The Evening Post Examines the “Westminster Paedophile Ring” Conspiracy Theory

At the Evening Post, a long-read by Joshi Herrmann addresses a pertinent question:

For a few years, between the autumn of 2012 and some time in 2015, a set of MPs, journalists and police officers came to believe in what amounted to a wild conspiracy theory about the British establishment. The question is, why?

The conspiracy theory was that Westminster politicians in the 1970s and 1980s had engaged in organised child sex abuse with complete impunity, in some cases even killing boys at orgies. Police investigations were mysteriously shut down, while the tabloid press – which thrived on sex scandals and openly derided “poofs” – somehow missed the action or chose to remain silent for decades after receiving threats.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse rejected claims about the existence of a “Westminster paedophile ring” just a couple of week ago – and as is well known, the false accuser and hoaxer Carl Beech, who triggered the Metropolitan Police’s “Operation Midland” fiasco, has been convicted and is now in prison. However, the damage is likely to be lasting – zombie news articles from the earlier period remain online, and for the determined conspiracy theorist any kind of counter-evidence can be assimilated into a narrative of establishment manipulation and cover-up.

And for those whose sense of virtue and superior discernment is bound up with their online denunciations of the “powerful” and of anyone urging caution, resistance to a new self-image as someone who was duped or whipped up into self-righteous rage is likely to be strong. The “Westminster paedophile ring” is also an idea that is unlikely to die on the political fringes, where it can be assimilated into conspiratorial interpretations of police failings in relation to grooming gangs and be bolstered by American conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate and Q.

Herrmann’s article is a tour de force that synthesises several strands of the story, in particular placing Beech into a wider context that includes BBC Newsnight‘s reporting on Cyril Smith and stories about the notorious Elm Guest House (a “gay brothel”) in 1980s west London. There are insights from psychologists and observers of conspiracy theorising, and interview material with several individuals who were part of the story.

The whole thing is worth careful reading, but here I would like to draw attention to a few specific new details.

Newsnight and Cyril Smith

In 2015, BBC Newsnight reported a claim made by an anonymous former police officer that the MP Cyril Smith had been arrested in London in the 1980s following a child-abuse party, and that there was even a tape recording. The officer alleged to Newsnight‘s Nick Hopkins that the investigation had been shut down by a more senior officer who had seized the evidence and then warned him and his colleagues that they would be in breach of the Official Secrets Act if they ever spoke about it. The source declined to appear on camera, but the Newsnight segment did include an assessment by a different ex-officer, Clive Driscoll (previously blogged here), whose view was that the claim was “very credible”. However,

What Newsnight didn’t tell viewers is that Driscoll was not examining the claims for the first time. In fact, it was impossible for him to be an objective arbiter on the allegations, because he had brought Hopkins the story. 

Herrmann has since spoken with Driscoll by phone. Driscoll revealed to him that he actually believes that the former officer is “paranoid”, and that he had actually refused to even meet anyone from Newsnight. But if this person was fearful of repercussions, why come forward at all? It seems to me that the most economical explanation is that he wished to avoid scrutiny. Investigations by police have failed to substantiate his claims.

Mike Broad

A new name in the saga is a trade unionist named Mike Broad. Broad was present at a meeting with Tom Watson, the MP who in 2012 had raised the question of a “powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament”. Watson, of course, went on to become the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and his name is now closely associated with the allegations and how they unfolded.

According to the account, Broad claimed that Leon Brittan and other prominent people had visited Elm Guest House, and that when the place was raided in the 1980s, “two transit vans had taken away ten boys and one three-year-old girl” (I suspect the “ten boys” here might be a garbled claim about a boy or boys aged ten years old). However,

Others who had dealings with Broad considered him to be unreliable. When he visited another MP around the same time as the visit to Watson, he pointed at people he said were members of Special Branch and told those he was meeting that the security services were reading his lips via the CCTV cameras. Broad was also known for calling parliamentary researchers late at night and muttering things like “Papers tomorrow, Leon Brittan, young boys, rape scars” and then hanging up.

