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.

Bishop Peter Ball:Time for the Church of England to take a lead on stamping out child sex abuse

bishop peter ball

Bishop Peter Ball at his trial . Pic Credit: BBC

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This week was a torrid week for the Church of England and very embarrassing week for the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, as the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse reran the scandal of  former Bishop Peter Ball, a convicted sex offender who preyed on young men. He jailed in 2015 for 32 months for offences against 18 teenagers and men.

The case which I wrote about a year ago here  was a classic Establishment cover up where a lively and personable bishop lead a double life which was well exposed last year by Dame Moira Gibb in her investigation into the scandal. As I said last year :

“Peter Ball comes out of this report as a manipulative, sadomasochistic  predator who appears to have used every trick to entice young men from public schoolboys to priests and damaged and vulnerable youths coming to the Church  for his own sexual  gratification.”

Let it not be forgotten that as a result of his activities a young man, Neil Todd, who had first accused him in 1993  of abusing him in when he was 17 killed himself in 2012 when  Sussex Police re-opened an investigation when he was Bishop of Lewes.

As last year’s report revealed how he wanted to whip Neil Todd who was only saved by worried staff at the Bishop’s house who sent him away. He also got youths to strip off in the chapel so they could pray together in the nude and even used a ceremony to anoint a youth’s penis in some bizarre religious rite.

Now it appears while all this was going on Peter Ball could rely on the support of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, and Prince Charles, who were both subject to a very active campaign from the former bishop and his twin brother saying it was a   “vendetta ” against  him and all the claims were false.

Prince Charles letters reveal frankly he was duped by the bishop. – a man he had known for 20 years. In the letters between Prince Charles and the Bishop, read to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), Ball spoke of a “malicious campaign” against him and “harassment” by “fraudulent” accusers.

In a letter to Ball in 1995, the prince said: “I wish I could do more. I feel so desperately strong about the monstrous wrongs that have been done to you.” In 1997, the prince wrote a letter in which he described an apparent accuser as a “ghastly man… up to his dastardly tricks again”.

In the written submission, read by the counsel to the inquiry Fiona Scolding,

“I first became aware of Peter Ball during the 1980s. He was later appointed Bishop of Gloucester when he became my local diocesan bishop.Peter Ball told me he had been involved in some sort of ‘indiscretion’ which prompted his resignation as my local bishop.

“He emphasised that one individual that I now understand to be Mr Neil Todd had made a complaint to the police, that the police had investigated the matter, and the Crown Prosecution Service had decided to take no action.

“That sequence of events seemed to support Mr Ball’s claim that the complaint emanated from one individual and that individual bore a grudge against him and was persecuting him, that the complaint was false, but that the individual had nonetheless profited from the complaint by selling his story. Events later demonstrated beyond any doubt, to my deep regret, that I, along with many others, has been misled.”

The main point of these disclosures seem  not to be that Prince Charles was to blame but he is probably the highest profile figure to be conned by a manipulative sex offender. He is not the first and won’t be the last

The real blame in my view lies inside the Church of England which needs urgently to take a real stand against child sex abuse – by first ending the conflicting and blurred distinction that requires senior people in the Church to take a pastoral role in looking after priests while at the same time having to handle abuse complaints against them. It needs to segregate the two by handing over complaints to an independent authority.

It also needs to look at mandatory reporting of claims of sexual abuse. It doesn’t have to heed what the government believes over this issue – it can take a stand by itself. In that way the matter will be handed over to the police for a proper investigation to find out the truth.

It does not have to wait the full inquiry’s findings before it takes action either. It owes people like Neil Todd who was vilified and took his own life to create a just and fair system to deal with sexual abuse – so that others do not take their own lives.

An Establishment cover up: The sordid and sad saga of sex abuser Bishop Peter Ball

bishop peter ball

Bishop Peter Ball at his trial . Pic Credit: BBC

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The Church of England has finally fully acknowledged the impact of the predatory sexual abuse committed by one of its most charismatic former bishops Peter Ball.

