Conservative Party Faces Bullying Controversies

From Breitbart London (emphases added):

Former Conservative Party candidate Mark Clarke has been named as the “man at the heart” of bullying allegations made by the 21-year-old Tory activist Elliott Johnson, who is believed to have taken his own life on the night of September 15th 2015, as first reported by Breitbart London.

…Another e-mail seen by Breitbart London alleges “[REDACTED], a long time friend and member of Mark’s close circle… told me that in order to prevent Oliver Cooper running for CF Chairman again, the team would mount a series of personal attacks in the media to erode his character”. [REDACTED] claimed to have worked for Mr Clarke at Conservative HQ in an email seen by Breitbart London. The story has been confirmed by other activists close to the issue.

…In another Facebook missive, Mr Clarke is alleged to have threatened to “ruin” the Conservative Party activists in the Oxford University association, claiming “We could ruin them. Ban all Tory speakers. Blacklist the leadership for failing to campaign properly – in a way that would follow them their entire career. And much more personal stuff.”

Clarke has denied the allegations, calling them “defamatory”, although he has declined to comment further, stating that “the family [of Elliott Johnson] have asked for privacy and I respect both their wishes and the coroner’s process.” Breitbart, however, notes that at least one relative of Johnson is speaking out on social media about what happened (this is Johnson’s cousin; it also appears that his mother left a comment on a now-removed article published by the Commentator).

Clarke has also been accused of bullying by Ben Harris-Quinney, who was suspended from the Conservative Party earlier this year for suggesting tactical voting for UKIP. Harris-Quinney told the Spectator in May that “there have been a number of online articles over the past few weeks that are inaccurate and clearly designed to defame my character, this organised campaign appears to have strong links to Conservative Central Office”; he has now told the Sunday Times that Clarke had warned him after a clash that “attacks would be widespread, that would come from a number of anonymous individuals and I would not be able to pin it down on anyone at Conservative Central Office.”

Meanwhile, referring not to Clarke but what appears to be a more general culture, Tim Roll-Pickering has said on Twitter that “I now wish I’d reported stuff I saw back in late 2000s”.

Now, it would be wrong to suggest that behaviour of the kind described here is solely a vice of the Conservative Party (or of “the Right” in general), or that it forms a necessary part of being a Conservative. I am not a Conservative voter, but I have Conservative friends who would have nothing to do with underhand or dishonest behaviour. I also regard as very troubling that the Labour candidate Kate Godfrey was apparently subjected to threats and sexual harassment by members of a rival faction within the Labour party.

However, for the party in power to be associated with this kind of corruption (let’s give it its proper name) is particularly corrosive, and there is lots of evidence of smearing and other disreputable shenanigans by individuals associated with the Conservative Party over several years. In some cases, the perpetrators may be “bad apple” activists, but they have avoided censure despite complaints being brought to the attention to those whose job it is to protect the Party’s reputation and credibility. And some instances indicate that the rot goes deeper than a few fringe characters.

On Twitter,  Harris-Quinney has suggested that the allegations against Clarke also reflect on the former party chairman, Grant Shapps. Clarke apparently boasted of reporting directly to Shapps, and Breitbart has published a photo that shows Clarke with “the former special advisor to ex-Tory Chairman Grant Shapps, Paul Abbott… and the Conservative Party’s strategist Jim Messina.” Meanwhile, Zelo Street has a photo of Clarke, Abbott, and Harry Cole – the last of whom has recently graduated from the vicious Guido Fawkes smear-machine to become Westminster Correspondent for the Sun newspaper (with less than impressive results so far). Shapps, of course, has been at the centre of a number of controversies that raise questions of integrity.

Bullying is a perennial problem of human nature, and it can manifest within any group or institution. In some cases, the group attacks outsiders; at other times, the malign impulse is directed inwardly, channelled through power relations. The issue here, however, is that safeguards and systems of accountability were either absent or ignored. It seems to me that it is time for some critical scrutiny of how the Conservative Party handles allegations of bullying; and I support a petition on the subject introduced here.

Guardian Says Culture of Child Abuse “Persists” in US Catholicism

This is a couple of weeks old, but I’ve just seen it and it ought to be commented on. From the Guardian:

Ongoing child sex abuse in Catholic church casts shadow on pope’s US visit

For decades, the locker rooms at Chaminade College Preparatory School in St Louis were a place of terror for several students aged 11 to 18, who as adults have filed lawsuits against the school alleging widespread sexual abuse by its staff.

…The story is a familiar one across the US, where the culture of child sex abuse in Catholic organizations persists.

The story highlights calls by activists for more stringent safeguarding, and criticisms that allegations are being mishandled. However, despite the headline, the article actually focuses on historical cases rather than “ongoing child sex abuse” (the Chaminade College opener refers to allegations relating the 1960s and 1970s); and although the article’s author has clearly decided that these complaints are valid, the phrase “culture of child sex abuse” is jarring.

Not a “culture of complacency”, or a “culture of cover-up” (propositions which I certainly wouldn’t dismiss out-of-hand) – but a culture in which sex with children is regarded as normal, or even encouraged. Catholic churches, schools, hospitals, and other institutions are basically paedophile rings. Really?

It seems to me that this line – introduced into the text casually, as if it isn’t even controversial – is inflammatory and gratuitous. And I really cannot imagine the Guardian writing in such a way about a mainstream non-Christian religious group.

The only specific example of “ongoing abuse” appears elliptically via a link:

Priests accused of sex abuse have been able to move to other states and countries and receive money from local diocese.

The second link above refers to the current circumstances of an elderly priest who committed abuse in 1970s and 1980s, so that’s hardly “ongoing abuse”; the former, however, takes us to a recent article about a Filipino priest in Oregon who appears to have fled the country after evidence came to light that he had been using a hidden camera to spy on a young boy in a bathroom.

The Guardian here heavily implies that the priest has simply been moved along with the Church’s collusion, but the linked source (the Oregonian) makes it clear that the local bishop had placed him on leave and was cooperating with police, and that the priest had left the USA against his wishes.

David Cameron, the Pig Story, and the Media: Some Thoughts

I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t been amused by satirical responses to a recent report that Prime Minister David Cameron, while at university, once indulged in a prurient initiation ceremony – or, alternatively, a drunken prank – that involved placing his genitals into the mouth of a severed pig’s head. There has also been some grim satisfaction that a man who owes so much to the power and influence of News International, and who not long ago went out of his way to kowtow to the revolting Guido Fawkes smear machine, should be on the receiving end of an attempt at personal destruction through salacious muckraking (not to mention the small matter that the Conservative Party under Cameron has failed to act on evidence of paedo-smearing by local-level activists).

However, I can think of several reasons to dry one’s eyes for a moment and reflect:

1. It appears that Cameron broke a promise to Michael Ashcroft that he should never have made; but even so, the publication of this story is still the petulant revenge of a billionaire who felt entitled to buy his way into government.

2. The story is a rumour, and the only way it has made its way into the press is because it has been published in a book funded, and essentially self-published, by a man with a grudge. That means it has appeared without any proper editorial checks and balances. According to Ian Kirby, writing in the Spectator:

When I was the News of the World‘s political editor, I was on the lookout for stories – and for scandal. That’s what political journalists are paid for. But had I gone to Rebekah Brooks or Andy Coulson when they were editing and said that I had a story about David Cameron’s honourable member and a pig’s head, their first question would be: ‘where’s the proof?’