Herrmann’s source believes that Broad’s reference to Brittan may have influenced Watson’s thinking – I discussed his investment in allegations against Brittan here.

Parliamentary researchers and the media

Another thread in the story concerns Simon Danczuk, a buffoonish celebrity politician with a chaotic private life who was writing a book about Cyril Smith. Herrmann spoke with his parliamentary aide, Matt Baker, who recalls:

“Every day we were being blitzed with emails by these people who were basically saying ‘Establishment cover-up blah blah blah… I don’t know who they were but they were sending various YouTube videos and links and saying all these key figures are paedophiles, investigate this and investigate that.”He adds: “I’ve no doubt that with some MPs, it had probably had a bit of an effect on them…A lot of the splashes were nonsense. And half the genuine stuff has been lost.”

Another parliamentary researcher added:

“There was a huge fight to get the stories… I had national journalists calling me on deadline at 6pm, and they were printing whatever I told them without checking. It was really worrying… they were more interested in beating their rival titles to the story than getting to the truth”.

Simon Danczuk and Mark Williams-Thomas

According to Herrmann, Danczuk also met with the former police officer turned journalist Mark Williams Thomas (previously blogged here):

He asked Danczuk to use his parliamentary privilege to publicly out the former home secretary Leon Brittan as a paedophile in parliament, so that Williams-Thomas could get the broadcasting scoop by being in position outside Brittan’s house, ready to knock on his door with the cameras rolling.

However, Williams-Thomas says he merely asked to be “tipped off”.

Zac Goldsmith and David Hencke

Herrmann spoke with someone who was present at a meeting about the Elm Guest House called by Zac Goldsmith MP and attended by Watson and his aide Karie Murphy, Tessa Munt and Danczuk. The group was addressed by David Hencke, a journalist for Exaro, which had been at the forefront of promoting Carl Beech’s claims:

 “Hencke gave everyone sheets of paper – it was all over the place, all these scandals all around the country. There wasn’t any trace of doubt in his voice. All of this was gospel.” The MPs wanted to put pressure on the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to appoint a panel to examine the issue. They agreed that it would be useful to have another Conservatvie MP on board, and soon the former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton was part of the group. By the summer, they had drafted a letter to May.

Herrmann goes on to remind us that Goldsmith later spoke publicly about the Elm Guest House, but that his information had come from the convicted fraudster Chris Fay. Herrmann judges that “at some point… Goldsmith must have realised he had fallen for a hoax”, but it seems to me that unless Goldsmith can be pressed on this point we won’t know for sure.

BBC News vs Panorama

Beech’s claims were given credence by the BBC: its Home Affairs correspondent, Tom Symonds,  met him, and the two attended a play about Jimmy Savile together. However, BBC Panorama had been digging into Beech’s story and were finding elements that failed to stack up. It appears that Symonds discouraged their efforts:

…As they went about their work, Symonds made calls to a member of the Panorama team to chide them – half-jokingly the Panorama staffers thought – about being on the wrong track regarding Beech. “He was just saying he would be proved right and Panorama would be wrong,” recalls a BBC staffer. Eventually a senior BBC executive called a meeting to diffuse the tension between the team around Symonds at BBC News and the staff of Panorama. Representatives of both teams gathered in a dingy meeting room to make peace, only for the meeting to descend into bickering. 

“You are trying to shit on our journalism,” a producer from the news team complained. 

“What journalism?” a Panorama staffer shot back. 

I discussed the documentary here. Herrmann also spoke with Daniel Foggo, who presented it:

the story often seemed like a house of cards. “You could see over time that things had been conflated with other things, and then later used as corroboration,” he told me. “You start wondering if the ultimate provenance of these allegations was that some of these blokes looked a bit off.”

