A not-so-funny thing on the way to the Forum

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I am relieved and delighted by the overwhelmingly supportive response to Why I am talking to the terrorists. Many thanks to everyone for submitting such thoughtful comments.

Your remarks included quite a few requests for further information. You asked for a link to the ATSA article itself, and happily I can now give one because the ATSA Forum editor has kindly indicated he has no objections. So here goes: What to do with the entrenched client.

You asked to be told about any feedback from the article, and follow-up developments. ATSA Forum does not run a comments/letters section, but the editor, Dr Robin Wilson, commented very positively on the piece in his own Editorial Note, which can be accessed from the URL above. Also, he forwarded to me an email he had received from a reader who is a practising clinical psychologist. I’d better not give his name without permission, but he wrote:

… I thought it was great that you included the O’Carroll piece. I found it very interesting as we seldom get the opportunity to hear such a detailed overview of the client’s experience. The first PO [probation officer] clearly was on the more productive path and reminds us how much more important it is to understand who the person is who has the ‘disorder’ rather than the other way around.

I take it that by “the other way around”, he means a narrow focus on diagnosing and treating what “disorder” the person has, assuming there is one – and his quote marks suggest a welcome degree of open-mindedness on that score. The “first PO” in question is the probation officer I was initially assigned to when released on licence.

Otto asked:

One would like to think that there are some therapists currently within the system with whom deep and meaningful discussion can be had, but I rather doubt that that is the case (did you ever come across one?).

Yes, I did: this “first PO” was the perfect case in point, although undoubtedly she was very exceptional. A highly intellectual type, she had simultaneously gained first class honours degrees in both psychology and sociology. Even better, she engaged me in lengthy discussions about Foucault rather than imposing a course of CBT, although she was well versed in the latter.

Otto also asked how the opportunity arose to have a piece published in ATSA Forum. I believe the answer to this question reveals a great deal about the difficulties of getting a word in edgeways once you have a conviction, or indeed if you try to write from a MAP perspective at all. So I do think it will be worthwhile to answer Otto here in some detail. It is quite a saga, though, and will not interest everyone. If your time is limited you might want to skip the rest of this blog and just read the ATSA Forum piece. Either way, it’s a long read, though, so if you’d rather go for a beer or head for the beach that’s fine by me!

My article, or rather its precursor, was initially submitted to Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment (SAJRT). This academic journal had announced a Call for Papers, as they were planning a Special Issue on “Change among High-Risk Sex Offenders”. This announcement landed unbidden in my email inbox, which is the sort of thing that happens when you are known to have academic interests. As I was, and remain, officially classified as just such an offender, I saw this as an opportunity, especially in view of the fact that I was already on surprisingly good terms with Michael Seto, who was to be one of the two joint editors of the Special Issue, with Kevin Nunes. Dr Seto, as many here will be aware, is a leading expert on paedophilia – and there is no need for sceptical quote marks around “expert”: his knowledge and understanding of the scientific literature in the field are second to none.

I was already known to Seto because we are both members of Northwestern University’s online Sexnet forum, which is an email list-serve discussion group for an invited membership. It is a multi-disciplinary forum focused not on arranging orgies, as the name might suggest, but on all academic sexual matters, especially research into the psychology of sex, and including genetics, neurophysiology, endocrinology, etc. I was invited to apply for membership some years ago by psychiatrist Richard Green, founder president of the International Academy of Sex Research.

By the time the Special Issue came up, Seto had been exposed to my (numerous!) posts on Sexnet for about a couple of years. Not everyone liked my radically outspoken views on paedophilia, as may be imagined, but Seto very kindly praised my contributions in one of his own posts to the forum. Being armed with the knowledge that I had made a good impression, I was emboldened to email him, asking whether an article from me would be in order. I knew he could not make the ultimate decision as SAJRT is peer-reviewed. Any article would need to be approved on a doubly anonymous basis: the reviewers would not know my name nor I theirs. Seto emailed back saying he had consulted with Nunes, and also with James Cantor, Editor-in-Chief of SAJRT. All three, I was told, agreed a submission would be welcome and would go through the usual review process.

So, I set about the tough task of researching and writing my first truly academic article. It took much longer than I imagined, and much midnight oil was expended as the final submission date loomed: 1 September 2012. I managed to get a thoroughly-researched and tolerably well-written piece done and submitted by the deadline, albeit I had run out of time to edit it down to something more crisp and concise: the draft weighed in at a monstrous 35,000 words! Far too much! I just prayed the reviewers would give me a chance to cut to a more practical length.

But then disaster struck. I was told too few articles had been submitted to justify a Special Issue. Cantor offered me the opportunity to submit the MS to the regular journal instead. It seemed a good alternative, so I accepted. The paper was then duly sent for review. This was all very well but the absence of the Special Issue meant that Seto and Nunes would play no further part as editors. This was to prove a fateful development.

The review itself was fine. There was only one reviewer, which may be unusual but should not have been a problem. This reviewer – he or she – made a number of criticisms, especially as regards the length of the paper, as expected, but the decision was encouraging. Here is the key first paragraph of the comments received:

This was a very interesting article to review. In places I agreed strongly with the author and in places I disagreed. I found some of it uncomfortable but probably true but at other points some of the conclusions drawn had a self interested flavour (hard to avoid, I accept). On balance I believe the article could be published albeit in a different form. I think that it makes several important points that the journal readership, particularly those in clinical practice but also researchers, would benefit from thinking about.

In line with the reviewer’s recommendation, I expected the editor-in-chief to offer me the chance to shorten and improve the paper, then be judged again on the revised version. But no. Cantor said he had read the manuscript thoroughly himself but had concluded “I am afraid the manuscript is not suitable for publication in SAJRT.”

This looked to me like an irregular and possibly improper decision. The whole point of anonymous peer review, I thought, was that the anonymity is meant to ensure impartial judgment of the work, without any possibility of personal prejudice against the author. I have no reason to disbelieve Cantor when he said he had read the paper thoroughly, but he certainly had been aware of who I was.

More to the point, there was a very good reason to suppose he might have been prejudiced against me. Like Michael Seto, he was a Sexnet member and familiar with my input there. Unlike Seto, though, he had not liked what he had seen. As quite a few heretics here will know, Cantor has been a very prominent public supporter of the Virtuous Pedophiles and is impatient – to put it mildly – with radical MAPs like me. What appears to have got up his nose even more is that I had used Sexnet to publicly cast doubt on the meaning and significance of his research findings, especially as regards a supposed deficiency of white matter he claims to have detected in the brains of paedophiles.

His responses are best characterised as throwing hissy fits, hurling sarcastic abuse while refusing to address the scientific issues I raised. He could not possibly deny this. These exchanges were not in private email: they were on Sexnet, visible to its 400 or so members. For a blow-by-blow account of our verbal fisticuffs see my blog: Scientific egos as fragile as eggs and The dubious analogy of the ‘extra arm’.

In view of this personal history between us, it crossed my mind to complain to the editorial board of SARJT: they would surely see that his rejection of my paper may not have been impartial.

I chose not to pick another fight with him though. Why not? Well, although I had good evidence to suggest he had some animosity against me, I also had to take into account that he was notorious for his sarcastic, bullying, arrogant attitude towards almost anyone who disagreed with him! He was not necessarily prejudiced against me personally, or as a MAP; he could be seen as just horrible all round, in a fairly distributed way! I’m glad I didn’t take up the cudgels, actually, because he has since done me a considerable favour. But that’s another story.

Sticking with the current yarn, then, about a year ago I raised the matter of the rejected article on Sexnet, asking if members knew any other journal that might be interested in publishing it. That was when David Wilson, editor of ATSA Forum, and also a Sexnet subscriber, stepped forward. Even that didn’t happen smoothly though: Wilson only responded after I had kicked up a fuss on Sexnet and been in a spat with one of his colleagues. After that it was “just” a matter of whittling down a 35,000-word article to 3,500 words and then dealing with criticism of the new draft!

In reality, of course, the restriction on length meant I had to focus on one key aspect of the original article rather than paraphrasing the whole thing. What that means, in turn, is that much of the original work remains unpublished. I believe there is potential in this unused material for an article of around 15,000 words. I will not resubmit to SAJRT but I am now on the lookout for a suitable alternative peer-reviewed journal. Suggestions?

Why I am talking to the terrorists

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Fraternising with the enemy! Treachery! There, I’ve said it. It’s out there. Loud but not that proud and not yet that specific either, so I’d better spit it out properly.

Deep breath. Here goes. I HAVE BEEN NEGOTIATING WITH TERRORISTS – although I’d better deny it immediately in case they send someone to have me beheaded. Deny, that is, that they are terrorists not that I have been in talks with them.

