IT was the 18th Century Conservative philosopher and thinker Edmund Burke who is attributed as saying: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

But what happens to evil if the person objecting is not good ?

Following his evidence to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport committee, former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq risked going from hero to zero when stories emerged about anti-Semitic comments shared on social media as a 19-year-old and inappropriate texts sent to a young woman. These stories made the news because Rafiq, having called out others for their failings, was now was being shown to be less that a saint.

But should a spotless life be a pre-requisite to calling out the evils we see and if so is the inevitable consequence that bad behaviour is condoned by silence and evil flourishes?

In recent days, Caroline Noakes, the Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North and chair of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, claimed Stanley Johnson smacked her on the bottom “as hard as possible” at the Conservative Party conference in 2003.

Her allegation prompted a second woman to come forward, Ailbhe Rea, a journalist for the New Statesman, who alleged the Prime Minister’s father “groped” her at the Tory conference in 2019. Mr Johnson Snr says he has “no recollection” of either of his accusers.

Since making her claim, Caroline Noakes has said that certain parts of the media have scoured through her past sex life to find “some sort of defence” for the alleged assault with the implication being that her allegation would somehow be less serious or important if she had a reputation for “loose morals”.

The genuine problem with the besmirching of character of a complainant is familiar to those who complain of sex crimes under the legal system. For decades, one of the go to defences of the legal team of the accused is to question the morals or sex life of the complainant, seeking to undermine their credibility.

This approach has rightly been questioned in court and parliament given the potential hurdle it becomes for those bringing complaints who worry about their past sex life being brought out for all to see. It also does not follow that because someone may have had an active sex life that they will always give consent in every situation and to whomever asks. Yet it is precisely that assumption that legal teams will seek to imply as a defence in such cases.

Having rightly identified this approach as both questionable and problematic in court it is now essential that we name this and see its potential damage in public life when whistle blowers are undermined. Azeem Rafiq has admitted and apologised for sending the messages and the texts that he did. That does not mean Yorkshire Cricket Club is not institutionally racist or that the game does not have a problem.

Undermining Rafiq might make racists feel better but it does nothing to solve the problems his evidence highlighted. And whatever the sex life of Caroline Noakes, Stanley Johnson still has a case to answer.

If it is only saints who are entitled to complain, then all of us sinners are bound to lose in the flourishing of evil.

  • The Reverend Arun Arora is the vicar of St Nicholas' Church in Durham