Carl Beech Verdict: A savage blow that does not mean we ignore all future child sex abuse investigations

Carl Beech: !8 year prison sentence for perverting the course of justice and fraud Pic credit:BBC

The Carl Beech verdict is a blow to child sex abuse investigations. After the trial and thorough investigation by Northumbria Police Beech he emerged as a prolific, manipulative and malicious paedophile who made false allegations against powerful people and sparked off a huge investigation by the Met Police.

 Both myself and the reporter, Mark Conrad, who investigated Beech, part company with Exaro’s former editor in chief, Mark Watts, in deciding that the verdict was “unsafe” or that he didn’t get a fair trial. Beech chose not to call a single witness in his defence and when the net was closing he fled the country.

Now the question is asked should journalists have ignored him from day one and reported nothing taking the line that no one in “the great and good” has ever sexually molested a child and anybody alleging that is a fantasist.

 Or should we try diligently to get to the truth of the matter given the limited tools journalists have compared to a police force or the powers and scope an inquiry can have to investigate a case?

The simple solution is to say allegations, particularly historic, of child sex abuse, are so problematic, so difficult to prove, that anybody coming to a journalist suggesting they are a survivor of sexual abuse should be turned away. That would a devastating to the many thousands of survivors themselves who would have no other recourse other than going to an overworked police force. It wouldn’t be just a case of not being believed but being ignored.

 It was also play into the hands of any paedophile to do what he or she liked – knowing their victims would never be listened to and they could hide behind the new populism that most child sex abuse in the UK is just a string of false allegations.

The latter fact is wrong. If you look at recent convictions hardly a week goes by -without either individuals or paedophile gangs being convicted in the courts- and that includes historic cases.

While Operation Midland was going on the National Crime Agency successfully prosecuted people in North Wales – including a police superintendent – the late Gordon Angelsea- who had denied child sex abuse crimes for years and successfully sued Private Eye and the Observer. He was one of 11 people so far successfully prosecuted through Operation Pallial including John Allen, an owner of children’s home and gang of five paedophiles led by a former professional wrestler.

Gangs have been convicted in Rotherham, Hull, Stoke on Trent, Rochdale, Lichfield and Newcastle upon Tyne to name a few.

And the idea that there isn’t a single prominent person who indulges in child sex abuse has been proved untrue with the conviction of the late Bishop Peter Ball, Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, who convinced people at the very top, including Prince Charles, for years that accusations against him were a pack of lies. And Sir Cyril Smith MP whose escaped crimes in Rochdale were exposed in a report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

The only way you can investigate child sex abuse is to look for any outside facts that might stand up the likelihood of the case, test the person’s knowledge of the places where it is alleged to have happened and do a thorough test to see if the “ victim” can identify his perpetrator. You also rely on other people – not sexually abused themselves – to act as whistleblowers or people in authority at the time who can stand up the circumstances of a story.

The problem with the Carl Beech investigation was the way he undermined any diligent reporting by meticulously researching details about his victims and their premises so the” right” answers would come out.

The other was the odd way Exaro was run. Unlike nearly all news organisations there were no internal news conferences where ideas could be swapped and challenged. Reporters were forbidden from discussing the individual child sex abuse case they were investigating with any other reporter.

 As a result I did not know the true identity of Carl Beech until it was made public. I have never met him, never exchanged any emails or talked to him.

 Perhaps he would have been exposed if a tech savvy reporter had seized his computer – but I doubt the public would support journalists seizing other people’s computers while they were conducting investigations.

 There has been criticism of my colleague Mark Conrad for conducting a picture identity test after Beech had alleged 12 people had sexually abused him.  He tells me that consisted of inserting the 12 into 42 different people and took place before the police started their investigation.

 The reason why it was done was because of the disastrous episode on BBC Newsnight where the survivor Steve Messham was never shown a picture of the late Lord McAlpine who was wrongly alleged to have abused him – which would have prevented a false allegation circulating on social media..

Investigating historic child sex abuse is one of the most difficult areas to do in journalism.  Carl Beech has made it even more so. One lesson is that people who say they were sexually abused will in future have to face more scrutiny by both the police and journalists investigating their claims.   The law about anonymity for people being investigated for child sex abuse might have to be tightened up – though I would be careful in advocating this.

