Ordeal by Innocence. November 2017.

Dear Rowley,

I had a minor fracas on Twitter about actor Ed Westwick who has been accused of – and strenuously denied – two rapes. As a result, the BBC has cancelled showing an Agatha Christie adaptation called (with no little irony) Ordeal by Innocence this Christmas. The lady who I corresponded with said it was right to erase this man from the schedule with the reasoning that it would be distressing for the victims to see this man on television.

Well, first and foremost the man is innocent until proven guilty. That is the bedrock of British justice. Secondly, if the women allegedly assaulted by the actor chose to watch a programme featuring Westwick then I would question their judgement. Thirdly, what about all of the actors and crew who worked on Ordeal by Innocence? Should they suffer because a fellow cast member is under suspicion?

I did note that Ridley Scott had replaced Kevin Spacey in his upcoming film and decided to reshoot Spacey’s scenes with another actor. The evidence against Spacey seems to be much more conclusive and yet he has not been arrested, charged, tried or found guilty as yet. I am very uncomfortable about erasing people from history. It smacks of Nazism. Should we never watch House of Cards, The Usual Suspects or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil ever again because Kevin Spacey tried to seduce a fourteen-year-old when he was in his twenties?

I am from the generation when if someone squeezed your bum or touched you up and it was unwelcome you’d simply politely decline. I am also of the generation that believes young people acquiesce with predatory older men or women if careers can advance. This is not an excuse for the predator but neither is it a good reflection on the young person. My major problem with the tsunami of sexual assault allegations is that they are historic. The time between the deed and the whistle being blown makes it terribly difficult to justify why the victims didn’t speak out immediately.

What we have is a new blackmailers’ charter. Nobody who made a pass and works in the public eye over the past thirty years is going to be safe from blame. There seems to be little doubt that Kevin Spacey was an arrogant, predatory man who took advantage of his success to pounce. The fact some of these men went home with him is more morally problematic.

There appears to be a number of men and women who are reporting historic abuse in the spirit of ambulance-chasing layers encouraging the public to take a punt on compensation. I can hold my hand up now and say that at the age of fourteen I was totally sexually aware and very keen to explore. I was actually gagging for an older man to make a pass and would have responded enthusiastically.

The victim culture in society today is worrying. Rape is rape and must be exposed and prosecuted. A pinch on the bum and a sly pass is something entirely different. If we were all on guard for inappropriate touching the world would walk round with their hands plastered to their sides. I don’t find Spacey attractive but had I been fourteen and propositioned by George Clooney I think I would have been grateful rather than appalled.

Who knows where this witch hunt will end? I suspect more careers will be ruined as Spacey’s has. It troubles me that Ed Westwick has been tried and convicted before the British laws have been allowed to weigh the allegations in the balance. Whether right or wrong, actors are by their nature glamorous, attractive creatures. People do tend to be dazzled in their presence and grow weak in the presence of beauty. Only a sharp legal mind will be able to assess whether Westwick took advantage or took for granted.

What has surprised me is that the allegations are centred only on Hollywood and fashion. It appears to me that football will be the next hotspot. Of course it already has been targeted with allegations of gang rape. Footballers are gods to certain young men and women. They are hunted by fans and I wonder whether they can be blamed if – like pop stars – they sleep with groupies.

I am sure that British law is incredibly cut and dried about rape and so it should be. It is more perplexing that men and women in their teens and twenties claim to be traumatised by a hand on the knee or a few dirty words whispered into an ear. And all this happening decades ago. An assault to me is violent, it might be smoothed by the administration of a date rape drug and it is nothing less than an attack. I have been slipped a doctored drink twice: on the first occasion I managed to get out of the club and into a taxi thanks to friends. On the other – done with malice rather than intent to attack – I found myself in hospital.

There are some nasty people out there and constant vigilance is needed to keep out of harm’s way. But if you do have the smarts and know how to take care of yourself, dangerous people can only get so far. My worry is that rape victims who feel shame and blame themselves might stay silent while those seeking attention by blaming someone in the public eye shout from the rooftops. This is a horribly complex subject but one that cannot be allowed to become an ordeal by innocence.