Introduction: Vaz and the “protection” of Janner
At the Daily Mail, Andrew Pierce rattles off a list of scandals around Keith Vaz, in the wake of “sordid revelations” about his sex life. At the end of the list:
Protecting paedophile Lord Janner
Vaz was one of a handful of Labour MPs who publicly defended the late Janner against child sex abuse allegations at a time when prosecutors now admit the peer should have faced trial. Vaz said Janner had been the victim of a ‘wicked attack’ in 1991 when the allegations surfaced. He campaigned for a change in the law to prevent any repeat.
Pierce here refers to a Commons debate on contempt of court, which was held in December 1991 following the conviction of Frank Beck. The background is well known:
Lord Janner was named by Frank Beck, a former head of three children’s homes in Leicestershire, who was given five life terms after 200 children complained that they had been abused by him over 13 years to 1986.
A 30-year-old man also gave evidence that he had been abused by Lord Janner when he was in care aged 13. A letter was shown to the jury that was allegedly sent from the MP to the boy.
The prosecution in the case called the claims a red herring and part of “the great Janner diversion” in an attempt to deflect blame from Beck, the court heard.
Janner complained that laws around contempt of court meant that he had been unable to defend himself, and the debate raised the suggestion that those accused of sex abuse should be afforded anonymity.
It was reported at the time that the “30-year-old man’s” evidence had been inconsistent, and it was hardly controversial to express the view that Janner had been maligned. By referring to “a handful of Labour MPs”, Pierce gives the impression that it was widely understood that there was a strong case against Janner, and that only a few political allies were willing to support him. However, the Commons debate was actually initiated by David Ashby, a Conservative MP, and Janner maintained a prominent position in public life for the next two decades.
The claim that Vaz had “protected” Janner was also made by Jay Rayner, in a 2015 article sensationally headlined “Keith Vaz helped kill a 90s probe into the Greville Janner claims”. This title gives the impression that Vaz had somehow used improper influence to derail an official investigation, when all he means is that after the Commons debate his then-employer, the Independent, did not have the enthusiasm to investigate the allegation further.
Some notes on the Janner allegations
As is also well known, allegations against Janner grew in the years that followed 1991 – I recall in 2001 or 2002 being surprised that the first internet search result for his name was site devoted to the subject (expressed in crudely anti-Semitic terms). We now know that Janner was investigated by police again in 2002 and in 2007, and at the start of this year the Henriques Report concluded that “in 1991, there was a sufficiency of evidence for a prosecution to be commenced against Janner for offences of indecent assault and buggery”.
This was a few weeks after Janner’s death. By that time, the CPS had extraordinarily amended rules about holding a “trial of the facts” so that Janner could be put on trial despite being too ill participate – a provision which previously only applied when a defendant was a threat to public safety, rather than when the accused was a shambling shell with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. The Guardian obituary of Janner led with the observation that his reputation had been “overshadowed and ultimately discredited by credible allegations that he had been a serial sexual predator and abuser of young boys in his Leicester constituency for more than 20 years.”
However, it should remembered that the CPS re-think of its 1991 decision did not mean “the CPS now thinks Janner was guilty”, much less “therefore he must have been”. Here is CPS guidance about what happens when the CPS makes a charging decision against someone who then dies before trial:
In some cases the CPS may make a charging decision, which is communicated to the police, but the suspect subsequently dies before he/she has been charged by the police.
…Any public disclosure of a decision to charge should be accompanied with an explanation of the status of a charging decision, in particular that it does not mean that the deceased suspect was guilty of the alleged offence, as that would be a matter for a jury to decide.
I discussed this subject more broadly here.
In the case of Janner, the journalist David Rose uncovered new background information in July that Janner’s initial accuser (referred to by the pseudonym “Tony”) was known to have made a false accusation against Barbara Fitt, the head of the care home where he was staying, after the discovery of a theft. Rose wrote in the Mail on Sunday:*
Doubts about Tony’s reliability are especially significant because, although 33 people have now claimed Janner abused them, for many years he was the only accuser. They suggest that the decision not to charge Janner was not an ‘Establishment cover-up’, as some have claimed, but a determination on ordinary legal grounds.
…According to sources close to social services at the time, the relationship broke down at the end of 1974 after Mrs Fitt twice found ‘substantial’ quantities of cash that Tony had stolen from Janner and the Labour Party office. After the second theft, Janner wrote to Mrs Fitt saying that though he had tried his utmost, he could no longer mentor Tony or have him at his home.
By this time, Tony was about to leave Station Road after the incident with the six-year-old girl. It was decided to move Tony to another Leicester home, in part to protect other child residents.
It was then that Tony came into contact with Beck.
