Some Notes on David Aaronovitch’s Times “Child-Abuse Fantasists” Column

From David Aaronovitch in The Times:

The other day a fellow journalist sent me a very short video clip posted by a conspiracy theorist, sorry “independent investigator”, on his website. It showed a school playground and a window of the school before trailing off. The photographer was apparently investigating what he called the “Hampstead Cover Up case”. Soon, he suggested, he would have much more to say and show.

The “Hampstead Cover Up”, of course, is the Hampstead Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax, which recently concluded with one of its main promoters, Sabine McNeill, receiving a substantial prison sentence for stalking-related offences. As Aaronovitch notes:

The meaning of the recently posted video was that it’s not over. Others have taken up where the imprisoned McNeill has been forced to leave off. I’ve seen one or two of them myself recently.

I looked at some examples of continuing support for the hoax here.

The person who created and posted the video of the school playground was one Richard Carvath, as discussed on Hoaxstead here. Carvath is a religious activist who was previously expelled from the Conservative Christian Fellowship for what he describes as his “views on homopervuality… and islam”. In 2016 I noted an article he wrote defending the Christian anti-Islamist activist Patrick Sookhdeo following the latter’s conviction for sexual assault (of an adult woman), in which he denounced the complainant as a “Jezebel” who had appeared in a photo with “arms are uncovered and she wears a figure-hugging dress, her buttocks clearly presented to the beholder”. This scepticism is a remarkable contrast with his embrace of the Hampstead conspiracy, which posits cult members cooking and eating babies and dancing around in baby-skin shoes, based on the testimony of two children who had been coached by their mother and stepfather as a part of a custody dispute.

Aaronovitch describes the Hampstead claims as “a set of such utterly ludicrous allegations that no part of the established media ever gave them credence”, but he contrasts this with other allegations that were taken seriously by the media and police, asking

how did it come about that, for the half decade following the Savile revelations, it was possible for almost any person to make an anonymous or even identifiable complaint of historic child abuse against a public figure, and be treated with automatic credulity?… It seemed any publicity hound or conspiracy theorist could invent or recycle any old story concerning alleged “VIP abuse” and get it printed or aired.

He focuses in particular on Esther Baker’s allegations against the former MP John Hemming, in the wake of two of her supporters settling a libel action that had been brought against them:

Ms Baker had claimed that she was abused by a group of men, including a judge and a peer of the realm, in a wood in Staffordshire while police stood by. In a programme made for Australian TV, Ms Baker was shown photographs of people and asked to identify her abusers. Though viewers could not see who was identified it was soon known on the internet that one of them was Mr Hemming. At that point he went public with a denial.

In fact, Hemming did not go public until a couple of years later, although in the meantime his name was bandied about by activists, including the sinister Bill Maloney. Aaronovitch continues:

After two years of investigation, police looking into Ms Baker’s accusations found insufficient evidence to charge Mr Hemming or anyone else. In fact I’m not at all clear that there was ever anything corroborating Ms Baker’s testimony.

On Twitter, Baker continues to insist that there is evidence that has been seen by the police that is not yet in the public domain, but that she will reveal in due course once various matters have been concluded. When that happens, we are assured, those who expressed doubts or criticisms (including this blog) will be exposed as having been wide of the mark.

Currently, however, all we know besides her claim against Hemming is that her allegations pertain to a member of her family and centre around a church she attended as a child. She has so far declined to name this church publicly, and there is no indication that the journalistic scribes who have written up her account (Mark Watts and David Hencke) have felt the need to do any digging of their own. Aaronovitch reminds us that Baker also went on to say she had been taken by night to Dolphin Square in London – a specific difficulty here that he doesn’t mention is that Baker made this claim in response to a description provided by an accuser called “Darren“, who made various extravagant claims that he has since withdrawn.

Aaronvitch also mentions other “VIP” claims:

There were unchecked and ludicrous stories of gay paedophile orgies being held in the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Conservative Party conference on the night before the 1984 IRA bombing, and involving a number of (conveniently dead) senior politicians.

There was the former regional journalist who suddenly discovered that he had been in possession of a damning dossier concerning child abuse by politicians but had been prevented by the security services from publicising it. Both stories were easily falsifiable but both were printed in British newspapers.

The journalist here was Don Hale, who first mentioned the dossier in July 2014, when his supposed memory of it formed the basis for a Daily Mail article on “the paedophile lobby’s influence in Westminster” during the 1980s. (1) In that article, Hale named “Tory minister Sir Rhodes Boyson, a well-known enthusiast for corporal punishment, and Education Secretary Sir Keith Joseph”; he later added Leon Brittan to the list shortly after Brittan’s death (attributing a quote to the late Barbara Castle that he was “a powerful man with many secrets”), and then Edward Heath shortly after other allegations against Heath had been aired. The Heath claims were particularly risible, the claim being that that Paedophile Information Exchange had held meetings at Parliament and that Edward Heath had attended, without this attracting any wider interest at the time (I discussed this more generally here).

