Westminster Paedophile Inquiry Row: A shrewd move by Scotland Yard

Sir Richard Henriques.

Sir Richard Henriques. Pic Credit: Blackpool Gazette

The decision by Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, the Met Police Commissioner, to ask Sir Richard Henriques, a distinguished  retired judge, to review police procedures covering Operation Midland is very shrewd.

At a stroke it will knock down the hysterical coverage in some newspapers of the investigation which has involved prominent VIPs being interviewed by the Met following allegations of sexual abuse and murder from a survivor known as Nick.

The papers- some of whom seem to act as judge and jury  before the investigation has been completed – in wanting to clear prominent people and cast doubt on the veracity of the victim in alleging such crimes. They have  also complained about the Met Police spending time and money looking at historic child sex abuse cases.

It will also prevent Keith Vaz, the  Labour chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, grandstanding when  Sir Bernard comes before him at the end of this month.

He will know as a lawyer that he can hardly grill Sir Bernard about the procedures of the investigation while there is an inquiry by a retired judge looking into the same issues. Nor can he second guess Sir Richard’s findings.

Indeed instead he may have to explain why his committee was so quick to condemn the Met for its handling of  its investigation into the historic alleged rape  against the late Leon Brittan  brought by  ” Jane” now an independent review by Dorset Police has largely cleared the Met of any errors.

It should also provide a valuable breathing case for the Met to take a balanced decision on whether it can proceed further with Operation Midland rather than all this orchestrated hue and cry that it must be stopped now.

Obviously it has been painful for Leon Brittan’s family and the 92 year old war hero  Lord Bramall to be at the centre of such allegations but that doesn’t mean that the police should not investigate them.

Also it is not only cases brought by Nick that will come under scrutiny but also Darren where the Met Police appear to have taken the opposite decision and decided that Darren’s claims were not worth pursuing.

One of the most interesting findings by the judge will be how he sees the police handled two entirely different victims and  their allegations and what standards were applied.

In a statement announcing the review on Wednesday, Hogan-Howe said the aim was “whether we can provide a better balance between our duty to investigate and the interests of suspects, complainants and victims.”

The Met commissioner added: “We are not afraid to learn how we can do these things better, and that’s why I’ve announced today’s review in to how we have conducted investigations in to non-recent sexual allegations involving public figures.”

Henriques is a former high court judge who conducted an inquiry into how Lord Janner escaped justice over abuse claims.

He is  also the prosecutor who  brought the killers of James Bulger to justice and nailed Harold Shipman,the GP who murdered his patients..

Before retiring he was a judge presiding over  terrorist trials including the trial of eight terrorists who would have slaughtered almost 3,000 people had their plan to bring down transatlantic airliners been successful.

So he seems a good choice to cut through all the hyperbole surrounding the VIP paedophile ring  allegations and make sound recommendations on how the Met should handle such allegations in the future. My main reservation is how much of the report will be made public. Transparency is very important in this case.

 

 

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.

The BBC Panorama child sex abuse fall out: No one yet knows the truth

Elm Guest House:  One of the alleged venues which Panorama debunked

Elm Guest House: One of the alleged venues which Panorama debunked

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Investigating allegations of historic child sex abuse is the most difficult job I have ever undertaken as a journalist.

Normally in an investigation you can get documents, find trusted sources, and corroborate information.

 Child sex abuse is  by its nature a private act between two  people-one who is not capable of giving consent.

 The person who is abused is likely to  be damaged for life by such an experience and could find it difficult to relate to other people. So prior to the Jimmy Savile expose hardly anybody believed them.

 The perpetrator  who would suffer huge damage to his or her reputation if found out  will go to any length to cover their tracks -including, if the current  Met Police criminal investigation , Operation Midland, is to be believed, murder.

Rack this up and say you wish to uncover acts more than 30 years ago- when mobile phones  and the internet were science fiction- involving very, very powerful people in high places who can pull strings and you have made it doubly difficult.

That is why it is absurd  for the BBC to put out a documentary claiming to reveal the truth about the Westminster paedophile ring when the story is only half complete, when the police haven’t finished their investigation, and nobody has tested the evidence.

The result was a documentary that probably left the public confused, the police visibly annoyed because it could have put off new people coming forward to help them complete their investigations and the survivors who were interviewed by the BBC worried they had been traduced.