 But what must not happen is that the default position should move from believing a survivor to taking the view that the accusation is false. That way would provide paedophiles – who are the most cunning and manipulative of all people – with a free market to abuse whoever they wish and get away scot free.

Revealed on Byline Times: Prosecutions for tax evasion soar after the car tax disc is scrapped

DVLA’s advertising campaign to stop the tripling of untaxed cars and vans Pic credit: DVLA & RAC

 The abolition of every car and van in the UK needing to display a car tax disc has led to the tripling of the number of untaxed cars and soaring prosecutions and fines for drivers, according to the latest annual report of the DVLA, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

The scale of the problem led to a report from the new auditor general, Gareth Davies, to be attached to its annual accounts this year after the agency’s previous unblemished record in collecting car tax   became tarnished.

Up to 2014 when the car tax disc was abolished the agency collected up to 99.6 per cent of revenue. Since then the figure has fallen to 98.2 per cent – which might seem small – but is equivalent to an additional 500,000 vehicles evading tax. It is happening because people are telling the DVLA their vehicle is stored off the road but are continuing to use it.

The full story is on Byline Times here.

Revised trial date set for ” Nick ” the man accused of perverting the course of justice over the Westminster paedophile investigation

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Sign outside old Scotland Yard building Pic Credit: Wikipedia

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REVISED VERSION FOLLOWING  FRESH DEVELOPMENTS   

The man whose allegations of child sexual abuse and murder led to a full scale Met

Police inquiry into  alleged  VIP Westminster paedophiles involving former ministers and MPs  is to stand trial next April.

The man known only as ” Nick”  for legal reasons  faces 12 charges of perverting the

course of justice and one of fraudulently receiving £22,000 in criminal compensation.

The man, aged 50, appeared by video link at Newcastle Crown Court  which will hear the case in April. The trial is expected to last between six and eight weeks. The full charge sheet was published on my blog on July 6 here. Although” Nick ” did not enter a  formal plea his lawyers said: “”We anticipate it will be fully contested.”

Separately the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will also  hearings into allegations of child sexual abuse in Westminster and at Elm Guest House, in Barnes next March.But their inquiry will have a narrower brief and will not cover any of the allegations  involved in  the Scotland Yard investigation Operation Midland because of the trial. It will now come a month before the revised date of the trial.

In order to ensure that ” Nick” has a fair trial as  the moderator of my site I will not .be allowing any comments to be published  on this blog entry.

Can the Independent Child Sex Abuse Inquiry really properly investigate Elm Guest House?

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The former Elm Guest House in Barnes, south west London, now a respectable residential property

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The news that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is to investigate events  surrounding Elm Guest House in the London borough of Richmond is to be welcomed. But I have serious doubts whether the inquiry will have the time and space to properly investigate.

The item is one of a number sandwiched into three weeks of hearings under the Westminster  strand of the inquiry and Alexis Jay, the chair made it clear ,last month there is no intention to make any of the investigations exhaustive.

As she said:”It is important that everyone, including the public, understands that this is not, and has never intended to be, an exhaustive examination of  all Westminster-related child sexual abuse issues. Even focusing on institutional issues, a comprehensive
examination of all the allegations that have been made, and all the questions that have been raised, particular on the internet, would involve hearings lasting months, if not years.”

So what will this brief cover. Again  according to her statement it will be limited:

“Another category of these investigations concerns allegations relating to Elm Guest House. Those allegations include possible misconduct on the part of the Metropolitan Police in the way in which investigations into goings on at Elm Guest House were conducted, and also allegations that the fruits of those investigations were covered up.

“The latter allegations include the well-known allegation that evidence relating to Leon Brittan’s presence at and/or involvement with  Elm Guest House was suppressed. We propose to call some more detailed evidence relating to these cases at the hearings next year.”

So even the remit looking at Elm Guest House will be confined.

I got involved in reporting this after a source  who was neither a  child sex abuse survivor nor a politician, stumbled across it during an unrelated dispute. The source had also discovered – and I have never had time  to investigate this – allegations of elder abuse at a home in Richmond. Until then as a journalist I had never investigated any cases of alleged child sexual abuse.

