V.I.P. fiasco: you heard it here first

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So, the sensational allegations of brutal, even murderous “V.I.P. paedophilia” that were hailed as   “credible and true” by a top cop in Operation Midland, which was set up to investigate them, have now tacitly been admitted as the ravings of a fantasist by the toppest cop of the lot, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, head of the London Metropolitan Police, writing in the Guardian.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Hogan-Howe admitted that officers had been “carried away” by the prevailing dogma that complainants (or “victims” as they are so often prematurely called) must be believed. Investigating a crime properly required officers to “keep an open mind”, he said. As Luke Gittos, Law Editor of Spiked, puts it in an article that explores the wider institutional ramifications, “The announcement that the police will actually start investigating crimes, rather than just believing in them, reveals the sorry state of policing around allegations of sexual abuse.”

And what beliefs! What incredible credulity! The madness of Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald’s assertion in December 2014 that wild, bizarre allegations by a certain “Nick” were “credible and true” would have been obvious from the start to anyone less in thrall to the febrile witch-hunting spirit of our times.

This is not hindsight on my part. Just a few weeks later, in January 2015, Heretic TOC began to call the craziness for what it was, in the first of several articles based on what I just happened to know personally about the allegations. So, remember, you heard it here first! In The pencil is mightier than the sword, and then Exposé outfit murders its own credibility a couple of months later, this blog focused on allegations made by “Darren”, whose yarns, in common with “Nick’s”, were being promoted by sensationalist news agency Exaro News. So hand-in-glove was this relationship that Exaro is said to have been present when these allegators gave their police interviews.

“Darren’s” attack was on the late Peter Righton, who had served with me as a  committee member in the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE). Peter had been a senior social worker and I knew him as a very decent, kind and gentle soul. In “Darren’s” preposterous version, though, he had been a ruthless killer who had torn a man’s body apart by tying him between two vehicles which were then slowly reversed away from each other. He had even forced the victim to dig his own grave beforehand! Needless to say, this wild yarn has not been substantiated.

Scotland Yard launched Operation Midland in November 2014 after hearing claims made by “Darren’s” stablemate “Nick”, an alleged victim of child abuse. I use both names but the lurid, depraved brutality depicted is so similar in the telling they could easily have been just one person. “Nick” claimed three boys were murdered by paedophiles, including senior politicians, in Westminster in the 1970s and 1980s. Detectives, according to the Daily Mail recently, now regard him as a “Walter Mitty” fantasist.

They were not saying that last summer, when the furthest, wildest reaches of “Nick’s” fertile imagination were being fed to the slavering media. Now sexual abuse allegations were being made about the long dead Sir Edward Heath, Tory British prime minister from 1970 to 1974. Following this, the Sunday Mirror ran a story reporting on another missing dossier on V.I.P. “child sex abuse” to compete with the already fabled one supposedly compiled by the late Geoffrey Dickens MP. Attributed to Barbara Castle, a leading Labour cabinet minister in the 1970s, this new treasure trove of dirty deeds dug out of the dusty archives included the following gem. Reporter Don Hale wrote:

“We can…reveal that Heath, under investigation by seven police forces over child abuse claims, was present at more than half a dozen Westminster meetings of the notorious Paedophile Information Exchange.”

The absurdity of this claim was the subject of my blog Prime Minister was my buddy – NOT! in September. The whole ridiculous edifice began to unravel soon after this, not least when it was exposed that Tom Watson, the Labour MP who had been the prime myth peddler behind the whole theme of a Westminster V.I.P. paedophile ring cover-up – a conspiracy theory conveniently targeting the rival Conservative Party – had used the fact, as the Daily Mail put it, “that an innocent Tory MP had a paedophile relative to bolster his claims”. The Tory MP was John Whittingdale, now a leading government figure as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; his relative was Charles Napier, another former PIE committee member and friend of mine, currently in prison for what I believe to be an unjustly lengthy 13-year sentence, as I explained in Hi, this is Charles. I’ve been a naughty boy…

It has been estimated that the ill-fated Operation Midland has cost £1.8 million and taken up in excess of 80,000 hours of police time, but no charges have been brought as a result and there is speculation that the investigation will be formally wound up later this month. Worst of all, during this time the reputations of those baselessly accused, notably former MP Harvey Proctor, Field Marshall Lord Bramall – an elderly war hero and former Chief of the Defence Staff – and the recently deceased former Home Secretary Lord Brittan, were needlessly and devastatingly trashed in public. Hogan-Howe has announced that there will be an independent investigation to look into ways in which the police could have handled things better.

Blogger Anna Raccoon, known offline as retired lawyer Susanne Cameron-Blackie, sees an ulterior motive in setting up this new inquiry, as it follows hard on the heels of a report covering similar ground last year by Dame Elish Angiolini. Ms Raccoon says the real reason Hogan-Howe may want a further inquiry is perhaps that “he would really rather you didn’t read this recent and comprehensive review of Metropolitan Police Policy and behaviour towards sexual offending – a review which reveals more than it conceals for once.” Ms Raccoon is absolutely right that the 141-page Angiolini report is of great importance, as will be clear to anyone reading her blog The Presumption of Innocence yesterday, which I highly recommend, not least because it explores the origins of the police “always believe the victims” policy. There is also a lot of interesting material on the competing statistics of false allegations. She presents estimates for false allegations of rape ranging from 2% to 30%, showing why there is a basis for such wide variation, depending on who is doing the counting and what is counted. Fascinating, and very revealing.

However, the Angiolini report was not comprehensive: it focused on rape reporting and could not possibly have had anything definitive to say about Operation Midland, which was still in its early months when Dame Elish’s report appeared last April.

