2001: The News of the World and a “Huge Police Dossier” of Celebrity Abuse Allegations

Simon Just of Real Troll Exposure has drawn attention to an interesting News of the World article from November 2001, which was published in the wake of record producer Jonathan King’s conviction for underage sex abuse against five complainants:

A HUGE police dossier details the child sex secrets of some of Britain’s favourite stars. The 700-page report, studied by the News of the World, makes horrifying reading

TV star Jonathan King, jailed for seven years this week for a string of underage sex offences, is simply the first name in a gigantic police initiative codenamed Operation Arundel.

The investigation by Surrey police grew out of the orginal [sic] inquiry into 56-year-old King’s activities.

A bulleted list of “King’s debauched cronies” follows, although “for legal reasons” (i.e. lack of evidence) the paper did not provide any names. The article refers to a “chart star” who “cultivates a squeaky-clean image”; a “pop idol” who has been “named as a paedophile”; a “TV presenter” who is “close pals” with a “convicted paedophile”; a “peer” who has served in the House of Lords more than 20 years as a Lib-Dem, and whose “name was put forward”; “two DJs”, who are “said to be at the heart of King’s paedophile ring”; and “a “record producer”. The article, by Ben Proctor and Mike Jarvis, ends by asking: “Do you recognise any of the men in the police dossiers as your abuser? Ring 0207 782 1001… A sympathetic reporter will be waiting to take your call.” For some reason, a distinction is made between the dossier itself and “a list held by Scotland Yard”.

The article foreshadows the many headlines about “celebrity sex abuse” that have appeared in the British media in recent years – and it raises the question of to what extent old allegations may have been cross-contaminated or inspired by media hints, and how police leaks and media exposés may have fed off each other, with troubling end results. And this is not some natural development – the leaker of the “huge police dossier” shows how the agency of particular individuals may influence outcomes.

First, though, the backstory. The article was published a year after News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks (now Wade) had decided to suspend her paper’s “name and shame” anti-paedophile campaign, set up in the wake of the murder of the schoolgirl Sarah Payne. The campaign had led to outbreaks of public disorder during 2000 – most notoriously, a doctor’s house was attacked based on a confusion between the words “paediatrician” and “paedophile”, but the last straw was when a convicted sex abuser who had been released from prison went missing after fleeing a mob. However, outrage over child sex abuse remained a tabloid staple, and a “700-page report” would be an irresistible prospect.

Jonathan King has always maintained his innocence, and in 2005 following his release from prison his website was shut down after he made scathing comments about one of the complainants – a complaint was made to his internet provider by an activist named Shy Keenan (discussed here), who had been paired with Sarah Payne’s mother Sara by the News of the World to continue campaigning against underage sex abuse. The incident was reported in the Mirror as “Perv King’s Web Filth Shut Down“, a headline that falsely inferred that he was running a pornographic website.

In 2014, the evidence gathered against King in 2000 was reviewed, and Surrey Police decided to bring a new charge against him: he was put on trial last year, but this time there was a different outcome: the trial collapsed due to the discovery of police failures that must now cast a shadow over the original convictions (see commentary by Daniel Finkelstein here). One detail was that

In 2014 Surrey Police also learnt that former detective Mark Williams-Thomas, who helped run the original inquiry and is now an investigative journalist, was allegedly offering to sell information on – and introductions to – King’s victims.

I discussed Williams-Thomas’s response to this discovery here.

Williams-Thomas left Surrey Police in October 2000 – this was a year before the News of the World revealed the existence of the “700-page report”, but it ought to have been obvious to the force that this leak was the work of Mark Williams-Thomas – so why was no action taken against him?

In 2001, Williams-Thomas was not a public figure. However, that changed in 2012 when he made the Exposure documentary denouncing the late Jimmy Savile. Simon notes one particular media profile that appeared a few months after the documentary, which again refers to a “dossier”:

Williams-Thomas has worked closely with Scotland Yard’s Operation Yewtree inquiry into abuse by Savile and others, sharing new leads and contact details for victims as he proceeds. He has a dossier featuring a catalogue of allegations alongside the names of about 20 suspects, including some household names, which he has shared with detectives. In some cases that has led to arrests, he says, although he does not reveal names.

A number of figures, including the comedian Freddie Starr, DJ Dave Lee Travis and PR man Max Clifford, are on police bail waiting to learn whether they will face sexual offence charges after being detained under Operation Yewtree.