I refer, of course, to the fearsome international terror machine that is the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA). Well-funded, well-equipped, its tentacles stretching around the globe, this “association” has been responsible for untold suffering through its ruthless “treatment” of tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands, in its ideological heartland of Canada and worldwide. Specialising in coercion and mental torture, its “cognitive behavioural therapy” (CBT) methods used on captives have reached heights of sadistic sophistication the early Chinese pioneers of brainwashing could only dream about for their “re-education” programmes aimed at the enforced acceptance of communism.

So, you will be wondering, why would I be having anything to do with this evil force? Many of you know that I fell into the hands of forces loosely affiliated with ATSA in 2006-7. Did I succumb when I was held captive and subjected to CBT? Was I turned? Have I been cunningly embedded here on Heretic TOC as an undercover agent?

You will have to decide for yourselves on the basis of the evidence, which is essentially all of my published output since 2007, which we can notionally bundle together as Exhibit 1, with the Fragoso book review in my last blog separated out in its own tagged and sealed evidence bag as Exhibit 2. And now, as Exhibit 3, I offer an article of mine that appeared earlier this month in ATSA Forum – a secret (well, members only) strategy bulletin circulated online solely to around 4,000 elite cadres of the organisation’s ideological hierarchy: crucially, these include the brains who devise and refine the “treatment programmes” as well as the senior operatives in the field.

A defence lawyer might well argue for me that this article of mine has been planted as a Trojan Horse behind enemy lines: it seeks to humanise us heretics and hint in a subtly credible way that we are not their real enemy; thus psychologically, they may be disarmed.

So, what do I say without hiding behind a lawyer?

OK, time to drop the cloak and dagger stuff and tell you what the article is about. Copyright considerations, nothing more sinister, prevent me linking to the full text, though I hope I might get a release on that before too long.

The main aim of the 3,500-word piece is to criticise the style and content of sex offender treatment programmes in an obviously sober, careful, well-researched fashion, so that the professionals will actually take notice. The idea is that they will see a case for changing towards something that is genuinely more in society’s interests while also according much greater respect than at present to the dignity and human rights of those undergoing the courses.

It is an ambitious task but not necessarily an unrealistic one as there are reasons to believe the approach I have suggested would be far more efficient and cost-effective than standard CBT, which is massively time-consuming and often counterproductive.

To those who would say it is treacherous for a heretic to cooperate with the design and provision of any sort of programme aimed at changing the thinking of minor-attracted people, as though any such efforts amount to brainwashing, I would remind them that all education is aimed at changing our thinking (as indeed are newspaper opinion articles, conference speeches, etc.). In general we think education is a good thing. That is because we associate it not just with gaining knowledge but also with learning important skills such how to question assumptions and think for ourselves.

Thinking for ourselves is hardly what springs to mind, though, when we contemplate sex offender treatment programmes, especially when, as is often the case, they are coercively imposed on a literally captive audience in prison.

But this is my point: the courses need to be changed so that real thinking is truly encouraged rather than oppressively crushed as at present.

Whether society as a whole benefits from running offender courses is a separate issue. In principle the idea is surely sound. If an anger management programme helps someone learn to control his temper so he doesn’t beat up his wife and terrify his kids, isn’t that a good thing? The same goes for sex offending, which – let us not forget – includes violent rape and coercive child molestation. Just like adult-oriented heterosexuals, not all MAPs are well-behaved. Society, in other words, has a legitimate interest in persuading offenders to stop causing harm.

We can and should debate whether consensual MAP offences cause any harm, rather than just accepting the current authoritarian dogma that they do. Rest assured, this was an issue I addressed in my article.

Titled “What to do with the entrenched client: A paedophilic entrenched client’s view”, the piece began with a quote from an article in the academic literature:

…what do you do with the clients who are so entrenched and ‘anti’ everything? These are the clients who make our lives difficult, and who often cause us the greatest concern. Why are they so problematic?” (Wilson & Pake, 2010)

When I first saw that heartfelt plea, I thought “That’s me they’re talking about.” I had been just such a “client”, a member of the awkward squad undergoing sex offender treatment while released on licence in the second half of a 30-month sentence for distributing “indecent images of children”. They hated the fact that I asked too many questions and refused to swallow their simplistic assertions: the word “entrenched” was written into my official record.

What I now tried to get across in my article was that mainstream CBT might be OK for many offenders but not all. Troubled offenders, including those with problems such as drug addiction, depression, inability to hold down a job, etc., may readily accept that their lives need to change. In my experience they often actually welcome a firm, “no excuses” approach that forces them to face their “issues”.

But what works for these offenders can be less than useless for another group I dubbed The Dissidents – people like myself, who rail against the system, either openly or with a suppressed “silent scream” of protest. Many such offenders, I pointed out, are not only educated and astute; they may also have strong and well-grounded moral values – albeit at odds with majority opinion. I wrote:

Dissidents, as opposed to fundamentally antisocial troublemakers, respect evidence and argument. In dealing with them it is important that therapists engage in debate without worrying about having to win the argument. In the last analysis, the offender will be aware that the law is the law, and scoring points over the therapist is not going to change that. The therapist’s trump card will always be that maybe the law is not fair in all circumstances, but we must all live with it unless it is changed through the democratic process.

Instead of heavily didactic, simple messages that may be suitable for some – but not for the sincere and thoughtful Dissident – there is a need to introduce materials capable of prompting really deep discussion. These might include novels with a relevant theme written from a victim’s viewpoint, or even academic papers.

This is the point at which I gave as an example Tiger, Tiger, the memoir by Margaux Fragoso cited in my last blog Love is confoundedly complicated!

Continuing, I said that traditional CBT group therapy is set up so that participants quickly learn to self-censor in order to avoid dire consequences:

… It is a frustrating business because any attempt to string an argument together will be brusquely shut off… those seeking to curry favour with authority are often only too ready to gang up on the Dissident(s) in the group.

Enforcing resentful conformity is no way to encourage real and lasting change. The profession must have the courage to allow proper debate as to what actually causes harm to victims; including, harms caused to children by neglect, emotional abuse, violence, and chaotic dysfunction in the family. Those who read Fragoso’s memoir will find that she grew up in just such a dysfunctional, emotionally abusive family. Peter “rescued” her from it; albeit with some costs. But, if he had ever ended up in treatment no one would have wanted to know about that because such possibilities are a taboo. As long as this remains the case, therapists will lack credibility with offenders – especially the Dissident – who will continue to present intractable responsivity problems.

The more “credible” approach that I advocate would certainly be experienced as a valid debate, not a degrading insult to the intelligence such as the CBT brainwashing style seeks to impose. I am confident that, as such, it would be experienced not only as a more humane form of treatment but it would also help to reconcile the offender calmly to compliance with the law until such time as it can be reformed, rather than leaving him full of poisonous hatred towards “the system” and perhaps increasingly to society and humanity in general. This does not preclude protest and activism for change, far from it.

What truly appals me in all this, and what motivated me to write the article when the opportunity came along, is the nightmare situation faced by some of the most honest Dissidents when they are faced with indeterminate sentences from which they can be released only when they are deemed no longer to be “dangerous”. It is easy for glib liars. They can “pass” the courses with ease in Britain and elsewhere (though not perhaps the US where few escape “civil commitment”). All they need to do is say they agree with the authoritarian dogma, even if they do not believe a word of it. They don’t mind fudging the truth or telling outright whoppers.

But that strategy sticks in the throat of the sincere Dissident, who feels honour-bound to tell it like it is. By doing so, though, he guarantees that he will always “fail”: his candid difference of opinion with the authorities is deemed a thought-crime that guarantees his continued incarceration as a “dangerous” criminal. In the name of humanity and decency, we must reject this barbaric dogma.

It would be naïve as well as immodest to suppose one article is going to make a huge difference, but there has to be a start somewhere. I do believe, though, there is a chance the profession will listen: after all, as indicated in my quote from Wilson & Pake, above, the authorities are beginning to ask relevant questions; also, the sheer fact that a professional journal has been willing to carry an article under my own name from me as a known “heretic” – something unique so far as I can tell – suggests that opinion among the powers that be is not as steely and unwavering as might be supposed from the impression they so dispiritingly give in the therapy sessions.

 

Wilson, R.J. & Pake, D.R. (2010). Treatment readiness: Preparing sexual offenders for the process of change. In Herzog-Evans, M. (Ed.), Transnational criminology manual. Oisterwijk, Netherlands: Wolf Legal Publishing.

