A Note on Operation Midland’s Nick, Sub Judice and Anonymity

Stern words from Mark Watts:

Amid highly prejudicial reporting of charges against Nick re indecent images of children and voyeurism, remember that no one in media yet knows truth of any accusations against him. [here]

Double standards still on display in today’s newspapers. Proceedings are active re Nick, so Contempt of Court Act applies. Will anyone enforce the law? [here]

This is rather hard to take from someone who uncritically promoted Nick’s false allegations of historic sex abuse by various “VIPs”, rebuked Harvey Proctor for daring to protest his innocence (a “shameful performance” that “distressed” his accuser), and impugned the motives of journalists who took a more critical perspective. We must also recall his gleeful Tweets about “green bottles” falling when two critics of another of his informants were investigated by the police for alleged stalking – the matter was eventually dropped without charges being brought.

Despite this, though, there is a real issue here: the media now regularly refers to “Nick the fantasist”, when we don’t know why he told so many falsehoods. Perhaps “Nick the fantasist” is less damaging than “Nick the liar”, but neither term reflects well on him, and if the sex-offence charges come to court it will be difficult for a jury not to draw inferences about his character from his “Operation Midland” tales and their outcome. Judges can direct juries to disregard things they may have read ahead of a trial – but how effective is this in practice, given human nature?

However, “Nick” would hardly be the first person who is already publicly notorious to appear before a jury; and it would be unjust to silence those who were falsely accused by Nick, particularly given that so many old media reports about them remain online and there is even a bone-headed “I believe Nick” movement that continues to abuse those he accused and their supporters (e.g. “Who’s that cow bag saying Bramall is an innocent man?”, as asked by Esther Baker, a core participant in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse).

There is also the matter of whether Nick will stand trial for attempting to pervert the course of justice over his falsehoods – the matter is under investigation, but one can’t help speculating that Metropolitan Police would prefer that this not happen, to avoid embarrassing disclosures about police credulity and bias. Perversely, some of Nick’s supporters argue that it is wrong to state that those he has accused are innocent, because to do so is to assert that Nick is a liar when this has not been proven. But this does not follow. There is no sensible reason to credit Nick’s stories, and therefore to do so is unjust (and for any reasonable person, impossible). However, we don’t yet know why he told his false stories to police. If he really is a “fantasist”, then he may be not guilty by reason of mental incompetence – if so, the real blame may in fact lie with his therapist.

Meanwhile, there are calls for Nick to be stripped of his anonymity, which he currently enjoys due to his status as a sex-crime complainant. One can understand the court’s reluctance here: anonymity is seen to facilitate justice by allowing genuine victims to come forward without fear of stigma, but such complainants must have confidence that the authorities will abide by their promise to protect their identity. This confidence will be undermined if Nick is named, especially if in due course the charges are dropped or he is acquitted.

On the other hand, though, it seems to me that those who have been falsely accused by Nick should allowed every means to thoroughly discredit his claims – yet at the moment it is not possible to properly scrutinise his life history and to draw attention to how this may be inconsistent with his abuse claims. Those who write about Nick are even obliged to tip-toe around information that Nick himself has published online. It seems to me that his use of the right to anonymity has been selective and manipulative, and that as such it should be reviewed. Or must we wait decades before the public record is definitively put straight?

Daily Mail Denounces BBC but Exonerates Itself after Operation Midland’s “Nick” Charged with Sex Offences

Note: At the risk of stating the obvious, Nick’s false allegations of 2014 are a separate matter from the new allegations that have been made against him. Nothing about the former should be used to draw inferences about the latter while the matter is sub judice.

From the Daily Telegraph:

The alleged fantasist who sparked the Westminster paedophile investigation has been charged with child sex offences.

The man, who can only be identified as Nick, was arrested last year and has already appeared in court, charged with multiple offences relating to allegations of making and possessing hundreds of indecent images of children. He has also been charged with voyeurism.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, which allegedly took place between 2015 and 2016, and is expected to stand trial later this year.

Nick infamously claimed to have seen politicians and other establishment “VIPs” rape and murder children during paedophile orgies, prompting the disastrous “Operation Midland” police fiasco which began with the assumption that Nick was “credible and true” and ended in ignominy with no arrests and with compensation payouts over needless police raids on the homes of Lord Bramall (facilitated by the police misleading a judge) and the late Leon Brittan.

As a sex crime complainant, Nick enjoys a right to anonymity; apparently we only know about the new development at all because of a successful legal challenge (1). However, the allegations “cannot be revealed in detail for legal reasons” and the matter is sub judice; thus the Mail has bulked out its coverage with a new autopsy by Richard Pendlebury and Stephen Wright into how Nick’s claims were reported in 2014 and 2015.

Under the headline “‘Nick the Fantasist’ to stand trial for paedophile offences: How the man who sparked disastrous VIP child sex abuse probe had the police, BBC and Labour’s deputy leader lapping up his lies” (2), the two authors explain that the tales were taken seriously

because a middle-aged former public sector worker called Nick came forward to make claims that a significant, politically motivated cadre wanted to hear. It also suited the politically correct times.

Tom Watson, now Labour deputy leader but then still a backbench MP, was on a roll following his crucial part along with the campaigning group, Hacked Off, in setting up the Leveson Inquiry into the conduct of the Press.

Now he was looking for a new cause that would damage his enemies. And if it burnished his own growing reputation as a crusader for truth and justice, well, why not?

…BBC News also bought into Nick and his claims, providing a platform upon which he could build a mountain of lies. In December 2014, Nick’s interview with BBC News about his alleged child sex ordeal was broadcast on primetime news bulletins.

It is true that the the Daily Mail was the first media outlet to probe more deeply following Harvey Proctor’s August 2015 press conference; on 5 September 2015 Wright revealed that detectives had “grave doubts” about Nick’s story, and Wright co-authored a more in-depth piece two weeks later that sceptically drew attention to aspects of Nick’s allegations that were particularly bizarre and far-fetched.

