Jon Wedger Promotes Satanic Ritual Abuse Conspiracy Theorist Wilfred Wong

Wong claims that sceptics are themselves Satanists who will be “exposed”

Back in October, I noted self-described “police whistleblower” Jon Wedger’s increasing interest in Satanic Ritual Abuse allegations, following his video interview with Vicky Ash, a supposed “survivor” associated with the evangelical SRA conspiracy theorist Wilfred Wong. Wedger has now followed up with a feature-length livestream with Wong himself, held in the grounds of an unidentified Victorian church in north London.

Wedger’s descent into the most lurid sensationalism was probably always inevitable, but the immediate context here is that Wedger appears to have become increasingly vexed by critics and sceptics online and in the media. He refers in particular to the Hoaxtead Research blog and also to “a periodical” – the latter obviously a reference to the current issue of Private Eye magazine (No, 1492, p. 38), which carries a short article (“It’s a Brees”) referencing his association with the new Edward Heath accuser Mike Tarraga.

Wong helpfully suggests to Wedger that critical journalists and sceptics are themselves involved in Satanic Ritual Abuse and will soon be “exposed”; such a glib explanation is a natural outgrowth of Wong’s unreconstructed 1980s “Satanic Panic” worldview, which extrapolates from various phenomena – the transgressive showmanship of Aleister Crowley and Anton LaVey, the existence of the law-abiding Church of Satan, and a few old cases where sexual abusers apparently acted out stereotypical Satanic tropes, for whatever reason – into wild claims about Satanic covens that supposedly exist in “every town and village” in the UK, with all levels of society “infiltrated” by Satanic abusers and killers. Wong’s continuing promotion of the Hampstead Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax is particularly callous, given that he must know of the suffering experienced by parents and teachers who were identified and falsely accused by Sabine McNeill.

Edward Heath looms large in the discussion – Wong believes that Heath was a Satanist prime minister, thus proving the extent of Satanism in the UK, while Wedger, it seems to me, hopes that by continuing to highlight allegations against Heath he will in due course ingratiate himself with Mike Veale, the former Chief Constable responsible for the Operation Conifer fiasco (Wedger claims to be in contact with Veale, but nothing in the public domain shows that Veale has responded to his overtures). Wedger now says that he has found two new Heath accusers: one of these is the aforementioned Tarraga (not mentioned here by name), while the other is a woman who according to Wedger says she was abused by Satanists at parties, but that she had been excluded from one that was just for boys – according to her, this particular party was “being set up for Ted Heath”.

Towards the end, there is also this detail from Wedger (1.16.36):

There was one case, a guy come to me and he was sent to an approved school in east London, and he was abused, and he remembers it was ritualistic, there was Pentagrams on the floor, and it was a caretaker that was doing it. And that was in a residential school, and he was subject to it, as was his brother and many other kids.

The context here is again suggestive of Tarraga, who was raised in care along with his brother, and who attended an approved school. Tarraga was in Harwich in Essex rather than London, although the location is about 90 miles northeast of London. Such a story, though, does not appear in Tarraga’s revised memoir, which was produced under Wedger’s guidance.

UPDATE: The interview has now been advertised by Andrew Cheetham on David Icke’s website. Icke’s own Twitter feed has also promoted it (or rather, used it to promote himself) via one of his lurid memes.

The Caroline Farrow “Misgendering” Controversy

From the Evening Standard:

A devout Catholic and mum-of-five faces being questioned by police after being reported for using the wrong pronoun to describe a transgender girl on Twitter.

Caroline Farrow, 44, has been told police in Surrey want to conduct a “taped interview under caution” after receiving reports she had made transphobic comments online.

The 44-year-old is being investigated under the malicious communications act, and although the interview would be voluntary, she claims she could face arrest if she does not attend.

Farrow is a regular media commentator on Catholic matters; she and her husband are converts from Anglicanism, and because her husband was formerly an Anglican vicar she is now in the unusual situation of being married to a Catholic priest. I noted her intervention in the Alfie Evans case here.

The police investigation has apparently now been dropped after the accuser withdrew her complaint, but there are several points worth noting here.

First, it transpired that despite numerous headlines, the basis for the complaint was not “misgendering” (aka “confundir el sexo”, according to one report in Spanish), but rather rather the crude and polemical terms in which Farrow had described the circumstances in which a transwoman named Jackie Green, now aged 25, had transitioned in Thailand aged 16. Farrow accused Green’s mother Susie Green of “child abuse” for facilitating the operation, which was described by Farrow in reductive terms as a “castration”. These were in Tweets from October that have since been deleted, although Farrow’s Twitter archive goes back some years.

Farrow suggests that she was not made aware by police that the complaint pertained to these Tweets, rather than just “misgendering”. This explanation is not implausible: “misgendering” may have served as the easiest hook on which could peg a “hate crime”, with the Tweets to be introduced during the interview as evidence of a “hate motive”. Equally, however, the police investigating a case of “misgendering” is an easy media story that more readily fits a boilerplate narrative of “PC gone mad”.

The need to establish a motive perhaps explains Surrey Police’s statement to the media:

A thorough investigation is being carried out to establish whether any criminal offences have taken place.

A 44-year-old woman has been asked to attend a voluntary interview in relation to the allegation as part of our ongoing investigation.

This could be taken to mean that the police believe there is a case to answer, and they just wanted to give Farrow the opportunity to put her side of the story before referring the matter to the CPS – but given the paucity of progress since October I think it’s more likely that the police had insufficient evidence to proceed and were hoping that Farrow would have obliged them by saying something incriminating during the interview. This smacks of fishing.

A further point of interest here is that Farrow has more than once herself made complaints to the police about various individuals, alleging online harassment or stalking. Farrow is sometimes subjected to abuse and intrusion, but some of her complaints have been unwarranted and she has had a tendency to portray her interaction with police being a police endorsement of her claims: over the years she has stated that this person or that has been “written to by Surrey police”, or that police have taken “a detailed statement” from her.

One particularly unpleasant instance was after she asked my friend Tim Ireland to investigate the origin of a sockpuppet account that was attacking her – Tim determined that, as it were, the call was coming from inside the house, which prompted Farrow to make a stalking allegation. She was encouraged in this by Nadine Dorries MP, who wanted to revive a failed complaint of her own by involving other accusers.