…The easy way for a newspaper to publish a scandal nowadays is simply to serialise a book, preferably one by a ‘name’, and then print whatever they say about someone you know doesn’t have the time or the inclination to sue… The reputation of the author, not the newspaper, is on the line.

There are a number of problems and doubts about the story, which has been sourced from an anonymous MP who claims to have a seen a photo of the incident that is in someone else’s possession. The photograph would have had to have been kept by someone for several years before it became potentially newsworthy; and it seems odd that someone would show the photo around privately but not sell it to a newspaper. The idea of a ceremonial or hazing context for the incident seems to have collapsed, too; according to the Independent:

One insider said: “The Gav [as the club is colloquially known] doesn’t have initiations like other societies – it’s not like that at all, really. Maybe this happened at a Gav event, but I’ve never seen anyone in the Gav do something like that, or even heard of it. Drugs and some tame sex in bushes, maybe. But I’m not sure I believe the story.”

…Another well-placed source, when asked if he believed the claims, said: “Not completely. I imagine how the story came about – there was some sexual debauchery at a Piers Gav party, a pig was around and people have added 2 and 2 to get 5.”

A reminiscence by Aidan Hartley in the Spectator suggests the presence of pigs’ heads may have been conflated from a different context (although they are attested here), and he suggests that Cameron wasn’t even a member of the society anyway. None of this proves that the incident didn’t happen, but any responsible discussion of the story (if we really must have one) needs to include counter-evidence such as this.

Presumably, Ashcroft’s book would have been legalled prior to publication, and the pig story would have been flagged up as a potential libel risk – and the extract published by the Daily Mail raises the possibility of “mistaken identity”, which is token attempt at distancing. Ashcroft is the majority owner of the book’s publisher, Biteback, but the Managing Director (who also owns a share) is of course Iain Dale. Dale, although devious, is an intelligent man, and he would have been able to identify the problems with the story for himself.

On Twitter, Dale has attempted to justify inclusion of the anecdote as a matter of principle, claiming that the alternative would have been censorship; however, when asked whether he had seen the alleged photograph, he became tetchy, telling enquirers that it was “none of your business”. We already know that the answer is “no” (according to the Daily Mail report, “The owner… failed to respond to our approaches”), but such a reply indicates that for Dale to respond plainly would be an admission of not having done his job. Clearly, he is in a difficult position: unable to treat his business partner like an ordinary author, and needing a sensational hook on which to advertise his book, while wanting to maintain the appearance of being a serious and responsible publisher and media figure.

3. The “pig story” has overshadowed the rest of the book (to even Dale’s annoyance), although it seems that the journalist funded by Ashcroft, Isabel Oakeshott, has uncovered some significant material relating to other matters. But what does it say about journalism in the UK that such material has only come to light because of the private resources of a billionaire motivated by spite?

UPDATE: Iain Dale has posted his side of the story:

Well, this week certainly has not been dull. And as with any roller coaster ride, it’s had its highs, its lows, and I’m still a bit dazed. I published and was then damned!

Some of you will say, “serves you right, you shouldn’t publish books that question anything about David Cameron or his government”. To that, I say ‘bollocks’.

That way of presenting critics as putting forward an unreasonable suggestion is a typical Dale move. Of course, nobody is saying any such thing.

As regards the pig story:

I don’t like being censored. And this comes to the crux of the matter on whether the ‘piggate’ story – an anecdote in CALL ME DAVE that caused such a global sensation it almost broke the internet – should have been printed at all. I am still in no doubt it was right to keep it in the book. Whether it would have made the credibility threshold for a newspaper is a side-issue. This is a book, not a newspaper. When I first read it in the manuscript I certainly noticed it was only single-sourced, but the authors were entirely upfront about that. Contrary to much of the sloppy reporting of the story, it was never presented as fact. I was comfortable with the way it was written up and, more to the point, so were the lawyers.

…It is no more than a tale of student high jinxs, and the authors leave readers to judge for themselves whether it happened or not

My view is that it would have been reasonable to have left it out, as being tawdry and unsubstantiated. However, having decided to publish the story, it would have been responsible to have included some proper discussion of plausibility. The authors tell us that “the late Count Gottfried von Bismarck, an Oxford contemporary of Cameron’s, reportedly threw dinner parties featuring the heads of pigs”; presumably this is included as evidence that the story might be true, so why not go into the context more deeply?

And, once again, if Dale is so “comfortable”, why the tetchy “none of your business” response to enquiries about the supposed photo?

Dale also discusses his relationship with Ashcroft:

The other thing that has royally pissed me off this week is that this is some sort of vanity publishing exercise subsidised by Michael Ashcroft. Let me lay that one to rest too. Michael has exactly the same terms as any other of our authors. Same royalties. Same terms and conditions. There has been no subsidy to Biteback Publishing. Not a penny. The only difference is that he is giving his royalties to military charities.

We’ll have to take Dale’s word for it that the manuscript was treated the same way as any other – but when a publisher uses his or her own business venture for their own book, it’s obvious that that creates a certain impression. Ashcroft could have avoided that impression by taking the manuscript somewhere else, as other publisher-authors have sometimes done. The issue of “subsidy” is misdirection; Ashcroft’s funding of the book took the form of supporting Isabel Oakeshott (who presumably did most of the actual work), and  no-one is suggesting that he made any kind extra payment to Biteback to cover costs.

UPDATE 2: Cameron has responded to the claim:

Asked about his feelings towards Ashcroft and the pig allegation, Cameron said: “Everyone can see why the book was written and everyone can see straight through it. As for the specific issue raised, a very specific denial was made a week ago and I’ve nothing to add to that.”

In fact, Downing Street has said nothing about the anecdote on the record, although Conservative sources have described the book’s claims as “utter nonsense” and “untrue”.

UPDATE 3: From among Conservatives, the book has come under particular attack from the former MP Louise Mensch. Writing on her website, she observed:

Oakeshott knew how her quote would be spun – Ashcroft did not. She was the national editor, he is a businessman and pollster. I would bet Lord Ashcroft is shocked and dismayed at how this one unsourced piece of hogwash (eye thank yew) would ruin all the other parts of his work. It was Oakeshott’s job as a journalist to say to her co-author who hired her, ‘Look, we can’t use it because we can’t stand it up.’

As I read it, her alleged “source” doesn’t even claim to have witnessed the pig incident. But he says he knows somebody who did and has a pic. So it’s not single-sourced – it’s zero sourced. She hasn’t got a witness. She’s got a guy who says he knows a guy who knows.

Mensch’s portrayal of Ashcroft as an innocent sold short by Oakeshott is risible, and her sudden conversion to the importance of accuracy and proper sourcing is hard to take. However, her point about the dubious provenance of the pig story is reasonable enough. She pressed the point on Dale’s blog, and also on Twitter, eventually prompting Dale to respond:

You really are a piece of work. I never thought I’d do this but I no longer want to listen to your bile and poison. Blocked.

Followed by:

Fuck. Right. Off.

UPDATE 4: Oakeshott appears to be back-peddling; from the Guardian:

The beastly episode during Cameron’s University of Oxford years was relayed to Oakeshott by an MP, who, she accepted, “could have been slightly deranged”.

