David Aaronovitch Accuses “VIP Westminster Abuse” Conspiracy Journalist of Link to “Anti-Semitic Creep”

From Mark Watts, formerly of Exaro News:

Several years ago, Watts was promising that very soon the police would confirm allegations of “Westminster VIP child sex abuse and murder” that would rock the country to its foundations; then, as police and journalistic investigations undercut the sensational narratives he had been instrumental in promoting, he lowered his expectations and instead offered the more modest promise that various sceptics would soon be put on trial for harassment offences and, like “green bottles“, would “fall”.

That didn’t come to pass either, so he now settles on the important information that the Bar Standards Board has asked the barrister Barbara Hewson not to be rude to people on Twitter, even though she has been on receiving end of a great deal of it herself  – particularly, although not exclusively, from self-styled “child sex abuse activists” who promote lurid conspiracy theories about figures in public life, and who regard Barbara’s scathing scepticism with self-righteous anger.

Watts’s Tweet drew a hostile reaction from David Aaronovitch:

The “anti-Semitic creep” here is @ciabaudo, who is known variously as Alun Roberts and Alan Goodwin – the latter is his legal name. Goodwin, who lives in Germany, makes wide-ranging allegations of organised and secret “elite” paedophile rings in British society, often seeing tenuous links between people in public life as damning evidence of secret collusion in the foulest of crimes. The supposed involvement of Jews in this activity seems to be of particular interest to him, and he approving promotes anti-Semitic sources.

In reply to David’s Tweet, Watts asked to see “evidence” of @ciabaudo’s anti-Semitism – I then put forward one instance, and others provided further examples. (1) Here is an outline:

23 April 2013: Goodwin posts a link that he says “didn’t attract the attention it deserves”. The link clicks through to a far-right website called Cigpapers; the specific page has since been deleted, but the url indicates that it used to carry an essay called “Tony Blair’s Islington People”. This remains available elsewhere on social media, and it refers to various politicians as “multiculturalist Jews”. In reply to someone who says “it truly makes the blood run cold”, Goodwin explains that “I live in Germany and my dad freed Bergen-Belsen, but there sure seems to be a lot of nepotist Jews here.”

3 August 2014: Goodwin replies to Tweet by one Ian Millard that stated “Jewess on BBC Radio 4 Sunday saying “”British” Jews feel a real sense of patriotism”..TO ISRAEL! […] #HitlerWasRight”. Goodwin’s reaction is to ask “I wonder where the allegiances of the Jews on the Privy Council lie?”, although he then covers himself by adding that “I strongly disagree with Hitler being right though”.

25 September 2014: Goodwin replies to Tweet by the journalist Meirion Jones asking whether The Times might run “similar stories about senior politicians” after the publication of an article about Greville Janner; Goodwin’s suggestion is that “They could run a series about leading Jews … Janner, Brittan and Mandelson”.

9 December 2014: Returning to his Privy Council theme, Goodwin asks Hugo Rifkind, son of the politician Malcolm Rifkind, “How can someone who serves a foreign power sit on the Queen’s privy council?” Goodwin then tells him that “I’m sure your whole family would be pulled in all directions as far as their allegiances go.”

18 April 2015: Goodwin gives a “Like” to a Tweet by someone asserting that “Leon Brittan / Greville Janner Both JEWS[…] Both PEDOPHILES”.

21 April 2015: Goodwin refers to an article about Greville Janner published by the Occidental Observer (tagline:”White Identity, Interests, and Culture”) which refers to “the moneyspinning Holocaust Educational Trust”. He says he’s “looking forward to Part 2”, adding that “Even if @Dannythefink comes down on me like a tonne of bricks, I really do think the Jewish cabal aspect should be investigated”.

7 July 2015: Goodwin posts a screencapture, with the added commentary “Part of the problem 1”. The screencapture appears to be derived from the “Tony Blair’s Islington People” essay, and it focuses on Peter Mandelson as “a Bilderberger homosexual multiculturalist Jew”, who has been “Denounced by Tam Dalyell MP as being part of Blair’s ‘Jewish Cabal'”.

Watts’s reaction to this kind of thing – after being pressed for comment – was as follows:

Goodwin’s own explanation is that there is no difference between the way he comments about Jews and how one might comment about Methodists;  that he is more interested in what a source is “saying” than whether or not it is anti-Semitic; and that it is a “problem” to refer to things he has merely quoted approvingly rather than said in his own words.

Perhaps that is sufficient for Watts, but most of us can see the obvious bad faith from a mile off.

Footnote

1. The evidence Watts asked for was provided mostly by Hugo Rifkind, Zetetic Elench, and Frankie.

A Note on the Latest FGM Prosecution Failure

From the Mail on Sunday:

A senior policewoman is facing questions over her links to the key witness in a failed female genital mutilation prosecution that cost taxpayers tens of thousands of pounds.

DCI Leanne Pook took control of the investigation after campaigner Sami Ullah claimed a minicab driver had told him he had allowed his daughter to undergo the barbaric practice.

…After Mr Ullah reported the cab driver to police, the man’s six-year- old daughter was examined by two experts for evidence of FGM but one could only find a ‘tiny’ mark and the other could not see the alleged lesion.

During an interview with police, the 29-year-old Somali driver insisted he was against FGM, and called his passenger a ‘liar’ for claiming they discussed the practice.

Ullah was a young outreach officer for Integrate UK, which campaigns on the issue in Bristol, while Pook, according to her Twitter presence @ASPEndFGM, is “Avon & Somerset Police Lead for response to Female Genital Mutilation.” Pook is also a trustee of Integrate, the charity for which Ullah was campaigning as a young outreach officer, and social media evidence suggests that they have personal rapport. Pook took Ullah’s statement, and she accepted a chocolate cake from the charity as a thank you when the driver was charged.

It should be noted that the second expert examined the girl two months after the first one, which leaves open the possibility that the first saw an injury that had healed by the time the second examination was performed. However, if the “tiny” mark really was significant, then we must accept that not only did an anti-FGM activist just happen to elicit a confession while taking a cab ride, but that the confession luckily related to something that had occurred just a short time before.

According to the Bristol Post, Ullah told the court that

…the driver said FGM was very wrong, but lots of people in his culture did it.

Mr Ullah thought it was strange to hear that the little girl had been cut, considering her father had just said he thought FGM was very wrong.

He said: “Despite his broken English he was understandable.

“He repeated that he had ‘done the small one to his daughter’.

The implication is perhaps that Ullah presented himself as an anti-FGM activist, and the driver supposedly agreed with his work but in his ignorance confessed to allowing “the small one” in the belief that this would be regarded as acceptable. An alternative possibility is deliberate entrapment, but if Ullah was playing amateur detective, surely he would have recorded the exchange?