Noting that Baker will be a “core participant” in the Westminster strand of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, Aaronovitch writes that

the greater rationale of the inquiry appears to be to examine how allegations were supposedly covered up — a bias that has enraged the representatives of the accused. Whereas what the IICSA could usefully consider is how and why so many have turned out to be false. And at what cost?

Footnote

1. The Daily Mail article was by Mail hatchet-man Guy Adams, who afterwards affirmed his confidence in Hale’s credibility. As well as this article, headlined “Chilling day Special Branch swooped to seize ANOTHER dossier on VIP abusers: 16 MPs’ names mentioned in 1984 report on paedophile lobby’s influence in Westminster” (a headline that presents unsubstantiated claims as fact), Adams also penned “Paedophile orgies in luxury flats and claims three boys were murdered by VIPs: Special report into the growing stench of a cover-up by the Establishment”. More recently, though, Adams has been a vocal critic of Heath’s posthumous persecutor Mike Veale, and without pausing for self-reflection has poured scorn on another example of police “VIP abuse” credulity.

Two Supporters of “VIP Abuse” Accuser Esther Baker Settle Libel Claim Brought by Former MP John Hemming

From the Daily Telegraph:

A former MP, who was falsely accused of being part of a VIP paedophile ring, has won a rare libel action over comments made about him on social media.

John Hemming, who was the Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley between 2005 and 2014, had been accused of being part of a group that had abused children in Staffordshire in the 1980s and 1990s.

His accuser, Esther Baker, waived her anonymity in 2015, to make the claims, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), later concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge him.

Now Mr Hemming has won damages and apologies from two of Miss Baker’s supporters, who posted comments online that implied the former politician was guilty.

Graham Wilmer, founder of the Lantern Project a charity, which helps abuse survivors, and journalist David Hencke, who worked for the now defunct website, Exaro, agreed to pay more than £10,000 after accepting their comments were defamatory.

The Telegraph also quotes Hemming as alluding to the case of Declan Canning, a man who was convicted last year of sending him threatening messages – Canning had a grudge against Hemming relating to his activism around family courts, but his messages referred to him as a “dirty paedophile” who had “raped Esther”.

The libel case was settled out of court, and some details of Hencke’s settlement were reported on social media last month: Hencke himself posted a statement about it on 19 December, in which he stated that

Mr Hemming alleges that the article is defamatory of him and suggests that certain passages of that article imply that he is guilty of raping Esther Baker. That is not what I intended the article to mean.

Baker’s allegation against Hemming dates back to 2015, when she made a number of media appearances, although his name was not published. She claimed to have experienced sex abuse as a child in a woodland location at the hands of a group of adults associated with a church, and also including others such as “a Lord” and a “senior politician”. She further alleged that police had guarded the spot and prevented her from escaping; the term “Satanic Ritual Abuse” was not used, but it was obviously implied by the ritualistic setting and role inversions. At the time, with the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Midland in full swing, the media was eagerly reporting any story that pertained to allegations of “VIP abuse”, although a police investigation has since failed to substantiate her claims and more recent headlines refer to her in quote-marks as a alleged “fantasist”. (1)

After Baker first made her claims, Tom Watson MP called for a “comprehensive investigation”, and Baker was also supported by three other Members of Parliament: John Mann (who raised her name in the House of Commons chamber), Sarah Champion and Jess Phillips, who defeated Hemming in the 2015 general election. (2) Hemming’s name remained out of the media, but it was passed around among self-styled activists and featured in in an open-air speech made by Bill Maloney at a protest event opposite Downing Street in June 2015. Hemming went public himself after the police investigation ended in 2017.

Baker says that she remembered Hemming as being one of her childhood abusers after seeing his photograph online. This was around the time when there was some disagreement over proposals for the running of the IICSA, about which Hemming had expressed a view that differed from Wilmer. Wilmer runs a counselling project in Liverpool called the Lantern Project, which has been criticised for its therapeutic approach (NHS funding was withdrawn in late 2015). Baker received assistance from the Lantern Project, although a suggestion in the Sunday Times that her alleged memories had arisen out of counselling there was incorrect. (3)

Wilmer used to have presence on Twitter, where he would repeatedly Tweet the phrase “tick tock” as an apparent indication that critics would soon be the subject of discrediting developments, perhaps including police intervention. I found these aggressive and gleeful posts to be curiously at odds with his professional persona, which had previously been built up in the media over several years.