A forensic report by Dame Moira Gibb into both his activities and the cover up by the church  of his behaviour which reached the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, (now Lord Carey) to protect the Church’s reputation.

It is a grim story only coming light after the former Bishop of Gloucester was successfully prosecuted and jailed in 2015 after  a career  of physically and sexually abusing and exploiting  boys and young men, including some who were particularly vulnerable.

The report says : “He had used his position within the Church to identify those whom he then abused. and admitted two offences of indecent assault and a further offence of misconduct in public office.”

Tragically a young man, Neil Todd, who had first accused him in 1993  of abusing him in when he was 17 killed himself in 2012 when  Sussex Police re-opened an investigation when he was Bishop of Lewes.

Equally culpable, though not an abuser, is Michael Ball, his twin brother and former Bishop of Truro, who ran a campaign after his brother had been given a caution for abusing Todd in 1993 to rehabilitate him using every type of pressure he could find.

None of the authorities, with the exception of Sussex police, come out of this well, Neither the Church, Lambeth Palace, Gloucestershire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service. It is litany of failed responsibility among those in power and also the misuse of power and reputation to protect the powerful.

Peter Ball comes out of this report as a manipulative, sadomasochistic  predator who appears to have used every trick to entice young men from public schoolboys to priests and damaged and vulnerable youths coming to the Church  for his own sexual  gratification. It is not clear  even now at 85 whether he shows any remorse as he refused to co-operate with Dame Moira’s inquiry.

While on the surface being a charismatic leader he and his brother appear to have conned  the Establishment to cover up his  activity and the Establishment appear to have been prepared to do so.

The report reveals how he wanted to whip Neil Todd who was only saved by worried staff at the Bishop’s house who sent him away. He also got youths to strip off in the chapel so they could pray together in the nude and even used a ceremony to anoint a youth’s penis in some bizarre religious rite.

But  as bad is the 20 year cover up . This included dragging Prince Charles into Ball’s defence – by using his privileged access to Highgrove House – to claim, falsely, as an examination of letters between Ball  and the Prince show, that he supported his cause. According to the report even a commercial arrangement that allows Ball and his brother to rent a house off the Duchy of Cornwall was twisted to say this was a Royal favour.

Lord carey

Lord Carey: Former archbishop of Canterbury Pic credit: BBC

Lord Carey emerges as a very weak character in this sorry saga. On the one level he is aware of Ball’s transgressions and tries to investigate, on another level he intervenes with the aim, whatever he says in a letter to Gloucestershire’s chief constable, to prevent a public trial of a Bishop by just issuing a caution. In the end this is done in return for his resignation as bishop. It is here that Gloucestershire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, which now admits its mistake, are totally at fault. Lord Carey also failed to pass on information to the police on people Ball abused and defended his reputation to the police.

Then after this ” escape from justice” he and his brother pursue a ruthless campaign to rehabilitate him  as a priest – which is successful. They demand  money from the archbishop to fund their expenses, insist on his reinstatement as  a priest in his brother’s parish  ( at one stage his brother actually threatens to do this without Lambeth Palace’s permission) and he even gets an honorary retired bishop’s post from the  Bishop of Chichester.

The report recommends a strengthening of safeguarding in the Church of England and will be considered by the independent child sex abuse inquiry. But what it doesn’t address – and it is outside its terms of reference – is the glaring issue of homosexuality in the Church.

To put it in its historic context these events take place when people who were homosexuals in public life often lived  a double life for fear of exposure in the press. This was the time when  David Atkinson, the Tory MP for Bournemouth East was publicly a happily married man with a wife and children while secretly leading a double gay life in the House of Commons.

It was also the time when Britain’s first successful black footballer, Justin Fashanu, led a troubled double life attracted to young men, which led to his suicide when the US law caught up with him.

One wonders whether if as now – when to be openly gay no longer is a problem  and gay marriage is acceptable  ( except to the Democratic Unionist party)  Ball could have had a stable relationship instead.  Or was he a predatory abuser anyway? This is not to excuse the Ball twins from the appalling sexual abuse and cover up that followed. But it suggests the Church has got to address a wider problem than just the abuse.

The full report is here.