The blog in 2015: Driven by Aaronovitch and Amy Winehouse

The unlikely combination of combative Times columnist  David Aaronovitch and the tragic pop star Amy Winehouse drove traffic to my blog last year.

I doubt either have met each other but in different ways it reflects the present obsession with controversial names and celebrity culture.

The Amy Winehouse blog is three years old and is a travelogue based on the fact that I found myself and my wife staying at the same tourist complex in St Lucia that acted as a retreat for Amy when she was chilling out from drugs. I suspect the film about her has driven the traffic but the blog got over 1500 hits last year – 50 per cent more than the combined total of the two previous years taking it to nearly 2700 hits.

David Aaronovitch’s critique of my journalism in The Times led to 3537 hits when I decided to respond – though it was eclipsed by my critique of Dominic Lawson’s take on the Leon Brittan alleged child sex abuse scandal which attracted 6447 views.

Interest in the case of child sex abuse survivor Esther Baker was reflected in two high scoring blogs- at 2674 for an analysis of the challenge facing Staffs Police in investigating her case and 2096 when the first arrest was announced.

The scandal over former justice secretary Chris Grayling seeking contracts from the despicable Saudi Arabian justice system – which this blog  and Tribune broke- was a big highlight – with 4250 hits when his successor Michael Gove faced court action and 2795 when the story originally broke.

Otherwise the biggest hits were reserved for the attempt to get rid of the Speaker, John Bercow, on the last day of Parliament – with 3933 on a piece criticising William  Hague’s botched action  in changing the election rules and 2497 on the midnight email to MPs from Julian Lewis MP which alerted everyone to the dodgy deal.

The most controversial blog has been my reporting of a Northern Ireland judge’s decision to compensate a paedophile for a campaign against him by one of his victims -comments were both virulent in their hatred and support for the judge.

Altogether the number of hits  recorded by WordPress on my blog – 127,725 were down from 182,000 the previous year. I also wrote fewer blogs as I was away some of the time. But this is not the full story as the blog is getting increasing additional traffic from Linked In, Facebook and is now run on Byline.com so I am not longer sure how many hits I am getting any more.

WordPress also records I have had hits from 155 countries. Over 80 per cent (107,000) is from the UK but there were over 7,700 from the United States and over 1000 each from Australia, Ireland and France. I have had just one hit from Iran, Syria, Armenia and the Turks and Caicos Islands to name but a few.

The blog’s rating on http://averypublicsociologist.blogspot.co.uk/ has gone up from number 62 to number 50 on the top independent bloggers This partly reflects my twitter following increasing to 8085.

For a small one man blog however it is gratifying that so many people are interested – given I do no promotion.

 

 

How Leon Brittan lost his job as home secretary – Charles Moore’s fascinating account 30 years on

Leon Brittan when he was EU commisisoner in late 1980s

Leon Brittan when he was EU commissioner in late 1980s

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While the  Met police continue to investigate  now into whether top figures were involved in a Westminster paedophile ring in the 1980s a fascinating account of the beginning of the fall of Leon Brittan in British politics has appeared in the second volume of Charles Moore’s authorised biography of Lady Thatcher. Amid all the rows over the miner’s strike, Westland and Europe, are three pages describing the events that led effectively to the demotion of Leon Brittan and how rumours of child sex abuse reached the ears of Lord Armstrong, the Cabinet Secretary, and Lady Thatcher herself.

They explain probably why even today there is controversy over Leon Brittan – such as the recent row over Tom Watson’s intervention over whether the Met Police should have quizzed him over an alleged rape. It also explains why they are still today disputes between those like David Aaronovitch and Dominic Lawson who say he has been unfairly maligned for years and those who are convinced that he was involved in hidden sexual activities.

Charles Moore- who is meticulous in researching every fact  from Thatcher’s private papers – reveals that Leon Brittan – was heading for the chop as home secretary  in the September 1985 reshuffle. He is described as ” the weakest link.”

His book – Everything She Wants – shows that without any rumours Brittan had no Parliamentary following,was seen as a bad TV performer, and even suffered from anti-Semitism from some Tory backbenchers.

He writes: ” He also suffered from rumours that, though married,he was homosexual and even that he had been a child abuser (too often in those days the two were conflated in the minds of man). No one produced actual evidence for either accusation.”