However, there is self-serving revisionism in the paper’s criticisms of Watson and the BBC: there was already online scepticism about Nick’s claims before the Daily Mail gave the matter its attention, and the paper had previously been as credulous as the rest of the media. Thus in November 2014 the Daily Mail‘s attack dog Guy Adams produced a piece that was headlined “Paedophile orgies in luxury flats and claims three boys were murdered by VIPs: Special report into the growing stench of a cover-up by the Establishment”, in which he wrote that

‘Nick,’ who claims to have visited Dolphin Square on at least ten occasions (and recalls its ‘dimly-lit, musty corridors’), has supplied Operation Midland with a written account of his ordeal and been interviewed extensively by investigators, passing them names of the Tory MP and the Cabinet Minister.

A few months later, when Harvey Proctor’s home was raided by police, the paper’s journalists (not Wright) turned to “campaigning Labour MP John Mann” for comment. While Watson is credulous, Mann’s calculated disclosures about supposed “dossiers” relating to VIP abuse and have been self-promoting.

Meanwhile, Mail Online, which is apparently a separate entity from the Daily Mail but is published on the same website, ran an article following Proctor’s press conference stating that Nick had “handed over” evidence to police, when it meant that Nick had given evidence – the former obviously implying something of forensic value rather than just testimony.

Further, it should be noted that while BBC News did not distinguish itself in the autumn of 2014, Nick’s credibility was seriously brought into question by the BBC’s Panorama news programme a year later. This is just about acknowledged by the Daily Mail, albeit in a side-box rather than in the main text of the article (which meant I missed it in first reading article):

The early BBC News and Exaro reports were later pulled apart by BBC Panorama, which established that at least one of the murders Nick claims to have witnessed – the only one about which he has provided detailed information – could not have taken place.

In particular, the programme-makers probed Nick’s claim that a friend of his had been run over and killed in front of him in Kingston-on-Thames, as a warning to him not to have friends. As the New York Times reported after the programme was broadcast:

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.

It is very difficult to positively prove that something didn’t happen when dates are vague, but this is by far the most reasonable explanation for why such a dramatic claim cannot be substantiated.

Meanwhile, Nick’s various online supporters (there is an “ibelievenick” hashtag) are in something of a dilemma over the new allegations against him. Much of their online rhetoric has tended towards the view that those who express scepticism about allegations of paedophilia-related sex crimes are “nonce apologists” who support child sex abuse, and there has been a relentless lynch-mob glee in discussions about Nick’s claims (“Who’s that cow bag saying Bramall is an innocent man?” was a derisive question asked by Esther Baker, who is now a core participant in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse). Will they now turn on Nick in similar terms, or will they instead suddenly expound the virtues of being fair-minded and not jumping to conclusions?

Footnotes

1. One Daily Mail article states that “the charges against Nick can be disclosed after a court challenge, backed by the Mail, overturned a ban on reporting the case”. This does not make it quite clear who was responsible for the challenge, whereas a companion article in the same paper (quoted above) states that the “news emerged only because a judge lifted a reporting restriction which had been challenged by this newspaper.” However, Tom Wells, who is Chief Reporter at The Sun, has Tweeted that “the quite extraordinary development in the ‘Nick’ saga can only be revealed today because of a legal battle launched – and won – by @TheSun”.

2. This companion piece has been published both on a separate webpage and underneath the Daily Mail‘s more general article, where it has the shorter title “How ‘Nick the fantasist’ had the police, BBC and Labour’s deputy leader lapping up his lies”. This shorter title was also originally used on the separate webpage, as shown in the screenshot.

Hamburg Prosecutor Found “Lack of Evidence” to Support Claim Child Was Gang-Raped at Refugee Centre

My friend Tim Ireland has received a response to a query he made to the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Hamburg concerning a sensational news story that appeared in British newspapers in March 2017:

‘The investigation in the case of alleged sexual abuse you mentioned has been stopped by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Hamburg on 11 May, 2017, due to lack of evidence. The case is closed.’

The story had been reported in the Daily Star as follows:

Five ‘Arab migrants’ gang-rape little girl, SEVEN, at refugee centre

Cops are probing a “serious sexual assault” at the Central Initial Reception Center (ZEA) for refugees in the Hamburg, reports say.

The alarm was reportedly raised on Tuesday evening shortly after 7pm.

A girl, aged seven, is thought to be the victim of the alleged group sex attack, German newspaper BILD reported.

Five Arabs have reportedly been accused of carrying out the alleged assault.

Public prosecutor Nana Frombach told BILD: “We have initiated a case against five persons.

“There had been no urgent need for action. The investigation will continue.”

By placing the quote marks around the suspect description but not the other details, we are to infer that the reality of the incident has been confirmed, even though the main text refers only to “the alleged assault”. And the webpage title dispenses with any doubt whatsoever, simply reporting “Girl raped by five migrants at refugee centre in Hamburg, Germany”. This was perhaps the original headline, and it is the form used in several early Tweets that referred to the article.

A follow up piece then appeared on Mail Online, under the headline “Seven-year-old girl is gang-raped at an asylum centre in Germany as ‘five Arabic men’ are investigated”. This article led with the claim that

German police are investigating another horrific gang rape apparently involving a seven-year-old girl who had been living at an asylum centre.

This was a couple of weeks after a group of Iraqis had been sentenced for the gang rape of a German tourist in Austria; I suspect that this is why the author writes “another horrific gang rape”, although taken at face value he appears to be claiming a spate of gang rapes perpetrated against seven-year-olds at asylum centres. This report also contains an alternative translation of the quote from Frombach:

Prosecutor Nana Frombach said: ‘We have opened an investigation against five people. The circumstances or what happened are still unclear. The investigation is continuing.’