The Janner allegations remain a strand of the Government’s inquiry into child abuse, somewhat anomalously given that all the other strands relate to institutions; last month, the resignation of the inquiry’s head, Lowell Goddard, prompted some critical comment on the subject from Dominic Lawson in the Sunday Times:
…to quote this column from last March: “On the first day of the inquiry’s proceedings, its QC, Ben Emmerson, declared that he would attempt to make ‘findings of fact’ in cases of individual abuse, blithely referring to ‘Lord Janner and other individuals allegedly associated with him in his offending’.”
I believe that Emmerson, like his favourite newspaper [the Guardian], saw Janner as the easiest of targets and that it would bring the inquiry early kudos (not to mention press coverage) if it brought “findings of fact” that the peer had indeed been a child abuser.
Janner’s family continue to maintain – quite pugnaciously – that he was innocent. On the other hand, two journalists, Paul Gosling and Mark D’Arcy, have articulated the case against Janner in a new chapter for their 1998 book about Beck Abuse of Trust.
Janner and Vaz’s Fall
Vaz’s 1991 statement of support for Janner is now being given as one reason why it is in the public interest for us all to know that Vaz recently paid for sex with (adult) male prostitutes (a matter brought to the Sunday Mirror‘s attention by one of the men, who recognized him, according to Roy Greenslade). The Sun, in a piece headlined “Vaz’s Long Link to Janner: Keith Vaz’s passionate defence of disgraced Labour peer Lord Janner comes back to haunt him”, notes:
Child abuse campaigner – the former England rugby star Brian Moore – said the links between Keith Vaz and Lord Janner ensured yesterday’s revelations were in the public interest.
He wrote on Twitter: “I’d normally say what Keith Vaz does privately is none of our concern but not given the committee positions he holds and his acts re Janner.”
Meanwhile, the Guido Fawkes website has spelt out that Vaz “was under police investigation over year ago on suspicion of financial corruption and historic allegations of under-age sex”; the latter allegation had appeared in newspapers at the time, and although Vaz hadn’t been named it was fairly obvious who was under discussion. The past tense implies here that the the investigation has now been completed, although Staines doesn’t clarify this detail.
Conspiracy theorists are thus naturally having a field-day, in ways that are probably best left to the imagination rather than spelt out. However, Vaz’s comments about Janner are perfectly explicable given the 1991 context, and only one Janner accuser links him with organised abuse involving other “powerful figures” (notwithstanding Emmerson’s cryptic reference to “other individuals allegedly associated” with Janner). This is Operation Midland’s “Nick”, whose fantastical allegations of murder and bizarre forms of sexual torture involving Ted Heath and the head of the British Army have not fared well under scrutiny. Nick’s allegations have been excluded from the Janner strand of the government inquiry.
*Footnote: Daily Mail vs Mail on Sunday – two accounts of Barbara Fitt
There is reportedly some unfriendly rivalry between the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail, which may be relevant here. In April 2015 the Daily Mail ran a front-page splash under the headline “Janner: The Stench Grows”, which in the online version became “The Rape of Justice”. The byline promised “damning new evidence of Labour peer Lord Janner’s child sex abuse covered up by police and social workers for over 20 years”, and refers to a 1990s witness statement made by the man later given the name “Tony” by Rose:
In a detailed ten-page witness statement, a married father accused the politician of sexually abusing him for nearly two years when he was a teenager at a Leicestershire children’s home in the 1970s…
Consider the means by which Janner was allegedly able to conduct a two-year relationship with that teenage resident of the Station Road Children’s Home in Leicester. The document claims he would make contact with the child by telephoning the facility’s manager, Barbara Fitt, or her husband Raymond.
Quite why this bizarre arrangement was condoned is unclear. But eventually, the boy says he ‘confided in Mrs Fitt and told her of the sexual relationship that had been taking place between Mr Janner and myself over a fairly lengthy period of time’. Rather than call the police, however, Mrs Fitt decided to deal with the allegation — one involving serious criminality — by calling the boy’s social worker, Dick Beak. He also failed to call the police.
…Elsewhere, the boy says ‘it must have been fairly obvious to staff and residents at the children’s home that I was having a special sort of relationship with Janner’, not just because of his visits to the MP’s house, but also ‘the gifts of money and other material things that Mr Janner gave to me’.
Presumably these “gifts of money” are what appear in the Mail on Sunday as having actually been “thefts”. The Daily Mail article also carries a quote by Fitt’s widower:
‘Barbara was very concerned about the nature of their relationship. She feared Janner was having sex with [the boy] but she couldn’t prove anything,’ he recalled.
‘She reported it to the [social services] department, but no action was taken and it seemed to be swept under the carpet, presumably because of who Janner was.’
This is rather different from Rose’s account, in which Fitt was herself accused, and which in her husband merely confirms that the false claims had “upset her terribly” during her final illness.
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