By JR on Wednesday, December 07, 2011
Thompson Dawson was at Buckingham Palace last week to receive an MBE from the Queen for services to charity. It was a proud moment for the 82-year-old businessman, who has been bringing joy to children for the past four decades while raising money for leukaemia research.
After his wife Marie died from cancer in 1972, Mr Dawson became involved in a charity she helped set up which would arrange Santa Claus visits to children in the Greater Belfast area.
Up to 30 volunteers would give their time every December to dress up as Father Christmas and delight youngsters with a surprise visit to their homes. In exchange, their parents would make a small donation to the charity.
For almost 40 years, Mr Dawson has run the operation with military precision. He is too modest to say how much money he has raised, but it must add up to tens of thousands of pounds, if not more.
This enchanting scheme covered a wide area from Lisburn to Carrickfergus and reached across the sectarian divide, even at the height of the Troubles.
I heard about Mr Dawson from his nephew Colin, who wrote to me after an item in this column concerning instructions which had gone out to parents who volunteer to play Santa in schools that under no circumstances must they allow children to sit on their knee.
Although Mr Dawson has been honoured by the Queen for his achievements, there will be no more home visits from Santa for the children of Belfast.
The scheme has had to be abandoned under the burden of bureaucratic interference. In the past couple of years, vetting of volunteers has become more intrusive and onerous.
Despite the fact that the parents invited the Santas into their homes and were present throughout, every single volunteer is considered a potential paedophile unless he can prove otherwise.
Mr Dawson decided that because of the amount of time and paperwork involved he could no longer continue. When I spoke to him yesterday, he didn’t want to make a fuss but is clearly bitterly disappointed.
His pride at receiving his MBE is tinged with sadness that a scheme which brought innocent pleasure to children and raised thousands for leukaemia research has had to be abandoned.
Mr Dawson hopes to keep the charity going through setting up a Christmas grotto in a local shopping centre, where parents can bring their children. But home visits from Santa, the unique feature of his beloved project in memory of his late wife, are gone for ever — another victim of the hysterical paedophobia of the child protection industry.
As his nephew Colin put it to me: ‘I fully understand the need to protect our children but it saddens and angers me in equal measure that fear has removed the joy and spontaneity of many worthwhile causes and activities that were once taken for granted.’ Amen to that.
Under the guise of ‘protection’, the State delves ever-deeper into our private lives. For instance, Harry Foster writes from Middlesbrough to tell me about his wife’s attempts to give something back to society.
Jackie Foster is a grandmother in her 70s who volunteered to help children read at a local school. Nothing unusual in that. My wife used to do the same when our kids were young.
But the forms she was expected to fill in were both extensive and intrusive — everything from her mother’s maiden name to what qualifications she left school with. They even demanded her marriage and birth certificates. Eventually, when a woman from the council came round to interrogate her, Jackie politely withdrew.
She also applied for a part-time job making tea and coffee in a charity shop run by a local hospice. As well as the usual background checks, they wanted to know what medication she was taking.
As a retired postal worker, who left the Royal Mail after 22 years with an exemplary reference, Jackie was understandably insulted. What damn business was it of anyone if she was taking prescription medicine? She was only going to make tea, for heaven’s sake.
But we’ve been here before. Even women who volunteer to arrange the flowers in churches are subject to criminal records checks, just in case they plan to molest the choirboys.
When it comes to child ‘protection’ we are all considered guilty unless we can prove ourselves innocent in advance.
In the most outrageous example, a supply teacher in Newcastle has been sacked after giving a lift home to a 17-year-old boy who had lost his bus fare.
Martin Davis, who has been teaching for 23 years, was working at Tyne Metropolitan College helping pupils with dyslexia prepare for the world of work.
Last month, the boy approached him and said he had no money for his bus fare home.
‘I said that because he lived on my route home I would give him a lift,’ said Mr Davis, who has two children.
‘A week later one of the office staff at the college pulled me to one side, having heard about me giving the boy a lift, and said it was a stupid thing to do because I was opening myself to all sorts of allegations. I said I was sorry and she just told me not to do it again, and that seemed to be the end of the matter.’
Next thing he knew he was accused of gross misconduct by the agency which employed him, suspended without pay and told there was ‘no way back’.
No wonder thousands of adults who would otherwise willingly volunteer to give up their time to work as sports coaches and youth club leaders are not prepared to put themselves through an impertinent, forensic vetting process to prove they’re not a kiddie fiddler.
There really is something depressingly sick in a system consumed by paranoia, which sees a sinister motive in every act of human kindness and Christian charity — and regards every adult who wants to work with children as a potential paedo waiting to pounce.
Of course, the authorities insist that all this is necessary to protect children and any personal information gleaned will be kept confidential. Right. If you believe that, you probably still believe in Santa Claus.