Somewhat cryptically, the Telegraph story simultaneously quotes Wilmer as apologising for having “caused Mr Hemming and his family upset and distress” but his lawyer as saying that he had “lodged a full defence”.

UPDATE: Baker says that she has submitted formal complaints about the Telegraph and a derivative re-write in the Mail. In particular, she complains that it has been inaccurately reported that Hencke and Wilmer have agreed not to refer to her again as a “victim” or “survivor”, when the restriction refers only to claims that infer Hemming’s guilt. Hencke has also stated that the Telegraph report is inaccurate, and that his settlement included “got no damages, no costs, no apology,no liability over any tweet. I happily agreed to give £500 to Victim Support for domestic abuse.”

Footnotes

1. Baker also alleges that she remembers Hemming from a domestic setting. She has also claimed to have been taken by night to Dolphin Square in London, although this part of her story hasn’t been emphasised for some time, and to have been abused again later as a teenager. However, her teenage allegations appear to be concerned with an unrelated local context (e.g. a former employer) rather than conspiracies involving VIPs.

Baker has further suggested that abuse occurred in foreign orphanages, and in December she said that she has evidence concerning links between “Bristol/Philippines & PIE” (the Paedophile Information Exchange) that she wanted to present to the IICSA, but that she is being prevented from doing so by “Westminster inference”. She heavily implied that her information is pertinent to the case of Douglas Slade, a PIE member from Bristol who committed abuse in the Philippines after moving there in 1980.

2. Phillips addressed disparaging comments about Hemming to Baker and others on Twitter in the wake of the election, stating “I blocked Hemming last night after creepy ‘I’m watching you’ style tweets” – in particular that Hemming “asked me ‘if I was having a nice drink in prince of wales’ which was were I was”. For her part, Champion (who frequently speaks on the subject of grooming gangs) has sympathised with Baker’s complaint about recent sceptical media coverage, Tweeting that “One day they’ll believe the victim – but it feels a very long way off!”

3. Also in 2015, an advocacy group called Reflections UK was founded by Baker, Phil Lafferty and Jenny Tomlin, with Wilmer serving as “Police Liaison Advisor”. The launch was attended by Jess Phillips and Nicky Morgan MPs. The group appears to no longer exist, although an archived version of its website from 2016 can be seen here. At that time, Baker’s co-chairs were Jennie Grace (var. Jenny Grace) and one Jacky Hughes. The bioblurb confirms that Jennie Grace is the same person as Esther Grace, author of a 2009 memoir titled Nowhere to Belong, published by Hodder under the pen-name Harmony Brookes: her account of being repeatedly raped by soldiers on a UK military base as a child was summarised in early 2015 by the Sunday Express‘s James Fielding after she waived her anonymity. Fielding, whose journalism has also promoted Bill Maloney and self-styled “police whistleblower” Jon Wedger, included the detail that police were investigating her claims, but no prosecutions appear to have followed.

Conspiracy Milieu Backs Mike Veale after Resignation as Cleveland Chief Constable

From the Daily Telegraph:

The chief constable in charge of the disastrous Edward Heath sex abuse inquiry has resigned in disgrace less than a year into his new job amid allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards two female officers.

Mike Veale quit “with immediate effect” after being accused of serious misconduct just ten months after taking up his new post as head of Cleveland Police.

Veale was the third Chief Constable of Cleveland Police since Sean Price was dismissed for misconduct in 2012, and it is reasonable to suppose that the force is still struggling with corruption. As such, we should be cautious about taking the allegations at face value, even though Veale should never have been appointed in the first place: he was brought in by Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger despite being under investigation for lying about how he came to smash his work mobile phone, and it has now been reported that Coppinger only acquired a formal job reference for him retrospectively. (1)

Naturally, for the conspiracy milieu, the allegations against Veale are a plot by “the establishment” to discredit the man who exposed a former Prime Minister as a child sex abuser, perhaps even involved in Satanic Ritual Abuse. The journalist Mark Watts – who apparently had nothing else to Tweet about while in Hereford yesterday – wrote that

Any truth to the “new allegations” against Mike Veale? I do not know, but he has long planned on resigning b/c of establishment campaign against him. The price of investigating Ted Heath rather than the usual pretence of “leaving no stone unturned” while busily covering up.

If this is true, the situation is even more problematic for Coppinger. When exactly did Veale make this decision, and how come Watts apparently knew about it long before the PCC or Veale’s colleagues? Watts previously criticised the investigation into Veale’s lie about the mobile phone, suggesting that showed “the authorities are far more worried about a chief constable’s explanation for a broken mobile phone than another chief constable’s alleged role in child sexual abuse” – this was a cryptic reference to allegations that were published on SKWAWKBOX in 2017, which I discussed here.

