Some Notes on the Sunday Mail Integrity Initiative Story

(expanded post)

This one is being widely discussed: from the Sunday Mail, the sister paper of the Scottish Daily Record:

A secret UK Government-funded infowars unit based in Scotland sent out social media posts attacking Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.

On the surface, the cryptically named Institute for Statecraft is a small charity operating from an old Victorian mill in Fife.

But explosive leaked documents passed to the Sunday Mail reveal the organisation’s Integrity Initiative is funded with £2million of Foreign Office cash and run by military intelligence specialists.

The “think tank” is supposed to counter Russian online propaganda by forming “clusters” of friendly journalists and “key influencers” throughout Europe who use social media to hit back against disinformation.

The article is the sequel to one that appeared the week before, headlined “Derelict Scottish mill is shadowy hub in UK’s fight against Putin’s propaganda machine”, which told us that:

For the tiny number of people aware of its existence, Gateside Mills is a derelict building in rural Fife without any obvious signs of life.

Anyone curious enough to carry out further investigation might find a seemingly small Scottish charity is registered there.

But the Sunday Mail can reveal the crumbling Victorian mill is actually the official headquarters of the controversial Institute for Statecraft (IFS) – a shadowy “think tank” whose Integrity Initiative programme has been set up to combat Russian propaganda.

The Integrity Initiative came to attention last month, after internal documents were leaked online – ostensibly by Anonymous – and then publicised by the Russian propaganda website Sputnik. These seem to be the same documents that are now described as having been “passed to the Sunday Mail“. Articles also appeared on the conspiracy website UK Column; one of these, posted on the same day as the first Sunday Mail piece, also included references to the supposed “derelict” state of Gateside Mills, and has now been commended by the left-wing activist Aaron Bastani, despite UK Column‘s Satanic Ritual Abuse conspiracy mongering and other extravagances.

I’m not convinced that this is in fact much of a story at all, for several reasons.

First, the “social media posts attacking Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party” consist of a handful of Tweets that refer to critical newspaper and magazine commentaries: these include an article by Edward Lucas published in The Times in February, from which Integrity Initiative extracted a quote referring to Corbyn as a “useful idiot”, and two pieces by Oz Katerji from September: first, “The Kremlin has weaponised doubt in Syria – and Labour is helping”, which appeared in the New Statesman, and second, “Skripal poisoning: It’s time for the Corbyn left to confront its Putin problem”, which appeared on Politics.co.uk (Katerji has now responded on Twitter).

These are not “smears” – they are reasonable criticisms, and comparable to Tweets about other parties (tweeting a Times story in October: “Tory peers told to come clean about Russia links Peers across parties are on Russian payroll”). Apparently, the Integrity Initiative’s spokesman has conceded that Tweets attacking politicians ought to have been posted, but he seems to be making to a general statement without much familiarity with the organisation’s Twitter feed – the Tweets cannot be described as unreasonable, and if they breach the conditions of FCO funding then those conditions seem to me to be too restrictive.

Second, the Tweets publicise material of which Integrity Initiative obviously approves, but it is disproportionate to extrapolate a campaign (or a “psy-op”, to use a term preferred by the shrillest voices) against Labour based on such minimal and selective evidence. The Integrity Initiative’s Twitter feed is overwhelmingly about other subjects than the Labour Party. (1)

Third, the allegation is back to front: the material Tweeted by Integrity Initiative is obviously criticising Labour figures for their stance on Russia, and by extension Syria, rather than using Russia as an excuse to attack Labour – in this context, the “smear” motive makes no sense.

Fourth, “‘clusters’ of friendly journalists and ‘key influencers'” indicates affinity rather than conspiracy. That an organisation opposed to Russian disinformation might like to build links with journalists who are also opposed to Russian disinformation is hardly a surprise. We are not provided with any examples where we should reassess the significance and credibility of a story or commentary in the media because of the supposed influence of Integrity Initiative. The organisation has issued a statement on the subject, confirming that in fact that many of the names listed in its documents were simply potential contacts for events.

And fifth, while Gateside Mills is out of the way, it does not appear to be derelict. There is a least one business also based at the site, and both the Sunday Mail and UK Column articles show that the front of building bears a sign in good repair that says “Gateside Mills Centre of Creativity & Design” (2). It appears that some demolition work is going on around the back of the building (involving some garages and a former covered walkway), but a photo posted to the site’s Facebook page in August shows the same area in a reasonable condition. The owner is apparently still advertising for new businesses to join the site, and he or she has also posted a jocular and dismissive comment apparently aimed at the first Sunday Mail report (“Followed your instructions comradski. Cyanide pill as fake as news report”). The air of mystery around the location thus seems to me to be contrived.

I’m not adverse to keeping a critical eye on relations between the media and other actors – in many cases, we read about things not simply because inherent “news value” drives them to the front page, but because of links between journalists and particular politicians, think-tanks, or self-promoting “experts”. However, in this instance my curiously and scepticism are directed more towards the Sunday Mail itself than the subject of its supposed exposé.