The prevalence of FGM either performed in the UK (illegal since 1985) or on children taken out of the country for the purpose (illegal since 2003) remains curiously uncertain, but there is a striking contrast between figures alleged by activists and the dearth concrete evidence or testimony about particular cases over the past third of a century. That does not mean that the problem is contrived – it is very reasonable to suppose that the law must be flouted sometimes, and a Sunday Times reporter found evidence in 2012 of a doctor and a dentist involved in facilitating the practice in Birmingham (they were both struck off, but not prosecuted).

However, a convenient confession that placed a charity at the centre of what promised to be a landmark cause célèbre certainly does look contrived (and I note that Ullah is now studying “journalism and public relations”), and it seems to me that Pook’s personal investment in the issue (both as regards her moral outrage at the idea of FGM and her prospects for career advancement) led to her pursuing a case where there was a lack of evidence (even compromising with a “child cruelty” charge, rather than relying on anti-FGM legislation). There may be lessons here for other areas where police work closely with (or act as) activists and moral entrepreneurs.

The fiasco also ought once again to prompt criticism of the CPS, which has been under pressure to bring FGM prosecutions. Infamously, in 2015 a doctor named Dhanuson Dharmasena was prosecuted for having cut and re-stitched scar tissue on a incised woman who was giving birth, even though medically informed commentary ahead of his trial made it clear beyond any reasonable doubt that he had acted properly – and he was duly cleared after 30 minutes of jury deliberation. And last year it was reported that a doctor had spent two years under investigation after publishing an academic paper that described a “cosmetic clitoridectomy” on an adult woman that had been performed for mental health reasons.

Criticism of the Bristol prosecution, including details of its detrimental consequences for the local Somali community, can be found on a Twitter account called Bristol Somali Media.

During the trial, the British version of the alt-right website Breitbart declared the driver guilty via the headline “Somali Father Arranged for Daughter to Have Genitals Mutilated to Stop Her ‘Feeling Sexy'” – the lack of quote marks around the whole thing, or a qualifying “court hears”, was blatant contempt of court.

(amended)

UPDATE: Channel 4’s Cathy Newman has a blog post on the subject, focusing sympathetically on Pook. Newman writes of Pook receiving “a call which might have changed the course of history”, and later of a “historic moment”, which to my mind tends to support the case that Pook got carried away.

After being told of the lack of forensic evidence, Pook considered what to do next. Newman writes:

Should DCI Pook at this point have given up? Her detractors in the community believe so. But, remembering… all the activists she’s come to know and love, she pressed on.

But the relavent point is not what “her detractors in the community believe”, but the outcome of the trial. Pook is not solely to blame, given that the decision to prosecute ultimately was made by the CPS, but the idea of an officer pursuing a case because of “all the activists she’s come to know and love” rather than on the strength of the evidence is not a good development.

A Note on the Media and Jan Sarkocy

From the Daily Mail, 16 February:

Jeremy Corbyn was a paid informant of the Czech secret police at the height of the Cold War, a former Communist secret agent claims.

Former spy Jan Sarkocy said he recruited the MP, codenamed Cob, in the 1980s.

…’It was a consensual collaboration,’ Mr Sarkocy said. At his home in rural Slovakia, the 64-year-old added: ‘He was our asset, he had been recruited. He was getting money from us.’ 

…The ex-spy, who was renowned by bosses for his innovative ways of cultivating sources, yesterday bragged about his ability to work inside the British system.

‘I knew what Margaret Thatcher would eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day and what dress she would be wearing,’ he said.

The article appeared in the wake of a now much-discussed Sun splash that was published under the headline “Corbyn and the Commie Spy”. According to the Sun:

According to secret files, he passed on material about the arrest of an East German and was allegedly put on a list of Czechoslovakian state security team’s agents and sources.

…The papers claim he was vetted by agents and met one, Lieutenant Jan Dymic, at least three times including twice in the Commons.

The files, unearthed from the StB archive in Prague, indicate he was initially approached in 1986…

The StB archive made a large number of items newly available online to registered users in October; Prague Monitor reported that the archive director, Svetlana Ptacnikova, had warned (indirect quote) that “researchers who gain access to the documents should be cautious in drawing conclusions”.

“Jan Dymic” was soon afterwards identified as Jan Sarkocy – “Dymic” is described as having been an “alias”, but he is listed as Sarkocy in the London Diplomatic List for 1988, and that was the name given in a 1989 Times report on his expulsion (1). This explains why Corbyn’s spokesman told the Sun that “In the 1980s he met a Czech diplomat, who did not go by the name of Jan Dymic, for a cup of tea in the House of Commons”.

It’s not clear why “Dymic” appeared in the media, or how this name was then linked back to Sarkocy; a Daily Mail article from 15 February states that “experts said that Dymic’s real name was Jan Sarkocy”, but it is not explained who these “experts” are. The Czech newspaper Nový ?as suggests that they discovered him, but he perhaps  made it easy for them – certainly, one gets the impression  that he was delighted to suddenly find himself in the media spotlight.

Nový ?as published an interview, dated 17 February. Despite the date, it appears that this provides the source for the quotes that appear in the Daily Mail article dated 16 February. Here’s what he told his interviewer:

Aké informácie vám Corbyn dával?

– Poviem vám to takto. Vedel som, ?o bude ma? Thatcherová na ra?ajky, obed a ve?eru a aké bude ma? šaty na budúci de?. Corbynovi dávala peniaze iná osoba, ktorá je momentálne významným poslancom. Verbovanie sa konalo pod ochranou Ruska.

Here he specifically attributes to Corbyn his supposed knowledge of Thatcher’s meals and clothes – yet this rather unlikely story is obscured in the Daily Mail, which instead suggests that he claims this information came from other general “sources”. This gives the impression that the paper decided to tone down Sarkocy’s claims, to make them less far-fetched.

Perhaps such a story was meant to be understood as hyperbolic, but the Daily Mail also glossed over less incredible sensational boasts:

Cez odbory a mierové hnutia sa riešili otázky, ?o boli s Nelsonom Mandelom. Zapadá to, lebo on a jeho partia sa zú?ast?ovali na príprave podporných podujatí. Nakoniec sme urobili koncert vo Wembley. To financovalo ?eskoslovensko.

To myslíte Live Aid?

– To som robil ja. On udržiaval dobré kontakty s manželkou Mandelu. Ženy sú dobrý zdroj.

It’s not clear what Live Aid has to do with Nelson Mandela, and I have a suspicion that confusion has slipped in here between Live Aid in 1985 and the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute in 1988 – both events were held at Wembley Stadium. If so, the fact that Sarkocy so readily follows his interviewer’s error suggests that he is winging it. But either way, his claim is grandiose, with obvious implications for his general credibility. Why, then, was it left out of the Daily Mail‘s account?

And what is the basis for claiming that Sarkocy was “renowned by bosses for his innovative ways of cultivating sources”, as we are told by the Daily Mail? We are not provided with any source for this, let alone an account of what this assessment is based on. The 15 February Daily Mail article describes him as “a Slovak engineering graduate with ‘James Bond good looks’ who was known for his cunning espionage tactics.” “Known for” by whom? The 1989 Times report says he had been named by an StB defector (Vlastimil Ludvik) as one of several “key Czechoslovak intelligence agents operating in Britain”, but he’s not listed first or singled out as exceptional (2).

