Elliott Johnson Suicide: Some Notes on False “Row with Parents” Claim

From Simon Walters at the Mail on Sunday:

The parents of the Tory activist whose suicide sparked a bullying scandal last night hit back at claims that his death was linked to a family row over him being gay.

Ray and Alison Johnson released a heart-rending suicide note in which their son Elliott repeatedly tells them he loves them, thanks them for their ‘awe- inspiring help’ – and signs off with 16 kisses.

The note suggests the main cause of his death was bullying triggered by a vicious Tory power struggle – as well as losing his job and going broke as a result.

…‘It is totally wrong to say we argued with Elliott over being gay,’ said Mr Johnson. ‘Nor is there any mention of rows in the police report into his death. It is a distortion. I want to know who leaked it and why. It looks like a smear…’

I discussed some of the background to the story of Johnson’s suicide here, and how it relates to Conservative activism here.

The “claims” referred to above actually first appeared in the Daily Mail, in a piece by Andrew Pierce. According to that article:

Tatler Tory victim rowed with his parents about being gay: Activist whose suicide sparked bullying scandal had battled depression for years, police report finds

Elliott Johnson, 21, tried to kill himself three times in his teens, and had found it difficult that his parents struggled to accept his homosexuality, detectives found.

…The eight-page dossier, seen by the Daily Mail, describes how the young activist battled depression after coming out as gay in September 2010.

…Mr Johnson’s first suicide attempt was in spring 2011, when he threw himself in the River Nene at Wisbech…

The teenager visited his local GP with his parents, and the report describes ‘the difficulties he was having at his parents’ non-acceptance of his sexuality’.

In May 2011, having lost a boyfriend in a car accident a few weeks earlier, he ate poisonous leaves in his bedroom, believing he had taken enough to kill himself.

In November he made another suicide attempt while at a club for a friend’s birthday.

(A Sunday Times report confirms that “November” also refers to 2011)

The above headline is misleading in two ways: first, it extrapolates wildly from “struggled to accept” to “rowed with”, and it gives the false impression that an argument with his parents triggered his decision to end his life. Further, it is not quite clear from the above how the spring 2011 incident relates to “difficulties he was having at his parents’ non-acceptance”, and it is reasonable to infer that this means that there is no clear linkage, despite Pierce’s juxtaposition. The Times followed up with “Tory who took his life had row with parents over being gay” [UPDATE: this article has since been removed].

There was already evidence in the public domain that Elliott Johnson had struggled with negative thoughts – at some point after 30 March 2015 he had “Liked” a YouTube video by a young gay American vlogger named “GayGod”, entitled “Thoughts of Committing Suicide”. GayGod’s post discusses how he had attempted suicide due to clinical depression, but he ends by advising people to seek help and by thanking his viewers for their support. Johnson’s “Like” was noted by the Sun in December, although the video was grotesquely mis-described as a “suicide video” and as a “suicide clip”.

However, the earlier suicide attempts are new information. On Friday night Newsnight carried an interview with Ray Johnson, in which he explained why the family hadn’t referred to them before now:

We knew that at some stage it would come out, because it would become part of the medical evidence at the coroner’s enquiry… Five months ago we were struggling with the loss of our son, and we were worried, I suppose, that if we’d have raised the point that Elliott had mental health issues a number of years previously, that would have made it more difficult for us to get justice for Elliott. I think people would have just thought “this is just another vulnerable young boy with mental health issues, who decided to commit suicide”, and would not have looked any further back to the fact of what drove our son to commit suicide… It’s not relevant. Elliott took his life because he’d been bullied, and picked on generally, by certain persons and let down by other organisations around the Conservative party.

Suicide in such circumstances is by definition the manifestation of a mental-health problem – Johnson was a young man with a lot going for him, and his self-assessment as being a “failure” was obviously distorted and out of proportion to his setbacks. But the bottom line is that when a victim of bullying decides to end their life, the perpetrator must have that death on their conscience. Suicide may not have been the expected outcome, and other factors may also need to be taken into account – but it is a foreseeable consequence when someone engages in aggressive behaviour that a reasonable person would regard as malicious and gratuitous. Of course, there are cases where suicide (or an attempt) is a manipulative act calculated to make others feel or appear guilty, or where the alleged bullying is either imagined or an unreasonable interpretation of a dispute, but in this particular instance the contextual evidence indicates that Johnson had a genuine reason to feel victimised.

