THE Betrayed Girls (BBC 1, Monday of last week) deserves more respect than a jokey intro from me. Its indictment of agency after agency of those national institutions supposed to support the vulnerable and extirpate criminal activity is of such gravity as to make one wonder quite where to start to pin the blame.
This documentary, which chronicles and analyses the Rochdale grooming scandal, was considered important enough to deserve an hour-and-a-half of prime time. What we entered into was a world of moral turpitude, in which black-and-white absolutes were so tempered by apparently reasonable relativities as to turn them on their heads: the abused girls, all under age and therefore clearly the victims, were arrested for causing a disturbance, while their abusers went free, for years.
A sexual-health clinic set up in 2003 under the Blair government almost immediately assembled a dossier of widespread sexual abuse of young white girls by Pakistani taxi-drivers and fast-food staff. One of the heroes of the story, Sara Rowbotham, reported her evidence again and again to the police and social services.
So petrified were they of stirring up racial hatred that they did nothing: the girls were nearly all from disturbed backgrounds, were drinking and taking drugs were probably promiscuous, and so considered largely culpable.
Another hero was DC Maggie Oliver, who worked separately to build up a case; her work was abruptly terminated. The Crown Prosecution Service was unwilling to act. Quite separately again, even the respected MP Ann Cryer, stumbling on the same pattern in Keighley, could get nothing done, and was accused of racism.
A Muslim community leader, Mohammed Safiq, assembled a separate case and took it to the mosque leaders: the perpetrators were all respectable, married, pious — so he was told to drop the matter.
The authorities refused to act; so the BNP and EDL stepped into the vacuum. This is precisely the behaviour from Asian Muslims which they have been shouting about for years, and the Establishment handed them on a plate a genuine grievance. Eventually, a new Chief Prosecutor was appointed, and he overturned previous policy.
The police were galvanised into action, the cases were successfully prosecuted, and long sentences were handed down. It was a bitter victory: many of those who had worked to get justice for the girls were broken by the experience, as were the girls themselves. From the dock, one of the perpetrators harangued the court: every institution, he said, had abandoned these children; only he and his friends had paid them attention.
This, of course, did not excuse the vile crimes, but it contained a grain of truth: we had betrayed them.
Channel 4 offered another challenging documentary in its series about our prisons, Life Behind Bars (Tuesday of last week); but, for escapist comedy, I recommend Count Arthur Strong (BBC1, Fridays), a creation that plumbs such depths of lunacy as to achieve a curious innocence.