Bishop Peter Ball and Failures to Tackle Manipulative Abuse in the Church of England

From the Church Times:

Bishop [Peter] Ball, aged 83, was jailed after a hearing at the Old Bailey by the Hon. Mr Justice Wilkie on Wednes­day after pleading guilty last month to two charges of indecent assault against two boys in their teens in the 1980s, and also a charge of mis­conduct in public office (News, 11 September).

The second charge relates to “manipulative behaviour, including several specific sexual offences, against 16 young men in their late teens or early twenties”, Sussex Police said at the time.

…The Rt Revd Lord Carey of Clifton, who was Archbishop of Canterbury when Bishop Ball was cautioned in 1993, has… apologised.

He said: “I greatly regret the fact that during my tenure as Arch­bishop of Canterbury we dealt inadequately with Peter Ball’s victims and gave too much credence to his protesta­tions. In the past we failed many victims and allowed abusers to flourish in ministry.

“Allegations by some that my actions amounted to a cover-up or collusion with the abuser are wrong.

Most of these crimes occurred while he had been the suffragan Bishop of Lewes, although the initial complaint against him at the end of 1992 was made not long after he had become the Bishop of Gloucester.

The Daily Mail has some of the specific details:

Allegations against Ball were first made in 1992 by novice monk Neil Todd, one of many boys abused at the bishop’s house at Litlington, East Sussex. 

Bobbie Cheema QC, prosecuting, said the teenager had been introduced by Ball to what he called ‘penitential psalms’. 

This involved saying prayers naked at night in a chapel before Ball watched the teenager taking a cold shower and pulled down his underpants.

Ball, who called the youngster ‘love’ and ‘gorgeous’, went on to suggest he be beaten with a stick or whipped so his body could ‘bear the marks’.

The abuse emerged after he tried to commit suicide in 1992. Gloucestershire Police launched an investigation, prompting more victims to come forward.

I wrote about the case after Ball pleaded guilty last month. It’s a subject that is of some personal interest to me, having stayed at the bishop’s house in Litlington myself for a few days after leaving school. The chapel was a converted outhouse in the property’s garden; it was explained to me by Ball that the naked prayers was a penitential practice that members of his “Give a Year for Christ” scheme would sometimes choose to undergo, although I’m not aware of anyone at the house while I was there participating in the practice.

A cover-up?

As I wrote in my earlier blog entry, it does seem that a cover-up occurred; when Ball was issued with a caution in early 1993, many reports were vague and the general impression was that there had been some unfortunate grope or misunderstanding, despite an account given by the victim in the Sun under the headline “Evil Bishop Drove Me to Suicide”. Here’s what a 1993 profile by Graham Turner in the Sunday Telegraph had to say:

The details of what actually went on at Bishopscourt, [Ball’s] home in Gloucester, are still murky. As in all such matters, the whole truth is impossible to ascertain, but what seems to have happened is that, while the young man was staying there last year, there took place a series of incidents which, according to the Bishop, sprang from his desire to help and comfort someone in considerable distress and which did involve physical contact.

The young man, however, who last week sold his version of event to the Sun after offering it to at least one other national newspaper, claims that the Bishop sexually assaulted him, He duly duly complained to the police, who then spent 15 weeks turning out every cupboard in Ball’s life over the past 20 years.

Whatever else the police found – and there may well have been other allegations – they evidently decided to take no further action.

Turner may as well have just said plainly that Ball was the victim of a false allegation by someone wanting to make some money from the newspapers. The dismissive detail that “there may well have been other allegations” leaves the strong impression that Turner knew damn well that there had been.

One person who knew for sure was George Carey, who made enquiries to see if the CPS intended to look into these other allegations. When he was told that the CPS would not being doing so, Carey did not feel that the Church of England needed to enquire further, either. This apparently remained the case even when a new complaint was made in 1996 by someone who said he had been abused by Ball some years before when he was aged 13. Then, in 2006, the Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp (who was essentially Ball’s line manager while Ball was Bishop of Lewes) published a memoir in which he now-notoriously referred to “mischief-makers”; it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that his memoir was calculated to mislead by smearing the complainants and downplaying the extent of the allegations.

According to the BBC last month:

The CPS said a caution given to Peter Ball in 1993 was wrong as there was sufficient evidence to prosecute.

However, it said its approach to sexual abuse has changed and such a decision would not be made today.

During Ball’s sentencing, it was revealed that the police in 1993 had received many character witnesses on Ball’s behalf:

Bobbie Cheema QC, prosecuting, said: “The police report that accompanied the papers sent to the CPS in 1993 after the police had done their work stated they had received telephone calls supportive of Peter Ball ‘from many dozens of people – including MPs, former public school headmasters, JPs and even a lord chief justice'”.

She said there were many more letters of support, including from cabinet ministers and a member of the royal family.

The member of the royal family is widely thought to have been Prince Charles. While the CPS would still have been free to make its own decisions, it is obvious that such support would have been a significant informal pressure to drop the matter. The widespread view now is that this was simply “the establishment” closing ranks, but it should be remembered that, regrettably, there was genuine widespread incredulity at the idea that Ball had committed a crime: unusually (exotically, even) Ball was was a monk, and with his good-humoured and gentle manner he appeared to embody spirituality and personal holiness.  I’m not sure that any other bishop would have automatically received the same amount of support.

However, once Ball had admitted an offence – in “great penitence and sorrow”, according to his statement following his caution – his supporters ought to have been more circumspect. Would a 61-year-old really have offended for the first time at such an age? If this was just a one-off mistake for which he was sorry, why had he lied for several weeks by protesting his innocence? Many people, though, retained an affectionate view of the man and would have been very willing to believe minimising spin such as Turner’s whitewash. [1]

Inevitably, the internet is awash with allegations about his association with Prince Charles, and how this in turn must have something to do with Jimmy Savile; one crackpot claim, put forward by Meirion Jones on Twitter yesterday, was that BBC Panorama‘s critical look at claims of a “Westminster paedophile ring” was scheduled for broadcast on the eve of Ball’s sentencing in order to discredit claims that Ball had benefited from the intervention of a “Tory politician”

Consent, manipulative abuse, and “public office”: some thoughts

Guardian editorial about Ball considers the issue of consent:

The greatest change between then and now is the slow emergence of a sexual ethic based on consent to replace the old one based on duty. This is not complete yet and may never be. Consent is the right test in theory, but its absence is notoriously hard to apply in court; the tangles of the human heart cannot be combed out by pretending that sexual dealings can work like clear commercial contracts.

Ball’s offending, so far as has been established by his guilty pleas (which do not include two complaints that amount to child abuse – these, oddly, have been allowed to remain on file) was an abuse of religious authority. Although there were sexual assaults that have been admitted (a Sunday Times article refers to the “groping bishop”), other offences did not involve physically overpowering or threatening his victims, and those who stayed at his home were free to leave at any time. I suspect allegations of this sort would have been tricky to pursue, despite the CPS’s new-found confidence.

Thus, presumably, the recourse to “misconduct in a public office”. The legal definition of “public officer” is vague, and Ball’s lawyers initially attempted to argue that it should not include “bishop”.  Presumably again, a significant factor here would be the fact that the Church of England is the established church; would the manipulative behaviour which has led to Ball’s conviction on this score still have been an offence had he been a religious leader in some other denomination?

Also, does this now mean that vicars of the Church of England are also now confirmed as being “public officers”? If so, this must surely affect how other cases of manipulative abuse are looked at. In particular, I’m thinking of two other clerical scandals from the same period.

In 1994, it was revealed that a certain Rev Andrew Arbuthnot, of the London Healing mission, had been subjecting vulnerable women to intimate intrusions in the guise of exorcisms. From the Herald Scotland:

POLICE are investigating allegations that an Anglican priest practised exorcisms involving internal ”cleansing” of sexually abused women.

Old Etonian the Rev Andrew Arbuthnot is reported to have poured wine over the victims’ genitals and to have inserted crucifixes and used fingers to make the sign of a cross in their vaginas.

An account of the investigation, Operation Lentil, appears in Charismania, a 1997 book by a journalist named Roland Howard:

After several months of investigation Detective Inspector Turner’s team raided the London Healing Mission. They found the bottles of Dubonnet, the initialized tubs of Vaseline and the specially soundproofed room… The Arbuthnots were subsequently charged with indecent assault, false imprisonment and actual bodily harm. Much later, against the wishes of Detective Inspector Turner, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges. “It was decided”, he says “that one of the problems evidentially was the issue of consent amongst those involved”. (page 106)

Would this be handled the same way today?

