A Note on Byline, “Freelance Demonstrators”, and Vote Fair’s Supposed “Link” to Max Mosley

From the Mail:

Freelance demonstrators protesting against Brexit were paid thousands of pounds by an organisation linked to Max Mosley, it emerged yesterday.

The campaigners, from a group called the Fair Vote Project, were hired to increase support for a second EU referendum during a protest in Parliament Square.

But it has emerged the group received a £25,000 donation from an organisation called Byline Festival in which Mr Mosley, the former F1 owner accused of printing a racist leaflet [in 1961], holds shares.

The obvious implication in the first two paragraphs is that the protest was a concocted stunt involving fake “protestors for hire” rather than being a genuine expression of a point of view, and that Mosley was behind it.

However, this initial impression is not substantiated by subsequent text further down the page:

[The Fair Vote Project] is reported to have hired up to 30 people to target thousands travelling to work to convince them of the need for a second referendum.

The teams, armed with megaphones and placards handed out leaflets in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London. They urged people to join a protest in Parliament Square to call for a second and ‘fair’ vote.

This is advertising ahead of the protest, not something that happened “during” it, as implied above. Further, there is now a significant discrepancy when compared with the start of the article: first, we were told that Byline had “hired” the Fair Vote Project; now, it is explained that the Fair Vote Project hired someone else.

This last point probably reflects the fact that the article is a hurried re-write and abridgement of a piece that appeared in the Daily Telegraph, which was itself less than clear. Here’s an extract from the Telegraph version:

Freelance flash mobs have been paid thousands of pounds by a company linked to Max Mosley to target commuters at major cities to drum up support for a demonstration calling for a second EU referendum, The Telegraph can reveal.

The Fair Vote Project, founded by a consultant who worked for the anti-Brexit group Best for Britain that was set up by prominent Remain campaigner Gina Miller and part funded by George Soros, hired up to 30 people to target thousands of people travelling to work.

…The Telegraph has established that the Fair Vote Project received £25,000 funding from organisers of Byline Festival, a company in which Mr Mosley, the son of the British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley [who died in 1980], hold shares.

…Peter Jukes, a director of BylineFest and its sister company Byline Media, said Mr Mosley owned a total of four percent in those companies, worth around £40,000. He is one of a about 13 investors.

As for the hiring, Fair Vote’s Kyle Taylor

…said his company had paid the events specialists, Coalition, £3,066 to help with “event management and safety” at the “emergency rally” in London.

That fee included paying the hired hands, freelancers Coalition hires for such events, £60 plus £10 travel expenses to leaflet and shout slogans through the megaphone from 6am to 10am in the four cities.

This clarifies that although the Fair Vote Project may have received £25,000 from Byline, only a fraction of that amount was used to promote the rally via a third party.

The emphasis on Max Mosley in both articles is obviously overegged and polemical. To say that the Fair Vote Project is “linked” to Mosley implies communication between them, and that Mosley has a direct and active interest in Fair Vote’s activities. In fact, though, Mosley is just one shareholder in Byline, and he paid no part in the decision to provide financial support to Fair Vote:

“He would have been unaware of the £25,000 invested and may even be a Brexiter,” Mr Jukes, 57, said.

Certainly, another figure associated with the Byline Festival, John Cleese, is pro-Brexit.

The polemical and distorted reporting above reflects not just the two newspapers’ support for Brexit, but also a pre-existing hostility against Byline and Peter Jukes over criticism of press practices in the UK and support for Hacked Off. Both papers previously targeted Byline after the Byline website wrote about John Whittingale, as I discussed here.

A Note on “Mear One” And Jeremy Corbyn

From California, a distress call on Twitter from street artist “Mear One”:

A UK politician has reignited a smear campaign against me and a mural I painted in Shoreditch over 5 years ago depicting a group of banksters playing a game of monopoly on the backs of the working class. @Lukewearechange @davidicke @DollarVigilante

Reaching out to David Icke for help is perhaps not the most sensible move for someone credibly accused of anti-Semitism, but “Mear One” – aka Kalen Ockerman – shares Icke’s view that the world is full of shadowy elites and supernatural powers, clues to which he sees in phenomena such as the ancient elongated skulls of the Paracas culture.

Thus it is not a great surprise that the artist’s critique of capitalism is conspiratorial, and fixated on the idea of particularly malign individuals manipulating the world through secret networks. Mear One’s Shoreditch mural  appeared to portray generic “greedy bankers”, although he has since clarified that the figures are “Rothschild, Rockefeller, Morgan, Aleister Crowley, Carnegie & Warburg” – only two of these are Jewish, but his caricatures focus on physical features that obviously recall anti-Semitic cartoons.

In another version of the same work, apparently titled False Profits, the artist presents a different line-up. As listed by a retailer selling prints of the image, the figures in this version are:

BOTTOM ROW L. TO R. DAVID ROCKEFELLER, ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, EVELYN ROTHSCHILD, JACOB ROTHSCHILD, GEORGE SOROS, NICKY OPPENHEIMER

The print version also includes another, ghostly, set of figures standing behind them:

ILLUMINATI FOREFATHERS TOP ROW L. TO R. ALBERT PIKE, MAYER CARL FREIHERR VON ROTHSCHILD, ADAM WEISHAUPT, MAYER AMSCHEL DE ROTHSCHILD.

Mear One’s mural obviously reflects his belief that the world is controlled by an elite conspiracy of Jews and Freemasons; as such, it is difficult to sympathise with his complaint that he is the victim of a “smear campaign”.

