Carl Beech: Former Exaro Journalist Sets Out “Miscarriage of Justice” Argument

From the website of Mark Watts:

But the public should be on the alert when the media works in near unanimity – and in lock-step with the state – to ignore the alarm bells over the way in which Carl Beech was convicted of 12 [Perversion of Justice] charges and one count of making a fraudulent compensation claim, and duly to pronounce that Britain’s scandal over VIP paedophiles was all so much nonsense.

As far as I am aware, I am a lone voice among journalists to point to reasons why the ‘Nick’ trial represents a serious miscarriage of justice.

Watts invested all of his professional credibility as a journalist in promoting Beech’s claims of “VIP sex abuse” – he described the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Midland as an “investigation that the establishment fears”, and during 2015 he and Exaro News cast aspersions on anyone who who saw through Beech’s lies long before he did. His “case for the defence” is long – and bulked out by some unhappy attempts at courtroom sketchwriting flourishes – but the main points can be set out fairly concisely.

Beech’s research

Watts disputes that Beech researched locations in order to mislead the police during interviews:

Prosecution references to Beech’s downloading specific images of locations for alleged abuse were all too often vague as to when they were downloaded. It was only probative if the downloading was before he drew the relevant sketch of a location that he supplied to the Met.

Likewise, prosecution references to his carrying out internet research on specific subjects were sometimes vague as to when they were performed. Some of the research was identified as coming after his Met interviews, so proving nothing much.

The word “some” here does a lot of work. Some dates were vague, so presumably some were not. Some research was identified as having taken place after the interviews, but some were not. Presumably he cannot say that there was no evidence that Beech researched sites or other details before interview, otherwise he would have done so. It should also be remembered that Beech maintained continuing contact with police after his interviews, and later research may have been relevant to some of this.

Continuing:

I was particularly struck by a prosecution reference to his looking up before he went to the Met articles on Exaro, where I was the editor, about Dolphin Square, the apartment complex where many MPs have their London homes.

This was entirely true.

But the prosecution’s sinister implication that he was researching Dolphin Square before his Met interviews was completely false. He had simply looked up articles about himself as the pseudonymous ‘Nick’ and his own claims to Exaro about Dolphin Square. He was not researching Dolphin Square at all.

Why, then, did Beech provide a description of the swimming pool at Dolphin Square that matched the location as depicted in a pop video, but that was actually filmed somewhere else? Watts wants us to concentrate on elements of the evidence that may be weak or arguable, but he ignores elements that are overwhelming. This is misdirection.

(It should also be borne in mind – although I don’t know if this was raised at trial – that Beech also undertook other forms of research. In particular, he visited the closed military site of Imber Village on an open day, and later impressed police with his description of it, which he claimed was based on a childhood memory).

Beech and Edward Heath

Watts disputes that Beech alleged that Edward Heath had prevented Harvey Proctor from castrating him:

Much of the media wrote ‘Nick’ off as ludicrous years before the trial began when it was claimed that he had alleged that Sir Edward Heath, the former Conservative prime minister, had stopped Harvey Proctor, an ex-MP from the same political party, using a pen-knife to cut off his genitals.

Given the political gulf between the pair, it sounded far-fetched and ridiculous.

But ‘Nick’ had told the Met in interview that he did not know who had intervened to stop Proctor cutting his genitals. Recorded on video, they are known as “ABE” interviews – achieving best evidence.

Not cutting off his genitals, note, just cutting. And, ‘Nick’ told the Met in a video interview, he had no idea who stopped it from happening.

This is digressive, since it pertains to media coverage rather than the trial, but let’s go with the flow. When I read this, I thought that perhaps a distortion had slipped in when Beech’s allegations were put to Proctor by the police, or when Proctor made them public. However, as Bandini notes in the comments below (I’ve amended this paragraph), Beech certainly did identity the person who supposedly stopped Proctor as being Heath. As Watts himself Tweeted during the trial (during which he for most part avoided using Beech’s real name, for some reason):

At one time, the defendant tells #NickTrial, Edward Heath stopped Harvey Proctor from hurting him by cutting him with a knife.

Any media distortion here about “castration” vs “genital cutting” is trivial, and if Beech never made such a claim about Heath during his interviews why did he do so when on trial? It makes no sense, and in any case, the more general point is that Proctor and Heath were presented by him as co-orgiasts. Is Watts simply unable to remember his own material, or is this a crude attempt at misdirection?

Beech’s previous conviction and jury prejudice

Watts maintains that the jury was prejudiced by Beech’s recent conviction for downloading indecent images of children and voyeurism:

The problem is that prosecutors must not usually tell juries about any previous convictions of defendants otherwise trials would be hopelessly prejudiced. This is the same reason why the media could not link Beech’s images convictions to the PCJ case.