It is odd to juxtapose “He does not reveal names” with a list of names; it is reasonable to infer a connection between the names and the dossier, and to assume that this dossier is the 2001 police report – although the hook that these are all “King’s debauched cronies” has been jettisoned (Operation Arundel had closed in 2003).

Operation Yewtree has yielded some convictions that it is reasonable to regard as safe. However, some of the investigations have been persecutory and raise questions about police conduct – Jim Davidson and Paul Gambaccini have both written books that raise serious concerns, and Freddie Starr, Jimmy Tarbuck and Cliff Richard have made public appearances where it is obvious that unsubstantiated and/or impossible allegations have taken a toll on personal wellbeing.

The involvement of Williams-Thomas came under particular scrutiny in a Mail on Sunday article by David Rose and Rosie Waterhouse last November, in a piece headlined “How a self-promoting TV detective, obsessed with celebrity sex abusers, helped police ruin the lives of Sir Cliff and a string of other famous faces… who all turned out to be TOTALLY INNOCENT” – Williams-Thomas responded by pointing out a previous article by Rose that had ended with a libel payout, which was hardly a substantive response. (1)

The 2001 News of the World article gives the impression that this game of ping-pong has been going on for the best part of twenty years or more: a police/ex-police source leaks to the media, and the story prompts the police to take further action, which generates new stories. The Savile documentary turbo-charged this process. (2)

Meanwhile, Williams-Thomas has a book out soon: Hunting Killers, the cover of which advertises itself as “Britain’s top crime investigator reveals how he solves the unsolvable”. According to the blurb:

Death has a unique smell. I’ve been in the presence of people who have killed; I’ve been in rooms where people have been killed. I’ve seen the unspeakable things human beings are capable of. None of that puts me off my aim; I want to see those people caught, convicted and sent to jail.

The criminologist James Treadwell was not impressed by this, for reasons he outlined in a Twitter thread (here, here, here and here). Given the ephemeral nature of the site, I’ll quote in full:

I think I have probably been in VASTLY more lengthy interviews with murderers than most criminologists. I can name names, but don’t. Many would mean nothing to most people anyway. But this sort of narrative line, It is cheap, simplistic and horrible. Homicide, rather than murder happens for an array of complex reasons, involving a diverse cast of offenders and victims. The impact is a far wider way than often recognised, and simplistic tropes of “hunting”, “wickedness” and “evil” are, in my humble opinion, just utter crap.

Victims and offenders deserve better, as do all involved. A far bigger cast is involved. Much of the criminal justice work is mundane and frustrating and, well all a bit dull. That work doesn’t end with conviction. Some of the most dull and tragic people I have met were murderers.

A final thing. If you need to tell people how significant you are on the cover of your book, you probably aren’t. So even if your publisher swallows the line, most criminologists and people with half a clue won’t. So please, just for your sake, don’t start to believe the hype.

Publication is now imminent – although for some reason Williams-Thomas has recently closed down his Twitter account.


1. This response was recently noted by self-described “police whistleblower” Jon Wedger, after Rosie Waterhouse asked some difficult questions concerning a man recently produced by Wedger and his associate Anna Brees as a new Edward Heath accuser. Wedger says he now intends to “target” journalists who write sceptically about allegations.

2. This dynamic may have parallels with other subjects – for instance, Rebekah Brooks was later responsible at the Sun for a bogus terror-related story in 2009 derived from false information provided by a self-described activist who had been involved with a group that had links with police.

19 Responses

  1. “However, that changed in 2012 when he made the Disclosure documentary…”

    ‘Exposure’. And not sure about the ‘documentary’ tag!

  2. The list likely included Chris Denning . I don’t think anyone, including himself, has ever denied that he is a recalcitrant and irreformable child abuser.

    • Yes @tdf it did include Denning, he is the person in Prague listed after the “Lord” in the list. The issue with that list is that it was published in the middle of ongoing investigations in Operation Arundel and has raised some concerns about the way in which it was leaked and the reasons why. It also obviously causes other problems for the likes of MWT.

      • Ah ok. Yes I appreciate that it was problematic. I wouldn’t trust anything from the NOTW without corroboration. Some on the list were probably gay but not paedophiles. Of course in more recent years the Mirror’s articles about Leon Brittan (they didn’t name him but everyone in the know knew who they meant) were equally problematic if not more so.

