Private Eye Runs Articles on Carl Beech, Tabloid Journalism and “Believe the Victim”

The latest issue of Private Eye magazine  (1502, 9-22 August) has a couple of pieces that put the Carl Beech “VIP abuse” hoax into wider contexts.

“Running Aground on the Beech” (page 9) overviews some press coverage, starting with how the initial story appeared in the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People. It is good to see these titles named: for instance, while the Daily Mail has been running polemical articles about the scandal on a daily basis in which it refers to the “now-discredited news website Exaro”, its tabloid rivals are described only vaguely as “a red-top newspaper” – a nice example of “dog doesn’t bite dog” (1).

The piece then goes on to note some examples of press humbug. The Daily Mail‘s current stance is welcome, but the Eye reminds us that in late 2014 the paper’s Guy Adams produced a sensationalising piece that headlined to “the stench of a cover-up by the establishment” and built on the Sunday People reports to include comments from John Mann MP (“who has curiously escaped the denunciations the paper has been meting out to his Labour colleague [Tom] Watson”) and that described old articles in the scurrilous 1990s Scallywag magazine as “intriguing”. The Eye also notes that the paper’s current assistant editor, Simon Walters, previously wrote credulous splashes for the Mail on Sunday about Edward Heath, which is of significance when the Daily Mail quotes Heath’s godson Lincoln Seligman as referring to “some elements of the media” who had run stories traducing Heath despite lack of evidence. The Mail would rather we focus on the “disgraced” Exaro rather than anyone closer to home.

Finally, the article contrasts Nick Ferrari attacking Tom Watson in his column in the Daily Star Sunday with a 2012 editorial in the same paper commending Watson and saluting his “determination to get justice for the victims”.

“A Brief History of Belief” (page 37), meanwhile, looks at how the police investigation was underpinned by instructions during 2013 from Keir Stamer as Director of Public Prosecutions that investigators should “believe the victim”:

Complaining of an “over-cautious” approach to victims, he says: “At the moment there is a great deal of focus on whether the victim is telling the truth… We cannot afford another Savile moment”.

This was followed by interim guidelines from the Crown Prosecution Service and the College of Policing advising investigators to focus on the credibility of allegations than possible weaknesses, and then final guidelines from the DPP, described by Stamer as “the biggest shift for a generation”. A year later, and just as Beech was making contact with police, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary further advised in a report on crime-recording that “immediately, forces should ensure that… the presumption that the victim should always be believed is institutionalised”. College of Policing advice has now been softened to the more reasonable principle that “victims can be confident they will be listened to and their crime taken seriously”.

The article also notes criticisms made by the retired High Court judge Richard Henriques, who warned of “miscarriages of justice” and that those making such allegations should be referred to as “complainants” rather than “victims”. It seems we cannot afford another Beech moment.


1. I was reminded of this expression just last night when it was used in the first episode of the mid-1980s journalism drama series Lytton’s Diary, currently being repeated on Talking Pictures TV.