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.

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 Čas 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 Čas 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, čo bude mať Thatcherová na raňajky, obed a večeru a aké bude mať šaty na budúci deň. 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, čo boli s Nelsonom Mandelom. Zapadá to, lebo on a jeho partia sa zúčastňovali na príprave podporných podujatí. Nakoniec sme urobili koncert vo Wembley. To financovalo Československo.

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.