I was struck by the name of the man Hogan-Howe appointed to undertake this additional task:  Sir Richard Henriques, a senior lawyer. It rang a bell and then I remembered why: I had appeared before him when he was on the bench in an appeal hearing of mine before the Royal Courts of Justice in 2003. He had also been in charge of the independent inquiry relating to the late Lord Janner, producing a report that came out just last month. He ruled that the former Labour MP should have been prosecuted as long ago as 1991. Instead, he was charged much more recently, by which time he had Alzheimer’s and was deemed not fit to stand trial. He died in December, aged 87.

As it happens, Lord Janner had crossed my path too, although conspiracy theorists should not get too excited over what was a very fleeting connection. He had been plain Greville Janner then, back in the early 1970s, when he was the MP for Leicester West and I was a very inexperienced and somewhat anxious young reporter with the Leicester Mercury. He was a lively and popular MP in those days, with a reputation for being a tireless constituency worker. That was the image at least: his name seemed to be constantly in our paper for some worthy activity or another.

And it was in just such a context that I interviewed him once, on an immense stretch of derelict urban wasteland, strewn with discarded old bike frames and the like. I remember having to all but trot after him as he strode quickly over this “blasted heath”, regaling me at great speed and with infectious enthusiasm with his vision for how the land should be developed for the public good. Keen to make an accurate record, I found myself scribbling into my note book as fast as I could, but soon fell alarmingly short of being able to keep up. He never complained about my eventual report, though, so either I got it roughly right or he was just happy to get yet more good publicity.

He would definitely not have found the publicity Henriques gave him so congenial. Sir Richard was properly objective in tone, referring to “complainants” against Janner rather than “victims”, and his 46-page report is thorough, carefully detailing the nature of the complaints and what was done about them – or rather not done – by the authorities. For those very reasons, the apparent thoroughness and objectivity, the picture painted is damning.

It also surprised me, when I read it. I had somewhat assumed Janner’s name had been blackened baselessly, as with the ridiculous tall stories from “Darren” and “Nick”. But not so. The allegations against Janner were not necessarily true but those by one complainant, at least, were definitely substantial. To my mind they show that Janner was quite obviously a boy lover. Whether he actually did anything is another matter but the circumstantial evidence suggests he probably did.

Suspicion first fell on Janner in 1990, when it emerged ahead of the trial of Leicester children’s homes manager Frank Beck the following year on child sexual abuse charges, that Janner knew Beck and had a friendly relationship with a boy at one of the homes in question, starting when the boy was 13. Affectionate letters from Janner to the boy were found; there was evidence he had given the youngster expensive gifts and stayed with him on many occasions in hotel rooms around the country.

There was nothing, though, to suggest that any sex was non-consensual. There was an active relationship for a couple of years and long after that the boy, now a man in his late twenties, invited Janner to his wedding. Janner appears to have been a nice enough guy, who was just unfortunate in finding himself tangled up with Beck, who was possibly – though he too may have had a bad press – a rather nastier piece of work.

As for Sir Richard Henriques, he had risen to prominence as the lead prosecutor against the two boys who murdered the toddler James Bulger, and then later made the case against serial killer doctor Harold Shipman. Heavy stuff.

I had no idea of this weighty background when I encountered him in his role as an appeal court judge. On that occasion he was sitting with Lord Justice Scott Baker, presiding, and His Honour Judge Crowther QC, who delivered the judgment. I don’t recall Sir Richard saying a single word during the entire hearing. The judgement went against me, but in the absence of knowing what Henriques may have said to his fellow judges in their discussion of the case, I can have no complaint against him personally. I do have a story to tell about that hearing, though, but it looks as though it must wait until another time.

 

ONE SWALLOW DOESN’T MAKE A SUMMER

The good news that the Met chief has seen sense and retreated under pressure from the “believe the victims” creed does not mean anti-paedo hysteria has peaked out in Britain, sadly. The ink was barely dry on his Guardian article before other leading figures in the abuse industry were piling in to disown Hogan-Howe’s reassertion of a more traditional approach to the assessment of allegations.

One swallow, clearly, does not a summer make. Luke Gittos, in the article linked from my main blog above, explores this theme with reference to other institutions beyond the police wherein justice is being undermined by dogma. Tim Black, in another Spiked article attempts to identify the underlying force giving the hysteria its continuing energy.

Meanwhile, the hydra-headed moral panic monster sprouts another gargoyle: Paedophiles use secret Facebook groups to swap images. Enjoy!

 

PEER-TO-PEER CONNECTION

Two of my featured characters today, Lord Bramall and Lord Janner, once had an unusual peer-to-peer connection: Bramall “connected” with his fellow peer of the realm Janner by hitting him, in a room just off the House of Lords chamber! No, the pair were not love rivals for a boy, or at least that is not the official reason for the violent incident, which is said to have arisen during a heated quarrel about the Middle East. Bramall was in his early eighties at the time, Janner in his late seventies. The younger man later accepted an apology from the old (but not entirely retired!) warrior.

Exposé outfit murders its own credibility

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Another day, another hysteric – sorry, historic – enquiry in Britain. The police complaints body has launched an investigation into, oh, load and loads of vaguely rumoured “child sex offences” in London from as far back as the 1970s.

The big excitement, though, was on the BBC’s Newsnight on 16 March, which trumpeted a claim that police were forced to abandon a cast-iron case against a VIP “paedophile ring” in 1981 after they had obtained video footage of the men in question actually engaging in hot action with teenage boys at a flat in Coronation Buildings, Lambeth, less than a mile away from parliament. An order had come from on high that the matter should be dropped “in the national interest”. Among those caught in the act was said to have been the Liberal MP Cyril Smith and a “senior member of Britain’s intelligence agencies”; there was also evidence against “two senior police officers”.