But there was a hope for the CPS – in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. It is a handy bit of legislation that is often used in particular to discredit witnesses who allege child sexual abuse because it enables defence lawyers to introduce evidence of any “dishonest” crime to be deployed against them to undermine their credibility. The fact that the “dishonest” crime may have sprung from the childhood abuse is invariably conveniently ignored.

Could the CPS break the usual rules and turn the Criminal Justice Act 2003 on to Beech the defendant and introduce his recent reprehensible past convictions into the trial?

It is the case that at one time a defendant’s previous convictions could not be made known to a jury, and this is still the case unless a judge rules otherwise. The weakening of this prohibition was recently lamented in a piece on criminal justice by Matthew Scott, but presumably the judge at Beech’s trial would have anticipated how such disclosure might form the basis for an appeal before making his decision. The judge’s ruling is perhaps an example of a troubling trend, but it does not amount to “breaking the rules”. Note that Watts adds to this false impression by suggesting that the Criminal Justice Act 2003 was concerned with witnesses and complainants rather than defendants.

(See Update below for more on this)

Motive

Watts complains that the prosecution was inconsistent about motive, starting out with the claim that Beech was a fantasist but switching to Beech being a “liar” who was perhaps motivated by money, when it was realised that if Beech was truly delusional then he could not be guilty. But this amounts to complaining that the prosecution is covering various bases, and “delusional” covers a spectrum of which “psychotic” is just at one extreme end. Fraudsters, for instance, are sometimes delusional about the inevitability of eventual exposure despite self-conscious dishonesty.

Missing witnesses

Watts suggests that key figures from Operation Midland ought to have been called:

But no one thought to ask them, especially those who worked on Operation Midland from the outset, just what was the basis of the Met’s staggering “credible and true” assessment.

The answer would have been illuminating, putting a different complexion on the trial.

Here, Watts continues to cling to the notorious phrase “credible and true” as evidence not of police credulity, but of some indication that there is some shocking and decisive evidence that remains out of view. Why Watts cannot himself tell us what it is remains unexplained. He suggests that the prosecution was “scared” to call such witnesses, and he is critical of the defence for not doing so.

Beech’s mirror selfie

Watts also complains that the jury were shown a selfie of Carl Beech in boxer shorts:

The prosecution pulled off a master stroke by managing to persuade the judge, despite exasperated defence protests, to allow it to show the jury a picture of Carl Beech stood dressed only in his boxer shorts, taken by him in his bathroom mirror.

[Prosecutor] Badenoch sought the application on the pretext that the “selfie” disproved Beech’s comment from the witness box that he could not stand looking at his body.

Appearing as awkward and uncomfortable with himself as he did in the bathroom-mirror picture, it proved no such thing. To my mind, showing it to the jury was gratuitous.

Of course such an image cannot “prove” this point, but it may have indicative value. Watts here, though, glosses over that the photo (actually taken in a bedroom) is is also pertinent to Beech’s claims to have been repeatedly injured as a child during acts of sadistic torture (see here – whether it was right for it to have been released it to media is another matter, although I take the view that those whom Beech accused should be provided with all means to clear their names from the continuing stigma).

Blocked evidence

Watts complains that evidence from police investigations into alleged sex-abuse by VIPs was not put before the jury – this includes material from Operation Midland, which was based on Beech’s allegations, Operation Conifer, the trawling investigation into Edward Heath, and (here quoting the judge) “credible material contained in 10 investigations by other police forces and material held by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the Independent Office for Police Conduct relating to a propensity for the sexual abuse of children by those named by the defendant”.

Further:

I know of witnesses who were keen to testify. None of these could corroborate specific episodes alleged by Beech, but they could provide relevant testimony in relation to some of the now-deceased suspects.

And there was at least one former police potential witness whose team was threatened and warned off as it investigated child sexual abuse by now-deceased VIPs at locations in London that included Dolphin Square.

Watts here appears to be suggesting that the trial ought to have become a proxy prosecution of those accused by Beech, rather than being the trial of Beech himself. But the point is not that Beech made complaints that could not be “corroborated”, it is that he told lies, presented false evidence (such as his grandmother’s penknife) and used email to concoct fake witnesses. General “similar allegation” testimony about those he has accused, or the airing of old rumours about Dolphin Square and such, is not relevant here.

In particular, Watts also refers to, again quoting the judge, “material made against Ernest Warren, who worked at Erskine Barracks, where the defendant’s stepfather, Ray Beech, was also stationed, that included the suggestion of ‘group’ child sex and child murder”. This appears to be cryptic and deliberately toned-down reference to “Lucy X”, who made Satanic Ritual Abuse allegations against Edward Heath and had a family association with the barracks. I discussed this here (Ernest Warren has apparently never been traced or positively identified). (See Update below for more on this)

“Effects of trauma”

One more point:

in my view, it was a mistake for the defence to call no expert witness as to the possible psychological effects of childhood trauma on Beech and specifically on his recall and behaviour.

