Metropolitan Police Compensates Blogger Three Years After Arrest

A letter from the Metropolitan Police to blogger Simon Just and his wife:

11 March 2020

Dear Mr and Mrs Just

Re: Your request for financial compensation from the Metropolitan Police – PC/27 [Redacted]

As agreed, by way of full and final settlement of your claim, please find attached a cheque in the sum [Redacted] which includes [Redacted] settlement fee and [Redacted] payment on account of costs.

Yours sincerely

[Redacted]

Lawyer

Directorate of Legal Services

The letter has been published on Simon’s blog, as evidence of police malpractice in relation to his arrest on allegations of stalking January 2017 over his online writings (as well as social media accounts he says he had nothing to do with). He explains:

I had taken a stance that there was a public interest in the online behaviour of various individuals and I wasn’t going to be strong armed into silence, simply because it supposedly impacted on their feelings providing that I was limiting my posts to observations and opinions of my own or opinions based on other evidence. There was no intent to harass anyone, there were posts which were made with the wider public interest in mind and to create a timeline of events which could later prove useful. In the latter regard that has proven absolutely crucial in other matters.

I wrote about the case in May 2017, after the police dropped the case. Simon’s writings were concerned with problematic “VIP abuse” allegations, and he was also helping a man named Darren Laverty with his defence against an allegation of stalking. The case against Laverty reached the CPS, but was dropped when “further evidence” came to light – and it is reasonable to suppose that this was evidence that the police had been negligent in not putting before the CPS earlier.

It is also reasonable to suspect that Simon’s arrest and bail were primarily part of a strategy to undermine Laverty, and that the case against him was dropped when it no longer served this purpose. As Simon writes:

Laverty’s case being investigated and prosecuted effectively by the exact same officers who had nicked me… no agenda there at all then? I’m being sarcastic.

So when the officers found out that they were effectively witness intimidating me the look of shock on their faces was a picture to behold. Whoops. They were also potentially compromising any defence material that had not yet been passed over to the defence team and were possibly doing so deliberately.

It should be noted that Simon’s arrest had been celebrated by what we might call the “Operation Midland cheerleader” crowd, with Tweets from the likes of Exaro‘s Mark Watts crowing about “green bottles” falling. This was during the dying days of the Operation Midland fiasco, at a time when it was obvious that “Nick’s” allegations were not going to lead to the earth-shattering revelations on which Watts had banked all of his journalistic credibility. The arrest of a sceptic, then, served as some psychological consolation prize.

Simon draws some parallels with Midland (square brackets in original):

The same errors which appeared in Operation Midland and the seriousness of the search warrant issues apparent within the Met was flagged up yet again in today’s [Friday 13th March 2020] HMICFRS Inspection report….

The officers concerned had actually worded the warrant as though I was threatening individuals [I wasn’t and nor were the accounts actually under investigation to the best of my knowledge] and even worse that I was the owner of things that had no relation to the material they were really investigating. i.e. they named old twitter accounts which I’d already admitted were mine not the ones they were investigating.

In fact, I’d not been on twitter with an active account for around 18 months before the time of my arrest.

This raises an important question:

…If offences had been made out [by whoever was operating those specific accounts that were actually under investigation] then why didn’t the investigation into the real identities of those accounts continue and alternative means of identity be investigated?…

The cops don’t just normally ditch what is meant to be a valid case just because they have the wrong suspect.

Or putting it another way, the complainants were using the police as a private army and to hell with the consequences.

One further notable aspect of the police action is the disproportionate resources involved. Simon lives far from London, in Cumbria. Yet Metropolitan Officers were dispatched first to Liverpool, to take a statement from an accuser there, before descending on Simon’s home. Although Simon’s police interview took place at his local station, one wonders if there was a reluctance to liaise with local officers for some reason.

There is also this very telling and troubling detail:

I also had received a letter from the SIO in the case against me asking me to collect my computer equipment from Wimbledon Police Station over 300 miles from where I live. I replied back saying that the Met had a duty to return the equipment either to me directly or to my local police station. They eventually hand delivered the equipment in November 2017 but there was no apology nor acceptance that they’d screwed up.

It is difficult to believe that the police simply failed to think about whether it was reasonable to ask someone to undertake a 600-mile round trip just to pick up their property. It looks to me that this was a calculated and petulant attempt to create massive inconvenience as some kind of revenge. This is what is known in police jargon as “oppressive conduct”, and it raises concerns about what kind of culture of policing there is at Wimbledon Police Station.

The above are just a few points from the post that I have chosen to highlight. Simon took on the Metropolitan Police as a litigant in person, and his post includes a “checklist at the end of this article in order to assist others in future if in similar situations to mine”. The full post also has further context.

The Evening Post Examines the “Westminster Paedophile Ring” Conspiracy Theory

At the Evening Post, a long-read by Joshi Herrmann addresses a pertinent question:

For a few years, between the autumn of 2012 and some time in 2015, a set of MPs, journalists and police officers came to believe in what amounted to a wild conspiracy theory about the British establishment. The question is, why?

The conspiracy theory was that Westminster politicians in the 1970s and 1980s had engaged in organised child sex abuse with complete impunity, in some cases even killing boys at orgies. Police investigations were mysteriously shut down, while the tabloid press – which thrived on sex scandals and openly derided “poofs” – somehow missed the action or chose to remain silent for decades after receiving threats.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse rejected claims about the existence of a “Westminster paedophile ring” just a couple of week ago – and as is well known, the false accuser and hoaxer Carl Beech, who triggered the Metropolitan Police’s “Operation Midland” fiasco, has been convicted and is now in prison. However, the damage is likely to be lasting – zombie news articles from the earlier period remain online, and for the determined conspiracy theorist any kind of counter-evidence can be assimilated into a narrative of establishment manipulation and cover-up.

And for those whose sense of virtue and superior discernment is bound up with their online denunciations of the “powerful” and of anyone urging caution, resistance to a new self-image as someone who was duped or whipped up into self-righteous rage is likely to be strong. The “Westminster paedophile ring” is also an idea that is unlikely to die on the political fringes, where it can be assimilated into conspiratorial interpretations of police failings in relation to grooming gangs and be bolstered by American conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate and Q.

Herrmann’s article is a tour de force that synthesises several strands of the story, in particular placing Beech into a wider context that includes BBC Newsnight‘s reporting on Cyril Smith and stories about the notorious Elm Guest House (a “gay brothel”) in 1980s west London. There are insights from psychologists and observers of conspiracy theorising, and interview material with several individuals who were part of the story.

The whole thing is worth careful reading, but here I would like to draw attention to a few specific new details.