The Daily Star version is referenced in Robert Spencer’s book Confessions of an Islamophobe, in which he cites “There had been no urgent need for action” to imply that the offence was not investigated with appropriate urgency. In fact, however, Frombach referred to “dringender Tatverdacht” (urgent suspicion), a legal term that refers to the amount of evidence available rather than to the seriousness of an alleged offence.

A further confusion in the reporting was that the British tabloids claimed that the investigation had begun just a few days before, when in fact the original BILD report had appeared in March 2016, exactly a year beforehand. It appears that the British journalists simply misread or overlooked the correct date. Had they bothered to do any research of their own this would have become apparent, and they could have provided an update.

Here’s how BILD reported it – with a headline that comes in the form of a question:

Mädchen (7) von fünf Männern vergewaltigt?

Die Polizei ermittelt wegen schweren sexuellen Missbrauchs an einem Kind in der Zentralen Erstaufnahmeeinrichtung (ZEA) für Flüchtlinge im Hamburger Stadtteil Bahrenfeld.

Wie erst jetzt bekannt wurde, wurden bereits am Dienstagabend kurz nach 19 Uhr Beamte alarmiert. Es wurde angezeigt, dass ein Mädchen (7) Opfer einer Gruppenvergewaltigung geworden sei.

Als Täter wurden fünf angebliche Araber beschuldigt. Unklar ist, ob es sich bei den Männern um Besucher oder Bewohner der Einrichtung handelt.

Oberstaatsanwältin Nana Frombach bestätigt: „Wir haben ein Verfahren gegen fünf Personen eingeleitet. Es erhärte sich bisher kein dringender Tatverdacht. Die Ermittlungen werden fortgesetzt.“

We can’t know for sure exactly what happened with such minimal information, but given the lack of any further journalistic interest it seems reasonable to conclude that the whole thing was no more than an unsubstantiated rumour, and that this is why the case was closed.

Appendix: Tommy Robinson and Nadine Dorries

As anyone would expect, the Daily Star article was promoted on Twitter by “Tommy Robinson” as part of his anti-Islam activism. Robinson’s Tweet reflected the “Girl raped by five migrants at refugee centre in Hamburg, Germany” formulation, and it was soon afterwards embedded in Tweet from Nadine Dorries MP.

Dorries added her own expression of shock and dismay at the allegation, but she could have done that without promoting Robinson at the same time – as far as I am aware, she is the only Conservative Member of Parliament to have RTed Robinson. [UPDATE: I’ve since seen that Bob Blackman MP previously RTed Robinson in 2016, although he claims to have done so “in error”]

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse Holds Preliminary “Westminster Strand” Hearing

From The Times:

The public inquiry into child abuse is scaling back its investigations into claims of an establishment cover-up of a VIP paedophile ring in Westminster.

The decision is a significant retreat by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse because the allegations triggered its creation by Theresa May four years ago.

Andrew O’Connor, QC, the inquiry counsel on the Westminster strand, told its first hearing yesterday: “We suspect that much of the public concern relating to Westminster child abuse issues may have been created, or at least exacerbated, by a lack of knowledge.” He said that concern over the allegations had “diminished considerably” since Scotland Yard’s discredited Operation Midland inquiry into the allegations [blogged here – RB].

The inquiry would not try to make findings of fact in the cases of the late Sir Cyril Smith, who was a Liberal MP, or the late Sir Edward Heath, a Conservative prime minister.

…. The inquiry, now chaired by Professor Alexis Jay, believes that matters of public concern remain in the Westminster strand: including the role of whips in suppressing information about MPs; the honours system, including knighthoods for Smith and Jimmy Savile; and whether senior politicians supported the Paedophile Information Exchange.

Yesterday’s hearing was a preliminary one (the main event will not be until March 2019), and the transcript can be accessed here. It shows that the inquiry will also look into claims “that police investigations into cases of possible child sexual abuse linked with Westminster may have been the subject of inappropriate interference”, referring specifically to claims relating to Elm Guest House – this is somewhat meatier than the above summary in The Times. O’Connor also referred to the “Dickens dossier” (blogged here), and to claims made by Anthony Gilberthorpe (blogged here) and Don Hale (blogged here).

The retreat from findings of fact

The “retreat” mentioned in The Times actually re-states a point made by the IICSA in September, after Wiltshire Police announced that it intended to end its fruitless £1.5 million probe into Ted Heath by passing its report to the body. The IICSA responded to the force’s face-saving plan with a statement that “the inquiry will be interested to see and consider the outcome of Wiltshire police’s investigation”, but that it “is unlikely to need to examine whether allegations of abuse made against any particular parliamentarian are true during the course of its work.” The Mail on Sunday shamelessly ignored the second part of the this statement, instead running with the sensational headline “Sex Abuse Inquiry WILL Probe Ted Heath” (or “Sex Abuse Inquiry to Probe Ted Heath” in the print edition).

The September statement, was, though, a climb-down when compared to earlier statements; in November 2015 the IICSA Tweeted that

We’ll conduct objective fact-finding inquiry into allegations of abuse by people of public prominence associated w. Westminster #CSAinquiry

More on this point – in particular in relation to Greville Janner – below.

Esther Baker

O’Connor also referred to Esther Baker, explaining that she has been given “core participant” status “given her status as a complainant of relevant sexual abuse and also in her capacity as someone who has campaigned publicly on related issues in her own name.” Baker’s appointment is controversial because she made an extraordinary allegation against the former MP John Hemming that police have not been able to substantiate. Hemming has accused her of being a “fantasist”, and this term has now been used in media reports.

Baker’s allegations include the claim that she and other girls were abused by Hemming and by various VIPs in a woodland setting while corrupt police stood guard – although she has not used the phrase “Satanic Ritual Abuse”, this is the obvious implication. Baker says that she remembered Hemming’s participation after encountering him at Parliament as part of her campaigning on the issue of abuse (she has close links to the Labour MPs John Mann and Jess Philips – and Philips won her parliamentary seat at Hemming’s expense); and it just so happens that this was shortly after a disagreement between Hemming and Graham Wilmer, a campaigner with links to Baker (more details here).

