It’s not the sex, it’s the violence

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Today’s guest blog started its life as a letter to me from an old friend I’ll call just Mike. With his permission it is now turned into a book review and a memoir of Mike’s own experience of school life in the not-so-distant, but very different, era of the British Stiff Upper Lip. On a personal note, I might add that the author of the book under review emailed me about 18 months ago as part of his research. Why me? He made some reference to wanting “another voice on the culture” of boarding schools, even though he knew I had not attended one as a boy. Unbeknown to him, however, I did teach and live, briefly, at Ardingly College, a residential school attended by Private Eye editor and Have I Got News for You star Ian Hislop. He was a nine-year-old there in the prep school section at the time – not that I knew him carnally, unfortunately, or at all, as I was with the senior section. I think the author’s real interest, though, was my connection to a former prep-school teacher who is now in prison. He wrote: “I know that you are or were close to Charles Napier, and may think he has been unfairly treated.” Yes, I did think he had been monstrously treated, and still do, as I wrote in Hi, this is Charles. I’ve been a naughty boy…

 

So, over to Mike’s review:

Stiff Upper Lip: Secrets, crimes and the schooling of a ruling class, by Alex Renton; Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2017

The book starts out well enough.  It is a crushing indictment of the worst aspects of private education in the UK.  Not only the schools themselves, but the parents who so willingly sent their kids away to board, in cold, cruel environments for twelve or thirteen weeks at a time, at the age of seven, or eight.

Even allowing for hyperbole in some of the complainants, I can clearly remember shivering with cold as I cried myself to sleep in my little iron bed; and at other times chewing my teddy’s ears because I was so hungry.

My second autumn, I cried because I told myself that the pigeons’ cooing in the eaves sounded so beautiful…  So beautiful that the sound made me weep?  Phew, where was my little head?

It was war time, so the food was doubly ghastly and I remember being made to sit for hours until I forced down a plate of macaroni-cheese — which looked like mouldy cats’ guts chopped up to me — because the rule was that we had to eat whatever was put down in front of us.  I did swallow it down, eventually, but then I sicked it up — so the victory was theirs.  And, of course, I had to clean up the mess…

Beatings were a commonplace, but enough of my own recollections, wretched though they were.  Suffice it to say that I have had a very bad couple of days and nights with the memories that the bloody book dredged up.

Yet these are mainly pertaining to the first part of the book, where Renton concentrates mainly on the coldness and the cruelties of that dreadful system.  The attitudes of some of the teachers and these being abetted by the parents involved, and ultimately, by the law of the land, are laid bare.  Renton’s views on child cruelty and the wholesale heartlessness of that system chime with mine.  He might be speaking for me…

Significantly, he speaks of what I would simply term ‘separation anxiety’ in young children.  Kids desperate because there simply was no-one to go to for help or warmth.  Except other kids — who also blubbed themselves to sleep…

It is the second part of the book that really depressed me, though.  Given that there clearly were some bad and ruthless ‘takers’ among the many teachers, who are now involved with the law — though Renton takes a broad, condemnatory brush to them all.  Even senior boys at prep schools (we’re speaking of 12-13-year-olds, now) are condemned for ‘raping’ younger boys.  Admittedly he does not condemn coeval activity and in fact, he quotes John le Carré in his meditation on the ghastliness of his own prep school — his first-hand experience of ‘sticky frogs’ clinging together for warmth in a freezing world of cruelty and despair — with the ring of absolute truth…

Dystopic?  Yes, and I feel, justifiably so, because one of the things Renton does address is the number of actual suicides among boys in British boarding schools.  But returning to Renton’s Poisoned-Gothic style in the second half of his work.  He brings on the big guns (sigh) of ‘attack’, ‘assault’, ‘abuse’, ‘molest’ and ‘victim’ as the standard terms, whether or not violence was present.

I know that I am the only one complaining about this linguistic dishonesty: but the whole argument of these passive-resultants — of these ‘victims’ — jars horribly with his descriptions of his own sexual contacts in which his own volition was very much present.  So, there is childhood volition, but when an adult is involved, this volition flies out of the window, apparently…

Then, of course, he tries to claim that ‘paedophile rings’ (sigh again) were formed among teachers in prep schools.  Operating as wicked cabals, no doubt?

I suppose we should be glad that he didn’t go on to claim baby-sacrifice on the nearby moors at midnight, but really the second part of the book is ghastly reading.

I never had an adult sexual contact at my prep, or my later boarding-grammar school; but there was plenty of sexual activity between the boys, including with younger ones.  But the whole edifice rested on consensuality. Only one senior boy, during my time at B—–, actually forced a junior boy and he was beaten up so badly that he had to leave.