Pierce’s Daily Mail article appears to have been an attempt to change the narrative, and as the Newsnight interview went out Paul Staines tweeted “Watching #Newsnight doing a huge reverse ferret over the Elliott Johnson suicide”. The implication was that we now have a new understanding of his death that undercuts the whole “Tory bullying” story. However, Staines – whose column in the Sunday Sun initially downplayed the bullying allegations against Mark Clarke (scroll down to the very bottom here) – was careful to avoid the appearing unsympathetic to Ray Johnson, adding: “What #Newsnight did there was pass the buck on to Ray Johnson for poor journalism.”

UPDATE: The Guardian adds:

[Ray] Johnson told the Guardian: “…The past history was five or six years prior. Since those instances, he’d gone on to university and there were no further instances, no further issues with regards to mental health. He had matured. He was a young man. He’d moved on. He was looking forward to his life as a political journalist. I think what happened in September was completely unrelated to what happened five or six years earlier.”

…”He came to us and said he wasn’t sure about his sexuality. He said he liked girls, but he said he liked boys as well. He got really upset about it. We spent several days talking to him, getting him to understand he was young, only 16, not quite 17, we said in a few years time, when you’re older and more mature you’ll know. In the meantime, don’t worry about it.”

UPDATE 2: As I was writing this post, the BBC’s Sunday Politics was broadcasting an interview with André Walker, a man variously described as Mark Clarke’s “henchman” or “acolyte”, and who was accused by Elliott Johnson of having “betrayed” him in a suicide note. In December, the Sunday Times stated that according to “five friends”, Johnson and Walker had been lovers, although Ray Johnson says there is no evidence for this. Walker appears in the audio made by Elliott Johnson in a London pub shortly before his death, in which Walker and Clarke are heard speaking aggressively to Johnson, warning him to withdraw a complaint against Clarke.

The BBC interview refers only to a “relationship” between Walker and Johnson, and Walker said that “as far as I was concerned” this had continued until the day Johnson died. According to him, the audio captured an “argumentative” moment when he was frustrated with Johnson, but the evening had ended with the two men on good terms and with Walker staying over with Johnson. He also said this:

…We’ve got to discuss the issue of homophobia, and we’ve got to discuss why people, even as close to him as me, weren’t told about the mental health problems.

Walker comes across as plain speaking, but it seems to me that his Northern accent is deceptive here. Johnson did not commit suicide due to “homophobia”, and Johnson’s troubles from 2011 indicate a vulnerability rather than an ongoing clinical condition. Is Walker really suggesting that the tragedy unfolded because someone failed to tell him and Clarke about Johnson’s past?

Ahead of the broadcast, Walker made a posting to social media, addressing friends (again, Tim at Zelo Street has the goods):

The Coroners investigation is over and I will be on Sunday Politics tomorrow. I hope you’ll feel vindicated about s[t]icking with me after you see it.

In fact, the coroner’s inquest is just about to start (with a pre-inquest hearing); Walker seems to have confused this with the police report that was leaked to Pierce.

UPDATE 3 (2 March): The Guardian adds further:

As for his sexuality, Ray admits he is rather old-fashioned and that he did initially struggle when his son came out. So they did row? “No!” he says.

Alison smiles when she remembers the first time he talked about it. “He took us upstairs, shut the door and said I’ve got something to tell you. He said I don’t know how to tell you this, but I think I might be bisexual. I said what makes you think that? He said ‘Well, I like boys and I like girls.’ And I said well if I were you Elliott I’d sit on the fence and just see what side you land on. When he took us in the room we thought he was going to tell us he’d done something terribly wrong like rob a bank!”

The only time Ray says he had cross words with him is when he had just had a heart attack, and Elliott was worrying away at his sexuality with his mother. “Alison had so much on her plate. I phoned him and said Elliott, there are more important things going on at the moment.” Did they fall out? “No – I phoned him back a couple of hours later to apologise.”

“It feels like people are trying to undermine us, put a smear on our family, suggesting we are nasty parents.” Alison says. “We don’t need this.”