Those who propound views of this sort sometimes complain that they are not being anti-Semitic because they are not claiming that all the world’s Jews are in on the conspiracy, which is instead a “clique”. But as I’ve noted before, this distinction is meaningless. “Rothschild” conspiracy mongering emerged out of explicit anti-Semitism (as discussed by Brian Cathcart here), and as a paranoid pseudo-explanation for human affairs it is the gateway back into back it. This process is evident from Mear One himself, who when the mural was removed back in 2012 stated that “some of the older white Jewish folk in the local community had an issue with me portraying their beloved #Rothschild or #Warburg etc as the demons they are”.

As has now been widely reported, the mural is currently controversial again due to a comment about it made by Jeremy Corbyn in 2012, long before his unexpected rise to leader of the UK Labour Party. Corbyn, responding directly to a Facebook post by the artist, notoriously compared it to Diego Rivera’s lost mural from the Rockefeller Center. Corbyn has a long history of anti-racist activism, and he has never expressed “Rothschild”-type conspiracy views, but obviously this comment was not to his credit. Presumably he simply saw a generic anti-capitalist cartoon, but he ought to have been alert to the anti-Semitic caricatures, and wary of the crudeness of the image. The depiction of the pyramid and Eye of Providence behind the bankers ought to have set off a “crank radar”, at the very least.

Worse, though, is that Corbyn didn’t just miss the obvious – he knew that objections had been made, but he didn’t bother to look into them before giving the work his vote of confidence. This suggests a doctrinaire character – someone whose judgements are based on preconceptions rather than the specific evidence in specific situations. Perhaps the demands and responsibilities of being Leader of the Opposition are broadening his outlook, but if so it will be a late blossoming.

“Rothschild” conspiricism has been festering within parts of the UK Labour Party – I looked at a couple of examples here and here.

UPDATE: Mear One has now written a defence of his mural, which has been published on David Icke’s website:

I decided the only platform, apart from my own, that I will choose to speak through is this one. I thank David Icke and Gareth Icke and their team for allowing me this opportunity to offer my side of the story, uncut and uncensored, for those who are awoken.

…Mayer Amschel Rothschild once said, “Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes the laws.” Using this as my ideological starting point, I chose to depict the likenesses of such early turn of the century Robber Barons, specifically Rothschild, Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, Warburg, as well Aleister Crowley who was a kind of philosophical guru to the ruling elite of that time and a well-known Satanist. 

In fact, the quote attributed to Mayer Amschel Rothschild first appeared in English in 1913, a hundred years after his death, and there is no evidence of a German original – but either way, the idea that it amounts to a revelation that explains the workings of the world is a wild extrapolation.

Crowley was an anti-Semite (“Israel has corrupted the world, whether by conquest, by conversion, or by conspiracy. The Jew has eaten his way into everything”), and as such his appearance as one of Mear One’s villains might be evidence in the artist’s favour. However, within the conspiracy milieu Crowley’s “Satanism” is conflated with the Jewish mystical tradition via Hermetic Qabalah; and his role in the mural is simply as a sinister association that underscores the moral turpitude of the depicted bankers.

In reality, Crowley didn’t know these people, and if he held influence over bankers one wonders why it was that he died in reduced financial circumstances.

UPDATE 2: Mear One’s sequence of “Rothschild, Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, Warburg, as well Aleister Crowley” has led to some of the figures in the mural being misidentified, as in the annotated version below. Crowley is obviously the bald character (although he’s a bit thin), but he is here mistaken for Andrew Carnegie; knocking on from this, Carnegie becomes Paul Warburg and Paul Warburg becomes Crowley. This obscures the overemphasis on Warburg’s nose.

 

Man Prosecuted After Showing How Easy It Is To Create Bogus UK Companies

2013: the Daily Mirror reports on Kevin Brewer, who set up a firm called John Vincent Cable Services Limited to alert the UK government’s then-Business Secretary to how easy it is to create companies based on false information:

“Fraud is simple to perpetrate and anyone can form a new company in anyone else’s name,” said Kevin, managing director of National Business Register.

“Companies House now forms one third of all new companies and does not perform any identity checks.

“It forms limited companies for anyone worldwide who chooses to use any name they pluck out of the air.”

He wrote to Mr Cable: “To illustrate the point, we have formed a company in your name without your consent and could start trading using your identity.”

2018: A follow-up in The Times:

Kevin Brewer, 65, was ordered to pay £12,000 yesterday after he admitted giving false information to Companies House, having formed a company five years ago that wrongly claimed to be owned by Sir Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader and former business secretary.

Brewer then set up another company in 2016 called Cleverly Clogs Ltd that named Baroness Neville-Rolfe, the government minister with responsibility for Companies House, as a director and shareholder, as well as James Cleverly, a Conservative MP. Brewer also created an entirely fictitious Israeli called Ibrahim Aman as a director and shareholder.

…”This prosecution shows the government will come down hard on people who knowingly break the law and file false information on the company registry,” Andrew Griffiths, the business minister, said.

A spokesman for Companies House said: “Deliberately filing false information on the register is a serious offence and people who have been found to have knowingly done this can face prosecution.”

Breaking the law in order to demonstrate a failure in enforcement may still be illegal, but Brewer’s stated purpose (which obviously is confirmed by the fact that he wrote to Cable) ought at least to have been mentioned in the Times article. Instead, the broadsheet has simply regurgitated government spin – the whole article is just a re-write of a Companies House press release.

Brewer was not “found” to have filed false information – he readily confessed to it, in order to prove a point. As such, the case falls far short of being evidence that “the government will come down hard on people who knowingly break the law and file false information on the company registry”. It was an anomaly, and the prosecution looks more like an instance of shooting the messenger.