Also backing Veale is Jon Wedger, a former Metropolitan Police officer who is now deeply embedded in the fringe-right conspiracy milieu. In a Twitter exchange with Richard Hoskins – a consultant who blew the whistle on the Satanic Ritual Abuse aspect of Veale’s Heath investigation – Wegder wrote that “I know Mike personally – he is one of the bravest and most honest cops I’ve ever met. And I trust and have faith in God that the truth about Ted Heath will most defiantly [sic] come out.” Wedger has previously mentioned having private links with Veale, although so far they have never been confirmed by Veale himself. (2)

No word yet, though, from, from Andrew Bridgen, a rent-a-quote MP who has long been a vocal supporter of Veale. Details about the Heath investigation were provided to Brigden by Veale ahead of the publication of the final report – Veale justified his strategic leaking on the spurious grounds that Bridgen was a “stakeholder”, and this seems to be the route by which Veale received sympathetic coverage from the Mail on Sunday‘s political correspondent Simon Walters.

One sensational headline from 2017 – and picked up by other media outlets – was “Police: If Ted Heath was alive today we’d quiz him under caution on child abuse claims”, presented as if this were a proof of a case to answer rather than a routine procedure which requires a very low threshold after a complaint has been made. It is pernicious for the media to keep on implying that police interviews and arrests indicate guilt or even strong suspicion – a mindset in evidence in the more recent “Gatwick drone” media fiasco.

By a curious coincidence, that particular article on Heath was published the day after Veale smashed his phone.

Footnotes

1. Coppinger’s personal enthusiasm for Veale demonstrates the absurdity of PCCs, who make friendly and compliant public appearances with Chief Constables (e.g. here) while also being tasked with holding them to account when complaints are made. In this instance, Coppinger referred Veale to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, but we can guess that he did so with reluctance.

2. Wedger was recently involved with a group of “police whistleblowers”, although concerns have since been raised about him and his friend Maggie Oliver, a former officer lauded for her involvement in investigating the Rochdale grooming gang (and, bizarrely, more recently working in panto). Oliver provided an op-ed in praise of Veale in October 2017, published as a supplement to a softball interview with Veale by Walters.

Dramatisation of Police Memoir Reveals Details of Levi Bellfield Investigation

Last week’s Mail on Sunday included a two-page article by retired Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton, describing how his team at the Metropolitan Police tracked down the serial killer Levi Bellfield in 2004. The piece was published ahead of a three-part dramatisation of the investigation called Manhunt, which was broadcast on ITV over the week and starred Martin Clunes as Sutton. The serial was based on Sutton’s memoir, also called Manhunt.

Bellfield is probably best remembered as the killer of Milly Dowler, whose phone was infamously hacked by the News of the World before her death was confirmed; however, he also had other victims, and it was the investigation of these crimes by Sutton and his team that revealed the link with Milly. As Sutton writes:

We put Bellfield under 24/7 surveillance and, while looking again through his intelligence file, something else struck a chord.

It showed that, in 2002, Bellfield was living at 24 Collingwood Place, Walton-on-Thames – where the van had headed after Amelie [Delagrange]’s murder, and where her phone had last ‘pinged’. I got out an A-Z street map and saw it was virtually opposite Walton railway station. Instantly, I realised the implications.

Milly Dowler had been abducted from Station Avenue, Walton-on-Thames and, although I had never worked on the case, I knew that the last sighting of her was at a nearby bus stop.

Sutton also writes that “the national press” had already “suggested the attacks could be linked to the Milly Dowler case in Walton-on-Thames, six miles away”, but that this had been rejected.

The story depicts Surrey Police as resistant and resentful of a Metropolitan officer suddenly presenting a new theory about a case that they had been working on for several years; and in his Mail on Sunday article, Sutton is critical of Surrey over “very basic investigative work not having been done.” (1) Surrey Police acknowledged mistakes in 2011; and one wonders whether other Surrey investigations suffered from comparable negligence.

Bellfield was convicted of the crimes investigated by the Metropolitan Police in 2008, but not of Milly’s murder in Surrey until 2011. The drama does not go into how the case against him for this crime was developed in the meantime, although a self-publicising former officer named Laura Richards wrote a book taking credit for it, titled Profiling a Killer: Inside the Hunt for Levi Bellfield. According to the blurb:

The disappearance of 13-year-old Milly Dowler gripped the nation in 2002. For six agonising months her family waited for news. Finally, human remains were found which were identified as Milly. Yet the case remained unsolved for eight long years until finally, in 2010, a man already convicted of two other murders was arrested. This man was Levi Bellfield.
 
