• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Tommy Robinson and “Free Melanie Shaw”

An unexpected detail from Tommy Robinson’s preliminary court appearance at the Old Bailey yesterday was the sight of Robinson and Kevin Carroll holding “Free Melanie Shaw” posters outside the court building; Robinson also posted a photo of himself posing with the poster at a Tube station shortly beforehand.

Here, Robinson is presumably associating his own current legal predicament with other claims regarding “establishment” cover ups of organised child sex abuse: Shaw apparently spent her early years within the Nottinghamshire care system, and her supporters claim that she has been imprisoned on false charges and even held in solitary confinement to prevent her from speaking out about abuse she experienced and witnessed, and even about instances of child murder that she saw. Robinson presumably believes that this lends credence to his own assertions that his current charge for contempt of court (which comes after his earlier summary conviction in May was quashed) is also an abuse of process, orchestrated by the same “establishment” that does not want him “exposing” Muslim grooming gangs.

However, just as Robinson’s claim of suppression is difficult to credit given the extensive media coverage of grooming cases involving men of Pakistani heritage, it is hard to see why there would be a conspiracy to silence Shaw – in recent years, allegations regarding historical institutional abuse have been pursued vigorously by police forces, and even outlandish claims have formed the basis for extensive investigations (most notoriously, the case of Operation Midland). In Nottinghamshire, allegations relating to Beechwood Community House in Nottingham were first investigated by police as Operation Daybreak in 2010, which was followed by a wider investigation in 2015 called Operation Xeres and then Operation Equinox. Local media report that hundreds of statements have been taken (including one from the actress Samantha Morton), and also that a “major inquiry” is due to start on Monday, as it happens. This does not seem to be consistent with an attempted cover-up.

In Shaw’s case, it seems that there is something of an information void: a report about her in the Nottingham Post was removed at some point, which may indicate a reporting restriction; as such, I won’t go into details here. However, it can be said that the “Free Melanie Shaw” slogan goes back to 2014, and that her case has been heavily promoted on conspiracy websites – most notably, by Brian Gerrish at UK Column. Robinson’s support can perhaps be seen as further evidence of an increasing convergence between the British fringe-right and the wider conspiracy milieu.