My hunch, having seen the Newsnight programme, is that this is more than just the usual hype, and that properly sourced police testimony may in due course be forthcoming from officers involved in the Coronation Buildings operation, especially if they can be assured that the Official Secrets Act will not be used against them. Never mind that the BBC’s information came from a single unnamed police source whom they have never seen because he spoke through an intermediary; never mind that this informant was said merely to have been “familiar with the original investigation” rather than a part of it; never mind that dozens of other officers on the case could have come forward to spill the beans but so far have not; never mind the apparent absence of “victims” making complaints at this point.

All these good reasons for scepticism can reasonably be put aside. Those of us who are old enough will recall that teenage rent boys and members of parliament (especially Tory ones) were an accepted item in those days. Everyone knew they went together: not as respectably as love and marriage, perhaps, but as routinely as a horse and carriage. And so did cover-ups: a Tory chief whip even went on record to say part of his job was in effect to blackmail MPs who had things to hide, letting it be known he would keep quiet about their extra-marital affairs, or penchant for “small boys”, in return for them towing the party line.

All very scandalous, no doubt; but the real scandal these days is not sexual at all. Rather, it is the dangerous perversion of truth to which sensationalist journalism is now giving rise, driven on by our debased victim culture and populist politics. Convinced by nothing more than relentless empty propaganda that Jimmy Savile was guilty of crimes worse than Islamic State beheadings, the public also seemed receptive to claims late last year that boys were murdered some decades ago by powerful Establishment figures.

Such claims lack credibility unless they can be tied to particular youngsters who went permanently missing from that time onwards and who might have taken part in the alleged “sex parties”. No such individuals have been suggested. Also, as I said recently, another factor that makes me doubt the credibility of the “allegators”, as blogger Anna Raccoon aptly dubs them, is that one of them made what to me were obviously false claims about sadistic abuse by my old friends Charles Napier and Peter Righton.

That was in January, in an Exaro News report featuring a source they called “Darren”, who appears to be an ex-rent boy. Apparently Exaro liked his story so much they asked him for more, and Darren obligingly came up the following month with an even stronger yarn against Peter. This time he remembered a murder that had somehow slipped his mind in January: in this new version, Darren had personally seen Peter Righton brutally attack a man called Andrew, leaving him fatally wounded.

It wasn’t just any old attack, either. Oh, no. The unfortunate Andrew was torn apart when tied between two vehicles that slowly reversed away from each other, one driven by Righton the other by “another man”! The demonic Righton had even made Andrew dig his own grave beforehand!

I kid you not, Exaro is inviting everyone to take this fanciful bullshit seriously, and it seems plenty of people are buying into it.

So who are these people, Exaro News? Set up in 2011 by a city tycoon, this exposé outfit now has former Guardian journalist David Hencke on its core staff. It was Henke who is said to have passed Tom Watson MP evidence of “child abuse” at the Elm Guest House, leading to a police investigation, “Operation Fernbridge”. Exaro and its journalists have been nominated for a number of top awards and actually won a few as well. Editor-in-chief Mark Watts has been profiled in the Guardian.

With all this kudos, one might expect standards to be high. But that is not how it works, alas. Fortunately, scepticism over claims like those of “Darren” remains strong in significant areas of public life, including the legal profession and academia.

Criminal law barrister Matthew Scott, for instance, blogged about his misgivings last year in “Exaro News Is Playing A Dangerous Game With Its Paedophile Murder Story”.
This was in response to the agency’s earlier VIP murder “investigation”, based on allegations made by another anonymous source, dubbed “Nick”.

Exaro, in collaboration with the Sunday People, alleged, in the words of the blog, that “a Tory MP strangled a 12-year-old brown haired boy in a central London town house in 1980. Apparently, 18 months to two years later two other men murdered a second boy in front of another Tory MP, ‘a cabinet minister’. Both MPs are ‘still alive’. Its source is a man in his 40s to whom they have given the pseudonym ‘Nick’. Exaro even mentions rumours of a third child murdered by being run over in the street, though I don’t think Nick claims to have actually seen more than one murder.”

Scott suggests that Exaro, along with the Sunday People and also the BBC, who aired an interview with “Nick”, acted “extremely unwisely by catapulting him into the public domain”.

These interviews had given extremely detailed accounts, which ran the risk of wrecking any police investigation because the testimony of any witnesses who might later come forward would have greatly reduced value: they could easily just be copy cats. This would inevitably play a part in the defence of any accused person, and a guilty person might escape justice because any good and true evidence would be seen as contaminated and unsafe.

Scott continues in this lawyerly vein for quite a while, and rightly so, but it is the commonsense scepticism in the latter part of his article that really takes the eye, beginning with the story of Carol Felstead:

There is nothing new about allegations being made against Tory politicians of the period, and they are not necessarily truthful. A not dissimilar account of Conservative Party MPs being involved in sexual abuse was given in the 1990s by someone called Carol Felstead and it provides a cautionary tale for anyone who might wish to rush to judgement. According to Carol’s therapists, she was anally raped in Conservative Central Office by a Tory MP with a claw hammer, and raped by not one but two members of Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet.

Just like Nick, Carol supposedly said she was abused first by her parents. She had been “ritually reborn out of a bull’s stomach, placed in a grave ‘on top of her dead sister’ and rescued by her father who was dressed as the Devil.” She later claimed to have given birth to six children who were then aborted and ritually sacrificed.

Felstead had told this story not to Exaro but to the notorious Dr Valerie Sinason, who incorporated some of it (changing Carol’s name to “Rita”) into the work that made her name: Treating Survivors of Satanist Abuse.

