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IICSA Rejects “Westminster Paedophile Network” Claims

Journalist Don Hale’s account “implausible”

“No evidence… PIE had any members who were MPs or peers”

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published its conclusions on “allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster”, two years after its first hearings on the subject (discussed here). According to the report:

There is ample evidence that individual perpetrators of child sexual abuse have been linked to Westminster. However, there was no evidence of any kind of organised ‘Westminster paedophile network’ in which persons of prominence conspired to pass children amongst themselves for the purpose of sexual abuse. The source of some of the most lurid claims about a sinister network of abusers in Westminster has now been discredited with the conviction of Carl Beech.

This is in striking contrast to the impression given by newspaper reports that dominated the British mediascape between 2014 and 2016, at which time it seemed that any allegation that placed politicians from the 1970s or 1980s at child abuse parties or at meetings of the Paedophile Information Exchange would receive uncritical and sensational coverage, no matter how unsubstantiated or implausible.

Beech’s allegations – promoted in particular by the Sunday People, in cooperation with the Exaro news website – were only some of the most lurid. The Sunday Mirror presented as fact the allegation that Edward Heath had “attended Paedophile Information Exchange meetings”, and named Rhodes Boyson and Keith Joseph as paedophile orgiasts; The Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday credulously reported claims that Enoch Powell and William Whitelaw may have been involved in Satanic Ritual Abuse; and the Daily Mail‘s hatchet man Guy Adams wrote up a “special report into the growing stench of a cover-up by the Establishment” in relation to Dolphin Square. Chancers such as Anthony Gilberthorpe and the convicted fraudster Chris Fay were given national platforms, while the buffoonish right-wing MP Geoffrey Dickens was posthumously lionised as someone who had supposedly compiled a devastating “dossier” that had been suppressed by Leon Brittan (not true, as discussed here).

Don Hale

In the midst of all this, a journalist named Don Hale came forward with a story about how the Labour MP Barbara Castle had entrusted him with documents that would have exposed a Westminster network, but that her dossier had been seized from him before he had a chance to act on it. For some reason, there is no record of Castle ever mentioning this to anyone else, and Hale only began mentioning it in 2014. Hale gave evidence to the IICSA, but they were not impressed:

There are several implausible elements to Mr Hale’s account. In certain key respects Mr Hale’s story simply does not add up. It is extremely unlikely that, if Mrs Castle had evidence of child sexual abuse and support for PIE at Westminster and wished to expose it, she would have sought to do so by giving the documents to the editor of a free newspaper in the North West with a small, local circulation. Even if, as Mr Hale said, the large national newspapers had refused to take the story, there were obvious and better alternatives, such as publication in Private Eye, or Mrs Castle simply making a speech to publicise what she had discovered.

…Finally, if the documents did say what Mr Hale claimed and if the visit by Cyril Smith and the Special Branch raid did take place, it is inconceivable that neither Mr Hale nor Mrs Castle sought to bring these matters to public attention. Mrs Castle was a veteran politician with great experience of challenging the establishment. Mr Hale was an established journalist who went on to lead press campaigns including one that came to national attention and won him industry awards. The raid, if it happened, was itself evidence that there was substance in the concerns about Westminster child sexual abuse and a cover-up that was the subject of public debate led by Geoffrey Dickens MP and others in the mid-1980s. If it all happened in the way that Mr Hale described, it is likely that he and probably also Mrs Castle would have been very vocal about it. One way or another, they would have made certain that their story was told publicly. We do not consider that either of them would have been deterred by what the simplest of enquiries could have established was a false D-Notice. The fact that Mrs Castle appears to have said nothing about these events before her death in 2002 and Mr Hale said nothing for some 30 years, and then only once other allegations had been made in the wake of Jimmy Savile’s death, leads us to doubt whether the events did in fact take place as Mr Hale described them.