VIP Abuse Claims: New Evidence of “Nick’s” Credibility Crumbles As Old Blog Post Resurfaces

From Vikram Dodd at the Guardian:

Operation Midland detectives investigating claims of sexual abuse by prominent establishment figures believe their main witness is still credible, but have not uncovered evidence to support criminal charges against any suspects.

The Guardian understands that the Scotland Yard investigation has found evidence pointing to the credibility of aspects of the account given by “Nick”, who has been the subject of attacks on his reputation.

…In one instance Nick correctly described the interior of a military premises in southern England, where he claimed abuse had taken place. The details he provided were not publicly available, and the premises itself is not open to the public, making it likely he had been there at some stage, police concluded.

…Detectives have not been able to disprove Nick’s credibility, nor establish that his central claims could not have happened.

So, the police have supposedly been unable to establish that the head of the British Army did not spend Remembrance Day at a paedophile orgy, or that he might not have slipped back into the UK from a posting in Hong Kong to abuse and torture a child in Wiltshire. Similarly, we must remain agnostic as to whether former Prime Minister Ted Heath attended a similar event with a sworn political enemy, during which he intervened to prevent Nick’s castration. As Criswell says at the end of Plan 9 from Outer Space: “Can you prove that it didn’t happen?”

This is the first article on Operation Midland to appear in the Guardian that claims to have exclusive information. My first thought on reading it was that Dodd must have received a leak from the Metropolitan Police ahead of a formal police statement. But is that plausible? The force has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the investigation into Lord Bramall, and to wind things down now in a way that seems calculated to keep the very worst insinuations alive would be suicidally reckless.

Blogger Gojam suggests that it is more likely that the Guardian article is in fact pre-emptive spin put out by Exaro, the internet news agency that has promoted Nick’s claims and acts as his media handler. An exchange between Dodd and David Aaronovitch would tend to support this interpretation:

DA: What “indirect evidence” does the Met believe gives credibility to “Nick” as you claim today? Did they give you a clue?

VD: if I were to guess the military premises stuff

“If I were to guess”? Surely this is a central point that any journalist would have wanted to pin down with an interview subject… unless there wasn’t one, just a second-hand statement that was passed along.

However, whether Dodd’s information has come from the police or Exaro, the detail about the military premises is highly significant, but not for the reason Dodd thinks.

It is widely known that Nick used to post details about his alleged abuse and its effects on his later life on a blog, which he took down as his claims came under increasing media scrutiny. Gojam has maintained a private archive of these posts, and he now draws attention to one in which Nick describes visiting Imber Village in 2013.

Imber Village is used by the army for training purposes, and is indeed “not open to the public” – but there are visitor days from time to time, and Nick attended on one of these. Gojam has the “smoking gun” quote from Nick’s post:

I decided to go back to another location that is normally closed to the public…  They left me to roam myself and I went into a few buildings that as a child had been the site of torture, terror and pain. In one building there were still the hooks on the wall where I had been tied and all I could do is stand and stare at them and let the tears flow.

That was published in July 2014, several months before Nick was first taken by Exaro to the police. Reading the above alongside Dodd’s extra information, it is very difficult to escape the conclusion that Nick impressed the police with a childhood memory of a non-public location that he had actually visited just a year or so before. The very reasonable suspicion that follows from this is that Nick is not just a fantasist, but an actual hoaxer.

UPDATE (15 Feb): Despite being active on Twitter in the hours that followed, Dodd has declined to clarify whether his information has come from a police source or from Exaro. However, on 11 February Dodd drew attention to an earlier article he had written on the subject, in December 2014, in particular highlighting the detail that “‘Nick’ had told police he feared reprisals from the VIP group who he said had abused him and killed other boys”. It is reasonable to surmise that these Tweets were published in anticipation of yesterday’s story.

Meanwhile, a follow-up article has appeared in the Daily Mail, which describes the Guardian article as having “revealed” the police decision:

Police investigating claims of a Westminster child sex ring continue to believe their main witness is ‘credible’ even though they have found no evidence to back up his claims of murder and abuse, it was revealed last night.

Detectives on Operation Midland are standing by the man, known only as Nick, despite failing to find evidence to support criminal charges against any suspects.