Baker was represented at the hearing by Peter Garsden, Executive Officer of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers and a believer in the reality of human sacrifice in the UK by “hidden societies”. Garsden attempted shut down critical comment about Baker’s appointment by asking the inquiry to refer newspaper articles to the police under the terms of the Witnesses (Public Inquiries) Protection Act 1892, which makes it illegal to “to punish, damnify or injure, any person for having giving evidence upon any inquiry”. Mark Watts, a journalist who has promoted Baker’s claims, referred to this on Twitter, although for some reason he failed to similarly convey the response of the lead counsel to the inquiry, Brian Altman QC, which was that the act did not apply in Baker’s case because she hasn’t given evidence.

Garsden also told the inquiry that Baker (link added)

has taken 12 overdoses, 12 attempts to commit suicide, by the excessive ingestion of tablets, prescription drugs… 12 attempts at suicide between 2015 and now, the most recent of which was 25 January 2018, because of the publication of this article in the Sunday Times by James Gillespie on 21 January.

One recalls here an old claim by Watts that an alleged survivor had attempted suicide after a Panorama documentary had drawn attention to problems with several “Westminster VIP” abuse claims. I think we can be sure that neither Garsden nor Watts would be quite so ready to take at face value a series of suicide attempts by someone accused of a sex crime, or to blame the media for reporting information.

Garsden also provided some extra context to Baker’s allegations:

Esther Baker is a very fragile individual. She has been serially and consistently abused from the age of 6 to 19, firstly by her father, who abused her on a regular basis, and then her father introduced her to various individuals who are the persons this inquiry is interested in. She was taken to various houses in the Birmingham area and to a wood where she and other girls were abused by various individuals, one of whom has been  publicly named, another of whom hasn’t, who are either MPs or former MPs, and that’s why she is relevant to this inquiry.

…She has been ably assisted by other individuals who suggested that she make public disclosure of her allegations, which she did in 2015, principally as a method of protecting her from what she deemed to be a threat of violence or worse than that. She thought that if she disclosed her identity there was more chance of her staying alive because she was making allegations against celebrities, or, should I say, well-known  individuals who were known to the public. Since then, there has been an orchestrated campaign made against her to vilify her and call her a liar.

Older media reports, such as this one in the Guardian from 2015, state that “the abuse went on for four years from the age of six”, rather than from “from the age of 6 to 19”. The discrepancy has slipped in because Baker in fact claims to have been abused in two contexts, the latter while she was a teenager. She also states that her allegations are still under police investigation; presumably they relate to this alleged teenage abuse, although the distinction has not been made very clearly.

The 2015 Guardian article also refers to a detail that is curiously absent from Garsden’s account:

Baker has also alleged that she was sexually abused at a flat in London, which she now believes to be Dolphin Square, in Westminster – the location at the centre of the Metropolitan police’s Operation Midland inquiry into the alleged murders of three children by high-profile individuals in a paedophile ring.

Baker said that she recognised details from the Westminster accuser “Darren” of a fake “medical room” at Dolphin Square where grotesque forms of abuse supposedly took place. In turn, “Darren” said that he recognised Baker from a photograph. Soon after however, “Darren’s” credibility came under considerable strain, and he later withdrew from cooperating with the police (despite claiming to have been forced to participate in a murder of a man with Down’s syndrome). This is not some minor detail – Dolphin Square was specifically mentioned earlier in the  hearing, and Baker’s claim to have witnessed abuse there ought to be highly relevant. Why would Garsden not mention this?

Greville Janner

Garsden also took aim at Daniel Janner QC, who provided a submission in relation to his late father Lord Greville Janner (and who has been denied core participant status). Garsden complained:

So I am putting out a plea that this fantasist nonsense should stop. It has happened in other inquiries. It has happened to all my clients in the Janner module. They have also been called fantasists.

The inquiry now refers to “institutional responses to allegations made against Lord Janner”, which is in line with its statement that it “is unlikely to need to examine whether allegations of abuse made against any particular parliamentarian are true”. However, this was not always the case – as Dominic Lawson noted in the Sunday Times in 2016:

…to quote this column from last March: “On the first day of the inquiry’s proceedings, its QC, Ben Emmerson, declared that he would attempt to make ‘findings of fact’ in cases of individual abuse, blithely referring to ‘Lord Janner and other individuals allegedly associated with him in his offending’.”

I believe that Emmerson, like his favourite newspaper [the Guardian], saw Janner as the easiest of targets and that it would bring the inquiry early kudos (not to mention press coverage) if it brought “findings of fact” that the peer had indeed been a child abuser.

Emmerson later left the enquiry following an allegation of sexual assault, and the Janner allegations appear to contain some difficulties after all.

The “1961” Edward Heath Accuser

Meanwhile, a solicitor named David Greenwood provided more detail about an Edward Heath accuser – here called  WM-A1 and very clearly the “1961” accuser whose allegations included impossible dates. According to Greenwood:

A1 is not “Nick” of Operation Midland, but he has been let down on all levels. He describes being close to a group of politicians that were using rent boys in the 1960s, and he was neither investigated himself — he was not prosecuted — nor was he protected. This all raises the issue of blackmail and scrutiny by security services of politicians, or powerful figures, at least, at the time, and A1’s evidence needs to be looked at for evidence of this scrutiny where it may lead the inquiry into significant findings.

Tabloids Upset By Criticism of James Bond

From Ben Child’s “Week in Geek” column at the Guardian:

Should we watch old movies with one eye on the time and place in which they were made, or view them through a more modern mindset? That is the question the Twittersphere has been pondering after a video depicting some of James Bond’s most misogynist moments went viral on social media.