  3. Thank you for describing me as Record Producer – which I have always regarded as my primary occupation (traditional media prefer DJ as it fits the anti-BBC agenda). Yes; the dots seem at last to be coming together; Simon Just’s brilliant and accurate piece makes it far clearer (even I never spotted the Heath/Arundel link). The CCRC are still considering my potential appeal on the wrongful convictions from 2001 based on a wealth of fresh evidence which emerged during the 2018 “debacle” – HHJ Taylor’s word. Much of it involves MWT’s behaviour during that period. A truly disturbing social phenomenon which wrecked my personal career (I was about to become Global Chairman of EMI Records which, I believe, would have changed the face of the British music industry). Fortunately I survived, had a fantastic time during my three and a half years in Her Majesty’s prison estate – helping so many get released on appeal and writing letters for those who could neither read nor write (no wonder they could not comprehend Archbold). And allowing me to crusade for the thousands of other innocents jailed or, indeed, dead. I bet many of your readers are not aware that Legal Aid – if the falsely accused are found guilty – must be repaid; making hundreds of prisoners sell their homes and tossing wives and children onto the streets. I was staggered by the horrors of the Judicial System. I think God for being blessed with a decent Judge in 2018; with a brilliant Private Investigator (hen’s teeth); with a good legal team (Bird and Blaxland) – all on Legal Aid. For me, this change of career was a blessing; the benefits of the help I have been able to give those pursued by bent or incompetent cops and vindictive CPS far outweighed those given me by Una Paloma Blanca. I’m loving my new career and bless people like yourself, Just and the belated Woffinden and Raccoon for joining The King’s Army.

    • ^ I for one was not aware that Legal Aid must be repaid if the accused is found guilty. I am quite shocked by this.

      • Yes very much one of my current campaigns – I shall do a more detailed post on this over on KingOfHits.com. JK

      • ^ thank you. It is quite outrageous, but I can see the perverse logic to their policy. They want to encourage more to plead guilty. This is yet another factor driving the level of false accusations and false convictions. They then go to the public via favoured churnalists (deliberate typo) in the media and boast about their conviction rates!

    • I have a barrister friend who defends people accused of these types of crime, but there is very little money in it these days.

      Another barrister friend who used to defend IRA suspects has gone over to the very lucrative ‘family courts’ which is where all the money is now.

      Surprised to hear about legal aid having to be re-payed though.

  4. Some minor corrections – MWT left Surrey Police in October 2000 – before my arrest, but after he had spent a great deal of time alone with the original False Accuser, now a proven liar (I was acquitted of all his false claims when they were revived in 2018). And there were five, not three, False Accusers in 2001 – all of whom, an “ex Surrey Police officer” claimed, would refuse to testify in 2001 in return for £5000 each (payable to him, of course). The CCRC are currently investigating that, amongst other fresh evidence.

  5. Not entirely sure why you seek to attribute some respectability to Yewtree: “Operation Yewtree has yielded some convictions that it is reasonable to regard as safe”

    Given it was launched on the back of “paedophile” allegations about Jimmy Savile and suggestions of a “Ring” and Spindler remarked via the media to “Savile’s accomplices” that “we’re coming for you”, no conviction has ever related to Savile.

    Glitter was convicted of allegations previously not prosecuted back in the early 2000s. Denning was like a cherry waiting to be picked and had previous convictions going back to 1976. DLT had no allegations relating to paedophilia. Rolf Harris has already had one conviction overturned. Clifford’s case was all about starlets, though the judge chose to make statements about an unprosecuted paedophilic allegation from Spanish jurisdiction. Dr. Salmon had prior convictions going back to 1983, when Savile was at his peak at Stoke Mandeville. Geoffrey Wheeler is only notable as not being THE Geoffrey Wheeler.

    There really is no way to defend Yewtree; it was an utter abomination, predicated on a now proven false premise.

    • I would agree with Moor on this and the ramifications spread far and wide. My friend Gambo waxes lyrical on Yewtree. Although my main villains were Surrey Police (also responsible for Deepcut, Milly Dowler, Breck Bednar) I think this sickness is deep and entranched. It is time for severe changes in the law and serious correction for police behaviour.

