OF GENERALS AND CHILD ABUSE
This is the story of two war heroes – highly decorated soldiers both – and of how the Metropolitan Police responded to allegations about them concerning child sexual abuse.
Their contrasting stories should be examined by the Goddard Enquiry. But whether this happens may depend on public pressure for an open and transparent process. There is no doubt that Goddard and her teams of barristers should ask details questions about both men’s cases. Because the way each of these two very senior military leaders was treated encapsulates precisely the problems her investigation into the handling of historic child sexual abuse allegations was established to examine.
We can – because he has named himself (albeit after being outed by others) – identify the first of these war heroes. Field Marshall Edwin, Baron Bramall, Britain’s Chief of Defence Staff (the head of the armed services) until 1985.
The second was until relatively recently one of the United States most senior generals, who lived for a time in Britain. He must – for the time being – remain anonymous. I have his name, his (very senior) rank and his personal details. But for reasons which will become apparent, I am not naming him in this post.
Lord Bramall’s case first. Last week the Metropolitan Police announced that it was abandoning its 18-month investigation into allegations that Bramall had sexually abused a young boy. During this Bramall, whose extensive record of military service included the D-Day landings, had been interviewed under caution by the Met’s Operation Midland, had watched his house being searched by a large team of officers and seen his reputation dragged through the mud when his name was published by sections of the media.
The alleged crimes for which Bramall was so rigorously investigated stemmed from one (now adult) man. This complainant, known only as “Nick” made statements to the Met and gave interviews to Exaro News, the web-based news organisation which has placed itself at the centre of historic child sexual abuse allegations. In both his police statement and his Exaro interviews “Nick” claimed not just to have been sexually abused and tortured by a variety of VIP paedophiles during the 1970s and 1980s, but to have witnessed the sexually-motivated murder of other children.
There is no corroborative evidence for “Nick’s” allegations. No other witness or complainant has stated that he was present during this crimes; not a single piece of forensic or medical evidence has been found to back up the claims. In fact the only things Nick seemed to have in his favour are a very plausible demeanour – one person who has regularly met Nick says that if he is not telling the truth, he is a “Hollywood standard actor” – and the unwavering support of Exaro News.
Despite this, the Met has spent almost £2 million trying to stand up Nick’s complaints. In the case of Lord Bramall, at least, it has now thrown in the towel and admitted that “the evidence did not support charges being laid”.
The story of the US general is very different. There was what a highly experienced prosecutor described as “an open and shut case” to prosecute him. But the Metropolitan Police does not appear even to have begun an investigation.
The American officer is a decorated Vietnam war veteran who went on to play a major role in the planning and execution of America’s wars in the Gulf. He holds a very senior rank – and, by extension, very high security clearance – in the US Army. In the late 1970s this officer spent some time in Britain. He was seconded to the British Army Staff College at Camberley in Surrey. It appears that he used this address to receive a postal mailing of child pornography from an American supplier.
The reason we know about this is that his name and address appears on a list of British-based customers of US child pornographers. That list was compiled by the US Customs Child Pornography and Protection Division, and handed to me in 1987.
I was then researching a Roger Cook television documentary about child pornography. For more than a year I worked closely with US Customs and its sister unit at the US Postal Service. These two agencies were, at the time, setting the benchmark for investigating and prosecuting those who dealt in child pornography – both inside America and internationally. Each agency was adamant that their evidence was enough for British police to arrest and charge the men on the list. Both agencies had also previously supplied these names to the Home Office, and were surprised that no action had been taken.
I was also then working very closely with the Obscene Publications Branch at New Scotland Yard. That unit – then known as TO13 – was much less effective than its American counterparts, largely due to the refusal of the Met’s senior management to recognise the seriousness of the problem. Of its 11 officers, just two were assigned to investigating child pornography. The senior officer in charge of TO13, Supt. Iain Donaldson was deeply frustrated by the refusal of his superiors to engage with the issue. He had repeatedly lobbied the Met’s management for more officers to tackle child pornography.
By agreement, Roger Cook handed the lists to Donaldson on film. Donaldson believed that if he was made to look a little foolish in a television documentary, his bosses would finally agree to assign additional officers to child pornography investigations. A clip of that encounter can be seen below.
There was a very clear understanding that New Scotland Yard would make enquiries into each of the names on the US lists. Supt. Donaldson and his officers certainly wanted to do so. Joyce Karlin, a US Federal prosecutor who specialised in child pornography cases, believed that the American evidence should be enough to launch an investigation. Her interview clip is here:
But did those investigations ever take place ? Or were Donaldson’s urgent pleas for a more serious approach to child pornography ignored by the Met’s senior management ? The subsequent stellar career of the American general who had child pornography sent to him at the British Army Staff College would seem to imply that no investigations were ever instituted into his actions , nor that the US Army was ever appraised of what he was alleged to have done whilst in Britain. The General’s military trajectory carried on ever-upwards.
(There is other evidence to suggest that the US lists were simply consigned to a filing cabinet inside New Scotland Yard. One of the other names given by US Customs was Charles Napier, the former treasurer of the Paedophile Information Exchange. Despite the fact that his address was clearly and correctly identified on the US Customs list – the address, therefore, at which he had received child pornography – no police action would be taken against Napier until 1995. During that period he was left free to abuse children. Napier is now serving a lengthy prison sentence for doing just that).
Two generals, then; war heroes both, with two starkly contrasting experiences of the Metropolitan Police’s responses to allegations concerning child sexual abuse. One whose life has been blighted by unsupported accusations from a single, uncorroborated complainant; a second who was never even investigated despite cast-iron evidence that he bought and received child pornography.
It is difficult to escape the inference that in seeking to atone for the historic failures exemplified by the American general’s story, the Metropolitan Police was over-zealous in dealing with Lord Brammall. That is – or should be – one of the strands of the Goddard Enquiry. It certainly has the evidence.
The US Customs and Postals lists are currently locked in a safe at the Goddard Enquiry’s offices. They were handed to the Enquiry’s counsel, Ben Emmerson QC, last year. Goddard must examine how and why the names on those lists were never investigated, nor any prosecutions brought. She must summon those who were responsible for Metropolitan Police policy – its commanders and the Home Office officials to whom they answered – and ask them to explain their refusal to provide Supt. Donaldson with the resources to do his job.
WHEN IS A MINORITY NOT A MINORITY ?
This week, Sir Lenny Henry appeared at a television industry conference discussing diversity. Speaking during a debate entitled “How Far Have We Come”, held at Channel 4, Sir Lenny said:
“It’s wonderful to see everybody here. It’s great actually to see everybody moving in the same direction on this issue, because it needs to be moved on, doesn’t it?”
Channel 4 has positioned itself in the vanguard of a campaign to increase representation of BAME people – that’s “Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic”, in case you didn’t know – both on screen and in television production. In time for the conference C4 congratulated itself for hitting 24 of the 30 targets it set itself last year in its 360° Diversity Charter.