Laura Richards was the Criminal Behaviour Psychologist working on Milly’s case, as well as several other murders of young women. It was her theory that these murders were linked, and her profiling methods and groundbreaking theories that led directly to new evidence which was used to convict Bellfield.

This was apparently disputed by Sutton, as was reported in the Mail on Sunday in 2016:

Last year, former Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton, who led the Levi Bellfield case, was furious to learn that Ms Richards had exaggerated her part in the investigation of Milly’s killer.

Ms Richards’s forthcoming book, Profiling A Killer, depicted her at the centre of the inquiry and Mr Sutton ‘hit the roof’, according to a former colleague.

‘He wrote to the publishers telling them it was a ‘gross misrepresentation’ and she had overstated her role,’ he said. Penguin Random House said the book was due to be released last June, but that has been postponed until March next year.

It is not known if this is because of Mr Sutton’s complaints.

These details formed part of a longer article raising concerns about Richards’s professional credibility – a matter of some public concern given her public profile as a supposed expert on stalking and as the head of an anti-stalking charity. (2) Richards’s book is listed on Amazon and other sites as having been published in either 2012 or 2015, and it seems that two covers were produced for it (for Transworld and for Bantam). However, no copy is available from anywhere, and it is not listed in the catalogue of the British Library – we than thus be sure that it is a “ghost” book that was never actually published (3).

Footnotes

1. In his book, Sutton also complains that Surrey Police did not share much information with him. He writes that: “Like anyone else outside their team, I was completely ignorant of the mess they had made of dealing with the hacking of Milly’s phone by the News of the World; when that became public knowledge in 2011, their coyness became, to me, a lot more understandable”.

2. For a time, Richards was associated with Nadine Dorries MP, and it remains unknown whether input from her influenced Bedfordshire Police’s decision to waste resources trawling for non-existent evidence that critics of the MP were “stalking” her (pointedly, Dorries did not make any statement in support of Richards after the 2016 MoS article appeared).

3. Another controversy involving Richards was an American documentary series called The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey, which involved a re-investigation of the case “led by former FBI agent and criminal profiler Jim Clemente and behavioral analyst Laura Richards”. The series was criticised for errors, and for what one reviewer called “one of the more ghoulish, disgusting things to recently happen on television”. A defamation case was afterwards brought against CBS and “other parties” including Richards, and has just recently been settled in Colorado. I recently noted a few things about criminal profiling here.

Conspiracy Milieu Doubles Down on Hampstead Satanic Ritual Abuse Hoax after Sabine McNeill Sentenced to Nine Years

Brian Gerrish, presenter of the conspiracy website UK Column, reacts to news of the sentence passed on Sabine McNeill following her conviction for stalking offences relating to the Hampstead Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax last month:

Many people were shocked & saddened yesterday to hear that Sabine McNeill was given a 9 year sentence for stalking and breach of a restraining order. Two children recount events which no child of that age could possibly know without experiencing it. They are silenced as is Sabine

The two children in fact “recounted events” that were so extravagant that no reasonable person would take them at face value: they described a Satanic cult at their local school and church that received babies through the mail from Europe that were cooked and eaten in a back room at the local McDonalds, where up to 400 cult members would dance around in baby-skin shoes while wearing necklaces of baby skulls. They also provided precociously explicit accounts of sexual abuse, having been coached by their mother and stepfather, who have since left the country.

McNeill’s role in the hoax was to publicise details of parents, teachers, and children at the school, with devastating consequences for those she implicated; the nine-year sentence may appear harsh, but it reflects the gravity and extent of the harm that she caused. The website Hoaxtead Research has the judge’s sentencing remarks:

This was conduct intended to maximise distress and fear, there was a high level of planning involved in your use of the internet, and changing of settings between your blogs and changing sites when necessary. It was persistent over four years. 

…In terms of harm, the harm caused was very serious distress, there has been significant psychological harm, and the victims’ lives have changed to a hugely significant degree. The harm level is 1. 

Aggravating features are that you used a position of trust to start this campaign; the material was grossly offensive; the impact on children has been significant; you are in breach of a conditional discharge; you have a previous conviction for breach of the restraining order; your targets… include those in a position of serving the public, namely teachers and church staff.