Harvey Proctor is unimpressed:

‘The best detectives the Met has available take over a year to discover there is no evidence and then… try to proclaim Nick’s credibility – not because he is credible but to protect the careers of those senior officers who initially believed he was and are now appalled at the consequences for them that he is not.’

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.

Report Claims Putin’s “Soft Power” Impresario Vladimir Yakunin Under Investigation

From Radio Free Europe:

Reports have surfaced that Vladimir Yakunin, a longtime crony of Vladimir Putin, is being investigated by Russian law enforcement.

Russia’s Interior Ministry officials are not confirming the reports, which first appeared on the blog of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. But they are not denying them either.

Navalny published the claim here. If true, the news is extraordinary: Yakunin has personal links with Putin that go back to the 1990s, and he was formerly the head of Russia’s railway system.

It’s also unexpected because Yakunin has done more than anyone else to promote a pro-Russia message internationally by organising “soft power” initiatives that have wooed a wide – and in some ways bizarre – array of academics, religious figures, left-wing activists, and emeritus European politicians. One of Yakunin’s refrains is that “human rights” is deployed in international relations to “de-sovereign states” at the behest of neo-liberalism; this is a message that can be tweaked to appeal to conservatives worried about family values and gay rights, and to left-wingers with a one-size-fits-all Chomskyist reading of America’s place in the world.

Initiatives and links previously noted on this blog include meetings with Allan Carlson and Larry Jacobs of the World Congress of Families; working with the LaRouche movement to promote a petition critical of the US and Europe; arranging for New York University Press to publish a book of interviews with “the world’s foremost thinkers” (one of whom is Yakunin himself, of course); and various conferences through his World Public Forum initiative, which holds yearly meetings on the island of Rhodes.

Yakunin co-founded the WPF with a Greek-American businessman named Nicholas F. S. Papanicolaou, and his current co-chairs include the academic Fred Dallmayr and the former Chancellor of Austria Alfred Gusenbauer. Papanicolaou in turn is close to figures on the neo-Pentecostal end of the US Christian Right, especially Jerry Boykin and the evangelist Rick Joyner, and at one WFP event Joyner apologised for “the filth and perversion coming out of Hollywood”. Meanwhile, the WPF website posts a strange mix of materials, ranging from UN press statements to Counterpunch articles, to pieces exonerating Russia from the downing of MH17 and (perhaps predictably) criticising Western sanctions on Yakunin,

Yakunin has also looked east, presenting an award to Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, sponsoring a youth event in India, and working with China’s Song Ching Ling Foundation.

Yakunin has also been active in promoting the interests of the Orthodox Church; in 2011 he opened a conference in Greece on protecting Mount Athos from the threat of ” unrestricted access for all kinds of visitors” (i.e. women), and in the same year he arranged for a relic of the Virgin Mary to be brought from Athos to Russia. In some years he has been responsible for bringing the Holy Fire from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to Russia at Easter.

The Financial Times, writing about Pope Francis’s meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in Cuba, adds as background detail:

Conservative Orthodox circles have gained access to the president’s inner circle through Vladimir Yakunin, a fellow former security services official and now a religious adherent, who headed stated-owned Russian Railways until late last year.

…Since 2012, when Mr Putin began his third presidential term, the Kremlin has aggressively pushed an agenda of conservative social values close to the church leadership’s heart, such as curbing sexual minorities’ rights and censoring the arts.

…The Patriarch and President have repeatedly emphasised their esteem for each other in ways hard to imagine the Pope and a western leader doing. In 2012, Patriarch Kirill said Russia had managed to escape the upheaval of the 1990s “through a miracle of God, with the active participation of the country’s leadership”. He told Mr Putin: “You personally played a massive role in correcting this twist in our history.”

Perhaps time for Yakunin to call in a favour?


Daily Mail Says “None of Us Should be Condemned or Vilified Until Our Guilt is Proved”

Mail Jefferies

Operation Midland

A thundering editorial from the Daily Mail:

An ugly chapter in the history of the police

As the inquiry into a fantasist’s allegations of a VIP paedophile ring draws to its ignominious close, so too does a truly ugly chapter in the history of Scotland Yard.

Nothing is more fundamental to liberty and the rule of law than the presumption of innocence – the principle that none of us should be condemned or vilified until our guilt is proved.

Operation Midland has turned that cornerstone of justice on its head.