That charter covers more ground than BAME: it aims to include disability within its scope, for example. But it specifically committed the Channel to putting diversity front and centre in its commissioning priorities and improving its BAME quotient was a key stipulation. Producers wanting to do business with Channel 4 were required to a pass ‘two-tick’ process: the first tick showed that their programme ideas included a diversity element, the second that the production team also passed the diversity test. In Channel 4’s own words:
“The aim of diversity policy in broadcasting is simple: to include and nurture talent, and to reflect contemporary Britain on and offscreen.”
It is, unquestionably, good news that both programmes and production teams are becoming more representative of Britain’s diverse population. And where C4 led, other broadcasters have scurried to follow. Both the BBC and ITV are working to improve their representation of minorities, both on and off screen.
But are all minorities equal in broadcaster’s eyes ? Are some less deserving of recognition than others ? Recent experience suggests that the answer might be an uncomfortable ‘yes’.
I run a small and successful independent production company. We make documentary films for all the main British broadcasters as well as international networks. Several of the films have won major awards. Last autumn my colleague and co-producer developed a history documentary idea which investigated the experiences of the oldest minority ethnic community in Britain. What happened to that proposal raises questions about the integrity of broadcasters’ commitments to diversity.
Chinese communities have been established throughout Britain for more than 150 years. Today, the British-Chinese population exceeds 247,000: that represents 0.5% of the overall population, and approximately 5% of the total non-white demographic.
This is, of course, far smaller than the other two main “minority ethnic” groupings. The number of “south Asian” people – those whose ethnicity stems from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sir Lanka – is more than 3 million, accounting for more than 8% of the overall UK population. While, according to the 2011 UK Census, there are1,904,684 UK residents who self-identify as “Black/African/Caribbean/Black British” – a total of 3 per cent of the country’s population.
But the British Chinese community has two unique and notable traits. It tends to produce high-achievers – economically and academically; and it tends not to trouble the police or authorities with complaints about experiencing racism. And yet, as we discovered, that racism is a very real problem. A new police unit set up in the north of England has discovered evidence that British Chinese were frequently the victims of racially-motivated crime. However, they rarely reported it.
We wondered why.
One answer may well lie in the history of the British Chinese experience. For more than 100 years that community has been the subject of vicious racial prejudice, wild public scare stories, and wicked press-driven hatred. But what was truly shocking was the discovery that in 1947 – having risked their lives on the Atlantic Convoys of World War Two (the vital lifeline which kept this country fed and powered in the darkest days of the war) at least a thousand Chinese British seamen were brutally rounded up, flung on to coffin ships and dumped in China.
That China was then in the midst of a vicious civil war and that these men who had served Britain so well were – at the very least – being put in harm’s way had not mattered. Nor had the fact that many had wives and children in Britain – families from whom they had been quite literally snatched. The government wanted rid of this minority group – and had forcible repatriated them.
This story had remained secret for decades. That it was beginning to emerge was due to the efforts of a remarkable member of the British Chinese community who had unearthed official papers in the National Archive showing what had happened to his father, one of the deported seamen.
It seemed to us that this story was both important (the resonance between the rabid anti Chinese press campaigns and today’s Islamophobia was uncomfortably close). It was genuinely revelatory, and it also helped explain both the experience and contemporary position of one of the least understood of all the UK’s “minority ethnic” populations. It plainly delivered the first ‘tick’
It also completed the second. Not only were both presenters we put forward British Chinese, but so is my colleague and co-producer who developed the story.
The broadcasters’ response was curious. Channel 4 pronounced that it was “too straight down the line” for its history output, which more routinely concentrates on digging up downed Spitfires or positing ludicrous theories about Ancient Egyptian tombs. The BBC (which has just announced a substantial new series on the well-trodden ground of Black History of Britain) said that it didn’t “fit the outline of the kind of project we are expected to deliver”, and that audiences “rarely come to stories like this”.
What both decisions actually come down to is that these two broadcasters think audience figures are more important than reflecting “contemporary Britain on and of screen” (to use Channel 4’s wording); and that ratings trump the commitment to genuine diversity.
It could, of course, also be that the oldest “minority ethnic” community in the UK is deemed not sufficiently ethnic to be pulled up on the BAME bandwagon. In other words, (to borrow from Orwell) that some minorities are more equal than others – though that would surely be politically rather difficult to state publicly.
But in either case, turning a blind eye to the experience and history of the British Chinese community seems to sit badly with the self-congratulatory sprit of the broadcasters’ promises of diversity. Perhaps Sir Lenny might care to take a closer look at the backdrops and scenery through which we are all, in his words, “moving in the same direction”. They might, just might, be no more than a Potemkin set, designed to impress more than deliver.
Robert Black: the mistakes, the man and the “monster”.
The serial child killer Robert Black, who died in Maghaberry prison, Northern Ireland this week, was one of only 62 prisoners – 60 men and two women – serving a “whole life tariff”: an order made in cases of where an offender is deemed to be irredeemably dangerous to society.
Robert Black was unquestionably that: he was convicted of the kidnapping and sexually-motivated murder of four children, the kidnapping of a fifth child and the attempted kidnapping of a sixth. All his victims were girls, between the ages of 5 and 11.
Black was also devious and calculating. He was the prime suspect in a series of other unsolved child abductions and murders. In each case there was very strong circumstantial evidence that he was responsible. Yet for more than two decades, long after he knew he would never be released from prison, he refused to discuss these cases with detectives. As a result they remain officially unsolved and the children’s families have never seen justice done. Nor, as we shall see, was he averse to using public money to suppress – or at least to attempt to suppress – information about his lifelong obsession with the abuse and death of children.
But the story of Black’s lifetime of offending – it spanned 35 years – also highlights fundamental problems in the way we have historically policed (or not) sexual crimes against children; and how effectively (or not) we deal with those who commit them.
From 1986 onwards I worked closely with a remarkable man called Ray Wyre. For twenty years, until his death in 2008, we wrote books and made documentaries together. Ray was a former probation officer who had, almost by accident, discovered a very effective ability to unpick the tangled strands of motivation which lead men (and some women) to sexually abuse children. He did so in the unshakeable belief that if these offenders (and the rest of society) could be helped to understand what drove their behaviour – and its impact on the victims – at least some of them could be prevented from continuing it.
It was, particularly in the climate of the times, a very brave decision. His residential programmes for offenders certainly worked – I witnessed this, first hand – but they were deeply unpopular in the neighbourhoods in which they were situated. One was fire-bombed out of existence.
In 1990 Ray was the most prominent expert on sex offending in the country. That year Robert Black was arrested near the village of Stow, Scotland. He had been seen bundling a child into the back of his van. When police stopped him they found a six year old girl gagged and tied up in a sleeping bag. The girl was the daughter of the officer who searched the van: he had not known she was missing until that point.