Sinason’s work has since been widely discredited, along with the entire satanic abuse fad, as I pointed out in “Compared to Sinason, Savile was a saint”. Likewise, Scott takes her down a peg or three and adds a truly scandalous bit of information, telling us she specialised, and is still paid by the NHS to specialise, in the treatment of Dissociative Identity Disorder, itself a controversial diagnosis.

So much for Sinason. As for Carol Felstead, Scott leaves us in no doubt what her story amounted to:

Now, despite the detailed and distressing history supposedly given by Carol to her therapists, her accounts of abuse at the hands of her parents were demonstrable nonsense. The family house had indeed burned down, but it did so a year before she was born so she could not possibly have remembered it as she said. She did have a sister who died in infancy, a girl who suffered from Down’s syndrome and died in hospital from natural causes; again she did so before Carol was even born. As for the Satanic abuse, her four surviving brothers all agree that nothing of the sort took place and there is no evidence of it whatever from any other source. There was no coven, no witch-craft and no murdered babies: indeed her medical records show that she had never been pregnant. Her extraordinary story of being raped by politicians was likewise fantasy of a high order.

Likewise, Scott is admirably sceptical about even the sex parties at Dolphin Square, never mind the murders:

The reasons to doubt the existence of such a ring are legion. What were these boys doing when they were not at Dolphin Square sex parties? Were they kept in complete isolation? Did they stop going to school, for example, or never speak to anybody outside the paedophile ring? The Exaro line seems to be that they were so terrified by the fact that the men in question were powerful that they did not expose the ring while it was active. Are we really to believe that these “powerful people” were so sure that their affairs could be kept secret from the press and, still more, from their political rivals, that they kept returning to the orgies? When even a tame affair like that of Cecil Parkinson with his secretary could lead to political disgrace; when journalists were constantly scouring Westminster for a whiff of scandal and when political rivals would have been delighted to ditch the dirt on their enemies it seems – as Exaro themselves acknowledge – very unlikely indeed.

Quite so, although, as I said at the outset, I am not so sceptical about the sex side: even the most intelligent and rational of men often think with their dick: just ask Bill Clinton or, even better, Hillary. What they would definitely not do, I suggest, is be so reckless as to murder anyone in the devil-may-care manner suggested by both “Nick” and “Darren”, casually leaving witnesses like them who might at any time tell the tale.

If Matthew Scott is a good example of sensible scepticism in legal circles, what about one from the academic world? News has just reached me from an unlikely source, the Lancashire Magazine, of a very encouraging show of academic good sense at Edinburgh University, where a research project is underway in connection with the allegations against Jimmy Savile.

The article in question, “Jimmy Savile ‘Moral Panic’ Tracked By Computer In Dordogne”, is based on an archive of private social media discussions between the women who later came forward to claim they were sexually abused by the late entertainer. Forty years ago the women had been teenagers at the Duncroft Approved School, an experimental boarding school opened by the Home Office to give a second chance of education for girls of above-average intelligence who had been taken into care.

The owner of the archive was a retired English lawyer living in the Dordogne region of France. She lived in care at Duncroft in 1965 and 1966. Her name was Susanne Cameron-Blackie, better known to many heretics here as – wait for it – the blogger Anna Raccoon!

Yes, Anna, or Susanne, is right at the heart of this story. Her wonderful, detailed, sceptical analyses of the claims against Savile have been highlighted here at Heretic TOC on several occasions, so I am sure we will all be delighted to hear that her work has won academic appreciation and government funding for a follow-up project.

It was a serious illness that first prompted Susanne to contact Edinburgh University. In 2013, fearing she might not survive a forthcoming cancer operation in France, she sent an email to Professor Viviene Cree at the Edinburgh University School of Social and Political Science, explaining the situation and saying she hoped the university would provide a good home for her archive. That summer the Economic and Social Research Council activated its Urgency Grants Mechanism to form a research team for the recovery and collation of documents and the information stored on Anna Raccoon’s computer in the Dordogne. The full story of the research team and its project are set out in the Lancashire Magazine’s article and is recommended reading.

It really is splendid news. Sadly, though, we also learn that Susanne is still suffering from cancer. She continues to blog as Anna Raccoon but says her doctors have not given her long to live. In the circumstances, it might be a nice gesture if readers could tweet their congratulations on her academic triumph, and/or more general appreciation and best wishes, to her at @AnnaRaccoon1, or email annaraccoon2010@gmail.com.

An Idiot’s Guide to the Westminster Bubble

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Charming and disarming, a not too critical critic of Heretic TOC wrote on another blog recently that “There comes a point when even the best argument becomes too well written, too well researched and too learned. An Idiot’s Guide to both Stephen Hawking’s and TOC’s theories would be appreciated….” It must be admitted that the “punitive state” piece last time was a bit relentlessly heavy on the theory, although the number and quality of the comments, plus over 300 hits per day, suggests there is interest.

This time, then, for a little light relief (relatively speaking!), TOC brings you a taste of his adventures last week inside the Westminster Bubble, an experience more akin to Alice in Wonderland than to other phenomena with which it might be confused, such as the South Sea Bubble.

American readers will be familiar with the bubble concept from their own expression Inside the Beltway, or the Washington Bubble, denoting an intensely political world, peopled almost entirely by politicians, government officials and media folk who spend so much time incestuously preoccupied with each other that they lose touch with the realities of life outside their privileged zone.

Or so it is claimed. The real truth, though, is that these clever people have sharp political antennae, which is how they keep their power and influence: they need to stay alert in all sorts of ways, paying attention not just to opinion polls and focus group research but also to those who turn up in person to lobby them, from corporate interests (especially!) to activist groups of every hue.

Which is where my London trip comes in. I was there for a whole bunch of personal lobbying, networking and media reasons, and also to participate in various rallies, protests and debates.