“The thing to point out about that story is that there is no need for burden of proof on a colourful anecdote where we’re quite upfront about our own reservations about whether to take it seriously.”

Metropolitan Police Operation Midland Statement: Some Concerns

A (somewhat turgid) statement from the Metropolitan Police:

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) recognises the media’s and the public’s interest in its historic child abuse investigations, and in particular, in Operation Midland. The focus of this investigation is on allegations of the homicide of three young boys. There are also allegations of sexual abuse but the MPS has made clear from the outset that this is, and remains, a murder investigation.

The historic nature of the allegations means this is a complex case where the normal avenues of evidence-gathering from CCTV, DNA and telephone data, are not open to us.

The investigation is also unusual for some another reason: no-one knows who the “three young boys” are supposed to be, and there are no bodies to work with, either. The whole case rests on the testimony of one man, known to the media as “Nick”. Nick claims to have witnessed the killings during his childhood, while he was being victimized by a paedophile gang that included senior military and intelligence figures, the former Prime Minister Ted Heath, and Jimmy Savile. Lack of progress in the case has recently prompted increasingly sceptical and critical comment, including a Dail Mail article that raised questions about Nick’s credibility.

The statement continues:

These cases take time, but the public can have confidence that allegations from witnesses will be investigated thoroughly. We can all see the legacy that has been created by police and other authorities who appeared not to take allegations seriously in the past and the impact that has had on the confidence of victims to come forward.

This sounds reasonable enough, but like most guiding principles needs to be applied sensibly. If someone’s home is to be raided and property seized for months on end, there needs to be more of a reason than just “being thorough”; and natural justice demands that individuals who are being treated as suspects see their cases progress at a reasonable speed. Yet such caveats do not appear to figure anywhere in current police practice.

Continuing:

There are particular challenges where details of the allegations and those facing accusations are in the public domain. This can create potential conflicts between media and criminal investigations, and have an impact on vulnerable witnesses and those accused. This has been especially true in Operation Midland, and we wish to highlight to the media and to the public the risks that our investigation may be compromised. We raised this concern when we initially appealed for more witnesses and it continues to be an issue.

One might have more sympathy for that view if were not the fact that allegations against the accused have been widely aired with the cooperation of “Nick”. Exaro News, which acts as Nick’s media handlers, has published a number of lurid articles based on Nick’s testimony, while at the same time expressing indignation that that one of those accused – the former MP Harvey Proctor – has dared to assert his innocence and to complain about how the police have handled the case.

Further:

We also need to clarify our investigative stance in cases of this kind.

Our starting point with allegations of child sexual abuse or serious sexual assault is to believe the victim until we identify reasonable cause to believe otherwise… 

This is worrying. It’s reasonable to start from the assumption that a complainant is non-delusional and making a statement in good faith; but that is a working methodology, not a statement of faith. Belief means identifying with the complainant, with two unhappy consequences: first, the investigation is likely to become skewed by “confirmation bias”; second, observers will assume that there must be a strong case against the accused, if law-enforcement professionals are already convinced.

That is why, at the point at which we launched our initial appeal on Midland, after the witness had been interviewed for several days by detectives specialising in homicide and child abuse investigations, our senior investigating officer stated that he believed our key witness and felt him to be ‘credible’. Had he not made that considered, professional judgment, we would not have investigated in the way we have.

The police are here attempting to get away with a bit of sleight-of-hand. Det Supt Kenny McDonald did not say late last year that Nick is credible: he said that Nick’s claims were “credible and true”. We now know that Nick’s claims were actually bizarre and highly extraordinary, even though he may have presented himself in a way that was credible. One allegation in particular, that he was saved from castration at a VIP paedophile orgy due to the intervention of Ted Heath, stretches the bounds of credulity to breaking point (which is why, I suspect, Exaro refrained from mentioning it).

We must add that whilst we start from a position of believing the witness, our stance then is to investigate without fear or favour, in a thorough, professional and impartial fashion, and to go where the evidence takes us without prejudging the truth of the allegations. That is exactly what has happened in this case.

The integrity of our investigation is paramount, and the public can have confidence that allegations of homicide are being investigated thoroughly. Our officers have the resources to test all the evidence, and we have not yet completed this task. It is then for the Crown Prosecution Service to make a decision on whether to prosecute.

It looks to me that the buck is here being prepared to be passed. My understanding is that the police will refer a case to the CPS if they think there is evidence that a crime has occurred. However, if their investigation finds no evidence – or discovers counter-evidence – they have the power to wind it up without needing to involve the CPS at all.

More significantly, only a jury can decide on the truth of allegations after hearing all the evidence. We should always reflect that in our language and we acknowledge that describing the allegations as ‘credible and true’ suggested we were pre-empting the outcome of the investigation. We were not. We always retain an open mind as we have demonstrated by conducting a thorough investigation.

Some media reports have framed this as the police admitting that the “credible and true” claim was a mistake, although it seems to me rather more mealy-mouthed than that. Alison Saunders of the CPS responded to this part of the statement by saying that the police “perhaps have acknowledged today that they overstepped the mark in saying it might have been true”; this looks to me to be a polite attempt to toss the hot potato back to the Met.

Continuing:

In this respect, our approach in Operation Midland is the same as if we were investigating a contemporary rape allegation. Anyone familiar with the history of child abuse and rape investigations will recall that for many years, the first instinct of investigators appeared to be to disbelieve those making the allegations, which had a negative impact on people’s confidence to report to the police or other authorities. This undoubtedly led to crimes going unreported and un-investigated, and we do not want to return to that situation.

We’re all aware of “the bad old days”, but it seems to me that MPS ought to reflect on the possibility that they are overcompensating.

The statement goes on to remind the media to be careful when it comes to reporting cases involving “vulnerable individuals”, before adding:

…Our other main concern is the risk that media investigations will affect the process of gathering and testing evidence in our criminal investigation. In recent weeks, one journalist reporting on Operation Midland has shown the purported real identity of someone making an allegation of sexual assault to a person who has disclosed that they have been questioned by police concerning those allegations. This action has a number of potential impacts.

First, for those who have made allegations of sexual abuse, it is extremely distressing to discover that their identity might have been given to anyone else, particularly if that is to someone who may be involved in the case. Secondly, possible victims or witnesses reading the article may believe their identities could be revealed as well, which could deter them from coming forward. Ultimately, that could make it harder for allegations to be proved or disproved. This might not just deter those who could provide information for this investigation but also concern anyone thinking of coming forward with sexual abuse allegations. Finally, the potential disclosure by a journalist of a name may possibly hamper an investigation. Names will be disclosed by police to those involved in the case, but that will be at the appropriate time for the investigation depending on how those lines of enquiry progress…

In the case of “Nick”, it seems likely that his real identity has been known to the journalistic community for a long time – he has given various interviews, including one in the summer of 2014 for a documentary about Jimmy Savile, before he became involved with  Exaro and tales of murder. The law forbids publication or broadcast of his name without his consent, but that does not prevent its private circulation.

Nick’s real name was apparently put to Proctor by James Hanning of the Independent. According to Hanning:

I have met Proctor, and in a list of names I asked him about, I included what I believe to be Nick’s real name. It produced not a flicker. Hardly conclusive, but for what it’s worth, my strong belief is that he still doesn’t know who Nick is.