Watts does not spell this out in detail, but the implication seems to be that just because an accuser tells lies and fabricates evidence, that does not mean he or she might not nevertheless have been abused (perhaps by the person they are accusing) in some other circumstance. At the level of a theoretical truism, of course, this is indeed the case – but therefore what?

Conclusion

Of course, Beech has every right to lodge an appeal, as he has now done, and perhaps (as with Tommy Robinson) some legal argument might lead to the case being re-opened despite the overwhelming evidence against him. However, there is every reason to believe that Beech provided knowingly false testimony and concocted evidence to police, and that this formed the basis for police raids and attempts to build a case against those he had accused. That’s perversion of justice, and as far as I can see Beech is currently properly in prison for it.

UPDATE 1 (27 August): Daniel De Simone vs Mark Watts

A BBC News home affairs journalist named Daniel De Simone has also engaged with Watt’s post, in a series of Tweets that I reproduce below (some full-stops and the arrangement into paragraphs added by me):

You don’t explain why Beech’s indecent images and voyeurism convictions were actually admitted into evidence. I’m able to do so since I personally attended a lot of the trial. [1] There is a framework governing the admissibility of bad character evidence in criminal trials of all kinds. Such evidence appears when it is ruled admissible. It is not an unusual occurrence [link to CPS]. [2]

In Beech’s case, his convictions were admitted into evidence after the judge decided they were relevant to important matters in issue between the parties, which is one of the ‘gateways’ through which such evidence can be admitted [3]. The judge did so for the three following reasons submitted by the prosecution: [4]

First, it demonstrated Beech had an interest in the subject matter of his allegations, namely the sexual abuse of young boys by men, entirely independent of his claim that such abuse actually took place. [5]

Second, it was relevant to whether he had a propensity to lie in relation to criminal inquiries, since he had lied to the police officers investigating his offending against children. [6]

Third, it was relevant to a propensity to deploy technology to hide his offending, which was at issue in relation to his use of an encrypted email account to pose as a fake collaborative witness during Operation Midland. [7]

On the first point, let’s be clear: some of the abuse images possessed by Beech were very extreme and sadistic by any standards, however debased. Several involved a bound and blindfolded child – horrific stuff. [8] Also, since Beech’s entire defence, when it finally emerged, was an attack on the character of others – calling them murderers, rapists and torturers – I imagine that factual evidence about his own character would have become admissible for that reason too. [9] This is another of the ‘gateways’ through which bad character evidence can be admitted into criminal trials. See ‘gateway 7’ in the above link. [10]

Regarding a separate issue you raise, there was some very precise information during the trial about research Beech carried out using his work computer. [11] With your specific example of Dolphin Square, you say it is “completely false” that Beech researched it prior to his Met interviews. But that is untrue. [12] The agreed evidence in court was that Beech researched Dolphin Square in May 2014, which was months before his Met interviews. It was also before the first Exaro article about his Dolphin Square claims. [13]

In relation to the rejected defence application about material gathered by other forces – material described by the defence as “credible” – what you don’t include is the following line from the judge’s indicative ruling: [14]

“It was not unreasonable, in all the circumstances, to rely on the conclusions of other investigating forces as to conclusions reached as to the credibility and reliability of historical complaints made against high profile individuals for the various reasons identified.” [15]

The Erskine Barracks claims that featured in Operation Conifer were obviously not detailed in its published summary report because they were not allegations for which Wiltshire said Sir Edward Heath would have been interviewed under caution if he was alive. [16] Indeed, the allegations mentioned probably fell into the ‘ritual abuse’ strand, for which Wiltshire said: “Following investigation, no further corroborative evidence was found to support the disclosures that Sir Edward Heath was involved in ritual abuse”. [17]

Regarding the fraud conviction, you say “Beech made his claim to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) four years before he went to the Met”. But, in fact, he submitted the claim only a year before. [18] His CICA claim form was submitted on September 2013 and his first Met interviews were in October 2014. He then received the money during Operation Midland, spending a lot of it on a convertible car. [20]

Watts responded a couple of days later:

No, Daniel, the jury was specifically told that Carl Beech had looked up articles about Dolphin Square on Exaro. Exaro had published nothing about Dolphin Square until July 2014, when it published three pieces based in large part on some claims made by ‘Nick’. [1] So when Carl Beech was, as the jury was told, looking up articles on Dolphin Square on Exaro, he was looking to see what Exaro had run about himself (which the jury was not told). [2] It was, indeed, “agreed evidence”, but that makes it worse because the jury was entitled, and indeed instructed, to take it as true when it was completely misleading, as I said in my article [3]

DeSimone’s response:

Mark, the agreed evidence – meaning a fact agreed between the prosecution and defence – is that Beech used his work computer on 23 May 2014 to search for Dolphin Square before then browsing the complex’s website, as well as looking at the location on Google Maps. [1] Quite separately – on 14 July 2014 – he accessed an Exaro story about his Dolphin Square allegations. Your whole point is resting on the inaccurate claim that he only looked at the Exaro article. [2] Don’t believe me? You even tweeted about it yourself during the trial. See attached screenshot and link to the tweet. Do you now accept your article is wrong? [3]

Watts’ relevant Tweet here was from during the trial in May. He wrote:

Prosecution and defence agree, #NickTrial hears, that defendant’s work computer shows that it was used in May 2014 to search online for Sidney Cooke, General Bramall, Peter Hayman, Operation Fernbridge, Elm Guest House, Exaro and Dolphin Square.

I think it’s clear what has happened here. In his article, Watts refers to the dates of some searches as “all too often vague”, and he has found one instance from July for which there is an innocent explanation. He pretends that the case rests on this arguable evidence, while ignoring the open-and-shut instance that relates to 23 May (and, I suspect, probably many others). Watts’s presentation is selective to the point of dishonesty.

Watts continues:

Yes, Carl Beech had made his CICA application the year before he went to Met (not 4yrs, now corrected in my article @FOIACentre ). But point still stands: he had already made his application before going to Met. He already had a crime reference number [4]… from Wiltshire Police in 2013 after alleging in 2012 child sexual abuse by his step-father, Jimmy Savile, and unnamed others. But the bulk of the PCJ case related to his Met allegations, so compensation was evidently not the motivation. [5]

The compensation motivation was always somewhat speculative, although we learnt from the trial that Beech is a spendthrift with debts. He used previous compensation to buy a status object (an expensive car), and it is reasonable to suspect that the prospect of further payouts was a factor in his decision to make new allegations (incidentally, it remains unclear when Watts and Exaro became aware that Beech had also accused Jimmy Savile).

Watts then returns to Beech’s previous conviction:

With the prosecution claim of a causal link between his interest in indecent images of under-age boys + its PCJ case. It is not unusual to seek to introduce past convictions, but that does not make it alright. [6] On the contrary, it is another example of a flaw in the criminal justice system. In the case of Carl Beech, it was an egregious example. It was compounded by the lack of full disclosure to the defence (itself another common problem in the criminal justice system). [7]

If it is “not unusual”, why, then, did Watts claim that the CPS strategised to “break the usual rules”? Jurists and philosophers may argue over whether or not it is “alright” to disclose past convictions, but DeSimone has already laid out the justifications in this particular case, and they are reasonable. Watts’s concession here completely collapses a central plank of his argument.

Watts then returns to be “blocked evidence” allegation, although here he simply repeats himself:

The case against Carl Beech rested in part on the notion that his claims were ludicrous, but the CPS/police blocked disclosure of evidence that might suggest otherwise. (I already quoted liberally from the judge’s final, rather than indicative, ruling on disclosure.) [8] And rather than defence lawyers seeing the evidence and assessing it for themselves, we have the prosecution/police doing it for them. Again, not unusual these days, but it is scandalously unfair and unjust. [9] Which reminds me… When are you reporting on the astonishing submissions made in open court re Harvey Proctor on June 21? I cannot recall whether that was one of the days when you were not there, but at least one of your BBC colleagues was. [10]

Presumably this again refers to what I take to be the “Lucy X” claims, and to the various objects that police apparently decided were not evidence of a crime, but from which Watts want us to infer suspicions about Proctor’s character (although such suspicions would fail to overthrow the evidence of Beech concocting evidence and lying).

Soon after this, Watts then Re-Tweeted a number of older Tweets, which means that casual visitors to his Twitter feed will not see the exchange without scrolling down.

UPDATE 2 (27 August): The barrister Matthew Scott has also considered the question of whether Beech received a fair trial. He addresses the basis for the lengthy prison sentence, Watts’s general confusion about the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the objects that Watts believes Proctor should have been asked about, and the supposed “missing witnesses”.

As regards the objects, he writes:

Since all those items were returned to him by the Metropolitan Police investigating Beech’s rape and murder allegations, it is reasonable to assume that they did not regard them as very significant. One of the intended effects of s.100 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (the provision that Watts disapprovingly says is “often used in particular to discredit witnesses”) was, as Pitchford LJ put it:

“… to eliminate kite-flying and innuendo against the character of a witness in favour of concentration upon the real issues in the case.”

(Incidentally, a man who was lodging with Proctor at the time of the police raid has explained some of these items on Twitter)

On the non-involvement of Operation Midland officers, while Watts claims to believe that they would have revealed some compelling reason for regarding Beech as credible and true, Matthew explains that in all likelihood they would instead have admitted to having been duped, which would hardly have helped the defence case.