…Adding nastiness to breathtaking credulity, Sir Bernard [Hogan-Howe, head of the Met] allowed former Home Secretary Sir Leon Brittan to die under a cloud of suspicion and vilification before deigning to let his widow know the case had been dropped. Even then, he hadn’t the grace to issue a full apology.

Operation Midland, as is widely known, was set up towards the end of 2014 to investigate the claims of a man known as “Nick”, who says he was subjected to torture and sex abuse by VIPs as a child in 1970s and 1980s, and that he witnessed the murder of three children. Leon Brittan was among those he accused, although the above paragraph actually refers to a rape allegation that was made by someone else.

Nick’s claims are gothically extravagant, and have come under increasing critical scrutiny in recent months. Allegations against Lord Bramall in particular were formally dropped a few weeks ago, and it has been recently reported that the whole Operation is set to close down. This may or may not be accurate, but it is the case that Operation Midland merged into Operation Fairbank, a broader investigation into VIP abuse allegations, in October. Earlier this week, a BBC Radio 4 documentary, The Report, reported that the investigation has failed to ask for statements from crucial witnesses – it appears that rather than starting with Nick and working outwards from his personal circumstances, the police instead decided to start with media stunts, in the form of house raids.

However, the Mail‘s outrage is very much behind the curve. The paper (meaning the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday – they are virtually indistinguishable on Mail Online) was very happy to report the raid on Harvey Proctor’s home last year uncritically, and in the months before Leon Brittan’s death the paper ran insinuating articles about his “faulty memory”, implying that he had suppressed a “dossier” of evidence relating to VIP paedophiles in the 1980s. The Mail never apologised for that particular “cloud of suspicion”, even though the story was debunked in the Sunday Times. The Mail only began to write critically on the subject of VIP abuse allegations when Tom Watson MP became Deputy Leader of the Labour Party – overnight, he went from being described as “campaigning MP Tom Watson” to being portrayed as a monster who had tormented a dying man with false accusations.

But even so, it is heartening to see that Mail is now committed to “the principle that none of us should be condemned or vilified until our guilt is proved”. This has not been a major theme in the Mail‘s history.

Guilty until Proven Innocent: the Mail‘s libels against Chris Jefferies and John Yapp

Most famously, at the end of 2010 it reported the questioning of Chris Jefferies on suspicion of murder as  “Murder police quiz ‘nutty professor’ with a blue rinse”, and followed up with “Does this man hold the key to Joanna’s murder?” – a sensationalising speculation that turned out to be a QTWTAIN. Both items were front page splashes that vilified a completely innocent man, and subsequently led to a substantial libel payout.

The smearing of Jefferies came in the wake of disastrous Mail on Sunday articles in 2008, in which an innocent diplomat named John Yapp had been falsely accused of groping an adult female. The first was entitled “Britain’s man in Belize, the PM’s girlfriend and a very sudden exit“, and it was followed by “How Britain’s man in Belize was ordered home after groping an ex-minister’s wife – and making a lewd joke about the full moon” (“The full story of why a senior British diplomat has been ordered home from his post in Central America can be revealed today”). Both articles were written by Dennis Rice, who later went on run an abusive sockpuppet account on Twitter called TabloidTroll.

At the time, Yapp was facing a employment disciplinary over the allegation, and as with Jeffries two years later it seems that the paper felt safe to press on ahead of the investigation on the assumption of “no smoke without fire”. In fact, however, Yapp was exonerated – and the Mail paid costs and damages in an out-of-court settlement in 2009. Yapp’s firm of lawyers, Collyer Bristow, issued a scathing statement:

The articles were sensationalised and false. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed that an official enquiry has exonerated Mr Yapp of these allegations. I am happy to say that The Mail on Sunday have now published an apology making this clear and apologising for the considerable distress caused to Mr Yapp.

The appalling allegations and false reports caused my client serious and long-lasting damage both personally and professionally. The articles also caused his partner, Anne, and family profound distress.

Yapp also went on to successfully sue his former employer, the Foreign Office, in 2013, which the Mail reported without reference to its own earlier role in tormenting an innocent man. Perhaps the paper hoped the later report would obscure the timeline, and its own culpability.

