United Kingdom

SARAH VINE: I was groped by a celebrity. But I'd never have taken it to court 

A few years ago, while at a party at Westminster, I was groped by a famous personality.

It was a fairly lively evening, he was rather drunk and we were all standing around chatting when he suddenly professed his admiration — and launched himself at me.

It was somewhat unexpected and I was rather taken aback. But I was not overly upset or offended.

At no point did I feel scared. It was more of a Carry On moment than anything sinister. I’d never dream of accusing him historically of anything untoward.

In these post #MeToo days, of course, I could have him arrested for sexual assault. I could claim I was coerced, intimidated, awe-struck by his fame — or plead any number of plausible made-up reasons.

But I would never do that. Not just because it would be a lie; but because I would be doing the victims of real sexual assault a deep and grave disservice. Not to mention wasting the precious time of the police and the courts.

I would also be ruining a man’s life, reputation and career. Something that has happened to former Blue Peter presenter John Leslie, who this week was acquitted of a similar crime, alleged to have taken place in 2008 in a Soho bar.

The jury took just 23 minutes to find him innocent of the charges — brought by a woman whose anonymity is protected by the courts — dismissing an accusation that will hang over him for the rest of his life. No wonder the poor man burst into tears in the dock.

Pals: Ex Blue Peter presenter Anthea Turner celebrated John's not guilty verdict with an Instagram post in which she and Diane Louise Jordan praised the 'amazing gentle giant' 

I don’t know John Leslie, and I have no axe to grind with him. He is clearly not without his failings: after all, there was all that stuff about sex and cocaine binges with his ex, one-time lad’s mag pin-up Abi Titmuss.

But it strikes me that for all his mistakes, he is emblematic of a lot of men, someone on whom #MeToo mania, and the readiness of the authorities to prosecute at all costs, have visited a disproportionate amount of punishment.

Maybe he was a little too ‘handsy’ in the past. Maybe he did overstep the mark on more than one occasion. Who knows?

But he has never been convicted of any sexual offences. There is also a big difference between being a serial offender and someone who is louche. And most women learn, quite quickly, to put such men in their place.

Sarah Vine has likened the pursuit of former presenter John Leslie to the Metropolitan Police’s recent decision to interview Brexit campaigner Darren Grimes (right) in relation to a ‘hate crime’ for comments made by historian David Starkey (left) during an interview with Grimes

It seems to me that what Leslie is really guilty of is being a low-hanging fruit. Someone whose former fame makes him an easy target, not just for opportunistic grudge-holders but also for the CPS who, guilty in the past of overlooking too many women’s testimonies, face huge pressure to deliver successful prosecutions.

The fact this case made it to court seems a waste of everyone’s time: the incident was said to have happened more than a decade ago; there were no witnesses; and by the accuser’s admission it lasted barely a few seconds.

The pursuit of Leslie is not unlike the Metropolitan Police’s recent decision to interview Brexit campaigner Darren Grimes in relation to a ‘hate crime’ for comments made by historian David Starkey during an interview with Grimes.

There are even parallels with the way the police catastrophically allowed political correctness to cloud their judgment in the case of fantasist Carl Beech, who is in jail for inventing the existence of a paedophile ring at Westminster.

But this is what happens when individuals and organisations, whose purpose it is to uphold the principles of justice and fairness, let themselves be drawn into the highly volatile and subjective culture wars raging in society.

Thankfully in John Leslie’s case, sense seems to have prevailed. But it’s a rough kind of justice that destroys a man’s career and sanity — all in the name of a passing hashtag.

Carl Beech, pictured, is a liar, fraudster and paedophile. But for 18 months between 2014 and 2016, he was the star witness in a high-profile investigation into allegations of sexual abuse and murder, involving MPs, generals and senior figures in the intelligence services

The stupidity of those 'smart' motorways

The widow of a man who died when a lorry ran into the back of his car on a new ‘smart’ section of the M1 blamed Highways England and said that ‘the wrong man’ has been jailed for her husband’s death.

The driver of the lorry was sentenced to ten months after he failed to spot that the car had stopped in the slow lane, owing to the hard shoulder having been removed.

He wasn’t drunk or on drugs, or using his phone: he just failed to clock that the car in front wasn’t moving. Is there anything quite so stupid in modern Britain as these so-called ‘smart’ motorways?

It’s not just the fact that there is nowhere to go if your car breaks down — it’s also the way the traffic slows suddenly almost to a halt, which makes driving an intensely stressful and much more dangerous experience.

Yet another example — as with dedicated cycle lanes — of the authorities putting their own agenda ahead of those they claim to serve.

Blondie's heart of class

Strange to think that Debbie Harry, aka Blondie, now 75, is a year older than my mother.

Both are icons in their own way, of course, but only one is preparing for a UK tour in 2021.

Still, there is something formidable about this trailblazing generation of baby-boomer women who, having smashed every glass ceiling, show no sign of slowing down. 

Timeless: Debbie Harry in 1979 (left) and today (right) remains an iconic trailblazer

Dawn French is absolutely right when she says she doesn’t hold with the idea of mothers and daughters being friends.

Maybe later on in life; but when they’re young, especially teenagers, it’s vital to maintain those parent-child boundaries.

It’s a trap to think you can ever truly be friends with your child: one of you always has to be the grown-up in the room — even if that means being distinctly unpopular.

Why we need men in the classroom

Sad tidings: the number of male teachers in the UK is in terminal decline. Men make up just over a third of teachers in secondary schools nationally, and a quarter in some regions. In primary schools the figure is far lower: just one in seven teachers is male.

This is a great shame because male teachers have a hugely important role to play in educating youngsters, especially young boys, and especially young boys from complex or deprived backgrounds.

Kids like these need strong, positive male role models they can look up to and who, crucially, speak their language and understand their emotions in ways most women teachers simply don’t.

One could argue that the reason girls regularly outperform boys in exams (last year, 72 per cent of girls got a pass in GCSEs, compared with 63 per cent of boys) is that the profession is so female-dominated.

The past few decades have placed such emphasis on encouraging girls to succeed that the pendulum, it seems, has begun to swing the other way.

Meanwhile, the natural behavioural tendencies of boys, such as competitiveness and risk-taking, are now frowned upon.

The Government and heads should take steps to redress this imbalance. At a time when unemployment is rising, men should be enticed into teaching.

Boys have as much right as girls to be educated in an environment where they are appreciated and understood. And if it results in an almighty fuss from the equality lobby, so be it.

People hold a photo of the history teacher Samuel Paty , who was beheaded on Friday by an 18-year-old Moscow-born Chechen refugee, who was later shot dead by police in Paris

When George Floyd was killed by a police officer in the U.S., his death sparked violent protests around the globe.

Yet when teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded by an Islamist in France, the story barely made the front pages. There are times I really don’t understand this world.

Finally, a glimmer of hope for the aviation industry, which has been all but decimated by Covid.

Heathrow is to start offering quick turnaround £80 tests for travellers (something other countries have been doing for some time now).

As far as I can tell, it’s the first real example of the private sector stepping up to protect itself, rather than going cap in hand to the State. More, please.

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