On her blog, Dorries falsely accused Tim of having caused Farrow to have gone into premature labour in 2012 – Farrow’s own Tweets comprehensively disproved the allegation, but she nevertheless endorsed Dorries’ version. This required her to retcon allegations of harassment she had made against others in 2012 as instead having been due to Tim.

Excurcus

A commentary on the police investigation has been posted online by Barbara Hewson. Barbara argues that Green’s complaint ought to have handled as a civil matter:

Green’s route to the lawful vindication of her good name lies in a defamation action in the High Court, therefore, not via the police.

I have argued before that people should not seek to reintroduce the criminal offence of libel through the back door, by going to the police alleging “hate crime”, harassment or malicious communications. That is deeply regressive.

This is a trend that I have noted previously.

Tommy Robinson Lashes Out at Critic after Lawyer Arranges Service Stunt

From Mike Stuchbery at the Independent:

For the last few months, I have written about the methods used by “Tommy Robinson” to intimidate and harass those who dare to criticise him. I do this because he’s the most visible figure in a surging UK far right, feted by politicians and media figures alike.

Tonight he paid me a visit. Twice.

After tweeting the news that he was about to be served papers for defamation at his home in Central Bedfordshire, I got to see, in response, what his customary “doorstepping” was like for myself.

Robinson live-streamed the incident to Facebook via an associate, and the video can be easily found on YouTube. Robinson repeatedly bangs on Sutchbery’s door and demands Sutchbery come out; he also promises to return night after night, and he boasts that Sutchbery’s neighbours and others in the town will now be aware that his home is the address of a “case” and a “wrongun”. Robinson also told a passerby who recognised him that Stuchbery is “in with all these bondage and these weird sex cases”, which prompted the passerby ask if he was “looking for a paedo”; Robinson does not clarify.

Stuchbery’s Tweet about Robinson being served papers referred readers to a livestream on the Facebook page of a group called “Resisting Hate”. He also noted that “ITV, Guardian & the Daily Mail” were in attendance, and made a jocular reference to Robinson being doorstepped in the same way that he has doorstepped others. (1) It seems that he was afterwards targeted by Robinson primarily for reasons of convenience: Stuchbery happens to live not far from Robinson’s home, and he is primarily an independent writer rather than a journalist who enjoys the backing of a big news corporation – although Robinson claims that he has the addresses of journalists whom he will “expose”, including one he describes as “Mr Daily Mail Reporter” (a reference to this article).

However, I don’t share Stuchbery’s enthusiasm for the way that the lawyer Tasnime Akunjee (var. Mohammed T. Akunjee) turned the serving of legal papers into a media circus. Akunjee’s first and only concern should be for the best interests of his client, the Syrian teenager “Jamal” who says that Robinson libelled him. The serving of papers could probably have been arranged by mutual agreement elsewhere (although the Daily Mail says that Robinson had ignored earlier correspondence), but if it was really necessary to attend Robinson’s address then a regulated and professional process server ought to have been used.

Instead, Akunjee delegated the task to one Dick Coughlan, described in the Independent as a “YouTuber”. Coughlan is a comedian whose appearance is dishevelled; even Stuchbery describes him as “half ratbeast”, and he brought along a Staffordshire terrier. (2) Coughlan’s involvement was obviously meant to provoke, and it is unclear why the date chosen was one on which it had been widely reported that Robinson was away in Finland. Akunjee followed up the incident by promoting Coughlan’s Patreon page on social media, although he later thought better of it and deleted a Tweet on the subject.

Coughlan did not reach Robinson’s address – instead, he handed the papers to a police officer who was blocking the way (reportedly about 50 metres distant from the house). Coughlan approached the officer alone, having handed over the dog to an associate. At one point the name of a nearby road is visible, and Coughlan refers to a house number.

Although there was no contact with Robinson’s family, this is not how things should be done. However, Akunjee and Coughlan’s stunt was an excuse rather than a reason to target Stuchbery – and to send a message that other critics had better be careful.

According to a statement issued by Bedfordshire Police:

We were called to reports of a man causing a disturbance outside a house in Luton at around 10:52 last night [Monday] and again at around 5:21am this morning [Tuesday]. Officers attended and we are now establishing the circumstances around both incidents so we can determine whether any offences have been committed.

UPDATE: Stuchbery has published a message that UKIP’s NEC Elizabeth Jones has sent to supporters defending Robinson’s behaviour. In her version of the story, “5 men turned up” at Robinson’s house and “terrorised his wife and children”. After “finding out who they were”, Robinson “knocked on the one journalist’s door he knew to ask why”. (3)

UPDATE 2: Robinson has now given his version of the incident on the Alex Jones Show. Robinson told the American conspiracy monger that “six men” in masks had reached to his house and scared his children, and that Coughlan had afterwards made malicious comments about his family on Twitter (Coughlan’s account is currently suspended). These men, according to Robinson, were “sent” by Stuchbery, a claim presumably extrapolated from Stuchbery’s support for crowdfunding the legal action.

Robinson also denies any responsibility for what his supporters may do now, and downplays how he conducted himself outside Stuchbery’s house:

I’ve had so many people contact me…, so many people message me saying “we’ll go get them, we know where they live.” I haven’t said a word, but now, I realise I’m probably being set up… I actually went myself to one of these men’s houses, who set up the people to come to my house and I knocked… I went completely on my own and knocked on the door and said “You have been intimidating my children, come outside and answer a few questions.”

Robinson further claims that the following morning he confronted two men in a white van outside his home, who said they were plumbers but eventually admitted to being police officers with recording equipment (he has a video extract of the van). Robinson told Jones that he is being “set up” so that he can be accused of conspiracy to commit a crime; Jones warns him that the government plans to assassinate him and plant a weapon on him.

Footnotes

1. One of those previously targeted by Robinson include my friend Tim Fenton, shortly after Tim criticised James Delingpole for mainstreaming Robinson via a softball interview. There is reason to suspect that Tim’s blog post was specifically brought to Robinson’s attention by someone else for their own reasons, and that this person or persons supplied the address. More on that here.