What followed was a whirlwind of allegations, some involving national politicians, others pointing to a lack of duty of  care for children by Richmond Council at Grafton Close children’s home, a muddled police investigation, and a series of  very disturbing stories from people  who were children at the home at the time.

Father Anthony McSweeney

Father Anthony McSweeney; Pic Credit: BBC

It ended with the successful prosecution of  a well connected Roman Catholic priest, Father Tony McSweeney and charges against the former deputy manager of the children’s home., John Stingemore.  McSweeney was sentenced to three years in gaol, Stingemore died a fortnight before he was due to appear before Southwark Crown Court.

Unlike Operation Midland the Met Police  investigation did produce results. In McSweeney’s case it forced the Roman Catholic Church to commission a report into what went wrong when it was revealed that the paedophile priest was caught some 30 years later with a file of indecent pictures on his computer while playing a major pastoral role with young boys and men in Norwich scouts, boxing clubs and with the Norwich City Football youth team.

While the evidence about any connection between Elm Guest House and Grafton Close was never tested in court because of Stingemore’s death the trial did reveal that both McSweeney accompanied  by Stingemore took boys away from the home without permission for weekends at a flat in Bexhill. They were present where various alleged sexual assaults took place. If Stingemore had been convicted, the jury would have found out that soon after leaving Richmond, and working for another authority he was arrested and convicted of child sexual abuse.

All this suggested that Richmond Council was seriously amiss in looking after children in its care and that both elected councillors and officials should have known what was  going on. But it looks that the inquiry would not look at this aspect, allowing the council to be let off the hook.

As serious as this is when Elm Guest House was raided by the police, Grafton Close was designated as a place of safety for any children that might be found there. Effectively the police  unwittingly were sending children to an establishment run by a paedophile with a paedophile friend who regularly visited it.And by alerting Grafton Close in advance if there was a connection with Elm Guest House, the establishment would have got a tip off about the raid.

As for the place itself  it seems like many hotels that welcomed gay guests in late 1970s and early 1980s, tolerated both consenting gay adults staying overnight and possibly paedophiles. The fact is unlike today homosexuality was viewed as a closet activity, driving both adults and paedophiles to the same venues. The situation is reflected in hotels used as gay haunts in North Wales at the same time.

As for VIPs and a police cover up  at Elm Guest House the inquiry will have its work cut out. Perhaps they can throw light on the Metropolitan Police’s reply to Channel Four Dispatches that Sir Cyril Smith visited the venue. As for Leon Brittan, the identification that he is alleged to have visited the venue come not from survivors or any list compiled by anybody but from enraged residents of this posh Barnes road. They say they spotted  both him  and at other times boys getting out of cars late at night and were fed up with this sort of traffic in a respectable neighbourhood.

 

 

Why there should be no Cliff’s Law following the chilling judgement by Mr Justice Mann

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High Court decision on Sir Cliff Richard should not mean a new law

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The scathing judgement by Mr Justice Mann condemning the BBC for the invasion of  Sir Cliff Richard’s privacy has profound implications for crime reporting.

The BBC is condemned  for reporting the raid on his home following allegations of child sexual abuse which did not stand up- not just for the sensational way they did it – but for reporting it at all.

This is a double edged judgement. True the freedom of the press to do this has led to innocent people like  DJ Paul Gambaccini and Sir Cliff suffering enormous traumatic stress and having their reputations trashed over unproven child sex abuse allegations.

But in other cases noticeably broadcaster Stuart Hall, the entertainer Rolf Harris ( both child sexual abuse allegations) and for that matter ( on perverting the course of justice)  ex Liberal  Democrat  Cabinet minister and former colleague on the Guardian, Chris Huhne, press publicity helped the police to pursue the cases to a successful conclusion. The publicity before anybody was charged led to more people coming forward or to new evidence being discovered.

That is why I would like to see the decision challenged  because of its profound implications for reporting and would certainly not want a new law giving anonymity to suspects in criminal cases.