Obviously, outsiders ought to tread very carefully when dealing with people involved with police investigations, and I would hesitate before attempting this kind of amateur experiment. But while there obviously may be special circumstances in which it would be sensible to withhold an accuser’s name from a suspect, the practice seems to me to be undesirable and tending away from what is naturally just.

Finally, after a couple more paragraphs:

…We expect the challenges for media and police alike to continue once witnesses start to give evidence to the Goddard Inquiry. We think it is important, therefore, to offer this context now so that journalists and police officers can continue to do their job, and pursue a shared interest in justice for victims and fairness to those facing allegations.

That’s a good sentiment; but it would be good if the police could “continue to do their job” with some discernment and speed.

“VIP Child Sex and Murder” Accusers Profiled

“As a sign of respect (they said) I had to wear a poppy. So they would pin one directly to my chest and hurt me badly”

The Daily Mail and the Sunday Telegraph have published remarkable background pieces on “Nick” and “Darren”, the two anonymous “VIP child sex and murder” accusers who for the best part of the last year have provided a seemingly never-ending stream of sensational copy for the internet news agency Exaro News. In the case of Nick, his allegations led earlier this year to police raids on the homes of Lord Bramall, the former MP Harvey Proctor, and the late Leon Brittan. Exaro has invested heavily in Nick, and given that Nick only talks to other news sources with Exaro‘s approval, it is reasonable to describe the agency as his media handler.

Nick in the Daily Mail

The Mail‘s piece on Nick comes in the wake of an article the paper published a couple of weeks ago, headlined as “VIP Child Abuse Inquiry is Starting to Unravel”, which I discussed here.

According to the reporters, the new article is based on material from sources “including his lurid accounts on the internet and leaked police documents.” These “lurid accounts” were posted under a different name and have for the most part recently been removed, but they show how Nick’s allegations have grown over the years – and that Exaro has failed to report certain fantastical elements from his story.

I do, however, have a caveat: sex abuse complainants have a legal right to anonymity in the UK, and it looks to me that this article pushes the envelope somewhat. Anyone who knows the man would recognise him in an instant, both from incidental personal details and from the minimal pixellation on his face in one picture, which is little more than a vague blur. As such, I’m not providing a direct link for the time being.

The main points, though, are as follows:

1. Nick’s first allegations concerned a relative, and they were not investigated because the man was already dead. Nick then alleged that the relative had passed him to a paedophile ring. However, only later did he come to claim that the ring included VIPs, and only later still did he come to allege at first one, and then three, murders.

The report says that Nick first approached the police in 2012; it was later the same year that

Tom Watson made an extraordinary speech in the Commons asking David Cameron about claims of a ‘powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No 10’.

…One of the people who supplied Watson with intelligence and information was a former child protection officer called Peter McKelvie. In the aftermath of Mr Watson’s barnstorming performance in the House, Mr McKelvie spotted a tweet from a possible victim which read: ‘I was abused by the gang.’

The report also states that “allegedly, Jimmy Savile, predominantly a lone predator with a preference for girls, not boys, also attended the sex parties”. Although not mentioned in the article, Nick had expanded on this in a television documentary about Jimmy Savile that was broadcast in the summer of 2014. The programme stated that Nick (appearing under a different pseudonym) had first contacted police in the wake of the first posthumous allegations against Savile – which was a few weeks prior to Watson’s speech. [1])

2. Nick claims that one of the boys who was murdered was his friend, but “it appears he has been unable to tell police who he is.” In the case of another boy, who was run down by a car in Kingston upon Thames as a warning: “We could find no contemporary newspaper article about it. Nor, evidently, can police.”

3. Nick claims to have been taken to France in a private plane, where he was abused by Saudi royals in Paris.

4. Nick claims that he was subjected to bizarre ritualistic torture at the hands of soldiers:

‘I know poppies are a symbol of respect for those that have lost their lives during wars, however for me, they lost their meaning once the soldiers that hurt me physically pinned them to my bare skin.

‘I see poppies as a symbol of their hatred towards me. As a sign of respect (they said) I had to wear a poppy. So they would pin one directly to my chest and hurt me badly.

‘Once one was done, the next would unpin the poppy and move it to another part of my chest and do the same. They would all take turns until they had all had enough. The pain from the pin was nothing compared to the other pain, but it added to the humiliation.’

This seems to be a “secular” variant on Satanic Ritual Abuse; just as SRA accusations involve perverse distortions of Christian practices, here a benign and commonplace ritual of social memory is twisted in a grotesque and horrible way.

Perhaps this particular story was not told to Exaro, but it’s also possible that Exaro knew of it but decided not to publish it. We do know, for instance, that Exaro chose not to run an incredible story in which Nick was rescued from castration at a sex party by the intervention of former Prime Minister Ted Heath [2].

5. Nick has been in therapy. The fact that his claims have become increasingly extravagant during this time ought to raise alarm bells: could Nick have been subjected to the same sort of pseudo-therapy that blighted the last days of the late Carol Felstead? Felstead was brought to believe that she had been raped with a claw hammer in Conservative Central Office, among other things.

Darren and the Sunday Telegraph

It was recently reported that police have closed another investigation involving a supposed “survivor” promoted by Exaro: this is “Darren”, who in August 2014 featured on the BBC News website under the name of “Michael”. According to the BBC report:

His account of abuse spans several years at different locations. On the surface these episodes of abuse might appear unrelated, but Michael believes they were connected in that an abuser who knew an abuser knew an abuser.

…In 1992 he was moved to the Stowmarket home of a single male foster carer where he was to remain for about six months.

The abuse started on the fourth night and escalated, says Michael, from being asked to perform sex acts (to then being told he was dirty and threatened about reporting the abuse) to rape.

Michael was taken on “trips away” to Plymouth, Portsmouth, Wrexham, Cornwall and Islington, where he would be expected to perform sex acts for other abusers.

…On leaving Stowmarket, Michael describes living in “slave” conditions on a country estate in Suffolk where he came into contact with the now dead Peter Righton, a consultant to the National Children’s Bureau who was eventually unmasked as a paedophile. Righton repeatedly sexually abused him, Michael claims.

The report also notes that the foster carer was later “convicted of sexually abusing another boy”.

As with Nick’s earliest accounts, the report is significant for what is missing. There is no reference to Dolphin Square (where in January he said saw a girl being taken into another room to be killed), or to a murder that appears in an account that Darren later gave to Exaro, in which Righton supposedly forced Darren to tie a man with Down’s syndrome to two cars, which then reversed away from each other.

Doubts appeared in the Sunday Times last week:

Darren… claimed to have fallen into the hands of the VIP paedophile ring at the age of 15 when he undertook work experience at Thornham Magna estate in Suffolk.

At the time, he said, the known paedophile Peter Righton was renting a house on the estate after his conviction for possessing child pornography in 1992.

He claimed Righton was involved in the killing of a man in his thirties on the estate and that he knew of a girl who had died during a VIP paedophile party at the Dolphin Square apartment block in Westminster where Righton took him on a number of occasions in 1993.

But Suffolk police have investigated all the claims and found no evidence to support his account. In fact, police sources say Darren had never come into contact with Righton or worked at the estate when Righton lived there.

