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Memory & Injustice edited by Dr Kevin Felstead - a review

In 2005, Dr Kevin Felstead lost his sister Carol in unexplained circumstances. The tenacity of his family in trying to find out what happened led to Kevin becoming lead of the British False Memory Society (BFMS). The middle section of Felstead’s engrossing Memory & Injustice goes into painstaking detail about the manipulation and brainwashing involved in certain sections of the psyche industry. I finished reading M&I on Parental Alienation Awareness Day: the timing is piquant.

“The techniques used in attempts to ‘recover’ memories of presumed childhood abuse - even in clients who initially strongly deny that any such abuse ever took place.” viii

There is an undercurrent throughout the book of the hidden intentions of the counsellors and therapists who so gleefully seem to indulge their clients’ fantasies. What is the endgame? Family destruction, leading to the breakup of society? Many internet threads will lead you to that conclusion, but Felstead prefers a more evidence-based approach.

“The idea - that people can ‘repress’ or ‘dissociate’ years of traumatic childhood memories and then recall them as adults - refused to die, in part because it provides an appealing plot device for novels, movies and sensational media coverage, and because many psychologists have imbibed the theory somewhat like mother’s milk.” p2

The ‘Satanic Panic’ craze of the 1980s and 90s stretched into the work of Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest, leading to their work being censored by US right wing groups, it often being cited as a link to youth suicide and other abuse. Great copy, and helpfully feeding into those artists’ marketing. But what about when these myths start to infiltrate into normal families, or into the minds of the already troubled?

In the UK, the risk-free ‘believe the children’ fashion quickly turned into ‘believe women’ and ‘believe the victim’, eventually put into policy by Keir Starmer as the head of the CPS.

“The repressed memory-hunt breathed new life into one of the most damaging and sexist traditions in our culture - the subtle message to women that they can gain power and attention primarily through the ‘victim’ role.” p4

It is much more risky to let accused people go due to a lack of evidence than to ‘believe the complainant’ as default, then blame any subsequent miscarriages of justice on them. Starmer, as a lawyer-politician in the Tony Blair mould, will have internalised this safety-valve early. Innocent Until Proven Guilty was a relic of the Jurassic era anyway, right?

“The notion that traumatic events can be repressed and later recovered is the most pernicious bit of folklore ever to infect psychology and psychiatry. It has provided the theoretical basis for ‘recovered memory theory’ - the worst catastrophe to befall the mental health field since the lobotomy era.” Richard McNally, p8

The genius of recovered-memory culture is in its convenience. It is also essentially supernatural, having no physical evidence that can be pointed to - and if the dates are haywire, that’s because memory is an inexact science at best. Many of the reasons to criticise false memories are also used in their support. That’s a key component to postmodern justice - there is no right or wrong, just traditional (bad) versus progressive (good). Much of this depends on who gets their allegation in first.

“The never-ending parade of sex panics provides an important model - part metaphor and part blueprint - for the pervasive politics of fear.” Roger Lancaster, p13

These sex panics are useful, relatively risk-free (until they turn on their facilitators) and profitable. They are also a good tool for removing insufficiently risk-averse men - high or low profile, no matter but high better for the papers - from society for however long, and using salacious media stories to make sure the demonization lesson is learned by the wider public.

What is often forgotten is the ever expanding circle of people affected, and when they’ve been affected by what turn out to be false allegations, their anger is the greater. The Mothers (or families/loved ones) of the Accused are becoming a formidable force to be reckoned with.

“I began self-harming very quickly - it made perfect sense in that environment - which was so restricted that all the normal healthy coping strategies were unavailable [...] I was hit with the realisation that my mother wasn’t there, and that not even she could help me now [...] As time went on, the allegations became more and more a part of my identity.” ‘Priscilla’ p47, 52

Priscilla’s featured story is heart-breaking and powerful. Her parents’ pain at what happened to her, and the killing-with-kindness (if that’s what it was) by her carers excruciating to read. The term ‘lunatics taking over the asylum’ is not inappropriate, and Priscilla’s parents are reflected in destroyed families quietly attending false allegation conferences whenever they can.

