The rumour mills have been busy over the last two days, ever since the Telegraph were forced by an injunction to abandon printing their story alleging sexual harassment, racist remarks and bullying against a prominent businessman. Instead they printed the allegations on their front page without naming him. It was quite well done.
Up and down the country people have been speculating who it could be. Today The Sun had the story on its front page, so it was quite clear that whoever it was is a household name.
Labour MP Jess Phillips threatened to name the alleged culprit at PMQs yesterday, but in the end didn’t. However, today, former Cabinet Minister Peter Hain stood up in the House of Lords, and citing parliamentary privilege, named Sir Philip Green. Under the law, this means that all media outlets can report the fact that this has happened.
Peter Hain said he had been contacted by someone “intimately involved in the case”. He said that given the use of non-disclosure agreements “to conceal the truth about serious and repeated sexual harassment, racist abuse and bullying”, he felt it was his duty under parliamentary privilege to name Sir Philip as the person in question. He maintained that publication of the story was “clearly in the public interest”. He’s right.
Given the legal situation in this case I am not going to speculate about guilt or innocence here, but I will say this. I think the Telegraph was absolutely right to try to shine a light into this murky world. Sexual harassment is an ugly phenomenon which we are now freely talking about. The fact that we are has empowered women to feel able to come forward to talk about their own experiences. It is only in this way that things like this can be stamped out.
What we should now also be talking about is the trend of the rich and powerful to use these super-injunctions to protect their reputations. They’re not available to the rest of us mere mortals who aren’t multi-millionaires. I hope there is a big debate about reforming the whole injunction system.
In a way, it’s already in a state of disrepair given the way modern day social media operates. Even if Peter Hain hadn’t done what he did today, Sir Philip’s name would have emerged in the end.
As David Cameron used to say about the MPs’ expenses scandal, quoting William O Douglas: “Sunlight is the best form of disinfectant”. It was true then, and it’s true now, however much the rich and powerful sometimes try to use their wealth to obliterate the sunlight.