Footnotes

1. The Labour Press Team Tweet from yesterday reported “@EmilyThornberry responds to media reports that a government-funded Infowars operation has been engaged in political attacks against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party”. I assume that the capitalisation of “Infowars” (which also appears in the related press release) was an accident, but it gives the false impression that the government had been funding Alex Jones.

2. The Sunday Mail photo of the back of the building is credited to the Sunday Mail, and the UK Column image of the same area (taken from a different angle) to David Scott. In both images the weather is damp, but there seems to be more cloud cover in the UK Column image. Perhaps, then, the publication of both images on the same day was a coincidence.

Operation Midland’s “Nick” Named as Carl Beech

The Times reports:

The man whose allegations sparked Scotland Yard’s disastrous paedophile inquiry can today be revealed as a former NHS manager, school governor and father of one.

Carl Stephen Beech, 50, is the man who has been known publicly only as Nick since 2014 when Scotland Yard launched Operation Midland based on his claims of murder and abuse by a paedophile ring.

Mr Beech… faces 12 charges of perverting the course of justice and one of fraud after the collapse of one of the Met’s most prominent inquiries. He is accused of profiting from alleged lies about murder, abuse and torture by fraudulently claiming £22,000 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. [1]

…Scotland Yard’s £2.5 million inquiry relied solely on Mr Beech’s abuse claims that he made against VIPs including Lord Bramall, 94, the Normandy veteran and former chief of defence staff, and Harvey Proctor, a former Conservative MP. Both were interviewed under caution during the 18-month inquiry before they were exonerated in 2016. 

The development has been reported in various newspapers – the Daily Telegraph has even put him on the front page. 

Carl Beech’s identity was not much of a secret – “jigsaw” identification has been possible for a long time, and in 2016 Associated Newspapers was fined after it published his photo with such minimal pixelation that he could be readily identified by anyone who knew him (see below). He has also previously been named by various individuals on social media.

The removal of Beech’s right to anonymity is an important step in achieving justice for those who were targeted by Operation Midland, in that while their alleged accuser remained in the shadows a thoroughgoing dismantling of the false allegations attributed to him by police and media has been impossible – thus despite the police exoneration, users of an #IBelieveNick hashtag have continued to assert the guilt of those who were falsely accused. It also remains to be told how the allegations were promoted by various groups and politicians, and the simple fact that we can now say that Nick’s real name is Carl opens new avenues here.

However, we are not quite at the destination: Beech will not face trial until May, and in the meantime we must take care to avoid writing anything that might be prejudicial or subject to reporting restrictions. Beech’s lawyer has indicated that his client intends to contest the allegations, and we do not know what defence may be offered – that is why I am careful to refer to claims attributed to Beech. I make no comment or speculation here about what Beech may have said to police or why. That does not mean, though, that we must pretend to be agnostic about false allegations. It will be Beech on trial next year, not the Operation Midland suspects [2].

The poorly pixelated photo of Carl Beech (“Nick”) that led to Associated Newspapers being fined in 2016. Note that the pixelation virtually disappears when the image is made smaller.

Footnotes

1. According to the Daily Mail:

The fraud charge alleges that he falsely claimed £22,000 in criminal injuries compensation by saying ‘he was subjected to abuse by a paedophile ring, knowing this to be untrue and intending thereby to make a gain for himself’.

Both reports could have been clearer that this relates to one particular allegation attributed to Beech, concerning one specific public figure. There seems to be no good reason why this person is not named, but without further guidance I won’t mention him either.

2 . Limits around what can be said at the moment may also be used opportunistically. Thus the journalist Mark Watts writes on Twitter that:

Part of the complication for media re naming is that there are allegations of child sexual abuse made by ‘Nick’ where he has not been charged with attempting to pervert course of justice or fraud.

This may imply that some allegations are stronger than others, and that the prosecution is being selective. However, allegations attributed to Nick include claims against people who are dead. In such cases, it is impossible to pervert the course of justice because there can be no trial; and the lack of any fraud allegation may merely indicate that no compensation was ever sought.

Pro-Brexit Prosperity Evangelist in Clerical Collar Prompts Conspiracy Theory about Newsnight

From the Independent:

The BBC has taken the unusual step of denying that a guest on a Newsnight Brexit debate who spoke in favour of Theresa May’s European Union withdrawal deal was “a paid actor”, after conspiracy theories about her real identity swirled on social media.

The corporation issued a statement about Lynn Hayter’s appearance after some Twitter users suggested she had been brought on to unfairly sway public opinion.

Hayter has a minor career as an actor, working mostly as an extra under her middle name Marina. However, she also has a religious ministry called Seeds For Wealth, and she appeared on Newsnight wearing a clerical collar. It appears that some people mistakenly assumed from her appearance that she was presenting herself as a vicar of the Church of England, and from this has grown the conspiracy theory that the BBC paid her to pose as a vicar in order to lend authority to the pro-Brexit argument:

Labour peer Andrew Adonis, who has repeatedly argued that Britain should remain in the EU, also tweeted about her appearance.