“The therapists who believe in ritual abuse seem to have an answer for many things that the rest of us find puzzling. Why do people who claim to be survivors of long-term ritual abuse have no memory of this before they go into therapy [...] I heard no dissent at this conference. Therapists and survivors shared a powerful belief system that seemed bizarre to outsiders, but which was proof against all attacks and even strengthened by the criticism it provoked [...] Believers in ritual abuse have answers for everything and can speak with impressive conviction. Sceptics, by their very nature, are doubters, who ask questions rather than give answers.” Katharine Mair, p69

The Enlightenment-era scientific method has been under attack from postmodernist cultural commentators for decades. Objectivity, hard-headedness, tough love and provable facts are increasingly seen as symptomatic of white patriarchal heterodoxy, and a plank of traditional control. Subjectivity, ‘empathy’, emotional intelligence and the indulgence of grievance are clearly thus seen as the answer, and figures such as Mair are paying the professional price for this across the West.

“We now had an explanation as to why Carol had drifted away from our family in the 1980s - she was effectively being brainwashed.” p93

So, Felstead comes to the nub of it. His sister’s mental and emotional problems had been affirmed by her carers and therapists; her wild accusations, based on false and garble memories verified by indulgent professionals who thought they’d located abuse in the family since the media convinced the population there was ‘a lot of it about’. In the way of cults, maybe Carol had been singled out as a potential recruit for future ‘activism’. Her family would now never know.

“The enquiry into the failures of Operation Midland is widely accepted by the media as a whitewash. The Henriques Report pinpointed 43 serious police failings.” p156

The peak year for complaints to the BFMS was 1994, and general legal action in the area seemed to plateau around 2003, when New Labour’s Sexual Offences Act came into force. Tony Blair’s government introduced a new law for every day they were in office, and their own version of postmodern ‘disruption’ (copyright Silicon Valley) has had effects from which the cultural fabric of the nation may arguably never recover.

Satanic Panic went to the Bryn Estyn Care Home scandal; spiking and date rape scares went to the ‘Black Cab Rapist’ John Worboys; with figures such as Bill Clinton, Gary Glitter, Jimmy Savile and Harvey Weinstein becoming modern ‘folk devils’ along the way. During Operation Midland, the allegations of Carl Beech - for which he was later sentenced to 16 years in prison - near destroyed such figures as Harvey Proctor and Paul Gambaccini, while making peers of Tom Watson and Bernard Hogan-Howe. In a choice J’Accuse moment:

“My husband and I believe you set out to ‘look’ for historical abuse from the outset even though Eleanor told you and others this had not happened to her.” Deborah, p171

Which is an allegation painfully familiar to thousands of families up and down the country. But ‘believing the complainant’, however fallacious the accusations, is still too tempting and risk-free to totally abandon. Dr Felstead has said he believes there will soon be more people in the UK falsely accused than not. As he says:

“ Memory is prone to error and is easily influences by the recall environment, including police interviews and cross-examination in court.” p173, and Claire Anderson: “The Police are there to investigate, not judge. However, unfortunately some officers cannot help but present as Prosecutor in interview.”  p178

As FACTNews, the Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers magazine, has noted, it is striking how little anger many victims of false allegations have towards their accusers - it’s so obvious how damaged they are. (There is also often a strong seam of traditional Christianity in these people, which prioritises forgiveness.) Real vitriol is reserved for investigation police - not so much frontline bobbies - and for the ideological capture of the College of Policing in particular. You don’t need smoky backroom deals to have aligned socio-cultural aims aligned nowadays.

“Prior to 1994, judges were required to give a mandatory corroboration ruling during rape trials. This was removed under the Criminal Justice ands Public Order Act [...] The peak of guilty findings in 2003 appears to coincide with the Sexual Offences Act 2003 which most likely raised awareness about sexual abuse but the extent to which police, the crown prosecution service, and juries were more aware of sexual abuse and more likely to prosecute and convict is unknown.” p193,194

Since the peak of false memories being weaponised against innocent families in the 1990s the actual cases may have reduced, but the strategy of facilitating ideologically useful ‘beliefs’ has continued unabated.

This is nothing less than a political move, supported by an establishment that has become ‘progressive’ without needing to announce it, and affecting every institution from the College of Policing to the Ministry of Justice to the Met Police. Dr Michael Naughton, acknowledged by many to be the UK’s leading academic authority on miscarriages of justice, has the final word in Memory & Injustice:

“The College of Policing, the body which sets standards and guidance for police in England and Wales, emphasised that: When an allegation is received, police should (now) believe this account and record it as a crime.” Dr Michael Naughton, p207.



Sean Bw Parker (MA) is an artist and writer on cultural theory and justice reform.


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