Arbuthnot is now deceased, but so far as I am aware, the perpetrator in a second case, which emerged the following year, is still alive. This is the former Reverend Chris Brain, who ran the “alternative” Nine O’Clock Service under Church of England auspices in Sheffield. Brain was a charismatic figure, who was allowed to cut a few corners on his path to ordination due to his ability to attract the youth to church – but it turned out that he was a classic sociopath who was running what the media inevitably described as being a “sex cult”. The Independent reported:

As many as 150 former members of the radical Anglican group, the Nine O’Clock Service, still in Sheffield are receiving counselling following the group’s suspension by the Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev David Lunn.

…Mr Brain, 38, who has a wife and five-year-old daughter, has admitted to church officials that he “enjoyed sexual favours” from as many as 20 of his female followers.

…The Rev Paddy Mallon, a former colleague, said: “Many members have left the Sheffield area because they were so traumatised by the whole situation. As many as 150 are now receiving counselling elsewhere as far as I know…”

Brain’s abuses caused misery, but he was never arrested. Might this now be looked at again? When compared with Ball’s predations, I don’t see why not.


[1] Not everyone was taken in by this, though; the conservative evangelical clergyman Tony Higton wrote an attack on Carey’s handling of the affair in the Christian Herald, in which – as summarised by Ruth Gledhill in the Times – he pointed out that “some of the abuses were allegedly in a religious context, which made them blasphemous” (“Carey ‘made light of bishop’s sin'”, The Times, March 24, 1993).

(Amended and updated – I had not originally been aware of the Sunday Telegraph profile or the Sun story)

Panorama Defies Police “Concerns” To Investigate VIP Abuse Claims

Another lengthy statement from the Metropolitan Police:

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has serious concerns about the impact of [BBC Panorama] on its investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse and homicide, on the witnesses involved, and on the willingness of victims of abuse to come forward to police.

We have warned previously about the risks of media investigations compromising a criminal investigation. When we initially launched our Operation Midland appeal, we specifically highlighted how a media organisation – the BBC in fact – had shown pictures of individuals to ‘Nick’ which could compromise the evidential chain should a case ever proceed to court.

We continue to be concerned about approaches to witnesses by all media, and that warning was reinforced by the Attorney General on Friday, 25 September…

Much of the same ground was covered by a statement in September. The new press release was issued ahead of  last night’s Panorama documentary, and it was received with glee by Exaro News, which was briefing furiously against the programme in the days before transmission. Exaro and its supporters take the view that when unpopular Conservatives from the 1970s and 1980s are accused of the most lurid crimes it would be very wrong to engage in any kind of critical scrutiny of how the police are handling allegations, or express any kind of doubts or scepticism (a rather odd kind of “anti-establishment” pose).

Boiled down, the statement simply makes the obvious point that complainants will be more likely to come forward with allegations involving high-profile individuals if they think they will automatically be believed. We’ve seen where this credulous approach leads already, with a slew of false accusations against entertainers and celebrities such as Jim Davidson, Jimmy Tarbuck, Paul Gambaccini, and Bill Roache.

Of course, we must always be wary of unfairly dismissing an allegation against a powerful or respected individual (as happened in the case of the abuser Bishop Peter Ball, who was regarded as a saintly figure when I was growing up), but there is no point misleading complainants about the obstacles to belief, either. Central to “Operation Midland”, for instance, is the claim that Ted Heath was an orgiastic paedophile who intervened at a sex party to prevent “Nick” from being castrated. It’s an incredible tale, and had I witnessed the scene myself I would not expect other people to believe me if I told them about it. Two other accusers who featured in the programme, “Darren” and Chis Fay, both have histories of criminal dishonesty; that it itself does not disprove their claims, but no-one making serious allegations on matters of public interest can reasonably expect that their character will not come under scrutiny.

In fact, there was nothing in the Panorama programme that would reasonably deter genuine victims or witnesses from coming forward, and the substantive information it revealed was very valuable. Many of these details are now in press reports; according to the New York Times:

One of the murders Nick said he witnessed supposedly took place in 1979. He said he had been walking down the street in Kingston, West London, with a friend from school when a car ran over his friend and killed him. Nick said he himself was dragged into the car, driven by a member of the V.I.P. gang, and warned not to make friends again.

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

While the Guardian explains:

A vulnerable man who made sex abuse allegations against politicians, including the former home secretary Leon Brittan, has told the BBC he “just went along with” names that were initially suggested as a joke.

The man told Panorama he may have been led into making the claims by campaigners who provided the names of a number of high-profile figures “as a joke suggestion to start with”, but which were later repeated in earnest.

This witness, named as “David” in the programme, named one of these campaigners as Chris Fay. He accused Fay of bothering him with phone calls, and said that the police had looked into a possible attempt to pervert the course of justice. “David” may be looking to downplay his own culpability for spreading a false allegation, but it remains the case that he has retracted. Another man who featured in the programme, “Mark”, flatly denied Chris Fay’s claim that he (“Mark”) had been taken to the Elm Guest House and been abused there.

A further detail in the programme concerns “Darren”; according to the report, Darren sent an email to a social worker two years ago in which he had specifically denied having been abused by Leon Brittan:

Leon Brittan never abused me or anyone I know, so why name the poor man?

This directly contradicts “Darren’s” testimony as reported by Exaro. Even if there’s some reason why this apparent denial should not be taken at face value (and that’s a very big “if”), its existence is nevertheless highly significant. Did Exaro not know about it, or did it decide that this was information (like Fay’s fraud conviction) that readers did not need to know about?

Like any other programme, Panorama had its limitations: for instance, there was no time to go into the murky forces that first smeared Brittan in the 1980s (and which explains why his name was so likely to come up again more recently), and there was nothing about one one of Exaro‘s other alleged witnesses, Esther Baker. Tom Watson came in for criticism over his communications with police about accusers (although it should be remembered that the police were not obliged to act on his suggestions), but there was nothing about John Mann, who aggressively boasts, like a latter-day Senator McCarthy, about having a list of names of abusers (on Twitter, Mann has been reduced to apoplexy by the documentary, demanding resignations, making nasty allegations of bad faith, and suggesting that the BBC should have instead reported on different allegations of abuse).

And what of the other “campaigners” mentioned in relation to “David”? Back in the 1990s, David came into contact with Fay via a charity (NAYPIC). More recently, however, Fay has been working with a man named Bill Maloney, and it is likely that both have been in contact with “David”. Maloney is an alarming character, whose conspiracy-mongering rivals anything that David Icke or Alex Jones could come up with: the Queen is a sex abuser, and so was the Queen Mother; the removal of asbestos from Parliament is a cover story for removing DNA evidence of abuse and murder; the invasion of Iraq was initiated because Saddam knew about VIP sex abuse. And so on. Yet this man, who is extravagant, reckless, and highly aggressive in his accusations, appears to be a central figure in activism on historic child sexual abuse.

There is much more work to be done. If people have been falsely accused, they deserve justice and exoneration. We also need to look at why false allegations are gaining traction, before more lives are blighted by them (I’m sure Mann would have a different view on things if he was on the receiving end of a complaint himself). This is not a distraction from uncovering genuine abuse – it’s an essential part of the same mission.

Exaro Unleashes Attacks on BBC Panorama

As the BBC’s current affairs programme Panorama prepares to broadcast a critical documentary on lurid and sensational allegations of a murderous “Westminster Paedophile Ring” supposedly operating from the 1970s to the 1990s, Exaro News, which has staked its credibility on the claims, has, as ever, decided to get its retaliation in first, with a series of increasingly vicious denunciations and manipulative distortions that rival any of the worst excesses of the tabloid media.

1 October: The “Smear” Smear

The first attack appeared on 1 October, with Mark Watts headlining “Panorama’s Plans to Smear Survivors of Child Abuse“. Gone was the pretence that the site was merely reporting the progress of a police investigation, which was the line taken after one of those accused of being a murderous abuser (the former MP Harvey Proctor) had the temerity to assert his innocence. According to Watts:

Panorama plans to smear abuse survivors, criticise Exaro and other media over their reports on VIP paeophiles, and undermine MPs who campaigned on the issue.

Watts revealed that the programme will claim that Chris Fay, formerly of the National Association for Young People in Care (NAYPIC), had made up details and manipulated alleged victims into naming VIPs. Oddly, Watts didn’t feel the need to mention that Fay was convicted of fraud in 2011, although he did manage to introduce gratuitous references to Stuart Hall and Jimmy Savile, who were both employed by the BBC.