Here’s the reality of the situation, as explained by Prem Sikka of the University of Essex in December:

Recently, journalists were moments away from registering company with 10 Downing Street, UK Prime Minister’s address, as its head office. The government’s response is that “Companies House does not have powers to verify the authenticity of company directors, secretaries and registered office addresses”.

Sikka’s emphasis here was on the potential for money laundering, but the broader point is that most people are under the misapprehension that registration with Companies House means that a company and its directors are thereby made accountable. This may influence potential partners or customers, or be useful in other ways for someone who wishes to misrepresent his or her public profile.

There are various ways in which Companies House records may be misleading, beyond blatant identity theft or creation. They include:

  • A director using variations of his or her real name, in order to obscure financial history or connections between companies;
  • A company having a listed address that used to be true, but that is now out of date;
  • A company listed with false address: this can be obscured by giving an address in a large office block, but not providing a suite number or similar that would confirm the specific location.

There is also little evidence that late or missing filings are actively pursued by Companies House, despite the power to levy fines.

The pursuit of Brewer does nothing to persuade that the system is not still unfit for purpose. Indeed, it is a distraction from the problem.

Cambridge Analytica: A Note on Bribes and Stings

From Channel 4 News:

An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News reveals how Cambridge Analytica secretly campaigns in elections across the world. Bosses were filmed talking about using bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers.

…Senior executives at Cambridge Analytica – the data company that credits itself with Donald Trump’s presidential victory – have been secretly filmed saying they could entrap politicians in compromising situations with bribes and Ukrainian sex workers.

…The company’s chief executive Alexander Nix… when asked about digging up material on political opponents… said they could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house”, adding that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well”.

In another he said: “We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet.”

Offering bribes to public officials is an offence under both the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Cambridge Analytica operates in the UK and is registered in the United States.

Channel 4’s coverage of Cambridge Analytica – researched in partnership with the Observer and the New York Times – has been justly celebrated as an urgently needed exposé of the machinations and manipulations of a sophisticated political consultancy in the digital age. The existence of the “dark arts” in political campaigning is hardly new, but tracing CA’s specific interventions around the world is important for the historical record, and an advance in the perennial battle between those who want the public to be informed and those who would prefer us to be misinformed. Nix’s statement that “there are things that don’t necessarily need to be true as long as they’re believed” is not a great surprise, but such a candid admission ought to mean that the reputational risk of involvement with CA will now outstrip the benefits it promises (or has previously provided) to clients.

And that’s before we even get onto possible breaches of the law in data-gathering and in how anti-Clinton attack adverts were funded.

However, the above point about bribery seems to me to be questionable. The lead-in’s reference to “using bribes” gives the false impression that politicians are actually being bribed, rather than being stung, and it would be ironic if laws against “offering bribes to public officials” made it more difficult for politicians to be put to the test. The motive for a bribery sting may be hidden or dishonourable, but politicians ought to be capable of rebuffing corrupt overtures, and at least have the sense to properly scrutinise who they might be dealing with. In some countries, there may be mitigating reasons for accepting a bribe – for example, if otherwise it would simply be accepted by a rival, who would then enjoy extra resources – but politicians feeling that they have to adapt to a corrupt system won’t change unless the risks of exposure outweigh the benefits of acquiescence.

CA of course is not interested in cleaning up politics, and its use of bribery scandals is selective and manipulative. However, attempting to show whether politicians are corruptable through stings is a normal part of journalism – and it is something that Channel 4 News has itself done in the past. (1) Why should it be illegitimate for other interested parties to create news in the same way?

I draw a distinction here with Nix’s unattractive admission about using “Ukrainian girls”. Sex stings are always tawdry, and if the “honeytraps” are supposed to go all the way then Nix is effectively a pimp. The fact that someone may be induced to behave foolishly in such matters is rarely in the public interest – although again, politicians ought to bear in mind the old adage that if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. (2)

Footnotes

1. In 2013, a BBC Panorama journalist posing as a lobbyist for Fiji successfully stung the then-MP Patrick Mercer. Mercer’s subsequent departure from public life was very welcome, but I did wonder why it was that he had been targeted in the first place. Perhaps his various antics (briefing against an ex-lover in newspapers; promoting fake terror threats; drunkenly railing against David Cameron) made him certain enemies who then used media links.

2. The nadir was probably the Brooks Newmark sting.

Online “Wanted” Poster Targets Councillors After Telford MP Denounces “10 Important Men”

Two recent Tweets from Lucy Allan, MP for Telford:

These 10 important men told @AmberRuddHR no inquiry into #TelfordGrooming #TelfordCSE was necessary [here] … Tackling #CSE [Child Sexual Exploitation] is about tackling the establishment [here]

The “10 important men” are identified in an image posted with the first Tweet, which shows the names and signatures of Telford councillors and other local officials who had signed a letter to the Home Secretary on the subject in September 2016. The whole letter has been posted online by Telford and Wrekin Conservatives on Facebook, with the commentary that it is “shameful and shocking”.

The letter was written in the wake of a Prime Minister’s Question asked by Allan on the issue of child sexual exploitation in her constituency. The authors explained to Amber Rudd that

We have had three enquiries into this issue in 2016 and understand that the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse chaired by Professor Alexis Jay OBE will assess the extent to which we have learned lessons, implemented recommendations and put in place effective strategies to prevent child sexual exploitation in the future.