Thankfully Theresa May seems to have ruled out the latter and so have ministers and  some MPs.

  On BBC Radio 5 Live last week  Treasury minister Robert  Jenrick said that he didn’t believe that the law should be changed to give anonymity to people accused of certain offences.

He said:“There’s been a long debate, as you know, about whether that should be the case for particular types of crime – crimes which have such a serious effect on individuals’ personal reputations, like sexual offences for example.  And at the moment we’ve chosen not to proceed on that basis.  We don’t think we should discriminate between different offences.  And I think that that’s probably the right approach.  But I do feel that both the police and the media need to proceed with great caution when they’re reporting.”

His point is where you draw the line. A limited law saying only those accused of child sex abuse should be protected could be seen  by victims and survivors as ” a protect paedos” law. And if there is discrimination between offences it won’t be long before some famous personality brings a case – saying their reputation was damaged by a police raid on their home in say, a fraud case.

Also do you protect alleged murderers or low life drug dealers from the press reporting raids on their homes until they are charged. After all until a drug dealer is charged  reporting a police raid on his or her home is breaching their privacy. It could also have implications for some of the popular reality  TV crime programmes.

Why I also don’t want the law to change is that it is a matter of judgement for the police and the press to come to a conclusion. The police need to be able to judge whether publicity is necessary – even Mr Justice Mann admits in his judgement that if people’s lives are at risk there is a case for naming a suspect.

The media also need to show some judgement on how they report the issue as well – and sometimes investigations can be published without naming the suspect  or giving too much of  the suspect’s identity away. In other cases the suspect’s name is part of the story.

Finally I see that the  BBC reporter Dan Johnson  who broke the story gets some criticism from the judge. He is described as honest and over enthusiastic. The judge says:

“I do not believe that he is a fundamentally dishonest man, but he was capable of letting his enthusiasm get the better of him in pursuit of what he thought was a good story so that he could twist matters in a way that could be described as dishonest in order to pursue his story.”

Some ten years ago Dan Johnson was our principal researcher for a book I wrote jointly with author and journalist Francis Beckett, on the miner’s strike of 1984. Called Marching to the Fault Line.

This is what we said about Dan in the book:

” A talented young journalist, Dan Johnson, was our principal researcher, conducting some of our most important interviews. Because of his deep knowledge of mining communities, and because he was brought up in Arthur Scargill’s village of Worsbrough, he turned into a great deal more than our researcher: he was also also a thoughtful and knowledgeable guide to what it all meant.”

In my view enthusiasm is vital if you are to be a good journalist. Journalists who are not enthusiastic about their job aren’t real journalists.

 

Nick and allegations of the Westminster paedophile ring: The perversion of justice charge sheet

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Sign outside old Scotland Yard building Pic Credit: Wikipedia

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The Crown Prosecution Service has decided  there is sufficient evidence to charge “Nick ” the  50 year old man whose allegations led to Operation Midland – the Met Police investigation into  allegations that prominent politicians and military figures were involved in the sexual abuse and murder of children -with perverting the course of justice.

Details of the charges are:

Doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice, in that he made a false allegation of witnessing the child homicide of an unnamed boy committed by Mr Harvey Proctor

Doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice, in that he made a false allegation of witnessing the child homicide of a boy called Scott

Doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice, in that he made a false allegation of witnessing the child homicide of an unnamed boy, other than the unnamed boy in charge

Doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice, in that he falsely alleged that he had been sexually and physically abused by a paedophile ring, with senior ranking officers within the military, military intelligence, a TV presenter and other unidentified men accused as members

Doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice, in that he falsely alleged that he had been sexually and physically abused by a paedophile ring, with politicians, a TV presenter, and other unidentified men accused as members

Doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice, in that he provided a list of sexual abusers and locations falsely alleging that he had been subjected to physical and sexual abuse by the said sexual abusers at the said locations

Doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice, in that he provided sketches of locations at which he had been physically and sexually abused, falsely claiming that he had produced them from memory

Doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice, in that he provided and repeated the name of Aubrey, falsely alleging that Aubrey had been present and subjected to physical and sexual abuse when with him

Doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice, in that he provided a pen knife and two military epaulettes falsely alleging that he had retained them from when he was abused as a child

Doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice, in that he falsely claimed that he had suffered serious injuries as a result of having been sexually and physically abused as a child

Doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice, in that he falsified a ‘Proton’ email account, and provided false information purportedly sent from ‘Fred’, an individual who he had named as present when he was abused by a paedophile ring

Doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice, in that he went together with investigators on site visits and falsely alleged that it was at locations identified by him during those visits that he had been subjected to physical and sexual abuse by a paedophile ring

Fraud, contrary to the Fraud Act 2006, section 1, in that on or about the day of day of 26 September 2013, dishonestly made representations to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, namely that he was subjected to abuse by a paedophile ring, knowing this to be untrue and intending thereby to make a gain for himself.

Following a  highly critical report  on the Met Police investigation by  retired judge Sir Richard Henriques, which has never been fully published,  Northumbria Police were asked to investigate Nick.

Frank Ferguson, CPS Head of Special Crime, said: “The CPS has considered a file of evidence from Northumbria Police relating to allegations of perverting the course of justice and fraud by a 50-year-old man.

“The police investigation provided evidence that the man had made a number of false allegations alleging multiple homicides and sexual abuse said to have been carried out in the 1970s and 1980s….

“He has today been charged with 12 counts of perverting the course of justice and one count of fraud and will appear before Westminster Magistrates’ Court in due course.

Criminal proceedings in relation to this matter are now active and it is extremely important there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.”

In order to ensure that ” Nick” has a fair trial as  the moderator of my site I will not be allowing any comments to be published  on this blog entry.

Theresa May’s risky gamble with reforming an ” institutionally racist” mental health act

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Sir Simon Wessely, chair of the mental health review

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With very little publicity and dwarfed by Brexit  Theresa May has committed herself to a major reform of the Mental Health Act. Last year she convened a meeting at Downing Street and appointed a former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Sir Simon Wessely. to conduct a review.

This month it published an interim report with a lot of warm words, some constructive proposals and a public admission that far too many people were locked up and a disproportionate number were from  the black and ethnic minority communities. A report in the Guardian on  May 1 highlighted some of the issues.

This Friday the charity Race on the Agenda  will host a conference at the University of East London on the  Stratford campus tackling the issues head on by addressing the issue of institutional racism in the mental health service.

They will have a lot to go from the interim review report which firmly  puts the case for change by highlighting the poor  and  often inhumane treatment of people of black African and Caribbean heritage in the worse case scenarios results in deaths in police custody.

It also appears to want to redress the balance between the role of the police and the NHS.

The interim report states: “Experience of people from black African and Caribbean heritage are particularly poor and they are detained more than any other group. Too often this can result in police becoming involved at time of crisis. The causes of this disparity are complex.” The  full report  and details of its members  and terms of reference is available here.

Among some of the salient points raised include phasing out the use of police cells to detain mentally ill people and using ambulances rather than police cars to transport mentally ill  people and increasing NHS involvement by looking at NHS England taking responsibility for  commissioning of health services in police custody.

This week’s conference will  go further than the report by looking at the culture and attitudes towards black people – the stereotyping, unconscious bias  and sometimes politically incorrect racism – as well as the role psychiatry has in defining who is mentally ill.

So why should this be a risky gamble for Theresa May ? The answer is the countervailing trends in society which could mitigate against reform.

First there is austerity. The state of some mental health hospitals , including one not far from the conference in Tottenham, have to be seen to be believed because there isn’t the money to provide adequate services. Thus all the reforms in the world could fall down because there are not the staff nor proper facilities to help people.

Then there is current hostile environment which led to the Windrush scandal , the rise of Islamaphobia and the Prevent strategy  which creates a climate of fear and fuels latent racism and fear among the white community of “the other”. The fight against terrorism can morph into discrimination against  particular ethnic groups in society.

So in the worst case scenario all Theresa May will be left with is warm words and no action – which, given the hope rising from the mental health act review, could make matters worse than they are now.

That is why it is important that conferences looking at issues the report may find difficult to confront – such as institutional racism – are being held and issues thoroughly aired.