He asked: “Is it true that @BBCNewsnight engaged actors to put the Leave argument in a recent studio discussion because they wanted the Leave case put more strongly?”

…Presenter Emily Maitlis warned Lord Adonis not to “become a peddler of fake news”.

She tweeted: “Not in this day and age. Not when we need our parliamentarians to be better and more trusted than ever. To have got to a place where you could chose to believe that enough to write it is deeply worrying.”

On Twitter, Hayter describes herself as a “protege of Mike Murdock”, and she is shown posing with Murdock in her profile picture. There is also a video in which she is endorsed by Dr Jerry Grillo, Jr, Presiding Bishop of the Favor Center Church in Hickory, North Carolina.

Essentially, Hayter is an independent evangelist whose authority and credibility derive from other evangelists rather than from a formal position within a denomination. She titles herself “Minister”, and the Independent confirms that she was not billed by Newsnight as “Reverend”. It is not clear, though, why she chose to wear a clerical collar on television: she does not do so on publicity materials for her ministry, and it is not Murdock’s practice to wear one either.

Murdock first came to attention as an associate of Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker on PTL in the 1980s; he subsequently founded his own church, emphasising the Prosperity Gospel. The Dallas Observer has run articles criticising his ministry and his finances over many years, and 2015 he was famously mocked on The Daily Show in a segment by John Oliver (blogged here). Another associate is Pastor Mark Burns, who led prayers at Trump rallies in 2016. Murdock had a photo-op with Trump in late 2015, and he has more recently spoken at Trump rallies.

Murdock travels abroad, and in Nigeria he has links with Reverend Biodun Fatoyinbo, Senior Pastor of the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA) Worldwide: in 2014, Murdock presented Fatoyinbo with a Rolls Royce, and Fatoyinbo reciprocated last year with a giant birthday cake. He also makes visits to the UK – I remember seeing him in London in late 2001, and he is a regular at Kingsway International Christian Centre’s (KICC) yearly “Gathering of Champions” in Chatham. KICC was founded by Matthew Ashimolowo, a Nigerian immigrant to the UK, but Hayter’s involvement with Murdock shows that his international appeal is not just to African Christians, for whom Prosperity teachings are at one end of a spectrum of motivational rhetoric and practical self-help advice that have actually been of value to adherents.

The Independent also refers to Hayter as an author – her book Seeing God through the Camera Lens is available on Amazon, and according to a review there the work is “Totally Challenging and a MUST READ – LIFE CHANGING for anyone.”

UPDATE: The story has now been picked up by the Daily Mirror, with the botched subheading “The BBC denies ‘Reverend Lynn’ is actually a professional actress called Marina Hayter after eagle-eyed viewers took to Twitter”. That, of course, is not the BBC position: no one denies that Hayter is an actor, but the channel does dispute the allegation that she was playing a role for them when she appeared on Newsnight.

As James O’Brien puts it: “An eccentric, self-styled cleric, with thespian ambitions, has as much right to be in that studio as any other member of the public.”

(Note – some of the social media chatter incorrectly names Hayter’s ministry as “Seeds Of Wealth” rather than “Seeds For Wealth”)

Times Column Mocks Rent-a-Quote MP Andrew Bridgen: Some Observations

Profile fails to note link to Mike Veale, and possible contact with Jon Wedger

Times columnist Matt Chorley has written celebrated profile of rent-a-quote MP Andrew Bridgen, inspired by the Tory backbencher’s recent call for Theresa May to resign over her Brexit deal:

If May is ousted nobody would be more surprised than Bridgen himself, having led unsuccessful efforts to unseat David Cameron, John Bercow and Keith Vaz…But then he’s not what you would call a details man. He’s one of those who thinks a trade deal could be struck “in an afternoon”. 

Chorley mocks Bridgen for making continued predictions of the imminent political demise of May, and for dud interventions such as his recent claim that English people have a right to an Irish passport. He also notes the wide-ranging scale of Bridgen’s punditry:

In recent months he has spoken to the press on the burka, the Archbishop of Canterbury, drugs, midwifery, immigration, a National Trust memorial to executed gay men, the Scottish tax system, aid for India, gagging orders, bonuses, university credit cards, uninvestigated burglaries and the BBC 6 Music presenter Cerys Matthews.

Chorley claims that “unkind Tory colleagues” have described him as “thick as mash”, in mocking reference to his intellect and his business background in the potato industry. A text exchange between the two men followed publication. Bridgen: “You have massively increased my standing and at the same time spurred my constituents to rush to my defence .Especially your implied support for Keith Vaz…”; Chorley: “I can’t imagine how low your standing was for it to be improved by being called a liar and a fantasist in a national newspaper…”

This is all good fun, but it risks obscuring a less amusing aspect to Bridgen’s publicity seeking. First, it should be remembered that Bridgen is a vociferous supporter of Mike Veale, the weird former Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police who decided to plough limitless police resources into a fruitless attempt to establish grounds for believing the former Prime Minister Edward Heath, who died in 2005, had got away with child-sex crimes decades before (including Satanic Ritual Abuse).