***

Herrmann also relates an encounter with David Aaronovitch, a journalist who expressed scepticism from the start. This fairly sums up the issues at stake:

Just before Carl Beech’s trial, I met David Aaronovitch. “Allow me for a moment to express my intense fury at the idiots who did this,” he said soon after we had sat down in a coffee shop near King’s Cross. He said he was referring to the sections of the media who promoted stories about elite paedophile rings and cover-ups without bothering to check if they were true… Aaronovitch is certainly angry with Exaro, but he sees a wider responsibility on the part of the media, which he thinks put the police under pressure to investigate made-up stories. “They [the police] are intimidated by us,” he said. “This one is our fault.”

Herrmann’s essay not the full story, of course: elements that do not appear include Wiltshire Police’s investigation into Edward Heath; the travails of the former MP John Hemming (again involving Hencke); and John Mann’s “Dickens dossiers” grandstanding. My hope is that Herrmann will expand on his work in a book-length treatment.

9 Responses

  1. […] However, there are some major points in Herrmann’s article which deserve some more examination. Richard Bartholomew has written a similar article to mine over on Barthsnotes. […]

  2. Another parliamentary researcher added:
    “There was a huge fight to get the stories… I had national journalists calling me on deadline at 6pm, and they were printing whatever I told them without checking. It was really worrying… they were more interested in beating their rival titles to the story than getting to the truth”.

    Cast your minds back to the loss of the libel trial involving various news outlets and Gordon Anglesea. Similar soundings to what Joshi’s researcher mentions? You decide.

    “Rose (David) now deeply regrets his own actions because of the damage the story ( I feature on the same double page spread along with Stephen Messham and Gordon Anglesea).
    The whole thing, he says, was done in a dangerous rush. ‘I think we all at the Observer got carried away with the idea of getting one over on the Independent on Sunday, which was at that stage breathing down the Observers neck in terms of circulation”. (The Secret of Bryn Estyn,2005, pg 283)

    Same shit different day. The article also omits the McAlpine fiasco that hit the news for the first week of November of 2012. What ever happened to the BIJ?

  3. From article above: “A new name in the saga is a trade unionist named Mike Broad.”

    Mike Broad was anonymised as, er, ‘MB’ in Met Commander Neil Jerome’s written statement to IICSA. Broad’s allegations (including ’10 boys and a girl’) were “based upon information that he had received from three journalists”: Jill Sanders, Dan Judge and Steve Scott.

    All three were interviewed:

    Sanders’ source was Kasir.
    Judge’s source was, er, Mike Broad (after which Judge went a-digging).
    Scott’s source was Fay & Mary Moss.

    https://www.iicsa.org.uk/key-documents/9706/view/OHY006904.pdf

  4. Remember this?
    “VIP paedophile inquiry: Police criticise Panorama broadcast”

    https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-34461709

  5. I don’t remember exactly why, but I had the impression BBC’s Mark Easton was involved in trying to have the proposed Panorama expose censored-blocked-killed. Having concluded that there had been a campaign to “frame” Leon Brittan for CSA that never happened, I was VERY distressed about that.

    I sent him an email, to plead with him not to block it;
    Mr Mark Easton,

    “Are you one of those BBC news personnel described as “blocking” the Panorama expose on CSA frauds? If so, I hope you’ll reconsider.

    Do you fear that genuine victims like Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (SOSA) won’t come to you, if you support the Panorama program? You’re wrong.
    When survivors of victimization find their voice, nothing will stop them from speaking out – as they say themselves – and if you are willing to assist them in speaking for themselves rather than presuming to tell their stories yourself, they will come to you.
    Survivors of the residential schools for First Nations children in Canada haven’t stopped speaking out just because fraudulent parasite fantasists like Kevin Annett have been exposed.