The letter goes on to quote Ofsted’s assessment of child protection in the area:

Work with children and young people at risk of sexual exploitation is very strong. The local authority has been a champion for tackling this issue.

Thus:

Given the recent findings of Ofsted and the fact that the Government’s own independent inquiry, chaired by Alexis Jay, is already committed to looking at what happened here in Telford, we do not feel at this time that a further inquiry is necessary.

We would like to be clear that we are under no illusions that there are significant concerns around the sexual exploitation of children in Telford. In towns and cities across the country it is clear that some of the most abhorrent offences are being committed against some of our most vulnerable members of society.

We are not blind to this issue though. We are not sticking our heads in the sand or sweeping it under the carpet. Instead, we have acknowledged the problem and committed ourselves to taking action to address it. We are keen to emphasise that investigating these crimes and protecting children from harm remains a top priority for all the partners concerned.

…We would be very happy to work with [Allan] to achieve the goals we all share around safeguarding young people and bringing offenders to justice.

…To summarise, we remain committed to tackling this difficult issue in Telford and will support Professor Jay in any way we can…

The Telford Conservatives have highlighted in purple the “Given the recent findings of Ofsted…” paragraph as being the “smoking gun”, although if the letter was so obviously “shameful and shocking”, why did they not use such terms in 2016?

The letter has come to the fore now following a series of articles in the Sunday Mirror and Daily Mirror suggesting that convictions against offenders in 2013 and in some earlier cases ought to have been pursued further to identify other related offenders, and revealing that some police documentation used the term “child prostitutes” and referred to “consensual” underage sex. The paper’s coverage also consulted a campaigning academic named Liz Kelly (1), who said that the evidence suggested “up to 1,000” victims; this seems to have been an off-the-cuff guestimate based on the Mirror‘s reporting rather than a rigorous statistic, but the figure has now become the essential shocking fact about Telford.

The town’s chief of police says that the 1,000 figure is “sensationalised”, but when it comes to child protection issues anyone who falls short of a “maximalist” position about the extent of a problem and the measures needed to tackle it will be regarded with suspicion and hostility. Thus Allan’s decision to publicly denounce “10 important men” and to frame the issue in terms of “the establishment” was red meat to the social media mob: within a very short time, a “Wanted”-style poster appeared online with the ten men’s names and photos, alongside false claims that they had “stopped investigations” and far worse luridly malicious comments. It’s difficult to believe that Allan was unaware that her decision to personalise the issue in this way would have such a result.

Footnote

1. Kelly is director of the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU) at London Metropolitan University, and her efforts to highlight the problem have been recognised with the CBE. In the early 1990s, she contributed to the literature on Satanic Ritual Abuse, co-authoring an article on the subject with Sara Scott.

Rachel Nickell Documentary Highlights Criminal Profiling Controversy

The recent ITV documentary Rachel Nickell: The Untold Story (for KEO Films, written and presented by Fiona Bruce ) is a good opportunity for renewed critical focus on the practice of criminal profiling and its influence on police investigations.

Nickell’s murder in 1992 – in broad daylight on Wimbledon Common, in front of her young son – prompted the Metropolitan Police to seek advice from a profiler named Paul Britton. Britton had previously worked with police on a series of unsolved rapes along southeast London’s Green Chain Walk, and a year after becoming involved with the Nickell case he advised on the profile of the unknown killer of a single mother named Samantha Bisset and her four-year-old daughter Jazmine, again in the same part of the city.

We now know that the perpetrator in all three cases was a man named Robert Napper. However, as Fiona Bruce explains in the documentary, Britton “created three different criminal profiles” before Napper was identified – an unanswerable indictment of the methods used.

Notoriously, Britton’s involvement in the Nickell case was significant in convincing the police that the killer was Colin Stagg, a man living nearby who had no forensic link to the crime scene. Stagg was in prison on remand when the Bisset killings occurred, but this did not shake the confidence of the Nickell detectives, even though police dealing with the Bisset case had consulted them and the similarities between the two incidents were obvious even from media reports. This latter point is discussed in the documentary by Bill Clegg QC, who was working on Stagg’s defence:

I remember reading the papers in chambers, and within two or three hours I came out of the room and said to my clerk, “I reckon that’s the man that killed Rachel Nickell”. It seemed to me to be perfectly obvious. Statistically, it’s extremely rare for a mother to be murdered in the presence of a young child.

Detective Mike Banks, who led the Bisset investigation, gave Bruce this assessment of Britton’s contribution:

It wasn’t my request, I was told to get him in… Very nice chap. But I think one of my youngest DCs gave exactly the same outline of who he thought would be responsible as what Paul Britton came up with.

Footage from Crimewatch shows Britton suggesting the “possibility” that the Bisset killer might be wanting to call into the programme to talk to him.

Bruce also spoke with Professor David Canter on the limitations of criminal profiling; according to Canter:

People think that it’s some clever, insightful individual that really owes more to Sherlock Holmes actually than to scientific psychology. For a start, to actually say you can indicate something about a person from the brief details you got at a crime scene is really speculative… We can’t know what people are feeling and thinking, particularly criminals, who often don’t even know themselves exactly what’s going through their minds at the time.

Canter is the founder of the International Research Centre of Investigative Psychology at the University of Huddersfield, and the author of Investigative Psychology: Offender Profiling and the Analysis of Criminal Action; his centre “compiled a report on the eyewitness testimony that was crucial in convicting Al Megrahi as the Lockerbie Bomber”.