 

PUBLICATION NOTE:

I have given only one reference above, to Wilson & Pake, as this is the only item to which I have referred directly. I might add, though, that some 17 references, from academic and offender sources, appeared with the ATSA article. Additionally, in order to do a thorough job of understanding all the relevant research on sex offender therapy, I found it necessary to read a number of textbooks and pushing up towards a hundred research articles.

As for getting the piece accepted, it took over two years and more drafts than I care to contemplate – with alterations required following criticism by some half dozen editors and reviewers at ATSA and Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, which is where a version of the article was first submitted. I make no complaint about this; and if people want to say my efforts are just a waste of time, or kowtowing, or Uncle Tom foolery, they won’t be raising any questions I have not asked myself. My fear is that they may be right; my hope is that they are not.

Love is confoundedly complicated!

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A lingering social death by contempt, humiliation and shame is the daunting prospect I face when I go ahead with my next planned blog in a few days’ time. It is not the enemy’s scorn I fear – the more resilient of us can live with that – but, far worse, that of my friends.

So, in a bid to ease the anticipated sting of your withering rebukes, I am going to use today’s Heretic TOC to set the scene in what I hope will be a disarming way. What appears below is a book review I wrote a few years ago for Berlin University’s Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology, which is now independent and known simply as the Archive for Sexology – a great resource, by the way: the Growing Up Sexually section is superb on childhood sexual acculturation beyond the modern developed world.

The review is of a memoir by Margaux Fragoso, who had a long childhood relationship with a paedophile. I briefly mentioned this book once before in The consequences of consequentialism last year, a piece which might particularly interest those heretics here of a philosophical bent.

As for why my next blog could be a source of such utter mortification to me, and why the review is relevant, you’ll just have to wait and see!

 

Margaux Fragoso, Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir, Penguin, London, 2011

Seven-year-old Margaux sees a grey-haired old man at the local swimming pool. Two little boys are frolicking with him in the water. The three of them are having great fun, whereas she has no playmates. Her mentally ill mother is sitting at the poolside; her father, an emotionally abusive alcoholic, is not around.

Quickly sensing the man must be an exceptionally friendly adult, she approaches.

“Can I play with you?” she asks.

“Of course,” he answers, playfully splashing her face.

It is the start of a relationship that almost immediately becomes sexual, in ways graphically described; it continues as romantic through her teens and ends only when his death parts them after fifteen years. She tells of being in love, “addicted” to her elderly lover’s company; of her lover, she says, “I was his religion”.

The echo of Nabokov’s Lolita is clear, with its famously rapturous opening paean to a beloved “nymphet”; but Tiger, Tiger is billed as a memoir, not fiction – and certainly not a work of paedophilic pornography, or propaganda, as might otherwise be suspected from my introduction. Even though it reads like a novel, author Margaux Fragoso has been at pains to insist, in the face of reviewers’ scepticism, that it is a faithful record of a well documented relationship with Peter Curran, a hard-up, long-term unemployed invalid and girl-oriented paedophile, who committed suicide at age 66, when she was 22. He had not been sexually interested in the boys at the pool, who were the sons of his landlady-cum-not-quite-girlfriend: he was just good with them anyway.

Although a whole clutch of memoirs, especially in the “misery lit” genre, have been exposed as fake in recent years, Tiger, Tiger strikes me as the real thing. It is clearly not written as pornography, because the sexual descriptions are utterly unsexy: while Fragoso portrays herself as a willing, and at times even a demanding, participant in under-age sexual acts, her own lively sexuality is always at odds with the sense of grossness and disgust she feels towards the wrinkled, decrepit body of her aging lover and the whore’s repertoire of tricks and role plays he nags her into performing.

Nor can she be accused of propagandising in favour of a child’s ability to consent to sex with an adult. Ultimately, the author is plainly of the opinion that the relationship was harmful to her in many ways, and that men like Peter need treatment.

As a paedophile myself, throughout my adult life I have resisted all the conventional arguments against children’s willing participation in sexual contacts with adults, especially when the older party is affectionate and loving. None of these arguments, or the evidence adduced in their support, has ever made much impression on me. I have even written books saying exactly why they are unconvincing.

But I find Fragoso’s work is strikingly more effective than all the usual moralising, with vastly more persuasive clout than the endless plethora of one-sided and even dishonest victim narratives so beloved of our cultural media, from tabloid yarns to TV documentaries, to films and novels. Tiger, Tiger is an immensely powerful testament. I am in my mid-sixties, with a typical old dog’s shortcomings over learning new tricks; but Fragoso is making me think again.

How so? What is the source of this extraordinary power? It is simply that Fragoso’s account is not one-sided. Tiger, Tiger comes across as a determined attempt by the author to examine all aspects of her relationship with Peter with the utmost candour, and calm honesty. Rather than simply vilifying and demonising him, “letting out the anger”, as “survivors” are often encouraged to do, she strives for an objective, almost scientific, description of how things came to pass, her feelings at the time and what they led to. In an Afterword, she speaks of having “learned through my writing”: through pondering, and describing, she leads both herself and the reader towards a reasoned assessment.

It is also a balanced and fair one. We are told, for instance, not just that Peter could be violent and was often “pushy” in his sexual demands. No, we are additionally told that far from being “innocent”, little Margaux as a child could be calculating and manipulative, and she spells out exactly how. Ultimately, of course, there is no moral equivalence: the adult must take responsibility.

The author’s judicious even-handedness is what makes Tiger, Tiger such a stand-out from the many hundreds of learned journal articles and books I have read on adult-child sexual encounters. For me, this is one of the most impressive and important of the lot. As a set text for reading and discussion by participants in sex offender treatment programmes I suspect it would be more successful in helping reduce recidivism than the crude brain-washing usually served up.

The only caveat to my recommendation – but it is an important one – is that there are severe constraints on what can reasonably be concluded from any one account. Fragoso herself makes two major mistakes: she over-interprets what can be learned from her own experience, and then over-generalises these questionable conclusions, seeking to apply them invalidly to all child-adult sexual contacts. To take the second point first, a properly scientific account demands the investigation of hundreds, indeed preferably thousands, of cases before general statements can be made with any confidence, and even then effects associated with the data do not necessarily reveal a particular cause. I suspect Fragoso would be surprised to learn that the most rigorous statistical studies of the available evidence do not support the conventional view that such contacts are in general very harmful.

On the first point, there are many ways in which the book leads the reader towards the view that the relationship with Peter was deeply traumatic: to take the most serious of these, the sexual side compromised her, making her feel she was “corrupted” and that others would regard her as worthless. Even the “romantic” aspect was awful because it locked her for year after year into emotional dependency on a partner who had no future, and whose attentions kept her unhealthily alienated from her peers – which may have been why, in a belated act of redemption, Peter ultimately killed himself, setting her free at last.

While these terrible facts are undeniable, what the author’s own conclusions ignore is the serious possibility that without Peter’s love and support her life might well have been even worse. It was her father, after all, not Peter, who would habitually rant and scream at her, telling her she was a worthless burden, before she had even met Peter. Her response as a small child had understandably been one of aggressive “acting out”: she would randomly kick other people in the street. After meeting Peter, she transferred that aggression to him, lying and playing mean tricks on him. His reaction, by contrast, was generally one of patient, almost saintly restraint: Margaux’s admittedly delusional mother even thought he might be a reincarnation of Jesus, “so wise” was he, “and pure of heart”. The presumably non-delusional author would commend his consistent support for her creative side, and the praise he habitually lavished on her, boosting the self-worth so sapped by her father.

So, as one feminist reviewer grudgingly conceded, “it’s complicated”. In terms of what caused the bad outcomes in her life, a scientist would have to note that there were “confounds”: in other words, there were other factors apart from having an early sexual relationship that could account, wholly or in part, for all that went wrong.

And, hey, despite the extremely unpromising start of having two massively unsatisfactory parents, a lot eventually went right for Fragoso. She is now a best-selling writer, after all, as well as being in a stable adult partnership which has seen her become a mother. These successes might have come despite Peter’s role in her life or thanks to it: those confounded confounds make it hard to tell which.

Ultimately, though, Tiger, Tiger should be judged not as a failed work of “scientific” self-observation, nor in literary terms as an inferior imitation of Nabokov, as some critics have maintained. Her style and subject matter admittedly invite comparisons with the celebrated novelist, but we must remember that this work is a memoir, not a novel. As such, it is simply an apparently honest account that does far more justice to the complexity of the issues than most of the “child sexual abuse” literature.

 

MILESTONE

One other thing, a milestone worth noting in passing: there have been over 100 comments in response to the last blog, Hail to a hero of ‘transgressive expression’, largely on account of some very lively discussion prompted by young “adultophile” James. That’s three figures for the first time. Great, keep it coming on future topics!