    To do nothing to expose the vampires & vultures feeding off the genuine tragedy of people like SOSA, such as the lying scumbag con-artist Chris Fay and his gang of Truther loonies and false accusers, such as the Belinda McKenzies and Sabine McNeils, such as the Exaro conspiracy, would be true moral cowardice in my opinion”

  6. Another dimension of this matter that has been omitted is one that was never in the canon of conventionally validated discussion about the Westminster conspiracy, but that would have been acutely noticed by anyone with a Twitter account who investigated relevant hashtags, or who looked at the more exotic replies to their tweets. That is the contribution of Wikileaks and its personnel, most notably the possibly pseudonymous ‘Heather Marsh.’

    Julian Assange had kept paedophile conspiracy ideas on a low simmer at his website for years, publicizing FBI lists of paedophile website symbols and reproducing correspondence about a ‘Washington sex ring’ by a pseudonymous conspiracy theory blogger, Tom Flocco, in 2012. In that year, he hired Heather Marsh as (effectively) Wikileaks’ publicist, and her communications on Twitter brought her into association with the Anonymous movement. The Anons and Marsh bonded in an Op (Anonymous operation) called #TwitterPedoRing that was at first targeted at ‘child porn’ posters but that merged into a general campaign against all paedophile communication called #OpPedoChat. Marsh left Wikileaks in 2012 but remained on good terms with its proprietor while she deepened her involvement with Anonymous. She became interested in allegations that the dictatorial president of Gabon was involved in ritual child sacrifice and campaigned for an investigation. In Nov. 2014, after being exposed to initial Exaro stories about ‘Nick’s’ revelations, she decided that political leaders globally were likely to be involved in child sacrifice and sexual exploitation, and drew together a swelling army of Anonymous activists and long-time conspiracy theorists in a prominent hashtag labeled #OpDeathEaters. The participants called for a public people’s tribunal of world leaders exposing their child sacrificing activities.

    Any posting on Twitter about matter related to paedophilia received extensive commentary from the crowd involved in #OpDeathEaters. Julian Assange appeared to buy into Marsh’s ideas, with Wikileaks officially tweeting in Mar. 2015 about “how the UK used its secret police to cover up allegations of an elite child-murdering paedophile ring (really).”

    As someone more concerned with the U.S. government than that of the U.K., Assange only occasionally pursued the Westminster theme, but he then used it as a prototype to co-construct the behemothic Pizzagate conspiracy theory in the U.S. in Nov. 2016. Thus, although the efforts of Marsh, Anonymous and Assange were by no means considered mainstream, they were conspicuous, and can only have been influential on the true-believer zeitgeist. This group successfully internationalized the strand of gullibility that Carl Beech and his fellow UK abuse-Munchausens had tapped into.

    This story is documented in detail at https://justpaste.it/58jer

  7. A good and detailed article from Joshi Herrmann. I am glad that the article avoids the all-too-easy “Exaro is to blame for everything” approach. David Aaronovitch is correct – much of the media were happy to go along with the claims, if only for a relatively short period in some cases.

  8. I do wonder if Mike Broad was “murunbuch” too.

    The archive of material on “spotlightonabuse” appears to be designed [with hindsight] to be a reference point for potentially fake claims of abuse to be made.

    What is also being overlooked is why Hencke and Broad were even necessary to be in attendance at a meeting between police and Tom Watson? If Watson was so confident of the material being true, it wasn’t, then why have a reporter and a trade unionist there?

    At that point in the police operation there was undue influence by having a group chat in such a way. Especially as Herrmann’s article reveals Broad was allegedly very unreliable. Also precisely what were other ex-coppers doing in all of this? The number who refused to give formal statements after making wild allegations seems to be also getting overlooked.

    Also, what exactly was MW-T doing re Brittan? Was he trying to corner the market on abuse claims? It’s pretty clear that the Tory backbencher involved was likely Goldsmith too. Goldsmith who has since been rewarded with a “promotion” into the HoL.

    The more that comes out about this whole farce the more it implicates ex-police officers in particular and very gullible and idiotic journalists and politicians.

    Something very fishy about the number of ex-officers with fingers in this particular episode.

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