On Living in a Moral Sewer (2017), Sean Gabb

On Living in a Moral Sewer
Sean Gabb
(9th January 2017)

Just over two months ago, I was interviewed by The Daily Mail. Let me give the facts of the story that I was told.

Kelly Jarvis was a police officer in the North of England. In 2013, she took a personal dislike to Fiona Miller, a member of the public. At first, she contented herself with sending poison pen messages by text and via social media. Then, using the access she had to the relevant databases, she fabricated a set of entries to make it appear that Mrs Miller was sleeping with an underage boy and abusing her own son. In 2015, the social workers came knocking. Early in 2016, the police turned up at Mrs Miller’s home so see whether her son was in immediate danger.

Fortunately, PC Jarvis had not covered her tracks, and Mrs Miller was able to complain. The Cleveland Police investigated. According to The Daily Mail:

It [the report] found she [PC Jarvis] had exploited her training and knowledge of working in a unit which deals with malicious communication offences to harass Fiona by creating three false Facebook profiles to send her abusive and upsetting messages.

In addition, the report upheld the allegations that she had accessed police systems inappropriately and made false referrals to the NSPCC.

The nasty falsehoods went on and on, painting a picture of a filthy house full of barking dogs and of Tommy being left for hours to cry himself to sleep while Fiona and Steven screamed and shouted at each other all night—all of which were recorded as 'facts' on Fiona's police file.

In there, too, was the statement about Fiona having sex with a 14-year-old boy—a boy who is now a man. He is now in a relationship with one of her friends. When he heard of the lies being told in his name, he submitted a statement to police to deny that he and Fiona had ever had a sexual relationship.

Pulling no punches, the police report said: 'As a police officer, PC Jarvis should have been honest and diligent in the exercise of her duties and responsibilities and provided the correct details on the referral forms… she has acted in a manner which discredits the police force.'

I am not sure why criminal charges were not laid against PC Jarvis. A disciplinary case was opened against her. However, she was allowed to resign before the hearing, thereby keeping her pension arrangements intact.

I gave a long interview on this case. Sadly, my comments were summarised, accurately but incompletely, as follows:

Civil liberties campaigner Dr Sean Gabb, of the Libertarian Alliance, described the case as 'outrageous', adding: 'The issue is that a police officer thought there was nothing wrong whatsoever in using her position to mess up someone else's life. It is blatant moral corruption and cannot be tolerated.'

I do not blame The Daily Mail for failing to quote me at length. I often am quoted at length, but this was already a long story. Instead, here is the substance of all that I said.

This is a shocking case. What concerns me most, however, is that it is being turned into a discussion of whether new laws or codes of conduct are needed—whether, for example, a police officer should be allowed to resign before the outcome of a disciplinary hearing. Perhaps the law should be changed in this instance. But we have spent the past two generations heaping new laws on new laws. If these laws could have worked as we were promised, we might now be living in some paradise on earth. The truth is that institutions are only as honest as the individuals within them, and laws are only as good as those enforcing them. Rather than looking for yet another new law, and telling ourselves that this will the keystone in our arch of moral perfection, we should consider that we live in a country where moral corruption has become normal.

Wherever we look in the state services, there is corruption. There is nepotism. There is favouritism and bullying. There is fraud. There is negligent waste. There is bribe-seeking. There is an obsession with secrecy, to keep these facts from investigation and punishment. You see this in local government, and in the National Health Service. You see it in the Police. You see it in education. You see it in the administration of justice. I have my stories to tell. I am sure you have yours. Taken together, these show a spreading stain of moral corruption.

I do not wish to exaggerate. On this occasion, there was an investigation. Assuming the facts reported by The Daily Mail are even approximately true, I am surprised there were no criminal charges. But, if her pension was saved, PC Jarvis was ruined. There are countries, even in Europe, where an investigation would have been squashed, and where any reporter trying to find what happened would have faced harassment and perhaps threats of murder. England is still not that sort of country. But the facts as reported are no grounds for complacency.

I could take the mainstream libertarian line, and say that corruption and the State are inseparable, and we cannot expect the first to vanish until the second also has vanished. I agree that the British State tries to do too many things. Many of these should be done by others. Many should not be done at all. PC Jarvis would have had less opportunity for corruption, given a much smaller and weaker state machinery. If true, though, this line is unhelpful. The State is unlikely to vanish in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, there is corruption.

As an aside, I will add that the last time anyone who called himself a libertarian had political influence in this country, things were made worse than they were already. In 1989, I attended a private meeting in which Teresa Gorman explained the Thatcher Government’s plan for the contracting-out of local government services. With rising scorn, I dismissed the plan as a sure recipe for corruption—that councillors and local government officers would sell contracts to the highest bidder. That, or contracts would be given by and to people with funny handshakes. The organiser of the meeting took me aside afterwards, and warned me never again to embarrass him or his grand friends. To do her justice, Mrs Gorman was not offended. On and off for the next ten years, she employed me as a ghost writer. She even paid me with greater promptness than was her custom.

But I return to the main thread of my argument. I speak of a spreading stain of moral corruption. This is notoriously spreading from the top. Most people take their lead from those above them. When those in charge are honest and competent, those they direct will at least tend to honesty and competence. When people see that those who manage them are scoundrels, and that those who manage their managers are still greater scoundrels, they will themselves tend to dishonesty and incompetence.

Why, she might have asked, should PC Jarvis not have abused her powers, when there is no one in England who believes that David Kelly committed suicide in 2003? Why should people not take bribes, when everyone knows that Members of Parliament are bribed and blackmailed by foreign intelligence agencies? Why should anyone behave justly in the state sector, when those set above him are generally incompetents with sticky hands? I could write at length about what I was told, and what I believe, about the agreement that gave Hong Kong to Communist China. I could write from personal authority about the awarding of the contract to run the National Lottery. I could ask how so many living politicians have become so rich. I could write about the sexual predations of dead politicians like Cyril Smith and Greville Janner and Leon Brittan. But this would turn an essay into a dissertation. I will only say that it has become a rebuttable presumption that anyone in public life is only there for money or sex or both. When someone is shown to be straight, the general response is incredulity. This does not excuse what PC Jarvis did. But it does explain how people of limited intelligence and a weak moral sense will behave when faced with temptation.

Again, I do not wish to exaggerate. There never was a time in this country when public life was entirely clean. Lloyd George kept the Great War going two years after we had won it on points, so he could grow rich out of the kick-backs from the contracts he was awarding to his friends in the armaments trade. I have suspicions about our entry into the Second World War. Compared with that, the modern corruptions I have mentioned are very little.

Even so, there is something dispiriting and sordid about modern England, and the case of Kelly Jarvis is a good epitome of all that is rotten. I say above that we have still not reached the degraded level of other countries. Other things being equal, we are headed in that direction.

I could ask why this has happened. Why is nearly everyone at the top bent or useless? This is another opportunity for writing at length, and I will not take it, except to suggest the Somme and Passchendaele as probable causes. Instead, I will try to end on a positive note. Our abilities to find out and make public what is happening have never been greater than they now are. So far, what has been uncovered has created a mood of pervasive cynicism. Sooner or later, though, there must be some kind of reckoning. When that happens, I hope the primary site of infection will not be overlooked.