Hail to a hero of ‘transgressive expression’

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Robin Sharpe is a writer of proven literary merit, as judged by the Supreme Court of Canada no less.

I heartily endorse that verdict. He is indeed a damn fine writer, imaginative and linguistically inventive. Whether Sharpe is conjuring up a primitive paradise or a post-apocalyptic dystopian hellhole, his talented evocations are dotted with freshly minted words and striking images. He is wryly humorous and ironic, with a perceptive eye for the hilarious tragedy that is “the human condition” – whether visited through individual foibles and monstrosities or the bizarre, confused, mishmash of dimly understood myths, rites and traditions we use in order to prise some sort of meaning out of the wild chaos of nature and circumstance.

He is both funny ha-ha and funny peculiar. The humour, black as sin, is as colourfully satirical as that of his less subtle namesake Tom Sharpe at his best, in Riotous Assembly, and as outrageous as Iain Banks in The Wasp Factory.

His writing is humane, good-hearted and moral, too, without ever being moralistic – qualities to which those who do go in for moralising will inevitably be blind on account of his disturbing subject matter. And he is honest: the man’s truthfulness emerges clearly in his very candid non-fiction.

But none of these admirable qualities have been anything like as significant to the world at large as the most obviously “outstanding” (so to speak!) feature of Sharpe’s writing: it is blatantly, patently, pornographic. One may meander agreeably through many chapters of less urgent delights than the carnal, but engagement with the latter, when it comes, cums. His prose, while always written with style and sophistication, is what many would condemn as not merely pornographic but also deeply “perverted”. Sharpe takes us into the world of the notorious Marquis de Sade, with whippings and beatings. Most dangerously of all, it is a world heavily populated by sexy young boys.

Hence the unusual interest in literary criticism taken in Sharpe’s case by the criminal courts in Canada – and it is also one of the reasons why Heretic TOC is blogging about him. It all began in 1995 after Sharpe had travelled abroad, visiting Dr Edward Brongersma, famed Dutch boy-love activist and former senator. Sharpe’s baggage was checked by Customs on his re-entry to Canada from the Netherlands. They found a collection of computer discs containing text titled BoyAbuse. This writing, of which he was the author, was alleged to constitute child pornography and Sharpe was prosecuted for possession. The charges also included visual material found at his home but it is the literary side that will concern us here.

Sharpe argued that the law in question targeted the political advocacy of pederasty and served little purpose in protecting children from sexual abuse. Representing himself, he scored a remarkable victory in the British Columbia Supreme Court, successfully claiming that under Canada’s Bill of Rights it would be unconstitutional to deprive him of the private possession of his own thoughts as expressed in writing. The prosecution appealed. The charges in respect of his writings were eventually dismissed in the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001 when it was successfully argued on his behalf that his work had artistic merit. A professor of English compared his written works to “transgressive expression” as seen in Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom.

It was something of a pyrrhic victory, though, because the verdict generated a storm of political outrage leading to the passing of a more restrictive new law in 2005 that made the possession of written child pornography permissible only for those deemed to have a “legitimate purpose related to the administration of justice or to science, medicine, education or art”, and if it did not pose “an undue risk of harm” to minors. Written child pornography was defined as writing that “advocates or counsels” sexual activity with a person under 18 or “whose dominant characteristic is the description, for a sexual purpose”, of illegal sexual activity with a person under 18.

Whether “a sexual purpose” can be considered the “dominant” characteristic of Sharpe’s writings depends on how alert one is to their other qualities. His work has much else to offer, in my view, at least in some of the more ambitious pieces. Literary S/M sex definitely isn’t my thing but the book Pagunan Masks: An Ethnofiction, to take one example, is really clever stuff and I found it fascinating. I should add that I would not have enjoyed or appreciated anything that appeared to revel in a callous or cruel attitude to children; on the contrary, I would have been appalled.

Sharpe has said this about his work, which strikes me as a reasonable summary based on the limited amount I have read:

“Most of my BoyAbuse stories have sadomasochistic themes but with little violence, violence in the sense of coercion, aggression and injury. The theme is fortitude, usually willing, for some purpose. They are simple tales of flogging, fun and fortitude appealing to certain fetishes including my own.”

Sharpe’s lengthy legal battles over written pornography have long been over, but his travails are more significant today than ever, as moral entrepreneurs worldwide continue to eat away at freedom of expression in the name of child protection. Back in the early days of legislation against child pornography, most of the countries going in for these new laws focused solely on photographs and films. Laws against “obscene” literature had long been in existence but these were widely falling into disrepute and disuse and were not extended to deal with child protection. Canada was an exception. Although it had a remarkably low age of consent, at 14, since raised to 16, its approach to freedom of expression with respect to written child pornography was far less liberal.

The trend, though, is for greater security, surveillance and suppression to be deployed in endless “wars” against a range of “risks”. Paedophilia now vies with terrorism for top spot in the charts, both having long displaced first communism and then drugs as the great evils of our times.

For this reason, we can expect the written word to come under greater pressure everywhere, with dire implications for everyone’s freedom.

In the UK, the latest manifestation of this trend is to be seen in the Serious Crime Bill, which has already been debated in parliament and will reach its report stage in the next session a couple of months from now. This is the one Heretic TOC mentioned in May: Paedophiles to be treated like terrorists.

It has a clause banning the possession of “paedophile manuals”, defined in the Bill as “any item that contains advice or guidance about abusing children sexually”. Maximum sentence is three years.

Could Sharpe’s work be construed in this way? I don’t think it could, in fairness, from what I have seen of his writing; but fairness is unfortunately not what we can expect in the current climate. So, what about Heretic TOC even mentioning Sharpe’s work by way of recommending his literary talents or providing online links to his work? Would this fall foul of the new law? Who knows how broadly it will be applied? What is certain, though, is that it will have a chilling effect on expression: valuable thoughts will go unexpressed through self-censorhip out of entirely justified fear of the consequences.

Another reason for mentioning Robin Sharpe at the present time is a more sentimental one. Robin, as I shall now begin to call him, is old and very unwell. He is 81. He suffered a terrible blow earlier this year after being in hospital for eight months, which was doubtless bad enough in itself. He was illegally evicted from his home in Montreal when his landlord expected him to die. All his possessions were stolen or trashed, including his entire library. He took refuge back on the West Coast where he has family and friends. He is now in the process of taking his former landlord to court.

It is high time Robin’s great fighting spirit and literary talents were acknowledged here, and I am pleased to do so. Robin and I have corresponded from time to time. He kindly wrote to me when I was behind bars, and I returned the compliment when he suffered a similar fate.

He is too ill to do anything quickly but in a sense he is an old man in a hurry, anxious to see his work published before he dies. Unfortunately, there are huge problems with this. One, obviously, is finding a publisher willing to take the risk of being labelled a pornographer and charged under either traditional obscenity law or newer child protection law. Another is that in his generosity Robin has long made all of his work freely downloadable from his two websites, primarily at robinsharpe.org and also with some titles at robinsharpe.ca. While there are no doubt those among his many readers who would like to possess bound volumes of his writings, that too would be worrying on legal grounds for many (depending where they live) and publishers are unlikely to be persuaded they could cover their costs on such a project, never mind make a profit.

Robin has had a few volumes printed privately and he might be able to send copies to those who contact him via his websites. As a limited item (and perhaps hand-signed if you are lucky) they will have a value beyond the words they contain.

One aspect of this added value is the illustrations. Robin’s career was as a town planner, which may have given an outlet for his skills in drawing maps and plans, as demonstrated on the back cover of his novella Blood & Semen. Another string to his bow is wood-carving, beautiful large photographs of which form an integral part of Pagunan Masks. This book is about an imaginary primitive tribe and their discovery by westerners. The chapters, or parts, of the book feature the various masks worn by the tribe members for their rituals: Lizard Mask, Demon Mask, Death Mocking Mask, and so on. Each has a special purpose and history, skilfully woven into the story and illustrated in an “ethnographic” account with close parallels to early attempts at anthropological writing, which he seeks both to satirize and draw upon for allegorical purposes.

Robin’s legal battles have been the subject of numerous papers in academic law journals and citations in law books. His own writings cover the legal issues ably and thoroughly. There was also a book, On Kiddie Porn: Sexual Representation, Free Speech and the Robin Sharpe Case, by Stan Persky and John Dixon (Vancouver: New Star Books, 2001).

