Some Notes on Tom Watson, the Daily Mail, and Leon Brittan

From the Daily Mail:

Watson MailLeon Brittan’s brother has demanded an apology from Labour deputy leader Tom Watson for making ‘unfounded’ sex crime allegations about the former Home Secretary.

Sir Samuel Brittan, 83, called on Mr Watson to say sorry directly to his sister-in-law, Lady Brittan, for accusing her late husband of rape and child abuse.

…Days after Lord Brittan died, Mr Watson wrote an article describing how the late peer stood ‘accused of multiple child rape’ and repeated accusations he said came from victims that he was ‘as close to evil as any human being could get’.

Other papers have reported the story, but the Mail has presented it as a front-page splash in a spirit of advocacy for Brittan’s family.

There are two issues here: is this a matter that ought to trouble Watson’s conscience, and is this a subject on which the Daily Mail has the authority to be leading the charge?

Brittan and Watson

Rumours that Brittan may have been involved in sex abuse will probably be impossible to comprehensively debunk. An innocent person accused of having committed a sex crime at a certain place and on a certain date may be fortunate enough to have an alibi; but on the other hand, they may not. An innocent person accused of abusing someone (perhaps unspecified) at a vague location at some point several decades ago is in an even more difficult predicament.

In Brittan’s case, there are multiple accusers, which may strengthen the case for the prosecution. But given that the rumours are old and have been in the public domain for a long time (see below), the problem is that accusers may have heard these stories before coming forward. And the specific testimony on which Watson has based his campaigning has now been shown to be doubtful in the case of “Jane”, and fatally flawed in the case of three men currently claiming to have been abused as children by Brittan at sex parties.

Jane” claims to have been raped by Brittan as a young adult woman in the 1960s. Police, according to a recent report, undertook an “exhaustive investigation, which included tracking down key witnesses and examining Lord Brittan’s job and domestic arrangements at the time of the alleged offence”, and the results of this “undermined his accuser’s story.” The police decided there was no case to answer, and there is no serious reason to believe that this decision was unsound.

“Nick”: we now know (a) that Nick first accused his late step-father of abuse 2012; VIPs were only added to the story gradually (and, apparently, following media stories), and then the allegations of murder; (b) that his claim that a school-friend was deliberately run down in Kingston in 1979 has been investigated and found to be unsubstantiated;* and (c) that his stories contain luridly fantastical elements, such as Ted Heath intervening to prevent him from being castrated by Harvey Proctor.

Further, “Nick’s” claim that he was subjected to sadistic abuse by Jimmy Savile does not fit with other allegations against Savile; he is the only current accuser of Greville Janner to place Janner within the context of orgiastic VIP paedophilia in London (although the claim does also appear, unsourced, in David Icke’s 1998 conspiracy opus The Biggest Secret); and he is the only accuser to also claim that Brittan was present at a party where child murder was committed. Raids on the homes of Brittan, Proctor, and Lord Bramall as a result of Nick’s allegations have all drawn blanks.

Nick, I suspect, was the source of the “close to evil” quote used by Watson, for which Watson has now expressed regret [UPDATE 2019: Nick can now be named as Carl Beech, and his claims have been found to have been fraudulent. More details here].

“Darren”: “Darren” wrote an email two years ago confirming that Brittan had not abused him, and describing Brittan as a “poor man”.* He also has a history of dishonesty and disturbed behaviour.

“David”: “David” has retracted his allegation, and claims that Brittan’s name was put to him as a “joke” by Chris Fay,* a former social worker who in 2011 went to prison for fraud.

[*These details from Panorama]

Fay himself claims to have seen compromising photos of Brittan, but this is hearsay from a man with a history of criminal dishonesty.

The news site Exaro argues that we should not express scepticism while the police are still investigating, but given its aggressive and sensationalising advocacy on behalf of Brittan’s accusers, this is very hard to take. And there are now serious questions about how the police are (mis)handling VIP allegations; it is not reasonable to expect people to suspend their critical judgement indefinitely, or for those affected by the allegations not to complain when things drag on.

We know that Watson met “Nick” and was impressed by him, but it’s now very clear that his confidence in “Nick” and the others has been misplaced. Perhaps some credible evidence against Brittan may yet emerge, but that’s a truism that applies to many unsubstantiated accusations.

Brittan and the Daily Mail

The Mail (here meaning both the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday) has a mixed record on the subject of Brittan. As regards the allegations of child abuse, the Mail highlighted an old suggestion from Private Eye that Brittan had been the victim of an MI5 smear in the 1980s (here and here). However, it also ran a sensationalising article claiming that Brittan had been “named” in an MI5 file, as evidence of how “the VIP paedophile scandal” had “deepened”.

Further, in December last year it published an article with “chilling details” about the Elm Guest House, based on the story of a boy who was rescued from the premises during a police raid:

Was there a cover-up? We now understand that the social worker present at the boy’s interview in 1982 was later shown copies of the resulting police statement. What struck him most was what had been left out.

The man recalled that during the boy’s testimony at Richmond Police Station, he had spoken of an abuser whom he called ‘Uncle XXXXX’. This abuser worked ‘at the big houses’, the boy said.