Opinion in the press and government was divided. Michael Jopling, a former chief whip,said: ” I never heard a whisper about Leon at the time”. Sir Bernard Ingham, her press secretary said: ” He always seemed as quaint as a coot to me”- but he had no evidence.

However The Mail on Sunday – contrary to  the view of the Mail today – took a different line and all this is reported to Thatcher by Lord Armstrong.

Jonathan Holborrow, an associate editor of the paper, had met Richard Ryder now Lord Ryder, then a junior figure in the Treasury and according to Ryder told him the paper was ” on a very good thing” about Leon Brittan’s private life.

According to Charles Moore though the memos did not spell it out ” they seem to have involved accusations of child sex abuse, including an alleged relationship with a boy in his early teens said to live in Brittan’s constituency”.

He goes on; ” Its sources was a reliable one, Holborrow said, but ” their investigations had run into the sand, and they really had no usable evidence.”

An attempt was made to say Michael Bettany, an MI5 officer caught trying to spy for the Russian in 1984, had got wind of this and had tried to use for blackmail. But this was knocked down by MI5 who said Bettaney had said no such thing.

The book  reveals that Thatcher did not believe the allegations but did believe that they were troublesome for a home secretary responsible for MI5.

But whatever the truth the knives were out for Brittan. John Wakeham, the chief whip, thought Brittan had been ” promoted a bit high and too quick” and ” wasn’t up to the job.”. And Brittan was moved to the Department of Trade and Industry – a post that he regarded as a demotion in the ” pecking order”. He was later to leave altogether to become a trade and industry commissioner at the European Commission.

All this is worth noting because of a sense of deja vu – even after his death. He again faces similar accusations – though this time it is part of a  full scale police investigation into other figures – and again there is a ”  reliable ” source -a survivor of abuse who came forward.

The outcome is still not known – but the divisions about whether Brittan was involved in such unsavoury activities is as strong as it was 30 years ago.

Why let your good smear campaign be spoiled with the facts, David Aaronovitch

David Aaronovitch: Abuse Conspiracies at Westminster? Image Credit: BBC

David Aaronovitch: Abuse Conspiracies at Westminster? Image Credit: BBC

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As the author of Voodoo Histories David Aaronovitch is an expert on modern conspiracy theories. So it is not perhaps surprising that he would treat a story about a  historic Westminster paedophile ring involving VIPs as the latest manifestation of mad conspiracy theorists fuelled by deluded people.

This month he published a detailed article in The Times (behind pay wall) saying the whole VIP paedophile ring scandal at Elm Guest House was in effect one of these fantasies. He said the story had been ” largely created and reiterated by a  former Labour councillor and convicted fraudster,Chris Fay”.

He accused me of spreading this  incredible story ” that I always wanted the public to know”. He concluded  by asking journalists like me ” Why am I doing this? And am I sure I’ve got this right.”

This is my answer to why David Aaronvitch has got this wrong. First it is not true that Chris Fay, who worked for an organisation helping children in care, is my sole source. He should know me better that that. I never rely on sole sources. Nor do I rely or refer to this list of VIPs – which appears to be notes from the  wife of the Elm Guest House’s long dead owner, Carol Kasir. I know it is not accurate. I have  seen part of the log of who stayed at this guest house which , of course, tells you nothing because people booked in under pseudonyms.

Second even Chris Fay does not claim the list is accurate.. Indeed in an article on The Needleblog he says almost the opposite saying he compiled a list of victims who claimed they had been abused at the Elm Guest House not abusers.He rightly casts doubt on that list – saying they may have been guests not abusers of children. Given that in 1982 it was not as acceptable as it is now for people to be gay, this is hardly surprising since people also used Elm Guest House as a rare haven for consenting adults to meet each other as well as paedophile activity.

So what is the evidence? There are two separate sources. First my original source – not Chris Fay – who a colleague met – was a former local government officer on Richmond Council. It was he who led me to investigate why Elm Guest House was raided in the first place in 1982.

It wasn’t complaints from survivors but the residents who lived on this smart Barnes street. They were fed up with people coming at all hours, seeing children going into the guest house, and having posh chauffeur driven cars drawing up there. Most ordinary people do not have large posh cars or chauffeurs at their beck and call. It was one of the then residents who identified Leon Brittan not a survivor. Separately in answer to a direct question from a Dispatches investigation, the police confirmed that Sir Cyril Smith visited Elm Guest House and contrary to reports,have not withdrawn it.