That last paragraph makes it clear that one of Darren’s claims is not just “unsubstantiated”, but has actually been rejected as false.

Exaro, however, has preferred to highlight Darren’s explanation for the end of the investigation, which is that it came to a premature conclusion because the police had referred his child to social services and he had therefore decided to withdraw cooperation (as noted below, he also has other criticisms of the police) [3]. However, the referral did not lead to the child being taken into care or any other intervention. It seems odd that a police force that thought Darren’s account might be true would be willing to allow a man who had claimed to have been an accessory to murder – albeit unwillingly – to walk away.

Now, however, the Sunday Telegraph has some further background:

* Darren had been previously sentenced to two years in jail for making hoax bomb calls, nuisance and threatening calls about neighbours and criminal damage

* he falsely confessed to the murder of a prostitute in the midst of a high profile police manhunt in the 1990s

* a judge accused him of telling “some pretty whopping lies” at the conclusion of a court case 15 years ago

Like the BBC piece, the article confirms that Darren was indeed placed with a foster carer who had committed abuse, and it explains that as a result he was “diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder”. The detail about his false confession sheds more context on a detail in the BBC report, that he “was arrested on suspicion of rape and murder in 1994 – he was found to have had nothing to do with either crime” [4].

The Telegraph piece also includes a response from Exaro:

Mark Watts, Exaro’s editor-in-chief, said: “Darren certainly had a troubled start to his life, as is often – although not always – true for survivors of child sex abuse, but you have been badly misinformed about his past.

“We cannot go into any detail about his past because we cannot say anything that could help to identify a confidential source, especially a vulnerable witness.”

On Twitter, Exaro is currently claiming that Darren is being “smeared by dubious sources”; there is not even a token attempt at critical distance from promoting Darren’s claims as fact. A few months ago, Darren was alleging on Twitter that “Senior management from @SuffolkPolice have ordered a cover up of my allegations and set out from the beginning to discredit all survivors” and “that @SuffolkPolice management approached my employers and told them I unsuitable to work there”.

So are we to believe that Darren’s history of erratic behaviour and disconnection from reality has simply been made up as part of the conspiracy? That would be a sensational story. But in the case of Nick, Exaro has batted away criticism by repeatedly citing the police view (expressed by  Det Supt Kenny McDonald last December) that his story is “credible and true”; yet in this instance we are supposed to believe that the police are rotten and corrupt. And where does all this background leave a claim that appeared in the Mirror in January, that “he lives in hiding, fearing for his own life”?

Exaro really needs to explain itself a bit better than this. As with some of Nick’s more lurid claims, it appears that the news agency has decided not to report details that are central for assessing the credibility of its source [5].

Context

“VIP abuse” claims have come under increasing critical scrutiny in recent weeks, as published allegations have become increasingly fantastical, and in the wake of Proctor’s press conference. However, most articles have been commentary pieces that simply discussed material already in the public domain, or updates on the police investigations (Operations Midland and Milipond) based on information from police sources (either on-the-record statements or “leaks”). The new articles today [6] are the first time that Nick and Darren themselves have been subjected to journalistic investigation.

The papers’ decision to run critical pieces may also have been prompted by the recent rise of Tom Watson to Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and the Mail article in particular is unable to resist getting in a few digs. I think that Watson ought to have been more circumspect when he decided to involve himself in publicising individuals’ claims, although it should be noted that these were not the basis on which he raised the question of VIP sex abuse in parliament in 2012.

It should also be remembered that Watson wasn’t the only one to be impressed by Exaro‘s alleged “survivors” : earlier this year John Mann MP was boasting about having a list of names that he had passed to police, and he suggested that the raid on Proctor’s home would be “the first of many” investigations.

The Mail also highlights Exaro‘s “close links to Labour”, but it should be recalled that the Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has not been hesitant in making paedophile allegations against a senior Labour figure (not named publicly, although it’s obvious who he’s getting at).

Footnotes

[1] The documentary also included included input from Guy Marsden, who is Jimmy Savile’s nephew. Marsden claims he saw his uncle at paedophile sex parties in the late 1960s and 1970s, and that although he himself was not touched, his friends were abused. However, it should be noted that (a) Marsden did not mention any of this until after Savile’s reputation had been destroyed – before then, he had only praise for his late his uncle; (b) in August this year, Marsden suddenly revealed that Ted Heath had also been in attendance. This came just days after other allegations against Heath had appeared in the media. Further background here.

[2] Nick also claims to have to have been abused by Lord Janner. However, although Janner is soon to face a “trial of the facts” relating to allegations by other complainants, Nick’s accusations will not feature in this, and he’s the only one linking Janner to organised “VIP abuse” in London.

[3] There is a video of an event recorded last year featuring a man from Suffolk who claims to have been trafficked to London. His story is very similar to that of “Darren”, although no murders are mentioned. The man, who gives a different name in the video, claims that police falsely suggested he had a mental health problem and had referred him to social services ahead of the birth of his son. However, his dating would place the rupture with police as having been in August 2014 rather than more recently.

[4] The article also states, rather oddly, that “The Telegraph is aware of Darren’s real identity but has chosen not to name him over fears he remains vulnerable.” Well, that and the fact that it would be illegal to do so (unless he has waived it somewhere).

[5] A third source working with Exaro is Esther Baker, who has waived her legal right to anonymity. Baker claims to have been abused in the Midlands, although she also says that Darren’s account of a supposed “medical room” in Dolphin Square where torture took place led her to realise that she had also been abused there. In turn, Darren has reportedly identified Baker from a photograph (Exaro‘s David Hencke has reported both claims regarding the Baker/Darren corroboration, but for some reason they don’t appear together in the same article anywhere, at least so far as I can see).

[6] The Sunday Telegraph article was published on Saturday evening.

(Updated)

Bishop Peter Ball: A Reminiscence

From the website of George Conger, early last year:

The former Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt. Rev. Peter Ball, who was arrested in November 2012 on suspicion of child abuse, has not been charged following an 18 month investigation by detectives from Sussex Police.

On 28 Jan 2014, the Crown Prosecution Service said it was still considering the case against Bishop Ball, who was arrested in his Somerset home in November 2012 as part of Operation Dunhill. The bishop was reported to have been taken ill following his arrest.

…The late Bishop of Chichester, the Rt. Rev. Eric Kemp, was skeptical of the veracity of the charges brought against Bishop Ball. In his 2006 memoirs, Shy But Not Retiring, Bishop Kemp stated: “Although it was not realized at the time, the circumstances which led to his early resignation were the work of mischief makers.”

Here is a fuller quote from this passage, which appears on page 183:

[Ball] was not well received [as Bishop of Gloucester] and was not happy. Although it was not realized at the time, the circumstances which led to his early resignation were the work of mischief-makers. It was a very sad end to his ministry and his departure was a real loss to the Church which was, no doubt, what those who brought it about intended. [1]

This is somewhat enigmatic, although it seems to imply that there was more than one accuser.

And now, from the Guardian:

Peter Ball, the former bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, pleaded guilty on Tuesday morning to two counts of indecent assault relating to two young men and one charge of misconduct in public office, which relates to the sexual abuse of 16 young men over a period of 15 years from 1977-1992.

