The two complaints from interviewees were both hosted by the Needleblog, a private blog devoted to the issue of child sexual abuse. The first was made by Tim Tate, author – among many other works – of Children for the Devil: Ritual Abuse and Satanic Crime, published in 1991 (but subsequently withdrawn after legal action). Tate was also co-producer of a 1989 edition of ITV’s prime-time programme The Cook Report entitled The Devil’s Work.
The second complaint came from Dr Sarah Nelson, a sociologist at Edinburgh University and former journalist. Dr Nelson describes herself as a specialist writer and researcher on child sexual abuse.
The third complaint came in two articles by the journalist and campaigner Beatrix Campbell, hosted by the Open Democracy website, the first being entitled “Analysing Aaronovitch: has the scourge of ‘conspiracists’ become one himself?” And the second “Analysing Aaronovitch: a skeptical narrative.”
Tate’s and Nelson’s objections also made it into the Independent newspaper, which reported their view that Aaronovitch’s scepticism is itself a conspiracy theory.
Aaronovitch’s reply includes a discussion of Tate’s book, as well as of a work by Campbell and her partner Judith Dawson (then Jones) from 1998, entitled Stolen Voices: An Exposure of the Campaign to Discredit Childhood Testimony. Both books are very difficult to get hold of – the former was withdrawn following a successful libel action, while the publishers of the latter (the Women’s Press) decided the text was too risky. The two works show that their authors endorsed very specific claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse that do not hold up to scrutiny, while Campbell and Jones had promoted a explanatory framework – derived from evangelical campaigners – that they had subsequently dropped without apparent explanation or even acknowledgement. This was the claim that Satanists are motivated by a wish to “invert” Christianity, which Campbell and Jones later abandoned in preference for the view that Satanic paraphernalia is simply used by paedophiles to scare children.
Aaronovitch also notes Campbell and Dawson’s reliance on tenuous associations as a way to smear critics, in particular the academic Jean La Fontaine (author of Speak of the Devil: Tales of Satanic Abuse in Contemporary England). Campbell noted that LaFontaine had recommended factual writings by Benjamin Rossen, a Dutch academic who had been involved with debunking claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse in the town of Oude Pekala. However, Campbell and Dawson noted that Rossen was also on the board of a paedophile-supporting magazine. Aaronovitch quotes Campbell:
“Professor La Fontaine’s orthodoxy on this issue echoes the views of well-known promoters of paedophilia. [Aaronovitch’s italics] Although not relying on his work in her recent findings, she recommended writing by Benjamin Rossen, among others, in a letter to the leading professional journal, Child Abuse Review, this year.”
And then Dawson:
…”‘I don’t want to make a fool of the woman,’ says Judith Dawson, ‘but everybody working for child protection knows about Rossen’s advocacy of paedophilia. That calls into question La Fontaine’s whole attitude to adults’ sexual interest in children. [Aaronovitch’s italics] Anyone who regards Rossen as helpful on these issues cannot have any credibility in this debate.'”
Aaronovitch’s commentary on this:
“That calls into question La Fontaine’s whole attitude to adults’ sexual interest in children.” Says Judith Dawson, the constant companion to almost any article on the subject by Beatrix Campbell. Does it really? And what does Dawson (and, by extension, Campbell) imagine that attitude to be? We get it, though, don’t we? What is being implied is that LaFontaine is somehow “soft” on paedophilia. Perhaps, even, mildly tolerant of it. It is a technique repeated over and over again by Campbell.
Another theme in Campbell’s articles about Aaronovitch – to which he does not refer explicitly – is that scepticism is a form of anti-feminism. Thus Campbell’s attacks include the rather weird sneer that “Aaronovitch is a herald of reason as masculine intuition”, while research into false memories is “anti-feminist resistance”. The bad faith is obvious, and while it deserves noting it requires little comment.
Campbell also criticises Aaronovitch for referring to the recent SRA panic in Hamptstead:
Aaronovitch imputes something eerie about Hampstead, “No one in the mainstream media was biting.” said Aaaronovitch. But a forensic blogger reports, “none but those involved in the hoax was biting, not the police, not social workers…’ and insofar as anyone in the alternative media took it up it was mostly to ‘expose it for what it was…” That’s because they reckoned someone would use it just the way Aaronovitch did.
The Hampstead allegations were particularly bizarre and wide-ranging, and as such they have remained for the most part within the milieu of 9/11 Truthers and what we might call “the David Icke crowd”. However, Campbell happily endorsed a complaint to the BBC about Aaronovitch’s documentaries by a campaigning group called Everyday Victim Blaming, which included the following (emphasis added):
Aaronovitch’s programme on ritual abuse was misleading and inaccurate. It failed to include details of successful prosecutions within the UK where ritual abuse, including satanic ritual abuse, were found to have occurred. Whilst it is true that there is no evidence on satanic ritual abuse as a global conspiracy, there have been 4 separate cases within the UK where satanic rituals were a feature of multi-perpetrator (and multi-generational) abuse: Rotherham, Orkney, Nottingham and Hampstead.
At some point, this was amended:
Aaronovitch’s programme on ritual abuse was misleading and inaccurate. It failed to include details of successful prosecutions within the UK where ritual abuse, including satanic ritual abuse, were found to have occurred. Whilst it is true that there is no evidence on satanic ritual abuse as a global conspiracy, there have been a number of separate cases within the UK where satanic rituals were a feature of multi-perpetrator (and multi-generational) abuse: Rotherham, Orkney, Nottingham.
Was Hampstead dropped because the claims were simply too fantastical (babies cooked at the local McDonald’s, for instance), or because it’s safer to recycle over old accusations from decades ago?
Aaronovitch’s lengthy essay – of which I have offered just a taster – also includes comment on the current “Westminster paedophile ring” allegations:
I return to what got me into all this – the belief that that the most lurid of the current Westminster/VIP paedophile ring accusations, including child murders in front of of witnesses, seem to me to be replicating the earlier Satanic panic. I have watched as tabloid newspapers have printed uncorroborated nonsense from known fantasists as fact, as single accusers with uncorroborated stories of killings have been given credence by BBC reporters on the basis of “believing the survivors” for all the world, as though Lord Clyde had never reported and Orkney and Rochdale had never happened. As journalistic agencies have turned a buck by ramping up and selling stories that I confidently predict will fail to stand up.
I’ve raised concerns about some of these stories myself, in particular here and here. Campbell apparently believes that taking a critical interest in this way is evidence that one does not care about the reality of child abuse.
Aaronovitch’s essay was published on Barristerblog, a website run by Matthew Scott. Scott has himself faced unpleasant accusations and insinuations from people who ought to know better, as I highlighted just yesterday.