For those wanting the short version, Exaro‘s Twitter feed had some red meat for the mob:

BBC’s Panorama seeks to discredit police witnesses and supporters despite scandal over Jimmy Savile (1); BBC journalists fear backlash from Panorama’s smears of abuse survivors, esp given BBC history with #childsexabuse (2); BBC chiefs keen to rubbish claims about #VIPaedophiles, while delaying publication of Smith review on Jimmy Savile (3)

It is supposed to be self-evident that the reporters on the programme must be exceptionally foul individuals, motivated by a wicked determination to protect dead or elderly VIP paedophiles. We do not need evidence, or even a plausible hypothesis, for such a course of action, just the repetition of “Jimmy Savile”.

2 October: Whatabouttery

The next day, this was followed by “Analysis: Why I Turned Down Panorama’s Interview Request“, in which Watts – who used to present a show on Iran’s Press TV and who was recently interviewed by George Galloway on RT – explained why he wouldn’t sully himself with the BBC:

Your letter betrays Panorama’s complete lack of objectivity in its approach to the subject. You say that you want to look at issue relating to the truth of the claims, yet you totally omit a crucial tranche of the available evidence.

A major aspect of Exaro’s work on the subject concerns claims by ex-police that as operations started to uncover evidence of child sex abuse by VIPs, senior officers shut them town improperly.

Certainly, the fact that the police may not have properly investigated various allegations against VIPs over the years is a subject that should be looked into – but Panorama‘s concern is with one story, based for the most part on the testimony of one anonymous accuser. If true, it would be most sensational story in British political history: that a former Prime Minister and the heads of MI5 and MI6 were orgiastic paedophiles, who consorted with high-profile ministers and MPs who were also child murderers, and who raped and killed with impunity.

If false, however, we must have grave concerns about whether the police have allowed themselves to get caught up in a panic comparable to the “Satanic Ritual Abuse” scare of the 1980s and 1990s. This is also a subject worthy of urgent attention.

Of course, readers looking for a reference to Jimmy Savile were not disappointed:

…The BBC is hardly a disinterested party on the subject. There are two well-established cases of VIP paeophiles. Both were VIP paedophiles… Sir Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall.

5 October (1): “I know where you used to live”

After these opening shots, Exaro decided to get personal, with Watts announcing:

Panorama reporter Daniel Foggo on #VIPaedophiles prog lived “over the road” frm Sir Peter Morrison as a boy – Exaro. (1) Daniel Foggo on living as a boy over road from Sir Peter Morrison: “I was only made aware of this earlier this yr.” (2)

Morrison, who died in 1995, has been the subject of posthumous allegations of pederasty. But what is Watts implying here? That Foggo, or perhaps his parents, had some secret association with Morrison? Or is this just intimidation based on personal intrusion?

But this particular disclosure hasn’t gone down well with some journalistic peers; comments have included: “Exaro getting desperate… What kind of mad conspiracy bullshit is this?” (James Jones); “New low… drivel” (Tim Tate, a hack not averse to “ritual abuse” stories); “What happened to @ExaroNews? This tweet feels like the final nail” (Roddy Mansfield).

5 October (2): The “Leak” Leak

The reference to Foggo also appears in passing in yet another Exaro hit piece: “Met Investigates Panorama Source over Leak of CSA Survivor’s ID“. According to this exclusive:

Police are investigating a senior detective who is a confidential source for BBC1’s Panorama over the leaking of secret identities of complainants in abuse cases.

Communications seen by Exaro reveal the Metropolitan Police Service’s directorate of professional standards launched the investigation into the officer last month. He is suspected of improperly disclosing to journalists the name, address and other details of a complainant…

Note the slippage here from “complainants” to “a complainant”, but that’s not the only problem. Exaro has two anonymous accusers. They cannot be named for legal reasons, but their identities are not “secret”: they both interacted with the media and made public statements before becoming involved with Exaro. It is entirely possible that Panorama got the information it required without any “leak” from police. According to the police themselves, according to the BBC News website:

Scotland Yard said: “The Directorate of Professional Standards is investigating a public complaint received by them in September 2015 regarding the improper disclosure of information to the media.

“At this stage there is an ongoing inquiry. We are not prepared to comment any further.”

On Twitter, Exaro has ratcheted up the implications of this:

Met’s PSD probe will investigate why Panorama police source has been trying to destabilise ongoing criminal cases. (1) Officer under investigation is, ironically, a confidential source for Panorama’s attempt to “debunk” #VIPaedophiles (2)

So, who made the “public complaint”? Tim Tate has asked Watts if it was him, but Watts has declined to respond. Given that the complaint was lodged a month ago, this all looks incredibly contrived and circular. The officer is accused – that means there has to be an investigation – that means he’s a suspect – that means there must have been a leak – that means there’s grounds for a complaint. Also, it was wrong for the officer to talk to Panorama, which means that Panorama is getting information from the wrong sort of person, someone who wants “to destabilise ongoing criminal cases”.

But we don’t know that there was a leak, or that the officer is even really “suspected” by his colleagues.


One wonders if this is the extent of Exaro‘s arsenal, or whether the impending broadcast will inspire further extravagances during the day ahead. If there’s more to come, I struggle to imagine the depths that will be plumbed.

Exaro‘s strapline is “Holding power to account”, but there is little evidence of this in the site’s recent output. Rather than “holding power to account”, the site’s main reason for being appears to be to avoid being accountable itself, by churning out self-serving smears and nasty innuendo. Given the high hopes when the site was established (A 2012 profile in the Guardian was headlined “How Mark Watts of Exaro Aims to Return to Fleet Street’s Golden Age”), this is a sad end.

Daily Mail Returns to Leon Brittan and “Jane” as VIP Abuse Claims Come Under Scrutiny

From the Daily Mail:

Woman who falsely accused Lord Brittan of raping her is a Labour activist who admitted hating the Tories

A woman who falsely claimed Leon Brittan raped her in 1967 is a veteran Labour activist with mental health problems.

…Scotland Yard exonerated him five months after his death following a drawn out inquiry. It found ‘absolutely no evidence’ to support his accuser’s account.

Now it can be disclosed the woman, known by the pseudonym Jane, may have had a political motive because she is a Labour activist who admits hating Tories.

This is a rather peculiar usage of the phrase “now it can be disclosed”; in July 2014 the same paper had reported:

A woman has claimed that Lord Brittan – then in his late 20s and a rising star in the Conservative Party – raped her at his London home after they went on a blind date in 1967 when she was 19.

She then said she was subject to a ‘dirty tricks campaign’ when she finally went to police in 2012 to report the alleged crime, claiming officers then launched a smear campaign to paint her as promiscuous and mentally ill.

…The woman, now 66 and reported to be a Labour Party member…

Which was followed in January 2015 with:


The woman who alleged Leon Brittan raped her in 1967 is a veteran Labour Party member who told police she regarded him as a political ‘enemy’. 

And then in June with:

…Lord Brittan, who went on to become Home Secretary under Margaret Thatcher, was questioned under caution last summer after Labour activist ‘Jane’ came forward and accused him of raping her in 1967.

Today’s new report is the first time (at least, so far as I can see) that the paper has definitively described the allegation as “false”; it also includes the extra detail that “Jane” had also made a false allegation against a relative, although there’s some slippage from “had earlier wrongly branded a relative a paedophile” in the subheading to “had previously suspected – also wrongly – that a close relative was a paedophile” in the main text. Further:

The exhaustive investigation, which included tracking down key witnesses and examining Lord Brittan’s job and domestic arrangements at the time of the alleged offence, undermined his accuser’s story.

However, this is all otherwise old news, which appears to have been rehashed in order to attack Tom Watson MP, now the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.

Watson was formerly described by the paper as “campaigning MP Tom Watson”, and back in early 2013 the Mail‘s associate news editor Stephen Wright (whose byline appears on several of the above articles, including the most recent) was impressed enough to Tweet that “Cynics accused MP Tom Watson of seeking cheap headlines when he raised fears over alleged VIP paedophile ring. Could they eat their words?” Brittan was accused of being part of this ring, with the Mail breathlessly reporting “disturbing new allegations” from Exaro’s “Darren” (now estranged from the internet news site) in July.

The climate has now changed somewhat. The Mail was happy enough to print sensational allegations more or less uncritically for a time, but at some point the only way to generate fresh copy is to start to take a critical look. And when the right moment comes, it pays to be the first to jump ship.

But there are also three specific factors at play here:

1. Obviously, the Mail is a Conservative paper, and so “get Watson” is now a priority, given his recent elevation. Watson’s endorsement of “Jane” as “credible”, as well as his willingness to promote the claims of other alleged “survivors” who are now coming under critical scrutiny, appear to have given hostages to fortune.

2. Journalists are now alert to a very interesting story about how the police are  handling the “Westminster paedophile ring” allegations. August saw the ridiculous theatre of a police superintendent giving a press conference outside Edward Heath’s former home, inviting members of the public to come forward with accusations of child sex abuse. This was followed shortly afterwards by the revelation from Harvey Proctor that the police had put to him the allegation that Heath had on one occasion prevented him (Proctor) from castrating a boy at a paedophile orgy. Police have also apparently been taking seriously the allegation that the ring also included the heads of MI5 and MI6, among others. Of course this is going to provoke discussion, and a bit of digging.