Black was charged, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment. Shortly afterwards his solicitors asked Ray to assess him with a view to mounting an appeal against the sentence. Ray’s subsequent report was uncompromising: it said that Black was unquestionably dangerous and that the sentence was appropriate.
As a result Black’s appeal was abandoned. But despite this, Black asked Ray to visit him again in prison to help him try and understand his desire to abduct and abuse children. There would be no payment for doing so, but Ray agreed, with one proviso: that their sessions would be tape recorded and that Ray would be free to use the material to further public understanding of such extreme offending. Black signed a formal agreement to that effect.
Ray quickly realized that the interviews were very important – not least because Black was then under investigation for the abduction and murder of what were then known as ‘The Big Three’ unsolved child killings: Susan Maxwell, Caroline Hogg and Sarah Harper. He brought the audio recordings to me and we agreed that we should jointly make a documentary and write a book.
The contents of those tapes were harrowing, to say the least. Black’s childhood and early life was bleak and provided very clear clues about the reasons for his subsequent sex offending. However, they also clearly highlighted a succession of blunders by police and the courts. In what was – even in the early 1990s – becoming a familiar pattern, the failure to grasp just how dangerous this man was stretched back to the 1960s and allowed him to continue offending through to 1990.
Black was plainly tortured by the knowledge of what he was doing. He genuinely wanted to understand what drove his obsession with inflicting appalling abuse on young girls and then causing their deaths. And he was also willing – at least in part – to give hints about other crimes he had committed. Ray patiently explored all this with him as the tape recorder rolled.
The result was that together with the police task force set up to investigate whether Black was responsible for a string of unsolved child killings, we were subsequently able to show – often using his own words – that he was the most likely suspect. One of these cases – that of Jennifer Cardy in 1981 – would eventually be formally laid at Black’s door. In 2011 he was sentenced to 25 years for her murder. But there were at least eight other cases for which he was never prosecuted. Perhaps the most famous was the abduction and (presumed) murder of Genette Tate
in August 1978. Genette was 13 – though she looked several years younger – when she was snatched in broad daylight from a country lane near her home in the Devon village of Aylesbeare. She had been doing a paper round on her bicycle. The photograph of her bike, seemingly abandoned in the middle of the road, became an iconic and haunting image of our inability to protect children.
In his interviews with Ray, Black came close to admitting that he had abducted Genette. But although he dropped hints and talked in such a way that Ray became convinced of his guilt, Black never quite confessed.
When Black was charged with the murder of Susan Maxwell, Caroline Hogg and Sarah Harper, he ended the sessions with Ray. His new lawyers were, understandably, nervous about tape recorded interviews with their client.
Ray and I took the material to Channel 4 and to Penguin Books. The former commissioned a documentary, the latter a book. Neither was to be published until after the conclusion of Black’s trial for the Big Three. Indeed, as we all well knew, the law of contempt made it illegal to publish while the case was on-going.
Despite this, Black obtained public money from the legal aid fund to take out an ex-parte injunction against Channel 4 and both Ray and I. This sought to suppress the tape recordings of the prison interviews. It was an entirely spurious action: not merely was there a very real public interest in the contents of these recordings, but Black had signed a release form authorizing their publication. It took several months, several appearances at the High Court and a substantial bill for legal costs before the injunction was quashed. The film, titled The Murder of Childhood, was transmitted on the night that he was convicted of the Maxwell, Hogg and Harper murders. It can be viewed on the films page of this website. The book, which carried the same title, was published some months later. An extract can be viewed on the books page of this website.
Both the documentary and the book highlighted the blunders which had allowed Black to abuse, abduct and kill for so long. Most crucially, these involved a repeated failure by several police forces to share intelligence or even the record of Black’s growing criminal record.
But what was even more shocking was the discovery that several years after his first life sentence (for the abduction in Stow) – and decades after his first recorded sexual crime – the name of Robert Black was still not logged on the most important national database of paedophile offenders.
That record was maintained (at least in theory) by the National Criminal Intelligence Service. As the documentary showed, the paedophile index at NCIS was grossly underfunded. It had, at the time, just three officers permanently staffing it; by contrast in the adjacent office there were at least 11 officers dedicated to running the football hooligan database. The documentary clearly shows the embarrassment of the NCIS spokesperson about the failure to log Black on its paedophile index.
In 2006 NCIS was merged with the newly-created Serious Organised Crime Agency. SOCA was not noticeably more successful than its predecessor – at least in the running a national intelligence system covering known paedophiles. In 2013 it was folded into yet another new organization, the National Crime Agency.
Is NCA any better than NCIS or SOCA ? It’s impossible to know. Newspapers regularly describe this lead organization in the fight against all forms of organized crime – and that includes paedophiles – as “Britain’s FBI”. Yet unlike that American law enforcement institution, NCA is immune from public scrutiny: it is specifically excluded from requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
Yesterday broadcasters covered the death of Robert Black extensively. I was interviewed and asked whether the institutional failures which enabled him to carry on killing for so long had now been rectified. It was be pleasing to think so. But the honest answer is that, as a result of this secrecy, we cannot know.
What I do know is that yesterday much of the press and media coverage of his death used dumb and unhelpful clichés. Black was a “monster’, he was “evil”.
Revisiting the tapes of Ray Wyre’s interviews with the man reminded me of the great lesson Ray wanted to teach. He never minimized or excused the appalling nature of the crimes committed by the men he worked with: but he knew that categorizing them as “monsters” was simply counter-productive.
Robert Black’s crimes were monstrous – no question about it. But he committed them for a reason. The lesson which has never been learned is that unless we spend the time and money to uncover and understand those reasons we will never protect children from men like Black. And calling them “monsters” is a sure way to prevent such vital understanding.
TRUE CRIME MUSEUM TALK – NOV 13 2015
I’m flattered to have been asked to speak at The True Crime Museum in Hastings about my most recent book, Yorkshire Ripper – The Secret Murders.
The book was prompted by extraordinarily diligent and painstaking research by a former police intelligence officer, Chris Clark. Chris’ work showed quite clearly that Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, was the most likely perpetrator of 23 additional murders, as well as several more attempts. The victims were men as well as women; and far from being an exclusively northern predator, the evidence suggests that Sutcliffe struck all over the country – from London to the Midlands as well as Yorkshire and Manchester.
These crimes have never – officially – been solved. That has caused immense distress to some of the victims families (as well as the surviving victims). But worse even that this, three entirely innocent men each spent half a lifetime in prison for murders which Sutcliffe almost certainly carried out. They were eventually freed – but the cases remain open.
My talk at the Crime Museum will detail these unsolved murders and attempted murders. But it will also examine how Sutcliffe was – wrongly – excluded as a suspect, and how a blanket of official secrecy has been thrown over these cold cases.
