A Note on Operation Midland’s Nick, Sub Judice and Anonymity

Stern words from Mark Watts:

Amid highly prejudicial reporting of charges against Nick re indecent images of children and voyeurism, remember that no one in media yet knows truth of any accusations against him. [here]

Double standards still on display in today’s newspapers. Proceedings are active re Nick, so Contempt of Court Act applies. Will anyone enforce the law? [here]

This is rather hard to take from someone who uncritically promoted Nick’s false allegations of historic sex abuse by various “VIPs”, rebuked Harvey Proctor for daring to protest his innocence (a “shameful performance” that “distressed” his accuser), and impugned the motives of journalists who took a more critical perspective. We must also recall his gleeful Tweets about “green bottles” falling when two critics of another of his informants were investigated by the police for alleged stalking – the matter was eventually dropped without charges being brought.

Despite this, though, there is a real issue here: the media now regularly refers to “Nick the fantasist”, when we don’t know why he told so many falsehoods. Perhaps “Nick the fantasist” is less damaging than “Nick the liar”, but neither term reflects well on him, and if the sex-offence charges come to court it will be difficult for a jury not to draw inferences about his character from his “Operation Midland” tales and their outcome. Judges can direct juries to disregard things they may have read ahead of a trial – but how effective is this in practice, given human nature?

However, “Nick” would hardly be the first person who is already publicly notorious to appear before a jury; and it would be unjust to silence those who were falsely accused by Nick, particularly given that so many old media reports about them remain online and there is even a bone-headed “I believe Nick” movement that continues to abuse those he accused and their supporters (e.g. “Who’s that cow bag saying Bramall is an innocent man?”, as asked by Esther Baker, a core participant in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse).

There is also the matter of whether Nick will stand trial for attempting to pervert the course of justice over his falsehoods – the matter is under investigation, but one can’t help speculating that Metropolitan Police would prefer that this not happen, to avoid embarrassing disclosures about police credulity and bias. Perversely, some of Nick’s supporters argue that it is wrong to state that those he has accused are innocent, because to do so is to assert that Nick is a liar when this has not been proven. But this does not follow. There is no sensible reason to credit Nick’s stories, and therefore to do so is unjust (and for any reasonable person, impossible). However, we don’t yet know why he told his false stories to police. If he really is a “fantasist”, then he may be not guilty by reason of mental incompetence – if so, the real blame may in fact lie with his therapist.

Meanwhile, there are calls for Nick to be stripped of his anonymity, which he currently enjoys due to his status as a sex-crime complainant. One can understand the court’s reluctance here: anonymity is seen to facilitate justice by allowing genuine victims to come forward without fear of stigma, but such complainants must have confidence that the authorities will abide by their promise to protect their identity. This confidence will be undermined if Nick is named, especially if in due course the charges are dropped or he is acquitted.

On the other hand, though, it seems to me that those who have been falsely accused by Nick should allowed every means to thoroughly discredit his claims – yet at the moment it is not possible to properly scrutinise his life history and to draw attention to how this may be inconsistent with his abuse claims. Those who write about Nick are even obliged to tip-toe around information that Nick himself has published online. It seems to me that his use of the right to anonymity has been selective and manipulative, and that as such it should be reviewed. Or must we wait decades before the public record is definitively put straight?

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.