I think there is probably a case for suggesting that Renton’s idea of forced sex is at least partially deflated by my own experience, and from conversations with other people who had gone through the same, or similar boarding experiences.  That is to say, if you made a proposition to a boy and he said no, you simply smiled and moved on…  This was because there were so many other boys who would ‘go for a walk in the water-meadows’.  And no, I’m not joking, and I suggest that where there were so many boys willing to play, then rape was redundant!

I sat in the back of the coach on my way home for the last time and I cried my eyes out.  I was sixteen and I was off to join the RAF as an Aircraft Apprentice, and sexually speaking, I knew that my life was over!  A kind old duck sidled up to me and asked me what the matter was. What could I say? And yes, I did have a bitter sort of laugh about that, later on. And then, of course, I grew up!

Of course, my love-life wasn’t over, but the opportunities for adventure were very few and very far between as I scrabbled my way up through the service to become a pilot. For a start, how could I hazard my longed-for career as a pilot for the sake of short-term happiness?  The answer was no, and I only had to read the News of the World each week to know what was happening to fellow paedosexuals…  And then there were the Lord Montagu of Beaulieu scandals.

Back to Renton’s book. I admit that it hit me really hard. Not the Gothic descriptions of rapine, but the highly accurate descriptions of, particularly, those abandoned kids at that school’s front door. Renton asks the mothers. particularly: ‘How could you do it?’

The silence is deafening, of course. They would say because it was a cultural imperative and ‘everyone else was doing it’. Damn them!

Another memory. A boy called Harry. He was taller and stronger than me by a long way, but we were made to get into a ring and box. I was terrified, but more terrified of showing fear, so I went at him like a windmill. He simply dotted my nose bloody and then easily knocked me down with a second blow. Then the silly kid got into trouble for blubbing because he’d hurt me!

What absolute bastards those people were. We were seven and eight and we were supposed to act like vicious little men. Harry and I were good friends after that and he pretended to be a useless boxer thereafter. He used to just wave his gloves about and let other kids hit him.

How can I remember what happened as long ago as 1944? Christ, I can remember coming down the stairs to the smell of lumpy porridge in the mornings; the incredible stench of an outside urinal; the swish of the cane and delayed bite of the hideous pain. Oh yes and developing boils on my knees during my second year…  Many of us had boils. I wonder why?

Oddly, one of the few things I still like is lumpy porridge. I couldn’t face the day without it! Another positive is that when I went to No. 1 School of Technical Training — where the discipline was fierce — they set their ex-guardsmen drill instructors on us, I just smiled inwardly and thought: ‘This is easy!’

And when the big brutal senior entry came in to wreck our barrack room just before a kit-inspection, I thought nothing of it and had my kit ready in no time.  Truthfully, after boarding school, the training centre was a boat-ride.

I urge you to read the book if you have a strong enough stomach.

[Heretic TOC: This marks the end of Mike’s letter, but another one followed, after I told him I wasn’t that keen on subjecting myself to Renton’s antagonistically “Gothic” view of consensual sex between teachers and boys: we are more than sufficiently familiar with the ubiquitous “abuse” narrative. I don’t understand why Renton would be so hostile in the book, given that his attitude to children’s sexuality is by no means as negative as the “innocence” narrative requires. This relative reasonableness comes out in his conversation – we had a lengthy and perfectly amicable Skype chat –  and also in an article he did for the Observer in 2014, when he wrote: “Besides, the sexual abuses were, in my version of the story, just detail: the real narrative was of five years of deliberate crushing of our individuality, the suppression of emotional freedom. Sexual bullying seemed just a part of the violence and cruelty that was the basic currency of the school and hundreds like it; the tools with which it squashed our little forms into the mould.” What was wrong, then, he seems to be saying was the bullying, not sex per se. Who could disagree? But let’s continue with Mike’s second letter: ]

From my personal point of view, it is not the detail that matters. It is the desperation that I felt as a small boy, having no-one to turn to for help. When you were very new, trying desperately to remember complex school rules and weird traditions; being beaten for such ‘crimes’ as forgetting to change into house-shoes (sandals) when one came in from outside. Even as a small child, I was forgetful, so I got a lot of ‘stripes’ for that.

As for your attempts to get Renton to see that Charles Napier wasn’t the monster that he claims, well, that’s like the pissing-into-wind, one-sided-argument that we are all faced with in this world to today. The one-eyed paedophobe will go on using his maximum pejoratives, come what may?  Regardless of the truth and the realities of childhood volition? And yes, his professional pragmatism as a journalist would have come into the mix of hatred, rage and fear.