Bruce’s decision to use Canter as Britton’s peer critic sidestepped a broader debate about whether criminal profiling is of any value whatsoever. The work of Professor Craig Jackson of Birmingham City University is significant here, and his criticisms brought him some media attention in 2010:

…according to a team of psychologists at Birmingham City University, the practice of offender profiling is deeply unscientific and risks bringing the field into disrepute.

In many cases, offender profiles are so vague as to be meaningless, according to psychologist Craig Jackson. At best, they have little impact on murder investigations; at worst they risk misleading investigators and waste police time, he said.

The journalist Nick Cohen summed it up nicely in 2008, when it was at last confirmed that Napper had killed Nickell:

Britton would never have impressed detectives if he had said that Stagg was a bit of a weirdo. When he dressed up that same thought in psychological language and talked of “deviant interests” and “sexual dysfunctions”, he sounded fatally convincing.

…Genetic fingerprinting catches the guilty and frees the innocent. Psychological profiling traps the innocent and sends the guilty out to kill again.

Cohen had previously written about Britton in 2000, noting his media profile:

His case shows that once your name is in the newspaper contacts files and BBC libraries as the authoritative expert without compare you can elbow out competitors and ensure your fame stretches to the crack of doom. Whenever there is an unsolved crime to discuss or an opinion is needed on the effects of Hollywood violence on the young, Britton is called for his view by everyone from the Sunday Times to the Today programme.

It should be remembered that profiling is used not only to identify suspects, but as expert evidence in trials. The most famous example how this can contribute to a miscarriage of justice is the case of Randall Adams, as discussed in Errol Morris’s celebrated 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line. Adams – an innocent man accused of fatally shooting a police officer – was diagnosed as a dangerous killer by Jim Grigson, a forensic psychologist nicknamed “Dr Death” for his testimony in capital cases in Texas. Grigson’s pseudo-assessment of Adams was based at least in part in how Adams answered questions about the meanings of various proverbs.

Excurcus

Britton’s profiling skills is just one strand in the ITV documentary, which also discusses in some detail the police’s ludicrous “honeytrap” plot to get Stagg to confess. The programme says that the officer chosen for the task was “guided” by Britton; the judge at Stagg’s trial, Mr Justice Ognall, described Britton as the “puppet master”, although it seems to me that the police must take most of the responsibility for the fiasco.

Famously, the “honeytrap” (which never elicited a confession anyway) led the judge to declare a mistrial, which meant that Stagg was acquitted – but not exonerated. Police continued to maintain that Stagg was guilty, and he and the judge were subsequently subjected to tabloid monsterings. Some of this is mentioned in the documentary, but not the most egregious example, in which the Sun juxtaposed Stagg’s face with the headline “No Girl is Safe”. Such reporting can be seen as a precursor for the media vilification of Christopher Jefferies more than 15 years later.

Bruce’s view, based on her memories of reporting on the Nickell case at the time, is that police had taken the Nickell killing personality, and she “felt as if they’d all slightly fallen in love with her”. As such, they “lost objectivity”.

Footnote

(1) Britton was cleared of misconduct by the British Psychological Society in 2002, on the grounds that he could not get a fair hearing. He also maintains that he advised police to broaden the Nickell investigation, and that he referred back to the Green Chain rapes. However, according to the Telegraph:

His account contradicts a book he wrote 10 years ago, The Jigsaw Man, in which he said there was no link between Miss Nickell’s murder and Green Chain Walk attacks, but he now insists he was guided away from his original views at the insistence of senior detectives.

A Media Note on Telford

The BBC has a quote from Police Supt Tom Harding, who is in charge of West Mercia Police in the town of Telford:

I’m concerned about the 1,000 figure because I don’t know the basis upon which it was reached and actually we’ve worked with a number of young people over many years around CSE [child sexual exploitation] and it’s nowhere near that 1,000 number.

But absolutely we don’t know the full scale of sexual offending as it’s an incredibly under-reported crime, but we are doing everything that we can to encourage those people to come forward.

I’m not playing this down. What I’m saying is that for many years we’ve identified CSE as something that are seeking to tackle, and I’ve had, in the last two years, I’ve had additional resources provided to me by the chief constable and PCC, because it’s something that we really want to work on jointly with the local authority.

Harding was responding an article that appeared in the latest Sunday Mirror on the subject of child sexual exploitation in Telford, which reported that “Professor Liz Kelly, from the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University” had “helped estimate” that “up to 1,000 children” may have been targeted by “sex gangs” in the town. This figure was apparently calculated by extrapolating from information provided by the newspaper about past cases over many years (in one instance going back to the 1980s).

Organised “grooming” sex abuse in Telford was first highlighted in 2012-13, when the police’s Operation Chalice resulted in seven convictions – this was a year after comparable trials relating to Rotherham. However, it is reasonable to suppose that these convictions indicate a deeper problem – and even if Harding is right to be confident that far fewer children are at risk of exploitation now, that still leaves a legacy of historic cases for which perpetrators and those who may have failed in their duties ought to be brought to account.

This is a subject that the Sunday Mirror has been campaigning on for some time – in September 2016 the paper ran a piece headlined “Parents’ fury over grooming ‘whitewash'” (online as “Leaders of town dubbed ‘Britain’s child sex capital’ accused of whitewashing own inquiry”), which was followed a week later with “Theresa May urged to launch Rotherham-style inquiry into the town branded Britain’s child sex capital”, referring to an intervention by the town’s MP, Lucy Allen. Geraldine McKelvie, the journalist responsible for those articles and co-author of the on Sunday, also helped write a memoir by Holly Archer, I Never Gave My Consent: A Schoolgirl’s Life Inside the Telford Sex Ring, which was published by Simon & Schuster UK.