3. Operation Yewtree has had some successes in convicting celebrities of historic sex abuse, but we have also now seen instances in which innocent men (e.g. here, here and here) have been treated as suspects for extended periods  on the basis of very flimsy testimony before the matter was dropped. Again, the time must come when everyone starts thinking, “hang on a minute…”

Thus the Mail is at last now taking a critical look at “Nick”, source of the allegations about Heath and Proctor (as well as being another Brittan accuser), while the Telegraph has revealed discrediting details about “Darren”, source of the “disturbing new allegations” about Brittan published by the Mail in July (both pieces discussed here). Their allegations include not just orgiastic child abuse at Dolphin Square, but also child murder.

The Mail has also at last discovered the old news that Chris Fay, “a child protection officer who first named former Home Secretary Leon Brittan and other prominent figures as members of an alleged VIP paedophile ring”, was “once jailed for fraud.” In December, the same paper had reported that

Chris Fay, of the now-defunct National Association of Young People in Care, said a Special Branch detective held a gun to his head, telling him to stop investigating an alleged paedophile ring at Elm Guest House in south-west London.

The fraud conviction was in 2011.

Meanwhile, the BBC is preparing to broadcast a critical documentary on the subject, as part of the Panorama strand. Exaro, which has invested heavily in the various accusers, wants us to believe that the programme is being made in order to “smear” survivors, and that it all has something to do with the BBC’s past employment of Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall (“Nick” claims that the paedophile orgies he says he was forced to attend as a child sometimes included Savile).

Labour MP John Mann (who, being on the right of the party, is not facing the same kind of critical backlash from the Mail as Watson) also appears to believe that the programme is being made in bad faith by people wanting to protect child abusers. On Twitter, he has suggested that Panorama received a list of alleged VIP paedophiles in 1984 (probably one of Geoffrey Dickens’s much-mythologised “dossiers”), and that this should have formed the basis for a programme.

Conservative Party Faces Bullying Controversies

From Breitbart London (emphases added):

Former Conservative Party candidate Mark Clarke has been named as the “man at the heart” of bullying allegations made by the 21-year-old Tory activist Elliott Johnson, who is believed to have taken his own life on the night of September 15th 2015, as first reported by Breitbart London.

…Another e-mail seen by Breitbart London alleges “[REDACTED], a long time friend and member of Mark’s close circle… told me that in order to prevent Oliver Cooper running for CF Chairman again, the team would mount a series of personal attacks in the media to erode his character”. [REDACTED] claimed to have worked for Mr Clarke at Conservative HQ in an email seen by Breitbart London. The story has been confirmed by other activists close to the issue.

…In another Facebook missive, Mr Clarke is alleged to have threatened to “ruin” the Conservative Party activists in the Oxford University association, claiming “We could ruin them. Ban all Tory speakers. Blacklist the leadership for failing to campaign properly – in a way that would follow them their entire career. And much more personal stuff.”

Clarke has denied the allegations, calling them “defamatory”, although he has declined to comment further, stating that “the family [of Elliott Johnson] have asked for privacy and I respect both their wishes and the coroner’s process.” Breitbart, however, notes that at least one relative of Johnson is speaking out on social media about what happened (this is Johnson’s cousin; it also appears that his mother left a comment on a now-removed article published by the Commentator).

Clarke has also been accused of bullying by Ben Harris-Quinney, who was suspended from the Conservative Party earlier this year for suggesting tactical voting for UKIP. Harris-Quinney told the Spectator in May that “there have been a number of online articles over the past few weeks that are inaccurate and clearly designed to defame my character, this organised campaign appears to have strong links to Conservative Central Office”; he has now told the Sunday Times that Clarke had warned him after a clash that “attacks would be widespread, that would come from a number of anonymous individuals and I would not be able to pin it down on anyone at Conservative Central Office.”

Meanwhile, referring not to Clarke but what appears to be a more general culture, Tim Roll-Pickering has said on Twitter that “I now wish I’d reported stuff I saw back in late 2000s”.

Now, it would be wrong to suggest that behaviour of the kind described here is solely a vice of the Conservative Party (or of “the Right” in general), or that it forms a necessary part of being a Conservative. I am not a Conservative voter, but I have Conservative friends who would have nothing to do with underhand or dishonest behaviour. I also regard as very troubling that the Labour candidate Kate Godfrey was apparently subjected to threats and sexual harassment by members of a rival faction within the Labour party.

However, for the party in power to be associated with this kind of corruption (let’s give it its proper name) is particularly corrosive, and there is lots of evidence of smearing and other disreputable shenanigans by individuals associated with the Conservative Party over several years. In some cases, the perpetrators may be “bad apple” activists, but they have avoided censure despite complaints being brought to the attention to those whose job it is to protect the Party’s reputation and credibility. And some instances indicate that the rot goes deeper than a few fringe characters.

On Twitter,  Harris-Quinney has suggested that the allegations against Clarke also reflect on the former party chairman, Grant Shapps. Clarke apparently boasted of reporting directly to Shapps, and Breitbart has published a photo that shows Clarke with “the former special advisor to ex-Tory Chairman Grant Shapps, Paul Abbott… and the Conservative Party’s strategist Jim Messina.” Meanwhile, Zelo Street has a photo of Clarke, Abbott, and Harry Cole – the last of whom has recently graduated from the vicious Guido Fawkes smear-machine to become Westminster Correspondent for the Sun newspaper (with less than impressive results so far). Shapps, of course, has been at the centre of a number of controversies that raise questions of integrity.

Bullying is a perennial problem of human nature, and it can manifest within any group or institution. In some cases, the group attacks outsiders; at other times, the malign impulse is directed inwardly, channelled through power relations. The issue here, however, is that safeguards and systems of accountability were either absent or ignored. It seems to me that it is time for some critical scrutiny of how the Conservative Party handles allegations of bullying; and I support a petition on the subject introduced here.

Guardian Says Culture of Child Abuse “Persists” in US Catholicism

This is a couple of weeks old, but I’ve just seen it and it ought to be commented on. From the Guardian:

Ongoing child sex abuse in Catholic church casts shadow on pope’s US visit

For decades, the locker rooms at Chaminade College Preparatory School in St Louis were a place of terror for several students aged 11 to 18, who as adults have filed lawsuits against the school alleging widespread sexual abuse by its staff.

…The story is a familiar one across the US, where the culture of child sex abuse in Catholic organizations persists.

The story highlights calls by activists for more stringent safeguarding, and criticisms that allegations are being mishandled. However, despite the headline, the article actually focuses on historical cases rather than “ongoing child sex abuse” (the Chaminade College opener refers to allegations relating the 1960s and 1970s); and although the article’s author has clearly decided that these complaints are valid, the phrase “culture of child sex abuse” is jarring.

Not a “culture of complacency”, or a “culture of cover-up” (propositions which I certainly wouldn’t dismiss out-of-hand) – but a culture in which sex with children is regarded as normal, or even encouraged. Catholic churches, schools, hospitals, and other institutions are basically paedophile rings. Really?

It seems to me that this line – introduced into the text casually, as if it isn’t even controversial – is inflammatory and gratuitous. And I really cannot imagine the Guardian writing in such a way about a mainstream non-Christian religious group.

The only specific example of “ongoing abuse” appears elliptically via a link:

Priests accused of sex abuse have been able to move to other states and countries and receive money from local diocese.

The second link above refers to the current circumstances of an elderly priest who committed abuse in 1970s and 1980s, so that’s hardly “ongoing abuse”; the former, however, takes us to a recent article about a Filipino priest in Oregon who appears to have fled the country after evidence came to light that he had been using a hidden camera to spy on a young boy in a bathroom.

The Guardian here heavily implies that the priest has simply been moved along with the Church’s collusion, but the linked source (the Oregonian) makes it clear that the local bishop had placed him on leave and was cooperating with police, and that the priest had left the USA against his wishes.

David Cameron, the Pig Story, and the Media: Some Thoughts

I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t been amused by satirical responses to a recent report that Prime Minister David Cameron, while at university, once indulged in a prurient initiation ceremony – or, alternatively, a drunken prank – that involved placing his genitals into the mouth of a severed pig’s head. There has also been some grim satisfaction that a man who owes so much to the power and influence of News International, and who not long ago went out of his way to kowtow to the revolting Guido Fawkes smear machine, should be on the receiving end of an attempt at personal destruction through salacious muckraking (not to mention the small matter that the Conservative Party under Cameron has failed to act on evidence of paedo-smearing by local-level activists).