The second stream of sources came from either people who stayed at Grafton Close children’s home or were other former staff on Richmond Council who had responsibility for the home. Here the main allegation was that children were taken there and abused at Elm Guest House and elsewhere. Not everybody was, One was rescued  from that fate by a vigilant social worker.

It is a FACT that there was abuse at Elm Guest House. Why? Because one child was taken from Elm Guest House by Richmond Council  to Grafton Close was given a medical examination which revealed horrific abuse. This is confirmed by two former senior officials from the council and the Met Police may have the medical file. The person has long since left the country, has a new life abroad, and has decided in view of the furore over this, not to testify.

Also if John Stingemore, the former deputy manager of Grafton Close, had lived to face trial at Southwark Crown Court, he would have faced a conspiracy to commit buggery charge, which was linked to taking children to Elm Guest House. His friend, Father Tony McSweeney, was convicted  and sent to jail for three years. Evidence was given that showed children were taken by Stingemore and McSweeney from the home to Bexhill and abused,without their parents knowledge.

And Stingemore, it would have emerged, was a convicted paedophile , having sexually assaulted Peter Bornshin, another resident of Grafton Close  said to have been taken to Elm Guest House.  Richmond Council  paid him compensation. He later committed suicide.

Finally it will be a little premature to assume that the Elm Guest House investigation is over.It is not. There are links to the Operation Midland investigation and there are a number of unfinished leads. But that would be tantamount to speculating on a current police investigation.

Am I right to pursue this? Yes. I don’t have the certainty that commentators like David Aaronovitch to make a polemical point. But I am still certain enough that something went very wrong in the London borough of Richmond at that time and it could still be linked to other inquiries in Westminster.

Why Theresa May was right to ignore David Aaronovitch over child sex abuse in North Wales

Times columnist David Aaronovitch. Pic credit :Flickr

Times columnist David Aaronovitch. Pic credit :Flickr

Two years ago when Theresa May announced she was re-opening the police investigation into the North Wales child abuse scandal  Times columnist David Aaronovitch penned a highly controversial column warning that the nation was in danger of mounting a modern witch hunt over alleged paedophilia. Indeed his post was entitled Beware a modern Salem over child abuse.

He  pointed out that both the  original John Jillings report and the ” exhaustive inquiry ” by retired judge Sir Ronald Waterhouse Lost in Care had found no evidence of a paedophile ring and therefore  there was no need for any fresh inquiries.

I remember disagreeing with him on the BBC Radio Four’s Today programme over his findings after reading the report. He was right about  Waterhouse’s findings but failed to notice that the findings somewhat jarred with the detailed evidence contained in the same report.

He also firmly disagreed with the line taken by one survivor’s solicitor, Steve Messham, that Waterhouse had too limited a remit to inquire properly into the idea of an abuse network.

Fast forward to this week and Operation Pallial, the National Crime Agency run investigation set up by Theresa May, has achieved its first scalp,John Allen. He was sent to prison for life and given he is 73 will probably die there.

Nor was this minor stuff – he was convicted of 33 extra charges – that somehow had been missed in an earlier police investigation. The full background is outlined here in the Liverpool Daily Post. And he is not the only one to face new allegations which will be heard in future trials. To be accurate the latest Pallial statistics say 13 more people are facing trial, there are over 100 new suspects and over 200 survivors coming forward.

Now if David Aaronovitch had won the argument Mr Allen would be a free man and would have got away with all this and died peacefully at home. A  lot of survivors claims would never have been proven and left to fester on no doubt ” lurid and preposterous” ( as Aaronvitch would have it) sites on the internet.

Of course Mr Allen, who had already been found guilty of previous offences, claimed in his defence he wasn’t gay, was not sexually attracted to children and had suffered a “miscarriage of justice ” when he was convicted in  the first place. His accusers were making it up to get compensation money, his defence lawyers said. The jury did not buy this.

I raise this because some of the commentariat and the Establishment believe the latest allegations of a Westminster paedophile ring and alleged murders of some of the victims is another fantasy and leading to a new witch hunt. While the investigation is in no way as advanced as Pallial – Pallial shows it needs following through.

Theresa May in setting up Pallial  and an overarching child sex abuse inquiry obviously does believe that further investigations are needed to find out  what really happened decades ago. She is in on record that this could be ” the tip of an iceberg”. David Cameron believes this is ” stuff of conspiracy theories ” and David Aaronovitch reflects this view in his own column and tweets.

I am backing Theresa May on this one.