The new article also suggests that older reports ought to be understood as part of the same story: one example here is the death of Lucy Lowe, a 16-year-old who was murdered by arson in 2000 along with her mother and sister by a man named Azhar Ali Mehmood. Lowe had borne Mehmood’s child at the age of 14; he was convicted of murder  in 2001 but not charged for the statutory rape, and according to the report, the killings are said to have been “used as a warning to other girls” by other abusers. A follow-up article about Lowe’s daughter refers to “the network of perverts and paedophiles, which is believed to have started in the 1980s”, suggestive of an overarching criminal conspiracy rather than a social malaise.

While the Sunday Mirror‘s front-page splash drew attention to a serious matter of public concern, its status as “hot news”, it seems to me, is ambiguous: on the one hand, new revelations of something apparently covered up, backed up with new interview material and references to “previously unseen files”; but on the other, largely a synthesis of older material, simply given renewed urgency by the statistic provided by Kelly.

Either way, the new article caught the public attention in a way that the older pieces hadn’t, and the report was widely taken as breaking news that deserved to dominate the news cycle. On social media, the fact that this was not the case on BBC News was a source of particular anger and suspicion – and the BBC’s subsequent decision to frame the story through Harding’s response has compounded the supposed original offence.

The new urgency has also been used as a stick to beat politicians for referring to other subjects: thus when the Green MP Caroline Lucas wrote that “Pleased that my Urgent Question on bullying and harassment in House of Commons has been granted”, Andrew Neil responded by saying that an Urgent Question on Telford would have been more appropriate; and Nadine Dorries saw an opportunity to attack the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan for an unrelated Tweet stating that it was “time to act on hate speech”. Dorries (the only MP, so far as I am aware, to have previously promoted Tommy Robinson on Twitter) replied that it was instead “time to act on sex abusing grooming gangs”, apparently implying that Khan was attempting to shut down discussion of a crime in which British Asians of Pakistani origins have been disproportionately involved.

There has been less interest, though, in asking for more information about specific details. When Harding says that “I’m concerned about the 1,000 figure because I don’t know the basis upon which it was reached”, he’s making a perfectly reasonable point – all we have is the authority of an academic/campaigner, rather than a rigorous assessment we can follow for ourselves; yet this is now embedded as the essential fact about Telford.

Similarly, we’re told that documents show that “council staff viewed abused and trafficked children as ‘prostitutes’ instead of victims”, but we’re not told when this was or how this apparent “view” affected decision-making – were they being dismissive, or just using outdated terminology? (1) An assertion that “authorities failed to keep details of abusers from Asian communities for fear of ‘racism'” isn’t very helpful when we don’t know which authorities, when, or whether “fear of ‘racism'” was an issue they themselves raised or something they have been accused of by others.

One can’t blame a tabloid newspaper for focusing on sensational elements – some would argue that this is the only way to get to the guts of a story – but when these form the basis for a national discussion there are obvious risks that the public will be alarmed and angered without being properly informed, and that the issue will be weaponised by malign elements [UPDATE: for example one such attempt, see here].

Note

1. One of the offences that led to convictions in 2012 and 2013 was  called “controlling child prostitution”. The term “child prostitution” was removed from government publications only in 2016. This is doubtless an improvement, but it is unreasonable to assert that someone who has used the old term therefore has no understanding that this is child exploitation.

In a further follow-up article in the Daily Mirror, we are told:

Officers investigating child sexual exploitation in the town were sent an internal memo telling them “in most cases the sex is consensual”.

…Mr [Dino] Nocivelli, of the firm Bolt Burdon Kemp, said: “Many of these children will have been groomed and manipulated by their abusers and would have been threatened to keep silent. How can you say an 11-year-old is capable of consenting to sex with a 40-year-old? This is rape.”

Nocivelli appears to be providing the Mirror titles with a running commentary. Again, though, more context would be useful. What did the police mean by using this phrase? Were they disregarding the age of consent law, or was the memo simply providing contextual information about the nature of the offence, which was that a child had been improperly persuaded to agree to sexual activity, rather than being overpowered or threatened? Surely the former is implicit in the whole idea of “grooming”, in which the perpetrator uses manipulation and deception rather than brute force. As a particular crime with is own distinctive strategy, this is a difference that officers needed to be aware of.

Let’s see the Mirror publish documents and memos as fully as possible, so we can make informed judgements of our own.

Conservative Christians Denounce “Bizarre” Consultation Between CPS and Police on Lord Carey

A letter in the Daily Telegraph:

Operation Yewtree and its successor Operation Hydrant have investigated hundreds of cases of suspected misconduct in public office and have yet to bring a case to trial.

For example, no one has been charged with any offence in relation to the misdemeanours of Jimmy Savile. The cases against Lord Bramall, Leon Brittan, Edward Heath and Cliff Richard were all dropped. Why is Lord Carey being targeted at this time? Certain public leaders appear to be being attacked by insinuation without due process.

The notion that a criminal case could be brought against Lord Carey is so bizarre that we can only surmise that the object of the persistent pressure that brings these public attacks is not only Lord Carey but what he represents of biblically faithful Christianity. An attack on him is an attack on us all.

The letter is signed by the Marquess of Reading (Simon Rufus Isaacs), Michael Nazir-Ali (former Bishop of Rochester), Colin Buchanan (former Bishop of Woolwich),  Vinay Samuel (Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life), Chris Sugden (Anglican Mainstream), Sarah Finch (Member of the General Synod), Andrea Williams (Christian Concern), Andrew Wingfield Digby (canon), Valerie Nazir Ali (bishop’s wife) and Paul Perkin (vicar).