Bridgen dismissed criticism of the investigation as “the Establishment” seeking to “shelve” investigations into historic VIP abuse, and as a “chilling“campaign against the police; and it is more than likely that he was the conduit by which leaks favourable to Veale reached the media (in particular, the Mail on Sunday‘s political editor Simon Walters). Veale also provided Bridgen with an advance copy of the final report into Heath, which the MP commended in the media before the rest of us were allowed to see it. And when Veale was recently censured after lying about how he had come to smash his police mobile phone, Bridgen was on hand to condemn “spurious and vexatious allegations”.

More disturbing than this, however, is the possibility of contact with Jon Wedger, a self-described “police whistleblower” whose allegations of police child-sex abuse cover-ups have become increasingly wide-ranging and lurid, to the point that he is now promoting and working alongside “Satanic Ritual Abuse” conspiracy theorists; Wedger’s website also carries a cut-and-paste of an article published by conspiracy website UK Column in support of Tommy Robinson – presumably added because Wedger agrees with it.

Wedger recently posted a photo of Bridgen to Facebook, with the following commentary:

I’ve been contacted today [26 October] by a prominent anti child abuse MP Andrew Bridgen. He is willing to start a Westminster debate to highlight the local authority cover ups regarding children’s homes.
I need factual evidence to present to him. I also need assistance. Any takers

This is a subject that is already currently being considered by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, and it has also featured prominently in the media. It is difficult to see what would be gained by Bridgen holding a “Westminster debate” (presumably he means a Westminster Hall debate) on the subject, beyond self-publicity and the promotion of dubious conspiracy theories.

Of course, we only have Wedger’s word that he was indeed contacted by Bridgen, but it should be recalled that a year ago Bridgen wrote a letter “to the policing minister Nick Hurd asking him what support is currently available to officers who raise concerns over criminality within their force”. This was reported by James Fielding in the Sunday Express, and formed the climax of several articles by Fielding about Wedger and Maggie Oliver as  “police whistleblowers”.

Hurd’s response to Bridgen is not known, although Wedger has published a reply from Hurd to what appears to have been a similar query made more recently by his own MP Mike Penning (who is also known for his support of Wedger). Hurd wrote to Penning (who passed the reply to Wedger) that “Although I note Mr Wedger’s concerns, the police are operationally indendent of Government, and it would not be appropriate for Ministers or officials to comment on, or intervene in, a specific case, investigation or complaint”.

Footnote

Chorley is not the only journalist to have recently offered a scathing assessment of Bridgen; a recent interview with the LBC host James O’Brien in the Independent includes the detail that

Andrew Bridgen… and MP Nadine Dorries are picked off as “some of the most profoundly ignorant people ever to disgrace public life”.

As far as I am aware, Bridgen did not respond publicly to this, although Dorries accused O’Brien of a “creepy obsession” that she might report to the police and warned ominously that “We have begun collating comments etc”. This tired refrain is unlikely to be well-received by her local force – perhaps Bridgen should point her in the direction of Veale instead…

Dundee Child Sex Abuse Forum Discusses “The Myth of the Satanic Panic”

An article from the Dundee Evening Telegraph in September, and branded with the paper’s “Our Kids Need Justice” campaign logo:

Charities to host forum tackling child sex abuse in Dundee

…The event, at Tayside Deaf Hub, has been organised by Dundee charities Izzy’s Promise, which conducts research into causes of ritual abuse and ways of preventing it, and Eighteen and Under, which supports young victims of sexual abuse.

…The conference will feature talks by a number of experts in the field of abuse issues, including Izzy’s promise founder Laurie Matthew OBE, who is also executive manager for Dundee-based Eighteen And Under.

Sarah Nelson, author of Tackling Child Sexual Abuse: Radical Approaches will also make an appearance, as will abuse survivor Matt Carey, alongside counsellor Sarah Paton Briggs.

Completing the speakers will be Joseph Lumbasi, manager of Izzy’s Promise.

Izzy’s Promise and Eighteen and Under are both projects of the Ritual Abuse Network Scotland, which is not itself mentioned in the article – and RANS in turn is affiliated with the Ritual Abuse Information Network (RAINS) (blogged here).

“Ritual abuse” is defined on the Izzy’s Promise webpage (hosted by RANS) in the context of “abuse survivors who have been trafficked by use of rituals such as voodoo and ju-ju mostly from Africa and the Caribbean”. However, a blurb on the same page about the forum, which took place last week, referred specifically to “The Myth of the Satanic Panic”, and one gets the impression that the physical abuse of children related to African religious practices is here being highlighted in order to downplay an interest in claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse.