The programme was right to show that closed cases including paedophile teachers and headmasters , celebrities and other powerful people had been found guilty because brave survivors had come forward, been believed, and won justice in the courts.

They were also right to raise the questions of when a suspect should be named publicly – because of the damage it could cause to their reputation. But I have little sympathy for Harvey Proctor, the ex MP who protested too much, because he put into the public domain what the allegations were against him before an investigationhas concluded whether they could be true or false. He is no shrinking violet.

At the moment information about this dark side of British history is coming to light in a piecemeal fashion. So the BBC cannot possibly know the ” truth ” about events in the past. It would have been far better if the Panorama team, who say they have spent a year on this, had waited another year before promising to come forward with a considered judgement.

 I would like them to concentrate on how the BBC has come to terms in tackling its own problem in handling the culture that allowed paedophiles like Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall to thrive unchecked. They have a big report from Dame Janet Smith which will eventually have to be published – and they have already looked at the damage Jimmy Savile caused in the NHS. That would be a Panorama worth watching.

Child Sex Abuse Inquiry: Correcting a misleading report in the Guardian

On September 23  my old employer The Guardian published a report on developments in the Westminster paedophile inquiry.

The article examined the big pressures facing ” Operation Midland” the Met Police criminal investigation into claims against prominent people accused of child sex abuse. and also raised issues by survivors about the role of Exaro, – I am a freelance contributor – in the setting up of the child sex abuse inquiry.

The passage affecting me said :

“Others have raised concerns about Exaro to senior Home Office officials over its role in the setting up of what eventually became the Goddard inquiry.

One complaint came last November over the presence of its journalist, David Hencke, a former Guardian reporter, at a private meeting for survivors and their representatives. A second complaint was made to another senior inquiry official three months later, alleging that the role Exaro was playing – “seemingly with the assistance of panel members” –was “causing havoc” among some survivors.”

The facts are these.

My attendance at the meeting in question was approved by the then secretariat of the  independent panel following a request by a panel member. The meeting was not about establishing the inquiry but a consultation exercise involving survivors and other people interested  and concerned about the issue of child sexual abuse. At the meeting I was completely open, stated who I was, and agreed, because some of the accounts given by people there were very harrowing, never  to report anything that was said. I never have. No  one raised  any objections at the time. and I was thanked by the secretariat for making my position clear afterwards.

If there have been any complaints afterwards no one from the Home Office has raised them with me. I am sure they would if it was regarded as a serious matter.

I  want to put the record straight because in an entirely different capacity I am  a member of an independent panel dealing with very sensitive issues and I would not like people to think that I had gatecrashed meetings on child sex abuse without being invited in the first place.

I asked The Guardian to correct this misleading point but its Readers Editor declined. That is their prerogative. But it is also my right to put the record straight on my own blog.

Right On: A warning to the national press over Operation Midland – the murder and child sex abuse investigation

JusticiaCROSS POSTED FROM BYLINE.COM

I am not surprised at all to see this warning from the Attorney General’s Office to the national press and social media sites not to try to identify ” Nick” the survivor in the Operation Midland  murder and sexual abuse inquiry.

It seems that some papers wanted to close down this inquiry and one of the people interviewed twice by the police, Harvey Proctor, was completely irresponsible in revealing and naming people who may or may not be the subject of investigation,

So just in case the national press don’t have room tonight to cover this statement here it is in full:

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is currently investigating allegations made by a complainant that he was sexually abused by a number of men including various high profile figures.

The Solicitor General, Robert Buckland QC MP, would like to remind editors, publishers and social media users that where an allegation of a sexual offence has been made, no matter relating to the complainant shall be included in a publication if it is likely to lead to members of the public identifying him. Publishing such material is a criminal offence and could be subject to prosecution.

In addition, while the Solicitor General recognises the legitimate public interest in the press commenting on cases of this nature, he wishes to draw attention to the risk of publishing material that gives the impression of pre-judging the outcome of the investigation and any criminal proceedings that may follow, or which might prejudice any such proceedings.

The Attorney General’s Office will be monitoring the ongoing coverage of Operation Midland and editors and publishers should take legal advice to ensure they are in a position to comply with their legal obligations.

