Savile and Surrey Police

Surrey Police’s report that Jimmy Savile carried out 46 sexual assaults on 22 pupils and one visitor to Duncroft approved school in Staines makes truly appalling reading.

But, as always, I will focus on the language used when the report was announced – and draw your attention to sections where the passive is used instead of the active – the gaps that appear when you turn the sentences into active ones are always interesting.

Publishing the report, Assistant Chief Constable Stuart Cundy said: “The Outreach investigation was launched to ascertain the level of offending at Duncroft school, to look at the knowledge of staff and, in conjunction with the CPS, to determine if any criminal charges should be brought.

“In January 2013, when the force published its report into the original investigation at Duncroft (Operation Ornament), we identified several key failings. These included that the focus on a specific time period between 1977 and 1979 was too narrow and the decision not to interview staff at that time should have been reviewed.

“As today’s report shows, extensive investigative work has since been carried out to review all material available from Mind and Barnardos, who each managed the school for a period between 1974 and 1979, as well as speaking to former members of staff. In total, 44 statements have now been taken, 300 officer reports submitted and 166 former pupils contacted in relation to this enquiry.

“Inquiries in the original 2007-09 investigation pre-dated much of what we now know about Savile and his pattern of abuse. The force has always accepted there are things which should have been done differently in Operation Ornament and these were highlighted in the report published by Surrey police in 2013.

“I thank all those who came forward during the course of the Outreach investigation as it is only with their support that a large number of other offences by Savile at Duncroft have been uncovered.”

I find it very hard to assess his statement as so much of it is in the passive – is there something to hide or is he just incapable of using a sentence with a subject, verb and object. At the very least, those who drafted his statement make him sound really weird and unconvincing.

Lets take a couple of paragraphs.

First, the second sentence in this one.

“In January 2013, when the force published its report into the original investigation at Duncroft (Operation Ornament), we identified several key failings. These included that the focus on a specific time period between 1977 and 1979 was too narrow and the decision not to interview staff at that time should have been reviewed.

The second sentence is a series of verbal contortions. This enables Cundy to avoid saying who took the decision to focus on 1997-99, who took the decision not to interview staff and who failed to review that decision.

Is this a case of a police officer talking – well – like a police officer or a classic case of shifting the responsibility to an ill-defined process and ensuring no individual is identified in the statement. I leave that to you to decide.

Then there is the second sentence in this paragraph.

“Inquiries in the original 2007-09 investigation pre-dated much of what we now know about Savile and his pattern of abuse. The force has always accepted there are things which should have been done differently in Operation Ornament and these were highlighted in the report published by Surrey police in 2013.”

“Things which should have been done differently” – again the use of the passive. A natural phrasing would have been to identify who should have done things differently and who at a senior level was responsible for this failure.

Again I leave it to you to decide whether you find his use of language natural or evasive.

However, since Cundy mentions the 2013 investigation, I thought it worthwhile to go back to that report. And if you think today’s statement is overburdened with the passive, you should read what what Assistant Chief Constable Jerry Kirkby uses then.

http://www.surrey.police.uk/News/News-Stories/Full-news-story/article/2943/report-published-by-surrey-police-into-its-investigation-of-jimmy-savile

I suggest you read it. For now, I will mention a couple of pars, which show that, as is so often the case, it is processes that are blamed not individuals – and mirrors the comments made today

Kirkby said: “I agree with the Director of Public Prosecutions that the officers involved were experienced and committed individuals who acted in good faith by seeking to work within national guidelines.

“The internal review has identified a number of learning points which will influence the way future reports of historical abuse cases are dealt with in Surrey.”

So my advice is this: every time you see a passive, turn it round and ask who might have been the subject if there had been an active verb.

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