This impression is heightened by an article by Paula Murray that appeared in the Scottish Sunday Express in 2014 (1), which quotes Lumbasi:

“There are stories of girls being forced to conceive and then their babies are aborted for sacrifices. Children are born that are never registered. It is not impossible, they never come up. There is pornography, sick films. Horrific things are happening and nobody is getting caught… The leaders are very clever and very powerful….”

Matthew also appears in the same article, described as the author of book which “claimed to identify areas across Dundee, Angus and Perthshire where ritual abuse of children was said to have taken place.”

Nelson, meanwhile, is known for works such as “Satanist Ritual Abuse: Challenges to the Mental Health System”, presented to RAINS in 1996 and available from SAFF here.

The forum blurb is also available on other sites, such as Ticketsource – here, Sara Rowbotham is also listed as a speaker. Rowbotham is known nationally for her involvement in bringing to light “grooming” in Rochdale, and she was depicted in the BBC Three Girls dramatization, portrayed by Maxine Peake.

Attendees (i.e. not speakers) apparently included Thomas Dunn and Russ Dizdar, two American conspiracy theorists. Dunn, as previously blogged here, promotes the Hampstead Ritual Abuse hoax, while Dizdar, as I noted in 2013, is a former police chaplain who warns of the “Black Awakening”; this is when “satanic chosen ones… will be activated to unleash chaos and anarchy into the USA and other countries… to cause collapse and pave the way for a ‘new world order’ and  the rise of the antichrist.” Dizdar’s wide-ranging allegations of Satanic conspiracies have been promoted in the US by “prophecy expert” Paul McGuire.

Hoaxtead Research has the background to the two men’s trip to Dundee here and here, including the detail that “Dunn spent Thursday plastering the town with stickers directing people to his Hampstead material online.” They also apparently met with Wilfred Wong, who was previously blogged here.

UPDATE: Also present at the conference was Rainer Kurz, author of “The Satanist Cult of Ted Heath”. Kurz has helpfully written up an account of the event, including details such as that “Tom Dunn… sported a Hampstead themed T-shirt and… gave me a copy of the movie he produced ‘Detestable’ (concerning Human Sacrifice, Sexual Abuse, and Mind Control Techniques)”.

According to Kurz, Nelson “mentioned that Fred & Rose West were at the centre of a SRA ring”, while Wong “expertly presented on ‘Satanist Ritual Abuse in the UK – Past, Present and Future’ (a title inspired by our jointly authored poster at the European Psychiatry Association Conference 2018 in Nice…)” Further:

The final presentation was by two sympathetic members of Police Scotland who explained the principle of reporting.

Kurz also confirms the presence of Sara Rowbotham:

Next Sara Rowbotham talked about her efforts to educate youngsters and professionals about sexual health and abuse which culminated in a successful trial that inspired the acclaimed ‘Three Girls’ TV program.

There is no reference to this on Rowbotham’s Twitter feed, and it is curious given her national profile that the organisers did not make more of her participation. As such, it seems to me likely that this was merely a routine presentation that she provides wherever she is invited to attend, and that there is currently no reason to assume that she is invested in the SRA conspiricism of the event organisers.

Footnote

1. A shorter version of the same article was also published by the Express on the same day, presumably for distribution outside Scotland. The byline in this version is “Paul Murray” rather than “Paula”, and the article is illustrated with a photo of Jimmy Savile. According to the caption, “DJ Jimmy Saville [sic] raped a girl of 15 during a satanic ritual”. The Express has a history of making sensational claims about organised sex abuse.

Jon Wedger Joins Forces with “Satanic deep state” Conspiracy Theorist

Self-described “police whistleblower” Jon Wedger continues his seemingly never-ending odyssey through the UK conspiracy milieu:

JOIN RETIRED POLICE OFFICER & WHISTLE BLOWER JON WEDGER

on Wed 21st Nov at midday when JON will be giving a letter to every MP regarding the following;

the public want an independent body to investigate child abuse –

protection for whistle blowers reporting abuse-

investigation into media persecution of Police Officers and MPs attempting to expose child abuse

DECENCY calling for IBETICA – Independent Body Established To Investigate Child Abuse

There is of course already a high-profile Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse currently going on (the IICSA), but presumably its failure to confirm the existence of wide-ranging “VIP abuse” and Satanic Ritual Abuse conspiracies has resulted in dissatisfaction.

“DECENCY” in the above refers to a “Campaign for Decency”. This is name that one Jeff Godwin (1) gives to his activity as a self-described “film maker researcher and activist” who is investigating “the pedophile Satanic deep state”. Godwin has made several short videos with Wedger since January, often associated with protests in London – in one recent video, the two men said that an unnamed male MP had approached them to offer support at one such event, but that this person had supposedly been smeared in the media shortly thereafter.