2. This seems to me to have been particularly ill-considered, especially if Coughlan foresaw a confrontation. Staffordshire terriers already suffer from an undeserved reputation for aggression, and to bring one to what might become a fraught situation where any dog might become frightened and lash out was irresponsible.

3. Liz Jones goes on to relate that at a recent meeting in Durham, 90% of the audience who had come to see her and UKIP leader Gerard Batten said they no longer “listen or view the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky”, and that when “one man said he only watched Russia Today” there was “loud approvement”.

Some Notes on the Robert Hannigan Resignation

From the Mail on Sunday:

One of Britain’s top spy chiefs quit after it emerged that he helped a paedophile Catholic priest avoid jail, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Prime Minister Theresa May was last night accused of a cover-up over the scandal as she knew of GCHQ director Robert Hannigan’s connection to the child sex offender when he stood down in 2017.

…After Mr Hannigan provided a character reference for Father Edmund Higgins at his 2013 trial, the priest’s eight-month sentence was suspended.

…With the Prime Minister’s blessing, he was allowed to resign on January 23, 2017, citing family commitments. Anonymous briefings were given to the media that he would be caring for sick relatives.

…After his conviction, Higgins, who had served at St Elizabeth’s Church in Richmond, South-West London, was defrocked and changed his name to Edmund Black, but continued to offend.

We can only speculate as to why this has come to light now, and why the story was handed to the MoS‘s deputy political editor Harry Cole (1). The first line (and front-page headline) hint at some sort of improper influence, when in fact the supposed “cover up” merely refers to a personal embarrassment that had no bearing on Hannigan’s integrity or competence (it’s not even clear to what extent his character reference influenced Black’s judge, if at all). On Twitter, Cole has further promoted the story in terms of “Despite knowing Hannigan connection , No10 let him resign quietly into lucrative private security sector”.

But why shouldn’t he have been allowed to “resign quietly”? I find myself agreeing with Ann Widdicombe, that Hannigan’s acknowledgement of his error “should have been the end of the matter”, and that “in a more sensible world, of course, there should have been nothing to hide.”

One person who predicted that there was more to Hannigan’s resignation than we were being told was Peter Hitchens, who in early 2017 wrote that

Last week the chief of Britain’s electronic spying agency, GCHQ, quit without warning or adequate reason. Robert Hannigan, we were briefly told, left his ultra-sensitive £160,000-a- year post after just two years for ‘personal reasons’ . Mr Hannigan is 51 and has previously worked as ‘director general of defence and intelligence’ at the Foreign Office. He can hardly have expected the GCHQ job to allow him to spend a lot of time at home with his family. One has to suspect a controversy. (2)

It seems that Hannigan’s discretion was such that he preferred to have this question mark hanging over him than for GCHQ to be responsible for the agency being at the centre of negative publicity.

But discretion is one thing; misleading briefings are another. Even white lies from public officials undermines public trust, and in this instance conspiracy theories flourished. As Jeremy Duns noted in Foreign Policy:

In March 2017, [former CIA analyst Larry C.] Johnson claimed on his blog that Britain’s signals intelligence agency GCHQ — or, as he repeatedly called it, “GHCQ” — intercepted communications within Trump Tower during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. His evidence for this? GCHQ Director Robert Hannigan had resigned three days after Trump’s inauguration. Hannigan announced that he would be caring for his ill wife and elderly parents, but Johnson saw a darker plot in the timing, writing, “I do not believe in coincidences.” Like many a conspiracy theorist before him, Johnson sought out a reassuringly malevolent order amid the world’s daily churn of chaos. The real reason, he surmised, was obvious: The Brits had passed intelligence they had gathered on Trump to the Obama administration, and as soon as Trump was apprised of this, Hannigan had been forced to step down.

Johnson repeated this fanciful claim on the Kremlin-funded network RT, after which it was picked up by Andrew Napolitano, a Trump confidant and pundit for Fox News. Two days later, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer cited Napolitano’s comments at a briefing, provoking an unusually forceful denial from the Brits.

Another ex-CIA officer, Philip Giraldi (executive director of the Council for the National Interest), promoted the same story at the American Conservative, but focusing on a supposed connection with Michael Flynn.

Perhaps the new revelation will put this old conspiracy theory to bed; but it’s just as likely to be assimilated into an even murkier speculative narrative.

Footnotes

1. Cole was until recently at the Sun, having entered journalism via working for Paul Staines. I don’t have a good opinion of him. His predecessor as Mail on Sunday Deputy Political Editor was Glen Owen, who has now taken over from Simon Walters as Political Editor. Walters, who has moved over to the Daily Mail, produced several MoS articles that promoted Chief Constable Mike Veale and his investigation into Edward Heath.

2. Hitchens’ principle is worth bearing in mind when it comes to other unexpected resignations and retirements, such as this one.

A Note on Tommy Robinson vs Panorama: Part II

From the Independent:

Tommy Robinson played footage from his wedding day to thousands of protesters outside BBC headquarters after the video he wanted to show failed to load.

Supporters, some wearing hi-visibility vests with “Free Tommy” written on them, gathered from 11am on Saturday in the car park in Salford‘s Media City as the right-wing leader prepared to show clips from a new film.

…Canadian musician Kelly Day gave two performances of a version of Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah”, with the lyrics changed to reflect the story of Robinson’s court case and a chorus of “how they rule ya”.

Robinson also played a video clip showing him declaring himself “king of the whole Islam race”, which was reported on earlier this month, though he omitted the parts where he boasted about scoring drugs and used a racial slur.

Robinson did eventually manage to show his video Panodrama, a critique and supposed exposé of the BBC documentary strand Panorama which he is confident will explode an investigation into him – indeed, he appears to believe that the scandal is so great that the BBC itself will fall.

On social media there is some frustration among Robinson’s supporters that media coverage has so far focused on the extended warm-up act rather than the substance of the video. However, this is Robinson’s own fault: he presided over a distracting spectacle that overshadowed the main event; he hasn’t provided a detailed summary in writing; and a promised upload has failed to materialise. Currently, the only way to see the thing is to find near-inaudible camera recordings uploaded by random attendees.

