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BBC Broadcasts Carl Beech Documentary

A documentary on the BBC iplayer:

The Unbelievable Story of Carl Beech

Directed by critically acclaimed film-maker Vanessa Engle, this documentary tells the jaw-dropping story of Carl Beech, a former nurse from Gloucester who claimed he had been sexually abused by a group of prominent men in the 1970s and 80s.

The scandal becomes front-page news in 2014 when Beech, better known by his pseudonym Nick, goes public with his incredible allegations, triggering a £2 million police investigation. The film features exclusive interviews with many of the people most closely involved.

The hour-long documentary, which went out last night on BBC 2, primarily takes a “human interest” approach, and although some of the interview material and photos are interesting and occasionally poignant the overall result was superficial and unsatisfying; the subject really needs extensive forensic treatment via a multi-part series if it is to be unpacked and analysed properly. Interviewees include, among others, Beech’s ex-wife Dawn Beech, Lord Bramall’s son Nicolas Bramall, Leon Brittan’s widow Diana Brittan, Exaro‘s Mark Conrad and Sir Richard Henriques, who produced a scathing review of the police following the collapse of Operation Midland, the “VIP abuse and murder” investigation that Beech’s cruel hoax set into motion.

There is also input from Joan Harborne, the ex-wife of Beech’s deceased step-father Raymond Beech, and their daughter Heather, who would have been Carl Beech’s step-sister (Beech was born Carl Gass, but took his step-father’s surname). Ray Beech was the first person whom Carl Beech accused of “historic” sex abuse, and Dawn Beech believes that this allegation at least was genuine. However, Harborne and Heather are adamant that this is not the case, and a PA journalist named Tom Wilkinson adds that Carl had employed a private investigator to find out whether Ray Beech was still alive before he first went to police in 2012 – indicating that he made efforts to ensure Ray was no longer around to defend himself before he made his first allegations. (1)

The documentary was reported in the media ahead of broadcast, and an item in The Times (2) includes one particularly striking detail:

[Mark] Conrad talks about the long period of depression he went through when Beech was found to be a liar. “I know that some of the police who were fooled have had breakdowns as well,” Engle says.

Conrad wrote the first articles that appeared in the Sunday People about Carl Beech (now deleted), who was at that time known in the media as “Nick”, and he is keen to stress Beech’s apparent credibility when asked about whether he was taken for a fool. Conrad and Exaro, the news agency he worked for, get an easy ride here, although Conrad’s self-pitying “depression” claim appears not have made the final cut. Conrad is not asked, for instance, why the Exaro Twitter account denounced doubters as “paedophiles” and “spooks”, or why the the site chose to keep readers in ignorance of the most extravagant elements of Beech’s account (such as an “attempted castration” allegation involving Harvey Proctor and Edward Heath). I discussed some of Conrad’s Tweets following Beech’s conviction here; perhaps the best therapy for his depression would be a round of apologies to those whom Exaro defamed.

The documentary is also notable for who is not featured. Carl Beech’s mother Charmain Beech did not contribute and is not mentioned by name, and Exaro‘s Mark Watts declined to participate. On Twitter, Watts explains his refusal in his usual way, which is to make conspiratorial insinuations of bad faith:

When Vanessa Engle approached me last year about BBC2 documentary on Carl Beech, due to air tonight, I said that the BBC could not be trusted on the subject given its own #VIPaedophile scandal, so I declined to take part [Link].

Other key figures who helped lift the lid a bit on the scandal of Britain’s #VIPaedophiles told me that they had said much the same to Vanessa Engle. Anyone with a genuine interest in truth realised that it would be foolish to participate in such a BBC documentary. [Link] …Engle told me that executive producer of the documentary on Carl Beech was Mike Radford. But she did not mention the other exec producer… The one who had produced a Panorama on #VIPaedophile claims after its editor said that it should adopt an anti-victim agenda [Link]

This “other exec producer” whom Watts for some reason declines to name is Alistair Jackson. The Panorama documentary he is referring to is discussed in the programme – it went out in October 2015 and Exaro launched extensive attacks on its makers’ personal integrity ahead of broadcast, which I logged at the time here. Watts has more recently put forward an argument that Beech’s conviction for perverting the course of justice is “unsafe”, for reasons I have unpicked here. Watts’s disdain for the BBC is hard to take from someone who used to have a show on the Iranian propaganda channel Press TV.

Meanwhile, there have also been criticisms that the documentary played down the involvement of Tom Watson MP, who infamously amplified Beech’s claim that Leon Brittan was “as close to evil as a human being could get” (I discussed the context for this here). Watson is mentioned only in passing, and the Daily Mail alleges that he was only included at all because “furious victims” had complained about his absence from the story, leading to a last-minute re-edit.

One aspect of the fiasco that deserves further consideration is the role of the media more broadly. A Joshi Herrmann noted in the Evening Post in March:

It’s also popular to blame Exaro News, the website that… sold [Beech’s] story to The Sunday People, ignoring how much the Westminster paedophile story was spread by news organisations like the BBC, LBC, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail.

Engle’s documentary includes a clip of Beech’s allegations featuring as the lead story on the BBC News; as the journalist Anne McElvoy now notes on Twitter, “we have not yet heard a full BBC explanation of how unsubstantiated claims could lead news bulletins and who thinks they were responsible”. If you’re wondering why placards reading “Westminster pedos are protected” were present at Saturday’s “soft-QAnon” “Save the Children” protests, this sort of thing is part of the explanation.

The credits were accompanied by a pop song apparently called “Would I Lie to You?”, and the general verdict on Twitter is that this was in poor taste. Another odd decision of Engle was to ask interviewees to read extracts from Beech’s writings, including his comically execrable poetry. Henriques declined the invitation.

Footnotes

(1) Other interviewees include Mike Pierce, who was inspired by Beech to create a sentimental exhibition called “Wall of Silence” (previously discussed here); Elly Hanson, a clinical psychologist who was involved with the case (discussed here); the criminologist Richard Hoskins (I noted his criticisms previously here); Bernice Andrews, a psychologist who was belatedly asked to assess Beech’s claims as Operation Midland floundered; and Anna-Lisa Andersson, Beech’s oblivious neighbour while he was on the run in Sweden (“my intuition said he was a good man, honest man who wanted to do his best”).

(2) The Times article also includes the following:

…after an 18-month investigation that cost £2.5 million and put huge stress on the accused men — Proctor lost his job and home — not a single arrest had been made. The allegations were completely fabricated. Last year Beech, who had been awarded more than £20,000 in compensation for non-existent injuries suffered in the alleged abuse, was tried and sentenced to 18 years in prison for offences including fraud and perverting the course of justice.

This gives the impression that Beech received compensation relating to Operation Midland, when in fact it resulted from his first complaint, made to Wiltshire Police in 2012. The point is clearer in the documentary, and it is significant: Beech originally accused Raymond Beech, Jimmy Savile and an unnamed “group”, and it is reasonable to assume that he mentioned Savile because he had correctly surmised that claims involving Savile would be subject to inadequate scrutiny and due diligence. This suggests a problem that is far more systemic than the fiasco of Operation Midland, as I noted here.