However, I can think of several reasons to dry one’s eyes for a moment and reflect:

1. It appears that Cameron broke a promise to Michael Ashcroft that he should never have made; but even so, the publication of this story is still the petulant revenge of a billionaire who felt entitled to buy his way into government.

2. The story is a rumour, and the only way it has made its way into the press is because it has been published in a book funded, and essentially self-published, by a man with a grudge. That means it has appeared without any proper editorial checks and balances. According to Ian Kirby, writing in the Spectator:

When I was the News of the World‘s political editor, I was on the lookout for stories – and for scandal. That’s what political journalists are paid for. But had I gone to Rebekah Brooks or Andy Coulson when they were editing and said that I had a story about David Cameron’s honourable member and a pig’s head, their first question would be: ‘where’s the proof?’

…The easy way for a newspaper to publish a scandal nowadays is simply to serialise a book, preferably one by a ‘name’, and then print whatever they say about someone you know doesn’t have the time or the inclination to sue… The reputation of the author, not the newspaper, is on the line.

There are a number of problems and doubts about the story, which has been sourced from an anonymous MP who claims to have a seen a photo of the incident that is in someone else’s possession. The photograph would have had to have been kept by someone for several years before it became potentially newsworthy; and it seems odd that someone would show the photo around privately but not sell it to a newspaper. The idea of a ceremonial or hazing context for the incident seems to have collapsed, too; according to the Independent:

One insider said: “The Gav [as the club is colloquially known] doesn’t have initiations like other societies – it’s not like that at all, really. Maybe this happened at a Gav event, but I’ve never seen anyone in the Gav do something like that, or even heard of it. Drugs and some tame sex in bushes, maybe. But I’m not sure I believe the story.”

…Another well-placed source, when asked if he believed the claims, said: “Not completely. I imagine how the story came about – there was some sexual debauchery at a Piers Gav party, a pig was around and people have added 2 and 2 to get 5.”

A reminiscence by Aidan Hartley in the Spectator suggests the presence of pigs’ heads may have been conflated from a different context (although they are attested here), and he suggests that Cameron wasn’t even a member of the society anyway. None of this proves that the incident didn’t happen, but any responsible discussion of the story (if we really must have one) needs to include counter-evidence such as this.

Presumably, Ashcroft’s book would have been legalled prior to publication, and the pig story would have been flagged up as a potential libel risk – and the extract published by the Daily Mail raises the possibility of “mistaken identity”, which is token attempt at distancing. Ashcroft is the majority owner of the book’s publisher, Biteback, but the Managing Director (who also owns a share) is of course Iain Dale. Dale, although devious, is an intelligent man, and he would have been able to identify the problems with the story for himself.

On Twitter, Dale has attempted to justify inclusion of the anecdote as a matter of principle, claiming that the alternative would have been censorship; however, when asked whether he had seen the alleged photograph, he became tetchy, telling enquirers that it was “none of your business”. We already know that the answer is “no” (according to the Daily Mail report, “The owner… failed to respond to our approaches”), but such a reply indicates that for Dale to respond plainly would be an admission of not having done his job. Clearly, he is in a difficult position: unable to treat his business partner like an ordinary author, and needing a sensational hook on which to advertise his book, while wanting to maintain the appearance of being a serious and responsible publisher and media figure.

3. The “pig story” has overshadowed the rest of the book (to even Dale’s annoyance), although it seems that the journalist funded by Ashcroft, Isabel Oakeshott, has uncovered some significant material relating to other matters. But what does it say about journalism in the UK that such material has only come to light because of the private resources of a billionaire motivated by spite?

UPDATE: Iain Dale has posted his side of the story:

Well, this week certainly has not been dull. And as with any roller coaster ride, it’s had its highs, its lows, and I’m still a bit dazed. I published and was then damned!

Some of you will say, “serves you right, you shouldn’t publish books that question anything about David Cameron or his government”. To that, I say ‘bollocks’.

That way of presenting critics as putting forward an unreasonable suggestion is a typical Dale move. Of course, nobody is saying any such thing.

As regards the pig story:

I don’t like being censored. And this comes to the crux of the matter on whether the ‘piggate’ story – an anecdote in CALL ME DAVE that caused such a global sensation it almost broke the internet – should have been printed at all. I am still in no doubt it was right to keep it in the book. Whether it would have made the credibility threshold for a newspaper is a side-issue. This is a book, not a newspaper. When I first read it in the manuscript I certainly noticed it was only single-sourced, but the authors were entirely upfront about that. Contrary to much of the sloppy reporting of the story, it was never presented as fact. I was comfortable with the way it was written up and, more to the point, so were the lawyers.

…It is no more than a tale of student high jinxs, and the authors leave readers to judge for themselves whether it happened or not

My view is that it would have been reasonable to have left it out, as being tawdry and unsubstantiated. However, having decided to publish the story, it would have been responsible to have included some proper discussion of plausibility. The authors tell us that “the late Count Gottfried von Bismarck, an Oxford contemporary of Cameron’s, reportedly threw dinner parties featuring the heads of pigs”; presumably this is included as evidence that the story might be true, so why not go into the context more deeply?

And, once again, if Dale is so “comfortable”, why the tetchy “none of your business” response to enquiries about the supposed photo?

Dale also discusses his relationship with Ashcroft:

The other thing that has royally pissed me off this week is that this is some sort of vanity publishing exercise subsidised by Michael Ashcroft. Let me lay that one to rest too. Michael has exactly the same terms as any other of our authors. Same royalties. Same terms and conditions. There has been no subsidy to Biteback Publishing. Not a penny. The only difference is that he is giving his royalties to military charities.

We’ll have to take Dale’s word for it that the manuscript was treated the same way as any other – but when a publisher uses his or her own business venture for their own book, it’s obvious that that creates a certain impression. Ashcroft could have avoided that impression by taking the manuscript somewhere else, as other publisher-authors have sometimes done. The issue of “subsidy” is misdirection; Ashcroft’s funding of the book took the form of supporting Isabel Oakeshott (who presumably did most of the actual work), and  no-one is suggesting that he made any kind extra payment to Biteback to cover costs.

UPDATE 2: Cameron has responded to the claim:

Asked about his feelings towards Ashcroft and the pig allegation, Cameron said: “Everyone can see why the book was written and everyone can see straight through it. As for the specific issue raised, a very specific denial was made a week ago and I’ve nothing to add to that.”

In fact, Downing Street has said nothing about the anecdote on the record, although Conservative sources have described the book’s claims as “utter nonsense” and “untrue”.

UPDATE 3: From among Conservatives, the book has come under particular attack from the former MP Louise Mensch. Writing on her website, she observed:

Oakeshott knew how her quote would be spun – Ashcroft did not. She was the national editor, he is a businessman and pollster. I would bet Lord Ashcroft is shocked and dismayed at how this one unsourced piece of hogwash (eye thank yew) would ruin all the other parts of his work. It was Oakeshott’s job as a journalist to say to her co-author who hired her, ‘Look, we can’t use it because we can’t stand it up.’

As I read it, her alleged “source” doesn’t even claim to have witnessed the pig incident. But he says he knows somebody who did and has a pic. So it’s not single-sourced – it’s zero sourced. She hasn’t got a witness. She’s got a guy who says he knows a guy who knows.

Mensch’s portrayal of Ashcroft as an innocent sold short by Oakeshott is risible, and her sudden conversion to the importance of accuracy and proper sourcing is hard to take. However, her point about the dubious provenance of the pig story is reasonable enough. She pressed the point on Dale’s blog, and also on Twitter, eventually prompting Dale to respond:

You really are a piece of work. I never thought I’d do this but I no longer want to listen to your bile and poison. Blocked.

Followed by:

Fuck. Right. Off.

UPDATE 4: Oakeshott appears to be back-peddling; from the Guardian:

The beastly episode during Cameron’s University of Oxford years was relayed to Oakeshott by an MP, who, she accepted, “could have been slightly deranged”.

“The thing to point out about that story is that there is no need for burden of proof on a colourful anecdote where we’re quite upfront about our own reservations about whether to take it seriously.”

Metropolitan Police Operation Midland Statement: Some Concerns

A (somewhat turgid) statement from the Metropolitan Police:

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) recognises the media’s and the public’s interest in its historic child abuse investigations, and in particular, in Operation Midland. The focus of this investigation is on allegations of the homicide of three young boys. There are also allegations of sexual abuse but the MPS has made clear from the outset that this is, and remains, a murder investigation.

The historic nature of the allegations means this is a complex case where the normal avenues of evidence-gathering from CCTV, DNA and telephone data, are not open to us.