YORKSHIRE RIPPER – THE SECRET MURDERS
Where: The True Crime Museum, Seafront, Hastings, TN34 1JP
When: 7pm: Friday, November 13, 2015
PIE MEMBERSHIP LIST: HOW THE HOME OFFICE AND POLICE FAILED CHILDREN
Few documents have excited as much speculation as the membership list of the Paedophile Information Exchange. Claims about the number of members and their occupations have been made for more than 30 years, but the actual list itself has never been published.
Almost two years ago I learned the whereabouts of a copy of the list. I spent several months tracking down and then interviewing the person who held it. I was able to ascertain how this person came to own it and where it had been kept: a full chain of custody, in other words.
I also confirmed that last summer the list was handed to the Metropolitan Police and – subsequently – to the Goddard Independent Enquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. This ensured that if or when I obtained the document, there could be no suggestion that I had contaminated, amended or in any way interfered with its contents.
Last week, the document itself arrived at my office.
I have spent the past nine days analyzing the list. That process – of which more shortly – indicates that the police and the Home Office failed to assign sufficient importance to membership of PIE, and that children were subsequently sexually abused as a result.
First: the basic details.
The list is dated 1983 – 1984 (though there are handwritten annotations made, evidently by police officers, in 1985). These dates are important: they coincide with the period in which Leon Brittan, the Home Secretary, was under pressure to ban PIE. It is a matter of record that he did not do so.
There are 307 individuals listed as members. Four of the members were women.
Most – though not all – of the 307 have a membership number beside their name.
(It should be noted that this is only one version of what was, originally, a much lengthier record of approximately 1,000 members of PIE. The original full register was, in those pre-computer days, cut up and parceled to several police forces. This remaining list – the only one, to my knowledge, still in existence – is the result of that process.)
The document shows that some effort was made to establish the accuracy of the PIE membership records. 254 of the names were listed as UK residents: of these, addresses were shown and/or confirmed for 213 of them.
Of the remaining 41, just one was found to be an assumed name; 11 addresses were “unknown” and 4 others were shown as no longer in existence. 16 individuals were found to be unknown at the address given for them, with a final 9 showing no street address at all.
Of the 53 foreign members, there was one each in Sweden, Norway, Luxemburg, Canada and Iran; 2 each in the Republic of Ireland and West Germany (as it was then); 5 in Australia, 13 in France and 24 in the United States.
There are no recognizable politicians’ names on the list. And whilst Sir Peter Hayman, the foreign office official-cum spy outed as a PIE member in 1981 is included (his name, without any address, handwritten in pen), there is no mention of convicted spy and rumoured PIE member Geoffrey Prime.
There are two clergymen listed: one was a senior army chaplain. This man appears later to have resigned his commission and also have had a history of involvement with the Christian youth organization, the Boys’ Brigade. There is one other member shown as having a military rank – Major – but his address was a mail holding “BM Box Number” .
There are three University academics, two in the UK: one, Ken Plummer of Essex University, said last year that he had only joined PIE to facilitate his research. The address of the other was shown as an Engineering faculty, which presumably ruled out academic reasons for joining the organization.
Of the UK residents listed, 3 (all men) were recorded as having criminal records: CRO numbers have been written, in pen, beside their names – but with no details of what offences were committed. Additionally, one other member was listed as being in prison – again with no offence details shown.
These men with criminal records were rank and file members. The criminal convictions of PIE’s Executive Committee are not shown.
I do not have access to the Criminal Records Office database (maintained since 2006 by the Association of Chief Police Officers) or the former Criminal Records Bureau (now part of the Home Office Disclosure and Barring Service) . Nor do I have access to the Police National Computer which also maintains a database of criminal records. It is therefore impossible to know how many of the 254 UK-resident PIE members on the 1983-84 list might subsequently have been convicted of child sex offences.
But publicly available records, together with a separate list of British men who obtained child pornography from US dealers, show that several PIE members were subsequently convicted of offences against children- and that both the police and the Home Office failed to grasp the likelihood of this when dealing with either of the lists.
The US list first. In 1987 I was the researcher for a Cook Report documentary investigating child pornography. During the research I worked closely with two American law enforcement departments: US Customs and US Postals. Both maintained dedicated teams which were then the most effective international effort against the trade in child pornography. Both agencies supplied me with lists of British customers of proven American child pornography dealers.
Those lists contained 58 names and addresses: 53 were provided by US Customs, 5 by US Postals. Seven of those names appear on the PIE membership list: among them were three of PIE’s executive committee: Peter Bremner, Charles Napier and Leo Adamson.
Both US Customs and US Postals insisted that their lists had already been provided to the British government. Both were surprised that no action appeared to have been taken to investigate or charge the British men. The specialist agents in charge of both organisations said that their evidence should have been enough to secure convictions: this view was backed up (in a filmed interview) by the Assistant US Attorney who successfully prosecuted some of the American dealers in federal court.
I took the lists to the Metropolitan Police’s Obscene Publications Squad, with whom I was also working closely for the film. TO13 (as it was known) was then the only full-time police unit investigating child pornography. Its senior officer, Superintendent Iain Donaldson, was adamant that he had never been given the lists: he was angry about this and believed that what was plainly vital intelligence had been withheld from him, either by his superiors in the Met or by the Home Office which, under existing procedures, would have received them from the American government.
Donaldson was then fighting a bitter battle with the Met’s bureaucracy to increase the number of officers investigating child pornography and organized paedophilia. Of TO13’s 12 officers, just two were then tasked with tackling material involving children. We agreed that Roger Cook would interview Donaldson and hand the US lists to him on film: the Superintendent hoped that the embarrassment (to the Met) of appearing ignorant on national television would boost his chances of having more officers assigned to child pornography investigations. A clip of that (subsequently broadcast) encounter can be viewed below.
Donaldson and his successors did eventually get more officers. But nothing appears to have been done with the names on the US lists – even though TO13 also held the PIE membership list on which seven of them were identified.
It would be another seven years before the first of those names – Peter Bremner (who had previous convictions in the 1970s) – was charged with contact offences against children: his victims were between five and eight years old. Bremner was jailed for six months.
Charles Napier was not prosecuted until the following year (1995). He was given a nine-month sentence on two counts of sexually assaulting an underage boy.
Leo Adamson was not brought to justice until May 2011 – 24 years after the Met was given the US lists showing him to be a purchaser of child pornography (and 27 years after his name appeared on the PIE list). At his trial, the court heard evidence that he and two other men had amassed 14,500 photographs, films and drawings depicting the rape and sexual abuse of young boys.
All three men were on the PIE membership list. All three men were also on the US Customs list. Had the Home Office or the Metropolitan Police acted on either, the men’s victims could have been spared.
Nor are these three former PIE officials isolated instances: the list I obtained last week shows that Membership Number 419 belonged to one T.J. Waters. It also showed that in 1983-84 his address was that of a private school in Surrey.
