PETER HITCHENS: What the disdain for a brave scientist tells us about the great Covid-19 whitewash

The Covid Inquiry should be treated as severely as the people of this country were treated by the Government during the Great Panic of 2020-21.

All involved should be told to go home and stay there. They should be free to do some daily exercise, but otherwise not permitted to bother us again. 

We will lose nothing by this. We all know that their report will say – as I predicted long ago – that ‘we’ did not ‘lock down’ soon enough or hard enough.

It is perfectly obvious that they are not interested in any serious consideration of the possibility that the whole thing was a ghastly mistake, made in a condition of outright panic by people unqualified to run a parish council.

How do we know this? We know it because of the inquiry’s treatment of Professor Carl Heneghan, one of the few courageous and uncrushable scientists who stood out against the national closedown policy at the time.

The establishment, which turned a drama into a crisis, which bankrupted the country, wrecked the education of millions of children and students, mangled the NHS and launched the biggest attack on personal freedom in modern times, has learned nothing and remembered nothing from the disaster [of Covid-19]

Professor Carl Heneghan, one of the few courageous and uncrushable scientists who stood out against the national closedown policy at the time, has spoken of his treatment at the Covid Inquiry, where he says he experienced 'an attack on my credentials'

Professor Carl Heneghan, one of the few courageous and uncrushable scientists who stood out against the national closedown policy at the time, has spoken of his treatment at the Covid Inquiry, where he says he experienced ‘an attack on my credentials’

Prof Heneghan is a practising GP, closely in touch with the actual daily workings of the NHS, as well as being a distinguished academic. 

In 2013, the Health Service Journal listed him as one of the 100 top clinical leaders, which its editor described as ‘a list of people who excel in their own professional specialism but whose impact extends beyond their immediate sphere’.

Yet during the long months when fanatics and zealots demanded the stoppage of the entire country on the basis of what are now obviously false assumptions, Prof Heneghan’s distinction counted for little.

You might think that after Sweden’s far more successful handling of Covid, achieved by following ideas similar to Prof Heneghan’s, his status might now have risen.

You might think that the Covid Inquiry would treat him as something of a star turn, ­someone to be listened to with care and respect.

But no, as he himself puts it in a rather frightening article in The Spectator: ‘I gave evidence at the inquiry last week. 

‘I had submitted a 74-page statement on what I thought it should discuss. Instead, the main topic was rude words in old WhatsApp messages.’

He described how ‘the KC questioning me launched into an attack on my credentials. I’m a clinical epidemiologist and author of 450 peer-reviewed publications’.

The minds which were closed at the start of the panic are still as closed as ever. The establishment, which turned a drama into a crisis, which bankrupted the country, wrecked the education of millions of children and students, mangled the NHS and launched the biggest attack on personal freedom in modern times, has learned nothing and remembered nothing from the disaster.

Quite soon, they will do it all again. It will not be exactly the same, but very similar. For it will be based on the same impulse, to distil fear into power.

A police officer speaks to members of the public on Brighton beach during 2020's lockdown

A police officer speaks to members of the public on Brighton beach during 2020’s lockdown

Meet the only woman to be jailed for ‘fiddling the lecky’

There is a collective swoon, among reviewers, about the BBC’s new prison drama Time, in which former Doctor Who actress Jodie Whittaker plays Orla, a single mother of three small children, and so automatically a national heroine of the Blairite state.

She is cruelly thrust into prison for ‘fiddling the lecky’ – that is to say stealing electricity to keep her brood warm – so let’s all sympathise.

Before she is incarcerated, she is seen in a neat flat, and the children are plainly well-cared for and well-dressed. 

As far as I can tell she has no previous convictions. As a result of her harsh treatment, there is nobody to look after the children except her mother, who drinks too much.

Well, I looked this up. Google could come up with no such case. The Ministry of Justice in London could find no records of any women imprisoned for this offence since 2018. 

Former Doctor Who actress Jodie Whittaker plays Orla in the BBC's new prison drama, Time

Former Doctor Who actress Jodie Whittaker plays Orla in the BBC’s new prison drama, Time

In fact, since 2018 hardly any women have even been charged or tried for that crime, let alone locked up.

I also checked the Sentencing Council’s guidelines for the offence of ‘abstracting electricity’. 

They actually say: ‘For offenders on the cusp of custody, imprisonment should not be imposed where there would be an impact on dependants which would make a custodial sentence disproportionate to achieving the aims of sentencing.’

Which seems to me to mean that the offence would have to be extra serious for the bench even to consider sending a mother of three young children straight to prison.

So the whole thing is propaganda designed to give the entirely false impression that we have a stern and unbending criminal justice system. 

I asked the BBC to explain why they had done this misleading thing. They said, ‘This is a fictional drama series’, to which I say, ‘So what?’

TV fiction is incredibly influential, often more so than documentaries. They added: 

There are aggravating factors to Orla’s case which led her to receive a short custodial sentence. 

I asked the BBC to explain why they had done this misleading thing. They said, 'This is a fictional drama series', to which I say, 'So what?' Pictured: Jodie Whittaker attends a photocall for Series 2 of BBC Drama 'Time' at the BFI Southbank

I asked the BBC to explain why they had done this misleading thing. They said, ‘This is a fictional drama series’, to which I say, ‘So what?’ Pictured: Jodie Whittaker attends a photocall for Series 2 of BBC Drama ‘Time’ at the BFI Southbank

Legal experts were consulted on this storyline and it highlights the wider issue of how short sentencing, which disproportionately affects women, can have a catastrophic impact on families and children.’

Oh, yeah? This defence is fascinating. Blink and you’ll miss it, but at one point in the drama, Jodie Whittaker does say her crime was ‘aggravated’. From this the ordinary viewer is somehow supposed to deduce facts not revealed to him or her (but perhaps sent out to professional reviewers).

I am told by BBC sources that Orla’s ‘backstory’ is that she has been caught stealing electricity from next door, for a long time, and that she recruited a friend who is an electrician to help her fiddle the meter.  

So she is not the scatty victim of circumstances we see on TV, who supposedly had no idea she might go to prison that day. She is a calculating and well-organised thief who has stolen a great deal of money over a long period, with the help of an accomplice.

Britain is bad in many ways, and plenty of people get into trouble who deserve our sympathy. 

But this is propaganda, not drama, and neither you nor TV reviewers should be fooled by it.

Last May, I got into a televised spat with Transport Secretary Mark Harper over plans to close railway station ticket offices. 

He patronisingly dismissed the large numbers who still prefer to buy their tickets from human beings as a small minority. The strong implication of what he said was that this minority (which very much includes me) were doddering oldsters who ought to get with the internet revolution.

I’ve been using the internet since 1990, before most people had heard of it, and I don’t trust it to sell me the train ticket I want, amid the maze of complex dodges and fiddles which privatisation has created.

Some of the audience (on the BBC’s Question Time) even applauded when he said this. Well, an enormous wave of protest has now forced him to back away from this plan, which anyone could have told him would annoy many voters.

 People like personal service and are sick of being told to do without it. And I would ask Mr Harper what he thought was conservative about the plan in the first place. 

The word ‘Minister’, as few now know, actually means ‘servant’. Who did he think he was serving when he tried this on?

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