The investigation is also unusual for some another reason: no-one knows who the “three young boys” are supposed to be, and there are no bodies to work with, either. The whole case rests on the testimony of one man, known to the media as “Nick”. Nick claims to have witnessed the killings during his childhood, while he was being victimized by a paedophile gang that included senior military and intelligence figures, the former Prime Minister Ted Heath, and Jimmy Savile. Lack of progress in the case has recently prompted increasingly sceptical and critical comment, including a Dail Mail article that raised questions about Nick’s credibility.

The statement continues:

These cases take time, but the public can have confidence that allegations from witnesses will be investigated thoroughly. We can all see the legacy that has been created by police and other authorities who appeared not to take allegations seriously in the past and the impact that has had on the confidence of victims to come forward.

This sounds reasonable enough, but like most guiding principles needs to be applied sensibly. If someone’s home is to be raided and property seized for months on end, there needs to be more of a reason than just “being thorough”; and natural justice demands that individuals who are being treated as suspects see their cases progress at a reasonable speed. Yet such caveats do not appear to figure anywhere in current police practice.


There are particular challenges where details of the allegations and those facing accusations are in the public domain. This can create potential conflicts between media and criminal investigations, and have an impact on vulnerable witnesses and those accused. This has been especially true in Operation Midland, and we wish to highlight to the media and to the public the risks that our investigation may be compromised. We raised this concern when we initially appealed for more witnesses and it continues to be an issue.

One might have more sympathy for that view if were not the fact that allegations against the accused have been widely aired with the cooperation of “Nick”. Exaro News, which acts as Nick’s media handlers, has published a number of lurid articles based on Nick’s testimony, while at the same time expressing indignation that that one of those accused – the former MP Harvey Proctor – has dared to assert his innocence and to complain about how the police have handled the case.


We also need to clarify our investigative stance in cases of this kind.

Our starting point with allegations of child sexual abuse or serious sexual assault is to believe the victim until we identify reasonable cause to believe otherwise… 

This is worrying. It’s reasonable to start from the assumption that a complainant is non-delusional and making a statement in good faith; but that is a working methodology, not a statement of faith. Belief means identifying with the complainant, with two unhappy consequences: first, the investigation is likely to become skewed by “confirmation bias”; second, observers will assume that there must be a strong case against the accused, if law-enforcement professionals are already convinced.

That is why, at the point at which we launched our initial appeal on Midland, after the witness had been interviewed for several days by detectives specialising in homicide and child abuse investigations, our senior investigating officer stated that he believed our key witness and felt him to be ‘credible’. Had he not made that considered, professional judgment, we would not have investigated in the way we have.

The police are here attempting to get away with a bit of sleight-of-hand. Det Supt Kenny McDonald did not say late last year that Nick is credible: he said that Nick’s claims were “credible and true”. We now know that Nick’s claims were actually bizarre and highly extraordinary, even though he may have presented himself in a way that was credible. One allegation in particular, that he was saved from castration at a VIP paedophile orgy due to the intervention of Ted Heath, stretches the bounds of credulity to breaking point (which is why, I suspect, Exaro refrained from mentioning it).

We must add that whilst we start from a position of believing the witness, our stance then is to investigate without fear or favour, in a thorough, professional and impartial fashion, and to go where the evidence takes us without prejudging the truth of the allegations. That is exactly what has happened in this case.

The integrity of our investigation is paramount, and the public can have confidence that allegations of homicide are being investigated thoroughly. Our officers have the resources to test all the evidence, and we have not yet completed this task. It is then for the Crown Prosecution Service to make a decision on whether to prosecute.

It looks to me that the buck is here being prepared to be passed. My understanding is that the police will refer a case to the CPS if they think there is evidence that a crime has occurred. However, if their investigation finds no evidence – or discovers counter-evidence – they have the power to wind it up without needing to involve the CPS at all.

More significantly, only a jury can decide on the truth of allegations after hearing all the evidence. We should always reflect that in our language and we acknowledge that describing the allegations as ‘credible and true’ suggested we were pre-empting the outcome of the investigation. We were not. We always retain an open mind as we have demonstrated by conducting a thorough investigation.

Some media reports have framed this as the police admitting that the “credible and true” claim was a mistake, although it seems to me rather more mealy-mouthed than that. Alison Saunders of the CPS responded to this part of the statement by saying that the police “perhaps have acknowledged today that they overstepped the mark in saying it might have been true”; this looks to me to be a polite attempt to toss the hot potato back to the Met.


In this respect, our approach in Operation Midland is the same as if we were investigating a contemporary rape allegation. Anyone familiar with the history of child abuse and rape investigations will recall that for many years, the first instinct of investigators appeared to be to disbelieve those making the allegations, which had a negative impact on people’s confidence to report to the police or other authorities. This undoubtedly led to crimes going unreported and un-investigated, and we do not want to return to that situation.

We’re all aware of “the bad old days”, but it seems to me that MPS ought to reflect on the possibility that they are overcompensating.

The statement goes on to remind the media to be careful when it comes to reporting cases involving “vulnerable individuals”, before adding:

…Our other main concern is the risk that media investigations will affect the process of gathering and testing evidence in our criminal investigation. In recent weeks, one journalist reporting on Operation Midland has shown the purported real identity of someone making an allegation of sexual assault to a person who has disclosed that they have been questioned by police concerning those allegations. This action has a number of potential impacts.

First, for those who have made allegations of sexual abuse, it is extremely distressing to discover that their identity might have been given to anyone else, particularly if that is to someone who may be involved in the case. Secondly, possible victims or witnesses reading the article may believe their identities could be revealed as well, which could deter them from coming forward. Ultimately, that could make it harder for allegations to be proved or disproved. This might not just deter those who could provide information for this investigation but also concern anyone thinking of coming forward with sexual abuse allegations. Finally, the potential disclosure by a journalist of a name may possibly hamper an investigation. Names will be disclosed by police to those involved in the case, but that will be at the appropriate time for the investigation depending on how those lines of enquiry progress…

In the case of “Nick”, it seems likely that his real identity has been known to the journalistic community for a long time – he has given various interviews, including one in the summer of 2014 for a documentary about Jimmy Savile, before he became involved with  Exaro and tales of murder. The law forbids publication or broadcast of his name without his consent, but that does not prevent its private circulation.

Nick’s real name was apparently put to Proctor by James Hanning of the Independent. According to Hanning:

I have met Proctor, and in a list of names I asked him about, I included what I believe to be Nick’s real name. It produced not a flicker. Hardly conclusive, but for what it’s worth, my strong belief is that he still doesn’t know who Nick is.

Obviously, outsiders ought to tread very carefully when dealing with people involved with police investigations, and I would hesitate before attempting this kind of amateur experiment. But while there obviously may be special circumstances in which it would be sensible to withhold an accuser’s name from a suspect, the practice seems to me to be undesirable and tending away from what is naturally just.

Finally, after a couple more paragraphs:

…We expect the challenges for media and police alike to continue once witnesses start to give evidence to the Goddard Inquiry. We think it is important, therefore, to offer this context now so that journalists and police officers can continue to do their job, and pursue a shared interest in justice for victims and fairness to those facing allegations.

That’s a good sentiment; but it would be good if the police could “continue to do their job” with some discernment and speed.

“VIP Child Sex and Murder” Accusers Profiled

“As a sign of respect (they said) I had to wear a poppy. So they would pin one directly to my chest and hurt me badly”

The Daily Mail and the Sunday Telegraph have published remarkable background pieces on “Nick” and “Darren”, the two anonymous “VIP child sex and murder” accusers who for the best part of the last year have provided a seemingly never-ending stream of sensational copy for the internet news agency Exaro News. In the case of Nick, his allegations led earlier this year to police raids on the homes of Lord Bramall, the former MP Harvey Proctor, and the late Leon Brittan. Exaro has invested heavily in Nick, and given that Nick only talks to other news sources with Exaro‘s approval, it is reasonable to describe the agency as his media handler.

Nick in the Daily Mail

The Mail‘s piece on Nick comes in the wake of an article the paper published a couple of weeks ago, headlined as “VIP Child Abuse Inquiry is Starting to Unravel”, which I discussed here.

According to the reporters, the new article is based on material from sources “including his lurid accounts on the internet and leaked police documents.” These “lurid accounts” were posted under a different name and have for the most part recently been removed, but they show how Nick’s allegations have grown over the years – and that Exaro has failed to report certain fantastical elements from his story.

I do, however, have a caveat: sex abuse complainants have a legal right to anonymity in the UK, and it looks to me that this article pushes the envelope somewhat. Anyone who knows the man would recognise him in an instant, both from incidental personal details and from the minimal pixellation on his face in one picture, which is little more than a vague blur. As such, I’m not providing a direct link for the time being.