I was going to finish at this point but an item in the current issue of the London Review of Books absolutely demands at least an additional paragraph or three. It is a review of A Sentimental Novel, by the French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet, published in an English translation in May. Judging by this review, it makes Robin’s writing look about as sadistic and perverted as Harry Potter. Reviewer Adam Shatz describes it as a work of “unrelenting and graphic sadism in which women – or rather, barely pubescent girls – exist to be raped, tortured and murdered”. The work features “a harem of child sex slaves…violently deflowered, in scenes described with Robbe-Grillet’s obsessional precision: murderously large dildos, seats made of nails, sliced and grilled breasts”.

But Robbe-Grillet was never arrested and jailed. On the contrary, long acknowledged as a leading intellectual, he had been elected to the prestigious Académie française in 2004. Un roman sentimental appeared in 2007, shortly before his death the following year. This particular book was not well received, to be sure. Shatz tells us it was “treated with derision”. But now we find it is being respectably republished in the UK with no calls as yet, it seems, for the publishers to be clapped in irons; nor has there been any controversy so far as I am aware over LRB and some of the upmarket national newspapers legitimising it through their reviews. Funny old world, as they say!

Let’s not forget, though, that even Robbe-Grillet’s “sentimental” novel is just words. He didn’t kill anyone; like many other writers, he may have used his work cathartically, to purge his inner violence rather than victimise anyone with it. Meanwhile, people are actually being killed. Children are being ripped to bits in Gaza and deliberately starved on a mountain in Iraq. Is it because their killers have been reading too much Sharpe and Robbe-Grillet? Somehow, I doubt it.

The strange case of the brilliant ‘bimbo’

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I ended last time with a description of how the News of the World had published a misleading photograph, in which I appeared naked with a young boy. My original narrative, written in 2001, continues below. It is not just “more of the same”, I promise you, so do stick with it. If you don’t find this intriguing, then intrigue just isn’t your thing.

With photos like this one it could hardly be more apt that “Hannah”, if that was her name, kept referring to her “boyfriend” as “Con”. Con artist he certainly was. But it seems he could also have been a very naughty boy in another way too, a theme I’ll return to shortly.

But first I must take the scene back to my caravan at the naturist resort, where the truth of “Perry’s” identity dawned on me. He was the infamous Fake Sheikh. This told me a News of the World story would surely be on its way, probably in the next edition, a few days ahead. So the question arose as to what would happen next. I had visions of the NOTW posse reporting their “findings” to the camp management so they could get a picture of me being frog-marched off the site by the security guards. They could then run the picture under the headline “WE SEND PERVERT PACKING”. Not nice. So, should I pack up and leave immediately?

On balance, I thought not. I still had three days of hard-earned holiday left and resented the idea of giving way to those bastards. I would stick around, and carry on soaking up the sun regardless.

To my surprise I saw nothing of the NOTW team the next day and heard nothing from the camp management either. Then, on the Thursday, I had a very strange encounter outside the swimming pool café. Hannah was there but not Perry or Con. Suddenly I saw the opportunity to do a bit of investigative work of my own, because it seemed to me that Hannah probably truly was Conrad’s girlfriend not a journalist. She was surely too young to be on the regular staff of NOTW. Maybe if I bought her a Coke and had a chat I would find out a bit more about how the land lay. She seemed very relaxed and chirpy ¬– much more so than at the restaurant when the guys were around – and perfectly willing to talk.

“So, what’s become of Perry and Conrad?” I asked. “I didn’t see any of you yesterday and now the guys seem to have deserted you. Will they be coming here soon?”

“No,” she said, “No chance. They’re off on business, doing their thing. I don’t know what they’re up to. They never tell me nothing. Pisses me off it does. They just go off and leave me for hours and hours. I mean, it’s nice here but when you’ve got friends with you, they shouldn’t just clear off like that, should they?”

“You’ve no idea what their agenda is for today then?”

“The airport, I think. Checking it out. I don’t know for sure though. In one way it’s better without them around, mind you. At least I don’t get Perry lording it all the time and bossing me around.”

“Oh, he’s like that, is he?”

“You’re not kidding. Arrogant sod. Can’t you tell? He works for royalty and he thinks he’s bloody royalty himself. He’s so flash with all his money, he thinks he can do anything. Mind you, they’re as bad as each other when they’re together. Con gets it from Perry. Rubs off on him, I suppose. They both treat me like dirt when they’re together.”

“But Con’s OK on his own?”

“Oh yeah, no problem, he’s fine.”

“How long have you known him?”

“Oh ages.” She giggled.

I was trying to figure out whether she knew about Con’s real job.

“Ages?” I queried. “But you’re still in your teens, aren’t you? You mean you’ve been having a relationship for ages?”

“You’re right, I’m 18. And we’ve had a long ‘relationship’ all right.” More giggling and I could positively hear the innuendo as she said that word “relationship”.

“You mean a sexual relationship?”

“Yeah, right.”

“What, from way back, from before you reached the age of consent?”

This time she laughed out loud. “Yeah, ages before. I was 12 when I met him.”

“And it was a full sexual relationship right from then?”

“Yeah, more or less from the start.”

I was staggered she was just coming out with all this, as you may imagine, and I’m sure I must have looked a bit stunned.

“But what about your parents? Did they know? What did they think? Con must have been about thirty.”

“Yeah, me mum and dad knew, but they could see I was fond of Con, so they didn’t do nothing to stop it.”

“So will you marry him?”

“No,” she laughed, “no chance.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to get married. Anyway, there’s too much age difference between us. Me dad wouldn’t let us.”

This time I was the one to laugh. Her dad seemed to have a most unusual sense of priorities and to my mind was quite right in making a much bigger deal of marriage than of sex.

But this was all very confusing. Was it real? Was this girl just spinning me a pre-arranged line to get me talking about underage sex? If so, it is perhaps strange that she only gave information without asking anything at all about me. And everything she had said was in response to my questions. If it had all been a plot, how could the plotters have known I would ask the right questions? And how come she was so relaxed? There was not the slightest hint of nervousness about her. She unhesitatingly responded to all my probing even, as will be seen, some much trickier questions I had not yet come to. She was either a brilliant performer or exactly what she seemed to be, a very ordinary teenager who had left school at 16 without significant qualifications and, thanks to being supported by Con, had yet to get her first job.

“What about Con’s job?” I said. “You’ve been around him so long you must know all about what he does.”

“Not really. It’s like I said, they don’t tell me nothing. It’s like it’s none of my business, state secrets and that. Mostly it’s just they think I’m a nobody. I’m not important enough to be told anything.”

The time had come, I decided, to show my hand.

“You see, Hannah, to be honest I’m not at all sure that Con and Perry are what they say they are. They say they’re working for Dubai royalty but that doesn’t seem very likely to me. Why would a sheikh come to a place like this, a public place where he could be discovered? Someone with his kind of money could buy his own estate in France with a nice stretch of river and sunbathe naked in privacy. He could have any number of gorgeous naked girls at his side as well.”

“So what do you mean then? What are you saying?”

“Well,” I said, “there’s another possibility that seems to me to make more sense. Con and Perry could be working for a paper like the Sun or the News of the World. They could be here to do some sort of exposé article about naturism.”

“Oh, no” she laughed, “I’m sure it’s nothing like that. No.” She paused, apparently wrapped in thought. “For one thing,” she went on, “Perry’s always on the phone to Dubai. Talking in Arabic. And that pisses me off because I can’t understand a word he’s on about.”

“Umm, yeah, I don’t doubt his Arabian connections, but I’ll tell you what makes me suspicious.”

I told her about the Duchess of Wessex story, trying to read her face for signs of alarm as I did so. There were none. None at all.

“Yeah,” she said, quite calmly, “I see what you mean about the Fake Sheikh story. It does sound very similar but I don’t think that guy’s the same as Perry. No, I can’t see it.”

“All the same,” I persisted, “I think I’d like to talk to Perry and Con about it. I’d like to have it out with them straight. If they are from the press I’d be happy to give them an interview about naturism. I don’t see why everything has to be so underhand.”

Now, for the first time, Hannah looked a bit alarmed.

“I’d rather you didn’t do that,” she said.

“Why not?”

“It could get me into trouble. Perry would be mad at me.”

“Why?”

“He’d probably think I’d given you that idea. He’s really proud of working for royalty. If he thought I’d been saying maybe he worked for a paper it would be like, well, as though I was trying to put him down. It would be like saying he was just a lavatory attendant or something.”

The comparison amused me. If Hannah was not genuine she was an utter genius of cool improvisation. Anyway, I promised to keep my suspicions to myself but in the event I never saw Perry, Con or Hannah again.

Here ends my original narrative, written all those years ago.