…Mr Hale has told his story many times over recent years – to the police and IOPC investigators on a number of occasions, to journalists and to this Inquiry. The various accounts have become more detailed over time. Even when giving oral evidence to us, some of the detail that he gave did not appear in any of his previous statements.

The Paedophile Information Exchange

The report also addresses some other aspects of the “Westminster network” mythology. On the Paedophile Information Exchange:

At its height in around 1978, it seems that PIE had some 300 members in total. The Inquiry has seen no evidence to suggest that PIE had any members who were MPs or peers, or who could be described more broadly as senior Westminster figures, with the exception of Sir Peter Hayman. There were two members of the PIE executive committee – Charles Napier and Peter Righton – who had significant establishment connections of a more general kind, such as holding prominent positions in schools and academia or (in Mr Righton’s case) in public advisory roles, but we have seen no evidence of any other prominent persons.


Mr Heath’s private secretary of the time, Peter Batey, recalled informing Mr Heath he had received a letter from PIE and him replying “We don’t want anything to do with them” with a strength of reaction that was notable.

I wrote more about Heath and PIE here. The IICSA further notes that there is no evidence that PIE ever received Home Office funding.

Elm Guest House

The report cites the police review into the Elm Guest House investigation:

Elm Guest House was a tawdry establishment which had come to the attention of police on several occasions. Child sexual abuse had almost certainly occurred there. However, Commander Neil Jerome from the Metropolitan Police Service stated that “no individuals of prominence or (individuals) that could be described as being well-known” were either observed by the police during surveillance operations or found there when the property was raided [in 1982].


There has been a detailed investigation into an allegation that when interviewed on the night of the raid the 10-year-old boy referred to one of his abusers as “Uncle Leon” who may have been a politician and came from “the big house”. This allegation was made by Andrew Keir, a social worker who was present at the interview with the boy on the night of the raid, his suggestion apparently being either that this detail was deliberately omitted from the contemporaneous manuscript notes of the interview or that it was removed when the typed version was subsequently prepared. The IOPC investigation into this allegation was Operation Helena. In summary, Commander Jerome informed us, having regard to some of the contemporaneous documentation, the records of an earlier inquiry, and the evidence of the officers involved, the investigation concluded that “there was no substance … at all” to the allegation that Mr Keir had made.

I discussed this story here.


The above does not mean, of course, that there are no credible allegations against individual MPs or other figures associated with Westminster – several cases are discussed in detail in the report, and much of the press coverage has focused on this angle. The report makes several references to police “undue deference”, and it is reasonable to suppose that such failures have played a role in why false and implausible allegations came to have a presumption of truth in the public mind.

The report also notes other problematic attitudes – child protection did not have “precedence” when it came to the sex industry and indecent images, and there was confused thinking in the wake of the sexual revolution:

The profound social changes of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in relation to socially acceptable sexual behaviour, meant that people in positions of political and cultural influence at that time deliberately sought to challenge the boundaries of sexual activity. Language was often used in ambiguous ways. For example, the term ‘boys’ was used to describe 18 to 21-year-old young men. Although homosexual acts were decriminalised in 1967, the age of consent was still higher than for heterosexual relations until 2000 and being openly homosexual in Parliament was still unusual and the subject of disapproval. The effect of this was that in some circles there was an unwillingness to challenge efforts to make ‘paedophilia’ acceptable or to ask difficult questions about proposals to reduce the age of consent which seemed to be borne of inappropriate attitudes, for fear of being seen as old-fashioned, buttoned-up or out of touch with the times. Child welfare and protection yielded to self-serving ideas of sexual liberation.

Clearly, there was a failure of justice, with the result that risks to children were needlessly amplified. But if we want to understand why this was the case, we should look to social history and sociology rather than conspiracy theories.

UPDATE: David Aaronovitch has written about the IICSA conclusions in a Times column, under the heading “VIP abuse farce shows danger of moral panic”. His conclusion:

…in this instance the true scandal is that there was a mostly posthumous witch-hunt fuelled by fantasists and liars and exploited by careless journalists and feckless police forces. It’s a panic that has cost millions, taken resources away from policing (conceivably at the expense of genuine and continuing child protection cases) and absorbed part of the nation in a false debate. It has been catnip for conspiracy theorists, besmirched our democracy and distorted our perception of our own recent history. And it needs to be called out.