Godwin has various videos on his YouTube channel with conspiracy themes, the most alarming of which is perhaps “GRENFELL TOWER – DELIBERATELY CAUSED TO KEEP THEIR SOCK PUPPET IN POWER”. In this one, Godwin, in conversation with a self-described “freelance journalist” in America named Ramola D, asserted his confidence that the Grenfell Tower fire was deliberate arson by the security services, serving both as an occult ritual burning of children in the spirit of The Wicker Man and as a diversion following Theresa May’s poor performance in the 2017 general election.

This may seem marginal, but it should be remembered that Wedger also has mainstream associations, as I’ve noted before: Wedger’s initial claims that he was forced out of the Metropolitan Police for exposing organised child-sex abuse were endorsed by Mike Penning MP and carried by the Sunday Express, and he recently appeared with Maggie Oliver, the police officer at the centre of exposing the Rochdale grooming gang. He also claims to be in contact with Chief Constable Mike Veale, notorious for his handling of allegations against the late Edward Heath, although Veale has not confirmed this, and with Andrew Bridgen MP.

At the same time, though, Wedger has thrown himself into a circuit of fringe conspiracy theorists and activists: he has given speeches to Sacha Stone’s “International Tribunal for Natural Justice” and the fringe Democrats and Veterans Party; been interviewed by Rodney Hearth, an elderly British evangelical QAnon enthusiast who runs his own TV station; and made numerous videos with Bill Maloney, an aggressive figure known for making extravagant allegations. A few months ago, Maloney was shown by Brian Harvey to have manipulated a vulnerable adult into making allegations – Wedger, though, rebuffed an appeal from Harvey about this, denouncing his approach as “harassment”.

Footnote

1. This Jeff Godwin should not be confused with an American fundamentalist preacher of the same name who rails against rock-and-roll music as evidence of Satanism.

A Brief Note on a “Racially Aggravated Public Order Offence”

From The Sunday Times:

Last week, Jane Savidge, 69, went public to say she was the person who’d honked her horn when a driver ‘took ages’ and blocked her car at a petrol station in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, in May 2015. 

The driver she tooted at happened to be black, and Thames Valley Police were forced to quiz the pensioner under current current hate crime laws.

…Savidge said she had been troubled by the police’s insistence that the incident be recorded as a “racially aggravated public order offence”, even though the other woman later met the other officers and agreed that a crime “had not occurred”.

…Thames Valley police said: “Following a review of the circumstances, the incident was reclassified as a hate-related incident in line with national guidance.”

The story has gained some wider media interest, as an example of someone being unfairly tainted as a hate-crime suspect following a trivial incident in which the aggrieved party’s allegation of racism was clearly unwarranted. It also draws attention to the problematic nature of how “hate-related incidents” are defined: as an incident that may not even be a criminal offence but which “the victim, or anyone else, thinks is based on someone’s prejudice” – never mind that the complainant might not actually be a “victim”, but someone whose perspective is unreasonable or who may even be complaining vexatiously.

However, less attention has been given to the “public order” element in the story. The expression “racially aggravated public order offence” means that a public order offence is alleged, and that the supposed motive made it worse. Yet we can be very confident that the police would not usually treat someone who tooted their horn once to signify “get a move on” as having committed an offence at all. This means that the “public order offence” was invoked here purely to have something on which to hang “racially aggravated”.

This is not a pedantic point: if it were indeed the case that Thames Valley Police was “forced to quiz the pensioner”, then the officers involved would not have needed to come up with a non-existent “public order offence” as a device to facilitate the investigation.

Some might suspect here overzealousness in pursuing allegations of racism (perhaps due to fear of being accused of not taking complaints seriously enough), although my guess is that what happened more likely reflects TVP’s “believe the victim” mentality that means that trivial and false complainants are uncritically indulged.

Man Who Accused Cliff Richard Was Already Known as a Fantasist Following Leon Brittan Investigation

An article from David Rose and Rosie Waterhouse in today’s Mail on Sunday reveals new information about the disastrous police investigation into Cliff Richard:

This newspaper has established that one of Sir Cliff’s accusers, a man known as ‘David’, had already been exhaustively investigated by [DCI Paul] Settle and his team, and found to be a suggestible, vulnerable fantasist. David, who had learning difficulties and had been in care, told them he was raped as a boy by both Sir Cliff and Elton John at a sex party, at which media baron Rupert Murdoch and former Labour deputy leader Lord Prescott were also guests.

‘Needless to say, this didn’t happen,’ Mr Settle said.

Yet the South Yorkshire investigation into Sir Cliff took David seriously. Legal sources have confirmed that although the Met had already decided he was not a reliable witness, South Yorkshire detectives – who took over the Cliff Richard investigation from Yewtree – treated him as a ‘victim’.