Two of these events were in the Palace of Westminster itself, aka the Houses of Parliament, starting with Challenging the Campus Censors. Held in the Grand Committee Room with a panel of speakers, this saw the launch of the Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) by the journal Spiked. What FSUR devastatingly demonstrates, sadly is the extent to which freedom of expression is being eroded in the very institutions where it is most vitally needed if any sort of heresy – including but not limited to the Heretic TOC variety – is to survive the onslaught of hegemonic political correctness.

Back in the 1970s I appeared by invitation at a number of universities, mainly to address student gay societies on paedophilia and children’s sexual freedom. There were neither objections by the university authorities nor any attempt by students to No Platform me*. After speaking at Cambridge University, I was treated very hospitably by the organisers: they took me to hear (and of course see!) the choirboys perform evensong at King’s College. Those were the days!

In my case, the high watermark of this openness to heresy was a prestigious invitation from the president of the Oxford Union to address that august debating society, possibly the world’s most famous; its speakers have included three US presidents, top scientists from Einstein to Hawking, and celebrities of all kinds from Michael Jackson to Kermit the Frog. Ahead of the event, though, the university was subjected to heavy media pressure against my appearance, and the invitation was withdrawn.

We all know how the sorry saga has played out since then in terms of paedophilia as a There Is No Debate (TIND) issue. What I discovered to my horror, though, from FSUR and related revelations last week, is the extent to which free speech is now being denied on campus across a whole range of issues. As Ian Dunt told us in the Guardian:

“In recent months, Oxford University cancelled a debate on abortion because protesters objected to the fact it was being held between two men; the Cambridge Union was asked (but refused) to withdraw its speaking invitation to Germaine Greer because of her views on transgender issues; officials at London Southbank took down a “flying spaghetti monster” poster because it might cause religious offence; UCL banned the Nietzsche Club after it put up posters saying “equality is a false God”, and Dundee banned the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children from their freshers’ fair. The Sun is banned on dozens of campuses because of Page 3. Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines song has also been banned by many student unions.”

Note, especially, the relevance here of this last one: the lyrics are about sexual consent.

The curious thing, to someone of my generation at least, is that the censorious spirit is not coming from above, from heavy-handed political or administrative quarters. It is not state censorship. Rather, TIND reflects what seems to be a new fragility among the students themselves, who are arriving at university from a school culture in which they have grown used to seeing themselves as in need of protection, reflecting a wider cultural background in which child protection is seen as a priority. It reflects specifics of their cultural environment, such as school anti-bullying policies, and also their exposure to what is admittedly sometimes a brutally obnoxious scene of social media trolling. Feeling (with every justification) that being subjected to violent threats and venomous defamation online is just plain wrong and unacceptable, these youngsters are turning up at university believing they are entitled to remain shielded from “offensive” views of all kinds. They do not seem to realise that new but potentially important ideas are often shocking, and that a university is a grownup place whether intellectual debate needs to be unfettered.

The following day I was back in the palace, this time supporting Hacked Off, which Spiked muddle-headedly presents as a group lobbying against free speech. Hacked Off, as British heretics will know, was set up in the wake of revelations that newspapers including the now defunct News of the World, and the Sun, both owned by global media baron Rupert Murdoch (whose other crimes against humanity include Fox News), were engaged in illegal phone hacking and libellous smear tactics – including the infamous Fake Sheikh’s sting operations which have resulted in innocent people being jailed and many other lives shattered. As heretics here may remember, I was among those on the receiving end.

Where Spiked gets it wrong is in confusing the “right” of a handful of mega-rich media moguls to trash people as viciously, mendaciously and unaccountably as a Twitter troll, with the right of all of us to legitimate (non-libellous, not inciting violence) freedom of expression. The latter right, in Hacked Off’s view and mine, will be advanced, not retarded, by such means as giving a strengthened right of reply to those who are traduced in the press, and encouraging wider media ownership. Hacked off also supports the recent Leveson Inquiry report, which recommended measures aimed at securing a more independent press complaints body than the toothless Press Complaints Commission.

Hacked Off’s rally was in Committee Room 14, which turned out to be an even grander venue than the Grand Committee Room. When I think of a committee I have in mind no more than about 25 people, but about ten times that number were present for Hacked Off’s big day, packed along two sets of opposing benches like a miniature version of parliament itself. When I arrived, slightly late after an appointment with my MP, I was lucky to get the last seat before my attention turned to a distinguished-looking, silver-haired old gentleman who was holding forth as one of the panel speakers.

The voice seemed familiar. Then it struck me: John Cleese! Goodness, it was a face I probably hadn’t seen since The Life of Brian over thirty years ago. Anyway, he was on good form, blasting the new Independent Press Standards Body (IPSO) as anything but independent, saying it was designed to be a puppet of the big corporations, with editors given a key role, like setting foxes in charge of the henhouse. Actually, he had his own comparison, a rather good one:

“Of course they want to regulate themselves, we’d all like to regulate ourselves wouldn’t we?” he said. “Builders, accountants, murderers, they’d all like to regulate themselves.” He added: “The murderers would make a very good case – they’d say we murdered a lot of people, we know people who have murdered people. We really are best qualified to regulate.”

Dramatically, these remarks led within just a few minutes to the verbal murder of a particular journalist present in the room, one Mr Alex Wickham. Allow me to announce it Cluedo style: he was attacked by the chairman, in the committee room, with some very blunt accusations!

Wickham, as the chairman revealed, is a sleazeball sting artist working with political blog Guido Fawkes. The scurrilous scribe had immediately tweeted what Cleese said, in a message falsely implying the comedy actor had seriously compared the newspaper bosses to murderers. In a trice, news of this tweet got back to the committee room, where the chairman outed and admonished Wickham, saying he didn’t know how he could sleep at night, doing what he did. There were calls around the room for the malefactor to stand up and be seen.

