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Thursday, 4 October, 2012
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Arts Council England (ACE) is usually very good at getting itself into trouble but the latest debacle, not necessarily of its own making, is a stark illustration of just how blundering the funding monolith really is. Particularly when it comes to dealing with problems.
As the BBC tries to untangle itself from the 40 year mess of employing Jimmy Saville another target has come into the cross hairs in the shape of the, now deceased, radio DJ John Peel.
Mr Peel is relevant to ACE because they funded the 'John
Peel Archive' on TheSpace, ACE's very own online cultural white noise machine.
Allegations have surfaced recently that Mr Peel, notable for his monotonous, West Midlands drone when introducing records, got a 15 year old girl pregnant back in the 1960's. Allegations that are, thus far, unproven.
More damning than these allegations however is Mr Peel's own admission, more than twenty years ago, that he was involved sexually with underage girls.
In a piece for the Guardian newspaper published in 1999, Julie Burchill quotes two prior interviews with the DJ.
The first, from The Guardian itself in 1975, regarding Mr Peel's time in the United States;
"All they wanted me to do was abuse them, sexually, which, of course, I was only too happy to do.."
Another quote culled from an interview with the Sunday Correspondent from 1989 has Mr Peel stating that;
"[girls] used to queue up outside oral sex they were particularly keen on, I remember one of my regular customers, as it were, turned out to be 13, though she looked older."
A pattern of behaviour is revealed when you discover that John Peel managed to get himself married to a 15 year old;
"This was the Sixties. Fleeing America after the authorities quite rightly objected to him having sex with young teenage girls, Peel was joined by his wife, Shirley, a Texan girl, who was 15 when he married her."
He later claimed that the girl in question had lied about her age, Mr Peel also stated in his interviews that he never "asked for ID".
So what we have is a self-admission of sexual contact with minors, an allegation of getting an underage girl pregnant and a marriage to an underage girl.
Either John Peel had really bad cataracts and couldn't tell the difference between kids and grown ups or he knew exactly what he was doing and didn't care.
Given that the article from 1999 is still online it's safe to say that no lawsuit was filed, for libel, and subsequently won. Ms Burchill even ends her piece calling John Peel "a past 'abuser' of children who preaches Family Values". Not something most people would just let slide.
It is also important to note that in cases of sexual contact between adults and children the adult is ultimately responsible for what takes place. Children cannot "consent" to any kind of sexual behaviour and, as far as the law is concerned, claiming you didn't know or didn't ask is no defence and the hammer will fall right on your head.
Article19 asked ACE to comment on what exactly they planned to do about the 'The John Peel Archive' in light not only of the allegations but his own admission of illegal sexual conduct.
For the most part all a spokesperson would say is that;
"in the event of proven allegations of sexual abuse, the Arts Council would consider its view."
When it was put to ACE that there were "proven" allegations of sexual abuse, admitted by John Peel himself, they would only re-state their previous answer.
Despite the fact that TheSpace is a collaboration with the BBC, Mr Peel's employer, ACE also told us that nobody there had any knowledge of Mr Peel's comments prior to the content being given the green light.
It would appear that if you talk about illegal behaviour during published press interviews then it's no different from discussing the kind of car you drive, as far as the BBC or ACE is concerned anyway.
The spokesperson would also not confirm with whom, if anybody, he had consulted while formulating ACE's position on this matter. When we asked to speak with Alison Cole, the person at ACE responsible for TheSpace, the request was denied.
For its part the BBC has called off plans to rename a section of a recently renovated building after the DJ.
In the big wide world there is nothing more serious than the abuse of young children by adults. It is one of the few crimes that you don't really come back from, especially in a professional context.
Imagine for a moment if a cabinet minister had admitted to much the same thing 20 or 30 years previously. Just exactly how long do you imagine that person would remain in their job or free from the scrutiny of the law?
Over at the BBC their consistent denials of having any knowledge of the lascivious behaviour of their employees are rapidly unravelling.
The fact that ACE cannot adopt a simple, strong position on this matter is completely unforgivable. Over the years we have highlighted many failings in the funding monolith but this is perhaps the most egregious.
If you cannot take a direct stand in opposition to child abuse, no matter how long ago it happened or how frequently then it is time for everybody in positions of responsibility to go.
On learning this information ACE should have immediately removed all mention of John Peel from TheSpace, apologised profusely for putting it online in the first place and made a matching donation to the NSPCC for the amount of funding they provided.
Such actions would, of course, require the people who work there to have some kind of a clue.
As for Alan Davey, the CEO of ACE, their spokesperson said "The personal view of any individual, including the Chief Executive, is not pertinent."
Of course not, why would the opinion of the CEO be pertinent with regard to the projects they fund? Why would that person have any responsibility for anything at all?