Brian Altman: The scuba diving prosecutor who “speared” Milly Dowler’s killer


Brian Altman – new lead counsel for the independent child sexual abuse inquiry. Pic credit: 2 Bedford Chambers


The announcement this week that former Treasury counsel Brian Altman has been appointed lead counsel  from March to the much troubled Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse should be  good news for survivors.

The man has a formidable reputation as a forensic prosecutor and a particularly strong line in bringing criminals to justice in  ” cold case ” murders.  For once the phrase ” highly experienced”  used by the inquiry chair, Alexis Jay, is no exaggeration.

He has yet to get a cameo role as a lawyer  in ” Silent Witness” – though he did appear in a BBC 4 Real Crime and Punishment series ( sadly no longer available on BBC i-Player.).He has received much praise from journalists who regularly cover Old Bailey trials for the way he ensnares defendants who hope to escape justice for unspeakable crimes.

His case list of successful prosecutions is impressive. They include the notorious serial killer and rapist Levi Bellfield who murdered  teenager Milly Dowler and  killer Colin Ash-Smith convicted 21 years after he murdered 19 year old Claire Tiltman.

He has also prosecuted in a joint British and Dutch investigation  of canal murderer John Sweeney who killed and dismembered former American model and photographer, Melissa Halstead, in Holland in 1990, and disposed of her remains in a Rotterdam canal, and Paula Fields in London in 2000, whose dismembered body parts were found in the Regent’s Canal in 2001.

He has a string of other murder cases – where he both defended and prosecuted killers – and successfully prosecuted terrorists-including  those involved in a disrupted Islamic state terror plot and Syrian trained terrorists planning attacks in the UK.

He is familiar with the workings of the security services  and bad behaviour by MPs – he once advised on whether to prosecute one for expenses fraud – and his client list include members of a Middle  East Royal Family – though not disclosing whether it is the Saudi Arabian one or not. For a full list see his entry on his  chambers website here.

All this should bode well  for those who want forensic examinations of some of the most highly contentious cases that will be looked at by the child sexual abuse inquiry. This will in time include the Westminster paedophile ring, Greville Janner and the Leicestershire institutions involved in child sexual abuse and some of the more contentious child sex abuse scandals in London.

Historic child sexual abuse is also a ” cold case ”  issue – so this quote should comfort the sceptics.

“For cold case murders, he is the go-to barrister because he is able to draw together all the small pieces to provide a coherent analysis, and he knows these cases so well that there is nothing the defence can come up with to outfox him. He is completely relentless, extremely personable and a great team player”; “He is a master of detail who never makes a mistake.” Chambers & Partners 2016 (Crime)

Frankly  the inquiry after all the row surrounding the departure of his predecessor, Ben Emmerson, could do with a boost. Given there is also outside pressure – thankfully resisted by Theresa May who set it up – to try and get the government to close the inquiry down because of its scope and cost, this is doubly important.

Brian Altman in his Linked In profile also lists two hobbies – scuba diving and travel. I can well understand  he will sometimes want to get away from it all after all this work pressure.

He is  coy about where he has travelled and where he has scuba dived. He tells me one of the places he has not yet visited is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – the largest scuba diving place in the world.

Given he is probably lead counsel for the largest child sex abuse inquiry in the world- perhaps he also should also get some time off to relax there as well soon.





The Westminster Paedophile ring: Now a murder inquiry

Over the weekend the inquiry into a Westminster paedophile ring took a dramatic turn with Met Police officially saying it had seconded  murder detectives to the investigation.

On Sunday the People newspaper and Exaro News disclosed the inquiry was related to the horrific  revelations from a  survivor called Nick (not his real name). It involved three murders including one boy being run over, another being strangled at a party where sadistic child sexual abuse seemed to be the norm. It also suggests that other premises in Central London as well as Dolphin Square were used as venues.

Some of the more sceptical MPs and commentators, some of whom are also incidentally  are opposed to an overarching child sexual abuse inquiry, have  expressed near disbelief that this could have happened anywhere near Westminster in the 1980s.

To those doubters I would say this has been a meticulous detailed investigation – by my colleague Mark Conrad – who in a related piece on Exaro News gives the background to the events.

It has taken months to uncover and has involved building up the confidence of the brave survivor who decided himself to report it to the police after years of being told never to repeat what happened.

As he said himself : “The MP was particularly nasty, even among the group of people who sexually abused me and others. I still find it difficult to talk about these incidents after all these years.”

Some of the scepticism is based on the fact that there may have been rumours of wild parties in Westminster at the time – and that people might have been smeared by Westminster gossip.  The fact that nothing was proved at the time does not mean it did not happen.

I am reminded by the  “cash for questions” investigation which I revealed on the Guardian in the mid 1990s. That actually referred to events happening a decade previously right under the nose of the Westminster lobby. And they were proved to be true.

These  allegations will now be investigated by the Met Police who will have to decide, along with the Crown Prosecution Service, whether there is enough evidence to prosecute.

In the meantime it is becoming very clear that this historic child sex abuse scandal is not going away. More revelations in London and other parts of the country will make sure it won’t.