Newsnight and Cyril Smith

In 2015, BBC Newsnight reported a claim made by an anonymous former police officer that the MP Cyril Smith had been arrested in London in the 1980s following a child-abuse party, and that there was even a tape recording. The officer alleged to Newsnight‘s Nick Hopkins that the investigation had been shut down by a more senior officer who had seized the evidence and then warned him and his colleagues that they would be in breach of the Official Secrets Act if they ever spoke about it. The source declined to appear on camera, but the Newsnight segment did include an assessment by a different ex-officer, Clive Driscoll (previously blogged here), whose view was that the claim was “very credible”. However,

What Newsnight didn’t tell viewers is that Driscoll was not examining the claims for the first time. In fact, it was impossible for him to be an objective arbiter on the allegations, because he had brought Hopkins the story. 

Herrmann has since spoken with Driscoll by phone. Driscoll revealed to him that he actually believes that the former officer is “paranoid”, and that he had actually refused to even meet anyone from Newsnight. But if this person was fearful of repercussions, why come forward at all? It seems to me that the most economical explanation is that he wished to avoid scrutiny. Investigations by police have failed to substantiate his claims.

Mike Broad

A new name in the saga is a trade unionist named Mike Broad. Broad was present at a meeting with Tom Watson, the MP who in 2012 had raised the question of a “powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament”. Watson, of course, went on to become the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and his name is now closely associated with the allegations and how they unfolded.

According to the account, Broad claimed that Leon Brittan and other prominent people had visited Elm Guest House, and that when the place was raided in the 1980s, “two transit vans had taken away ten boys and one three-year-old girl” (I suspect the “ten boys” here might be a garbled claim about a boy or boys aged ten years old). However,

Others who had dealings with Broad considered him to be unreliable. When he visited another MP around the same time as the visit to Watson, he pointed at people he said were members of Special Branch and told those he was meeting that the security services were reading his lips via the CCTV cameras. Broad was also known for calling parliamentary researchers late at night and muttering things like “Papers tomorrow, Leon Brittan, young boys, rape scars” and then hanging up.

Herrmann’s source believes that Broad’s reference to Brittan may have influenced Watson’s thinking – I discussed his investment in allegations against Brittan here.

Parliamentary researchers and the media

Another thread in the story concerns Simon Danczuk, a buffoonish celebrity politician with a chaotic private life who was writing a book about Cyril Smith. Herrmann spoke with his parliamentary aide, Matt Baker, who recalls:

“Every day we were being blitzed with emails by these people who were basically saying ‘Establishment cover-up blah blah blah… I don’t know who they were but they were sending various YouTube videos and links and saying all these key figures are paedophiles, investigate this and investigate that.”He adds: “I’ve no doubt that with some MPs, it had probably had a bit of an effect on them…A lot of the splashes were nonsense. And half the genuine stuff has been lost.”

Another parliamentary researcher added:

“There was a huge fight to get the stories… I had national journalists calling me on deadline at 6pm, and they were printing whatever I told them without checking. It was really worrying… they were more interested in beating their rival titles to the story than getting to the truth”.

Simon Danczuk and Mark Williams-Thomas

According to Herrmann, Danczuk also met with the former police officer turned journalist Mark Williams Thomas (previously blogged here):

He asked Danczuk to use his parliamentary privilege to publicly out the former home secretary Leon Brittan as a paedophile in parliament, so that Williams-Thomas could get the broadcasting scoop by being in position outside Brittan’s house, ready to knock on his door with the cameras rolling.

However, Williams-Thomas says he merely asked to be “tipped off”.

Zac Goldsmith and David Hencke

Herrmann spoke with someone who was present at a meeting about the Elm Guest House called by Zac Goldsmith MP and attended by Watson and his aide Karie Murphy, Tessa Munt and Danczuk. The group was addressed by David Hencke, a journalist for Exaro, which had been at the forefront of promoting Carl Beech’s claims:

 “Hencke gave everyone sheets of paper – it was all over the place, all these scandals all around the country. There wasn’t any trace of doubt in his voice. All of this was gospel.” The MPs wanted to put pressure on the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to appoint a panel to examine the issue. They agreed that it would be useful to have another Conservatvie MP on board, and soon the former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton was part of the group. By the summer, they had drafted a letter to May.

Herrmann goes on to remind us that Goldsmith later spoke publicly about the Elm Guest House, but that his information had come from the convicted fraudster Chris Fay. Herrmann judges that “at some point… Goldsmith must have realised he had fallen for a hoax”, but it seems to me that unless Goldsmith can be pressed on this point we won’t know for sure.

BBC News vs Panorama

Beech’s claims were given credence by the BBC: its Home Affairs correspondent, Tom Symonds,  met him, and the two attended a play about Jimmy Savile together. However, BBC Panorama had been digging into Beech’s story and were finding elements that failed to stack up. It appears that Symonds discouraged their efforts:

…As they went about their work, Symonds made calls to a member of the Panorama team to chide them – half-jokingly the Panorama staffers thought – about being on the wrong track regarding Beech. “He was just saying he would be proved right and Panorama would be wrong,” recalls a BBC staffer. Eventually a senior BBC executive called a meeting to diffuse the tension between the team around Symonds at BBC News and the staff of Panorama. Representatives of both teams gathered in a dingy meeting room to make peace, only for the meeting to descend into bickering. 

“You are trying to shit on our journalism,” a producer from the news team complained. 

“What journalism?” a Panorama staffer shot back. 

I discussed the documentary here. Herrmann also spoke with Daniel Foggo, who presented it:

the story often seemed like a house of cards. “You could see over time that things had been conflated with other things, and then later used as corroboration,” he told me. “You start wondering if the ultimate provenance of these allegations was that some of these blokes looked a bit off.”

***

Herrmann also relates an encounter with David Aaronovitch, a journalist who expressed scepticism from the start. This fairly sums up the issues at stake:

Just before Carl Beech’s trial, I met David Aaronovitch. “Allow me for a moment to express my intense fury at the idiots who did this,” he said soon after we had sat down in a coffee shop near King’s Cross. He said he was referring to the sections of the media who promoted stories about elite paedophile rings and cover-ups without bothering to check if they were true… Aaronovitch is certainly angry with Exaro, but he sees a wider responsibility on the part of the media, which he thinks put the police under pressure to investigate made-up stories. “They [the police] are intimidated by us,” he said. “This one is our fault.”

Herrmann’s essay not the full story, of course: elements that do not appear include Wiltshire Police’s investigation into Edward Heath; the travails of the former MP John Hemming (again involving Hencke); and John Mann’s “Dickens dossiers” grandstanding. My hope is that Herrmann will expand on his work in a book-length treatment.