Sarkocy’s claims have been scathingly dismissed by a former Czech dissident who is now an analyst with the country’s ministry of defence; as reported in the Guardian:

Radek Schovánek, an analyst with the defence ministry of the Czech Republic… has spent 25 years researching documents filed by the now-defunct spy service. He told the Guardian the suspicions against Corbyn were unfounded, and the claims of Ján Sarkocy, a former intelligence officer expelled from Britain in 1989, to have signed the Labour leader up were false.

…Schovánek, 54, who secretly smuggled banned books from the west into Czechoslovakia during the cold war, said he felt compelled to speak out on Corbyn’s behalf, despite strongly disagreeing with the Labour leader’s leftwing politics. “I personally don’t like Corbyn. I’m Roman Catholic and conservative, but I think we have to defend people against a lie,” he said.

The Conservative Party vice-chair Ben Bradley has deleted a Tweet claiming that Corbyn “sold secrets” to Communist spies, after being threatened with a libel action.

The media narrative then switched to the possibility that old Stasi records from East Germany instead may have something damning on Corbyn – the inspiration for this was apparently Paul Staines, who said that he had contacted the Stasi Records Agency in 2016 and received in reply that data is only released “if the persons concerned have given their written consent”.

Thus it was that shortly afterwards the Prime Minister herself was urging Corbyn to provide this consent, reported by even the left-leaning Daily Mirror as “Theresa May encourages Jeremy Corbyn to allow the publication of the Stasi file on the Labour leader”. This was despite the fact that the reply to Staines was not actually a confirmation that any such record actually exists. (3)

The Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records has now issued a statement saying that

Thorough research in the records of the Ministry for State Security of East Germany in response to recent requests have not produced any records or any other information on Jeremy Corbyn or Diane Abbott.

Footnotes

1. Michael Evans, Andrew McEwen and Philip Webster, “Four Czechs Expelled after Defector Talks”, The Times, 26 May 1989, p. 1.

2. The expulsion was also logged by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) Daily Reports, and as such is it is information readily available on Google Books.

3. Shades here of Staines’s work helping David Hart produce the red-baiting newsletters British Briefing and World Briefing in the 1980s, as blogged here. Its perhaps worth noting that Corbyn met Sarkocy around the same time that Staines attended a social function at the South African Embassy.

Sarah Champion MP Speculates on MPs Committing Child Sex Abuse, Reaffirms “Believe the Victim” Principle

Politics Home reports:

EXCL Sitting MPs ‘probably involved in some form of child abuse’, claims Labour backbencher

The article was published yesterday, although I had to double-check the date: not so long ago sensational tales about “VIP Westminster paedophiles” provided a near-constant stream of sensational headlines (and not just in tabloids), but in the wake of the Operation Midland fiasco and the damp squib of the posthumous investigation into Edward Heath the mood these days is largely cautious and sceptical.

However, it turns out that the “Labour backbencher” is not claiming some special inside knowledge (unlike John Mann MP, who boasts about having Geoffrey Dickens’s “dossier”), but is simply speculating based on statistical probability:

Sarah Champion, who was part of Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench until August last year, said there was “no way that there aren’t people who are sitting MPs who aren’t involved in some way or another, or a member of their family is… One in 20 children will have a sexual assault against them. When you look at something inappropriate happening to them that drops dramatically to one in four girls and one in eight boys.”

The article is a companion piece to an interview published on the same site (as part of The House magazine), which also includes criticisms of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Champion believes it is wrong that the IICSA will not rule on whether allegations are true or not, and she is critical of its decision to refer to “complainants” rather than “victims”:

“It’s horrible because I don’t think people understand the stigma the sloppy use of English puts on people,” she says.  “To call someone a complainant, I get that legally it might be the right term, but it’s the message that you’re sending these people. You’re just causing trouble for the sake of it. It’s not right.”

I happen to agree that in situations where there is very strong prima facie supporting evidence that abuse or an assault has actually occurred it would be pedantic to shun the term “victim”. Most obviously, the term “complainant” cannot apply in murder cases, and there are many other situations where it is obvious that a crime has taken place even if we do not yet have a suspect, let alone a confirmed perpetrator. To refer to a “victim” in such instances is not prejudicial, as the defence in any trial following is most likely to be that the wrong person has been identified, rather than that the crime did not happen.

However, justice demands greater circumspection when the facts of an allegation are in dispute and supporting evidence of the reality of the crime is weak or lacking. To describe an accuser as a “victim” rather than as a “complainant” is to signal that the accuser is to be believed, and before the conclusion of any investigation this is the very definition of prejudice. It is not “causing trouble for the sake of it” to want to avoid this, and in the wake of Operation Midland’s smears and various false allegations against celebrities such a dismissive attitude simply won’t do (not to mention the current non-disclosure scandals, in which undermining evidence has been withheld from defence teams – most seriously in relation to allegations of rape, but also seen in other cases, such as an accusation of harassment).

Champion appears to have a specific case in mind here: a couple of days ago she re-affirmed her confidence in allegations made by Esther Baker, who is a core participant in the IICSA. Baker alleges that she was abused as a child in woodland by VIPs in ritualistic circumstances, and also that she was taken by night from her home in the Midlands to Dolphin Square in London. In particular, in early 2015 she accused the then-MP John Hemming of having been one of her abusers (even though she had been in contact with him shortly beforehand); the allegation was not substantiated by police, and Hemming is now pursuing legal action of his own (in a recent article, he revealed that Baker has also accused a “well-known, much-respected politician, now dead”).

Champion’s public support for Baker was provided in response to a complaint Baker had made on Twitter about the journalist Sean O’Neill, who has written critically about her allegations. Baker described O’Neill as “the… guy who asked me if I was sure I was raped by the guy I said I was because he’d denied it so I must have it wrong”; Champion’s reply was to quote her Tweet and to add:

One day they’ll believe the victim – but it feels a very long way off!

This can only be understood as an expression of confidence in the unsubstantiated  – and problematic – allegations against Hemming.

One wonders whether we should also infer that Champion is in agreement with Baker about other cases; in particular, Baker continues to insist that Operation Midland’s “Nick” was telling the truth, even going so far as to mock someone as a “cow bag” for asserting that Lord Bramall was innocent. Does Champion also believe in “Nick”? Why not, if a complainant is a victim and we must “believe the victim”?

Last month, I noted that Champion had facilitated plans to bring the “Wall of Silence” exhibition to the Houses of Parliament. The project displays testimonies of child sex abuse by adult survivors, but it problematically has also promoted allegations of “VIP abuse” that have been discredited. On 1 February the project’s organiser, a well-meaning man named Mike Peirce, announced that the invitation had been rescinded, and that he would publish the reason why as soon as he was provided with one.

