SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: Hearts and heads in politics

Sir Peter Bottomley
Sir Peter Bottomley

This week includes the welcomed announcement of the independent public inquiry into the tragedy of contaminated blood being given with disastrous impact on children and adults with haemophilia and others with need of blood transfusion.

Two close members of my family were spared the trials of hepatitis and of AIDS/HIV. A friend’s life was lost. He told me of the impact that went beyond the simple recognition of limited years ahead.

I was helped in the inquiry campaign by others who are survivors. Their bravery is immense. I thank them.

In the emergency debate, many other MPs spoke of the experience of their constituents.

I judged it best to listen throughout; this allowed colleagues who had not previously contributed to do so very competently.

Across the chamber, Theresa May was recognised as having called for inquiries that could and should have been established earlier.

These include historic child abuse, the issue championed by my colleague Tim Loughton MP, and the Hillsborough football disaster, where I had been the leading Conservative voice calling for the successful independent review.

All Party Parliamentary Groups can do much good. The ones to which I gave most help have been disability, transport safety and also the social sciences where it was announced that I have served for 17 years as vice-chair.

One reason why I know the importance of the social sciences comes from the women in my family. One grandmother was the first geography lecturer at the London School of Economics before the start of the Great War in 1914. My mother and my wife were qualified social workers, also with LSE qualifications and our daughters did years of social policy at Cambridge.

In a recent broadcast I gave my view that we do best when we can combine our hearts and our heads. I could rightly have added that our eyes and ears matter.

I was sensitive to the Hillsborough issues for a bundle of reasons, having been a captain of the House of Commons football team though more relevantly I had been present and had tried to anticipate the disastrous consequences of the crushing at the Heysel stadium in Brussels.

That action was prompted by being an eye witness at the funeral of Archbishop Oscar Romero where 14 died around me.

There is the interesting question of when and why an overdue decision is taken. It can be influenced by parliamentary arithmetic.

It is normally made possible by the creators of foundations laid years ago, combined with growing media interest, together with the attention from leaders – in some cases the Prime Minster.

One field where this may happen soon should be the fairer funding for schools in the areas like West Sussex which have low basic resources from the biased national formula.

Another is fairness for people who are black or Asian in appearance. This week I was discussing a shocking prosecution in London of a former Sikh police sergeant.

He was wrongly accused of misconduct in public office and of an indecent assault on a young person nearly 30 years ago.

My head told me, in advance of the court hearing, that the eight ‘facts’ were flatly contradicted by the prosecution’s witness and by the two surviving official records.

My heart says that the predictable near instant acquittal was not sufficient.

I had written to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and to the Director of Public Prosecutions in advance, pointing to the many reasons why the case was baseless.

I have now spoken with a Home Secretary, an Attorney-General and now a Justice Minister. I will try the new head of the Met and the present head of the Crown Prosecution Service.

Perhaps I should add the need for persistence to the heart, the head, the eyes and the ears?

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