George Carey was Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1990s, and it has been reported that “the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is discussing with Scotland Yard detectives whether to pursue criminal charges” on the grounds that he allegedly committed “misconduct in a public office” in how he dealt with allegations against Peter Ball, who stepped down as bishop of Gloucester in 1993 after accepting a police caution for “gross indecency”. Carey said privately that he believed that Ball was “basically innocent”, and he failed to pass on information from other complainants to the police. The result that was Ball was effectively rehabilitated in the years that followed, and the caution regarded as a dubious anomaly rather than as evidence of a pattern of predatory sexual behaviour. Ball eventually pleaded guilty to further offences in 2015, by which time one of his victims had committed suicide.

The letter in the Telegraph, it seems to me, is an ill-advised and self-serving intervention.

First, it’s factually sloppy: “misconduct in a public office” was one of the grounds on which Ball was convicted, but that was not through Operation Yewtree and “misconduct in a public office” was not the basis on which Operation Yewtree investigated sex abuse allegation. It’s an odd focus here that glosses over the fact that Yewtree, for all its failings, did in fact secure a couple of convictions (Max Clifford and the first trial of Rolf Harris). Further, the allegation against Lord Bramall (and one allegation against Leon Brittan) was dealt with as part of the Operation Midland fiasco; and while the ludicrous Operation Conifer, which investigated Edward Heath, turned out to be a damp squib, it ran its course rather than being “dropped” – the case could never have come to trial, because Heath is dead.

Second, given the many police excesses relating to Operations Midland and Yewtree, why are these public figures only stirred to say something about the subject now? The life-changing injustices suffered by innocent suspects (discussed e.g. here and here) has been a national scandal for several years, yet this does not appear to have been much of a “Christian concern” to date. Might homophobia have been an issue here? Andrea Minichiello Williams in particular has a history of promoting the idea that gay people are “linked” to child sex abuse, and it’s telling that the authors couldn’t bring themselves to place Harvey Proctor alongside Lord Bramall and Leon Brittan.

Third, the failed investigations referenced in the letter are in no way comparable to Carey’s predicament. Ball is a convicted sex offender who finally admitted his guilt, and there is no doubt that Carey was taken in by him and that this affected his decision-making. In mitigation, Ball enjoyed a strong presumption of credibility due to personal charisma and an outward appearance of saintliness, and he enjoyed the support of powerful figures (most notably, Prince Charles), but clearly the wrong decisions were made after his public disgrace in 1993. (1) I don’t claim to know if Carey’s mismanagement here amounted to an offence, but it’s not a denial of due process to consider the possibility.

Fourth, there is absolutely no reason to suppose that police interest in Carey is because of “what he represents of biblically faithful Christianity”, and the supposed contrast with nobody being “charged with any offence in relation to the misdemeanours of Jimmy Savile” is simple whataboutery. The claim is the sort of unattractive Christian-right victim narrative that Christian Concern in particular trades in.

It’s reasonable to be concerned that Operation Hydrant may simply see Carey as an easy target after so many high-profile Operation Yewtree failures, but such a point is obscured when Carey’s defenders resort to such overblown rhetoric.

(H/T Mark Woods, whose article “Why conservative Christians should stop defending George Carey” can be read here.)

Footnote

(1) One conservative evangelical, Rev. Tony Higton, complained at the time that Carey had minimised Ball’s behaviour: see “Carey ‘made light of bishop’s sin'”, The Times, March 24, 1993).

Snowflake Hacks Denounce Millennials Over Sympathy for Frankenstein’s Monster

For journalists seeking a bit of effortless copy, there is apparently no easier target these days than young adults – aka “millennials” – and their supposed “snowflake” inability to react sensibly to the realities of life. Presumably we are supposed to overlook the fact that it often appears to be the splenetic and offended hacks who are “triggered” by other people’s views, and who seek to police public discussion through mockery and synthetic outrage.

A couple of months ago the moral panic about youth alighted on how some young people respond negatively to scenes in James Bond films, but the nadir appears to have now been reached with a piece in the Sun that is barely coherent in its thesis:

FLAKENSTEINS Snowflake students claim Frankenstein’s monster was ‘misunderstood’ — and is in fact a VICTIM

SNOWFLAKE students claim Frankenstein’s monster was a misunderstood victim with feelings.

A professor has even suggested the lab-created murderer could be protected by human rights laws.

…Prof Nick Groom, of Exeter University, said: “When I teach the book now, students are very sentimental towards the being. But he is a mass murderer.”

The implication appears to be that young people lack the ability to make moral judgements about bad people, perhaps because “human rights laws” promote sympathy towards those who are undeserving of it. Thus while in the case of James Bond’s sexism “millennials” are over-censorious and unappreciative of Bond’s masculine assertiveness and hyper-competence, in the case of Frankenstein they are not condemnatory enough about a killer. The outrage machine can be fed at both ends.

However, this is not just an example of tabloid excess – the inspiration appears to have been a piece in The Times with a headline that again suggested that “millennials” have a peculiar perspective on the book:

Frankenstein’s Monster? He was stitched up, say millennials

Despite the creature’s murderous revenge when he is deserted by Dr Frankenstein and spurned by human society, Professor Groom says today’s students are reluctant to condemn him.

…”It’s interesting when I teach the book now, students are very sentimental towards the being,” he said. “People feel quite a lot of sympathy for the being, but he is a mass murderer.”