Footnote: Criticism of Theresa May

The interview has also received media attention due to Champion’s criticism of Theresa May:

…after six years fighting CSE from the Opposition benches, the Labour MP is concerned that for the current Prime Minister the issue has “dropped off the radar”.

When Champion met David Cameron she was impressed with his dedication to the cause following a visit to her constituency to see up close the scars the abuse had left on the community. But she does not believe that Theresa May shares his commitment.

“I do not feel with this government that it is a priority at all,” she says.

“David Cameron got it and I think he got it because I went to him as a dad rather than going to him as a politician. And I got him to meet some of the survivors of Rotherham and one of the mums whose child went through it. So, we engaged with him on that level, which is why he then crusaded as a dad, wanting it for other people’s children.

“Theresa May was great when she was Home Secretary and then as soon as she shifted to PM it’s dropped off the radar. It’s clearly not a priority for them.”

The obvious implication here is that Theresa May is deficient in her concern because she does not herself have children. Thus The Sun has run with:

‘LOW BLOW’ Labour MP Sarah Champion says Theresa May ‘doesn’t fully understand child abuse’ because she’s not a mum

The “low blow” comment was provided Mark Garnier MP; the paper also quotes the Conserative vice chair Helen Grant as calling the claim “an outrageous slur”, and the word “slur” is also used by the paper as its own description. However, the use of quote marks in the headline is misleading: Champion did not provide the quote attributed to her, even though the idea it expresses is implicit in her actual comments. Thus on Twitter she has now responded with

For the record, I have not –  would not – say anything about Theresa May’s ability as a politician based on where [sic] or not she is a mother. Absolute rubbish and lies

UPDATE: Later in the day, The radio station LBC produced a Tweet asking:

Labour MP Sarah Champion has claimed that Theresa May ‘does not fully understand child abuse’ because she is not a parent. Should she apologise?

Champion responded by asking LBC “Why are you regurgitating this lie started by The Sun?”, and she told another user that she had “reported” the Tweet. She also gave a “Like” to a Tweet expressing the view that “That darn Scum needs shutting down”, which raises the question of why, then, she provided an op-ed for the newspaper last August. Her piece was infamously headlined “British Pakistani men ARE raping and exploiting white girls… and it’s time we faced up to it”; on publication she initially said she was “thrilled” by its appearance, but as controversy grew she then complained that the article had been “stripped of nuance” by the paper’s editors.

A Note on the “Real 48 Per Cent” Death Threats

The Guardian reports:

Prominent Brexit supporters including the Conservative leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, have been sent death threats by an anonymous source who signed off as “the real 48%”.

Four letters that appear to have been sent by a remain supporter were reported to police on Monday. Six leave donors received correspondence last week.

…The letter said: “If you attempt to take away part of someone’s identity, there are consequences. We have watched as you have led us to the edge of the abyss. We will watch no longer. You have taken lives on our side. Now we will take lives on yours. We are coming for you.”

…Earlier letters to donors were revealed by the blogger Guido Fawkes and read: “You have stoked the fires of Brexit and led us to this moment. You can no longer be tolerated. We are coming for you. We are going to kill you.”

One of the earlier letters was reported last week, after it was publicised on Twitter by Zac Goldsmith. Leadsom has also posted online the letter that was sent to her – the two communications are consistent, and both were typed using block capitals. The sender actually wrote “THE REAL 48 PER CENT”, so we can’t be sure whether “real” is part of a proper name, like the “Real IRA”. Leadsom has also revealed the envelope it was sent in: a plain white C5 envelope, with an ordinary second-class stamp and the addressee’s details (unexpectedly) neatly handwritten. It passed through Birmingham Mail Centre on 7 February. No details about the envelope brand or any inside security patterning are given.

It’s not clear why the existence of several other letters was revealed first to the Guido Fawkes site – the other recipients have not been named, although according to the site the six were sent to people who had appeared on a list of 21 donors published by Business Insider in May. Goldsmith says that the one he handed to police belonged to an “80-year old constituent”; as Tim Fenton notes at Zelo Street, the only person on the published list who appears to fit that description is Goldsmith’s mother.

Despite the fact that we do not know who sent the letters, Mail Online and the Sun took the Goldsmith one at face value and decided that it must indeed have been sent by a group of Remainers. The Evening Standard, in contrast, more cautiously noted only that the constituent “apparently received a death threat for backing Brexit.”

There are all kinds of weird and damaged individuals out there, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that someone has chosen the “Remain” cause as their rationalization for indulging in the cheap and cowardly thrill of sending anonymous threats to public figures and then feeling empowered by the ensuing media interest. Even if this is the case, though, it is unlikely that there is more than one person involved. Further, although there has been some uncivil Remain rhetoric (Goldsmith received an abusive Christmas card in December containing a number of anonymous messages, which Mail Online is now drawing fresh attention to), there is no tradition of pro-European extremism that might reasonably be held culpable as an inspiration (unlike, for example, the extensive resources of fringe far-right nationalist extremism that motivated Thomas Mair to murder the pro-Remain MP Jo Cox ahead of the referendum).

The obvious alternative, of course, is that the letters are the work of someone who wishes to discredit the Remain cause by issuing false threats in its name. This is a very reasonable suspicion, despite the knee-jerk tendency in political activism to cry “false flag” whenever one’s preferred cause is brought into disrepute by extremists. These particular letters do not quite pass the smell test – without diminishing their potential to cause genuine alarm and distress to those on the receiving end and to those close to them, the letters’ appearance is such a useful gift for those with a hostile anti-Remain agenda that it is only common sense to regard them as suspect.

If it turns out that letters have indeed been sent by someone who has identified with the Remain cause, we can be sure that there will mockery and denunciations of those who have expressed doubt or scepticism; but should it transpire that the author is indeed falsely posing as a Remainer, I doubt that we will see correctives from the media sources that have already fed us their preferred narrative via headlines such as “Zac Goldsmith reveals Remainer trolls sent pensioner, 80, vile note”.

Some Notes on a Sunday Mirror Hit-Piece on Barbara Hewson

From the Sunday Mirror:

Bar this troll: Human rights barrister accused of vile rants against child sex victims

A probe has been launched into a top human rights barrister after she was accused of trolling a string of child sex abuse victims online.

Law chiefs are looking into the claims against Barbara Hewson, 56, following complaints from survivors about foul-mouthed posts.

Messages sent on social media sites from various personal accounts in Hewson’s name have seen her brand victims “lunatics”, “manipulative”, “dangerous”, “cowardly” and “nutwings”.

…She appears to brand one alleged victim “as vulnerable as a lorryload of gravel” and criticises victims “whinging” about their ordeals.

The complaint was made by one Clare Sheahan; according to the article:

Clare, from South London, who has spent many years campaigning against child sex abuse and reached out to other survivors online, said she was targeted by Hewson after disagreeing with a point the lawyer made on Twitter.