A couple of illuminating details have emerged since then. One is that “Hannah” must have been lying when she said “Perry’s always on the phone to Dubai. Talking in Arabic.” He might well have had occasion to phone Dubai quite a lot: the sheikh was fictitious but Mahmood’s detailed knowledge of Dubai was genuine. For all I knew, he might have been born there and perhaps had relations in that part of the world. However, in 2008 he revealed in a rare interview that he does not speak Arabic, or at least not fluently. He said he very nearly had his cover blown in his Fake Sheikh role when a British army officer spoke to him in Arabic.

It has also become clear that a woman whose real name was Anna, not Hannah, was working for the News of the World with Mahmood and Brown at the time in question. This was a certain Anna Gekoski. At that point she had only recently joined the paper’s staff. In later years this “bimbo” would gain a doctorate in forensic psychology and become an academic. Prior to this she already had a first degree in philosophy from York University and an MPhil in Criminology from Cambridge University. She was the ghost-writer of the bestselling Sara Payne: A Mother’s Story and also the author of Murder by Numbers, a psychological analysis of the childhoods of British serial killers.

Could this Anna conceivably be one and the same person as the know-nothing, put-upon Hannah I had encountered? Anna Gekoski was born in 1974. She would thus have been around 27 when I met “Hannah”, not 18. Did she just happen to look very young? Could she have passed herself off as a teenager?

And what about Hannah’s story that she had been having a sexual relationship with Conrad Brown from the age of 12? If she really had been a rather aimless and somewhat put-upon NEET youngster (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) and had been Brown’s sexual partner from an early age, could there be any greater hypocrisy in the tabloid team’s attack on paedophiles? But it’s possible Mahmood didn’t even know the sex had started before she was 16. Brown might have sworn her to silence on that score. If he could have heard her blabbing away to me he might have been furious – and scared.

Mahmood could soon find himself in the dock for perjury. Might Brown also have reason to worry about charges (under the old law) of unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 16? Or even under 13? His dangerous liaisons, if any, might become an issue now that Mahmood’s whole career is likely to face intense scrutiny.

Brown’s fate, in these circumstances, could depend on Hannah. Much as I would like to see the odious snapper get his comeuppance, I would not wish it to be brought about over a consensual relationship, even a less than exemplary one, with a minor.

 

UPDATE: Dr Anna Gekoski has contacted Heretic TOC and denied that she was “Hannah”. She offered no alternative account of who Hannah actually was. While I would not expect Dr Gekoski to give an actual name, or detailed information from which an actual name could be deduced (newspapers are traditionally unforthcoming about their sources, often for good reasons, and I have no quarrel with that), it seems to me she might be in a position to tell us in general terms what happened. If she were to give us a plausible alternative to the Anna = Hannah theory it would at least give her denial some credibility. Otherwise, why believe a former member of a tabloid reporting team that has become notorious for telling lies and undertaking deceptions in order to discredit people falsely?

When Heretic TOC met the Fake Sheikh

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“The king of the sting reveals all” boasts the subtitle of Confessions of a Fake Sheik (sic), the memoirs of tabloid “investigative journalist” Mazher Mahmood, published in 2008.

He certainly did reveal all at a French naturist resort back in 2001, as did two of his colleagues when the three of them stripped naked, posing as nudists in a bid to lay bare my supposed misdeeds at the resort to the readers of the infamous News of the World.

What the Fake Sheikh (to give the more usual spelling, with an h) has always kept firmly under wraps, though, is his willingness to use trickery and deceit in order to trash the reputations of entirely innocent people and even get them charged with criminal offences and put behind bars.

Now, at last, after a long career of exposing others – leading to more than 260 criminal prosecutions, it is claimed – Mahmood has himself finally been exposed as a liar who could well face perjury charges and end up in prison. His downfall came when a drugs trial involving the singer Tulisa Contostavlos collapsed after a judge concluded that Mahmood had attempted to persuade a witness to change his evidence and then lied about it under oath. The comments by Judge Alistair McCreath at Southwark Crown Court, London, this week vindicated Contostavlos, who insisted she had been entrapped by the reporter into appearing to promise to arrange a cocaine deal when in fact she had no criminal intent whatever. Mahmood had made his claims in a story for the Sun on Sunday, successor to the News of the World, closed down in 2011 by tycoon owner Rupert Murdoch after it was mired in controversy over phone-hacking.

Mahmood is known as the “Fake Sheikh” after one of his common disguises. In the words of a news report, “He would often dress up as a rich Arab to persuade the famous, gullible or criminal to divulge their secrets on tape via elaborate subterfuge.” His targets have included royalty, politicians, sports stars and celebrities, as well as “paedophiles, arms dealers…dodgy doctors, solicitors, pimps, judges, bent cops and even murderers” according to his book-cover blurb, which also colourfully adds that he has “been shot at by Albanian thugs, cursed by an African witch and even run over by a vicar”.

He has been suspended by the Sun pending an investigation of his own misdeeds.

It was in his “Fake Sheikh” guise, or rather a variation of it, that I was introduced to Mahmood at the Sablière naturist resort in the Ardèche region of southern France some 13 years ago. He was posing not as a sheikh, but as a skeikh’s aide, a “fixer” with a wide-ranging brief to keep his mega-rich Arab boss happy.

It is a story worth telling, I think, for the insights it affords into how a supposedly top-flight journalist – twice Reporter of the Year – goes about his dirty business. It may also disclose criminality the courts do not yet know about. I wrote the following narrative soon after the events unfolded, while everything was still fresh in my memory.

 

IT ALL STARTED when I unexpectedly found myself on holiday alone at the naturist resort after a friend was unable to join me as planned. I soon found myself in friendly company, though. A girl of about 18 with a cockney accent asked me the time. This was near the café by the swimming pool. When I told her it was good to hear an English voice amidst all the Dutch and French guests she said she was there with some friends and would I like to come over and meet them? They were having a drink outside the café, she said.

The girl introduced herself as Hannah and took me over to a couple of guys; one of them was Conrad, her boyfriend, and the other was Perry, his boss. We had a pleasant enough chat over a beer, nothing very consequential. Perry asked if I’d like to join them for dinner later in the nearby town of Barjac. They had a car and offered to pick me up from my caravan. I was happy to accept.

The evening went well enough. The blokes seemed a bit “laddish”, with jokes and banter. Perry was charming and quite witty. Hannah was rather quiet compared to earlier and only now did it strike me that they were far older than she was. Both her boyfriend and Perry were in their mid- to late-thirties. We were talking about the Arab world for reasons I’ll come to, including the fondness of men there for scent. Then the subject turned to jewelry and the fact that Hannah sports a tongue stud.

“What’s it like when you’re eating?” I said, “It looks as though it might be very uncomfortable.”

“Not for me it isn’t”, Conrad jumped in. “When she’s eating me it’s brilliant!”

I must have looked a bit taken aback because Perry chipped in: “Don’t worry about Hannah,” he said, “she’s totally unshockable.”

Her giggles told me this was true although I got slightly the sense that the guys were a bit inclined to take her for granted. It was though they felt she was a bit of a bimbo – there just to look pretty and keep her mouth shut except when “eating” her bloke.

If the conversation had been kept at Conrad’s level I might have found the evening an unpleasant drag. But Perry proved more interesting, especially as it seemed we had one factor in common: acquaintance with the Middle East. Despite the western name his dark features told me he could be from those parts. That appeared to be confirmed when, earlier in the day, I had asked how the three of them came to be travelling together. Perry had said he was an aide to a member of the Dubai royal family; Conrad was his assistant. I am well aware that many sheikhs travelling in Europe are inclined to let their hair down in the casinos (including at Blackpool, which will come into the story later) and fleshpots, so it came as no surprise to me when he said His Highness wanted to stay at a naturist resort. The aim of Perry’s current trip, he said, was to check out Sablière with this in mind. In particular he had been checking whether there were any other Arabs around, because any such presence would make it difficult for HH to pay a discreet incognito visit, and he also needed to check the suitability of Nîmes airport for HH’s private jet.

Nice work if you can get it, I thought, especially as his posh car and choice of restaurant appeared to indicate a generous expenses allowance. We talked a lot about the Arab world, especially in terms of a detailed exchange of notes about life in Qatar, where I had been working for seven years, and Dubai, another Gulf emirate. He was clearly as familiar with the latter as I with the former. It seems ironic in retrospect that with the only woman among us almost silent, Perry and I spent quite a bit of time talking about the changing role of women in Arab society, especially as regards developments in Qatar, with women being encouraged into higher education and allowed to stand as political candidates in the first ever elections.

At the end of a pleasant, if seemingly unremarkable evening, I was dropped off back at my caravan. And there, in the quietness of my reflections before hitting the hay, the penny finally dropped. Suddenly it dawned on me that my dinner companions were from the tabloid press. Not only that. They were, I knew, from the News of the World. I even knew the real name of the man calling himself “Perry”. I knew his name was Mazher Mahmood. I knew he was none other than the man behind the “Fake Sheikh” saga involving the Duchess of Wessex and Prince Edward.

