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The Huw Edwards affair exposes the brokenness of our society

Peter Ladd

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Well that was a bit of a shock, wasn’t it? When the news came out on Wednesday that the unnamed BBC presenter at the heart of the latest tv sex scandal was none other than Huw Edwards, the steady hand who has led us through Olympic Games, Coronations and the death of Queen Elizabeth II, my wife instantly texted me with a crying emoji. He seemed so nice, with his soft Welsh accent and his love of London’s chapels. Good heavens, he’s even presented the occasional episode of Songs of Praise…

And yet, to those who had been following social media closely, the news was no shock at all. For days the Twittersphere had been awash with speculation, ticking off from their list of potential culprits each presenter who appeared on a BBC screen like pupils on a register, until thousands of users settled upon one name. ‘I wonder Huw it might be’ one user posted; ‘Guess Huw?’, wrote another.

Another day, another leading figure in the public square who has fallen from grace.

Or is it?

For once Huw Edwards’ wife, Vicky Flind, released her (very dignified) statement revealing that it was her husband who was at the centre of allegations, the narrative began to change.

Edwards, who had had a history of depression, was now in hospital with serious mental health problems. The police investigation came to a very swift conclusion that nothing illegal had been done, prompting a furious backlash against The Sun newspaper, who had been leading the accusations throughout and who may eventually face a libel action. Other leading television personalities began to hit out at the BBC for throwing one of their own under the bus.

As it stands, I suspect many of us will be feeling a complicated mixture of feelings; we might feel dismayed at what Mr Edwards is reported to have done (the initial claim is that he paid a young man £35,000 for pornographic photographs, which the young man used to fund their drug habit); we might feel that the way things have been reported by the mainstream media has been invasive and misleading; we might feel sad at the revelation that someone who entered our living rooms each night for the News at Ten is not all that they seem; or we might feel that personal matters ought to remain private, rather than being splashed over the front pages of the tabloids.

The more I’ve pondered the case, with all its complexities, the more I’ve felt it simply shows the brokenness of our society today. There have been no winners in this situation; only losers. Almost every character in it - and I include the general public, who tormented various BBC presenters over the weekend with baseless speculation - stands accused of doing something wrong.

As a story, it touches on key questions we all must answer, and shows how far short our society falls; questions like what is right and wrong, or about the importance of truth, or how we protect victims.

Soci­ety has for­got­ten right and wrong

To read some of the commentary in the last couple of the days, one would think that Huw Edwards was an innocent party who has been unfairly stitched up and hounded by the evil press into hospital. Much of this emanates from the closure of the police investigation. The ex-BBC journalist Jon Sopel, who now presents the News Agents podcast, said: “There was no criminality and if there was no criminality, which we have had confirmed by the Metropolitan police, what are you left with?”

But just because something is legal, that does not make it right. As we saw recently with the Phillip Schofield scandal ITV, something can be “unwise, but not illegal” and still merit further investigation, particularly by your employer. It is only right that the BBC continues its investigation into its code of conduct: you can still break the rules of your organisation without breaking the law.

Since Huw Edwards was named, further complaints have been made against him by other, younger BBC staff that he behaved inappropriately towards them. Has there been an abuse of power from the presenter? We don’t know, but the BBC have a duty to try and find out as an employer.

Within the evangelical church, this has been painfully brought home in recent weeks, with allegations of spiritual abuse made against the Soul Survivor leader Mike Pilavachi. He has not been accused of anything illegal; the complaints surround broken promises, bullying and gaslighting. This week, the songwriter and worship leader Matt Redman, who spent some of his formative years in Soul Survivor, wrote “I have spent years trying to fully heal from my time at Soul Survivor…my wife Beth and myself had come forward previously at the time of being mistreated - but were ignored, patronised or gaslit by those in leadership.” An investigation is ongoing: but legality and morality are not the same thing.

As Christians, we believe that God has, through his Word, revealed what is right and wrong. We believe that he has given us laws, wisdom and principles - which encompass far more than human laws - that free us and are designed to let us flourish, and that he has shown us how to live. We do not just look to the law of the land and say that beyond that, anything goes. Instead, Jesus says to us: “Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Soci­ety has for­got­ten the import­ance of truth

Many people are rightly aggrieved at the way this story has been covered by The Sun newspaper. It is rare that I find myself agreeing with Owen Jones, but I couldn’t argue with his assessment of what they have done: “They tried to destroy someone’s life with false claims of illegality involving a minor. We know now there was no criminality, and The Sun have driven a vulnerable man into medical care.”

The Sun have backtracked and said they never meant to imply criminality, despite speculating that the BBC presenter might face years in prison. Their original story was contradicted shortly after it was published when the lawyer of the young man at the centre of the case issued a rebuttal. Ironically, of course, the BBC have bad form in this area themselves, having broadcast a property search of Cliff Richard’s home in 2014 (Richard was never arrested or charged, and the BBC was eventually forced to apologise and pay £210,000 to him in damages).