Barbara has a public profile as someone who is critical of police investigations into historic allegations of child-sex crimes, which she sees as likely to lead to miscarriages of justice and in some cases as disproportionate. She expresses her views scathingly on social media, and has been known to use profanity. As such, she’s an easy target for the mainstream media outrage economy, which also likes to police social media by deciding who is and who is not a “troll”.

The news hook for the article about Barbara is apparently the “probe”, which means nothing more than that Sheahan has lodged a complaint. We’ve been here before – last April The Times ran an article that reported on a similar complaint against Barbara by one Mesul Desai, which I wrote about here. The existence of Desai’s complaint was deemed news, but not so much the fact that it went nowhere and that he was making a series of wild and bizarre allegations, including the claim on Twitter that Barbara had arranged for his cat to be skinned (more below).

Similarly, the Sunday Mirror hack (a features writer named Geraldine McKelvie) has cherry-picked the information she has chosen to include – most significantly, she has failed to disclose that the “survivors” criticised (at times abusively) by Barbara are part of a loose network of social-media activists who promote lurid conspiracy theories about VIP abuse and who recklessly throw around allegations of paedophilia . Sheahan, for instance, suggested in 2014 that any panel member of the British Journalism Awards who did not agree that David Hencke should win an award he had been nominated for must be a paedophile or involved in cover-ups – perhaps this was meant in jest, but if so it was in very bad taste and it undercuts her righteous pose now.

Further, Sheahan is an Operation Midland truther, who continues to trust in allegations made by “Nick” against Harvey Proctor, Lord Bramall, and others. Meanwhile, the “alleged victim” whom Barbara described as being “as vulnerable as a lorryload of gravel” is none other than Esther Baker, who once mocked a woman as a “cow bag” for suggesting that Bramall had been falsely accused, and whose narrative of abuse by VIPs in woodland has not been substantiated. Barbara has not always dealt with this crowd in the way that I would consider wise, but she has been relentlessly targeted and mocked by these people as a hate figure.

It should also be remembered that Mirror titles have been heavily invested in promoting sensational false VIP abuse allegations about politicians: in 2014 the Sunday People even put Operation Midland’s Nick on its front-cover (the back of his head, anyway), and the Daily Mirror led the way in publicising allegations against Edward Heath. For some reason, though, the latest twist in the saga of Nick seems to be of less interest than a Twitter spat.

Phillimore and Desai

The Sunday Mirror also refers to the ground previously covered by The Times:

Hewson got a harassment warning from police last March following a report from fellow lawyer Sarah Phillimore.

The Bar Standards Board also looked at claims by law student Mehul Desai, a supporter of Phillimore, that he had received death threats from Hewson, which saw her receive a harassment warning from the Met Police.

Phillimore has been in a long-standing dispute with Barbara, initially about family courts but now more generally expressing mutual contempt. Phillimore’s rhetoric about the supposed “warning” and her continuing taunts (often in social-media communication with the likes of Baker and Sheahan) are strong grounds for scepticism.

A “harassment warning”  – more properly, a “Police Information Notice” – is simply a piece of paper that notifies someone that a complaint has been made against them; in harassment cases that come to trial, police believe they may be useful as evidence should a defendant claim that they did not know that a particular “course of conduct” was unreasonable or causing distress. However police do not investigate the initial complaint before sending these “warnings”, and despite being shrouded in pseudo-legal terminology (e.g. the warning is supposedly “served”; it may be “breached” or “rescinded”) they have no legal standing. Barbara did not desist from criticising Phillimore after receiving one, yet there has been no further police interest the matter.

The Sunday Mirror article (and the Times article before it) also fail to make clear that the supposed “death threat” to Desai was sent anonymously by someone using the name “Harry Troll”, and that Desai had simply inferred that it must have come from Barbara. “Harry Troll” has never been traced, but it seems likely that the message was sent to Desai by an unknown person with the express intention of giving him something that he could take to police.

The police (actually Leicestershire rather than the Met) concluded as follows (in a letter shown to me by Barbara, which quotes the police worksheet):

The original report of harassment was reviewed…… and found no evidence within the report that we could progress. ……….. there is no evidence to support Mr Desai’s allegation of social media harassment…. Suspect Hewson will be updated no further action will be taken.

I published this some months ago – and the page on which it appears is one of only two sites that bring up a Google result for the “vulnerable as a lorryload of gravel” phrase (ironically, because Sheahan posted it in a comment). It therefore seems very likely that the journalist would have seen the above. So why report the allegation, but not the outcome or the proper context?

Phillimore appears to have had a hand in both Desai’s and Sheahan’s complaints. To repeat what I said in April: complaints to police and the BSB have served as a media strategy – and those now tasked with assessing their merits ought to take that into consideration.

A Note on Operation Midland’s Nick, Sub Judice and Anonymity

Stern words from Mark Watts:

Amid highly prejudicial reporting of charges against Nick re indecent images of children and voyeurism, remember that no one in media yet knows truth of any accusations against him. [here]

Double standards still on display in today’s newspapers. Proceedings are active re Nick, so Contempt of Court Act applies. Will anyone enforce the law? [here]

This is rather hard to take from someone who uncritically promoted Nick’s false allegations of historic sex abuse by various “VIPs”, rebuked Harvey Proctor for daring to protest his innocence (a “shameful performance” that “distressed” his accuser), and impugned the motives of journalists who took a more critical perspective. We must also recall his gleeful Tweets about “green bottles” falling when two critics of another of his informants were investigated by the police for alleged stalking – the matter was eventually dropped without charges being brought.

Despite this, though, there is a real issue here: the media now regularly refers to “Nick the fantasist”, when we don’t know why he told so many falsehoods. Perhaps “Nick the fantasist” is less damaging than “Nick the liar”, but neither term reflects well on him, and if the sex-offence charges come to court it will be difficult for a jury not to draw inferences about his character from his “Operation Midland” tales and their outcome. Judges can direct juries to disregard things they may have read ahead of a trial – but how effective is this in practice, given human nature?

However, “Nick” would hardly be the first person who is already publicly notorious to appear before a jury; and it would be unjust to silence those who were falsely accused by Nick, particularly given that so many old media reports about them remain online and there is even a bone-headed “I believe Nick” movement that continues to abuse those he accused and their supporters (e.g. “Who’s that cow bag saying Bramall is an innocent man?”, as asked by Esther Baker, a core participant in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse).

There is also the matter of whether Nick will stand trial for attempting to pervert the course of justice over his falsehoods – the matter is under investigation, but one can’t help speculating that Metropolitan Police would prefer that this not happen, to avoid embarrassing disclosures about police credulity and bias. Perversely, some of Nick’s supporters argue that it is wrong to state that those he has accused are innocent, because to do so is to assert that Nick is a liar when this has not been proven. But this does not follow. There is no sensible reason to credit Nick’s stories, and therefore to do so is unjust (and for any reasonable person, impossible). However, we don’t yet know why he told his false stories to police. If he really is a “fantasist”, then he may be not guilty by reason of mental incompetence – if so, the real blame may in fact lie with his therapist.

