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?


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.