“T.J. Waters” is Terence James Waters: in the 1970s and early 1980s he was an art and carpentry teacher. He was also – according to the US Customs list – a proven customer of US child pornography dealers. Like Bremner and Napier he would not be prosecuted until the mid 1990s: in 1994 he was sentenced to 10 years for possessing indecent images of children – and for sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy.
But it would be a further 17 years before the facts about his systematic abuse of young boys at the Surrey school emerged. In 2011 he was charged with (and admitted) seven counts of indecent assault and five of indecency with a child. The court heard evidence that Waters had built a “secret room” in the school loft above his art room: during the 1970s and 1980s he took boys there to abuse them.
These men – Bremner, Napier, Adamson and Waters – are only those for which I have (thus far) been able to locate public records of criminal convictions. (The relatively small percentage of the overall PIE roster should not be taken as a reliable indication of the likely offending rate amongst its members, simply as an indication that without access to the criminal records database it is very difficult to locate convictions.)
There are others on the PIE list (as well as the US Customs/Postals lists) who should be – and should have been – investigated. PIE member No. 132, for example, was a teacher at an independent prep school for boys. He quit teaching unexpectedly early, but continued – according to his obituary – to help young pupils by taking them to sports fixtures in his car and buying them equipment.
The Goddard Enquiry needs to ask searching questions about what (if any) real effort was made by the Metropolitan Police to investigate the men who were identified on the PIE list. It must also seek an explanation for the failure to act on the US Customs and Postals lists. But above all it needs to demand answers from the Home Office. Why did Home Secretary Leon Brittan decide that PIE was not to be banned ? What instructions did he (or any of his successors) give to the Metropolitan Police that PIE members were to be thoroughly investigated and monitored ? At that time, the Met was the only police force to fall under the Home Secretary’s jurisdiction.
Goddard has the PIE list. It also, to my certain knowledge, has the US Customs and Postals lists from my Cook Report film. It needs to act on them.
AMAZON & DAVID AARONOVITCH – PT. 2
David Aaronovitch has taken issue with my previous blog piece (“Dear Amazon: We Need To Talk About David”). In a series of messages on Twitter today he argued that I had misrepresented the truth about his critical reviews of his 2009 book, Voodoo History, on Amazon.
In the interest of fairness, and as a right of reply, this update sets out Mr. Aaronovitch’s Tweet-based complaints.
Yesterday’s blog was in response to a story that Amazon was seeking to take action against those who post bogus reviews of products on its site. I drew attention to the fact that on April 21, 2014, Mr. Aaronovitch had used his column in The Times to admit that upon publication of his book he had asked “every friend and family member to go onsite PDQ and 5-star [his] baby”, [ “onsite” referring to Amazon]; and that, in his words, such positive reviews were “frauds”.
Mr. Aaronovitch’s column explained that the reason he had suborned such “frauds” was that:
Something like half of all book sales are now made through Amazon, and when you find a book on Amazon it is accompanied by reviews from “readers” who give it a 1 (lowest) to 5 star rating.
So, almost before my book was published, the first 1-star reviews started to appear, from people who had never read it. After a week, even I wouldn’t have bought it.
His solution, he said, was to get equally bogus counterbalancing 5-star reviews submitted by his friends and family.
You get your frauds to balance off their frauds. Ce n’est pas magnifique, mais (grâce à Amazon) c’est la guerre.
Leaving aside, for a moment, the dishonesty involved in this process, my blog piece drew attention to the fact that none of the one-star reviews for his book currently viewable on Amazon were posted until one month after publication. By contrast, the first five-star review currently viewable on the site was posted on the day of publication.
Mr. Aaronovitch first tweeted to say:
You’re Wrong. The simple answer is that Amazon subsequently took down a number of those too-early reviews. You can apologise.
I responded as follows:
If you can provide poof of this I will happily make it clear. Can you justify your willingness to commit fraud ?
To which Mr. Aaronovitch replied:
I don’t feel an obligation either morally or legally to ‘prove’ anything to u. U didn’t check before you made the allegation.
Under the circumstances I would say it was incumbent upon you to check. Both morally and legally. But you didn’t, did you?
Well, no, I didn’t. Because Mr. Aaronovitch’s column gave no indication that he had requested any such removal by Amazon.
There is no way for me, independently, to verify Mr. Aaronovitch’s claims that the near-instantaneous bogus negative reviews to which he referred were removed by Amazon. I therefore simply report his statement as a matter of fairness.
I did, however, ask him whether he had also sought the removal of the similarly bogus instant 5-star reviews of his book – reviews which, lest we forget, he described as “frauds”. Looking at the Twitter feed, I don’t believe he answered that question. He did however state:
None of those reviews were fraudulent but I did request them. Yr account is clearly libellous [sic] but more important, it’s wrong.
On the wider moral question of whether he felt it was right to suborn fraudulent reviews in the first place [“You get your frauds to balance off their frauds”], Mr. Aaronovitch was also silent – despite questions I asked him about this. Instead he accused me of “malice” because he had “shown clearly” that I was “the willing victim of a hoax”.
This relates to two programmes he made for BBC Radio earlier this year on the subject of satanic ritual abuse. I was one of the interviewees. I and five others (both interviewees and those referred to in the programmes) subsequently made complaints to the BBC. Those complaints were rejected at first instance by the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit: at our joint request, as is perfectly normal, they are now being considered by the BBC Trust.
I have explained to Mr. Aaronovitch that despite his attempts at baiting me on this subject, I and the other complainants feel we should not discuss the matter publicly while the BBC Trust is investigating.
I have also explained that I hold absolutely no malice towards Mr. Aaronovitch. This post, which sets out his arguments, in his own words, bears that out.
DEAR AMAZON, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT DAVID …
The Sunday Times reports today that Amazon, the world’s largest on-line marketplace, is taking action against those who post bogus positive reviews of products on its site. It is to sue these fakes “for the manipulation and deception” of Amazon customers.
Amazon might like to begin this admirable process by pursuing someone who has recently and publicly admitted getting his friends and family to post fraudulent reviews of his work – and doing so in the hope of better sales.
On April 21st 2014, the high profile journalist and commentator David Aaronovitch told the readers of his regular column in The Times:
Sometimes though, even good people (ie: me) have to do questionable things, because the system makes us. Take my last book debunking conspiracy theories …
Something like half of all book sales are now made through Amazon, and when you find a book on Amazon it is accompanied by reviews from “readers” who give it a 1 (lowest) to 5 star rating.
So, almost before my book was published, the first 1-star reviews started to appear, from people who had never read it. After a week, even I wouldn’t have bought it.
There is only one thing you can do in this situation. You ask every friend and family member to go onsite PDQ and 5-star your baby. You get your frauds to balance off their frauds. Ce n’est pas magnifique, mais (grâce à Amazon) c’est la guerre.