As the boy talked, at least two of those officials present came to independent realisations of his testimony’s significance. 

…It had become clear to them that the boy was describing a prominent politician of the time. The Mail knows the identity of the politician, but cannot name him for legal reasons.

Yet no politician was ever charged or even questioned, as far as we know, and there is a simple reason for this.

When the same eyewitness to the boy’s interview was later shown the child’s police statement — which should have been a verbatim account of all his allegations — there was no mention of ‘Uncle XXXXX’ or the naïve reference to the Houses of Parliament. It had simply disappeared (if it were ever put to paper at all).

Other reports in other papers confirm that “Uncle XXXXX” was indeed supposed to have been “Uncle Leon”; the Mail refrained from naming Brittan “for legal reasons”, not because they thought it would be unethical. The boy concerned reportedly now lives in the USA, and has declined to cooperate further with police. [1]

On the subject of “Jane”, the Mail was happy to report last year on how “campaigning Labour MP Tom Watson” had encouraged the DPP to action, under the clearly insinuating headline “Police only questioned Leon Brittan now over alleged 1967 rape because Director of Public Prosecutions demanded to know why they shut case with no investigation”. In June, it published an even-handed account of the police decision about “Jane”, which was re-hashed and given a more polemical angle a few days ago and bizarrely presented as if new.

However, the area where the Mail was more aggressive against Brittan concerned the claim that, while serving as Home Secretary, he had suppressed a dossier on paedophilia given to him by Geoffrey Dickens MP. Dickens was an energetic campaigner against a radical pro-paedophile lobby, but he was also a homophobe and his dossier was unlikely to contain much of value. Later in the decade, he embraced lurid conspiracy theories about Satanism and witchcraft. The dossier would have been more of media stunt than anything, and he never complained that Brittan had mishandled it. Yet the myth has arisen that this dossier was crucial evidence of VIP paeophilia, and that Brittan had “lost” it.

References to the dossier appear in several Mail articles, including a lurid piece on “Nick’s” murder allegations that headlined “the growing stench of a cover-up by the Establishment”. Brittan’s association with Fiona Woolf was raised as a reason why Woolf was not suitable to lead the judicial enquiry into child abuse, under the headline “So was this ANOTHER party with Leon Brittan you forgot, Mrs Woolf?: Pressure grows on beleaguered sex abuse inquiry chief to resign… as MoS uncovers new link to ex-minister who ‘lost’ vital evidence”. “Lost” in quotation marks obviously insinuates that Brittan had acted corruptly.

The story of the dossier was also put into a scandalous juxtaposition in an illustration to go with the December 2014 article about the “Uncle XXXXX” accuser:

Brittan Mail Elm

Further, while Watson’s pursuit of Brittan over “Jane” is now portrayed as a vindictive campaign against a dying man, the Mail was sceptical when Brittan’s health was raised in relation to Simon Danczuk MP’s grandstanding over the dossier:

Amazingly, Mr Danczuk was even warned he could be responsible for Lord Brittan’s death if he was subjected to the stress of becoming embroiled in a public row.

The Mail even foregrounded the dossier in reports about Brittan’s death earlier this year, with one report headlined “Now will we ever find truth on abuse dossier? As tributes pour in for Leon Brittan after his death at 75, a troubling question”; another piece highlighted a quote from Danczuk that Brittan’s death was “‘a sad day for the survivors of child sex abuse’ still waiting for answers over lost paedophile dossier”.

The Mail also followed Exaro in reporting that Brittan had been buried in an “unmarked grave”, although it amended this to “undisclosed location”

More generally, the Mail has been happy to promote the rantings of John Mann MP, a demagogue who boasts about having a list of VIP paedophiles and whose glee at the police raid on Harvey Proctor included the claim that Proctor “will be first of many to be investigated.” However, Mann has described himself as “blue Labour”, placing himself on the right of the party. That’s the opposite pole from Watson, who has progressed from “campaigning Labour MP” several months ago to Deputy Leader of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.

I suspect that this political promotion, and the fact that the allegations against Brittan promoted by Exaro appear to be falling apart anyway, have more to do with the reverse ferret than a newly-discovered sense of outrage over Brittan’s ruined reputation.

UPDATE (16 October): More today.


[1] According to the Mail:

…By the following year, the boy, who was in local authority care, was insisting that his original statement was largely untrue. Officials believe that Carole Kasir [the Elm Guest House manager] had managed to communicate with him in order to buy his silence.

The story followed a piece in the Telegraph, which had been published the previous July:

Scotland Yard has tracked down a child at the centre of an alleged 1980s Westminster paedophile ring who has implicated a senior political figure, The Telegraph can disclose.

…The alleged victim is understood to have named the senior figure. During his original interview in 1982 the child referred to his abuser working at “the big house”, which detectives believe was the Houses of Parliament.

…This newspaper understands the retired detective [who interviewed the boy] was reluctant to go into detail about why information about the politician was not included into witness statements at the time or submitted into evidence as part of a potential prosecution.

As this implies, and as the Mail article makes clear, there is in fact no documentation from 1982 to confirm what would have been a very early allegation against Brittan (Note also that the “the big house” here becomes “the big houses” in the Mail).