The only substantive write-up of the video itself has been provided by Robinson’s allies at Breitbart, in an article by Jack Montgomery. Montgomery expands on Panorama reporter John Sweeney’s lubricated indiscretions that were trailed last week, and he recounts claims made by Robinson’s sometime videographer Caolan Robertson about how he was approached by the documentary makers. As written up by Montgomery, Robertson “appear[ed] to suggest HOPE Not Hate claimed they were ‘steering’ the BBC documentary” and “were present at meetings between himself and the BBC”.

More bizarrely, Caolan Robertson also “alleged they [Hope Not Hate] engaged in intimidation and sexual impropriety” – claims that Montgomery notes have been rejected by Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles, who says Robertson had retracted before the video was shown; lawyers are now involved, and this may have something to do with the lack of any official upload. From what I’ve seen of the video, Robertson alleged that the “intimidation” consisted of Hope Not Hate investigators advising Robertson and his associates that they may be in trouble with the police unless they cooperated in providing information.

Further:

The fieriest section of Robinson’s documentary comes when he confronts Sweeney about a clip which, Robinson believes, showed Sweeney suggest that a past dispute with [Lucy] Brown could be clipped in a misleading way.

Robinson also claimed one of Sweeney’s statements indicated that he intended to create an impression of some “sexual” misconduct by him — which Sweeney denied was the case, claiming Robinson had “mischaracterised” him.

It was Brown who filmed Sweeney’s liquid lunch, during which we now know that he used the terms “honky” and “woofter”, and expressed admiration for the late Martin McGuinness. That seems to have been the only “undercover” segment of the video.

The video also shows that Sweeney was taken in by a fake text message that Brown sent to her herself via FakeMyTextMessage, to give the impression that Tommy Robinson had threatened her – this was an exercise to show how easy it is to concoct fake evidence that is then taken seriously. Presumably Sweeney was unaware that a text message could be faked, but the message – “If u have anything to do wiv the Panorama doc I will fucking bury you you bitch” – was such a perfect gift that Sweeney ought to have been suspicious of it.

How significant is all this? Sweeney’s lunch discourse is personally embarrassing but not much more than that; and the fact that newsgathering is sometimes an ugly and pushy business that may be compromised by bad actors offering false information is not much of a revelation either. However, allegedly discussing how a clip might be presented in a deliberately misleading way goes beyond the normal journalistic instinct for sensation and ought to be taken seriously by the BBC, even if such a ploy would perhaps not have withstood the editorial path to broadcast.

Currently, there is no indication that the BBC is planning to pull the Panorama episode, despite Robinson’s boasts – indeed, Panorama has issued a statement asserting that it intends to continue – and it will be interesting to see what it has to offer that Robertson hasn’t been talking about.

A Note on the Penny Mellor Conviction

From the Essex Halstead Gazette:

AN obsessive woman who breached her restraining order by posting a series of aggressive Tweets towards an anti-abuse campaigner has been jailed for four months.

Penelope Mellor denied two counts of breaching the order, which was put in place in March 2015 and banned her from contacting or posting messages online about Shy Keenan, who lives near Colchester.

However, yesterday a jury at Chelmsford Crown Court found the 57-year-old guilty on both counts.

The “series” in fact consisted of two Tweets: one referred to an alias previously used by Keenan, and the other described her 2008 memoir Broken as “utter drivel”; according to the report, they also included “gun emojis”.

Curiously, the two Tweets dated from October 2015 and August 2016, and it’s unclear why it took so long for the matter to come to court. Perhaps they were not noticed at the time – but who, then, dug them out so much later? The story was also reported in the Express and Star during the trial, but for some reason is no longer available – that piece headlined Mellor’s defence that the alias was actually the name of someone else, accidentally modified by a spellchecker into Keenan’s alias. BBC Essex noted the trial outcome in a Tweet.

Further details of the court case have been posted to Twitter by the journalist Mark Watts, who is best known for his association with the Operation Midland complainant while working for Exaro. However, Watts did not just observe the proceedings in Chelmsford; he apparently had contact with the police while he was there: “detectives tell me that police are asking themselves whether the little Twitter troll friends of Penelope Mellor… will learn the lesson from her jailing today and stop harassing people – especially abuse survivors” (here); and “I predicted to one officer who has been investigating some of this crowd that they would troll several people in response to yday’s jailing of Penny Mellor aka Penelope Mellor. He asked: ‘Can they really be that stupid?'” (here).

Watts also noticed that Barbara Hewson was present, and he says that he reported this important fact to police, who were “very interested”. Barbara had been vocally critical of Keenan’s part in bringing to trial an elderly former headmaster named Jack Mount on historic abuse charges: Mount was cleared in two trials, and when the third was halted due to Mount’s ill health she described the case as having been “a wicked crusade by Shy and her brain-damaged cohort, Sara”. This was an unkind reference to the campaigner Sara Payne, who apparently suffered a stroke a few years ago: she and Keenan were officially designated “Sun Justice Campaigners” by the tabloid in 2012, in which capacity they fronted stories highlighting child sex abuse and asked the public for information pertinent to Mount’s case. Barbara has also made various comments about Keenan of a scathing nature.

Barbara (wisely) deleted the Tweet, but not before it was noticed by Watts, who says he took it to the Sun on Sunday. Jonathan Reilly’s write-up in that paper is now pinned to the head of Watts’s Twitter page, and an article covering the same ground was also assembled by Jonathan Ames at The Times. Given Barbara’s position as a barrister the story might have some news value, but it is notable that the only two outlets who regarded it as significant enough to publish had particular interests of their own: the Sun, to protect the brand of their “Justice Campaigner”; and Ames at The Times, to implicitly justify and bolster a previous story he had written about Barbara (discussed here).

In case there is any doubt, my view is that Barbara ought not to have posted such a Tweet about Payne; and it is clear that some of Penny Mellor’s comments about and to Keenan that led to her 2015 conviction crossed the line, both as regards quantity and content, some of which was vicious. But one gets a sense that Watts’s interaction with the mainstream media has been strategic, and his vague suggestions about the police sniffing around might inhibit reasonable discussion about matters of public interest.