Aaronovitch is particularly scathing of Don Hale, noting:

Whatever IICSA’s deficiencies in presentation, the lawyers who questioned Hale did an excellent job. The transcript of his cross-examination makes painful reading. The report itself is couched in the most careful possible terms, in which the words “odd”, “implausible” and “inconceivable” are used, but amounts to this: we didn’t believe a word of it. The report does say that there’s no evidence any of it happened, the key elements of the story just don’t make sense and Mr Hale’s account of his 30-year delay in coming forward is incredible.

Hale has not responded directly to the IICSA’s assessment, beyond suggesting  generally that the inquiry is engaged in a “cover up”. His only acknowledgement of the IICSA’s criticisms has been to RT an endorsement by someone else, who writes:

Having now read most of your statements to the Inquiry it’s plainly obvious this whole exercise is a sham. As a former employee of the Bury Times it appalls me that they sought bring into question your integrity. I’ve always believed that the establishment leaned on you re [Cyril] Smith.

“Ritual Abuse” Conference Returns to Dundee

From Third Force News (“the voice of Scotland’s third sector”):

A conference later this month will look at the current international situation of ritual abuse (RA) and organised abuse of children.

International experts in the field of RA will come together in Dundee to discuss the impact and prevalence of RA and organised abuse on children and share best practice on support for young survivors. The conference will examine the current situation in the world and in the UK specifically to help workers and supporters to identify and help children who are affected by organised and ritualised abuse.

Dr Laurie Matthew OBE, coordinator of charity Eighteen And Under, will be presenting at the conference… Other experts who will be presenting include Dr Michael Salter, a Scientia Fellow and associate professor of criminology at the University of New South Wales. His research focuses on organised forms of child sexual abuse. Dark Justice, an organisation who catch potential sex offenders who try to groom and meet up with children following sexual grooming will also be speaking. Neil Brick (RA survivor) and creator of the S.M.A.R.T (Stop Mind control And Ritual Abuse Today) newsletter and Dr Sarah Nelson, Universities of Edinburgh and Dundee, who has presented widely for decades on sexual abuse issues, will also be delivering talks.

The event is being jointly organised by Eighteen and Under and a group called Izzy’s Promise, and as the report notes, it is their second conference – I discussed the first one, which took place in 2018, here. As I noted then, both groups are projects of the Ritual Abuse Network Scotland, and RANS in turn is affiliated with the Ritual Abuse Information Network (RAINS) (blogged here).

The bare formulation “ritual abuse” is broad. It might apply to children being harmed due to witchcraft beliefs, or by stretching the meaning a bit to the idea of “grooming” as a repeatable technique – this would explain the involvement of “Dark Justice”, a vigilante duo named Scott and Callum who have come under criticism from the police despite securing evidence that has been used in prosecutions.

However, the term “ritual abuse” is also useful because it comes with less baggage than “Satanic Ritual Abuse”, and it is reasonable to infer that this will be a significant topic of the conference. Nelson, for instance, is the author of works such as “Satanist Ritual Abuse: Challenges to the Mental Health System”, presented to RAINS in 1996 (available from SAFF here), while Neil Brick is known for his history of extravagant claims about Illuminati mind control and such, as discussed here.

Michael Salter, meanwhile has a history of attacking the personal integrity of memory scientists who raise doubts about supposedly “recovered” memories (as I noted here); he is also the chair of the Ritual Abuse, Mind Control and Organised Abuse (RAMCOA) Special Interest Group at the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD).