The pressure must have got to the hounded hack, because he meekly stood up, as he had been ordered, and tried to explain himself. He didn’t get far before he was slapped down by the chair, who said, “Sit down, I don’t want to give you a platform as you have a megaphone”.

I didn’t feel sorry for Wickham, who is a double-dyed shit. I did, however, find myself a bit uneasy over the kangaroo court I had witnessed. And I noted, also, that one of the later speakers was a dreary feminist of the most humourless kind, who spent her allotted time at the mic grinding out a litany of demands for new press standards including a requirement that the term “under-age sex” should be replaced with “child rape”. Alarmingly, she was given a substantial round of applause.

Maybe Spiked has got it at least half-right after all.

Looking beyond Westminster, it has been another extraordinary week in Britain’s disastrous post-Savile Cultural Revolution, worth half a dozen separate blogs at least. Sadly, I’ll have to settle for a few brief news items with links.

* I tell a lie. The relaxed atmosphere changed once PIE hit the headlines in a big way. After that, in 1977, PIE speakers, including me, were No Platformed a lot. In Liverpool, for instance, I was not only prevented from speaking at the university, I was also banned by the Liverpool Hoteliers Association from staying in any of their hotels!  

 

JAIL EVERYONE IN THE LAND, DEMANDS PM

Well, not quite everyone, but British prime minister David Cameron made a giant leap towards outright insanity by insisting it’s not good enough just to jail “abusers”; now he wants to put teachers, social workers and local councillors behind bars if they fail to meet his stringent witch-hunting targets. Coming in the wake of a report on the “grooming” of teenage girls Oxfordshire by ethnic minority males , the move is a blatantly populist piece of pre-election gesture politics. As letter-writers to the Guardian and others have pointed out, the main result will be to further discourage anyone from working with children in professions already suffering from low pay and low prestige. On the Oxfordshire situation, these reports are very revealing, although not necessarily in the way their writers intended: see professionals and kingfisher.

 

TOUCHING IS WORSE THAN TORTURING

Glam rock star Gary Glitter was jailed for 16 years for under-age sex with three girls. His offences, though serious, appear to have been essentially of a “statutory rape” kind plus lesser intimacies rather than truly violent: the three girls in question were his fans. The youngest was eight. A mother who tortured her eight-year-old daughter to death received a lesser sentence, of 13 years. The court heard that her lesbian lover convinced her that the child was possessed by demons and had to be “destroyed”. The women would give the little girl cold baths, force feed her until she was sick and make her scrub the bathroom floor to rid her of “evil spirits”. She died from a blow to the head at her home. What does this contrast say about our society’s values?

 

RACCOON WRESTLES WITH ‘ALLEGATORS’

The indefatigable Anna Raccoon has again been wrestling the ‘allegators’ in the Savile case on her wonderful blog, exposing the paucity of allegation after allegation. See her Home Page and scroll down for five recent blogs with Savile in the title. To my mind, though Anna’s most devastating recent piece was Alphabet Soup and Paedo Hysteria. which looks at the work of Kevin Harrington, the author of Serious Case Reviews on real child abuse, ranging from Child ‘A’ in London, through Child ‘C’ in Portsmouth, onwards to Child ‘K’ in Southampton and beyond. These are ghastly cases like the torture/death one above, most of which never even make the national headlines. As Anna points out, instead of pouring in resources to prevent these cases, money, effort and attention is wasted on paedo hysteria instead.

 

ONE THAT FLEW UNDER THE GAYDAR

To finish on a pleasanter note, Wendy Fenwick in the March/April edition of Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, reviews Craig Johnson’s recent film The Skeleton Twins, which sounds good, although way too gay for my taste. Anyone seen it? She writes:

[Milo’s] first sexual experience was with a high school teacher when the lad was only fifteen. It was a huge deal when it happened – things were settled quietly, we learn – but Milo isn’t completely over the relationship and in fact seeks out the teacher, named Rich, with thoughts of reviving the affair. Thus has the movie entered that radioactive territory of “intergenerational sex,” otherwise known as pederasty. What’s surprising is that the film doesn’t indulge in the usual hand-wringing over Rich’s turpitude or dwell on how Milo was traumatized for life by the affair. In fact, Milo wasn’t traumatized at all and insists that it was not only consensual but a positive experience in his early gay life. …I’m surprised it didn’t trigger more controversy than it did, including threats of a boycott.

Even Daily Mail critic Brian Viner allowed himself to like it, perhaps because the overall context is a gentle romcom not a fiercely challenging drama.

Holy cow, Ratman, whatever BS next !

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A plague of mutant rats the size of cows threatens Britain. Or so the redtop tabloid Daily Star claimed last week in a front-page splash.

It caught my attention on the newsstands not just for its eye-popping improbability but also because it came on the same day as the latest “horrific” and “sickening” revelations about the alleged depravities of the late Jimmy Savile were dominating supposedly more sober and respectable media outlets, including the BBC.

Even more eye-poppingly, literally, Savile was said to have stolen glass eyes from corpses to make rings and other pieces of jewellery, and also to have had sex with corpses. The reason why even the “quality” media gobbled up this bullshit with greedy alacrity, like a monstrous mutant rat getting its teeth into tasty, tender human children, is that it was all safely in an official government report. So it must be true then!

Whereas the mutant rats thing turned out to be just an obviously exaggerated version of a quote from a scientist, the government report, from the Department of Health, was based on accounts from “victims” and others who had known Savile. And we all know that “victims” are never sad fantasists and attention seekers or compo-hunting liars, don’t we?

The Guardian wheeled out famous psychotherapist Oliver James to explain Savile’s psychopathic deeds; the Sunday Telegraph had Glenda Cooper saying the original stories of sexual predation had “turned into a Gothic monstrosity that even the Brothers Grimm would struggle to imagine”.