This casual admission of “fraud” was – to me, at least – shocking. I have published 13 non-fiction books: I have never once felt tempted to encourage or commission fraudulent reviews intended to persuade potential readers to buy my work.
I am prepared to accept Mr. Aaronovitch’s assertion that other people practice a similar dishonesty. In 2010 the academic historian Orlando Figes admitted using a false name to post favourable reviews of his own work on Amazon (as well as uploading critical reviews of books by his rivals) But following a very public controversy Figes apologised for his actions, describing them as “foolish errors”. Mr Aaronovitch, by contrast, seems cheerfully unrepentant.
But aside from exposing his remarkable lack of integrity (or honesty), when examined in detail Mr. Aaronovitch’s admission of fraud also reveals much about his own lax journalistic standards. The “justification” he claimed for perpetrating his fraud was that “almost before my book was published, the first 1-star reviews started to appear, from people who had never read it”. A careful analysis of Amazon suggests this is untrue.
His book, Voodoo Histories, was published on May 7, 2009. The first 1 star review is dated June 8 – a full month after publication. It was followed by a handful of other 1 star reviews from July onwards.
By contrast, two 5 star reviews are dated May 7 – the very day of publication. A further six 5 star reviews appeared before the first critical 1 star review was posted.
If Mr. Aaronovitch can’t even be accurate when confessing to dishonesty it makes me (as a fellow journalist) wonder how much reliance should be placed on the rest of his writing.
And beyond this, that The Times continues to employ a man who, by his own account in its own pages, has attempted to manipulate and deceive – for personal financial gain – consumers on the world’s largest retail platform, suggests that honesty, accuracy and integrity are no longer deemed important requirements for ‘star’ journalists.
A HARLOT EXPOSED: EXARO & THE VIP ABUSE ALLEGATIONS
For a self-styled serious journalist, Mark Watts can be remarkably slippery when put on the spot.
He rarely answers questions from other journalists (myself included) about either the stories his website, Exaro, publishes or the rigor with which it might – or might not – have sought any form of corroborative evidence before rushing into print.
I believe strongly that journalists have a duty to be open and transparent. This means being able and willing to back up incendiary claims which will inevitably lead to public money being spent on investigation into their accuracy. Mr Watts evidently disagrees. Last week he was pinned down by Newsnight in the wake of Panorama’s programme about the VIP child sexual abuse (and murder) allegations which Exaro – to use its own word – “exposed”.
Lest we forget, Exaro also claims credit for the enormously expensive police enquiry – Operation Midland – which ensued. Yet Mr. Watts declined to answer a succession of perfectly straightforward and reasonable questions about what due diligence he and his staff had undertaken before promoting the sensational claims of its stable of survivors – “Nick”, “Darren”, “Andrew” and Esther.
But Mr. Watts’ elastic relationship to evidence and openness appears to extend beyond evading the questions from other journalists. Today, the man who has funded Exaro’s activities (to the tune, so far of more than £2 million) published a statement explaining his support for the business. Dr. Jerome Booth, a wealthy financier, explained that he had discussed this week’s criticism of Exaro’s behaviour with Mr Watts. He was, apparently reassured, stating that Mr. Watts and his team were only doing what any other journalist would do: reporting the fact that police are making enquiries.
From my reading of the website, Exaro has always been very clear it is reporting on allegations that are under active investigation by the Metropolitan police.
Sadly, this is untrue. Exaro has, in fact, pronounced that the allegations from its complainants are “undoubtedly an enormous scandal”. In other words, in Exaro’s view they are accurate.
This ringing endorsement of the allegations made by its stable of complainants was contained in an e-mail to me in July last year. I had written, politely, asking Exaro either to provide evidence for a story which I knew to be false, or to withdraw it. Here’s the highlights of the response.
Your e-mail did make us laugh here at Exaro, in light of recent events. We stand by everything that we have published … You are an embarrassment to journalism.
Having had enormous success in forcing the issue of organised, child sex abuse in relation to a range of institutions in the UK onto the national agenda, culminating in a critically important overarching inquiry, we prefer to continue to focus our efforts in exposing – often in conjunction with other media outlets – what is undoubtedly an enormous scandal.
Hubris and self-importance aside, the antics of Exaro over the VIP abuse allegations are the polar opposite of good journalism. They, instead, are that toxic mixture of power without responsibility. And that, as a former Prime Minister (Stanley Baldwin) once noted, has been “the prerogative of the harlot through the ages”.
THE LOUSE & THE FLEA: PANORAMA, EXARO & THE VIP PAEDOPHILE SAGA
In the tale, a flea and a louse happily share a home until one day the louse dies while brewing beer in an eggshell. What follows is a chain reaction of catastrophe, as the flea and then various household objects get dragged into a downward spiral. This eventually envelops a human child and a stream; finally the water from the stream overflows and drowns the flea, the louse, the child and everything in the little house.
Yesterday, news and social media were swamped by the latest row in the highly politicised saga of investigations into an alleged network of VIP paedophiles. The cause was a much-delayed one-hour Panorama programme which purported to answer the question “What’s The Truth ?”
Panorama sought to examine these allegations – of which more shortly – and, more specifically, how they came to dominate the news, social media and police agendas over the past 18 months. Doing so brought it squarely into conflict with Exaro News – a self-proclaimed online “investigative news service”. Exaro has made most of the running in the VIP paedophile saga and, in happier times, the BBC itself had maintained a working relationship with its journalists.
The BBC programme makers’ decision to investigate the origins of what , lest we forget, is a very expensive police enquiry, produced howls of outrage from Exaro and its supporters. Exaro’s grandly-styled Editor-in-Chief, Mark Watts, took to Twitter to denounce the film (which he had not seen) as a plan “to smear survivors of child sex abuse”; for good measure he accused the Panorama reporter, Daniel Foggo, of having a “conflict of interest” on the extraordinary grounds that as a child he (Foggo) had lived on the same street as Sir Peter Morrison, a deceased Tory MP who unquestionably had a sexual interest in children.
Just as the sequential disaster unleashed by the louse and the flea expanded exponentially, so too did the battle between Exaro and the BBC draw in new players. Exaro reported that the Metropolitan Police has launched an investigation into allegations that one of its officers leaked to Panorama personal information about the key complainants in the VIP paedophile saga; the Met followed this up with an additional statement denouncing the programme for its potential to deter victims of abuse from coming forward. And to cap it all, MPs who had once campaigned for better child abuse investigation found themselves pointing fingers of blame at each other.
Before examining the behaviour of Exaro and the BBC it is worth recalling the key allegations in this tale.
According to a witness known only as “Nick”, he and other under-age boys were abused, tortured and – in three cases – murdered by a group of paedophiles at two addresses in London. Among the men he has named are former Prime Minister Edward Heath, former Home Secretary Leon Brittan, former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor, as well as senior army officers and spies. These allegations are being investigated by Operation Midland. (Mr Proctor, for the record, roundly denounced the allegations at a televised press conference in August).