Despite this outcome, Gerrish’s Tweet indicates that the conspiracy milieu will continue to believe and promote false and foul allegations against innocent people. Gerrish lacks the flamboyance or charisma of Alex Jones and David Icke (apparently he has a background as a naval officer, although his demeanour more readily brings to mind a 1980s supply teacher), and his UK Column videos have been rightly mocked by Hoaxtead as “newsroom cosplay”, but he is a significant conduit for promoting conspiracy beliefs in the UK, interviewing the likes of Jon Wedger and Wilfred Wong. On the populist right, McNeill has been described as a political prisoner by Tracey Blackwell, who is currently in the limelight for her “Yellow Vest” activism in central London alongside James Goddard.

Rather than admit to having made a bad investment (and Gerrish was also actively involved in promoting the Hampstead claims), the instinct is either to double-down or scrub the evidence, rather than to admit to having colluded in a terrible error that needs to be put right with a corrective repudiation. The prosecution’s characterisation of McNeill as an “online troll” suggests isolation and obscurity, but at the height of her Hampstead activism she made numerous appearances on alternative media outlets: the Richie Allen Show has deleted an old Tweet advertising “SABINE McNEILL Live Now Talking About COVER-UP OF SATANIC CHILD ABUSE IN HAMPSTEAD”; other appearances include on Bastion Radio’s Sunday Night Show, in discussion with Tony Gosling, and on Truth Frequency Radio’s Kev Baker Show. The allegations have also been promoted in the USA, primarily by a man named Thomas Dunn.

McNeill’s defence barrister said the false allegations “are no more all that defines Ms McNeill than the Hampstead allegations are all that define the parents”. It is irritating to see the the harm McNeill has brought on herself presented as equivalent to the much greater harm she has inflicted on others, but it is the case that McNeill already had profile as an activist interacting with public figures before she embraced the Hampstead hoax.

One of her causes over the years is the “Forum for Stable Currencies“; according to the website, between 2003 and 2005 she organised events that were convened by Lord Sudeley FSA, hosted by Lord Ahmed, and chaired by a businessman named Donald Martin and Austin Mitchell MP (with Canon Peter Challen taking the minutes). She also co-ran an organisation called the “Association of Mckenzie Friends”, which supports parents caught up in the family court system; patrons were formerly the MPs Jon Hemming and – once again – Austin Mitchell (1). In 2014, her efforts in this capacity were praised by the Telegraph journalist Christopher Booker, although the judge in her trial has observed that “when you were asked in this court what the duties of a McKenzie friend are, you did not know” (2).

Her work in this area also brought her into contact with Ian Josephs, an anti-family court activist (3) who has attempted to rationalise what has happened in a comment now posted to the Hoaxtead website:

…At the time of her sentencing, [Tracey Connelly] she was told she would serve a minimum of five years for causing or allowing her son Peter’s death. Tracey Connelly, the mother who allowed her 17-month-old son Baby P to be tortured to death by her lover, has reportedly been released from prison.

Sabine tortured no-one,physically hurt nobody at all .She just used words.Yet she was sentenced to 12 years reduced to nine ! Seem excessive to me even if she was mistaken in her accusations. After all the police released pretty convincing interviews with children who accused their teachers and parents and if they were coached nobody has ever said Sabine told them what to say.

I do not know all the facts and neither does anybody else because most of the evidence in the trial was heard in secret which makes the trial itself suspect…………….

This is being deliberately obtuse, but it shows how the trial is likely to be mythologised within the conspiracy milieu. The trial was not “secret” – it was open to the public every day, and reported extensively on the Hoaxtead website. There were, though, reporting restrictions to protect the identities of minors and those who have been falsely accused, and identity checks for the public gallery were introduced after some antics that amounted to contempt of court (4). “I do not know all the facts” here means “I wish to reserve my right to make pronouncements without engaging with the facts”.

Footnotes

1. Hemming was later accused of ritual abuse by Esther Baker – her claims were implausible and a police investigation was unable to substantiate them, although she continues to drop hints of some revelation that will vindicate her at some point in the future. In contrast to conspiricist support for McNeill, Baker and her associates imply that McNeill’s conviction somehow supports the narrative about Hemming. The key word here, though, is “imply”, as there is no coherent basis for such an inference. It is literally “guilt by association”.

2. McNeill co-ran this organisation with Belinda McKenzie, a 9/11 Truther who was formerly David Shayler’s landlord. McKenzie has just today herself been convicted of contempt of court for having named on Facebook protected witnesses at the McNeill trial.

3. Josephs famously assisted a young woman named Marie Black in relocating to France to escape a threat of forced adoption by social workers in Norwich. Black was later convicted of running a paedophile ring; incongruously, her innocence has been affirmed by at least one believer in the Hampstead hoax, as I discuss here (I also have doubts about her conviction, as it happens).