Child Sex Abuse: The Met Police’s honest attempt to safeguard survivors and alleged abusers

Scotland Yard: a honest statement Pic Credit: Wikipedia

Scotland Yard: a honest statement
Pic Credit: Wikipedia

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Yesterday unusually the Met Police issued a long statement on Operation Midland – the most controversial criminal investigation into allegations that young boys were murdered and sexually abused by people involved in a Westminster paedophile ring.

The press  coverage has concentrated on the mea culpa by the Met Police itself when a senior investigating officer described some very sensational allegations by an abuse survivor called ” Nick” as ” credible and true”.

The force stuck by its description as ” credible” but dropped the reference to ” true”.As their statement says:”only a jury can decide on the truth of allegations after hearing all the evidence.

“We should always reflect that in our language and we acknowledge that describing the allegations as ‘credible and true’ suggested we were pre-empting the outcome of the investigation.”

But the long statement – it is about 1200 words- also calls for the media and some of the accused,to modify their behaviour both in the interest of protecting vulnerable survivors and not defaming alleged abusers so they can get a fair trial.

The words in the statement covering survivors were particularly pertinent.- coming straight after the Daily Mail has gone as far as it could to identify ” Nick” in a piece in Saturday’s paper and on-line – including a pixellated picture and details about his mother and the job he held.

The Met Police make the eminently sensible suggestion that the press should be extremely careful about identifying vulnerable people – and suggest that print and on-line journalists should follow broadcasters and incorporate part of the regulator Ofcom’s code  when interviewing vulnerable people.

Their definition is much wider than minors. Vulnerable people “may include those with learning difficulties, those with mental health problems, the bereaved, people with brain damage or forms of dementia, people who have been traumatised or who are sick or terminally ill.”

One could  say someone who has been sexually abused as a kid has certainly been traumatised. Unsurprisingly, this does not seem to have been mentioned in the print media.

The police statement adds: ” Our other main concern is the risk that media investigations will affect the process of gathering and testing evidence in our criminal investigation. In recent weeks, one journalist reporting on Operation Midland has shown the purported real identity of someone making an allegation of sexual assault to a person who has disclosed that they have been questioned by police concerning those allegations.”

It rightly warns:”it is extremely distressing to discover that their identity might have been given to anyone else, particularly if that is to someone who may be involved in the case. Secondly, possible victims or witnesses reading the article may believe their identities could be revealed as well, which could deter them from coming forward.”

The police also make it clear  that until someone is charged they will not name anybody. There is a case for protecting individuals who stand accused of such a heinous crime – both murder and sexual abuse – who are still alive from being exposed because it will prejudice a trial. The problem with historic child sex abuse many of those involved are now dead – and it is their reputation that is at risk not a future trial.

However the accused also have to behave responsibly as well. Harvey Proctor, the former Tory MP, who has been questioned by the police as part of the investigation, has the right to call a press conference to defend himself. But it is very irresponsible to name other people who may or may not be under investigation by the Met Police or demand that his accuser be named.

It is not surprising that this has become such a controversial issue. The stakes are very high. People’s reputations face ruin and proving historic child sex abuse is a very difficult thing to do as it takes place in private and people are hardly going to admit to it.

What is required now is some space for the police to continue this complex and difficult investigation.

Everyone, not just the police, needs to tread very carefully and try to report this honestly and objectively, without fear or favour, and without blunting the detailed investigative skills needed to do the job.

Police make first arrest in Esther Baker child sex abuse investigation

Esther Baker

Esther Baker

Staffordshire Police confirmed today that they had arrested a 64 year old man as part of their investigation into an historic child sex abuse ring following allegations made by  Esther Baker. a survivor.

The full statement in reply to a question from me on behalf of Exaro News is:“A 64 year old man has been arrested on suspicion of rape and conspiracy to rape in connection with the ongoing investigation in allegations of historic child sexual abuse.He remains on bail pending further inquiries.In line with our normal policy we will not confirm the details of a person under investigation until such time as charges are made.”

For legal reasons I have been told we cannot name the man but I can say for those who have followed this story it is NOT the former MP.

Police investigations are continuing into the allegations which involve a child sex abuse ring which operated in Staffordshire and the West Midlands.