He added: “There’s been a gradual shift. Obviously one doesn’t want to be too simplistic, but it is shown by the shift in critical terminology: for years Victor Frankenstein’s creation was known as the Monster, then critics seemed to identify him as a victim and called him the Creature. That fits more with students’ sensibilities today.”

I expect that students reading the novel go in with a vague awareness that this is a horror story involving a monster, and come out with a better appreciation of the work’s themes. Although Groom refers to a “shift in critical terminology”, it is hardly groundbreaking to understand the monster as more than just a rampaging villain. The Monster/Creature is very obviously a tragic figure, both in the book and the early Universal horror films – and I wonder how “snowflake” hacks would react if they ever found out that the second Universal film, The Bride of Frankenstein, even has a scene in which the Monster is tied to a pole by a baying mob of villagers and raised up, in an obvious parallel with Christ’s crucifixion.

I think Groom here means “critics” in the broad sense of “interpreters”, rather than literary scholars, who surely would have got the point long ago – but adaptations have been billing “the Creature” rather than “the Monster” for decades, and this was the term used in the 2011 Danny Boyle stage production, a still from which appears with the Times article. In an interview posted online by the Oxford University Press in December, Groom says that he prefers to refer to “the Being”.

The Times article ends with a Phil Space collection of facts about Mary Shelley, the creation of the book and the first film. We’re told that

Boris Karloff created the modern image of the monster in the 1931 Universal Pictures film, introducing the angular head, electrical bolts through the neck and stiff-legged walk — Shelley had described him as more agile than humans.

Without belittling Karloff’s performance, the “modern image” in fact owes much more to Jack Pierce, who designed and applied the make-up; and while Karloff’s monster lumbers somewhat, the “stiff-legged walk” is more prominent in later Universal films, particularly when Glenn Strange took over the role.

UPDATE: For some reason, the Sun has now deleted a Tweet promoting its article. Groom, meanwhile, has confirmed that the Sun article “picked up on longer interviews that were in the Times on Monday and Observer on Sunday”, and he has RTed some mocking comments about the Sun piece. The Observer interview can be seen here.

Australia Media Watch Highlights Problems with “Westminster VIP Child-Sex Abuse” Documentary

In Australia, ABC’s Media Watch programme has run a segment on “Spies, Lords and Predators”, a sensational documentary broadcast on Channel 9’s 60 Minutes in July 2015, at the height of journalistic frenzy over historical allegations relating to supposed “Westminster VIP” child-sex abusers. There are few surprises for those of us who have been following the story in detail, but the segment is a very useful summary of how 60 Minutes got it wrong; it is also important because 60 Minutes broke a promise made by its presenter Ross Coultart at the time that “We’ll be sure to keep you updated on the progress of the police investigation”.

The fact that the promised update never arrived has meant that viewers were never told by 60 Minutes that the allegations promoted by Coultard as “the biggest political scandal in British history” were never substantiated, and that the credibility of the accusers interviewed on the programme has come under serious question.

MediaWatch notes in particular the problems with the accusers “Darren” and Richard Kerr. Darren turned out to have had a long history of dishonesty, and by his own account (as shown in a video clip) he had been diagnosed with a “paranoid mental health disorder”, while Kerr’s claim to have been trafficked to London from the Kincora Boy’s Home in Belfast was undermined by evidence presented at the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland. Media Watch also points out that a supposed reconstruction in “Spies, Lords and Predators” depicted Kerr as a 10-year-old being chauffeured around London, when even he wasn’t making such a claim, instead saying that he had been “16, 15, 17”.

Media Watch also refers to “Nick” and Operation Midland; this is important for understanding the general climate of the time, but Nick was not discussed in “Spies, Lords and Predators”, and Channel 9 has seized on this in its response:

Contrary to your false assertions, ‘Nick’ was not a source or a key witness for our story in any way whatsoever and no allegation in our story came from him.

Further:

We did engage with Exaro in the course of our investigation but as best we could at the time we tested the witness accounts with Police – who, at the time, strongly backed the veracity of the extraordinary VIP paedophile allegations – and other sources.

Exaro was the website most responsible for promoting the claims. However, while the Metropolitan Police had infamously declared Nick to be “credible and true”, the more general reference here to “the veracity of the extraordinary VIP paedophile allegations” elides details specific to the documentary: Darren was himself complaining in 2014 and 2015 that the police did not believe him, and while police have investigated Kincora and secured abuse convictions relating to the home, Kerr does not appear to have made a police complaint about his trafficking allegation, despite making media statements.

Channel 9 continues:

We note also that the investigations are by no means over. Many of the allegations raised by these witnesses are still under investigation by the ongoing IICSA – The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’.

This point is perhaps relevant as regards Esther Baker, who appeared in the 60 Minutes documentary claiming to have been raped during woodland rituals by a group that included a politician. Although Baker is not discussed in the Media Watch segment, that police investigation has also since ended without charges being brought, and the politician concerned, John Hemming, has now gone public with his account of how the allegation has affected his life.

Despite this outcome, and the inherent improbabilities in Baker’s account (not least of which is the fact that Hemming happened to be in a dispute with one of Baker’s associates when she accused him), Baker is now a “Core Participant” in the Westminster strand of the IICSA.

Baker also claims that she recognised from details in “Darren’s” story that she had been taken by night to Dolphin Square in London; however, that particular claim did not feature in “Spies, Lords and Predators”, and she hasn’t referred to it since the collapse of Darren’s credibility. It wasn’t even mentioned by her lawyer, Peter Garsden, when he represented her at a preliminary IICSA hearing in January.