…On Tuesday, the Crown Prosecution Service allowed two charges of indecently assaulting two boys in their early teens to lie on file. The deal, hammered out in secret with CPS lawyers, means Ball will not face trial on perhaps the most serious alleged offences, which involved boys aged 13 and 15.

I can remember when the initial allegation against Ball was announced on the news towards the end of 1992, and I must confess that at the time I didn’t believe it. As suffragan Bishop of Lewes he had been a much-liked figure, noted for his warm humour, gentleness, and spirituality; in his monastic garb, he was also somewhat exotic. On one occasion he gave a talk at my high school, and when he mentioned that he accepted guests at his home who wished to experience something of monastic simplicity, a friend and I were intrigued enough to arrange a stay of a few days. His official bishop’s residence was quite comfortable, although I did take a peek at his bedroom and saw that it was kept bare, apart from a mattress. There were some other men staying in the house at the time, of various ages; they all seemed to be a thoughtful and happy crowd.

Ball at first denied the 1992 allegation, but then accepted a police caution in early 1993. That, of course, was an admission of guilt – and it had come only reluctantly, despite a statement in which he had mentioned his “great penitence and sorrow”. I was particularly taken aback that he had at first intended to brazen out the scandal with a harmful and cold-blooded lie, allowing his colleagues and friends to add to the victim’s pain and distress through well-intentioned but misguided expressions of support and sympathy that he knew that he did not deserve.

The caution, and the expression of sadness from the Archbishop of Canterbury after Ball’s resignation, left the impression that there had been some sort of unfortunate grope in a moment of weakness; however, a 2012 interview with the victim, by videolink from Australia, made it very clear that the abuse he had experienced aged 17 was over an extended period and had occurred within a context of calculated and manipulative behaviour [2]. The man, Neil Todd, was articulate and appeared to have made a new life for himself, but it was reported soon afterwards that he had died from an insulin overdose; the new reports in the wake of Ball’s guilty pleas now make clear that this was suicide.

It seemed to me obvious that it was highly unlikely that a man would give in to a predatory urge for the first time in his life at the age of 61, and we now know from reports published yesterday that the caution was also part of a deal that he hoped would mean that other allegations would not be looked into. We also now know that the historical complaint referring to a 13-year-old boy was made to police in 1996, which was while Kemp was still in post as Bishop of Chichester – and a good ten years before his “mischief-makers” slur against Todd appeared in his memoir. Kemp really doesn’t have any excuse.

Looking back, one of course looks for signs:  I recall there was mention of an ascetic practice that involved naked prayer, which I didn’t quite like the sound of; and that he expressed the view that Billy Graham placed an overemphasis on sexual sin. In retrospect, the whole medievalising monastic pose seems theatrical, and the disarming other-worldliness an affectation.

In recent days I have written posts in which I have expressed scepticism of lurid tales about VIP sex abuse and murder in the 1980s. However, my view has always been that each case must be taken on its merits, and there is strong evidence that Ball was given special consideration because of his position – in other words, in this instance a “cover up” occurred.

UPDATE (16 September):

The Sunday Times has run an interview with Cliff James, who was assaulted by Ball the year before Todd. The article (with a different headline) is also available on the journalist’s website. It includes the detail:

The late Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp, reportedly told Ball to “stop inviting young men” to his house. But when Kemp wrote his memoirs, he described the boys who spoke out about their abuse as “mischief-makers”.

It’s not clear where this “reportedly” has come from – presumably it’s a piece of evidence that emerged in files that went to the police, and to which James was given access. Further:

James was 17 in 1991 when he learnt of an unofficial “youth scheme” developed by Ball, a close friend of the Prince of Wales. The “bishop’s young men” spent a year living with the cleric, doing chores and quasi-monastic work in his opulent house in East Sussex.

I’d describe the house as “plush” rather than “opulent”, although, as stated above, it appeared to me that Ball maintained some personal asceticism.

James could not have known that the bishop had engineered his programme to molest dozens of young people. He says he had concerns as early as the first interview, when Ball told him that he would have to have cold showers every morning, supervised by the bishop…

…The showers duly took place and gradually, says James, the “mind games and manipulation” increased, leading to beatings, always under the guise of religion, and increasingly sexual demands.

…After months of abuse James confronted Ball: “He physically recoiled from me: I think he was terrified I might speak to someone. He said he was worried about it all getting into the papers and he kept saying that everything had been consensual.”

I remember that he mentioned the benefits of cold showers to my friend and me, explaining that he was used to them due to having been to a private school. However, he did not make the suggestion to us that showers required supervision.

The claim about consent here is slightly mysterious – until 2001, it was illegal to engage in sexual activity with any male under the age of 21. James was 17, which meant that Ball would not have been able to rely on a defence of consent. The law was problematic and homophobic (being unequal with the lower age of consent for heterosexual and lesbian relationships), but its application to punish obviously predatory behaviour would not have raised many complaints.

UPDATE (8 October): Ball has now been sentenced to prison; more thoughts on this from me here.

Footnotes

[1] Oddly, although the book has been scanned by Google Books and can be browsed using the “Preview” function, searches relating to this page (and some other pages) no longer bring up results. However, I do remember this passage being visible previously.

[2] Some of this appears to have been known at the time; the conservative evangelical clergyman Tony Higton wrote an attack on Carey’s handling of the affair in the Christian Herald, in which – as summarised by Ruth Gledhill in the Times – he pointed out that “some of the abuses were allegedly in a religious context, which made them blasphemous” (“Carey ‘made light of bishop’s sin'”, The Times, March 24, 1993)

Reyaad Khan: Dead Again

A Tweet from Shiraz Maher of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King’s College London, 20 July:

The Tweet was picked up widely in the media; according to the Guardian (21 July):

On social media, an account believed to belong to a female British jihadi in Syria said on 17 July that “Abu Dujana” ( a name used for Khan) had been “lost”. Employing a term used by jihadis to describe dead fighters, she went on to describe him as having become a “green bird”.

Similarly, the Daily Mail reported that:

Like many British jihadis, Khan was a frequent Twitter user with multiple posts daily, but his last tweet came on July 6 – the day before he was reportedly killed.

It comes after a number of Islamic State supporters claimed he had died on Twitter. 

British jihadi convert Raphael Hostey, 22, from Manchester, who is said to lure Britons to become ISIS fighters or jihadi brides in Syria, reported it.

Under the name Abu Qaqa, Hostey tweeted: ‘I remember Abu Dujana Britani said he wanted shahada [martyrdom] in Ramadan.’

However, a few weeks later, on 2 September, the BBC had further details – and a later death date:

A Cardiff man who is one of three from the city to have joined a jihadist group in Syria has died, BBC Wales has been told.

Reyaad Khan, 21, was killed in a US drone strike at the end of August.

Officials from the Jalalia mosque in Riverside said the death was confirmed by his family at Friday prayers.

…In July, there was widespread media speculation that Reyaad Khan had been killed in an earlier missile attack in Syria but the BBC was unable to confirm those reports at the time.

And a few days after that, from 7 September:

A Cardiff jihadist who was one of three men from the city to have joined a group in Syria was killed by the RAF.

Reyaad Khan, 21, died on 21 August, along with another man, in a “precision airstrike” in Syria, the Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday.

