VIP Abuse Allegations: “Unstructured Therapeutic Disclosure” Under Fire

From  the front page of the Sunday Times:

Two key witnesses championed by the deputy Labour leader Tom Watson in the VIP paedophile sex abuse scandal are being helped by a charity that uses a controversial therapy experts fear could generate false memories.

The therapy, in which the victims are given the details of the effects of sex abuse suffered by their own counsellor, has prompted concerns of a repeat of previous scandals in which “recovered memory” played a part in false false claims of child abuse in cases such as the Cleveland child abuse scandal in 1987 and the Orkney satanic ritual case in 1991.

…The therapy, “unstructured therapeutic disclosure” (UTD) is carried out at the Lantern Project in Merseyside. The charity is run by Graham Wilmer, a prominent anti-abuse campaigner…

Wilmer is the author of Conspiracy of Faith: Fighting for Justice After Child Abuse (Lutterworth), which describes sexual abuse he suffered as a boy at the Salesian College in Chertsey, Surrey.

The article includes critical comments from the barrister Matthew Scott (promoted by the paper into “a leading QC”), as well as from other specialists:

Matthew Scott… said “It would be hard to devise a form of counselling more fraught with the danger of producing unreliable evidence.”

…Sarah Garner, and affiliate of the Centre for Memory and the Law at City University, London, said the technique rang “major alarm bells”. Roger Kennedy, a consultant psychiatrist with the Child and Family Practice in London, said: “I find the description of this therapy very strange, they’ve obviously gone completely haywire.”

There is also a second article on page 12, which has the detail that Wilmer is a “former copywriter”, as well as a further quote from Kennedy, who is described as having “worked with a number of adult victims of Jimmy Savile”:

“The therapist or counsellor should not be divulging vast amounts about their own lives and pushing that onto the patient. It’s very confusing.”

For those without access to the Sunday Times articles, there is also now a derivative piece in the Mail.

The quote from Matthew is taken from a blog entry he wrote a year ago; at that time, there was less appetite by the mainstream media to delve critically in the subject of “VIP sex abuse”.

The spectre of false memory and the echoes of Satanic ritual abuse is one of the main reasons why this blog has undertaken such an extensive detour from the subject of religion to discuss allegations of VIP paedophilia (the other is that some related news stories have also raised the possibility of VIP Satanism, although that has remained a minor theme).

Experiments have shown that it is possible to create false memories; children, whose sense of reality remains undeveloped, have been coached into making grotesque false allegations (seen most recently in videos created by the perpetrators of the Hampstead Satanic abuse hoax); and adults have been made to believe by therapists that they had suppressed memories of being abused in Satanic rituals (in one instance in the USA, a man was even convinced that he had committed Satanic abuse). The most notorious case is that of the late Carol Felstead, who, as a result of supposed “therapy”, came to believe that her family were Satanists and that she had been sexually abused with a claw hammer at Conservative Central Office.

False memory is not the only cause of false allegations, though – and the Sunday Times has made an error in mentioning Cleveland, where abuse was actually mis-diagnosed via a now-discredited medical intervention. [1]

Wilmer’s UTD has come under scrutiny because of the Lantern Project’s links to “Darren” and to Esther Baker, who have both made allegations of VIP abuse. In “Darren’s” case, we now know that two years ago he emphatically denied having been abused by Leon Brittan, although he now claims that he was, while Baker’s allegations have grown from abuse within a religious group to abuse including VIPs, a specific ex-MP (who she says she recognised only recently), and visits to Dolphin Square in London. Although the Sunday Times highlights the connection to Watson, Baker’s story has actually been promoted more by John Mann MP, who raised her claims in Parliament.

The Sunday Times quotes the ex-MP accused by Baker:

“He [Wilmer] has been with her all the time. The problem with the therapy is that it is encouraging people to remember things that don’t exist. It is a mechanism for generating miscarriages of justice.”

The Lantern Project’s website highlights articles that dismiss the possibility of false memories, and that suggest that the concept was developed by sexual abusers. In response to the Sunday Times, Wilmer has pointed out on Twitter that UTD has been taken seriously by John Moores University.

However, Baker states that “neither myself or ‘Darren’ have had UTD therapy from the Lantern Project. Or elsewhere”, and that “when I named the anonymous MP I was under counselling by RASA not the Lantern”. Given that Baker features prominently in the second Sunday Times story, including in a photo, it seems odd that the journalists apparently did not attempt to contact her for her position on this. [2]

One issue that the paper doesn’t refer to is that, following infighting over the setting up of the child abuse inquiry, Wilmer has a grudge against the ex-MP named by Baker (and against two abuse survivors, who he claims are associated with this person). Wilmer comes across on Twitter as a somewhat aggressive character, and he likes to post triumphant and goading messages that boast of discrediting disclosures just around the corner (“tick tock” being a favourite phrase). This not only leaves a very poor professional impression; it gives the strong appearance of a conflict of interest, as Wilmer has a personal interest in an allegation that is being made by someone who is using his services. [3]


[1] According to Tim Tate, “ST’s Jim Gillespie tells me that the Cleveland claim ws removed by subs, but somehow re-appeared”.

[2] One of the journalists responsible for the story, Tim Rayment, has Tweeted to Baker that “I’m sorry Esther – I didn’t know that nobody had asked you for comment”

[3 – UPDATE 13 December]: The Sunday Times has run a correction:

Our article “VIP sex cases link to false memory” (News, October 18) made an erroneous reference to the Cleveland child abuse scandal and incorrectly described the premises of the Lantern Project as a “backstreet office”. We are happy to clarify that Esther Baker made allegations of childhood sexual abuse several months before receiving stage five only (Reconciliation) of UTD therapy at the project and we accept that Graham Wilmer, its co-founder, is not part of a political campaign

2 Responses

  1. It was a pretty shoddy article, in my opinion, playing straight into the hands (and fevered minds) of those who see a concerted & co-ordinated attempt to sweep everything under the carpet… by ‘the establishment’.

    Dr Sarah Garner – quoted in The Times – recently wrote a piece on The Police Foundation’s site:
    ‘The reliability of memory in sexual abuse claims’

  2. Come and visit us at the project. Talk to the people we support. Explain to them how you could offer them an alternative service, based on the more advanced knowledge of their problems and needs that you claim to have.

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