Gordon Anglesea: Some Notes on 1994 and 2016

From the BBC, last month:

A former North Wales Police chief jailed for sexually abusing two teen boys has lodged an appeal against his convictions, it has been confirmed.

Gordon Anglesea, 79, was handed a 12 year sentence after being convicted at Mold Crown Court in October.

The jury found the retired superintendent guilty of three indecent assaults on one boy and indecently assaulting another, both in the 1980s.

Another report added the detail that his legal team from the trial had agreed to assist without charge.

However, there not now be any appeal: Anglesea was taken ill a few days ago, and has now died of natural causes. Anglesea did not appear to be frail in recent television footage, and there was no mention in the media of any mortal illness (although he was known to be diabetic); it therefore seems reasonable to suppose that, despite the impassivity he displayed when being led away in handcuffs, the strain of recent events took a fatal toll on his health.

For those thoroughly convinced of Anglesea’s guilt, his demise means that his victims will not be put through a further ordeal, in which their testimony would this time be considered not by “12 good mean and women and true”, but by three judges (aka “the Establishment”). However, for those who remain unsure, there must be regret and unease that an opportunity for the matter to re-considered in further detail has now been lost.

One should of course be circumspect when expressing doubt about a jury’s decision; unlike those in attendance at a trial, most of us must make do with media articles (subject to reporting restrictions in the case of sex crimes involving living complainants), and expressing even mild scepticism risks adding to the distress of genuine victims.

In the case of Anglesea, though, the details of his 1994 libel action, in which he won payouts from four media organisations, give pause for thought. This is despite a recent comment on social media from Francis Wheen, who attended on behalf of his employer, Private Eye magazine:

In 1994 I watched Gordon Anglesea smirking in court and thought: that man is lying, but he knows he can pull rank and get away with it. He presumed that no jury would believe the word of damaged, abused young men against that of a police superintendent – moreover one who paraded his wife in court at every opportunity, Archer-style, as if to say “I can’t be a paedophile, I’m a married man.” It has taken 22 years for another jury to explode that presumption.

But anyone who has read Richard Webster’s account of the libel trial in The Secret of Bryn Estyn will know that it is not as simple as this. The three accusers who appeared for the defence offered inconsistent and contradictory accounts, including impossible dates; and one had even demanded a payment from Private Eye before he would agree to give evidence. And if we’re going to bring Anglesea’s wife into it, why not explain her significance properly? Anglesea had previously sent his future wife love-letters, at a time when he had been married to someone else; these were produced (or should we say “paraded”?) by the defence as evidence of his dishonesty, but they actually revealed that at the time he was supposedly anally raping boys at the children’s home of Bryn Estyn he was passionately fixated on an adult woman. (1)

Webster’s book also gives an account of how the original allegations had been elicited by a journalist, Dean Nelson, in circumstances that were less than optimal and not to Nelson’s credit. And a few years after Webster’s book was published, the same accuser who had demanded the payment from Private Eye triggered the disastrous Newsnight segment on Bryn Estyn that led to Lord McAlpine being falsely accused of child-sex abuse on social media (alas, this cautionary tale of a rush to judgment over “VIP abuse” allegations alas had little lasting impact, and was prelude to what became the Operation Midland fiasco).

Given all this, it is not enough simply to assert that Anglesea’s guilt was self-evident in 1994 and that the jury had been improperly impressed by his respectability in contrast to that of his accusers. And even if he did enjoy an unfair presumption of credibility in 1994, why should that mean that juries are more balanced now? Is it not just as likely that revelations and allegations about historical sex abuse involving public figures and “VIPs” might also have had an influence on jury decision-making?

Of course, this does not mean that Anglesea  suffered a miscarriage of justice – his recent criminal trial brought to light troubling  inconsistencies with his account in 1994, and even Webster acknowledged that in 1994 Anglesea had probably downplayed his association with the former deputy head of Bryn Estyn, Peter Howarth, who had himself been convicted of abuse. The difficulties outlined above may not be insuperable, but at the moment there appears to be an unwarranted assumption that Anglesea’s 1994 testimony – and by extension, Webster’s account – has been debunked by the 2016 outcome.

On the other hand, though, journalists who previously cited and commended Webster (who died in 2011) haven’t had much to say on the subject since Anglesea’s conviction. It seems to me that his account is a subject that now deserves some further treatment.

UPDATE (10 January 2017): Anglesea’s funeral has now been held. According to The Leader:

A CREMATORIUM was packed for the funeral of Gordon Anglesea, the retired police superintendent jailed for 12 years in November for historical sex offences against two boys at Wrexham.

Former police, Rotary and Methodist church colleagues were among the congregation…

Anglesea had denied the offences and his family, from Old Colwyn, have a burning sense of injustice.

A son who gave a eulogy during the service said they “believed in him to the end”.


(1) Private Eye’s editor Ian Hislop also made a statement, which was published in issue 1430 (p. 7):

During the libel trial Anglesea said that he had never assaulted any teenage boys. We now know that this was a lie, that he was indeed a paedophile, that in truth he had no reputation to defend and that he should never have sued anyone on this basis…

This appears to create a bit of distance between the the general principle that Anglesea was an abuser, as determined by the jury in 2016, and the specific allegations of 1994. However, Hislop goes on to commend the three 1994 accusers as truthful:

I can’t help thinking of the witnesses who came forward to assist our case at the time, one of whom later committed suicide telling his wife that he never got over “not being believed”.

The same page goes on to note that that Anglesea’s legal team had been funded (“bankrolled”) by the police union, the Police Federation, adding

An unnamed source from his defence team has already told local media that… an appeal is planned. The Eye asked the federation if it would be willing to keep spending members’ money on defending a convicted paedophile, but it refused to comment on individual funding decisions.

In fact, the union eventually decided not to fund the appeal, which was why Anglesea’s legal team then agreed to represent him for free. But the question to the federation as expressed in the above seems to me to have been loaded. The plain meaning is not “Do you think an appeal here may have merit?” or “What is your policy on members who have been convicted but maintain they are innocent?”; instead, the question is obviously “How on earth can you give money to such a disgusting person?”. A sudden and self-interested moral objection to the principle of appeals does not seem to me to be in accordance with the magazine’s best traditions.

One Response

  1. The death of former Welsh Conservatives leader Rod Richards has been announced.

    He was one of those who seemingly gave credence to the idea of a VIP network involved in Welsh care home abuses.


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