Excurcus on Michael Salter

Salter is usually based in Australia, but for those in the UK unable to make their way to Dundee there is also an upcoming ISSTD “Day With Professor Michael Salter” in London. Other presenters will include Valerie Sinason and Elly Hanson, the latter billed as an adviser to CEOP, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command of the National Crime Agency – Hanson recently came under critical scrutiny following her involvement with the police investigations into Edward Heath and into claims made by the hoaxer Carl Beech.

Recently, Twitter user @RDobbson1 has drawn attention to Salter’s early work, in particular a troubling 2005 essay titled “Bearing witness to ritual abuse” (Word doc download from the Internet Archive here). Much of the article is a personal narrative rather than a theoretical discussion, and it is Salter’s account of how, as a teenage student, he had come to discern that his female housemate’s behavioural quirks were evidence of past sexual abuse. This housemate, Alex, confirmed his suspicion and disclosed that the perpetrators had been “a group of police officers”. We’re told that in the years that followed, the two of them received threatening phone calls, Alex moved location frequently, and that Salter has “come home to find bloody organs smeared through our beds and strange sigils painted on our sheets.” Writing as “Plain Speaker”, @RDobbson1 refers critically to the story on a now-defunct website called Dysgenics (“Dispatches From a Degenerating Mental Environment”), which can be accessed here.

Trauma Therapists Renew Attacks on “False Memory” as False Memory Syndrome Foundation Closes

From the website of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation:

After 27 years, the FMS Foundation dissolved on December 31, 2019. During the past quarter century, a large body of scientific research and legal opinions on the topics of the accuracy and reliability of memory and recovered memories has been created. People with concerns about false memories can communicate with others electronically. The need for the FMS Foundation diminished dramatically over the years. The FMSF website and Archives will continue to be available.

The announcement has received little media attention, although it has been celebrated by those who argue that “false memory” is a pseudo-explanation contrived to undermine victims’ testimony of historic child sexual abuse. In this framing, the FMS Foundation has closed not because its “need” has “diminished dramatically”, but because the notion of false memory has been exploded. Thus a polemical article on the website of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation is headlined “The Rise and Fall of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation“. Oddly, however, although the article does refer specifically to “recovered” memories, the subject is downplayed:

FMSF Advisory Board profiles show just how personal and sometimes vicious their involvement was. One Board Member, John Hochman MD wrote, when talking about therapy for people who reported a history of child sexual abuse, “The real message being sold by these new therapy messiahs is the ultimate cry-baby solution to everyone’s pitiful human problems. It’s all someone else’s fault.” It is hard to fathom that these words come from a mental health professional.

No source is provided, despite a list of references at the bottom of the page, but a bit of Googling shows that the quote is taken from a 1993 op-ed that appeared in the Los Angeles Times:

Welcome to the strange world of memory recovery therapy. This is a pseudoscience based on the notion that tens of thousands of Americans were repeatedly molested as children and don’t know it.

People involved in memory recovery therapy have been convinced by misguided self-help books or therapists that they are “survivors” of totally forgotten sexual crimes. They are told that their eating or sexual or marital problems will clear up once the “lost memories” are found. The real message being sold by these new therapy messiahs is the ultimate crybaby solution to everyone’s pitiful human problems: It’s all someone else’s fault.

In other words, Hochman is referring specifically to “people who reported a history of child sexual abuse” as a result of therapy in which they were encouraged to “remember” such abuse for the first time. It is difficult to believe that the quote used by the ISSTD has seen extracted in good faith. Hochman goes on to highlight various problems with the idea of memory repression, but the ISSTD is less concerned with these points than with pulling a quote out of context to falsely imply that Hochman is dismissive of all allegations (incidentally, it’s not clear why the IISTD quote adds a hyphen to”crybaby”, but it makes the original slightly harder to find).

Another “gotcha” quote refers to another member of the FMS Foundation board:

Another member, Dr Rosalind Cartwright PhD, describes her desire to become involved as follows: “A friend and colleague had an adult daughter in therapy accuse him of childhood sexual abuse.” She says, “It was my best judgment that this was unbelievable of the person I knew and could only been induced by the therapist.” One can only wonder if she had had any psychological training or knowledge of how common it is for perpetrators to present and operate quite differently within the family home, as opposed to the professional sphere. And how on earth she reaches a conclusion of ‘therapist induced memory’, with presumably no contact with the daughter or therapist, is difficult to fathom.