The main points, though, are as follows:

1. Nick’s first allegations concerned a relative, and they were not investigated because the man was already dead. Nick then alleged that the relative had passed him to a paedophile ring. However, only later did he come to claim that the ring included VIPs, and only later still did he come to allege at first one, and then three, murders.

The report says that Nick first approached the police in 2012; it was later the same year that

Tom Watson made an extraordinary speech in the Commons asking David Cameron about claims of a ‘powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No 10’.

…One of the people who supplied Watson with intelligence and information was a former child protection officer called Peter McKelvie. In the aftermath of Mr Watson’s barnstorming performance in the House, Mr McKelvie spotted a tweet from a possible victim which read: ‘I was abused by the gang.’

The report also states that “allegedly, Jimmy Savile, predominantly a lone predator with a preference for girls, not boys, also attended the sex parties”. Although not mentioned in the article, Nick had expanded on this in a television documentary about Jimmy Savile that was broadcast in the summer of 2014. The programme stated that Nick (appearing under a different pseudonym) had first contacted police in the wake of the first posthumous allegations against Savile – which was a few weeks prior to Watson’s speech. [1])

2. Nick claims that one of the boys who was murdered was his friend, but “it appears he has been unable to tell police who he is.” In the case of another boy, who was run down by a car in Kingston upon Thames as a warning: “We could find no contemporary newspaper article about it. Nor, evidently, can police.”

3. Nick claims to have been taken to France in a private plane, where he was abused by Saudi royals in Paris.

4. Nick claims that he was subjected to bizarre ritualistic torture at the hands of soldiers:

‘I know poppies are a symbol of respect for those that have lost their lives during wars, however for me, they lost their meaning once the soldiers that hurt me physically pinned them to my bare skin.

‘I see poppies as a symbol of their hatred towards me. As a sign of respect (they said) I had to wear a poppy. So they would pin one directly to my chest and hurt me badly.

‘Once one was done, the next would unpin the poppy and move it to another part of my chest and do the same. They would all take turns until they had all had enough. The pain from the pin was nothing compared to the other pain, but it added to the humiliation.’

This seems to be a “secular” variant on Satanic Ritual Abuse; just as SRA accusations involve perverse distortions of Christian practices, here a benign and commonplace ritual of social memory is twisted in a grotesque and horrible way.

Perhaps this particular story was not told to Exaro, but it’s also possible that Exaro knew of it but decided not to publish it. We do know, for instance, that Exaro chose not to run an incredible story in which Nick was rescued from castration at a sex party by the intervention of former Prime Minister Ted Heath [2].

5. Nick has been in therapy. The fact that his claims have become increasingly extravagant during this time ought to raise alarm bells: could Nick have been subjected to the same sort of pseudo-therapy that blighted the last days of the late Carol Felstead? Felstead was brought to believe that she had been raped with a claw hammer in Conservative Central Office, among other things.

Darren and the Sunday Telegraph

It was recently reported that police have closed another investigation involving a supposed “survivor” promoted by Exaro: this is “Darren”, who in August 2014 featured on the BBC News website under the name of “Michael”. According to the BBC report:

His account of abuse spans several years at different locations. On the surface these episodes of abuse might appear unrelated, but Michael believes they were connected in that an abuser who knew an abuser knew an abuser.

…In 1992 he was moved to the Stowmarket home of a single male foster carer where he was to remain for about six months.

The abuse started on the fourth night and escalated, says Michael, from being asked to perform sex acts (to then being told he was dirty and threatened about reporting the abuse) to rape.

Michael was taken on “trips away” to Plymouth, Portsmouth, Wrexham, Cornwall and Islington, where he would be expected to perform sex acts for other abusers.

…On leaving Stowmarket, Michael describes living in “slave” conditions on a country estate in Suffolk where he came into contact with the now dead Peter Righton, a consultant to the National Children’s Bureau who was eventually unmasked as a paedophile. Righton repeatedly sexually abused him, Michael claims.

The report also notes that the foster carer was later “convicted of sexually abusing another boy”.

As with Nick’s earliest accounts, the report is significant for what is missing. There is no reference to Dolphin Square (where in January he said saw a girl being taken into another room to be killed), or to a murder that appears in an account that Darren later gave to Exaro, in which Righton supposedly forced Darren to tie a man with Down’s syndrome to two cars, which then reversed away from each other.

Doubts appeared in the Sunday Times last week:

Darren… claimed to have fallen into the hands of the VIP paedophile ring at the age of 15 when he undertook work experience at Thornham Magna estate in Suffolk.

At the time, he said, the known paedophile Peter Righton was renting a house on the estate after his conviction for possessing child pornography in 1992.

He claimed Righton was involved in the killing of a man in his thirties on the estate and that he knew of a girl who had died during a VIP paedophile party at the Dolphin Square apartment block in Westminster where Righton took him on a number of occasions in 1993.

But Suffolk police have investigated all the claims and found no evidence to support his account. In fact, police sources say Darren had never come into contact with Righton or worked at the estate when Righton lived there.

That last paragraph makes it clear that one of Darren’s claims is not just “unsubstantiated”, but has actually been rejected as false.

Exaro, however, has preferred to highlight Darren’s explanation for the end of the investigation, which is that it came to a premature conclusion because the police had referred his child to social services and he had therefore decided to withdraw cooperation (as noted below, he also has other criticisms of the police) [3]. However, the referral did not lead to the child being taken into care or any other intervention. It seems odd that a police force that thought Darren’s account might be true would be willing to allow a man who had claimed to have been an accessory to murder – albeit unwillingly – to walk away.

Now, however, the Sunday Telegraph has some further background:

* Darren had been previously sentenced to two years in jail for making hoax bomb calls, nuisance and threatening calls about neighbours and criminal damage

* he falsely confessed to the murder of a prostitute in the midst of a high profile police manhunt in the 1990s

* a judge accused him of telling “some pretty whopping lies” at the conclusion of a court case 15 years ago

Like the BBC piece, the article confirms that Darren was indeed placed with a foster carer who had committed abuse, and it explains that as a result he was “diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder”. The detail about his false confession sheds more context on a detail in the BBC report, that he “was arrested on suspicion of rape and murder in 1994 – he was found to have had nothing to do with either crime” [4].

The Telegraph piece also includes a response from Exaro:

Mark Watts, Exaro’s editor-in-chief, said: “Darren certainly had a troubled start to his life, as is often – although not always – true for survivors of child sex abuse, but you have been badly misinformed about his past.

“We cannot go into any detail about his past because we cannot say anything that could help to identify a confidential source, especially a vulnerable witness.”

On Twitter, Exaro is currently claiming that Darren is being “smeared by dubious sources”; there is not even a token attempt at critical distance from promoting Darren’s claims as fact. A few months ago, Darren was alleging on Twitter that “Senior management from @SuffolkPolice have ordered a cover up of my allegations and set out from the beginning to discredit all survivors” and “that @SuffolkPolice management approached my employers and told them I unsuitable to work there”.

So are we to believe that Darren’s history of erratic behaviour and disconnection from reality has simply been made up as part of the conspiracy? That would be a sensational story. But in the case of Nick, Exaro has batted away criticism by repeatedly citing the police view (expressed by  Det Supt Kenny McDonald last December) that his story is “credible and true”; yet in this instance we are supposed to believe that the police are rotten and corrupt. And where does all this background leave a claim that appeared in the Mirror in January, that “he lives in hiding, fearing for his own life”?

Exaro really needs to explain itself a bit better than this. As with some of Nick’s more lurid claims, it appears that the news agency has decided not to report details that are central for assessing the credibility of its source [5].


“VIP abuse” claims have come under increasing critical scrutiny in recent weeks, as published allegations have become increasingly fantastical, and in the wake of Proctor’s press conference. However, most articles have been commentary pieces that simply discussed material already in the public domain, or updates on the police investigations (Operations Midland and Milipond) based on information from police sources (either on-the-record statements or “leaks”). The new articles today [6] are the first time that Nick and Darren themselves have been subjected to journalistic investigation.

The papers’ decision to run critical pieces may also have been prompted by the recent rise of Tom Watson to Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and the Mail article in particular is unable to resist getting in a few digs. I think that Watson ought to have been more circumspect when he decided to involve himself in publicising individuals’ claims, although it should be noted that these were not the basis on which he raised the question of VIP sex abuse in parliament in 2012.

It should also be remembered that Watson wasn’t the only one to be impressed by Exaro‘s alleged “survivors” : earlier this year John Mann MP was boasting about having a list of names that he had passed to police, and he suggested that the raid on Proctor’s home would be “the first of many” investigations.