Once the duchess came to mind the pieces fell into place. On that occasion, just a few months earlier, Mahmood had hired a vastly expensive suite at a top London hotel and contacted the duchess pretending to be – guess what – an aide to a royal prince in Dubai. He had tricked the duchess into indiscretions by saying the “prince” would be happy to pay Sophie and Edward (or rather the PR company they ran) if they would exploit their own royal name on his behalf.

Fortunately, I had said absolutely nothing compromising to Mahmood. Why would I? As far as I knew at the time, the three of them were naturists, which would imply a liberal attitude to nakedness but not to paedophilia. That’s something I was never going to talk about to complete strangers. Yet his article when it came out the following Sunday gave the impression I had “come out” as a paedophile.

[“Caught in the act”, News of the World, 5 August, 2001, credited to “Mazher Mahmood Investigations Editor, in Barjac, France”. There is no online version of the paper from those days. However, the indefatigable Ian Pace (see PIE spy, with my tabloid eye… ) has put the report on his website. It is the last item on a long page. The search term Barjac will get you quickly to the start. My original narrative continues below.]

Remember I said Blackpool would come into the story? His report said I had revealed plans to go ogling the kids on the beach there but didn’t think the scene would be as good as Sablière. The only true part of this is that when we had been talking about the hypocrisy of Arab Muslims who go gambling and whoring in Europe I had happened to mention that the casino at Blackpool has become a favourite destination for many of them in the UK. I did not say I was planning to go to Blackpool (which I was not). This was pure invention just like some of the things he put in the mouth of the Duchess of Wessex. She, for instance, was said to have called the Queen “horrid, horrid, horrid”, but when the News of the World was prevailed upon to produce their taped evidence of the conversation this quote was nowhere on it.

Oddly enough, “Perry” and the others had made no obvious effort to tempt me into indiscretions at all. Only one point provided them with an opening, when we had been talking about Arab vices and I had criticised the hypocrisy of these supposedly devout followers of Islam. Mahmood’s response was along the lines “True, Tom, but we all have vices, don’t we? What are yours then?”

He was smiling, of course, keeping it light. “None, I replied,” with equal levity, “I live the life of a saint!” After the inevitable sceptical chortling from my companions I added, “No, I mean it more or less. I lead a life of utterly boring respectability.” I guess after a straight bat response of that sort Mahmood decided any further probing would achieve nothing except to raise my suspicions.

But he actually needed nothing from me. He was getting a very nice, all-expenses-paid holiday in the sunshine combining business with pleasure. He knew he could simply fabricate what I did not reveal. And he knew I had neither the money nor the high reputation to make it worthwhile for me to sue. He would simply tell the story people apparently love to hear. All he really needed for credibility was a grainy long-lens photo to go with it.

Conrad was the man for the latter, I later learned. Conrad Brown, actually. He was also involved in the Duchess of Wessex case, so it seems he and Mahmood were an established double act. Brown took a picture captioned as me “taking a shower with a boy”. Even this was a lie. I did not know the young boy photographed near me, who it seems was merely passing by at the time the picture was taken.

To understand what happened it is necessary to know the location. There were two showerheads on opposite sides of a footbath at the entrance to the swimming pool. I was taking a shower in one of them. I was completely naked, like almost everyone else, so the picture when it appeared in the paper comically had a black rectangular “figleaf” covering my naughty bits – a huge one, actually, satisfyingly giving the impression there was much that needed covering! The boy, however, clearly has a towel round him so I imagine he was merely leaving the pool and not taking a shower at all. He had to come close to me because everyone had to enter and leave via the footbath, as at most public pools.

I said at the start that my story “may also disclose criminality the courts do not yet know about”. This must wait, in the time-honoured cliff-hanger phrase, for the next thrilling instalment! Watch out for it shortly at Heretic TOC!

 

660 ARRESTS

For a neatly apocalyptic and satanic touch, they should have made it 666 arrests. Whatever, it’s a big number. UK readers will not need to be told what I am talking about, and it affects so many lives so deeply and tragically that arguably I should be making it my main topic. I refer to this awful news item: Police blitz on paedophiles leads to arrest of 660 suspects including doctors, teachers, Scout leaders and care workers

Unlike the Fake Sheikh news, though, I am not sure these arrests need much comment beyond the obvious i.e. Isn’t it terrible? Yes, it is, although I would just put it in perspective by reminding ourselves that Operation Ore, which commenced in 1999, led to 3,744 arrests. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this latest pogrom is that National Crime Agency deputy director general Phil Gormley said in a BBC broadcast, “The reality is we are not going to simply arrest our way out of this problem.” In the same broadcast, other contributors, including sex offender treatment specialist Lydia Guthrie, were saying quite interesting things, such as pointing out with some alarm that one third of those on the Sex Offender Register are now under 18, that not all offenders are the same, they are human beings, we need an intelligent conversation…

Are they going soft? Well, no, the arrests give their own harsh message. The implication seems to be that more anti-sexual propaganda and brainwashing is required – in addition to arrests, not instead of.

PIE spy, with my tabloid eye…

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The plots thicken. After the story broke a week ago about 114 British government files on “child sexual abuse” mysteriously going missing, the media exploded into an orgy of speculation about politicians, top civil servants and other Establishment figures in alleged paedophile rings, and conspiracies to cover up their dark deeds.

Immediately, a panicked government responded, with Home Secretary Theresa May announcing to a packed House of Commons that there would be not one inquiry but two, one to look into the current allegations and also an overarching inquiry into loads of past inquiries that apparently hadn’t inquired enough.

A thread running through much of this was the supposed involvement of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), which I chaired in the 1970s. My alleged role at that time in connection with certain Labour politicians was the focus of media attention earlier this year. See Home Secretary cheated justice by dying! and Paedogate puts the past in the pillory. But now the scene of the crime, as the media would have it, had shifted to the 1980s, including the part played by my successor, Steve Smith.

This is where it all gets wonderfully murky, with the media working it up brilliantly into something like a John le Carré thriller, with proper spies and everything! How exciting!

To start with, a former civil servant called Tim Hulbert has been peddling the fantasy that PIE was given as much as £70,000 of government funding. I wish! Unless our treasurer quietly trousered all that lovely lucre for himself, we received not a penny of public money. We always operated on a shoestring. I had assumed this Hulbert character was some low grade tea maker cum errand boy but it turns out he is now retired after ending up as head of social services at Bedfordshire County Council.

It is a further allegation of his that brings in the spooks. Hulbert has reportedly claimed that PIE was being funded at the request of Special Branch, the anti-subversion police, who “found it politically useful to keep an eye on paedophiles”.

Now, get this: according to the Daily Mail the Home Office announced a formal inquiry into Hulbert’s claims but insisted the identity of the man carrying out the inquiry remain secret. Even MPs have not been told his name, leading the Mail to suggest he may be a security service officer. The Mail goes on: “…if the man is indeed a spy, then his appointment to investigate this scandal — which, remember, revolves around suggestions that the security services were behind the public funding of PIE — would represent a terrible conflict of interest. Either way, the man leading the inquiry promptly approached Hulbert for evidence. But according to friends, ‘did so in such a way as to make Tim feel threatened’.”

So government spies have been backing PIE and are now using sinister tactics to cover their tracks! Delicious! You couldn’t make it up! Or, rather, that’s exactly what you can do if you are a sensationalist tabloid!

The alleged government funding of PIE relates to a vague time period that could go back as far as 1974. But let’s fast-forward to the 1980s. I was in prison from 1981-2 for conspiracy to corrupt public morals, following a campaign by the News of the World (the dreadful Murdoch tabloid closed down after the recent phone-hacking scandal). It was essentially just a trumped-up political charge to “get” PIE. As may be imagined, the case generated a lot of publicity.

Geoffrey Dickens, a Conservative MP, jumped on the bandwagon, naming in the House of Commons as one of our former PIE members a certain Sir Peter Hayman. In fact, Hayman had already been named in the journal Private Eye, which was the first I learned of his membership as he had been a member under an assumed name. Hayman really was a member of the Establishment. He had been a top diplomat, in a career that included serving as High Commissioner to Canada. But he was never on the PIE committee or active in the organisation’s ranks.

Dickens, who died many years ago, is in the news again because the now infamously absent 114 government files are thought to have included a dossier of papers he compiled. The Dickens dossier is said to have detailed paedophile activity among leading MPs and public figures. It was handed to then-Home Secretary Leon Brittan in 1983.