In chopping together scenes in which Her Majesty’s top spy takes advantage of vulnerable women, slaps bottoms and physically restrains women until they submit to sex, a YouTube cut-and-paste merchant who goes by the name Guru Kid has even missed most of 007’s nastiest behaviour…

Child’s article comes in the wake of a moral panic disguised as a critique of a moral panic: thus on 26 January several British tabloids ran pieces with headlines such as “‘James Bond is a sexist, racist rapist’: Millennials appalled after watching 007 film for first time” (Daily Mirror); “James Bond branded ‘flat out rapist’ by angry millennials” (Daily Star); “Dr NO! Millennials watching classic Bond movies for the first time blast ‘sexist’ and ‘racist’ plots online – and describe Sean Connery’s 007 as ‘basically a rapist'” (Mail Online); “James Bond: Millennials SLAM old movies ‘Sexist, racist and Sean Connery’s 007 is rapist'” (Express); and “James Bond films slammed as ‘racist and sexist’ by young people watching them for the first time with Sean Connery’s with Sean Connery’s spy labelled ‘basically a rapist'” (The Sun).

It’s not clear why there was a flurry on that particular day: was there some ur-text that inspired them all, or did one article go viral and so the others decided to bandwagon? Either way, this is effortless journalism: simply select some Tweets expressing a particular view, string them together, and present them as a collection that exposes some awful truth about the state of society. In this case, we are to infer that young people are censorious and oversensitive, and unable to value Bond’s hyper-competent masculinity. Thus the outrage machine is fed: “why can’t these people simply not watch the films if they are offended by them?” is the cry from those offended by critical comments they have chosen to read.

In fact, though, it is hardly controversial to point out that aspects of the franchise are dated, and that attitudes and actions depicted in the early films and books would not be acceptable or even credible today. The point that even Daniel Craig’s modern depiction has an unlikable side is perfectly reasonable, too. As Child points out:

Bond producers have acknowledged 007’s status as an unreconstructed brute in more recent episodes. When Judi Dench’s M first meets Pierce Brosnan’s suave super-spy in GoldenEye (1995), she lambasts him as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the cold war”, while she describes the Daniel Craig version as a “blunt instrument” in Casino Royale (2006)…

One of the clips in the viral video (which was actually uploaded in 2016, and is lighthearted in tone) is from Moonraker, and shows Roger Moore’s sexist surprise that the scientist Dr Goodhead is a woman. However, this dinosaur attitude is clearly presented in the film as a joke at Bond’s (and perhaps Moore’s) expense: Bond is flawed and out of touch.

Perhaps the most controversial clip in the video compilation is from Diamonds are Forever, in which Bond rips off a woman’s bikini top and throttles her with it. The context here is Bond as a ruthless and angry interrogator seeking information from a Blofeld associate, rather than Bond as a sex attacker, but the scene is sufficiently disturbing that when the film is regularly re-shown on ITV during the daytime the segment is censored. This excision has failed to excite the kind of controversy provoked by members of the public expressing their views on Twitter.

The panic over criticism of Bond can be placed within a couple of contexts: first, that criticism of the taken-for-granted is “political correctness” (thus it’s one thing for Walt Disney to bowdlerise fairytales, but quite another to criticise fairytale princes for kissing without consent); and second, that this is another attack on that persecuted minority known as “the white straight male”.

On this second point, there was an earlier James Bond controversy last month, when Barbara Broccoli stated regarding the future of the film series that “Anything is possible… who knows what the future will bring?” Tabloids extrapolated from “anything is possible” not that the next Bond actor might be Timothy Spall or Warwick Davis, but that “James Bond boss says next 007 after Daniel Craig ‘could be a woman'”, even though she had provided no such quote. The prospect was again met with howls of dismay, as an attack on aspirational masculinity.

Fleming’s character has obviously been tweaked more than once over the years, both in the films and in the continuation novels. For instance, Bond as a smoker is no longer credible given the physical demands of his job, and tobacco in any case is associated with weakness and addiction rather than sophisticated pleasure. The issue with a female Bond, or a Black Bond, it seems to me, is that the filmmakers would have to decide whether Bond lives in a universe in which race and sex are mere incidental details, or if these aspects of identity affect how he or she is treated by the world and acts within it. If the latter, then the whole dynamic of the series needs to be re-thought.

However, the test of a formula’s strength is how far it can be explored through variation and reinvention rather than just repetition. Eventually, the character of James Bond will enter the public domain, at which point all kinds of new directions will be available, as we have seen with Sherlock Holmes; and unofficial interpretations already exist, depicting Bond as elderly, or battling supernatural beings, and so on. Are tabloids going to whip up a storm whenever one of these new versions is not to their liking?

Donald Trump Poses with Book that Claims God told Prophets He Would Become President

The AFP reports from Davos:

“He was very, very hospitable and personal. He just said ‘Yes, I’ll sign that for you’.” — Deborah O’Hara Rusckowski, 58, who held out a book for Trump to sign called “God and Donald Trump”, a study on whether supernatural intervention brought the US leader to power.

Photos posted to social media show that Trump did not just sign the book (previously blogged here) – he also held it aloft. One of those photos can now be seen in a review of the book by Amy Sullivan published at Politico a couple of days ago; another appears on Charisma News, the neo-Pentecostal news service owned by Steven Strang, the author of God and Donald Trump and a significant figure in evangelical publishing.

The Charisma News article refers to Sullivan’s review and is headlined “Ultra-Liberal Website Delivers ‘Surprisingly Accurate’ Review of ‘God and Donald Trump”. The headline is odd, given that Sullivan’s assessment is quite critical:

At a certain point in “God and Donald Trump,” the recent theological gymnastics on display from Tony Perkins and Jerry Falwell, Jr., among others, to explain ongoing conservative Christian support for a president who (allegedly) paid off a porn star weeks before Election Day so she would keep quiet about their (alleged) affair become clear. There will be no point at which Trump’s most loyal evangelical and charismatic supporters declare they have had enough. Because to do so would be to admit that they were wrong, that God wasn’t behind Trump’s election, and that their Holy Spirit radar might be on the fritz. That it was, after all, about something as temporal and banal as hating his Democratic rival.