Jefferies recently appeared at an event with Paul Gambaccini, who spent a year under a false suspicion of child sex abuse due to Operation Yewtree. I didn’t attend, but from reports it appears that both men lamented the stupidity of the police and the way they worked with journalists.  Gambaccini said that the names of suspects are regularly leaked by police to the press, while Jefferies believes that in his case the police hoped that journalists would do some of the work for them.

The Operation Elveden Explanation

So, what’s happened to this cosy relationship between media and police? Let us return to the Daily Mail editorial:

[Hogan-Howe] is the man who spent £11million on Operation Elveden, assigning 70 detectives to investigate payments by journalists to whistleblowers and public officials (especially police sources).

More than 60 were arrested and 29 were charged. Yet only one was convicted in court, while another pleaded guilty under an obscure 13th century law. Both received suspended sentences.

Those two paragraphs, buried deep in the article, are the nearest thing to a declaration of having an interest. It is true that only two journalists have been convicted, although the above neglects to note – one suspects deliberately – that Operation Elveden has also led to a number of  police officers (and one prison officer) being convicted. In this light, the Mail‘s “ugly chapter in the history of the police”, while a valid assessment of the Operation Midland fiasco, is also opportunistic revenge.

Brittan Mail Elm

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.

Newspaper Interview Reveals Details of Sex Abuse Allegations Against Bishop George Bell

The Argus, a regional newspaper in Sussex, has published a long interview with the woman who claims to have been abused by Bishop George Bell as a child more than 60 years ago. The allegation came to light in October, when the Diocese of Chichester issued a statement in which it confirmed that it had investigated the complaint, found it to be truthful (“on the balance of probabilities”), and paid compensation.

The news was shocking – Bell was a revered churchman and a significant figure in twentieth-century British history. It was disturbing that his place in posterity could be re-written in such a devastating way on the word of unnamed “investigators” without any details entering the public domain.

According to the interview, the alleged victim, given the name “Carol” by the newspaper, was a relative of someone who worked at Bishop’s Palace in Chichester. Because Carol came from a large family, she would sometimes come with her relative to work, and even stay over for up to a week. During this time (starting at age 5, and lasting over a four-year period), Bell would read her stories, either while she sat on his knee or when she was in bed, and according to Carol (and accepted as fact by the Argus) he would use the opportunity to “interfere” with her. She told the paper that “he said it was our little secret, because God loved me”, and that when she did tell the relative she was warned not to tell “fibs”.

The lack of detail in October led to complains that Bell was being unfairly treated; Peter Hitchens complained that “no evidence has been tested,” while Charles Moore decried Bell “being ruined by an anonymous, unpublished claim, upheld by a non-court which won’t explain its decision”. It was suggested that the Diocese of Chichester was over-reacting following the conviction of Bishop Peter Ball for historic sex abuse just weeks before.

Now, at last, we at least have an account, and presumably the investigators have been able to confirm the circumstantial details. Carol refers to comments in support of Bishop Bell in her interview:

She said: “Some of the remarks I’ve read made me very upset.

“Because he did good things, they automatically assume that he couldn’t do anything wrong, which was rather hurtful because a lot of men who have done good things have also done very evil things.

“He might be a man of peace but that doesn’t take away the fact of what he did to me.”

…she became visibly upset and looked deeply hurt as she reflected on the voices speaking in support of George Bell’s legacy.

As I’ve said previously in relation to other accusations, when someone relates an traumatic experience, one should of course be mindful about adding to possible hurt or distress by expressing scepticism. However, this has to be balanced against the need to give the accused a fair hearing. Carol’s account comes across to me as credible testimony (although “our little secret” sounds a bit of a cliché), and some may judge that there is now case to answer, but it remains the word of one person, about whom we know very little, speaking about events from long ago that no-one else witnessed.

Certainly, it would be wrong to dismiss her account on the grounds of Bell’s public record – but that isn’t what Hitchens or Moore have suggested. The fact is that no-one working solely with the material in the public domain can claim to know what really happened between Bell and Carol, despite the dogma that one has a moral duty to “believe the victim” whenever an allegation is aired (an approach that has been disastrous in other contexts).

It seems to me that it is not beneficial for those considering coming forward with allegations, even though those allegations may be true, to be given unrealistic expectations about being spared critical scrutiny, or about the presumption of innocence not applying to those they accuse.