There is no doubt that Keenan was a victim of abuse while growing up – I can still remember quite vividly the special edition of Newsnight from 2000 devoted to the subject (facilitated by Max Clifford, apparently), in which one of her abusers not only admitted what he had done but seemed to think there was nothing wrong about it (he even seemed to believe that his role in introducing her to other abusers was actually mitigation, since he wasn’t he only one doing it). Yet her book Broken was withdrawn by the publisher Hodder in 2014, for reasons that have not been officially explained; and while this is not conclusive evidence of falsehood it does put a cloud over some of her self-presentation.

Also, Keenan and Payne have a specific discourse about abuse that is arguable, that Keenan sums up as “Anti-Victim Prejudice” (AVP). As explained in a 2014 op-ed for Huffpost, this is a wide-ranging concept that includes not believing accusers: “Every time we talk about paedophiles, they bang on about those who may be falsely accused.” Such expressions of doubt should be “outlawed” – a proposal that may have seemed reasonable to some in 2014, when all manner of “VIP allegations” were flying around, but is now obviously reckless, after the collapse of a number of investigations (several of which, it should be noted, Watts was invested in) and issues around police disclosure. Keenan traces “AVP” to the Paedophile Information Exchange, who she says managed to “manipulate judicial and social policy” in the 1970s.

It is also worth remembering that Mellor’s 2015 trial included a surprise appearance from the TV presenter Esther Rantzen, who famously founded Childline in the 1980s. As reported by Mail Online (sic for “Jimmy Saville” rather than “Jimmy Savile”):

…Dame Esther today discussed allegations by child sex abuse victim and justice campaigner Shy Keenan that were printed on the front page of the Sun under the headline ‘Abuse campaigner: I told Esther Rantzen about paedo Jimmy Saville 18 years ago.’

She said she ‘would have remembered’ if she had been told by Ms Keenan that Saville, Gary Glitter and Jonathan King were child abusers.

If she had been told of such an ‘explosive allegation’ Dame Esther said she would have told her to go to the police.

…Dame Esther told the court: ‘The Sun journalist told me Shy Keenan told them that I said they were too rich, too powerful and that I, Esther Rantzen, could do nothing about it.

‘I said that’s absolutely untrue. I never took the view that anyone was too rich or too powerful. I have a track record in this.’ 

The Sun article appeared in October 2012, shortly after the Exposure documentary on Savile, and it comes across as bandwagon-jumping. Most obviously, given Keenan’s position in public life since 2000, why had she not raised the issue with the journalists and senior police officers with whom she was now in contact as a campaigner (a point discussed in some detail by Moor Larkin)?

The current “hot news” value of Mellor’s conviction ought not to obscure this wider context. Nor should reasonable people be intimidated by Watts’s boasts about his contacts with police and liberal use of the word “troll” to discourage discussion.

A Note on Tommy Robinson vs Panorama

From UKIP leader Gerard Batten on Twitter, last week:

Tommy Robinson is going to reveal how the BBC’s Panorama set out to frame him in its ‘Tommy Takedown’ programme. He has undercover evidence proving a ‘fake news’ scandal that will shock the nation. He says he will reveal all on 23rd Feb. My advice to him is don’t wait, do it now.

Such an extended delay raises the suspicion that Robinson is more interested in hyping his material rather than relying on the substance of it – by the time we get to 23 February his supporters will be so invested in the eagerly anticipated exposé (entitled Panodrama) that its status as a devastating revelation will be an article of faith whether or not it delivers on Robinson’s promises.

In the meantime, though, Robinson has trailed a couple of segments on his Facebook page, derived from undercover recordings of Panorama journalist John Sweeney apparently in conversation with informants known to Robinson. In one of these, Sweeney talks about how unusual it is to have working-class people as guests on BBC Newsnight, and he recalls going out for a drink with one because of the novelty of it. Warming to an anthropological analogy, he perhaps infelicitously says that he undertook this foray like “the way that you would do with somebody, from the, you know a cannibal from… Amazonia or maybe a creature from outer space”. Inevitably, Robinson has presented this as evidence that Sweeney regards working-class people as being “like cannibals”.

The second segment shows Sweeney acting out Private Eye magazine’s golden age of Fleet Street character Lunchtime O’Booze, quaffing his way through an array of beverages at an extravagant liquid lunch for two and ostentatiously charging £220 to expenses. This might reasonably be considered a misuse of money raised by the BBC licence fee, both because of the bill itself and because Sweeney was unlikely to be of much use to his employer for the rest of the day. This was an unnecessary embarrassment, which raises general questions about the privileges and leeway enjoyed by celebrity journalists at the BBC and perhaps elsewhere (and, given the excessive consumption, whether the BBC has a duty of care to an employee with an addiction).

Some of Robinson’s supporters meanwhile are supplementing these clips with Sweeney’s infamous 2007 “exploding tomato” routine, in which he was goaded into yelling at a Scientology spokesperson during a previous investigation (discussed by me here). In both instances, it seems to me, Sweeney underestimated his quarry.

Robinson claims that his video will reveal attempts to “blackmail” associates into making false claims against him, and he has highlighted Panorama‘s partnership with Hope Not Hate, which has the franchise as the official face of anti-extremist activism in UK, notwithstanding some methodological criticisms and other concerns. He also claims that staff working on the Panorama documentary informally referred to it as the “Tommy Takedown”, thus indicating bias. It seems to me that it is always worth questioning why a particular news documentary is made at any particular time, but this does not mean it lacks value or legitimacy. For instance, I was very pleased when Panorama discredited the buffoonish MP Patrick Mercer, but I still wonder why exactly he was targeted when he was.