Beyond Midland’s remit is another police enquiry – Operation Fernbridge (formerly Fernbank). This has was set up to examine (primarily) allegations that in the late 1970s or early 1980s children were taken from council-run care homes to be abused at the Elm Guest House in Barnes, South-West London. In or around 2012 what purported to be a “guest list” of clients at EGH was put up on the internet. It contained a number of famous names including Cyril Smith MP (then deceased and recently-outed as an abuser of boys) and Leon Brittan.
Declaration of interest: in 2013 and 2014 I met and interviewed senior detectives from Operation Fairbank/Fernbridge. I was not the only journalist to do so: the officers were – then – remarkably open and honest about the task they had been set. And it was a very difficult task. From the outset, Fairbank/Fernbridge was hampered by two serious problems. The first was one of resources: its team was very small – just seven officers – and struggled to get the financial resources to carry out its enquiries. The second was Exaro News and the group of informants which had coalesced around it.
Two of the key figures in this were a former social worker called Chris Fay and a deeply-damaged man who, after meeting Fay, had first made allegations about abuse by VIPs at EGH in the early 1990s.
Fay had met Carole Kasir, the co-owner of EGH, in or around 1989 – seven years after the guest house was raided and shut down. After Kasir died Fay began campaigning to expose what he claimed she had told him about politicians and celebrities who abused children at the premises. He claimed Kasir had shown him a list of names: he copied this down and, in time, it would become the “guest list” whose posting on the internet led to Fairbank/Fernbridge. He also alleged that Kasir had shown him photographs of her clients, including two showing Leon Brittan in compromising circumstances.
Unfortunately, Fay has never been able produce these photographs. Worse, he has both a conviction for serious dishonesty, and a habit of associating himself with proponents of extraordinarily wild conspiracy theories (notably the bizarre “film-maker”, Bill Maloney).
Fairbank/Fernbridge detectives interviewed Fay. They quickly came to the (correct) view that the so-called EGH “guest list” had no evidential value, since it was hearsay, not created by a first-hand witness to events and had no reliable chain of custody. They also interviewed the man who had taken up with Fay in the early 1990s. This man – then calling himself “Andrew” – had published versions of his stories on-line. He proved to be a voluble – and volatile – witness. When I first met the officers from Fairbank/Fernbridge they were in the middle of conducting a succession of very long interviews with him at a location several hundred miles outside London. The detectives were convinced that “Andrew” had indeed endured sexual abuse as a child, but were concerned at serious inconsistencies in his statements.
They were also deeply worried about the continuing involvement of Fay and Maloney – and, with Fay’s help, of Exaro News. “Andrew” told the officers that these contacts were unwelcome and being forced on him by Fay. They moved Andrew to a safe house and set up surveillance: the senior officer told me that he if Fay and Maloney turned up he planned to arrest them for attempting to pervert the course of justice. But the surveillance revealed something different. It showed that “Andrew” was inviting Fay and Maloney to meet with him. Not unreasonably, this raised further doubts about “Andrew’s” reliability.
That problem was further underlined by a story in Exaro. This claimed that Fairbank/Fernbridge had seized a videotape which showed an ex-Cabinet minister (although he was not named this was clearly Leon Brittan) in compromising circumstances at Elm Guest House.
I spoke with the detectives the day after this story appeared. Not only did they deny it point blank, they explained how it had come about. “Andrew” had told Exaro that a senior Fairbank/Fernbridge detective had told him that the team had seized the video. Exaro did not bother to check this claim with the police. It would not be the last time Exaro published unchecked or downright false stories about the VIP paedophile enquiries.
Exaro’s journalists were contacted by “Nick” in 2014. The news website began running a series of stories based on his claims. At that stage it had no corroboration of any sort for the allegations. I – and others – have repeatedly asked Mark Watts whether it attempted any sort of due diligence investigation before publishing. He has never replied. However, the website’s journalists have dropped hints that there was a corroborative source: the man known as “Andrew”.
Doubts about Exaro’s methods were re-enforced by two separate events. The first was the long strange saga of Leon Brittan and the Customs Officer. A full account of this can be found on this blog, dated August 4: but in essence, Exaro published a story claiming that a retired Customs officer had been recording telling a journalist that in 1982 he had impounded a film and/or video which showed Brittan in sexual circumstances with a child.
The story was simply and pitifully untrue. When the recording surfaced, it showed clearly that the journalist (working for the Express) had tried but failed to get the ex-customs officer to confirm this allegation. He did not do so. Exaro’s reaction to being challenged on this (and on its other ‘scoops’) has been to denounce those who ask questions as “spies” or “useful idiots” for the intelligence services. For good measure it pronounced me to be “a disgrace to journalism”.
The second event was the arrival in the sage of a man known as “Darren”. The stories he told were similar to those of “Nick”, and involved some of the same perpetrators and locations. Exaro duly decided that even though (by “Darren’s own admission) the abuse he endured took place a decade later than “Nick’s”, this provided corroboration of Nick’s claims of abuse, torture and murder.
How much due diligence did Exaro devote to checking “Darren” out ? Mark Watts does not reply to such questions, but had he or his staff done any research they would have discovered that “Darren” has a conviction for a bomb hoax and has previously made false confessions to rape and murder. This does not automatically mean he cannot be believed: it should, however, raise questions about how much reliance can be placed on his evidence. Despite this, Exaro arranged for “Darren” and others in its stable of complainants to take part in an Australian television programme on the VIP paedophile alegations. That film presented their claims as established fact and was the worst piece of reporting on child sexual abuse allegations (a crowded field) that I have ever seen.
If, pace the Grimms, Exaro is the louse in the story, what of the BBC ? Despite the outraged denunciations of the past two days, the Panorama programme was actually something of a damp squib. It provided very little new information, merely repeating the widely-published facts about Mssrs Fay, Watts, “Nick” and “Darren”. And had it confined itself to that tepid ‘once over lightly” it might not have been drawn into the spiral of calamity begun by the lousy efforts of Exaro. Sadly, it did not.
Firstly, it conducted an interview with “Andrew” (now re-christened as “David”) in which he said that he had never intended to name Leon Brittan, but that the name had been suggested to him by Fay and others. In purely procedural terms the Panorama team did everything right: it shot “David/Andrew” in semi-silhouette and used an actor to re-voice his words so that there could no fear of identifying him. It also – rightly – reported at least some of his lamentable history of unreliability and (again righty) wondered aloud whether this invalidated his testimony. And there lies the problem: Panorama relied on what it acknowledged was a highly unreliable witness to demolish the foundations of Exaro’s equally questionable stable of complainants. The flea was dragged into the louse’s spiral.
But Panorama’s worst offence concerned Brittan himself. It wheeled out testimony from former colleagues of the late politician to portray him as a man terribly and wrongly traduced as a paedophile.