Meanwhile, there are calls for Nick to be stripped of his anonymity, which he currently enjoys due to his status as a sex-crime complainant. One can understand the court’s reluctance here: anonymity is seen to facilitate justice by allowing genuine victims to come forward without fear of stigma, but such complainants must have confidence that the authorities will abide by their promise to protect their identity. This confidence will be undermined if Nick is named, especially if in due course the charges are dropped or he is acquitted.

On the other hand, though, it seems to me that those who have been falsely accused by Nick should allowed every means to thoroughly discredit his claims – yet at the moment it is not possible to properly scrutinise his life history and to draw attention to how this may be inconsistent with his abuse claims. Those who write about Nick are even obliged to tip-toe around information that Nick himself has published online. It seems to me that his use of the right to anonymity has been selective and manipulative, and that as such it should be reviewed. Or must we wait decades before the public record is definitively put straight?

Daily Mail Denounces BBC but Exonerates Itself after Operation Midland’s “Nick” Charged with Sex Offences

Note: At the risk of stating the obvious, Nick’s false allegations of 2014 are a separate matter from the new allegations that have been made against him. Nothing about the former should be used to draw inferences about the latter while the matter is sub judice.

From the Daily Telegraph:

The alleged fantasist who sparked the Westminster paedophile investigation has been charged with child sex offences.

The man, who can only be identified as Nick, was arrested last year and has already appeared in court, charged with multiple offences relating to allegations of making and possessing hundreds of indecent images of children. He has also been charged with voyeurism.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, which allegedly took place between 2015 and 2016, and is expected to stand trial later this year.

Nick infamously claimed to have seen politicians and other establishment “VIPs” rape and murder children during paedophile orgies, prompting the disastrous “Operation Midland” police fiasco which began with the assumption that Nick was “credible and true” and ended in ignominy with no arrests and with compensation payouts over needless police raids on the homes of Lord Bramall (facilitated by the police misleading a judge) and the late Leon Brittan.

As a sex crime complainant, Nick enjoys a right to anonymity; apparently we only know about the new development at all because of a successful legal challenge (1). However, the allegations “cannot be revealed in detail for legal reasons” and the matter is sub judice; thus the Mail has bulked out its coverage with a new autopsy by Richard Pendlebury and Stephen Wright into how Nick’s claims were reported in 2014 and 2015.

Under the headline “‘Nick the Fantasist’ to stand trial for paedophile offences: How the man who sparked disastrous VIP child sex abuse probe had the police, BBC and Labour’s deputy leader lapping up his lies” (2), the two authors explain that the tales were taken seriously

because a middle-aged former public sector worker called Nick came forward to make claims that a significant, politically motivated cadre wanted to hear. It also suited the politically correct times.

Tom Watson, now Labour deputy leader but then still a backbench MP, was on a roll following his crucial part along with the campaigning group, Hacked Off, in setting up the Leveson Inquiry into the conduct of the Press.

Now he was looking for a new cause that would damage his enemies. And if it burnished his own growing reputation as a crusader for truth and justice, well, why not?

…BBC News also bought into Nick and his claims, providing a platform upon which he could build a mountain of lies. In December 2014, Nick’s interview with BBC News about his alleged child sex ordeal was broadcast on primetime news bulletins.

It is true that the the Daily Mail was the first media outlet to probe more deeply following Harvey Proctor’s August 2015 press conference; on 5 September 2015 Wright revealed that detectives had “grave doubts” about Nick’s story, and Wright co-authored a more in-depth piece two weeks later that sceptically drew attention to aspects of Nick’s allegations that were particularly bizarre and far-fetched.

However, there is self-serving revisionism in the paper’s criticisms of Watson and the BBC: there was already online scepticism about Nick’s claims before the Daily Mail gave the matter its attention, and the paper had previously been as credulous as the rest of the media. Thus in November 2014 the Daily Mail‘s attack dog Guy Adams produced a piece that was headlined “Paedophile orgies in luxury flats and claims three boys were murdered by VIPs: Special report into the growing stench of a cover-up by the Establishment”, in which he wrote that

‘Nick,’ who claims to have visited Dolphin Square on at least ten occasions (and recalls its ‘dimly-lit, musty corridors’), has supplied Operation Midland with a written account of his ordeal and been interviewed extensively by investigators, passing them names of the Tory MP and the Cabinet Minister.

A few months later, when Harvey Proctor’s home was raided by police, the paper’s journalists (not Wright) turned to “campaigning Labour MP John Mann” for comment. While Watson is credulous, Mann’s calculated disclosures about supposed “dossiers” relating to VIP abuse and have been self-promoting.

Meanwhile, Mail Online, which is apparently a separate entity from the Daily Mail but is published on the same website, ran an article following Proctor’s press conference stating that Nick had “handed over” evidence to police, when it meant that Nick had given evidence – the former obviously implying something of forensic value rather than just testimony.

Further, it should be noted that while BBC News did not distinguish itself in the autumn of 2014, Nick’s credibility was seriously brought into question by the BBC’s Panorama news programme a year later. This is just about acknowledged by the Daily Mail, albeit in a side-box rather than in the main text of the article (which meant I missed it in first reading article):

The early BBC News and Exaro reports were later pulled apart by BBC Panorama, which established that at least one of the murders Nick claims to have witnessed – the only one about which he has provided detailed information – could not have taken place.

In particular, the programme-makers probed Nick’s claim that a friend of his had been run over and killed in front of him in Kingston-on-Thames, as a warning to him not to have friends. As the New York Times reported after the programme was broadcast:

the BBC investigation found no public record of a murder or accident in the described location at the time. It also tracked down all the boys at Nick’s school at the time with the first name he had provided for his friend. All of them are either alive or died in different circumstances than those described by Nick.

It is very difficult to positively prove that something didn’t happen when dates are vague, but this is by far the most reasonable explanation for why such a dramatic claim cannot be substantiated.

Meanwhile, Nick’s various online supporters (there is an “ibelievenick” hashtag) are in something of a dilemma over the new allegations against him. Much of their online rhetoric has tended towards the view that those who express scepticism about allegations of paedophilia-related sex crimes are “nonce apologists” who support child sex abuse, and there has been a relentless lynch-mob glee in discussions about Nick’s claims (“Who’s that cow bag saying Bramall is an innocent man?” was a derisive question asked by Esther Baker, who is now a core participant in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse). Will they now turn on Nick in similar terms, or will they instead suddenly expound the virtues of being fair-minded and not jumping to conclusions?

Footnotes

1. One Daily Mail article states that “the charges against Nick can be disclosed after a court challenge, backed by the Mail, overturned a ban on reporting the case”. This does not make it quite clear who was responsible for the challenge, whereas a companion article in the same paper (quoted above) states that the “news emerged only because a judge lifted a reporting restriction which had been challenged by this newspaper.” However, Tom Wells, who is Chief Reporter at The Sun, has Tweeted that “the quite extraordinary development in the ‘Nick’ saga can only be revealed today because of a legal battle launched – and won – by @TheSun”.