Addressing MPs, Mr Cameron said: “Both Junaid Hussain and Reyaad Khan, were British nationals based in Syria who were involved in actively recruiting ISIL sympathisers and seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks against the west including directing a number of planned terrorist attacks right here in Britain, such as plots to attack high profile public commemorations, including those taking place this summer.”

On 8 August, it was reported that “police and MI5 are involved in a frantic race against time” to thwart a planned terrorist attack on the Queen on VJ Day that was “being orchestrated from Syria by Islamic State commanders”. However, despite considerable press coverage, Khan’s name not emerge again at the time.

Cameron’s announcement comes in the wake of calls for British military action in Syria as a response to the refugee crisis; the Sun newspaper has been particularly bullish on the issue, suggesting that bombing raids would be “for Aylan” (the drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi) and headlining the current Labour leadership candidates as “cowards” for not approving them.

It seems to me that:

(a) The ICSR should have been more circumspect about being “confident” on 20 July. I suspect the lure of easy media interest was too great.

(b) The BBC simply assumed on 2 September that Khan must have been killed by a “US drone strike”. This was a reasonable assumption, but it appears to have resulted in incorrect information being reported as fact.

UPDATE (later same day): The Guardian reports:

The prime minister told MPs on Monday that Reyaad Khan was killed in an air strike on 21 August as he travelled in a vehicle near Raqqah in Syria… Junaid Hussain, another Briton, was killed in a US air strike three days later as part of a joint operation after intelligence suggested that Khan and Hussain were plotting to attack the VE Day ceremony, presided over by the Queen on 10 May, and an Armed Forces Day ceremony to mark the death of Lee Rigby.

However, the “VE Day” in May detail is perhaps an error; various other sources, including the Telegraph, reported yesterday that (emphases added):

Khan, 21, was targeted after it emerged he was leading a plot to attack the VJ Day commemoration services in London in August, government sources said.

Cameron’s statement on the subject is non-specific. It is curious that reports about Khan’s plot reached the media on 8 August, but not the news that reports of Khan’s death in July had been erroneous.

(H/T Peter Jukes)

Exaro Responds to Daily Mail on VIP Sex Abuse Claims

In the wake of yesterday’s Daily Mail “VIP Child Abuse Inquiry is Starting to Unravel” front-page splash, Mark Watts of Exaro has written a justification of the news site’s reporting on the subject. Exaro has invested heavily in claims being made by a man using the pseudonym “Nick”, who claims to have experienced nine years of child abuse in the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s at the hands of a group of VIPs that included the heads of MI5 and MI6, the head of the army, former Prime Minister Ted Heath, and former MPs Harvey Proctor and Leon Brittan, among others. “Nick” also claims that the group murdered three boys: two were supposedly killed during parties, while a third was run over in a street in south London as a “warning” to him. However, according to a police leak to the Daily Mail, “not one shred of credible evidence” has emerged, and there are now concerns that Nick is a fantasist.

The Mail‘s report came in the wake of a press conference by Proctor, at which he revealed further details of Nick’s specific claims and complained bitterly about how his life had been ruined by the way that the police are handling the allegations. In particular, Det Supt Kenny McDonald had declared Nick’s account to be “credible and true” before he had begun investigating the matter in December; in recent days, Watts has been asserting over and over again that the police regard Nick as “credible” [1].

Since the press conference, Watts and Exaro have been using Twitter to complain about critical commentary pieces in the media, and Watts’s article, entitled “Analysis: Why Police Continue to Investigate Claims by ‘Nick'”, appeared last night:

Journalists at a Press briefing at Scotland Yard last December were truly taken aback by the comment that detectives regarded the witness’s account as credible.

We at Exaro were not so surprised. We knew what they thought.

And we knew why.

We cannot at this stage explain the main reason for this assessment on credibility for fear of interfering with the criminal investigation.

This makes something of a mockery of the article’s headline, which explicitly promises just such an explanation. Further, Watts does not address a reason that was given in the Daily Mail:

Police initially took Nick’s account seriously because he has a respectable managerial job and does ‘not fit the stereotype of a child abuse fantasist’

Perhaps Watts is thinking of endorsements from two MPs, Tom Watson and John Mann – Proctor’s name was on a list that Mann boasted about having given to police, and when Proctor’s home was raided in March he crowed that Proctor would be the first of many to be investigated. But if these are the reasons, why not say so? Instead, we are simply to take on trust that Nick has credible evidence that would mean re-writing the recent political history of the UK. Such evidence would be earth-shattering, yet for some reason it has not led to arrests or charges after a nine-month investigation (although one of those accused, Leon Brittan, died of cancer earlier this year).

Watts then digresses into a discussion of Exaro’s reporting on other subjects, as evidence of the site’s credibility, before returning to the matter at hand:

Two independent witnesses provided accounts of how they were sexually abused as boys by VIPs at Dolphin Square, an apartment complex near Parliament.

We called one of those witnesses, ‘Nick’… We limited our report to what had been corroborated.

It should be remembered that rumours about abusive goings on at Dolphin Square have been in the public domain for more than twenty years (most famously published in Scallywag magazine in the early 1990s); this seriously qualifies, but does not discredit, what is meant by “independent witnesses”. [2]

Watts also highlights that Exaro only referred to the murder allegations after Nick had spoken to police, and his statement that “we limited our report to what had been corroborated” sounds cautious and responsible. However, it is actually self-serving: at his press conference, Proctor revealed that one allegation was that he had wanted to castrate Nick at a sex party, but that Ted Heath had intervened to prevent it. This is outlandish, for a number of reasons. I think it would be more accurate for Watts to say “we limited our report to what we thought people might be willing to swallow”.  There is some sleight-of-hand here: when it suits, Nick’s sensational testimony is itself the story (hence the “credible” mantra), but at other times it’s merely a source for the alleged events themselves, to be used only when corroborated. The upshot is that readers can only assess Nick’s credibility through Exaro‘s very partial filter.

Watts continues by noting some incorrect details that have appeared in some media reports (previously discussed by me here), and ends with a dark conspiratorial hint:

Will the Met’s top-brass order Operation Midland to be shelved? If it did, it would not be the first investigation to be pulled prematurely.

“Prematurely” here meaning “after no evidence was found after nine months”. Still, if that does happen, Exaro will at least be free at last to reveal its secret information pertaining to Nick’s credibility.

Footnotes

[1] It is perhaps worth noting the subtle shift from the original assertion, that what Nick says is “credible and true”, to Watts’s emphasis on Nick as a “credible” person.

[2] Three other figures have also come forward to allege historic sex abuse at Dolphin Square, having waived their legal right to anonymity in the UK: these are Richard Kerr, a former rent-boy who claims to have been trafficked to London from the Kincora Boys’ Home in Northern Ireland in the 1970s; Esther Baker, who claims to have been abused by VIPs in woodlands in Staffordshire and taken down to Dolphin Square by night (this would have been in the late 1980s or early 1990s); and “Darren“, who says he saw a girl taken away to a “medical room” at the location, where he believes she was killed. Baker says that she only realised she had been taken to London when she read about this “medical room”; in turn, Darren has reportedly identified Baker from a photograph (Exaro‘s David Hencke has reported both claims regarding the Baker/Darren corroboration, but for some reason they don’t appear together in the same article anywhere, at least so far as I can see).