  6. In 2014 an enterprising Sydney lawyer went to the High Court in Canberra and successfully fought a case whereby he over-turned a 100 year old precedent that a jailed innocent person released on appeal (his client, a woman had spent 10 years in jail on a trumped up ‘attempted murder” charge) could not sue the NSW Police for “malicious prosecution”. Eventually the NSW Government rather than face a lawsuit in that case awarded the woman $4.5M compensation plus costs. This also means the High Court decision will spread to other Australian states. This is badly needed in the UK. When police know there will be no sanction even if they are found to have lied and perverted the course of justice (ask the freed alleged “IRA bombers” of course they will bend the rules.

  7. “Operation Yewtree has yielded some convictions that it is reasonable to regard as safe.”

    The Rolf Harris conviction is not safe, IMHO.

    Some reasons why are summarised here: https://www.change.org/p/review-the-conviction-of-rolf-harris-it-is-a-miscarriage-of-justice

    More detailed arguments can be found on the Support Justice for Rolf Harris Facebook page.

    Mark Williams-Thomas was involved in the Rolf Harris case too. He broadcast Rolf Harris’s name worldwide in the Savile/sexual offences context months before Rolf Harris was arrested or charged, to a frenzy of retweeting when the Savile furore, with news of allegations and compensation claims, was in full swing:

    “Breaking : Rolf Harris currently being interviewed under caution at police station as part of #Savile other #sexual offences”

    That wording could have given anyone in the world with an internet connection the bones, easily fleshed out through online research, of Jimmy Savile-style allegations against Rolf Harris. It is reasonable to assume that the tweet was seen by more than the several hundred who retweeted it.

    The tweet was also sent on the day on which the Leveson report was published, 29 November 2012: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/leveson-inquiry-report-into-the-culture-practices-and-ethics-of-the-press

    The report said: “I think that it should be made abundantly clear that save in exceptional and clearly identified circumstances (for example, where there may be an immediate risk to the public), the names or identifying details of those who are arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released to the press or the public” (paras 2.39 on page 791 and 3.3 on page 984 of Volume II https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/270941/0780_ii.pdf).

    So at the very least Mark Williams-Thomas’s tweet flew in the face of that report. The question is: did he tweet that information off his own bat, or did the police/CPS approve or instigate the release of the name in that context? They did not have the tweet removed from Twitter, so clearly were not concerned that it might attract people who, unlike victims of crime, would need hints about Savile-style sexual offences to be dropped, i.e. might otherwise not have thought to make accusations against Rolf Harris.

    Following the verdict, Mark Williams-Thomas appeared on ITV’s This Morning alongside the DPP. He was said (blurb under video) to have been “liaising with the victims of Rolf Harris for many months” (https://www.itv.com/thismorning/hot-topics/rolf-harris-the-verdict-guilty).

    I think Rolf Harris’s chances of facing false allegations were significantly enhanced after his name was advertised in that way and for a journalist to be to-ing and fro-ing between accusers seems highly questionable, especially as they were supposed to have independent stories.

    Rolf Harris was finally cleared on appeal of the allegation that he molested a 7 or 8-year-old in an autograph queue, but the other allegations, including one by a woman whose story had many parallels with an earlier Savile allegation published online, still stand. All four of his accusers claimed compensation and there has been no word as to whether the woman who made the autograph queue allegation has been required to pay back the tens of thousands of pounds she obtained.

    Further questions might be asked about the approach taken by Operation Yewtree police, given what apparently happened in the Jim Davidson and Dave Lee Travis cases. Jim Davidson indicated in his book that the police had enabled an accuser to switch her allegation to a different venue after he told them that her original venue was not a place he had visited. Something similar happened in the Dave Lee Travis case too, according to his barrister (who also represented Rolf Harris in his later trials that did not result in a conviction and in his partially successful appeal):

    “Cross-examining the officer, Mr Vullo said: “There are some very troubling things that have happened in this case.

    “I don’t suggest you have done anything wrong but I don’t absolve all police officers of wrongdoing.”

    Mr Vullo told the jury there was “evidence” that an alleged victim, who claims she was assaulted by Mr Travis at a pantomime, had been “tipped off” by police that the Chuckle Brothers could not remember an incident she reported.”

    So I would suggest that it is not reasonable to regard Rolf Harris’s conviction as safe or necessarily any of the other convictions achieved by Operation Yewtree.

  8. Correction: “…who also represented Rolf Harris in his later trials, which did not result in a conviction, and in his partially successful appeal…” (Neither of Rolf Harris’s subsequent trials resulted in a conviction.)

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