Meanwhile, various public figures went through a trial by Twitter, with their names being dragged through the mud over the weekend while the BBC presenter remained anonymous. Several felt compelled to utter public denials, including Gary Lineker, Rylan Clark and Jeremy Vine; Vine spoke about how his wife feared for his safety when he went out in public and wanted him to go out wearing a disguise, saying “It’s just terrible. I think this thing has got to stop…I never ever want to go through this again.”

Our society seems to have forgotten the danger of words, how to spread truth rather than falsehood, and how to avoid speculating about things we do not know about.

As Christians, we believe in a God of truth, not of lies. We are called not to gossip or slander. Earlier in the week I particularly had in mind these words from James; given how few facts in the case are known, and how many questions remain unanswered, they still seem pertinent:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20).

Soci­ety has for­got­ten to look after victims

Because the story has mostly surrounded illegality (aka what age was the young man, when pictures were first solicited from him), most commentary has ignored his unfaithfulness to his wife. Vicky Flind is herself a television producer who has worked on ITV’s ‘Peston’ and the BBC’s ‘This Week’. She has five children with Edwards. Her statement noted that it had been “five extremely difficult days for our family”, that she wanted to “protect our children”, and asked that the privacy of the family be respected.

We seem to live today within a world where the only sexual taboo is a lack of consent, and where adultery is permissible; when Phillip Schofield first announced to the world that he was gay, the media response was overwhelmingly positive, rather than thinking about his wife. And when Matt Hancock was eventually pressured into resigning after he was filmed kissing another woman during the pandemic, he was not brought down by being unfaithful to his wife, but because he had broken the Covid rules. His response, repeated endless times on I’m a Celebrity: “I fell in love.”

The young man at the centre of the case also seems to have been forgotten about: if it is true (as has been reported) that he is in the throes of drug addiction, what support is he being given? The BBC reportedly tried to contact his parents twice when they were first alerted to the allegations and couldn’t get through, but did not persist in trying to follow them up. What structures did they have in place to prevent the powerful abusing their position?

And there are questions too for the Sun: what attention did they pay to Edwards’ well-documented history of mental health problems? Was the story truly in the public interest? What does it say about our society that they thought it would be? Robert Peston said this, this week: “As a journalist I have spent more or less my entire career weighing up stories by whether they are truly in the public interest or just interesting to the public.”

In our society, we can be too quick to pore over the lurid details of celebrity scandal, and forget the foundational truth that all people are made in God’s image. We can be blinded by the personalities at the centre of the story, and forget that there are others - friends, family and colleagues - who are affected. And, in particular, we can lose sight of our particular duty of care to victims.

As Christians, we are called to live like Jesus and echo God’s heart: we know that God sees the pain of victims, that he does hear their cries, and that he does care. He collects every tear in his bottle and records every sorrow in his book. And he is a God of justice, who will one day judge every wicked action and bring us all to account and make right everything that has gone wrong.

Soci­ety has for­got­ten the gospel

What is the real reason why society is broken in these ways? It is because it has turned its back on the transforming, challenging, life-giving message of Jesus.

There is such a thing as sin. Society may have forgotten about right and wrong, but as Christians, we cannot. However Edwards may have been wronged by the media, and however legal his actions may have been, that does not make okay unfaithfulness to one’s wife, or a potential abuse of power. The gospel does not shy away from the fact that we do genuinely do wrong, that it is serious, and that we deserve to face the consequences. It tells us that we need to repent. As David prayed after committing adultery with Bathsheba, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3).

But equally, Christians recognise that we are all sinners. “No one is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:9). Although we recognise wrongdoing for what it is, we are not to judge others. The first person whose sin I am supposed to deal with is my own. We are all sinners, and we are all even sexual sinners: for who has lived up to the standard Jesus set us when he says we are not even to look at a woman lustfully. Society may be quick to judge others, but we should not be. As Christians, we are to be realistic about our own failings, and rather than standing in condemnation over others, we are to approach them with an attitude of humility: as the proverb says, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

And wonderfully, there is forgiveness on offer through Jesus Christ, regardless of who we are and what we have done. That does not mean that in this life we should not face the consequences for our actions (eg. if Huw Edwards has broken a BBC code of conduct, he should face the consequences accordingly). But it does mean that before our ultimate judge, the Lord of the Universe, we need not stand condemned, but can appear confident because we are justified through the blood of Jesus. We may have sinned, but He did not. And there is no sin so heinous that Jesus’ blood is not more powerful.

Huw Edwards is - at least according to his Wikipedia page - a Christian. We can only pray that he knows these foundational truths.

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