I went along to Rickard Close, off Upper Tulse Hill, in Brixton. It leads to a warren of flats on a huge council estate, where a 13-year-old black girl was gang-raped. Three young men of her race held her down while a fourth raped her.
My visit to the scene of the crime was both a pilgrimage for her pain and an act of investigation. A little alleyway runs at the back of Vallen's House, Upper Tulse Hill, and almost at the end stands a defiant yew tree, with branches overgrown to form a huge canopy. Here all the lovers canoodle in the still of the night, stealing love on the side. Since the rape the council's gardeners have slashed the branches to reveal a hard and ugly trunk. The love nest disappeared with the swing of an axe. A few feet away an equally grotesque police billboard advertises the assault and issues the public call for witnesses.
I take a personal interest in this matter. My daughter is 13 years old and lives in Brixton. She visits friends in the area, in Norwood, through Tulse Hill and over to Kennington. She has visited that estate before.
There is another reason, though. Just before Christmas last year, Channel 4 broadcast a report outlining cases of gang rape involving young black men and young black women. (In one incident, a gang of 23 bruised and battered a 14-year-old in one session.) Such was the furore that I was invited to chair a studio discussion and I defended the channel's right to broadcast. The anti-racists went berserk. The 1990 Trust and a black feminist group called a demonstration outside the Channel 4 studios to protest against what they described as the channel's racism. Their friends, in one of the broadsheets, predicted a mass mobilisation. Eventually 15 parrots with sticks turned up, but not a single parent of the rapists or the rapists themselves.
A reporter on the Nation, a black community tabloid, could not resist the bait. A white boy reporter (it's my description for one who is more militant on black issues than blacks themselves) kept screaming at me down the phone, accusing me of being pro-police, anti-black, living in Paul Condon's pockets. I dug deep into my bag of expletives and spat them all over him. Anonymous threats came thick and fast. I would be shot, my daughter gang-raped and more, much more. The white boy taped my expletives and reproduced them on his front page. I was livid - he had edited out the juicy bits, you see.
Now the issue has returned to haunt those who babbled "racism" upon the identification of a dangerous phenomenon in the black community. Had they spent their energies then in support of Channel 4 and used their resources to plaster south London with posters decrying gang rape, then perhaps the frequency of this heinous crime would have been greatly reduced. I sat my daughter down and told her that it would be reasonable to carry an ice pick in her backpack and, should she be attacked, to close her eyes and sink it deeply in the assailant's head.
I am not afraid to say that this virus that expresses itself in gang rape has its origins in the Caribbean plantation. I grew up in and around the capital city of Trinidad and Tobago. Port of Spain, to be exact. It was littered with youth gangs of the third and fourth generation. I was a member of Style Crampers. There were others - Fallen Angels, Spike Jones, City Kids, Navarone and more. And a feature of gang life was gang rape. Betty Punjab lived next door to us. Her mother baked the most wonderful sponge cakes, and Betty went around door to door selling them on Saturday afternoons. She was lured to a derelict house, where members of Style Crampers had their way with her, and for a week or so she was passed from gang to gang. That was 40 years ago, and it continues there to this day.
My father, the late Reverend Cipriani Howe, usually quiet and reserved, suddenly exploded at Betty's ordeal. His single word echoes to this day. He pointed his index finger at me and said: "Never." I've passed it on to my 14-year-old son. And that is all.