However, Sullivan describes the book as “surprisingly fascinating”, and she notes the various Christian Right activists who came out for Trump:

Strang attempts to explain evangelical fervor for Trump and provides a window into the world of charismatics, a subset of evangelical Christians who believe God still speaks to people through prophesies and is still actively involved in arranging the world of human affairs.

…A Catholic holy man named Thomas Zimmer who spent much of his life in Italy even claimed to have received a prophesy in the 1980s that Trump would “lead America back to religion.” And the book is filled with testimony after testimony from Christian leaders who were amazed to find themselves supporting Trump in 2016, who each claim that he was their very last choice up until he won the Republican nomination.

Strang’s view is not just that Trump is God’s man for the hour – it is also that this can be confirmed by signs following. Background to the Zimmer claim was published by Strang on Charisma News in July; the “Hermit of Loreto”, who died in 2009, was apparently

so sure Donald Trump would become a great spiritual leader of America that he wrote his name on a brick and had it placed in the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Holy Door after the Jubilee [in 2000] so Trump would receive blessings from the many Masses that would be said in the Vatican.

The source for the story is an American priest named Fr. Giacomo Capoverdi, who says that he heard it from a doctor named Claudio Curran.

A Note on the Obama-Farrakhan Photograph

From the Trice Edney Wire, a week ago:

It was during a mid-2005 Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) meeting on Capitol Hill when award-winning journalist Askia Muhammad captured one of the most significant photos of his career.

Muhammad had doggedly covered then Chicago Sen. Barack Obama since he “first laid eyes on him” at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Now, here was the Senator in a warm conversation with constituent and fellow Chicagoan Minister Louis Farrakhan. As leader of the Nation of Islam, Farrakhan is another star in Black America, but one whose name is synonymous with controversy.

…Muhammad had not even left the scene when he received a call and the photo was being summoned by a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Muhammad ultimately surrendered the disk to Minister Farrakhan’s chief of staff. And it remained one of America’s best hidden secrets for the next 12 years…

The existence of the photo has been known for some time: Farrakhan made a public reference to it in October 2016, explaining that

I knew that if I ever let that go out, they would use that to hurt that brother. So you never saw it.

The photo has now been released by Muhammad ahead of the publication of his autobiography, The Autobiography of Charles 67X (previewed by Houston Style Magazine here). Its appearance has received widespread and mostly negative attention as evidence of Obama’s supposed secret militancy, and of media collusion in hiding information from the public. Fox News in particular has been promoting the story – Muhammad gave an interview to Tucker Carlson, while Fox and Friends invited commentary from Alan Dershowitz, who says that he would never have endorsed Obama in 2008 had he known of it.

According to Fox, the Congressional Black Caucus “buried” the photo and “pressured”  Muhammad “for more than a decade” not to disclose it. However, this is isn’t quite borne out by the details of the story. At the time, Muhammad was White House Correspondent for Farrakhan’s Final Call newspaper, and it appears that he simply left it up to his boss to decide whether it should be published or not. No-one knew that he had kept a copy for himself, and so the issue of “pressure” does not arise. Indeed, it seems that Muhammad is in sympathy with the reasons not to have released it before now, stating that the photo “would have made a difference” had it appeared during the 2008 Presidential election campaign.

Farrakhan came to Capitol Hill for a meeting during July 2005; Muhammad reported this in Final Call at the time, writing that

Just as individual members have, for some time, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), as a whole, is now preparing to play its part in the Millions More Movement.

Although their meeting was interrupted several times by votes on the House Floor, practically all 43 CBC members eagerly attended parts or all of a two-hour session at the Capitol July 20 with the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and several leaders of the 10th Anniversary Commemoration of the Millions Man March to be held in Washington Oct. 14-16.

Following the unpublicized strategy session, CBC Chair Melvin Watt (D-N.C.) told reporters that the CBC supports the October mobilization. The CBC is determined to become involved before and, most importantly, after the Commemoration to ensure that the Millions More Movement is an ongoing movement that addresses the concerns of our people.

This seems to be the “mid-2005” meeting mentioned by Trice Edney Wire article; certainly, a low resolution group photo that is included with the Final Call article appears to be consistent with the Farrakhan-Obama picture. However, Obama is not mentioned in the Final Call article, and he appears to have left by the time the group photo was taken. Even so, though, the fact that “practically all 43 CBC members eagerly attended” obviously indicated that Obama may have been present, and so the photo is not some shocking revelation.

At the New Yorker, Vinson Cunningham provides some general context:

[Farrakhan] seems to relish backing black liberals into a corner, most recently Representative Keith Ellison, whose campaign for D.N.C. chairman, last year, devolved into a referendum on his past friendliness with the Nation of Islam. Farrakhan is the author of vile, uncountable, unreconstructed, cause-derailing anti-Semitic slurs, but his “Million Man March” made him and the Nation a stubborn, unignorable feature of the political landscape for black would-be public servants who came of age in the nineteen-nineties….

This is the difficulty with comparing Farrakhan to David Duke. The Million Man March, and Farrakhan’s place in public life more generally, cannot sensibly be reduced to vile things he has said (or to the eccentricities of Nation of Islam theology). In contrast, Duke has never organised or done anything that has managed to transcend the worst of his character.

The Farrakhan-Obama photo is obviously embarrassing, but there is nothing in Obama’s political past that now suddenly makes more sense because of it. However, the price of activism on behalf of black advancement ought not to be a willingness to tolerate or overlook anti-Jewish hatred. Perhaps, though, given the complexities of the “political landscape” as outlined by Cunningham, Obama should be allowed a Mulligan.

Automated Messages From Tommy Robinson Cited in Finsbury Park Mosque Attack Trial

Note: In this post I discuss the way that prosecution evidence produced in a live trial has been presented in the media. However, no inference should be drawn about the significance or validity of that evidence while the trial is in progress.