2. This companion piece has been published both on a separate webpage and underneath the Daily Mail‘s more general article, where it has the shorter title “How ‘Nick the fantasist’ had the police, BBC and Labour’s deputy leader lapping up his lies”. This shorter title was also originally used on the separate webpage, as shown in the screenshot.

Hamburg Prosecutor Found “Lack of Evidence” to Support Claim Child Was Gang-Raped at Refugee Centre

My friend Tim Ireland has received a response to a query he made to the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Hamburg concerning a sensational news story that appeared in British newspapers in March 2017:

‘The investigation in the case of alleged sexual abuse you mentioned has been stopped by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Hamburg on 11 May, 2017, due to lack of evidence. The case is closed.’

The story had been reported in the Daily Star as follows:

Five ‘Arab migrants’ gang-rape little girl, SEVEN, at refugee centre

Cops are probing a “serious sexual assault” at the Central Initial Reception Center (ZEA) for refugees in the Hamburg, reports say.

The alarm was reportedly raised on Tuesday evening shortly after 7pm.

A girl, aged seven, is thought to be the victim of the alleged group sex attack, German newspaper BILD reported.

Five Arabs have reportedly been accused of carrying out the alleged assault.

Public prosecutor Nana Frombach told BILD: “We have initiated a case against five persons.

“There had been no urgent need for action. The investigation will continue.”

By placing the quote marks around the suspect description but not the other details, we are to infer that the reality of the incident has been confirmed, even though the main text refers only to “the alleged assault”. And the webpage title dispenses with any doubt whatsoever, simply reporting “Girl raped by five migrants at refugee centre in Hamburg, Germany”. This was perhaps the original headline, and it is the form used in several early Tweets that referred to the article.

A follow up piece then appeared on Mail Online, under the headline “Seven-year-old girl is gang-raped at an asylum centre in Germany as ‘five Arabic men’ are investigated”. This article led with the claim that

German police are investigating another horrific gang rape apparently involving a seven-year-old girl who had been living at an asylum centre.

This was a couple of weeks after a group of Iraqis had been sentenced for the gang rape of a German tourist in Austria; I suspect that this is why the author writes “another horrific gang rape”, although taken at face value he appears to be claiming a spate of gang rapes perpetrated against seven-year-olds at asylum centres. This report also contains an alternative translation of the quote from Frombach:

Prosecutor Nana Frombach said: ‘We have opened an investigation against five people. The circumstances or what happened are still unclear. The investigation is continuing.’

The Daily Star version is referenced in Robert Spencer’s book Confessions of an Islamophobe, in which he cites “There had been no urgent need for action” to imply that the offence was not investigated with appropriate urgency. In fact, however, Frombach referred to “dringender Tatverdacht” (urgent suspicion), a legal term that refers to the amount of evidence available rather than to the seriousness of an alleged offence.

A further confusion in the reporting was that the British tabloids claimed that the investigation had begun just a few days before, when in fact the original BILD report had appeared in March 2016, exactly a year beforehand. It appears that the British journalists simply misread or overlooked the correct date. Had they bothered to do any research of their own this would have become apparent, and they could have provided an update.

Here’s how BILD reported it – with a headline that comes in the form of a question:

Mädchen (7) von fünf Männern vergewaltigt?

Die Polizei ermittelt wegen schweren sexuellen Missbrauchs an einem Kind in der Zentralen Erstaufnahmeeinrichtung (ZEA) für Flüchtlinge im Hamburger Stadtteil Bahrenfeld.

Wie erst jetzt bekannt wurde, wurden bereits am Dienstagabend kurz nach 19 Uhr Beamte alarmiert. Es wurde angezeigt, dass ein Mädchen (7) Opfer einer Gruppenvergewaltigung geworden sei.

Als Täter wurden fünf angebliche Araber beschuldigt. Unklar ist, ob es sich bei den Männern um Besucher oder Bewohner der Einrichtung handelt.

Oberstaatsanwältin Nana Frombach bestätigt: „Wir haben ein Verfahren gegen fünf Personen eingeleitet. Es erhärte sich bisher kein dringender Tatverdacht. Die Ermittlungen werden fortgesetzt.“

We can’t know for sure exactly what happened with such minimal information, but given the lack of any further journalistic interest it seems reasonable to conclude that the whole thing was no more than an unsubstantiated rumour, and that this is why the case was closed.

Appendix: Tommy Robinson and Nadine Dorries

As anyone would expect, the Daily Star article was promoted on Twitter by “Tommy Robinson” as part of his anti-Islam activism. Robinson’s Tweet reflected the “Girl raped by five migrants at refugee centre in Hamburg, Germany” formulation, and it was soon afterwards embedded in Tweet from Nadine Dorries MP.

Dorries added her own expression of shock and dismay at the allegation, but she could have done that without promoting Robinson at the same time – as far as I am aware, she is the only Conservative Member of Parliament to have RTed Robinson. [UPDATE: I’ve since seen that Bob Blackman MP previously RTed Robinson in 2016, although he claims to have done so “in error”]

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse Holds Preliminary “Westminster Strand” Hearing

From The Times:

The public inquiry into child abuse is scaling back its investigations into claims of an establishment cover-up of a VIP paedophile ring in Westminster.

The decision is a significant retreat by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse because the allegations triggered its creation by Theresa May four years ago.

Andrew O’Connor, QC, the inquiry counsel on the Westminster strand, told its first hearing yesterday: “We suspect that much of the public concern relating to Westminster child abuse issues may have been created, or at least exacerbated, by a lack of knowledge.” He said that concern over the allegations had “diminished considerably” since Scotland Yard’s discredited Operation Midland inquiry into the allegations [blogged here – RB].

The inquiry would not try to make findings of fact in the cases of the late Sir Cyril Smith, who was a Liberal MP, or the late Sir Edward Heath, a Conservative prime minister.

…. The inquiry, now chaired by Professor Alexis Jay, believes that matters of public concern remain in the Westminster strand: including the role of whips in suppressing information about MPs; the honours system, including knighthoods for Smith and Jimmy Savile; and whether senior politicians supported the Paedophile Information Exchange.

Yesterday’s hearing was a preliminary one (the main event will not be until March 2019), and the transcript can be accessed here. It shows that the inquiry will also look into claims “that police investigations into cases of possible child sexual abuse linked with Westminster may have been the subject of inappropriate interference”, referring specifically to claims relating to Elm Guest House – this is somewhat meatier than the above summary in The Times. O’Connor also referred to the “Dickens dossier” (blogged here), and to claims made by Anthony Gilberthorpe (blogged here) and Don Hale (blogged here).