IICSA Rejects “Westminster Paedophile Network” Claims

Journalist Don Hale’s account “implausible”

“No evidence… PIE had any members who were MPs or peers”

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published a its conclusions on “allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster”, two years after its first hearings on the subject (discussed here). According to the report:

There is ample evidence that individual perpetrators of child sexual abuse have been linked to Westminster. However, there was no evidence of any kind of organised ‘Westminster paedophile network’ in which persons of prominence conspired to pass children amongst themselves for the purpose of sexual abuse. The source of some of the most lurid claims about a sinister network of abusers in Westminster has now been discredited with the conviction of Carl Beech.

This is in striking contrast to the impression given by newspaper reports that dominated the British mediascape between 2014 and 2016, at which time it seemed that any allegation that placed politicians from the 1970s or 1980s at child abuse parties or at meetings of the Paedophile Information Exchange would receive uncritical and sensational coverage, no matter how unsubstantiated or implausible.

Beech’s allegations – promoted in particular by the Sunday People, in cooperation with the Exaro news website – were only some of the most lurid. The Sunday Mirror presented as fact the allegation that Edward Heath had “attended Paedophile Information Exchange meetings”, and named Rhodes Boyson and Keith Joseph as paedophile orgiasts; The Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday credulously reported claims that Enoch Powell and William Whitelaw may have been involved in Satanic Ritual Abuse; and the Daily Mail‘s hatchet man Guy Adams wrote up a “special report into the growing stench of a cover-up by the Establishment” in relation to Dolphin Square. Chancers such as Anthony Gilberthorpe and the convicted fraudster Chris Fay were given national platforms, while the buffoonish right-wing MP Geoffrey Dickens was posthumously lionised as someone who had supposedly compiled a devastating “dossier” that had been suppressed by Leon Brittan (not true, as discussed here).

Don Hale

In the midst of all this, a journalist named Don Hale came forward with a story about how the Labour MP Barbara Castle had entrusted him with documents that would have exposed a Westminster network, but that this was seized from him before he had a chance to act on it. For some reason, there is no record of Castle ever mentioning this to anyone else, and Hale only began mentioning it in 2014. Hale gave evidence to the IICSA, but they were not impressed:

There are several implausible elements to Mr Hale’s account. In certain key respects Mr Hale’s story simply does not add up. It is extremely unlikely that, if Mrs Castle had evidence of child sexual abuse and support for PIE at Westminster and wished to expose it, she would have sought to do so by giving the documents to the editor of a free newspaper in the North West with a small, local circulation. Even if, as Mr Hale said, the large national newspapers had refused to take the story, there were obvious and better alternatives, such as publication in Private Eye, or Mrs Castle simply making a speech to publicise what she had discovered.

…Finally, if the documents did say what Mr Hale claimed and if the visit by Cyril Smith and the Special Branch raid did take place, it is inconceivable that neither Mr Hale nor Mrs Castle sought to bring these matters to public attention. Mrs Castle was a veteran politician with great experience of challenging the establishment. Mr Hale was an established journalist who went on to lead press campaigns including one that came to national attention and won him industry awards. The raid, if it happened, was itself evidence that there was substance in the concerns about Westminster child sexual abuse and a cover-up that was the subject of public debate led by Geoffrey Dickens MP and others in the mid-1980s. If it all happened in the way that Mr Hale described, it is likely that he and probably also Mrs Castle would have been very vocal about it. One way or another, they would have made certain that their story was told publicly. We do not consider that either of them would have been deterred by what the simplest of enquiries could have established was a false D-Notice. The fact that Mrs Castle appears to have said nothing about these events before her death in 2002 and Mr Hale said nothing for some 30 years, and then only once other allegations had been made in the wake of Jimmy Savile’s death, leads us to doubt whether the events did in fact take place as Mr Hale described them.

…Mr Hale has told his story many times over recent years – to the police and IOPC investigators on a number of occasions, to journalists and to this Inquiry. The various accounts have become more detailed over time. Even when giving oral evidence to us, some of the detail that he gave did not appear in any of his previous statements.

The Paedophile Information Exchange

The report also addresses some other aspects of the “Westminster network” mythology. On the Paedophile Information Exchange:

At its height in around 1978, it seems that PIE had some 300 members in total. The Inquiry has seen no evidence to suggest that PIE had any members who were MPs or peers, or who could be described more broadly as senior Westminster figures, with the exception of Sir Peter Hayman. There were two members of the PIE executive committee – Charles Napier and Peter Righton – who had significant establishment connections of a more general kind, such as holding prominent positions in schools and academia or (in Mr Righton’s case) in public advisory roles, but we have seen no evidence of any other prominent persons.

Further:

Mr Heath’s private secretary of the time, Peter Batey, recalled informing Mr Heath he had received a letter from PIE and him replying “We don’t want anything to do with them” with a strength of reaction that was notable.

I wrote more about Heath and PIE here. The IICSA further notes that there is no evidence that PIE ever received Home Office funding.

Elm Guest House

The report cites the police review into the Elm Guest House investigation:

Elm Guest House was a tawdry establishment which had come to the attention of police on several occasions. Child sexual abuse had almost certainly occurred there. However, Commander Neil Jerome from the Metropolitan Police Service stated that “no individuals of prominence or (individuals) that could be described as being well-known” were either observed by the police during surveillance operations or found there when the property was raided [in 1982].

Further:

There has been a detailed investigation into an allegation that when interviewed on the night of the raid the 10-year-old boy referred to one of his abusers as “Uncle Leon” who may have been a politician and came from “the big house”. This allegation was made by Andrew Keir, a social worker who was present at the interview with the boy on the night of the raid, his suggestion apparently being either that this detail was deliberately omitted from the contemporaneous manuscript notes of the interview or that it was removed when the typed version was subsequently prepared. The IOPC investigation into this allegation was Operation Helena. In summary, Commander Jerome informed us, having regard to some of the contemporaneous documentation, the records of an earlier inquiry, and the evidence of the officers involved, the investigation concluded that “there was no substance … at all” to the allegation that Mr Keir had made.

I discussed this story here.

Attitudes

The above does not mean, of course, that there are no credible allegations against individual MPs or other figures associated with Westminster – several cases are discussed in detail in the report, and much of the press coverage has focused on this angle. The report makes several references to police “undue deference”, and it is reasonable to suppose that such failures have played a role in why false and implausible allegations came to have a presumption of truth in the public mind.