4. A man named Paul Rogers, who documents and promotes various right-leaning protests in London under the name “Eddie Isok”, made videos in which he named witnesses despite reporting restrictions and promised that he intended to film “certain people” outside Southwark Crown Court, “and then certain people in the know, I will tell them who these people are, right, and they will deal with it”. Another activist who showed up to report proceedings claimed that he was assaulted by an agent of the “Zionist conspiracy”.

Some Notes on the London “Yellow Vests” and Protests at Parliament Square

The opportunistic rebranding of the “Justice for Our Boys” campaign into a copycat “Yellow Vest” movement focusing on pro-Brexit stunts in central London has proven a huge success: when I wrote about the group in September, it was just one fringe-right presence at “Free Tommy” events; now, its strategies of traffic disruption and aggressive confrontations with Members of Parliament in and near Parliament Square has been rewarded with national headlines and comments in the House of Commons, and provoked debates around policing and freedom of protest. The group’s figurehead (he insists he is not the leader) James Goddard has currently eclipsed Robinson as the street face of the populist right. Here are a few observations.

1. Right-populist protests movements often complain that they are mischaracterised as “far right” and “racist”. However, Goddard allegedly has a history of using the ethnic slur “Paki”, and he has suggested that black people of whom he disapproves should go back to “Bongo Land” or “the jungle”. This is racism, although it may be casual rather than ideological: when the group’s protest on Saturday chanced upon some Cameroonians demonstrating about the situation in southern Cameroon they happily joined in, explicitly commenting that this would confound allegations of racism. Goddard also wants mass deportations of Muslims.

2. The group is heavily invested in conspiracy theories. Goddard’s Yellow Vest incorporates the WWG1WGA slogan popularised in the US by Qanon believers, and at one event in July he suggested that the country is run by “Satanic paedophiles” (for some reason now reported in the Daily Mail as “hostile paedophiles”. Tracey Blackwell (var. Tracy Blackwell), who is also a figurehead for the group, used the “Where We Go One We Go All” phrase in a pep-talk ahead of Saturday’s protest, amplifying its use by a member of the crowd, and last month she described Melanie Shaw and Sabine McNeill as political prisoners – since then, McNeill has been sentenced to nine years in prison for stalking offences relating to the Hampstead Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax.

3. There were four arrests during Saturday’s protest, in relation to scuffles with the police. One of these, of a 13-year-old girl, was first reported as an “attack on policeman”, which then escalated into the plural “assaulting officers”. Having seen a video of the incident (no link as there are laws about identifying minors in relation to arrests), though, this seems to me to be overblown. The girl appears to have been overwrought at officers corralling her mother: she shouts “don’t push her, don’t fucking push her”, and the arrest came when she shouted “get off of me” as an officer appeared (the view is obscured) to restrain her arm. I would be surprised if charges follow.

4. Why hasn’t Goddard been arrested on public order offences? I once saw a homeless man being arrested on Euston Road after he decided for some reason to sit in the middle of traffic; yet the police now look on while Westminster Bridge and other vital links across the river are deliberately blocked, and while Members of Parliament have been aggressively accosted in the street. Goddard was also filmed shouting at police that “You want a war I’ll give you a war”, which sounds very much like incitement to disorder (or perhaps even incitement to riot). Dai Davies, the former head of the Met’s territorial support unit, has said that he would have arrested them.

5. There has been particular focus on the group’s targeting of Anna Soubry, the high-profile Remain MP. Soubry was re-elected in 2017 on an openly Remainer platform, but the protesters take the view that her opposition to the referendum result means that she is a “Nazi”. The word was chanted at her during an open-air television interview, and she was recently approached in the street by Goddard and his associates and denounced as a “traitor”. As David Aaronovitch notes:

The issue is not being called a Nazi. Everybody gets called a Nazi some time. Doesn’t matter who you are. However, what was happening to the Tory MP Anna Soubry this week within spitting distance of parliament was physical intimidation. When a group of loud and angry men surround you, shout at you and seem to want to kill you, it’s intimidating. It feels like one small step away from serious violence.

It seems to me that this particular incident went beyond what an MP might reasonably expect to have to put up with, and officers should have intervened to at least warn the men to back off to a reasonable distance. This would not be inconsistent with the “right to let politicians know what you think of them”, which the predictable contrarian Brendan O’Neill believes is at risk from “privately educated political and media classes” who regard the protesters with distaste due to their working-class accents (1).