Currently, Robinson’s clips of Sweeney are being ignored by the mainstream media – naturally, however, articles have appeared on Breitbart, and there is also a write-up in Czech that has been posted to Filip Vávra’s Středoevropan website. The Sun, in contrast, has published self-recorded clips of Robinson in Bologna last month drunkenly boasting that he can score drugs and describing a taxi as “a little Paki that drives a car”. In a Facebook video, Robinson has dismissed all this as harmless banter with Asian friends, and suggested that the clips have appeared in response to his plans to expose Panorama. (1)

Anti-BBC activists on the right are likely to promote Robinson’s work, thus mainstreaming him further – and his clips have also been highlighted opportunistically by the self-described police whistleblower Jon Wedger, who wrote on Twitter that “I feel the BBC need to do more to expose an establishment cover up. Especially in relation to former PM Edward Heath”. (2)

Footnotes

1. Intriguingly, Robinson also says that he “had a meeting this week with a bishop”.

2. Wedger is currently attempting to revive lurid allegations against Heath that were done to death and found wanting between 2015 and 2017, perhaps in order to ingratiate himself with Mike Veale. Wedger also clarifies that “I don’t like Tommy for many reasons but I do like that he’s gone undercover at Panorama”. However, one video promoted on his website is titled “Insight UK Column – Support for Tommy Robinson”.

The conspiracy milieu in general has grudge against Panorama after it debunked specific “Westminster VIP” child-sex abuse allegations in 2015. However, some of the BBC’s output has been more credulous: most notoriously, Newsnight‘s botched segment on Bryn Estyn in late 2012, and in 2015 Becky Milligan’s “David’s Story” segments for BBC Radio 4’s The World at One.

Jon Wedger Finds another Edward Heath Accuser

At the start of the month, self-described “police whistleblower” Jon Wedger announced a new allegation against former Prime Minister Ted Heath:

We are going live this morning. With former BBC ITV reporter @BreesAnna interviewing a man claiming to have been sexually abused by Former prime minister Sir Edward Heath, and launching his book

The accuser in this instance is one Michael Tarraga (var. Mike Tarraga), who says that he was brought to Heath while he was a child in care. According to his account, as given in an interview with Brees:

Uncle Teddy was a sailor. A politician sailor. I didn’t know anything about him. I was taken one afternoon [from school]… to a place called Pin Mill, which was a little sailing place in Suffolk I think it was, or Essex. And [I] went there, and there was a silver-haired man, a portly chap, and another chap who I was told was a doctor. And I was with another boy, we were told to swim naked, which we did, or in our underwear, which we did also, and spent an interesting afternoon in a foc’sle cabin with who I discovered was called Ted Heath, who was a very prominent sailor. That’s all I knew. I knew nothing else. And it clocked years later, “this Prime Minister played with me”. That’s what I thought. I thought no-one, nobody in their right senses is going to believe me. And I was right. Nobody did believe me.

In another video, Brees explains that this was in 1962, when Tarraga was 13 years old.

Tarraga has had a difficult life, which he has written about in a 2017 self-published memoir titled The Successful Failure: The Life of an Uncouth Lout. However, under the guidance of Wedger and Brees, the book has now been re-published as Meat Rack Boy, in reference to the notorious rent-boy scene that used to exist in the vicinity of Piccadilly Circus in central London. This new edition includes the Heath story: as Brees says, “what we’ve done with the book is put a little bit more detail in […]. We’ve also talked about the incident with Edward Heath”.

Wedger previously interviewed Tarraga last month, and according to Brees Heath’s name came up afterwards: “It was Jon Wedger was talking to you after, you know, off-camera, and you just said ‘yeah, I saw him. He was called Uncle Teddy'”. In other words, Heath’s name only came up because Wedger mentioned him first – and Tarraga would have known what Wedger wanted to hear. The name “Uncle Teddy” is reminiscent of “Uncle Eddie”, which was the name provided by another Heath accuser, James Reeves – whom Wedger interviewed last September. Like Tarraga, Reeves was also raised and abused in care during the 1950s and 1960s, but details in his “VIP” allegations against Heath and others are contradicted by the historical record.

As with Reeves, Tarraga’s story about Heath is impossible. I have no idea what happened to him at Pin Mill, but Heath’s involvement can be ruled out. First, Heath did not take up sailing until 1966, and it took a bit of time after that before he became a “prominent” sailor. John Campbell’s biography of Heath makes this clear (pages 249-250):

Unlike music, which had been his passion from boyhood, Heath only took up sailing in middle age, a few weeks before his fiftieth birthday when he was already in the full glare of media attention as Leader of the Opposition… He began in the smallest possible way, taking lessons from an instructor whose kiosk happened to catch his attention on Broadstairs jetty in the summer of 1966. Up to that time he had done no more than mess around in a dinghy on holiday with the Seligmans in Brittany in the 1950s and at Villefranche the previous summer. In his book Sailing Heath claims that sat a boy he had always been fascinated by boats and the sea, but could never afford to do anything about it. (1)

Second, someone who has researched Heath’s movements in 1962 writes that “Heath was out of UK for all but 7 days late June-mid Sept 1962. Those 7 days accounted for. He was negotiating UK entry to Common Market so well covered in media.”

It is also unclear why Tarraga did not go public in 2015, during a period when various lurid claims about Heath were being published in the media, and there was even a high-profile police trawling investigation. Rather than not being believed, his story would have been lapped up uncritically.

It is not pleasant to have to contradict an abuse survivor who is currently enjoying some well-deserved validation and sympathy over a horrendous childhood – one obviously doesn’t want to pain a vulnerable adult, and to appear to have done so can have uncomfortable consequences on social media. However, no-one alive or dead should be subjected to reputational destruction based on claims that are untrue, and in this instance the evidence exonerating Heath is conclusive.

There is also a wider public interest here – false claims about “VIP abuse” not only muddy the waters for anyone who has a genuine allegation; as with the American “QAnon” conspiracy theory (which Brees has endorsed), stories about “elite paedophiles” are also weaponised by fringe political groups (and Wedger has addressed at least one such group).

Whatever way Tarraga was coaxed into re-remembering his past so that it that contradicts known facts, Wedger and Brees have exploited and humiliated him for their own ends, and this cannot pass without comment.

Footnote

1. A photo of Heath “messing around” in a rowing boat with his godson Lincoln Seligman on holiday in France in 1965 was published by the journalist Mark Watts in 2017. Watts had been led to believe that it was “taken in Jersey in 1972”, and Seligman, viewed from the rear, was not identified. The implication was that this was photographic evidence of Heath’s supposed association with teenage boys on the island, in particular from the Haut de la Garenne children’s care home. Although Watts had been misled, and he was afterwards censured by IMPRESS over the error, he has never explained where this false “Jersey” attribution came from.