UPDATE: The current Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, has issued a statement, including the following:

“…The presence of strident voices in the public arena which have sought to undermine the survivor’s claims has added in this case to the suffering of the survivor and her family. To that extent it is not surprising that she felt it necessary to take the courageous decision to speak out in public and reveal the personal details which the Church could not…

“In some responses to the George Bell case, and to the original statements from the Church nationally and locally in the diocese of Chichester, we have witnessed shocking ignorance of the suffering felt at many different levels by victims of abuse.”

This is rather unfair. Did the Bishop really expect that October’s dramatic and opaque announcement would simply be accepted without any critical reservation? Of course one should always strive to avoid causing unnecessary suffering – but I refer back to what I say above about reasonable expectations when accusations cannot be corroborated.

Second, he appears to attribute doubts about Bell being an abuser to a callous and uncomprehending attitude towards the suffering caused by child abuse. Perhaps he’s referring to something in particular here, but without any further explanation this looks like an unwarranted and unworthy rhetorical move.


No, Terry Wogan Did Not say “David Icke was Correct on Jimmy Savile”

From Neon Nettle a purported news-site otherwise unknown to me:

Did Terry Wogan Admit David Icke Was Right Before his Death?

…Wogan allegedly told the BBC news service:

“I ridiculed someone who was in the process of waking up. You see I was asleep myself just as so many others were. Well, I apologise to Mr Icke unreservedly for being a snivelling arse that night on the Wogan show. David Icke was correct on Jimmy Savile and all the others, especially those in the halls of power,”

David Icke returned to The Terry Wogan show in 2006, this time the audience did not laugh at Icke, instead they listened to him without much interruption from Wogan himself.

The Neon Nettle quotes as its source for this a website called the Daily Squib – quite obviously a parody site. The Neon Nettle‘s click-bait mendacity would probably be better ignored, were it not for the fact that that the headline comes up under Google News, and that various individuals on Twitter are repeating the quote as if it were true.

Here’s the actual story. At the start of 1991, Icke was known to the public as a former sportsman and newsreader, and more currently as a spokesman for the Green Party. Early in the year, he announced that he had had some sort of mystical experience, as a result of which he now believed in a number of supernatural phenomena and regarded himself as having special cosmological significance.

This was initially covered by local television news (I remember seeing it) – some media mockery followed, and then his famous appearance on Wogan, Terry Wogan’s prime-time chat show on BBC 1. Famously, when Icke said that he appreciated the audience’s laughter, Wogan informed him that “they are laughing at you, not with you”. In 2006, Wogan and Icke met for a retrospective interview on UKTV Gold, in which Wogan conceded he had been “a bit sharp” in saying that. Icke then used the opportunity to expound on “secret societies” and “family bloodlines” and such.

Wogan was as congenial as ever, but unimpressed. In his autobiography Mustn’t Grumble, published later the same year, he referred (p. 245) to:

David Icke, no longer a gentle soul convinced that he was descended from the Godhead, that wearing turquiouse was the way to salvation, and that we were all doomed, but now a ranting demagogue convinced that we were all manipulated sheep, and, of course, all doomed.

There is no evidence anywhere that Wogan changed his mind on this in the years that followed.

Rumours about Jimmy Savile long predated his death; in 2008, for instance, he took legal action against the Sun over a story linking him to abuse in Jersey, and as far back as 1978 John Lyndon claimed to know about “all sorts of seediness” involving Savile. In 2000, Savile told Louis Theroux (in response to probing) that as a single man he preferred to give the impression of disliking children because “because we live in a very funny world” and he wished to put “salacious tabloid people off the hunt”.

Icke eventually endorsed all the Savile rumours, although this site, apparently run by rival conspiracists, documents that Icke only turned to the subject in 2011, following Savile’s death. Allegations against Savile were first taken seriously by the mainstream media and the police in late 2012, and the same site suggests that Icke has exaggerated his supposed prescience.

Wogan’s own statements on Savile appear to be contradictory; in August 2013 he gave an interview to the Telegraph:

On the Jimmy Savile allegations, he is considerably graver. “I was completely unaware of it – 99.9 per cent of us were. But I’m not sure we can be blaming the BBC for the behaviour of individuals. They can’t be held responsible. It’s a torrid time for people in the public eye. When you look at the kind of people who are being exposed by Operation Yewtree – God, it gives you pause for thought.”

