Tim Tate

Author, Film-Maker & Investigative Journalist


The Truth Shall Make You Free Fret


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”.



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