During these early 1980s years, Steve Smith was chair of PIE. The interesting thing about this is that he had his own office in the basement of the Home Office, where he worked as a security officer! In a memoir, he would later write, “Every year, my security clearance was renewed by Scotland Yard, without my connection with PIE being discovered.” He said the security job involved very little work, enabling him to spend time on tasks such as producing PIE publications. This office was dedicated to security, so no one else came in and PIE documents could be stored there safely.

He even managed to get another PIE committee member employed there and it is entirely possible – I put it no more strongly – that other PIE members could have been admitted to do various PIE tasks.

Think about it. Two, three, maybe more, members of a massively oppressed, disaffected, minority manage to monopolise, undisturbed, in the basement, the security arrangements of a major government building: a tower-block, actually. They were the ones who controlled the alarm systems, and would have had closed-circuit TV screens from which they could monitor the rest of the building. The Home Secretary would presumably often have been there, along with hundreds of civil servants and visiting VIPs.

Sounds like an Al-Qaeda dream, doesn’t it? Or a Guy Fawkes one: pack the place with explosives and blow it sky high. But neither Steve nor the rest of us were violently inclined – an inconvenient truth the media would have to ignore if they wanted to manufacture a Gunpowder Plot story. No doubt they could, but the media are now more interested in Establishment conspiracies than PIE ones, so they focused on a totally different angle, claiming the authorities knew all about Smith:

“Shockingly,” said the Mail, “it seems that many in the civil service knew all about his peccadilloes, and indeed actually tolerated them — perhaps due to the misguided belief (then prevalent in liberal circles) that paedophiles were a minority deserving of protection.”

Steve, sadly, is currently in prison (porn, since you ask) hence not in a position to comment. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that I have been deluged with media requests this past week. In the end, I turned down most because they only wanted to hear facts supporting their conspiracy theories. I had no wish to oblige, and had no relevant knowledge anyway.

As briefly reported in response to comments here, though, I did eventually give a 15-minute phone interview to Channel 4 News. This item (see at this link under “Did taxpayers’ money fund paedophiles?”) was entirely about PIE and would have gone ahead without me anyway, as there were several other interviewees: psychologist Glenn Wilson, who published a book based on a survey of PIE’s members; Ian Pace, musician and assiduous dirt-digger on PIE; and Peter Hain, veteran Labour politician.

Wilson was wonderful. Not only did he decline to present paedophiles as abnormal monsters, which his research had shown not to be the case; he also declined to endorse the prejudice that adult-child contacts are necessarily harmful, stoutly maintaining that the science did not support such a view, whatever the general public might think in the light of merely “anecdotal” accounts.

Before the interviews aired, presenter Matt Frei delivered one of those warnings. You know the sort of thing. It’s usually about explicit sexual content or graphic scenes of violence. But this one was different. “Be warned,” he solemnly intoned, “[the] report does contain views which many people may find highly distressing”.

Views! Mere views! How long, one wonders, before “survivors” of exposure to allegedly traumatising opinions start whining and demanding compensation? I was amazed and delighted to discover, by the way, that the offending views must have been Wilson’s because mine were all censored out!

I had been in the chair of PIE in 1978 when we decided to cooperate with Dr Wilson, who was a research psychologist based at the Institute of Psychiatry in London. It was a close call. PIE grew mainly out of the gay movement, which at that time was highly suspicious of psychiatry, and with good reason: before the triumph of gay liberation psychiatrists had resorted to “aversion therapy” in an attempt to “cure” homosexuality. This entailed such barbaric methods as showing the “patient” gay porn while simultaneously administering electronic shocks or chemicals to induce nausea.

I have absolutely no regrets over the decision to make volunteers from our membership available for the research in question, which was written up as a book called The Child-Lovers: A Study of Paedophiles in Society (Glenn D Wilson & David N Cox, Peter Owen, London, 1983). The “in society” part was important because previous studies had been based either on sex offenders in the penal system or those undergoing psychiatric treatment, two populations both of which were likely to produce misleading data in terms of what most paedophiles are like.

As for my contribution to the Channel 4 programme, only a couple of minutes from the original fifteen were aired. As usually happens, especially on the rare occasions when a paedophile is allowed to speak, the best bits were the ones the audience never heard. I made my own audio recording of the original phone call, though, and have made it available online, [IMPORTANT: Whether you choose to Save the file or Open it, there is a load-up time or one or two minutes before play can commence. Works with Windows Media Player, VLC or “Other” (you choose).] so any Heretic TOC readers who are interested will be able to compare it with what was aired. For a quick understanding of the key points I made that were cut out, see the list below.

Finally, it would take too long to write about the many fascinating developments in the past week but equally there are things you may not want me to leave out. So I conclude below with a few bullet points and links.

• Mark Williams-Thomas was among the media figures (ITV) who emailed asking for my input last week. He is the guy, it may be recalled, who got the whole Jimmy Savile story going. Why this latter day Witch-Finder General would think I would be keen to give him a story is beyond me.
• Rod Liddle had a good sceptical piece in The Spectator. He doubted that a hand on a thigh could cause “failed relationships, aspirations not achieved, mental breakdown, poverty, unhappiness, alcoholism, drug addiction” for years and decades later.
• Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, was also in sceptical vein. The late Geoffrey Dickens MP had been a rent-a-quote character, he tells us, who “made claims about the satanic and occult that were, to put it politely, far-fetched”. Moore also has a healthy line on the folly of “listening to the victims” on matters of which their opinion is of no value.
• The Daily Mirror did a surprisingly good guide to PIE in the 1970s, with links to the full text of some PIE publications and even to my book Paedophilia: The Radical Case
• Famously intellectual actor and comic TV presenter Stephen Fry “stuns Labour gala as he hits out at sex abuse investigation”.
• Fry can be very funny but if you want a real belly-laugh this week look no further than this story in the Guardian: “Leading psychologist says police officers investigating historical cases are at breaking point with exhaustion and stress”. No doubt they will be on the compo trail!
• David Mellor, former Conservative minister, bragged on the Andrew Marr Show, “We shut down the Paedophile Information Exchange”. Actually, PIE wound itself up after two major prosecutions of its committee members launched by a judiciary which is supposed to be independent of party politics. Umm. Is Mellor saying his party put the Director of Public Prosecutions under pressure? I have some recollection of hearing many years ago that Sir Ian Percival QC, Solicitor General under Thatcher, did advise the DPP to prosecute PIE, or at least to consider doing so. Would this have been constitutionally in order? I am not sure. [ADDED 2 FEB, 2015: I had occasion to check through some old newspaper and journals cuttings a few days ago. Any role Percival played actually seems to have been overshadowed compared to that of the Attorney General of the time, Sir Michael Havers, who is also mentioned immediately below in connection with Baroness Butler-Sloss. One particular article was particularly revealing. This was “Unacceptable charges exposed in recent trials” by Peter Thornton, who had been one of my trial lawyers. His article appeared in Rights (Vol. 6, No. 2), the journal of the National Council for Civil Liberties. He is now His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC, chief coroner of England and Wales. In this article, he said Sir Michael Havers had insisted on bringing an expensive and largely unsuccessful conspiracy case against PIE against the inclinations of the DPP.]
• In news just in, retired judge Baroness Butler-Sloss, appointed to head the “inquiry into inquiries” mentioned above, has resigned before even getting started. “Victims” had complained that her work would concern a possible Establishment cover-up but she herself was a key Establishment figure whose brother, the late Sir Michael Havers, had been Attorney General at the time of the alleged cover-up. They had a point.

WHAT CHANNEL 4 LEFT OUT
The following, in note form, are all points I made in my interview with Jackie Long. None of them were broadcast:

1) Raison d’être of PIE: public understanding of paedophilia; democratic campaign to change age of consent; fight for sexual self-determination at all ages; liberation of children from oppressive adult power in all aspects of their lives, in line with writings by feminists at the time, including Hillary Clinton whose work on children’s rights inspired my own writing on the subject.
2) Coming out of the 1950s, when sex was not talked about because it was considered shameful, in line with traditional Christian views of St Paul, and homosexuality was illegal. We felt we were part of the great liberation movement of the 1960s and beyond, which included gay liberation.
3) Kinsey showed that children masturbate and behave sexually with each other from the earliest ages if allowed to do so. It is not permitted these days to research children’s sexuality, so we are not getting the facts, and children’s sexual expression is being criminalised.
4) Society’s ever increasingly sexually repressive direction, with more and more vigilant policing, is making matters worse, not better: it has iatrogenic effects. People now feel traumatised for life by the mildest unwanted touching, or even by sexual relationships they enjoyed at the time.

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