However, in October 2013, he told The Times, as reported in the Independent:

He told the paper: “I was sitting at a table having lunch and Savile was sitting one up from me, and also up from me was Jean Rook [Express columnist]. And Jimmy Savile got up to go to the loo, and she looked across at me and said: ‘When are they going to expose him?’ I said: ‘That’s your job.’ And nobody ever did.”

Perhaps these statement can be reconciled – he had heard the very vague rumours, but was “completely unaware” of anything specific. But it is also likely that Wogan was being circumspect in what he chose to say – perhaps that’s not to his credit, but the subject of celebrity abuse must have been strange and disturbing territory for a light entertainer, and he probably wanted to avoid becoming the focus for any kind of controversy. I doubt many people would hold that against him.

Theodore Shoebat Introduces Another Friend

Shoebat Foundation website publishes praise of masked attack on migrants in Sweden

From Right Wing Watch:

Yesterday, radical right-wing activist Theodore Shoebat posted an extended discussion he recently had with fellow Shoebat.com contributor Andrew Bieszad about their belief that “all of the evils that we are seeing around the world can find its origin in anti-Catholicism.”

Given Shoebat’s extreme hatred of gays, it was not long before the conversation turned toward exposing the ways that “the sodomite agenda wants to colonize the whole world through the U.S. government,” with Shoebat declaring that gays in New Orleans routinely rape and murder young boys during the annual Southern Decadence event while the local police do nothing about it.

…None of this came as a surprise to Bieszad, who declared that New Orleans “really is an American Sodom and I don’t think it’s an accident that Hurricane Katrina hit there back in 2005.”

Shoebat Jnr is something of an attention-seeking monomaniac, whose rants would probably not be worth noting were it not for the fact that his father, Walid Shoebat, has built up a media profile as a supposed expert on the evils of Muslims and on the place of Muslims in Biblical prophecy, and that the Shoebat Foundation website is also T. Shoebat’s primary outlet. (1)

The website also carries items by T. Shoebat’s friends; I recently noted the presence of a certain Thomas King, who has a particular affinity with Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and whose piety has inspired him on write on T. Shoebat’s Facebook page about “the Muslim assholes and leftist liberal cunts and their Protestant ass kissing allies”. Beiszad’s own contributions to the Shoebat Foundation website include a piece in which he praises masked Swedish “patriots” for attacking immigrants (styled as “Muslim invaders”, although reported in the Daily Mail, the source he uses, as “children”) in central Stockholm.

Beiszad is proficient in Arabic, and he has an MA in Islamic Studies from Hartford Seminary; according to a 2013 profile in the National Posthe claims that “conversion to Islam was encouraged” during his course, and that he was threatened by Muslim students for expressing his opposition to Islam. His thesis was on Pseudo-?Wa?qidi?, a medieval writer who took the name of a seventh-century author.

Beiszad is also the author of a book, called The Lions of Faith: Saints, Blesseds, and Heroes of the Catholic Faith in the Struggle With Islam, which was commended by William Kilpatrick in the Catholic World ReportThe book was published by Lux Orbis Press, which was Beiszad’s own venture, and which has now disappeared from the internet.

An archived version of the Lux Orbis website, though, shows that Beiszad was particularly keen to showcase an endorsement by Steve Klein, a militia leader in California with links to The church at Kaweah.” Klein enthused:

You will learn the TRUE battles of the Faithful, in deadly combat against Islam to save their families. I say, buy the book – and let’s get the battle raging – for God, for Family, for those who truly love LIBERTY.

But if T. Shoebat and Beiszad are truly in agreement that “all of the evils that we are seeing around the world can find its origin in anti-Catholicism”, perhaps the fight needs to start nearer to home. Before he was famous, anti-Catholicism was actually an element of Walid Shoebat’s fundamentalism. As far as I am aware, he has never repudiated his writings from this period.


(1) Update: I appear to have understated T. Shoebat’s significance there; Right Wing Watch notes he “was featured alongside several congressmen and GOP presidential candidates in an anti-gay ‘documentary’ produced by Janet Porter, who now just so happens to be running for a seat in the Ohio legislature.”