Panorama Defies Police “Concerns” To Investigate VIP Abuse Claims

Another lengthy statement from the Metropolitan Police:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While the Guardian explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE 2019: “Nick” has now been revealed to be a man named Carl Beech. His allegations have been comprehensively exposed as lies, and he has been found guilty of perverting the course of justice and fraud. He was also found to be in possession of a collection of child-abuse images, and to have used a hidden camera to film the teenage friend of his son using a toilet. For more, see here.