The report also notes other problematic attitudes – child protection did not have “precedence” when it came to the sex industry and indecent images, and there was confused thinking in the wake of the sexual revolution:

The profound social changes of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in relation to socially acceptable sexual behaviour, meant that people in positions of political and cultural influence at that time deliberately sought to challenge the boundaries of sexual activity. Language was often used in ambiguous ways. For example, the term ‘boys’ was used to describe 18 to 21-year-old young men. Although homosexual acts were decriminalised in 1967, the age of consent was still higher than for heterosexual relations until 2000 and being openly homosexual in Parliament was still unusual and the subject of disapproval. The effect of this was that in some circles there was an unwillingness to challenge efforts to make ‘paedophilia’ acceptable or to ask difficult questions about proposals to reduce the age of consent which seemed to be borne of inappropriate attitudes, for fear of being seen as old-fashioned, buttoned-up or out of touch with the times. Child welfare and protection yielded to self-serving ideas of sexual liberation.

Clearly, there was a failure of justice, with the result that risks to children were needlessly amplified. But if we want to understand why this was the case, we should look to social history and sociology rather than conspiracy theories.

UPDATE: David Aaronovitch has written about the IICSA conclusions in a Times column, under the heading “VIP abuse farce shows danger of moral panic”. His conclusion:

…in this instance the true scandal is that there was a mostly posthumous witch-hunt fuelled by fantasists and liars and exploited by careless journalists and feckless police forces. It’s a panic that has cost millions, taken resources away from policing (conceivably at the expense of genuine and continuing child protection cases) and absorbed part of the nation in a false debate. It has been catnip for conspiracy theorists, besmirched our democracy and distorted our perception of our own recent history. And it needs to be called out.

Aaronovitch is particularly scathing of Don Hale, noting:

Whatever IICSA’s deficiencies in presentation, the lawyers who questioned Hale did an excellent job. The transcript of his cross-examination makes painful reading. The report itself is couched in the most careful possible terms, in which the words “odd”, “implausible” and “inconceivable” are used, but amounts to this: we didn’t believe a word of it. The report does say that there’s no evidence any of it happened, the key elements of the story just don’t make sense and Mr Hale’s account of his 30-year delay in coming forward is incredible.

Hale has not responded directly to the IICSA’s assessment, beyond suggesting  generally that the inquiry is engaged in a “cover up”. His only acknowledgement of the IICSA’s criticisms has been to RT an endorsement by someone else, who writes:

Having now read most of your statements to the Inquiry it’s plainly obvious this whole exercise is a sham. As a former employee of the Bury Times it appalls me that they sought bring into question your integrity. I’ve always believed that the establishment leaned on you re [Cyril] Smith.

“Ritual Abuse” Conference Returns to Dundee

From Third Force News (“the voice of Scotland’s third sector”):

A conference later this month will look at the current international situation of ritual abuse (RA) and organised abuse of children.

International experts in the field of RA will come together in Dundee to discuss the impact and prevalence of RA and organised abuse on children and share best practice on support for young survivors. The conference will examine the current situation in the world and in the UK specifically to help workers and supporters to identify and help children who are affected by organised and ritualised abuse.

Dr Laurie Matthew OBE, coordinator of charity Eighteen And Under, will be presenting at the conference… Other experts who will be presenting include Dr Michael Salter, a Scientia Fellow and associate professor of criminology at the University of New South Wales. His research focuses on organised forms of child sexual abuse. Dark Justice, an organisation who catch potential sex offenders who try to groom and meet up with children following sexual grooming will also be speaking. Neil Brick (RA survivor) and creator of the S.M.A.R.T (Stop Mind control And Ritual Abuse Today) newsletter and Dr Sarah Nelson, Universities of Edinburgh and Dundee, who has presented widely for decades on sexual abuse issues, will also be delivering talks.

The event is being jointly organised by Eighteen and Under and a group called Izzy’s Promise, and as the report notes, it is their second conference – I discussed the first one, which took place in 2018, here. As I noted then, both groups are projects of the Ritual Abuse Network Scotland, and RANS in turn is affiliated with the Ritual Abuse Information Network (RAINS) (blogged here).

The bare formulation “ritual abuse” is broad. It might apply to children being harmed due to witchcraft beliefs, or by stretching the meaning a bit to the idea of “grooming” as a repeatable technique – this would explain the involvement of “Dark Justice”, a vigilante duo named Scott and Callum who have come under criticism from the police despite securing evidence that has been used in prosecutions.

However, the term “ritual abuse” is also useful because it comes with less baggage than “Satanic Ritual Abuse”, and it is reasonable to infer that this will be a significant topic of the conference. Nelson, for instance, is the author of works such as “Satanist Ritual Abuse: Challenges to the Mental Health System”, presented to RAINS in 1996 (available from SAFF here), while Neil Brick is known for his history of extravagant claims about Illuminati mind control and such, as discussed here.

Michael Salter, meanwhile has a history of attacking the personal integrity of memory scientists who raise doubts about supposedly “recovered” memories (as I noted here); he is also the chair of the Ritual Abuse, Mind Control and Organised Abuse (RAMCOA) Special Interest Group at the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD).

Excurcus on Michael Salter

Salter is usually based in Australia, but for those in the UK unable to make their way to Dundee there is also an upcoming ISSTD “Day With Professor Michael Salter” in London. Other presenters will include Valerie Sinason and Elly Hanson, the latter billed as an adviser to CEOP, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command of the National Crime Agency – Hanson recently came under critical scrutiny following her involvement with the police investigations into Edward Heath and into claims made by the hoaxer Carl Beech.

Recently, Twitter user @RDobbson1 has drawn attention to Salter’s early work, in particular a troubling 2005 essay titled “Bearing witness to ritual abuse” (Word doc download from the Internet Archive here). Much of the article is a personal narrative rather than a theoretical discussion, and it is Salter’s account of how, as a teenage student, he had come to discern that his female housemate’s behavioural quirks were evidence of past sexual abuse. This housemate, Alex, confirmed his suspicion and disclosed that the perpetrators had been “a group of police officers”. We’re told that in the years that followed, the two of them received threatening phone calls, Alex moved location frequently, and that Salter has “come home to find bloody organs smeared through our beds and strange sigils painted on our sheets.” Writing as “Plain Speaker”, @RDobbson1 refers critically to the story on a now-defunct website called Dysgenics (“Dispatches From a Degenerating Mental Environment”), which can be accessed here.

Trauma Therapists Renew Attacks on “False Memory” as False Memory Syndrome Foundation Closes

From the website of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation:

After 27 years, the FMS Foundation dissolved on December 31, 2019. During the past quarter century, a large body of scientific research and legal opinions on the topics of the accuracy and reliability of memory and recovered memories has been created. People with concerns about false memories can communicate with others electronically. The need for the FMS Foundation diminished dramatically over the years. The FMSF website and Archives will continue to be available.

