A Note on Carl Beech, Peter Saunders and NAPAC

In 2016, David Aaronovitch wrote about the climate in which the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse came into being; his account includes a detail from July 2014:

Peter Saunders, the founder of NAPAC (an organisation to support adult survivors of child abuse) told the Iranian-owned Press TV station that he had received allegations of abuse “at the highest level of government”. He went on: “Some of the men in Westminster indulged in the most disgusting abuse of young children . . . allegedly

. . . When you have good reason to believe that it goes to the top of the political tree then it’s very worrying. Past prime ministers, past senior members of the British cabinet, have been mentioned as abusing children. It doesn’t get much worse than that.”

Press TV, of course, has its own interests in promoting the idea that British institutions are utterly corrupt and depraved – Iran’s line is that “compared to Western countries, we have very few cases of abuse because of our cultural and religious characteristics”, and Press TV has not troubled to report allegations that well-connected individuals in the country can evade justice for exactly this crime. Saunders’s decision to allow himself to be used by an authoritarian regime’s propaganda outlet is a matter for his own conscience, but I would have advised against it.

The interview can be viewed on Press TV’s YouTube channel – it begins by giving the date as “9-7-2014”, and the upload date confirms that this means 9 July 2014. This date is perhaps significant, as noted by Simon Just: The Telegraph‘s recent long-lead about the Carl Beech hoax has the following detail:

The meeting between Beech and [Tom] Watson was set up for July 8th 2014. Mr [Mark] Conrad and a social worker Peter McKelvie, who was a member of a victims’ panel with the national child abuse inquiry, accompanied Beech.

Conrad was with Exaro News, and he invested heavily in Beech’s claims (I wrote about Conrad yesterday, and McKelvie a while back). Beech’s allegations did not become public until a few months later, but was there coordination between Saunders and the others here? As Simon notes, Exaro’s Mark Watts formerly had a show on Press TV – it was a while before, but contacts may have been retained.

We know that Beech had some involvement with NAPAC – in October 2012, the NAPAC newsletter ran a poem by him, which was published under his own full name (a pdf of the issue was online for long time, but has disappeared in last couple of weeks). The poem alleged sadistic sex abuse, but there was no indication of “VIPs” or murder, which later became central to his allegations (and at which point he decided he wanted to exercise his legal right to anonymity).

Saunders more recently has been active in Australia. A recent column by Gerard Henderson in the Weekend Australian has some observations:

[Saunders] will be familiar to Australians who followed the conviction of Cardinal George Pell for historical child sexual abuse. Saunders has appeared on 60 Minutes and ABC TV’S 7.30 to discuss the Pell case. He got wide publicity for describing Pell, who he has never met, as a “sociopath”.

It turns out that Saunders ­assisted Beech in advancing his claims against [Edward] Heath, [Leon] Brittan and the like. In October 2015, Saunders appeared on a BBC Panorama program and described Beech as “entirely credible”. In short, ­Saunders was convinced that Beech was telling the truth.

Not any more. On July 23, Saunders was quoted in The Guardian as describing Beech as “a fantasist and a liar” who is a “one-off”. But he provided no evidence to support the implication of his claim that there are no other such types around.

Also, Saunders provided no ­explanation, still less an apology, for being conned by Beech.

The Panorama progamme highlighted various difficulties with Beech’s claims – Saunders’ decision to appear in the documentary to put the other side was in contrast to Mark Watts, who declined to participate on the grounds that the programme-makers lacked objectivity, and that the BBC couldn’t be neutral because it had formerly employed Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall. (1)

The Henderson column is also quoted in a recent Holy Smoke Podcast, in which Damian Thompson interviews my friend Catherine Lafferty, a journalist who attended some of Beech’s trial. The podcast ranges over NAPAC’s promotion of “checklists”, which remind Thompson of older evangelical anti-Satanic Ritual Abuse indicators; the possible role of displaced anger against the Establishment caused by “economic trauma” after the Great Recession; the “frightening” way that “liberal rationalism can be abandoned so quickly”, with pressure to believe rather than evaluate evidence; the police’s desire to be seen as celebrities in a social media age; and how “the language of therapy culture” guided the disastrous investigation into Beech’s claims.

Catherine also notes that those accused “were not fashionable people”, and “there was a sense in which people wanted to believe the worst about their ideological opponents, and so they fell on these stories with glee”. This has also been the case with Cardinal Pell – reasonable doubts about a very weak case appear to have been left to commentators on the right, such as Andrew Bolt (discussed here).


1. Henderson goes on to discuss last’s years ABC Media Watch critique of a 2015 60 Minutes documentary that was based on Beech’s claims and those of some other “VIP abuse accusers” – I discussed this here.