criminals were even rewarded with honours.

This can only happen because the perpetrators, and those who protected them, see the victims, if they see them at all, as “little people”; expendable, worthless, even blameworthy.

Reputation trumps safety

Today’s coverage makes clear that institutions repeatedly put reputation before the safety of the most vulnerable.

The report’s recommendations include protection for whistleblowers, but we already know this doesn’t work.

My own whistleblowing case at the Court of Appeal proved that Alder Hey bosses had lied about incidents and investigations where children had died. But those bosses have got away with it, because judges have refused to read the redacted half of the Royal College of Surgeons’ investigation; and decided instead that bosses were genuine in making false statements to protect reputation.

Failure to investigate

The BBC makes a further point about today’s reports from the Inquiry:

One thread runs through all of its work – a failure in the past to take action when abuse came to light.

For those of us working in the NHS, this is all too familiar. After my whistleblowing, Alder Hey bosses have had to admit on oath that several safety issues still haven’t been investigated to this day. Yet senior managers who failed to investigate face no consequence – even at the Court of Appeal.


Today’s reports illustrate why our bid for a Supreme Court challenge to the Court of Appeal decision is so important.

We cannot allow institutions to falsely deny serious incidents where children have died or been injured and then, when caught, claim this as a PR strategy in their defence.

Otherwise, we sit back and allow again that reputations for big people are worth more than life for little ones.

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