This complaint has more merit, but picked out from a collection of more than 40 board member bio-blurbs it hardly amounts to a significant or systematic critique.

Inevitably, the article also focuses on the fact that the FMS Foundation’s founders, Pamela and Peter Freyd, were themselves accused of abuse by their adult daughter Jennifer Freyd, who is herself psychology professor. Presumably we should therefore suspect their motives, but it is not a great surprise that someone who says they have been falsely accused would develop an interest in the mechanics of how false allegations come to be made and believed. Equally, of course, a guilty person might be motivated to associate with a concept that might undermine the strength of the evidence against them, but that is simply a truism. The science of memory does not rest on the personal authority or integrity of the senior Freyds.

One undoubted problem with the FMS Foundation, though, was that the name was misleading. Memory science today acknowledges that the normal functioning of memory includes incorrect recall – as such, there is no need to postulate a “syndrome” or to psychopathologise the process, even though therapists may have been involved. The legacy of the word, however, means that “false memory” is portrayed by critics as simply a device by which victims are stigmatised as mentally ill. This was seen recently when Harvey Weinstein’s defence team announced that it would be calling memory experts to give testimony on memory. According to an article by two “trauma psychologists”, Anne P. DePrince and Joan M. Cook, published by The Conversation,

…Weinstein’s defense team has prepared to call witnesses to argue that women who came forward to accuse him suffer from “the formation of fully false memories for events that never happened.” This is not a suggestion of normal problems with memory or recall, but the unlikely proposition that his accusers somehow developed entire memories of sexual assault that never actually occurred.

The article refers here to Deborah Davis, although we now know that Elizabeth Loftus will also be called. Loftus gave her testimony on Friday; the Los Angeles Times reported:

She has routinely testified that memories can be transformed and contaminated — and, in some cases, altogether false.

Loftus stuck to a similar narrative during her testimony Friday, though she was not permitted to speak on issues of memory tied to sexual interactions. She explained that many factors can lead to weakened or entirely fabricated memories, including some therapy techniques, media coverage and questioning by law enforcement.

In other words, her testimony was concerned with general principles of memory. This is in line with a profile of Loftus from the Los Angeles Times that appeared just a few days ago:

When asked if she must believe in the innocence of a defendant to testify on their behalf, Loftus answered the question indirectly.

“I believe that science belongs to all of us. So my decisions on whether to work on a case are sometimes based on scheduling, or whether it seems interesting, or whether it’s a death penalty case where the outcome could be very severe,” she said. “Most of the time, I don’t know if they did it or not.”

In her 1992 book, “Witness for the Defense,” Loftus writes that she is not defending the clients whose cases she takes on. She is “detached and disassociated” on the stand, she says, “simply presenting the research on memory.”

This supports what I noted in a previous post, in which I drew on statements by Julia Shaw: a memory expert may talk in general terms about the conditions in which false memories may arise, but it is not their job to assess any particular piece of testimony as being the result of a false memory – they do not “diagnose” accusers. As such, it appears that DePrince and Cook have distorted what the “witnesses” intend to say, conflating general expert testimony with the defence case itself for polemical effect.

One concern I do have with the idea of “false memory” is that it may sometimes be an over-explanation. There are legitimate reasons why a genuine victim may make a late disclosure, or have previously interacted with someone in a way that seems inconsistent with having been their victim, but for a false accuser “repressed memory” is also a convenient explanation for making a late allegation. I also wonder about the distinction between remembering something and persuading yourself you have remembered something – recovered memory therapy includes imaginative exercises (as I discussed here), and if an expert tells you that your ability to vividly imagine something is in fact because it is a memory, who are you to argue?