Some Notes on David Aaronovitch’s Times “Child-Abuse Fantasists” Column

From David Aaronovitch in The Times:

The other day a fellow journalist sent me a very short video clip posted by a conspiracy theorist, sorry “independent investigator”, on his website. It showed a school playground and a window of the school before trailing off. The photographer was apparently investigating what he called the “Hampstead Cover Up case”. Soon, he suggested, he would have much more to say and show.

The “Hampstead Cover Up”, of course, is the Hampstead Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax, which recently concluded with one of its main promoters, Sabine McNeill, receiving a substantial prison sentence for stalking-related offences. As Aaronovitch notes:

The meaning of the recently posted video was that it’s not over. Others have taken up where the imprisoned McNeill has been forced to leave off. I’ve seen one or two of them myself recently.

I looked at some examples of continuing support for the hoax here.

The person who created and posted the video of the school playground was one Richard Carvath, as discussed on Hoaxstead here. Carvath is a religious activist who was previously expelled from the Conservative Christian Fellowship for what he describes as his “views on homopervuality… and islam”. In 2016 I noted an article he wrote defending the Christian anti-Islamist activist Patrick Sookhdeo following the latter’s conviction for sexual assault (of an adult woman), in which he denounced the complainant as a “Jezebel” who had appeared in a photo with “arms are uncovered and she wears a figure-hugging dress, her buttocks clearly presented to the beholder”. This scepticism is a remarkable contrast with his embrace of the Hampstead conspiracy, which posits cult members cooking and eating babies and dancing around in baby-skin shoes, based on the testimony of two children who had been coached by their mother and stepfather as a part of a custody dispute.

Aaronovitch describes the Hampstead claims as “a set of such utterly ludicrous allegations that no part of the established media ever gave them credence”, but he contrasts this with other allegations that were taken seriously by the media and police, asking

how did it come about that, for the half decade following the Savile revelations, it was possible for almost any person to make an anonymous or even identifiable complaint of historic child abuse against a public figure, and be treated with automatic credulity?… It seemed any publicity hound or conspiracy theorist could invent or recycle any old story concerning alleged “VIP abuse” and get it printed or aired.

He focuses in particular on Esther Baker’s allegations against the former MP John Hemming, in the wake of two of her supporters settling a libel action that had been brought against them:

Ms Baker had claimed that she was abused by a group of men, including a judge and a peer of the realm, in a wood in Staffordshire while police stood by. In a programme made for Australian TV, Ms Baker was shown photographs of people and asked to identify her abusers. Though viewers could not see who was identified it was soon known on the internet that one of them was Mr Hemming. At that point he went public with a denial.

In fact, Hemming did not go public until a couple of years later, although in the meantime his name was bandied about by activists, including the sinister Bill Maloney. Aaronovitch continues:

After two years of investigation, police looking into Ms Baker’s accusations found insufficient evidence to charge Mr Hemming or anyone else. In fact I’m not at all clear that there was ever anything corroborating Ms Baker’s testimony.

On Twitter, Baker continues to insist that there is evidence that has been seen by the police that is not yet in the public domain, but that she will reveal in due course once various matters have been concluded. When that happens, we are assured, those who expressed doubts or criticisms (including this blog) will be exposed as having been wide of the mark.

Currently, however, all we know besides her claim against Hemming is that her allegations pertain to a member of her family and centre around a church she attended as a child. She has so far declined to name this church publicly, and there is no indication that the journalistic scribes who have written up her account (Mark Watts and David Hencke) have felt the need to do any digging of their own. Aaronovitch reminds us that Baker also went on to say she had been taken by night to Dolphin Square in London – a specific difficulty here that he doesn’t mention is that Baker made this claim in response to a description provided by an accuser called “Darren“, who made various extravagant claims that he has since withdrawn.

Aaronvitch also mentions other “VIP” claims:

There were unchecked and ludicrous stories of gay paedophile orgies being held in the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Conservative Party conference on the night before the 1984 IRA bombing, and involving a number of (conveniently dead) senior politicians.

There was the former regional journalist who suddenly discovered that he had been in possession of a damning dossier concerning child abuse by politicians but had been prevented by the security services from publicising it. Both stories were easily falsifiable but both were printed in British newspapers.

The journalist here was Don Hale, who first mentioned the dossier in July 2014, when his supposed memory of it formed the basis for a Daily Mail article on “the paedophile lobby’s influence in Westminster” during the 1980s. (1) In that article, Hale named “Tory minister Sir Rhodes Boyson, a well-known enthusiast for corporal punishment, and Education Secretary Sir Keith Joseph”; he later added Leon Brittan to the list shortly after Brittan’s death (attributing a quote to the late Barbara Castle that he was “a powerful man with many secrets”), and then Edward Heath shortly after other allegations against Heath had been aired. The Heath claims were particularly risible, the claim being that that Paedophile Information Exchange had held meetings at Parliament and that Edward Heath had attended, without this attracting any wider interest at the time (I discussed this more generally here).

Noting that Baker will be a “core participant” in the Westminster strand of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, Aaronovitch writes that

the greater rationale of the inquiry appears to be to examine how allegations were supposedly covered up — a bias that has enraged the representatives of the accused. Whereas what the IICSA could usefully consider is how and why so many have turned out to be false. And at what cost?

Footnote

1. The Daily Mail article was by Mail hatchet-man Guy Adams, who afterwards affirmed his confidence in Hale’s credibility. As well as this article, headlined “Chilling day Special Branch swooped to seize ANOTHER dossier on VIP abusers: 16 MPs’ names mentioned in 1984 report on paedophile lobby’s influence in Westminster” (a headline that presents unsubstantiated claims as fact), Adams also penned “Paedophile orgies in luxury flats and claims three boys were murdered by VIPs: Special report into the growing stench of a cover-up by the Establishment”. More recently, though, Adams has been a vocal critic of Heath’s posthumous persecutor Mike Veale, and without pausing for self-reflection has poured scorn on another example of police “VIP abuse” credulity.