Neither of them significantly challenged the evidence.

The mainstream media across the board failed dismally to stress-test this story but at least the admirable Anna Raccoon has stepped into the breach in her blog Eyeball Eyewash! – The Yewtree Allegations.

Anna reports her reaction as one of “utter shock” at the ridiculous nature of the allegations. She sets out a number of them, as detailed in the official accounts, and invites her readers to “gaze in wonder at the hours of expensive NHS time that has been expended writing these reports, the hours of conference time, the NHS resources expended….enjoy!”

For the full works, see Anna’s blog. Here is a taster (with my own bold text for emphasis), this being from a report by the Director of Corporate Affairs at the Royal Hospital, Portsmouth:

An alleged sexual abuse reported to Operation Yewtree: committed by Jimmy Savile against a patient at the Royal Hospital in Portsmouth in 1968. This information is related to an allegation by an individual who said that he had been told that he had been abused by Jimmy Savile but that victim had no recollection of the incident. The victim did not know the name of the witness to the alleged abuse who told him that it had occurred.

No interviews of staff have been conducted, as the only staff member involved was the cleaner who had supposedly witnessed the alleged attack. It has not been possible to identify this witness as the complainant was unable to provide a name or description of her. No documentary evidence exists that confirms this or any other visit to the hospital by Jimmy Savile.

I have been provided with a summary of the interview, conducted by Gosport Police at the complainant’s local police station, which includes descriptions and assertions by the complainant that appears to be either fanciful or impossible. Gosport Police state in their summary that they do not consider him to be a credible witness. The complainant was asked, during his interview with the Police, why he had only now come forward with the allegation. He replied that “he might be believed as others had reported the same and that he wanted the BBC to be fined and held to account as they knew what was going on and chose not to investigate”.

Details provided to me during my interview with the complainant were broadly similar to those given to the Police, although there were some significant differences and 5 omissions. However, this is perhaps not necessarily surprising when considering the time that has elapsed since the alleged incident and that the complainant suffers from schizophrenia and memory loss. The complainant told me, when I asked why he had chosen to speak out about the incident after 46 years, that he wanted some compensation.

This document speaks eloquently for itself, as do the other “victim” reports Anna sets out. So I need say no more about them.

Back to those mutant rats, then. In case you are wondering, the only authority given for that “big as cows” claim was an unnamed report. In addition, Leicester University scientist Dr Jan Zalasiewicz was quoted as saying, “Given enough time, rats could probably grow to be at least as large as the capybara, the world’s largest rodent, that lives today, that can reach 80 kilos.” Impressive enough, you might think, but the average size of cattle is 753 kilos. The biggest breeds, such as Aberdeen Angus and the Hereford, can weigh more than a ton and a half without looking fat (1600 kilos), while the smallest, such as the Jersey, do not average less than 272 kilos.

How do I know? Because I’ve looked it up, of course. It’s a bit sad, arguably, being such a fact anorak. Those, like me, for whom facts, facts, facts are all-important have had a bad press ourselves. In his novel Hard Times, Charles Dickens gave us the character Thomas Gradgrind, a fact-obsessed headmaster, to paint fact freaks as unimaginative, soulless, boring types. The classroom, to be sure, is a place where kids’ creativity should be given free rein. Learning isn’t just about cramming their heads with information. There’s a place for poetry and invention, including the telling of tall stories.

But there is also a time to get real, when the fantasising needs to stop. So far as Savile mania is concerned, this is just such a time. The current orgy of credulous gorging on gossip about Jimmy Savile alarmingly reveals a sort of mass infantilizing of the nation: we demand scary fairy tales, not reality. This is deeply dangerous.

 

COMMENTS MILESTONE

Comments posted at Heretic TOC have now passed the 2,000 mark. It’s good to see such a lively active interest from readers. Thank you, everyone! The most recent blog, as I write, has attracted 47 comments. This is well above the overall average of about 17 comments per blog over the 115 articles published to date. It would take a while to check, but my impression is that the average number is on the whole rising over time although it all depends on the subject. Remarkably, some of my own favourite pieces have attracted relatively little comment. I like to think that’s because I have covered the topic well enough and readers feel they have no need to add anything! What really gets people going, of course, is when there are differences between us on matters we care passionately about. Your input is always interesting but when there is controversy it becomes even more valuable.

Bring me the head of Meirion Jones

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                                                                                                                                                                      “I “I want to see heads roll at the BBC. Not trustees, or the Director-General, token sacrificial lambs. I’ll start with the despicably dishonest Meirion Jones. On a pike. Outside BBC headquarters.” – Anna Raccoon blog, 26 October, 2012

When Meirion Jones emailed me early last month, asking for an interview, I was intrigued. Here was a guy, as I soon discovered, with a big reputation as a top flight TV documentary maker, winner of the Daniel Pearl Award for his investigation of Trafigura’s toxic waste dumping in Africa and star of numerous other genuinely important exposés. Yet he was the also the man behind the wretchedly inadequate Newsnight exposure of Jimmy Savile, rightly dropped by BBC executives (who were then castigated for their cowardice) because it did not stand up. Yes, there were BBC cockups, but the independent Pollard Report concluded in December that the decision to drop the programme had been taken in good faith. Jones was also the man so ball-breakingly denounced by a woman who had been right at the epicentre of the allegations – a former pupil at Duncroft School for girls. Blogging as Anna Raccoon, her detailed assessment portrayed a “despicably dishonest” Jones who had exploited a vulnerable, unstable, supposed “victim” and failed to disclose that his own aunt had been headmistress of the school.