O’Neill’s view is that Soubry’s “quite minor travails” have been exaggerated, although it looks to me that such an assessment more properly applies to complaints about Remainer protests. Here’s David Davies, the Monmouth MP (and former boxer), unconvincingly claiming in February to being “intimidated” by SODEM, the Stand of Defiance European Movement; and the pro-Brexit Nadine Dorries – who despises Soubry and spread a lie about her on social media after the Brexit Referendum – has now produced an article for Conservative Home in which she alleges “I have barely been able to use my own office for over a year, thanks to the ‘Stop Brexit’ campaigners outside of my window”. This is difficult to credit for a couple reasons: first, that Dorries does not normally require a news bandwagon if she has a grievance about something; and second, that a photo posted by Dorries several months ago shows that the protesters are in fact in Old Palace Yard, across the main road from Parliament and several stories below her. (2)

Despite this, though, O’Neill has a point about the right to protest in Parliament Square, and we should be wary about how the law may be deployed to curtail protest activity: a month ago, the SODEM activist Steve Bray reported that a police officer had told him that his attempts to position himself in the background of news reports amounted to criminal damage of a cameraman’s footage – a completely bogus suggestion that might have led to a wrongful arrest. No sign of O’Neill then, though.

Footnotes

1. While O’Neill is scathing about Soubry’s complaints, he took a different view when a Muslim charity in Yorkshire complained about Sarah Champion’s op-ed in the Sun on Sunday which she herself said had been “stripped of nuance” by editors. In that instance, O’Neill took at face value her claims that the criticisms amounted to threats from extremists, and he cited the murder of Jo Cox MP.

2. Dorries also used her article to rehash old stalking allegations that went nowhere after a police investigation in 2013-14. I’ll note in passing that her new version of the story contains further falsehoods that serve to underline why the CPS declined to carry the matter forward, and why Bedfordshire Police are unlikely to take any new allegations from her at face value. Most recently, she has claimed to be “speaking [to] police” about disparaging remarks about her made by the broadcaster James O’Brien.

Police Whistleblowers’ Group Raises Concerns about Jon Wedger and Maggie Oliver

The Independent Police Support Group, which has existed since 2004 to provide “moral support and guidance to police whistleblowers or those who have been bullied”, has posted a statement raising concerns about the self-declared status of Jon Wedger and Maggie Oliver as “police whistleblowers”.

Oliver is the more famous of the two: she is widely respected for her role in exposing the Rochdale “grooming gang”, and she is today a fully fledged celebrity: a year ago she appeared on Celebrity Big Brother, and she has just ended 2018 by doing panto at the Benn Hall in the town of Rubgy (billed as “Rochdale whistleblower”, which is a bit dark for light entertainment).

Wedger, though, has also featured in the media, most notably in the Sunday Express, and he has been endorsed by his local MP, Mike Penning. I’ve written about him on this blog a number of times due to his associations with conspiracy theorists, including promoters of the Hampstead Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax and figures on the fringe right (one video promoted on his website is titled “Insight UK Column – Support for Tommy Robinson”). Oliver has spoken warmly of Wedger in at least one video where they appear together, and her endorsement may help mainstream Wedger’s activism.

The statement, by the IPSG’s Julian King, is titled “The Whistleblowing Bandwagon”, and it raises a number of issues. These include:

  • Inconsistent accounts: “With regards to Maggie’s case there is this glaring difference as to the reason she left the force, having known Mr Wedger for 4 years and each being a listening ear for each other according to video footage, it is still unclear as to what actually happened or why different versions have been given.”
  • The question of why neither Wedger nor Oliver have ever “sought to use their right to take their respective police forces to an employment tribunal with regards to their treatment”, and why Wedger says police officers have no legal protections: “This is not true when whistleblowing is involved as police officers are covered by section 191 of the Employment rights Act 1996 and the Public Interest Disclosure Act.”
  • Wedger’s silence about his allegations for several years: “We would have expected Jon to have formally challenged the corrupt behaviour by his boss at that time…. Staying silent for so many years especially; with regards to the seriousness of the matters alleged is not an option for a police officer.”
  • An allegation of Satanic Ritual Abuse made against a chief constable on the basis of Wedger providing King with “a section” of the RAINS list, which “appeared to contain everyone and their uncle so has to be treated with caution” (more on RAINS here).
  • Wedger providing inaccurate accounts of whistleblowing by other officers, in particular King: “no efforts have been made to correct the information”.
  • Wedger’s complaint that he was not promoted for his police work: “police officers know that everyone goes through the same promotion system by completing Sergeants exams and applying for a selection board when suitably qualified.”
  • Wedger’s claims to have a network of whistleblowers supporting him: “none appear to have supported him publicly recently and it is interesting that the posters being displayed [at a protest event] show just 3 officers, Jon and two senior officers Mike Veale and Bob Quick. The senior officers do not appear to be whistleblowers.”