The Mail also highlights Exaro‘s “close links to Labour”, but it should be recalled that the Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has not been hesitant in making paedophile allegations against a senior Labour figure (not named publicly, although it’s obvious who he’s getting at).


[1] The documentary also included included input from Guy Marsden, who is Jimmy Savile’s nephew. Marsden claims he saw his uncle at paedophile sex parties in the late 1960s and 1970s, and that although he himself was not touched, his friends were abused. However, it should be noted that (a) Marsden did not mention any of this until after Savile’s reputation had been destroyed – before then, he had only praise for his late his uncle; (b) in August this year, Marsden suddenly revealed that Ted Heath had also been in attendance. This came just days after other allegations against Heath had appeared in the media. Further background here.

[2] Nick also claims to have to have been abused by Lord Janner. However, although Janner is soon to face a “trial of the facts” relating to allegations by other complainants, Nick’s accusations will not feature in this, and he’s the only one linking Janner to organised “VIP abuse” in London.

[3] There is a video of an event recorded last year featuring a man from Suffolk who claims to have been trafficked to London. His story is very similar to that of “Darren”, although no murders are mentioned. The man, who gives a different name in the video, claims that police falsely suggested he had a mental health problem and had referred him to social services ahead of the birth of his son. However, his dating would place the rupture with police as having been in August 2014 rather than more recently.

[4] The article also states, rather oddly, that “The Telegraph is aware of Darren’s real identity but has chosen not to name him over fears he remains vulnerable.” Well, that and the fact that it would be illegal to do so (unless he has waived it somewhere).

[5] A third source working with Exaro is Esther Baker, who has waived her legal right to anonymity. Baker claims to have been abused in the Midlands, although she also says that Darren’s account of a supposed “medical room” in Dolphin Square where torture took place led her to realise that she had also been abused there. 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).

[6] The Sunday Telegraph article was published on Saturday evening.


Bishop Peter Ball: A Reminiscence

From the website of George Conger, early last year:

The former Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt. Rev. Peter Ball, who was arrested in November 2012 on suspicion of child abuse, has not been charged following an 18 month investigation by detectives from Sussex Police.

On 28 Jan 2014, the Crown Prosecution Service said it was still considering the case against Bishop Ball, who was arrested in his Somerset home in November 2012 as part of Operation Dunhill. The bishop was reported to have been taken ill following his arrest.

…The late Bishop of Chichester, the Rt. Rev. Eric Kemp, was skeptical of the veracity of the charges brought against Bishop Ball. In his 2006 memoirs, Shy But Not Retiring, Bishop Kemp stated: “Although it was not realized at the time, the circumstances which led to his early resignation were the work of mischief makers.”

Here is a fuller quote from this passage, which appears on page 183:

[Ball] was not well received [as Bishop of Gloucester] and was not happy. Although it was not realized at the time, the circumstances which led to his early resignation were the work of mischief-makers. It was a very sad end to his ministry and his departure was a real loss to the Church which was, no doubt, what those who brought it about intended. [1]

This is somewhat enigmatic, although it seems to imply that there was more than one accuser.

And now, from the Guardian:

Peter Ball, the former bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, pleaded guilty on Tuesday morning to two counts of indecent assault relating to two young men and one charge of misconduct in public office, which relates to the sexual abuse of 16 young men over a period of 15 years from 1977-1992.

…On Tuesday, the Crown Prosecution Service allowed two charges of indecently assaulting two boys in their early teens to lie on file. The deal, hammered out in secret with CPS lawyers, means Ball will not face trial on perhaps the most serious alleged offences, which involved boys aged 13 and 15.

I can remember when the initial allegation against Ball was announced on the news towards the end of 1992, and I must confess that at the time I didn’t believe it. As suffragan Bishop of Lewes he had been a much-liked figure, noted for his warm humour, gentleness, and spirituality; in his monastic garb, he was also somewhat exotic. On one occasion he gave a talk at my high school, and when he mentioned that he accepted guests at his home who wished to experience something of monastic simplicity, a friend and I were intrigued enough to arrange a stay of a few days. His official bishop’s residence was quite comfortable, although I did take a peek at his bedroom and saw that it was kept bare, apart from a mattress. There were some other men staying in the house at the time, of various ages; they all seemed to be a thoughtful and happy crowd.

Ball at first denied the 1992 allegation, but then accepted a police caution in early 1993. That, of course, was an admission of guilt – and it had come only reluctantly, despite a statement in which he had mentioned his “great penitence and sorrow”. I was particularly taken aback that he had at first intended to brazen out the scandal with a harmful and cold-blooded lie, allowing his colleagues and friends to add to the victim’s pain and distress through well-intentioned but misguided expressions of support and sympathy that he knew that he did not deserve.

The caution, and the expression of sadness from the Archbishop of Canterbury after Ball’s resignation, left the impression that there had been some sort of unfortunate grope in a moment of weakness; however, a 2012 interview with the victim, by videolink from Australia, made it very clear that the abuse he had experienced aged 17 was over an extended period and had occurred within a context of calculated and manipulative behaviour [2]. The man, Neil Todd, was articulate and appeared to have made a new life for himself, but it was reported soon afterwards that he had died from an insulin overdose; the new reports in the wake of Ball’s guilty pleas now make clear that this was suicide.

It seemed to me obvious that it was highly unlikely that a man would give in to a predatory urge for the first time in his life at the age of 61, and we now know from reports published yesterday that the caution was also part of a deal that he hoped would mean that other allegations would not be looked into. We also now know that the historical complaint referring to a 13-year-old boy was made to police in 1996, which was while Kemp was still in post as Bishop of Chichester – and a good ten years before his “mischief-makers” slur against Todd appeared in his memoir. Kemp really doesn’t have any excuse.

Looking back, one of course looks for signs:  I recall there was mention of an ascetic practice that involved naked prayer, which I didn’t quite like the sound of; and that he expressed the view that Billy Graham placed an overemphasis on sexual sin. In retrospect, the whole medievalising monastic pose seems theatrical, and the disarming other-worldliness an affectation.

In recent days I have written posts in which I have expressed scepticism of lurid tales about VIP sex abuse and murder in the 1980s. However, my view has always been that each case must be taken on its merits, and there is strong evidence that Ball was given special consideration because of his position – in other words, in this instance a “cover up” occurred.

UPDATE (16 September):

The Sunday Times has run an interview with Cliff James, who was assaulted by Ball the year before Todd. The article (with a different headline) is also available on the journalist’s website. It includes the detail:

The late Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp, reportedly told Ball to “stop inviting young men” to his house. But when Kemp wrote his memoirs, he described the boys who spoke out about their abuse as “mischief-makers”.

It’s not clear where this “reportedly” has come from – presumably it’s a piece of evidence that emerged in files that went to the police, and to which James was given access. Further:

James was 17 in 1991 when he learnt of an unofficial “youth scheme” developed by Ball, a close friend of the Prince of Wales. The “bishop’s young men” spent a year living with the cleric, doing chores and quasi-monastic work in his opulent house in East Sussex.

I’d describe the house as “plush” rather than “opulent”, although, as stated above, it appeared to me that Ball maintained some personal asceticism.

James could not have known that the bishop had engineered his programme to molest dozens of young people. He says he had concerns as early as the first interview, when Ball told him that he would have to have cold showers every morning, supervised by the bishop…

…The showers duly took place and gradually, says James, the “mind games and manipulation” increased, leading to beatings, always under the guise of religion, and increasingly sexual demands.

…After months of abuse James confronted Ball: “He physically recoiled from me: I think he was terrified I might speak to someone. He said he was worried about it all getting into the papers and he kept saying that everything had been consensual.”

I remember that he mentioned the benefits of cold showers to my friend and me, explaining that he was used to them due to having been to a private school. However, he did not make the suggestion to us that showers required supervision.

The claim about consent here is slightly mysterious – until 2001, it was illegal to engage in sexual activity with any male under the age of 21. James was 17, which meant that Ball would not have been able to rely on a defence of consent. The law was problematic and homophobic (being unequal with the lower age of consent for heterosexual and lesbian relationships), but its application to punish obviously predatory behaviour would not have raised many complaints.

UPDATE (8 October): Ball has now been sentenced to prison; more thoughts on this from me here.


[1] Oddly, although the book has been scanned by Google Books and can be browsed using the “Preview” function, searches relating to this page (and some other pages) no longer bring up results. However, I do remember this passage being visible previously.

[2] Some of this appears to have been known at the time; the conservative evangelical clergyman Tony Higton wrote an attack on Carey’s handling of the affair in the Christian Herald, in which – as summarised by Ruth Gledhill in the Times – he pointed out that “some of the abuses were allegedly in a religious context, which made them blasphemous” (“Carey ‘made light of bishop’s sin'”, The Times, March 24, 1993)