Two Supporters of “VIP Abuse” Accuser Esther Baker Settle Libel Claim Brought by Former MP John Hemming

From the Daily Telegraph:

A former MP, who was falsely accused of being part of a VIP paedophile ring, has won a rare libel action over comments made about him on social media.

John Hemming, who was the Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley between 2005 and 2014, had been accused of being part of a group that had abused children in Staffordshire in the 1980s and 1990s.

His accuser, Esther Baker, waived her anonymity in 2015, to make the claims, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), later concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge him.

Now Mr Hemming has won damages and apologies from two of Miss Baker’s supporters, who posted comments online that implied the former politician was guilty.

Graham Wilmer, founder of the Lantern Project a charity, which helps abuse survivors, and journalist David Hencke, who worked for the now defunct website, Exaro, agreed to pay more than £10,000 after accepting their comments were defamatory.

The Telegraph also quotes Hemming as alluding to the case of Declan Canning, a man who was convicted last year of sending him threatening messages – Canning had a grudge against Hemming relating to his activism around family courts, but his messages referred to him as a “dirty paedophile” who had “raped Esther”.

The libel case was settled out of court, and some details of Hencke’s settlement were reported on social media last month: Hencke himself posted a statement about it on 19 December, in which he stated that

Mr Hemming alleges that the article is defamatory of him and suggests that certain passages of that article imply that he is guilty of raping Esther Baker. That is not what I intended the article to mean.

Baker’s allegation against Hemming dates back to 2015, when she made a number of media appearances, although his name was not published. She claimed to have experienced sex abuse as a child in a woodland location at the hands of a group of adults associated with a church, and also including others such as “a Lord” and a “senior politician”. She further alleged that police had guarded the spot and prevented her from escaping; the term “Satanic Ritual Abuse” was not used, but it was obviously implied by the ritualistic setting and role inversions. At the time, with the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Midland in full swing, the media was eagerly reporting any story that pertained to allegations of “VIP abuse”, although a police investigation has since failed to substantiate her claims and more recent headlines refer to her in quote-marks as a alleged “fantasist”. (1)

After Baker first made her claims, Tom Watson MP called for a “comprehensive investigation”, and Baker was also supported by three other Members of Parliament: John Mann (who raised her name in the House of Commons chamber), Sarah Champion and Jess Phillips, who defeated Hemming in the 2015 general election. (2) Hemming’s name remained out of the media, but it was passed around among self-styled activists and featured in in an open-air speech made by Bill Maloney at a protest event opposite Downing Street in June 2015. Hemming went public himself after the police investigation ended in 2017.

Baker says that she remembered Hemming as being one of her childhood abusers after seeing his photograph online. This was around the time when there was some disagreement over proposals for the running of the IICSA, about which Hemming had expressed a view that differed from Wilmer. Wilmer runs a counselling project in Liverpool called the Lantern Project, which has been criticised for its therapeutic approach (NHS funding was withdrawn in late 2015). Baker received assistance from the Lantern Project, although a suggestion in the Sunday Times that her alleged memories had arisen out of counselling there was incorrect. (3)

Wilmer used to have presence on Twitter, where he would repeatedly Tweet the phrase “tick tock” as an apparent indication that critics would soon be the subject of discrediting developments, perhaps including police intervention. I found these aggressive and gleeful posts to be curiously at odds with his professional persona, which had previously been built up in the media over several years.

Somewhat cryptically, the Telegraph story simultaneously quotes Wilmer as apologising for having “caused Mr Hemming and his family upset and distress” but his lawyer as saying that he had “lodged a full defence”.

UPDATE: Baker says that she has submitted formal complaints about the Telegraph and a derivative re-write in the Mail. In particular, she complains that it has been inaccurately reported that Hencke and Wilmer have agreed not to refer to her again as a “victim” or “survivor”, when the restriction refers only to claims that infer Hemming’s guilt. Hencke has also stated that the Telegraph report is inaccurate, and that his settlement included “got no damages, no costs, no apology,no liability over any tweet. I happily agreed to give £500 to Victim Support for domestic abuse.”

Footnotes

1. Baker also alleges that she remembers Hemming from a domestic setting. She has also claimed to have been taken by night to Dolphin Square in London, although this part of her story hasn’t been emphasised for some time, and to have been abused again later as a teenager. However, her teenage allegations appear to be concerned with an unrelated local context (e.g. a former employer) rather than conspiracies involving VIPs.

Baker has further suggested that abuse occurred in foreign orphanages, and in December she said that she has evidence concerning links between “Bristol/Philippines & PIE” (the Paedophile Information Exchange) that she wanted to present to the IICSA, but that she is being prevented from doing so by “Westminster inference”. She heavily implied that her information is pertinent to the case of Douglas Slade, a PIE member from Bristol who committed abuse in the Philippines after moving there in 1980.

2. Phillips addressed disparaging comments about Hemming to Baker and others on Twitter in the wake of the election, stating “I blocked Hemming last night after creepy ‘I’m watching you’ style tweets” – in particular that Hemming “asked me ‘if I was having a nice drink in prince of wales’ which was were I was”. For her part, Champion (who frequently speaks on the subject of grooming gangs) has sympathised with Baker’s complaint about recent sceptical media coverage, Tweeting that “One day they’ll believe the victim – but it feels a very long way off!”

3. Also in 2015, an advocacy group called Reflections UK was founded by Baker, Phil Lafferty and Jenny Tomlin, with Wilmer serving as “Police Liaison Advisor”. The launch was attended by Jess Phillips and Nicky Morgan MPs. The group appears to no longer exist, although an archived version of its website from 2016 can be seen here. At that time, Baker’s co-chairs were Jennie Grace (var. Jenny Grace) and one Jacky Hughes. The bioblurb confirms that Jennie Grace is the same person as Esther Grace, author of a 2009 memoir titled Nowhere to Belong, published by Hodder under the pen-name Harmony Brookes: her account of being repeatedly raped by soldiers on a UK military base as a child was summarised in early 2015 by the Sunday Express‘s James Fielding after she waived her anonymity. Fielding, whose journalism has also promoted Bill Maloney and self-styled “police whistleblower” Jon Wedger, included the detail that police were investigating her claims, but no prosecutions appear to have followed.