The announcement has received little media attention, although it has been celebrated by those who argue that “false memory” is a pseudo-explanation contrived to undermine victims’ testimony of historic child sexual abuse. In this framing, the FMS Foundation has closed not because its “need” has “diminished dramatically”, but because the notion of false memory has been exploded. Thus a polemical article on the website of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation is headlined “The Rise and Fall of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation“. Oddly, however, although the article does refer specifically to “recovered” memories, the subject is downplayed:

FMSF Advisory Board profiles show just how personal and sometimes vicious their involvement was. One Board Member, John Hochman MD wrote, when talking about therapy for people who reported a history of child sexual abuse, “The real message being sold by these new therapy messiahs is the ultimate cry-baby solution to everyone’s pitiful human problems. It’s all someone else’s fault.” It is hard to fathom that these words come from a mental health professional.

No source is provided, despite a list of references at the bottom of the page, but a bit of Googling shows that the quote is taken from a 1993 op-ed that appeared in the Los Angeles Times:

Welcome to the strange world of memory recovery therapy. This is a pseudoscience based on the notion that tens of thousands of Americans were repeatedly molested as children and don’t know it.

People involved in memory recovery therapy have been convinced by misguided self-help books or therapists that they are “survivors” of totally forgotten sexual crimes. They are told that their eating or sexual or marital problems will clear up once the “lost memories” are found. The real message being sold by these new therapy messiahs is the ultimate crybaby solution to everyone’s pitiful human problems: It’s all someone else’s fault.

In other words, Hochman is referring specifically to “people who reported a history of child sexual abuse” as a result of therapy in which they were encouraged to “remember” such abuse for the first time. It is difficult to believe that the quote used by the ISSTD has seen extracted in good faith. Hochman goes on to highlight various problems with the idea of memory repression, but the ISSTD is less concerned with these points than with pulling a quote out of context to falsely imply that Hochman is dismissive of all allegations (incidentally, it’s not clear why the IISTD quote adds a hyphen to”crybaby”, but it makes the original slightly harder to find).

Another “gotcha” quote refers to another member of the FMS Foundation board:

Another member, Dr Rosalind Cartwright PhD, describes her desire to become involved as follows: “A friend and colleague had an adult daughter in therapy accuse him of childhood sexual abuse.” She says, “It was my best judgment that this was unbelievable of the person I knew and could only been induced by the therapist.” One can only wonder if she had had any psychological training or knowledge of how common it is for perpetrators to present and operate quite differently within the family home, as opposed to the professional sphere. And how on earth she reaches a conclusion of ‘therapist induced memory’, with presumably no contact with the daughter or therapist, is difficult to fathom.

This complaint has more merit, but picked out from a collection of more than 40 board member bio-blurbs it hardly amounts to a significant or systematic critique.

Inevitably, the article also focuses on the fact that the FMS Foundation’s founders, Pamela and Peter Freyd, were themselves accused of abuse by their adult daughter Jennifer Freyd, who is herself psychology professor. Presumably we should therefore suspect their motives, but it is not a great surprise that someone who says they have been falsely accused would develop an interest in the mechanics of how false allegations come to be made and believed. Equally, of course, a guilty person might be motivated to associate with a concept that might undermine the strength of the evidence against them, but that is simply a truism. The science of memory does not rest on the personal authority or integrity of the senior Freyds.

One undoubted problem with the FMF Foundation, though, was that the name was misleading. Memory science today acknowledges that the normal functioning of memory includes incorrect recall – as such, there is no need to postulate a “syndrome” or to psychopathologise the process, even though therapists may have been involved. The legacy of the word, however, means that “false memory” is portrayed by critics as simply a device by which victims are stigmatised as mentally ill. This was seen recently when Harvey Weinstein’s defence team announced that it would be calling memory experts to give testimony on memory. According to an article by two “trauma psychologists”, Anne P. DePrince and Joan M. Cook, published by The Conversation,

…Weinstein’s defense team has prepared to call witnesses to argue that women who came forward to accuse him suffer from “the formation of fully false memories for events that never happened.” This is not a suggestion of normal problems with memory or recall, but the unlikely proposition that his accusers somehow developed entire memories of sexual assault that never actually occurred.

The article refers here to Deborah Davis, although we now know that Elizabeth Loftus will also be called. Loftus gave her testimony on Friday; the Los Angeles Times reported:

She has routinely testified that memories can be transformed and contaminated — and, in some cases, altogether false.

Loftus stuck to a similar narrative during her testimony Friday, though she was not permitted to speak on issues of memory tied to sexual interactions. She explained that many factors can lead to weakened or entirely fabricated memories, including some therapy techniques, media coverage and questioning by law enforcement.

In other words, her testimony was concerned with general principles of memory. This is in line with a profile of Loftus from the Los Angeles Times that appeared just a few days ago:

When asked if she must believe in the innocence of a defendant to testify on their behalf, Loftus answered the question indirectly.

“I believe that science belongs to all of us. So my decisions on whether to work on a case are sometimes based on scheduling, or whether it seems interesting, or whether it’s a death penalty case where the outcome could be very severe,” she said. “Most of the time, I don’t know if they did it or not.”

In her 1992 book, “Witness for the Defense,” Loftus writes that she is not defending the clients whose cases she takes on. She is “detached and disassociated” on the stand, she says, “simply presenting the research on memory.”

This supports what I noted in a previous post, in which I drew on statements by Julia Shaw: a memory expert may talk in general terms about the conditions in which false memories may arise, but it is not their job not diagnose a particular piece of testimony as being the result of a false memory – they do not “diagnose” accusers. As such, it appears that DePrince and Cook have distorted what the “witnesses” intend to say, conflating general expert testimony with the defence case itself for polemical effect.

One concern I do have with the idea of “false memory” is that it may sometimes be an over-explanation. There are legitimate reasons why a genuine victim may make a late disclosure, or have previously interacted with someone in a way that seems inconsistent with having been their victim, but for a false accuser “repressed memory” is also a convenient explanation for making a late allegation. I also wonder about the distinction between remembering something and persuading yourself you have remembered something – recovered memory therapy includes imaginative exercises (as I discussed here), and if an expert tells you that your ability to vividly imagine something is in fact because it is a memory, who are you to argue?

IPSO Backs Tom Newton Dunn’s Deleted “Hijacked Labour” Conspiracy Chart Article

It has now been a bit longer than a month since the the Sun newspaper published, and then deleted, an article promoting a website that purported to have traced how Jeremy Corbyn sits at the centre of a “spider’s web of extensive contacts” that stretch “from Marxist intellectuals to militant groups and illegal terror organisations”. The fact that Corbyn has had some controversial and discreditable associations over the years is hardly news, but the website’s chain of associations was absurdly diffuse and conspiratorial. At least one person who had left the Labour Party over Corbyn was annoyed to find his name on it; there were inexplicable inclusions, such as the comedy actor Matt Berry; the authors appear to have a crank obsession with three French philosophers (Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard); and there were signs of sloppiness and incompetence (Keir Starmer becoming “Kevin Starmer”, for instance).