Strong stuff, and before deciding how to respond to Jones’s invitation, I decided I would first  interview him, quizzing him for about 45 minutes by phone over Anna Raccoon’s allegations. His mixture of plausible denial, and assurances supported by contextual detail, left me unable to nail any particular falsehood or bad practice on his part: for that I would have needed aces up my sleeve from serious investigative legwork of my own, and I had not been resourced for that. His strongest point was that his accuser had not been at the school in the era when Savile was a regular there, whereas Jones had visited his aunt frequently at her home in the school grounds and personally seen Savile on the premises a number of times. My impression remains that Raccoon is entirely right to regard the Duncroft part of the case against Savile as thin to vanishing; but that does not mean Jones was dishonest or behaved improperly.

In the end, I think, it comes down to a clash of values: what constitutes a scandal depends on what you think is reasonable behavior. Public standards have changed. Duncroft was clearly a very special place decades ago. It was a residential school for highly intelligent but “wayward” girls, as they would once have been called – the “hard to handle” daughters of elite families, including top military brass, film stars and even minor royalty. Jones’s aunt has admitted the girls were “no angels”. Many of them – including the key witness in Meirion Jones’s ditched film, who later “starred” in the ITV follow-up, were thrilled at the time to see a bit of action with Savile. It was all very St Trinians: “…an unorthodox girls’ school where the younger girls wreak havoc and the older girls express their femininity overtly, turning their shapeless schoolgirl dress into something sexy and risqué.” Would the audiences of the early St Trinians films half a century ago have been shocked by Savile’s escapades? They might have been merely amused, as they were by the films themselves.

But why, you might wonder, was Jones interested in me? After all, I’m not an old Duncroft girl, and I doubt I’d be mistaken for a St Trinians one either, even if I were to slip into a gym slip (perish the thought!) Turns out he’d been alerted to my existence as a result of discovering this very blog, Heretic TOC. Or, rather, my continued existence. He knew of my work with PIE in the 1970s – which is why he wanted to talk – but until seeing Heretic TOC he thought I was dead! Like Jon Henley of the Guardian a few months ago, he said he would like to get my views on why British society, along with others, is now so militantly hostile to paedophilia compared to just two or three decades ago. He said he just wanted an off-the-record discussion, not an on-camera piece. No particular programme had been commissioned. He wanted background because the theme is “hot” and likely to remain so for some time to come.

Obviously, it would have been crazy to hold out hopes of good publicity coming out of a meeting with a guy who had done so much to trash Savile, and I didn’t. But I was curious: on my side there was nothing to lose, as my life has long been an open book.  Besides, he was offering a modest fee and I thought such a meeting could yield some lowdown on any other looming scandals he might be nosing into; it might also offer insights into how a guy with Jones’s reputation goes about this type of story. Anna Raccoon’s “take no prisoners” views on that are entertainingly colourful but, well, there may be a touch of St Trinians in her!

So Jones and I met. Not, dear readers, clandestinely in an underground car park, but in a plain business boardroom suite chosen and hired by me in a quiet location in the north of England where I could audio record the whole encounter with good sound quality. That was one of my terms: off the record, but on my recorder! He readily agreed to that, but unfortunately I cannot go into specifics about the questions he asked: that was his prior stipulation, although he knows I’ll be blogging.

What I can give, though, is the clear impression I formed of a man who, without being in the least bit underhand or devious, so far as I could tell, is still on a mission to identify and hunt down “guilty parties” from the past – not Savile, this time, but other “powerful people in high places”, perhaps people “at the heart of government”. These and other clichés of the conspiracy-minded appear to depend for their appeal on a simplistic Manichean split between goodies and baddies, with the baddies as the evil, controlling insiders. Meirion Jones and his ilk, in another dodgy binary, appear to see themselves as heroic lone rangers, outsiders riding into town to right all the wrongs. Well, it may work with tightly focused, rather distinct wrongs, such as toxic waste dumping and – Jones’s latest big story – bogus bomb detectors, reliance on which may have cost hundreds of lives in post-war Iraq; but in matters of more complex cultural change it seems to me like a hopelessly wrong-headed mode of investigation.

It is too narrow, too blinkered. Yes, we discussed some of the “wide-ranging” background issues in which he had initially expressed an interest – the rise of feminism, for instance – but there were strong indications that to him this was all just a nebulous and irritating distraction from the real business at hand. Only when we were focusing minutely on the culture of the Home Office in the late 1970s did I sense from him any real sense of engagement, and that is not even my area of insider knowledge: he would do better to ask a conventional historian! Perhaps he will.

 

 

 

Savile: sound and fury, but signifying what?

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Followers of Heretic TOC hardly need to be told “Don’t believe everything you read in the papers”. What is worth pointing out, though, is that there are good reasons not to believe everything – and perhaps hardly anything – in the joint police and NSPCC report into allegations of sexual abuse made against Jimmy Savile out with an almighty, nation-blasting, media-saturating, fanfare in Britain today.

I have not yet read the report, Giving Victims A Voice, but the title alone gives grounds for scepticism: Savile, lest anyone forget, died without facing trial. He is no longer around to defend himself and none of the allegations have been tested through cross-examination in court.

The sheer quantity of allegations may be thought decisive, but “corroboration by volume” is a very dodgy principle once a bandwagon gets rolling and compensation looms as a motive for making complaints.

There is no need for me to bang on about this though. As I recall, the media “scandal” first kicked off in relation to an allegation arising from Duncroft School for girls. So Duncroft is where one would expect “untainted” allegations to have come from if there were any i.e. allegations uninfluenced by any later bandwagon effect. But a former girl at this school, blogging as “Anna Raccoon”, has today posted a very detailed account of precisely why the allegations do not stack up. This is absolute dynamite – or would be if the media were as interested as they ought to be.

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