The retreat from findings of fact

The “retreat” mentioned in The Times actually re-states a point made by the IICSA in September, after Wiltshire Police announced that it intended to end its fruitless £1.5 million probe into Ted Heath by passing its report to the body. The IICSA responded to the force’s face-saving plan with a statement that “the inquiry will be interested to see and consider the outcome of Wiltshire police’s investigation”, but that it “is unlikely to need to examine whether allegations of abuse made against any particular parliamentarian are true during the course of its work.” The Mail on Sunday shamelessly ignored the second part of the this statement, instead running with the sensational headline “Sex Abuse Inquiry WILL Probe Ted Heath” (or “Sex Abuse Inquiry to Probe Ted Heath” in the print edition).

The September statement, was, though, a climb-down when compared to earlier statements; in November 2015 the IICSA Tweeted that

We’ll conduct objective fact-finding inquiry into allegations of abuse by people of public prominence associated w. Westminster #CSAinquiry

More on this point – in particular in relation to Greville Janner – below.

Esther Baker

O’Connor also referred to Esther Baker, explaining that she has been given “core participant” status “given her status as a complainant of relevant sexual abuse and also in her capacity as someone who has campaigned publicly on related issues in her own name.” Baker’s appointment is controversial because she made an extraordinary allegation against the former MP John Hemming that police have not been able to substantiate. Hemming has accused her of being a “fantasist”, and this term has now been used in media reports.

Baker’s allegations include the claim that she and other girls were abused by Hemming and by various VIPs in a woodland setting while corrupt police stood guard – although she has not used the phrase “Satanic Ritual Abuse”, this is the obvious implication. Baker says that she remembered Hemming’s participation after encountering him at Parliament as part of her campaigning on the issue of abuse (she has close links to the Labour MPs John Mann and Jess Philips – and Philips won her parliamentary seat at Hemming’s expense); and it just so happens that this was shortly after a disagreement between Hemming and Graham Wilmer, a campaigner with links to Baker (more details here).

Baker was represented at the hearing by Peter Garsden, Executive Officer of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers and a believer in the reality of human sacrifice in the UK by “hidden societies”. Garsden attempted shut down critical comment about Baker’s appointment by asking the inquiry to refer newspaper articles to the police under the terms of the Witnesses (Public Inquiries) Protection Act 1892, which makes it illegal to “to punish, damnify or injure, any person for having giving evidence upon any inquiry”. Mark Watts, a journalist who has promoted Baker’s claims, referred to this on Twitter, although for some reason he failed to similarly convey the response of the lead counsel to the inquiry, Brian Altman QC, which was that the act did not apply in Baker’s case because she hasn’t given evidence.

Garsden also told the inquiry that Baker (link added)

has taken 12 overdoses, 12 attempts to commit suicide, by the excessive ingestion of tablets, prescription drugs… 12 attempts at suicide between 2015 and now, the most recent of which was 25 January 2018, because of the publication of this article in the Sunday Times by James Gillespie on 21 January.

One recalls here an old claim by Watts that an alleged survivor had attempted suicide after a Panorama documentary had drawn attention to problems with several “Westminster VIP” abuse claims. I think we can be sure that neither Garsden nor Watts would be quite so ready to take at face value a series of suicide attempts by someone accused of a sex crime, or to blame the media for reporting information.

Garsden also provided some extra context to Baker’s allegations:

Esther Baker is a very fragile individual. She has been serially and consistently abused from the age of 6 to 19, firstly by her father, who abused her on a regular basis, and then her father introduced her to various individuals who are the persons this inquiry is interested in. She was taken to various houses in the Birmingham area and to a wood where she and other girls were abused by various individuals, one of whom has been  publicly named, another of whom hasn’t, who are either MPs or former MPs, and that’s why she is relevant to this inquiry.

…She has been ably assisted by other individuals who suggested that she make public disclosure of her allegations, which she did in 2015, principally as a method of protecting her from what she deemed to be a threat of violence or worse than that. She thought that if she disclosed her identity there was more chance of her staying alive because she was making allegations against celebrities, or, should I say, well-known  individuals who were known to the public. Since then, there has been an orchestrated campaign made against her to vilify her and call her a liar.

Older media reports, such as this one in the Guardian from 2015, state that “the abuse went on for four years from the age of six”, rather than from “from the age of 6 to 19”. The discrepancy has slipped in because Baker in fact claims to have been abused in two contexts, the latter while she was a teenager. She also states that her allegations are still under police investigation; presumably they relate to this alleged teenage abuse, although the distinction has not been made very clearly.

The 2015 Guardian article also refers to a detail that is curiously absent from Garsden’s account:

Baker has also alleged that she was sexually abused at a flat in London, which she now believes to be Dolphin Square, in Westminster – the location at the centre of the Metropolitan police’s Operation Midland inquiry into the alleged murders of three children by high-profile individuals in a paedophile ring.

Baker said that she recognised details from the Westminster accuser “Darren” of a fake “medical room” at Dolphin Square where grotesque forms of abuse supposedly took place. In turn, “Darren” said that he recognised Baker from a photograph. Soon after however, “Darren’s” credibility came under considerable strain, and he later withdrew from cooperating with the police (despite claiming to have been forced to participate in a murder of a man with Down’s syndrome). This is not some minor detail – Dolphin Square was specifically mentioned earlier in the  hearing, and Baker’s claim to have witnessed abuse there ought to be highly relevant. Why would Garsden not mention this?

Greville Janner

Garsden also took aim at Daniel Janner QC, who provided a submission in relation to his late father Lord Greville Janner (and who has been denied core participant status). Garsden complained:

So I am putting out a plea that this fantasist nonsense should stop. It has happened in other inquiries. It has happened to all my clients in the Janner module. They have also been called fantasists.

The inquiry now refers to “institutional responses to allegations made against Lord Janner”, which is in line with its statement that it “is unlikely to need to examine whether allegations of abuse made against any particular parliamentarian are true”. However, this was not always the case – as Dominic Lawson noted in the Sunday Times in 2016:

…to quote this column from last March: “On the first day of the inquiry’s proceedings, its QC, Ben Emmerson, declared that he would attempt to make ‘findings of fact’ in cases of individual abuse, blithely referring to ‘Lord Janner and other individuals allegedly associated with him in his offending’.”

I believe that Emmerson, like his favourite newspaper [the Guardian], saw Janner as the easiest of targets and that it would bring the inquiry early kudos (not to mention press coverage) if it brought “findings of fact” that the peer had indeed been a child abuser.

Emmerson later left the enquiry following an allegation of sexual assault, and the Janner allegations appear to contain some difficulties after all.

The “1961” Edward Heath Accuser

Meanwhile, a solicitor named David Greenwood provided more detail about an Edward Heath accuser – here called  WM-A1 and very clearly the “1961” accuser whose allegations included impossible dates. According to Greenwood:

A1 is not “Nick” of Operation Midland, but he has been let down on all levels. He describes being close to a group of politicians that were using rent boys in the 1960s, and he was neither investigated himself — he was not prosecuted — nor was he protected. This all raises the issue of blackmail and scrutiny by security services of politicians, or powerful figures, at least, at the time, and A1’s evidence needs to be looked at for evidence of this scrutiny where it may lead the inquiry into significant findings.