What did for the Sun article, though, was when social media users noticed that sources for further reading were included alongside some of the names, and that these sources included neo-Nazi websites. That was apparently too much even for the Sun, and the piece was promptly pulled. The article’s author, Tom Newton Dunn, has declined to comment on the matter since then, although he did apparently take to Wikipedia to try to have a reference to the incident suppressed from his page.

Of course, there is no law against promoting a crank conspiracy website that uses vile sources, although those named on it might reasonably complain that the Sun had amplified a smear website that was inciting hatred against them. What interested me, though, was that Newton Dunn had misled his readers about the website’s provenance and the credentials of the persons behind it. According to Newton Dunn, the website was the work of “former British intelligence officers”, led by “ex-SAS officer turned author Mark Bles”. These details were reported as fact, and so I decided to make a complaint to the press regulatory body IPSO.

My complaint was follows. First, Mark Bles (real name Mark Whitcombe-Power) is not a “former intelligence officer”. The SAS is an elite combat unit, but it is not an agency of British intelligence. Second, the website, called “Hijacked Labour”, was obviously a reworking of an earlier website called “Traitors Chart”, toned down slightly with a less inflammatory name and the most egregious absurdities removed. That earlier website was deleted as soon as the new one was created, which was a few days before Newton Dunn wrote up his story. Clearly, someone was trying to obscure their tracks, and those curious about where the chart really came from would be advised to probe the websites that first promoted the “Traitors Chart” (there’s also a video with a narrator – also deleted, but helpfully preserved here). And third, the poor quality of the website is manifest grounds for scepticism as to its purported origins with “intelligence officers”. There is no evidence that this “group” of ex-officers actually exists, and I’m inclined to the view that Bles was duped into fronting the project.

IPSO, however, is unconcerned. The body has written to me to explain that “the SAS, as a unit, are often involved in covert intelligence gathering”, and also that I did not dispute that Mr Bles had “worked as an ‘intelligence specialist’ outside of the SAS.” As such, there is no “significant inaccuracy”. It should be noted that this is not the Sun‘s defence of its article – this is IPSO’s own argument. In other words, when a complaint is made to IPSO, the organisation serves as both defence counsel and judge.

I was invited to respond to this within seven days if I wished IPSO to reconsider – however, the email was sent to me on the afternoon of 24 December, meaning that a seven-day deadline was actually three working days away. It is difficult not to regard this as deliberately obstructive.

My response was that many jobs involve “covert intelligence gathering” – police officers, benefits investigators and so on. That does not make those who do them “British intelligence agents”. I added that that term “intelligence specialist” has no specific meaning, but that in any case it is irrelevant here. The point is that “British intelligence officer” obviously designates membership of an arm of British intelligence.

Three weeks later, it has been explained to me by IPSO that that article’s headline stated that “Ex-British intelligence officers say Jeremy Corbyn is at the centre of a hard-left extremist network”, and that this word “say” means that the claim was not being reported as fact. As such, I have no case.

This was a curious reply, as it argued against a point that I had not raised. The problem with “Ex-British intelligence officers say” is not with the word “say”, but with the designation “ex-British intelligence officers” being reported as fact. Such an obtuse misreading of my complaint suggests to me bad faith.

The Manchester “Grooming” Report in Media Context: Some Notes

From the Manchester Evening News:

Greater Manchester Police have been accused of ‘covering up’ historic child sex abuse over the past 15 years after it emerged that a 100-strong gang of suspected paedophiles were left free to offend, despite the force knowing what they were doing.

Maggie Oliver, the retired detective who blew the whistle on GMP’s aborted Operation Augusta – which had uncovered widescale abuse but was closed abruptly in 2005 regardless – said that not only had the police ‘deliberately’ not investigated child rape, but that it had tried to get today’s report by the mayor’s office suppressed.

The background to the story is not new: way back in 2014 ITV News ran a piece titled “ITV News investigation finds hundreds of child abusers walking free in Manchester due to police failings”, which included the detail that “Margaret Oliver submitted a report to senior GMP officers more than 10 years ago with details of the abuse allegations.” Then as now, there was particular emphasis on the abuses suffered by Victoria Agoglia Byrne, who died of a drug overdose aged 15 in 2003. However, public memory is short, and the new report is being regarded by many on social media as a shocking new “grooming” revelation, with anger that it is not today on the front pages of all the newspapers.

The mayor’s office report be read in full here. It explains that Operation Augusta came into being following a 2004 television documentary called Edge of the City, which took an observational approach to deprivation in Keighley on the edge of Bradford. Broadcast was delayed after the BNP attempted to capitalise on the documentary’s segment on grooming, and the Guardian interviewed the director, Anna Hall, at the time:

According to Hall’s film, the Keighley social services office has recorded 50 to 70 possible cases of grooming, while the children’s charity Barnardo’s currently has 15 projects working with young people across the UK who have been abused. But what struck Hall about the cases she found in Bradford and Keighley was that “blatant abuse was going on under people’s noses, and no one seemed able to prevent it”.

Prevention and cure are both difficult. Where the girls are over 13, police are unable to act unless they themselves make a complaint. Many of the girls either do not think they are being abused, or have been so heavily drugged that they cannot recall clearly what has happened, or are intimidated by what will happen to them and their families if they do speak out. Hall’s hope was that the film would convey the sense of outrage felt by the victims’ families and by social workers, and that this might lead to changes in the law and dedicated policing nationwide.

This notion that “police are unable to act” if a girl is 13 or over unless she complains is new to me, and it is curious that such a comment was apparently taken at face value. Of course, it may be that a non-compliant witness aged 13 or above might make a successful prosecution more difficult, but that’s not the same as the police being “unable to act” (1).

According to the new mayor’s office report:

We have established that this documentary was a consideration of the gold command, and in our judgement appears to be one factor in the decision to initiate Operation Augusta. Mrs Oliver believed the Augusta team was not required to research Victoria Agoglia, although she had since spoken to a close relative of Victoria who believed that in 2014 the chief constable had agreed to reopen the case. Mrs Oliver believed the overdose that killed Victoria Agoglia was administered by the Asian abusers. She expressed the view that she believed that social services knew they had failed Victoria as she was in their care. Although she had no evidence, Mrs Oliver believed that social services tried to exclude the family from the inquest into the death of Victoria to “protect their own backs”.

The decision to look in turn at Operation Augusta’s failure followed a 2017 BBC documentary called The Betrayed Girls, which focused on Rochdale but also referred to other towns.

It is worth pausing to note that despite a popular trope that the mainstream media is involved in “covering up” grooming crimes, their exposure in this instance owes a great deal to the work of reporters at three of the UK’s terrestrial broadcasters.