Settle was formerly in charge of Operation Fairbank, an “umbrella” investigation set up by the Metropolitan Police the wake of “VIP abuse” allegations raised in Parliament by Tom Watson MP in 2012. In 2016 he addressed the Home Affairs Select Committee on the subject of how the police had handled a rape allegation made against the former Home Secretary Leon Brittan by a woman referred to as “Jane”. Settle told the committee that Brittan had “no case to answer”, and said that a subsequent interview under caution (conducted at Brittan’s home, during his terminal illness) had been unlawful. He also described the investigation as a “baseless witch-hunt”, and shortly afterwards he gave an interview to the Daily Mail in a personal capacity, in which he claimed that he had been “frozen out and isolated by senior officers” after Watson had criticised his decision as regards “Jane”.

“David” had also accused Leon Brittan, which was why Settle had been in contact with him; in 1990, David had been introduced by “former social worker and convicted fraudster called Chris Fay” to

a journalist called Gill Priestly, now deceased. In a series of taped interviews with her, David made astonishing claims: that he had been sexually assaulted by Lord Brittan, and ‘trafficked’ to Amsterdam, where he was forced to watch as children were raped and murdered to make ‘snuff’ porn movies.

The story appeared in the Sunday Times that year, in an article bylined to Maurice Chittenden (although the name “David” was not used). Fay – who is close to the conspiracy promoter Bill Maloney – maintained a relationship with “David” that led to further outlandish claims appearing in the media in 2014. This is not discussed in the article (aside from a reference to Exaro), perhaps to avoid too much digression, but also perhaps due to “David’s” selective recourse to the anonymity to which sex-crime complainants are legally entitled.

So why did Yewtree take “David” seriously after Settle’s investigation?

In October 2013, the police records say, [Mark] Williams-Thomas produced the tapes of Gill Priestly’s interviews with David. He approached Mr Settle’s boss, Detective Superintendent David Gray, and played them to him and a detective constable at the ITV studios. The full contents of the tapes have not been disclosed.

Mr Settle said: ‘We had already finished with David, but here was Williams-Thomas apparently trying to reincarnate him as a witness. It was quite apparent the tapes were the musings of a fantasist.’

According to the report, Priestly had played the tapes to Williams-Thomas while the latter was a police officer with Surrey Police, and then for some reason given them to him for “safe keeping” after he left the force in 2000. In 2013, Williams-Thomas made a media name for himself by presenting the Exposure documentary on Jimmy Savile, and he is now established as an expect commentator on crime matters.

“David” retracted his claims in a 2015 Panorama documentary (which I discussed here), and it seems that Williams-Thomas offered him some advice about this ahead of broadcast:

David was to be one of [Panorama‘s] star witnesses, admitting he had made false allegations because he was suggestible and felt under pressure.

Williams-Thomas had promised to consider giving Panorama the Priestly tapes, but failed to do so, say BBC sources. Then, after David had been filmed, Williams-Thomas sent him an email, urging him either to insist on concealing his identity or not to appear at all, drafting messages that he suggested David should copy and send to the BBC.

‘DON’T tell the BBC we have spoken,’ he wrote, ‘just say you have spoken to a friend who has given you advice.’

Williams-Thomas appears to have a remarkable private archive: in August, in the wake of the Jonathan King mistrial, it was revealed that he had retained notebooks from his time at Surrey Police.

The Rose and Waterhouse article notes that Williams-Thomas has “has openly boasted that he was the source of up to 20 suspects’ names being submitted to Operation Yewtree”, and Settle is quoted as describing him as “reckless in the extreme” in disclosing information to the media. The article notes his use of Twitter to break news of arrests and developments in the cases of Freddie Starr and Jim Davidson (both eventually shown to be innocent), and his gratuitous use of “#savile” and “#jimmysavile” hashtags in relation to these – as well as his late criticisms of South Yorkshire Police when it was evident that the Cliff Richard investigation had foundered.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and “Ritual Sexual Abuse”

From the transcript of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s National Apology Address, in which “the Australian Government and this Parliament, on behalf of all Australians, unreservedly apologises to the victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse”:

The crimes of ritual sexual abuse happened in schools, churches, youth groups, scout troops, orphanages, foster homes, sporting clubs, group homes, charities, and in family homes as well.

It happened anywhere a predator thought they could get away with it, and the systems within these organisations allowed it to happen and turned a blind eye.

It happened day after day, week after week, month after month, and decade after decade. Unrelenting torment.

When a child spoke up, they weren’t believed and the crimes continued with impunity.

…Not just as a father but as Prime Minister, I am angry too at the calculating destruction of lives and abuse of trust, including those who have abused the shield of faith and religion to hide their crimes, a shield that is supposed to protect the innocent, not the guilty. And they stand condemned.

From the context, the word “ritual” here appears to mean “systematic” or “methodical”, perhaps referring to the various techniques that abusers use to “groom” a child for repeated abuse and to ensure secrecy.

However, the phrase “ritual sexual abuse” (or “ritual abuse”) obviously more readily evokes the familiar idea of secret Satanic cults committing depravities with impunity, and this is how the apology is being interpreted by some, despite the difficulties it raises. For instance, the journalist Mark Watts, who specialises in promoting sensational “VIP sex abuse” claims, refers to the “fulsome apology to those who suffered child sexual abuse – inc ritual sexual abuse – in Australia by PM Scott Morrison”, when in fact no such category is clearly singled out in the speech.