VIP Abuse Claims: Daily Mail Turns on “Nick”

A dramatic front-page splash from the Daily Mail:

VIP child abuse inquiry is starting to unravel: ‘Grave doubts’ emerge over key witness’s claim that he saw boys murdered

Alleged abuse victim ‘Nick’ is ‘credible and true’, Met source said last year

Yet officers have not found a ‘shred of credible evidence’ to back up claims

‘Nick’ says Establishment figures murdered three boys in 1970s and 1980s

But there are now fears he is a ‘Walter Mitty’ who made up shocking claims

The story appears to have caught Exaro News off-guard; its output on Twitter yesterday evening showed that the site was looking forward the Daily Mail running a piece on how “senior Tories” were unimpressed by Harvey Proctor’s claim that Nick’s allegations against him were the result of a “homosexual witch-hunt”. There must have been dismay when the paper instead attacked Nick’s credibility so uncompromisingly.

Exaro‘s response:

The claim that “VIP abuse inquiry is starting to unravel” is false. Police continue to pursue what they STILL see as credible evidence.

Exaro has been repeating the word “credible” over and over again during the past week, despite the mantra’s failure to quell growing unease and critical commentary on the subject of “Nick” and his awful disclosures.

What are all too “credible”, though, are the quotes in the Mail article, from unnamed “sources”. For example:

A source said: ‘When he contacted police, he had a well-rehearsed script and initially appeared believable. But when you scratch under the surface of his claims, there is nothing there.

‘The notion of an organised paedophile gang of a former prime minister, MPs and Establishment figures is just nonsense.

‘Police have not been able to identify any victims. There is not one shred of credible evidence to support his allegations. The police investigation has been exhaustive but they have drawn a blank.’

The Met has been investigating Nick’s “VIP” allegations for the best part of a year now, without making any arrests, and Harvey Proctor’s press conference revealed that Exaro had suppressed some of Nick’s most extravagant accusations – including the claim that Nick had been rescued from castration at a paedophile orgy by the presence of former Prime Minister Ted Heath.

Of course, the Mail is simply following the mood – up until very recently, the paper has been more than willing to use Nick to fuel sensationalism on the subject of “VIP abuse”. On 26 August, for instance, it ran with a subheading declaring “he has handed over written and video evidence”; only far into the story is it clarified that this refers to a “written account of his ordeal and three days of videotaped evidence.” It is difficult to see how the conflation of handing over evidence and giving evidence (by making a video statement) could have been made in good faith.

The Mail may also have turned against Nick for another reason; as the paper reported on 28 August:

Exaro this week refused to let Nick talk to the Mail, even by phone and with his voice disguised, in order to preserve his anonymity. This is despite Exaro’s decision to let him speak last November to a Sunday tabloid (which produced an uncritical front-page story spelling out some of his allegations) and to BBC Radio’s World At One, when his version of events went unchallenged.

Experience has shown that the Daily Mail has no objection in principle to false accusers with sensational stories that can be turned into easy copy – but if a goose refuses to lay a golden egg it will very quickly find itself being cooked [1].

UPDATE: Exaro Responds to Daily Mail on VIP Sex Abuse Claims

Footnote

[1] It was also recently reported that plans by BBC’s Panorama to run a critical documentary about Nick and his allegations have been shelved due to opposition from the BBC News team, who feared losing access to alleged victims if the programme went ahead.

*The Daily Mail website has introduced a typo into the headline, thus: “VIP child abuse inquiry is staring to unravel”

Senior Child Abuse Lawyer Warns of “Secret Societies” and “Sacrifice of Children”

The Justice Gap has today published two opposing articles on Harvey Proctor’s recent press conference, by Peter Garsden and Matthew Scott. Garsden takes the view that Proctor ought not to be “attempting to manipulate the press and public into believing that he is innocent in advance of any criminal charges”, whereas Matthew argues that “that would be a strong argument, were it not for the fact that Mr Proctor has had to endure month after month of smear, and its inseparable buddy innuendo, suggesting that he is guilty of the most appalling crimes that it is possible to imagine: child rape and child murder.” Matthew places much of the blame for this with Exaro News, whose approach to the subject I discussed a few days ago.

Garsden is Executive Officer of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, and Matthew gives him due credit for his successes in securing compensation for victims of abuse. However, he also notes some troubling beliefs expressed on Garsden’s website:

My own belief is that there are several hidden societies in England and Wales which practise ritualistic abuse to the present day, which includes the sacrifice of children described graphically in Dennis Wheatley novels. The Wicker Man film is obviously fictional, but not far away from the truth, I believe. A similar attitude would have been adopted to child abuse 70 years ago, I would imagine.

Although Witchcraft was commonplace in this country in medieval times, there are many who alleged they have been a victim of it today. The point is that not enough people are brave enough to believe that it is true.

This is not encouraging. It is true that the sexual abuse of children has sometimes occurred in “occultic” contexts – in the UK, the 2012 case of Peter Petrauske and Jack Kemp comes to mind. But these were dysfunctional cults rather than “secret societies”. Sexual abuse in these settings has been described as “ritualistic”, but I strongly suspect that this is to put the cart before the horse: the rituals were an excuse for sexual transgression, rather than the sex being necessary for some bizarre mystical purpose. Further, the “sacrifice of children” has not been documented.

In contrast, a “secret society” suggests a network of individuals who appear outwardly to be respectable, but who are secretly committed to acts of murder and depravity in the name of some sort of higher cause. The notion that The Wicker Man is “not far from the truth” is really quite unsustainable (although I do remember a late-night showing being pulled from the BBC schedules during the Orkney panic). Doubtless Garsden has heard many lurid things in his line of work over the years, but the very fact that his reference points are Wheatley and a horror film suggest that he is mainly drawing from a general pop-culture belief that this sort of thing must be going on somewhere.

In particular, he may have been influenced by old sensational tabloid reports, or Christian paperbacks by supposed ex-Satanists. In the UK, one figure was important in both contexts: this was of course Geoffrey Dickens MP, who in the 1980s provided a stream of rent-a-quotes on the dangers of witchcraft and wrote the foreword to a Christian book by Audrey Harper called Dance with the Devil. Dickens was generally considered to be a buffoon, and his posthumous rehabilitation as the prophet of child abuse exposure has been something of a surprise. [1]

Is this why Garsden finds the claims made by “Nick” so plausible? One of the allegations against Proctor is he subjected a boy who was tied to a table to a stabbing attack, which has a whiff of Satanic Ritual Abuse to it; and just a few months ago the media asked us to consider the preposterous thought of Enoch Powell, Willie Whitelaw and Leo Abse engaged together in Satanic abuse.

It’s not clear what Garsden means by “many who alleged they have been a victim” of witchcraft today. Perhaps he is referring to individuals who claim to have terrorised by occultic groups, or perhaps he means that some people have been mentally disturbed by the idea that they are being oppressed by malign spiritual forces (I noted a couple of cases here). Perhaps he even means that such forces truly exist; that in itself would not be discreditable, if that is his private religious belief, but talk of “secret societies” from a respected professional must inflame the more worldly malign forces of paranoia and the lynch-mob mentality.

Footnote

[1]  A few years ago I saw a TV interview with Andrew Marr, in which he said that the maddest MP he had ever interviewed had been someone who believed that Britain was controlled by a coven of witches in the West Country. No name was given, but my conjecture is that this was Dickens.