As such, it is depressing to see Oliver’s willingness to amplify the self-described “alternative media” of the conspiracy milieu – thus today on Twitter she is engaging with Anna Brees, while the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has referred to “Mr [ Chris] Jacobs, who is acting for Maggie Oliver and John Wedger [sic – should be “Jon Wedger”], both retired senior police officers and whistleblowers” (more on this here). Brees and Wedger are strident in their denunciations of the mainstream media, expressed in conspiratorial terms, and sometimes seguing bizarrely from Satanic Ritual Abuse to the BBC’s coverage of the war in Syria. In recent months, Oliver has appeared on online shows run by Richie Allen, who is an associate of David Icke, and Shaun Attwood, who is a fan of Icke and Alex Jones.

Footnote

1. Some people on social media have referred to a quote attributed to Nazir Afzal, the well-regarded former Chief Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service who pursued the Rochdale grooming perpetrators. The quote was apparently provided to the BBC Radio 4’s PM programme on 19 October 2018 (at 34 minutes, although no longer online) and was transcribed by a site called AltNewsMedia. According to this transcription, Afzal said:

You may not know this, but back in 2008 the Home office sent a circular to all police forces in the country saying ‘as far as these young girls who are being exploited in towns and cities, we believe they have made an informed choice about their sexual behaviour and therefore it is not for you police officers to get involved in.

Obviously this was not meant to be a direct quotation of the circular, but so far no-one has been able to identify which document this refers to. Someone even did a freedom of information request about it, which drew a blank. Home Office circulars are public documents that remain hosted online by the National Archives, and as such this difficulty in pinning the document down is mysterious.

“Celebrity Psychologist” Draws Fire Over “Manipulative Meghan” Article

From Mail Online:

Manipulative Meghan knew Harry needed a strong woman in his life after Diana’s death and exerted control by capitalising on events that hit his self-esteem, writes psychologist JO HEMMINGS

…He always seemed vulnerable, but rarely weak, but she has convinced him over a relatively short period of time, to relinquish his close relationships, his family ties and take a leap of faith into a new life with her.

Not exactly coercive behaviour, but on the surface seemingly quite manipulative.

…We also have to remember that other than her mother, Meghan has no family members she is close to – quite the reverse in fact – which would suggest that she is very driven by fulfilling her own needs and may be quite narcissistic in nature.

The article has not been well-received on social media by those who sympathise with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and the question has been raised as to whether it was ethical for someone who claims professional credentials as a psychologist to have offered an assessment that appears to psychopathologise both their relationship and Meghan’s personality. What struck me, though, was the banality of the bog-standard punditry. Among many others, the likes of Piers Morgan (a spurned and bitter would-be confidant) and Eamonn Holmes have already opined along tediously similar and predictable lines; psychological expertise here supposedly makes Hemmings’s article value added, but the theorising and speculation are parlour-game stuff that anyone can engage in.

On the ethical question, Hemmings is associated with the British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) and with the British Psychological Society (BPS). Her day-to-day work also involves what she calls “coaching”. However, she does not claim medical expertise, and “narcissistic” in her article should be understood as a descriptor rather than a diagnosis – although it’s doubtful that general readers will understand such nuances. Professional peers are not impressed: a joint complaint is being made by two special interest groups within the BABCP (Women and Gender Minorities Equality, and Equality & Culture), and a comment from a clinical psychologist named Eleanor Johnston is representative:

Whatever you think about Meghan and Harry, any ‘Psychologist’ who claims they understand how another person’s mind works without ever even meeting them is being dishonest. Ofc there are hypotheses, based on research, e.g. Meghan may feel x,y,z BUT these are hypotheses, not fact!

It has also been pointed out (by me, among others) that Hemmings has only graduate membership of the BPS, which is open to anyone with a 2:2 or above in psychology. She does not have charter membership, which the BPS describes as “reflect[ing] the highest standard of psychological knowledge and expertise” and as “our gold standard”, and which entitles members to use the legally protected term “Chartered Psychologist”. The Mail Online article bills Hemmings as a “celebrity psychologist”; recent articles have introduced her as a “behavioural psychologist” (The Times and the Guardian); a “body language expert” (the Sun); a “relationship expert” (Metro) and a “consultant psychologist” (the Telegraph). This is based on a psychology degree from Warwick and then “further training” at an unspecified college of the University of London. She has also produced some popular works, including a sex manual.

Hemmings has responded to criticisms on Twitter by liberal use of the “block” function; she has also clarified that “I didn’t write that dreadful headline”, although when the article went online she quoted it to advertise her piece without any misgivings (Tweet later deleted, but noted by others and screengrabbed). She has also expressed the view that “Part of my work is to explain behaviours on a daily basis. No ethical code broken. My views were considered and far less unkind than certain ‘professionals’ now trolling me”. As well as this, she has RTed supportive comments from journalist associates, so in all likelihood we can look forward to future articles framed along the lines of “expert commentator abused by vile trolls” or similar.

Last month she lent her name to Hive, a “smart home provider”, with comments about the benefits of “restoring order in your home” for a press release that found its way into the Sun via a “survey” hook (a lame but regularly successful PR strategy).

UPDATE: A forensic psychologist named Kerry Daynes, who has also has a media profile, says that “I’ve been asked by various media to write/contribute to articles accusing Meghan Markle of manipulation, coercive control, exploiting Harry’s mental health struggles etc. I say no to this🐴$&!£. Shame others don’t.”

Giles Coren Exits Twitter, Blaming Owen Jones: Some Notes

From Times columnist Giles Coren:

Yesterday morning, after eleven mostly unhappy and pointless years, I left Twitter.

… a piece in The Times carried a quote from me about a Labour activist and Guardian writer called Owen Jones, whom I didn’t know was gay, that Jones declared on Twitter to be homophobic. He has a million followers. They agreed with him. They piled on.

… But over the weekend Jones’s followers tweeted “we’ve found your address” and yesterday morning a group of them went round to my house, while I was at work, and started haranguing my wife and children.

Thus in one bound, the criticism that Coren received from the target of his “joke” is conveniently re-framed as harassment. The victim narrative has been taken at face value by many on Twitter, with one of Paul Staines’s minions, writing as “Media Guido”, announcing that “Giles Coren has left Twitter after a posse of Owen Jones followers turned up at his house to abuse him and instead found only his wife and children to harangue”.

Taking this as their cue, others now accuse Jones of having orchestrated criticism that apparently escalated into harassment. Toby Young (previously blogged here) Tweeted in reply to Media Guido that “The reason I’m setting up the free speech union is, in part, to protect people like Giles from being bullied and harassed by outrage mobs for making ‘inappropriate’ jokes.” How this “protection” will work in practice is unclear, but presumably it will involve inhibiting the targets of celebrity commentators (whether a rival public figure or a member of the public) from answering back – an indicator of the bad faith behind Young’s pose.