The obvious question that arises is that if Morrison indeed wanted to flag up “ritual sexual abuse” as the phrase is commonly understood, then why wasn’t he clearer about it? Perhaps the answer is that he was being deliberately ambiguous for some reason. It may be that he wanted to signal his belief in the phenomenon without having to invest political capital in it – after all, he is Australia’s first Neo-Pentecostal Prime Minister, and “Satanic ritual abuse” conspiracy theories have thrived within some evangelical strands. There’s also the fact that Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has given credence to Cathy Kezelman, a GP and activist who has made increasingly lurid allegations against her own family – this may have influenced Morrison, or whoever drafted his speech or advised on it.

Conspiracy theorists, however, have a different explanation, which is that Morrison was dropping a hint about knowing more than is in the public domain, just as “QAnon” believers believe that Trump is sending out subtle indications that he has uncovered a cabal of elite abusers who will shortly be exposed to the world. Thus various people are Tweeting claims such as “The new Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison must be a rider in #TheStorm. Here he is making an unprecedented statement on the cabal-engineered epidemic of child ritual abuse”. It is also being suggested that the Morrison’s phrasing vindicates Fiona Barnett, an Australian woman who has made extravagant “VIP Satanic ritual abuse” claims.

Two More Media Outlets Promote Jon Wedger

From a website called the Consumer Watch Foundation:

A former UK Justice Minister is supporting a retired detective who claims Metropolitan police deliberately ruined his life after he tried to expose horrific cases of child sex abuse.

John Wedger claims he was forced into early retirement after a breakdown while working to expose Britain’s perverts.

…Hemel Hempstead MP Sir Mike Penning has given his full support to Wedger in a campaign to protect police whistle-blowers.

….Now Wedger has also made claims about the Satanic abuse of children in the upper echelons of British society, claims investigated for many years by consumerwatchfoundation.com editor Leigh G Banks.

CWF has contacted Sir Mike’s offices on five occasions asking for his views on Wedger’s Satanism claims and to confirm he is still supporting him in his battle. We have not received a response.

Penning’s original statement supporting Wedger is still published on his website, although his silence on Wedger’s more recent claims may indicate some doubt or embarrassment.

The article is written by Leigh G. Banks, apparently a former Fleet Street tabloid journalist; Consumer Watch Foundation appears to be an offshoot of Radio Tatras International (RTI), an English-language online radio station based in Slovakia that he helped to set up. Banks claims to have investigated Satanic Ritual Abuse in the 1980s, and for some reason quoting himself in third-person, he adds in his article that:

“…I worked with an organisation called Reachout.

“One of its clients claimed that since childhood she was being used as ‘factory’ to produce babies for sacrifice by a coven in the North-west of England. Members of the organisation claimed to have rescued at least 70 young people from covens.”

The Reachout Trust is an evangelical Christian “counter-cult” organisation that has been much criticised for its sensationalist claims about occult groups, conflated with “Satanism”.

Banks also appears in podcasts with Rodney Hearth, who runs an online television service called A1R.tv International (formerly A1R.tv Family Focus) through his company “Heaven Sent Productions”. A1R.tv describes itself as “Free Family Safe Worldwide Television”, and it carries a number of channels that stream vintage pop music, jazz, and old films, as well as polemics with titles such as “Pat Condell Tell [sic] The Truth About Islam” and “Nigel Farage Smashes The Irish PM“. Content includes re-uploads from elsewhere but also original material in which Hearth – an evangelical in his 70s – interviews various people. Hearth’s most recent interview is with Wedger, perhaps facilitated through Banks.

Some of Hearth’s interviewees are musicians, while others are activists such as Anglican Mainstream’s Rev. Lynda Rose (on “The Way Sex is Being Taught in Schools“), the American anti-gay obsessive Scott Lively (last blogged here), a certain Cyrus Leone, and numerous items with Greg Jackson of CitizenGo, a “global pro-life, pro-family, and pro-freedom grassroots organization” that is part of the Spanish HatzeOirl (previously blogged here) – in one conversation, the two men discuss transgender issues under the title “The Liverpool Penis“. For some reason, a talk by Rev. James Leggett of St. James Church in Ryde on “Straight Talk for Gays” appears to have been removed.

Outright conspiracy material on the site includes uploads from the likes of Liz Crokin (blogged here), but it is on social media that a1r.tv really lets it all hang out, promoting itself via the hashtags #QAnon, #GoodbyeDemocrats, #GreatAwakening, #PresidentTrump and #WWG1WGA.

British interest in the “QAnon” conspiracy theory may seem unexpected, but I recently noticed that it forms part of the worldview of a political group called The Peoples Revolution Party. A1R.tv was recently listed as a supporter of a fringe-right “Brexit Alliance” that TPRP was apparently assembling alongside the Democrats and Veterans Party, as I noted here.