In the wake of yesterday’s Daily Mail “VIP Child Abuse Inquiry is Starting to Unravel” front-page splash, Mark Watts of Exaro has written a justification of the news site’s reporting on the subject. Exaro has invested heavily in claims being made by a man using the pseudonym “Nick”, who claims to have experienced nine years of child abuse in the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s at the hands of a group of VIPs that included the heads of MI5 and MI6, the head of the army, former Prime Minister Ted Heath, and former MPs Harvey Proctor and Leon Brittan, among others. “Nick” also claims that the group murdered three boys: two were supposedly killed during parties, while a third was run over in a street in south London as a “warning” to him. However, according to a police leak to the Daily Mail, “not one shred of credible evidence” has emerged, and there are now concerns that Nick is a fantasist.
The Mail‘s report came in the wake of a press conference by Proctor, at which he revealed further details of Nick’s specific claims and complained bitterly about how his life had been ruined by the way that the police are handling the allegations. In particular, Det Supt Kenny McDonald had declared Nick’s account to be “credible and true” before he had begun investigating the matter in December; in recent days, Watts has been asserting over and over again that the police regard Nick as “credible” .
Since the press conference, Watts and Exaro have been using Twitter to complain about critical commentary pieces in the media, and Watts’s article, entitled “Analysis: Why Police Continue to Investigate Claims by ‘Nick'”, appeared last night:
Journalists at a Press briefing at Scotland Yard last December were truly taken aback by the comment that detectives regarded the witness’s account as credible.
We at Exaro were not so surprised. We knew what they thought.
And we knew why.
We cannot at this stage explain the main reason for this assessment on credibility for fear of interfering with the criminal investigation.
This makes something of a mockery of the article’s headline, which explicitly promises just such an explanation. Further, Watts does not address a reason that was given in the Daily Mail:
Police initially took Nick’s account seriously because he has a respectable managerial job and does ‘not fit the stereotype of a child abuse fantasist’
Perhaps Watts is thinking of endorsements from two MPs, Tom Watson and John Mann – Proctor’s name was on a list that Mann boasted about having given to police, and when Proctor’s home was raided in March he crowed that Proctor would be the first of many to be investigated. But if these are the reasons, why not say so? Instead, we are simply to take on trust that Nick has credible evidence that would mean re-writing the recent political history of the UK. Such evidence would be earth-shattering, yet for some reason it has not led to arrests or charges after a nine-month investigation (although one of those accused, Leon Brittan, died of cancer earlier this year).
Watts then digresses into a discussion of Exaro’s reporting on other subjects, as evidence of the site’s credibility, before returning to the matter at hand:
Two independent witnesses provided accounts of how they were sexually abused as boys by VIPs at Dolphin Square, an apartment complex near Parliament.
We called one of those witnesses, ‘Nick’… We limited our report to what had been corroborated.
It should be remembered that rumours about abusive goings on at Dolphin Square have been in the public domain for more than twenty years (most famously published in Scallywag magazine in the early 1990s); this seriously qualifies, but does not discredit, what is meant by “independent witnesses”. The other alleged Dolphin Square witness here, “Darren”, has not alleged murder in this particular context .
Watts also highlights that Exaro only referred to the murder allegations after Nick had spoken to police, and his statement that “we limited our report to what had been corroborated” sounds cautious and responsible. However, it is actually self-serving: at his press conference, Proctor revealed that one allegation was that he had wanted to castrate Nick at a sex party, but that Ted Heath had intervened to prevent it. This is outlandish, for a number of reasons. I think it would be more accurate for Watts to say “we limited our report to what we thought people might be willing to swallow”. There is some sleight-of-hand here: when it suits, Nick’s sensational testimony is itself the story (hence the “credible” mantra), but at other times it’s merely a source for the alleged events themselves, to be used only when corroborated. The upshot is that readers can only assess Nick’s credibility through Exaro‘s very partial filter.
Watts continues by noting some incorrect details that have appeared in some media reports (previously discussed by me here), and ends with a dark conspiratorial hint:
Will the Met’s top-brass order Operation Midland to be shelved? If it did, it would not be the first investigation to be pulled prematurely.
“Prematurely” here meaning “after no evidence was found after nine months”. Still, if that does happen, Exaro will at least be free at last to reveal its secret information pertaining to Nick’s credibility.
 It is perhaps worth noting the subtle shift from the original assertion, that what Nick says is “credible and true”, to Watts’s emphasis on Nick as a “credible” person.
 Two other figures have also come forward to allege historic sex abuse at Dolphin Square, having waived their legal right to anonymity in the UK: these are Richard Kerr, a former rent-boy who claims to have been trafficked to London from the Kincora Boys’ Home in Northern Ireland in the 1970s; and Esther Baker, who claims to have been abused by VIPs in woodlands in Staffordshire and taken down to Dolphin Square by night (this would have been in the late 1980s or early 1990s). Baker says that she only realised she had been taken to London when she read about details provided by Darren; in turn, Darren has reportedly identified Baker from a photograph (Exaro‘s David Hencke has reported both claims regarding the Baker/Darren corroboration, but for some reason they don’t appear together in the same article anywhere, at least so far as I can see).