The joke was published in The Times on 31 December; Coren had imagined Jones “becoming a fat old lord… chasing young researchers with tight bottoms up and down the corridors”. Men and women can both have “tight bottoms” that some may find attractive, but Jones is well-known as being gay and it was reasonable to interpret Coren’s focus on this particular anatomical feature as a stereotypical description of predatory and rampant gay lechery. Jones wrote:

Not exactly subtle homophobia being printed by @thetimes, is it? (1) Expect a lot more like this. The election result is being interpreted as a mandate to say anything and everything about minorities – or to end the “yoke of the woke”, as one “moderate” columnist put it. (2)

Others agreed, not because Jones had “declared” this, but because that would seem to be the context. However, as well as saying that he did not know that Jones is gay, Coren also stated on Twitter that his joke was “an old trope about lecherous peers pinching researchers’ arses”. He added that “I’ve never made a homophobic comment in my life”. If we take Coren at his word, then, it was a joke that misfired due to circumstances about the target that were unknown to the joke maker. Fair enough, but Jones has every right to feel aggrieved, even though the “Free Speech” crowd apparently believe he should have kept it to himself rather than use his free speech to respond.

Looking through Twitter, Coren received a number of condemnatory and critical remarks (some of which were crudely abusive) in response to people becoming aware of his public writing, but it was hardly a deluge. One person, a man in Liverpool with 325 followers, Tweeted that “Someone’s published your address”- as far as I can see, this Tweet, which did not get any RTs or “Likes”, appears to be sole basis for the alleged link between Twitter critics and whoever it was who went around to Coren’s home. We know nothing of how big this group was or what the alleged “haranguing” involved, although one right-wing online commentator (the ludicrous Jay Beecher) framed the story as “OWEN Jones Supporters Target Journalist’s WIFE AND KIDS – Vile Left-Wing Thugs Lay Siege To Family Home”.

Jones has since responded to Coren’s new column, stating:

If people went to Coren’s house that’s unacceptable and he should report to the police with my full support. I will never condone intimidation or harassment, and it’s not done in my name. But I won’t apologise for calling out media homophobia or the targeting of minorities. 1/2. Legitimate criticism is not the same as incitement or bullying, and we should all call out bigotry where we find it. 2/2

This is unlikely to appease those who find it useful to amplify Coren’s narrative, and some opponents will deploy a popular obtuse rhetorical pose in which it is asserted that the use of the conjunction “but” following a statement should be understood as indicating that the statement was not really meant, and is about to be qualified away into a more ethically ambiguous position.

Writing on Medium, Jones further notes

Abuse is conflated with ‘politicians being challenged over policies they’ve implemented which affect millions of people’ and ‘journalists having their work scrutinised’.

…I’ve experienced this myself: I’ve been accused of orchestrating ‘pile-ons’ for defending myself against a homophobic ‘joke’ of a Times columnist or sharing the work of an investigative journalist highlighting the links between a pro-water privatisation MP and the private water industry (one twitter user compiled an amusing list of examples, ranging from me challenging someone for celebrating me being abused by fascists to literally just replying to defend myself against bizarre quote tweets, a common occurrence). 

Footnote

It is relevant to note that Coren has a history of constructing victim narratives that involve distorting what other people have written about him. Earlier last month, his Times column was a justification of crude abuse he had previously hurled at the Guardian‘s Michael White (who wasn’t named) on Twitter, including a grotesque paedo-smear; thus behaviour that is normally condemned in newspapers as the mark of the “vile troll” was here presented as a reasonable reaction when a celebrity is offended by what other people have written about them.

White, as a newspaper diarist, had made several teasing comments suggesting that Coren owes his position in public life to the fact that his father Alan Coren was famous, and this seems to have hit a nerve. Giles Coren framed this as “a man I’d never met, full of rage that I have work at all, blaming it all on my increasingly long dead father”. Coren also referred to

a newspaper article asserting that I had had sexual relations with Ruth Kelly, then the transport secretary, a woman of devout Catholic belief.

However, when I checked the source I found the following:

Someone else tells me that Ruth Kelly went out with Giles Coren, the youthful hereditary humourist, when they were both pupils at Westminster School…

There is no “assertion” here, and “sexual relations” in Coren’s version is obviously meant to imply an adult sexually consummated affair rather than teenage dating. Such a deliberate distortion indicates we should regard his claims of mistreatment with caution.

An Unnamed Labour MP and an Allegation against a Chief Constable

A bit of unfinished business from autumn 2017:

We were all in the Strangers’ Bar [in the Houses of Parliament]. The young victim was holding a phone and looking through pictures online, looking for someone else. Suddenly s/he screamed, dropped the phone and stood there shaking and crying, saying ‘it’s him, it’s him!’ The picture on the screen was that of a serving Chief Constable. It was a very real and spontaneous reaction.

This a quote that was attributed to an unnamed MP in a story run by the left-wing website The Skwawkbox. The incident had apparently occurred in January 2017, nine months before the story ran, and the Skwawkbox story followed a Tweet from the journalist (and advocate of Carl Beech) Mark Watts stating that “I can reveal that a chief constable has been interviewed under caution icw allegations of sexual abuse of a child.” The accuser is described as “a young adult who had suffered sexual abuse since childhood”, and the context implies that he or she had for the first time identified someone encountered years before. I discussed the account here.

Since then there has been no follow-up, although Watts drew an adverse inference from lack of progress a year later, writing “In Britain, the authorities are far more worried about a chief constable’s explanation for a broken mobile phone than another chief constable’s alleged role in child sexual abuse” – this was a reference to the disciplinary action taken against then Chief Constable Mike Veale for lying about how he came to smash his mobile phone (discussed here).

Given that it is now three years since the incident in Parliament, it is reasonable to assume that the allegation against the unnamed Chief Constable has been dropped as unsubstantiated; perhaps it has even been debunked, although it is often difficult to positively disprove a vaguely formulated historic accusation. If there were any loose ends, presumably Watts would have made an issue of them. Some people, of course, may suspect that a Chief Constable accused of child sex abuse might enjoy corrupt protection, but the fate of Gordon Anglesea is evidence against drawing such a conclusion.

The question here, though, concerns the MP. There is something off about an MP using their status to amplify a dramatic allegation with serious implications for public confidence in the integrity of the police, yet being unwilling to put their name to it. It is reasonable to assume from the Skwawkboxs politics that the quote was provided by a Labour MP, and their identity is of some continuing public interest given the upcoming Labour Party leadership contest. This is something the candidates ought to be asked about.