Yet as Panorama knows (or should know) there is strong evidence to indicate that Brittan had a sexual interest in children. As I have reported elsewhere, tucked in the files of Operation Fairbank/Fernbridge is a formal 2014 statement from the ex-customs officer. This, of course, denounces Exaro’s bogus story about the 1982 videos and films; but it also contains the startling – and detailed – account of how at a later date the ex-customs officer stopped Brittan as he arrived at Dover. A search of Brittan’s car yielded a child pornography videotape which, even 30 years later, the contents of which the ex-customs officer was able to describe.
In seeking – quite rightly – to hold the Exaro/Chris Fay-generated stories of abuse torture and murder up to the light, Panorama fell into the trap of dismissing all the clear and unequivocal evidence of VIP or politically-protected paedophiles (Cyril Smith, Peter Morrisson, Sir Peter Hayman to name but three).
This, as I and others have warned previously, is precisely the polarisation and entrenched shouting match which will lead to a backlash: a spiral of catastrophe which will engulf all those around the louse and the flea, and drown out the voices of those who have been genuinely abused.
It is a cliché to say that one of the biggest problems of modern Britain is its media. In the particular case of child sexual abuse that cliché is horribly, miserably true. In the feverish atmosphere of claim and counterclaim, patient and forensic sifting of evidence is abandoned. Indeed, those of use who try to do so find themselves denounced by those who see only black and white as “running with the hare, while hunting with the hounds”.
I do not know whether the claims made by “Nick”, “Darren” Esther, or “Andrew/David” have any factual basis. They are – quite properly – being investigated by police. What I do know is that the vicious ideological trench warfare being conducted by my fellow journalists (who likewise do not know what is true and what is not) can only hinder quiet, patient enquiries and ultimately damage the efforts of those whose job it is to protect children.
Flea and louse, louse and flea: tell me – what, really, is the difference ?
VICTIM OR SURVIVOR ? WHY WORDS MATTER
On December 22 last year, listeners to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme heard the presenter, John Humphrys, take to task a man who had endured child sexual abuse: his ‘offence’ was to call himself a survivor.
I have some difficulty with the word survivor and I think perhaps others do as well. But anyway, let’s call them victims can we? Can we agree on the word victims at any rate ?
As the heated public controversy over historic child sexual abuse has become ever more politicised (note the small ‘p) and polarised, the use of the word “survivor” has become a lightning rod for the anxiety of journalists and commentators uneasy about the ever-growing list of official investigations.
To some, it wrongly appropriates a term previously most associated with victims of the Holocaust. For others, such as the barrister and vocal critic of current child abuse investigations, Barbara Hewson, it exemplifies what she denounces as “the ideology of victimisation”. Writing in Spiked (online) Magazine in December 2013, Ms Hewson complained:
Victims/survivors are praised for their courage, and enjoined to recover. The language of recovery is permeated by the doctrinaire religiosity of the 12-step movement, pioneered by the founders of AA in the US. This may explain why some victim-advocacy groups can sound cult-like, with their own jargon (‘grooming’, ‘trafficking’, ‘mind control’) and their disdain for non-believers.
Ms. Hewson (and those like her) attack from an entrenched position. Historic abuse is – in their view – either a chimera or a dangerous obsession with what Ms Hewson has termed “stale claims”. And the increasing self-identification of victims as “survivors” seems to these critics to embody all that is wrong about a “moral panic” over child sexual abuse. (Ms. Hewson has argued that the age of consent should be reduced to 13).
This weekend, in a small airless room in London’s Inner Temple, I heard the clearest and most compelling enunciation of why Ms. Hewson and Mr. Humphrys have got it wrong. And why the words we use matter a very great deal.
For two days the UK Child Sexual Abuse People’s Tribunal heard testimony from those who had endured rape and molestation in childhood. UKCSAPT is a unique volunteer-based attempt to examine cases of institutional child sex abuse. It runs in parallel (and in some contrast) to the official enquiry led by Justice Lowell Goddard: it has none of that body’s inquisitorial powers, nor its vast budget. But it is nonetheless carefully organised on sound legal principles and has the benefit of expert advice from a reputable firm of solicitors. Its panel of judges include a former UN War Crimes prosecutor and a highly experienced clinical psychologist specialising in child protection. Their findings will, in time, be presented to the Home Secretary.
I was privileged to be asked to film the Tribunal’s proceedings, to make a record for future understanding, of the testimony given by its witnesses. On Saturday afternoon, one of them explained why the word “survivor” matters.
The witness – like all those giving evidence she was guaranteed anonymity – endured many years of sexual abuse as a child. In time, one of her abusers was convicted for at least of the offences he inflicted on her: she was therefore unquestionably victimised. But she told the judges that she is not a “victim”. These are her words.
A victim is someone who won’t let go [of the abuse]. A victim is someone who is still living through it. Survivors are people that fight back and who won’t let the past ruin their future. We have to be able to distinguish between the two.
A lot of people want to be known as victims. But most want to be known as survivors.
This quiet articulation, from a quietly determined middle-aged woman, puts the lie to the hostile denunciation of survivors as members of a self-pitying “cult”. The reality is almost exactly the opposite: by using the word “survivor” they are – very deliberately – renouncing self-pity. To criticise them for this is – at best – lazy; at worst it is ill-motivated.
I was asked to film the Tribunal because I have a long history (as a journalist) of investigating organised child sexual abuse. As I packed up the camera, lights and microphones it dawned on me that the witness’ statement about the importance of choosing the right word to describe those had suffered sexual abuse in childhood has a parallel in the labels used to refer to the adults who commit these offences.
For (too many) years – decades – the visual record made by abusers of their offences was called “child porn”. It was a phrase guaranteed to minimise the brutal truth: “porn” is perceived as naughty or titillating, rather than cruel and vicious, and it was no coincidence that for far too long there was no law prohibiting the possession of what is no ore and no less than a visual record of child sexual abuse. When I made a film about the problem in 1987, followed by a book in 1990, I insisted that it be called Child Pornography – never porn. Today, simple possession is illegal and the material itself is (rightly) termed Indecent Images of Children. Words matter. They have power.
They matter, too, in the way we use them to describe offenders. Too often, too many of my colleagues (and some police) lazily label all those who abuse children as “paedophiles”. But paedophilia is a precise term: it defines those who have a sexual interest in pre-pubescent boys or girls. Those with a sexual preference for post-pubescent adolescents are actually hebephiles. Given that both fixations, if acted on, are illegal why does this distinction matter ? Because the methods for investigating and then (with luck) treating the offenders differ radically between the two. Incorrect labelling can hinder both prosecution and rehabilitation. Words matter.
Exactly this same importance applies to the word used to describe those who have endured child sexual abuse. We ignore or dismiss it at both our peril. And theirs.