The Independent‘s Lizzie Dearden reports from the trial of Darren Osborne, who is accused of having driven a van into worshippers leaving Finsbury Park Mosque in June:

The alleged Finsbury Park terror attacker read messages from Tommy Robinson and Jayda Fransen in the lead-up to the atrocity, a court has heard.

…Mr Osborne joined Twitter on 3 June and [allegedly] started following far-right accounts, including some linked to the far-right extremist group Britain First.

Prosecutor Jonathan Rees QC said he received a “direct message” from Ms Fransen, the group’s deputy leader, on the same day but did not detail its contents.

….The following week, he received an email from Mr Robinson, the former English Defence League leader, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the court heard.

…Discussing the Isis-linked terror attack that killed 22 people in Manchester the previous month, it said: “What Salman Abedi did is not the beginning, and it won’t be the end…”

…The second email from Mr Robinson to Mr Osborne came on 14 June and detailed the campaign for a woman whose rapists were not prosecuted, jurors were told.

“Dear Darren, you know about the terrible crimes committed against [name redacted] of Sunderland,”….

The formal “Dear Darren” in the second message from Robinson is an obvious sign that the messages were circulars rather than personal communications – and a bit of googling shows that at least some of the text from the first email corresponds to the blurb for a protest event that was held in Manchester in June. This is made clearer in a BBC News report:

…Mr Osborne later received an invitation to a demonstration from an account using the name Tommy Robinson calling for participants to “stand up and say no more” to extremism.

Mr Rees said: “No-one is suggesting it’s him [Mr Robinson] in person but obviously people who follow Tommy Robinson.”

Despite this, however, the initial impression in media reports and Tweets was that the prosecution was claiming that Robinson had been in personal contact with Osborne – an impression heightened by confusion between the alleged “direct message” from Fransen and the emails sent on behalf of Robinson.

At 3.15pm, Dearden wrote on Twitter that “To all those asking what medium Tommy Robinson sent messages to Darren Osborne by – the prosecution said they were direct but gave no further detail”; 25 minutes later, she explained that “The two messages from Mr Robinson were automated emails sent out to a mailing list of subscribers to The Rebel website, and had been screengrabbed by Mr Osborne” (or “allegedly screengrabbed”, it may have been wiser to have written). This was an hour after Fiona Hamilton of The Times similarly “clarified” a Tweet from the morning. @MetroUK, meanwhile, decided to delete a Tweet stating that “Finsbury Park ‘attacker got Twitter DMs from Tommy Robinson days before attack’.

The alleged message from Fransen is known only from the record of a notification; the content itself is lost. It seems to me that it may well have been an automated “Thank you for following” DM or similar.

Robinson has responded to the coverage by claiming that Dearden has put his “life in danger” by “fake news & misrepresentations”; he may have reason to complain, but the indignant pose is hard to take from a man who once told a crowd that “every single Muslim… got away with killing and maiming British citizens” on 7/7 (to give just one example of unreasonable rabble-rousing). The question of direct contact with the accused is distinct from the question of whether the accused was inspired by Robinson and, if so, whether Robinson is culpable due to “fake news & misrepresentations” of his own.

In the wake of the terror attack, Robinson posted Tweets alleging that the mosque was a hotbed of extremism, adding that “I’m not justifying it, I’ve said many times if government or police don’t sort these centres of hate they will create monsters as seen tonight.” As evidence, he drew attention to The Suicide Factory, a book about the mosque’s association with Abu Hamza. For some reason, though, he did not feel the need to clarify that the book had been published more than ten years ago, and that Abu Hamza had been expelled in 2003. The mosque closed down a few months later, and opened under new management in 2005. It is no longer a focus of controversies over extremism.

However, a couple of days before the attack, the mosque’s troubled past was referenced in the media in relation to the organiser of a protest held in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy – I discussed this here.

A Note on “Weaponising” Social Media Abuse By Claiming Victimhood

From Douglas Murray at the Spectator:

Last week I wrote in this space about Cathy Newman’s catastrophic interview with the Canadian academic Jordan Peterson. Since then a number of things have happened. One is that millions of people around the world have watched Newman’s undisguisedly partisan interview. The other is that Channel 4 has tried to turn the tables by claiming victimhood.

…Of course genuine threats against public figures should be treated with the utmost seriousness. Actual threats require the police to get involved. Threatening anybody with violence is not only wrong but a crime. People mocking you mercilessly on the other hand (‘So what you’re saying, Professor Peterson, is that lobster women should be paid less lobster money than men’) is neither a police matter nor even a matter for security specialists. It’s something that everybody in the public eye has to deal with, and only certain types of people try to weaponise to their own advantage.

The interview has been dissected in some detail by Conor Freidersdorf at the Atlantic; it is reasonable to take the view that in this instance the aggressive scepticism that we like to see from journalists in conversation with public figures was compromised by Newman’s personal animosity, resulting in misjudged lines of attack that repeatedly misrepresented her interview subject. After the interview, it was reported that Newman had been “rocked” by death threats and that her employer had brought in a security specialist.

So who are these “certain types of people” of whom Murray speaks? Murray doesn’t say – instead, he changes the subject by complaining that while there has been high-profile sympathy for Newman, there was nothing comparable when it was revealed during a terror trial that an Islamist terrorist had expressed a wish to behead Katie Hopkins. This then segues into a rebuke of those who have made merry over the fact that Hopkins is currently selling her house, apparently to meet her financial obligations after losing a libel case (a case in which she had acknowledged making a false claim but had refused to apologise).

In fact, what Murray refers to as ” tr[ying] to turn the tables by claiming victimhood” is standard practice these days. I looked at two examples just last month. One concerned a Mail on Sunday front page splash blaming Jeremy Corbyn for abusive comments received by a Conservative MP after Corbyn quite reasonably denounced his banter in the House of Commons (the article even uses the phrase “the MP turned the tables on Mr Corbyn” in relation to his complaint). The other example was the ludicrous press coverage of the Stop Funding Hate campaign, which for the most part has consisted of “exposing” uncivil Tweets by random individuals who have RTed Tweets posted by the campaign – thus criticism of the press becomes “online hatred”.

The point is not that those on the receiving end of social media incivility – whether abuse, harassment or threats – are wrong to complain publicly, or that the media should ignore it. Rather, it is that coverage should be proportionate and precise, and that there should be some scepticism when this sort of thing diverts attention away from legitimate criticism or is used to stigmatise or intimidate critics by supposed association.

“Westminster VIP Child Sex Abuse” Accuser Granted IICSA “Core Participant” Status

On Lord Bramall: “Who’s that cow bag saying Bramall is an innocent man?”

From the Sunday Times:

A former MP is to write to Alexis Jay, head of an inquiry into child sex abuse, challenging her decision to grant a key role to a woman he describes as a “fantasist”.

John Hemming, who was the Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley from 2005 until 2015, was accused by Esther Baker of raping her at paedophile sex orgies in woods at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, when she was aged between six and 11. She said police officers would stand guard, and bring back children who ran away.

The Staffordshire force investigated the allegations for more than two years but dropped the case in September.

Now Baker, 35, has been granted “core participant” status for the Westminster strand of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, chaired by Jay. The special status will allow Baker to see confidential documents and she could also claim expenses. Baker will also be allowed to suggests questions to be put to witnesses giving evidence.

An earlier article covering the same ground was published yesterday in the Daily Mail. Both pieces quote Hemming as saying that Baker has “a public track record of continually changing her public allegations”, with the earlier article adding that:

…In a High Court witness statement this month, the ex-MP claimed that two weeks before she accused him of rape, Miss Baker had emailed him and sought his help.

He said: ‘She did not accuse me of being a rapist … she said she had been abused as a child in a faith-related paedophile ring. Her own MP and the Prime Minister did not assist her so she forwarded the email to me asking for my help.

…In his statement, part of legal action he is taking against a supporter of Miss Baker, Mr Hemming alleged that prior to accusing him she tweeted that she had ‘never’ met an MP.

I previously discussed the case in September, and before that in October 2015. Although Baker has never used the phrase “Satanic Ritual Abuse”, her account of being abused in woodlands with police guards and the participation of professionals such as a judge are obvious SRA tropes.

It is true that Baker’s allegations changed and developed – she first gave an interview to  Channel 4 News as “Becky” in January 2015, in which she said that she had been abused “in a church setting”, and that some of the abusers had been police officers who attended the church. These police officers were later described as guards at woodland orgies. Later, Baker went on to explain that she had been transported by night without her mother’s knowledge to Dolphin Square in London, where she had been subjected to sex abuse by VIPs. She claimed to recall a “medical room” described by “Darren”, a now-discredited “Westminster VIP” accuser who in turn claimed to remember seeing Baker.

The Sunday Times says that Baker first claimed that politicians were involved in her alleged abuse in May 2015, although she has published a screenshot showing that she had accused Hemming privately to a third party on 30 January 2015. Three months before this date, Hemming had criticised the decision to make Fiona Woolf the head of the IICSA – in contrast, Woolf was supported by a significant activist with links to Baker.

Baker also remains a strong supporter of Operation Midland’s “Nick”, whose sensational claims of having seen public figures rape, torture and murder children sent the Metropolitan Police on a multi-million pound wild-goose chase: in February 2016 she asked “Who’s that cow bag saying Bramall is an innocent man?”, referring to Nick’s allegations against the former Chief of the General Staff of the British Army. According to Nick, Lord Bramall would spend Remembrance Sunday not in commemoration of Britain’s war dead, but instead participating in sadistic CSA orgies during which remembrance poppies were pinned onto his victim’s bare skin – bizarre ritual inversions that again recall SRA.

Baker has many supporters on social media who are invested in the idea of “VIP abuse” conspiracies as being the secret key to understanding British public life over many decades. These supporters believe that pointing out difficulties and inconsistencies in “survivor” allegations is an act of wickedness, and probably part of a conspiracy to protect and promote paedophiles. Baker’s contemptuous “cow bag” abuse against someone for daring to defend the reputation of the elderly Lord Bramall is just a hint of what lies ahead for those who give testimony to the IICSA that is not to her liking.

In response to the new articles, supporters argue that the material can be dismissed out of hand for the simple reason that it has been published in the Daily Mail. Baker also says that her case in fact is ongoing, and that there is further evidence that she cannot currently talk about but that “due process” will reveal. It should be noted that although the Sunday Times article says that Staffordshire Police “dropped the case”, the decision was actually taken by the CPS, on the grounds that Baker’s allegations could be a case of mistaken identity. Baker is currently challenging this decision through formal channels (she says “they applied the wrong guidelines”), and the article has the detail that “Staffordshire police have said they will continue to support her”. Further, she has indicated that the police are still investigating other complaints she has made, and as such reports that raise doubts about her Hemming allegations are “prejudicial”.  According to her account, we are unlikely to know more until 2019.

Hemming’s name was not publicised in the media until September 2017, when he came forward (although activists had named him at events before then, and it was widely known that he had been accused by Baker). This meant that his initial quotes on the subject in 2015 were not at the time directly attributed to him, such as this one in the Guardian:

The former MP said: “We must continue to listen to people who allege that they have been abused as children. We must not be derailed by … politicians, like Jess Phillips and John Mann, who have been openly campaigning on one side of this case during an ongoing police investigation.”

Phillips won Hemming’s seat in the 2015 General Election, since when she has achieved wide public recognition. The same article includes indignant denials from the two politicians, although it is certainly the case that they promoted Baker’s narrative and would have known that Hemming was the “former MP”. However, neither Phillips nor Mann have made further public statements about Baker since the CPS dropped the case and Hemming went public.