And yes, on second thoughts: don’t read the book! It is very depressing! Not least, because of the level of Renton’s obvious obsessive-compulsive ‘pursuit of justice’. Yes, he was flogged to within an inch of his young life by a ‘drunken monster’ — probably a sado-masochist; yet it is the sexual events of prep and public school life that he pours most of his Gothic passions into. So — as you say — he gives the punters what they really want to read? He sells the book with salacious references?

[Heretic TOC again: Precisely! There is a big market for misery memoirs in general but a much bigger one for “sexed-up” misery.]

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Time to say R.I.P. to V.I.P. ‘paedo scandal’?

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At last, a welcome return to some semblance of sanity as the “Westminster VIP paedophile ring” goes up in smoke – a smoke ring, as it were, or a stinking but otherwise insubstantial blast of gas from arse-talking fantasists and a few politicians on the make.

The most prominent of the politicians, Tom Watson MP, was recently elected deputy leader of the Labour Party but now finds his reputation slithering into the toilet faster than a dose of diarrhoea. Last night he faced criticism in parliament from prime minister David Cameron, no less. He made a spirited fight of it in his reply but will soon face tough scrutiny from his own party too.

The most colourful revelation in the last couple of days reached us from the Daily Mail, where we learned that Watson invited the police to his office in parliament to take a statement from a certain Mike Broad, said to be a notorious online gossip and conspiracy theorist. Talking about the Elm Guest House, long bruited as a house of horrors for the sexual abuse of children, Broad claimed “half the bloody Cabinet” went there, and said a neighbour told him “two transit vans took away children”. So, not just a few abused kids, oh no. Keeping those VIP loins a-thrusting required industrial scale deliveries and collections!

This all follows a landmark Panorama documentary on BBC TV, which exposed key  witnesses “Darren” and “David” as grievously unreliable figures. Darren, we heard, was a convicted bomb hoaxer; David backed off from his earlier claims of sexual abuse by the late Lord Brittan, saying at first they were a “joke” but he had been pressed into sticking with the allegations by an ex-social worker called Chris Fay, who has a conviction for fraud.

“Darren”, as Heretic TOC readers may recall, accused two of my friends, claiming Peter Righton was a brutal murderer and Charles Napier was a partner in crimes of violent sexual assault. Both of them had been members of PIE’s executive committee back in the 1970s when I was Chair. Darren had also corroborated yarns emanating from the most notorious of all these anonymous witnesses, “Nick”, who claimed to have witnessed three murders by VIP paedophiles and implicated former prime minister Edward Heath in a VIP sex abuse ring.

Nick alleged that for a decade he had been farmed out as a boy by his father to a paedophile ring including Ted Heath, former Home Secretary Leon (later Lord) Brittan and Harvey Proctor MP, as well as two generals and the former heads of the secret security and spying agencies, MI5 and MI6.

It was Nick’s outlandish allegations that a senior police officer incredibly described as credible and true, thereby setting up the police as judge and jury in the case.

Panorama focused on one of Nick’s claims,  namely that he witnessed a hit-and-run murder of a boy in Kingston, committed by his abusers to scare him into silence. A thorough investigation by the programme could find no report of any such incident in Kingston at the time alleged: there were no newspaper reports, no eye witnesses, no child reported missing. In other words, the claim was patently false.

In truth, Nick’s story was falling apart well before Panorama. Operation Midland has been launched by the police specifically to investigate Nick’s claims but had failed to come up with any solid evidence to support them. And a key figure against whom allegations had been made, Harvey Proctor MP, gave a feisty press conference in which he not only strenuously denied the claims (well, he would, wouldn’t he?) but also spelt out in detail their horrific nature, giving cogent reasons for their implausibility. He was no friend of Ted Heath, for instance, with whom he was supposed to have jointly committed offences.

Proctor would soon find heavyweight support from Lord Ken Macdonald QC, a former director of public prosecutions, who warned that detectives investigating historical child abuse allegations should not indulge “narcissists and fantasists”, saying they should conduct “impartial, objective investigations” and there was a danger concern for victims is “morphing into a medieval contempt for the accused”.

Even Mark Williams-Thomas joined the sceptics. This ex-police officer, the man who opened the floodgates to the Jimmy Savile scandal, warned that many of the allegations against political figures were unsubstantiated. Building up a crescendo of bad omens for the believe-any-allegation-unquestioningly lobby,  radio broadcaster Paul Gambaccini lashed out at Scotland Yard and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for failing to apologise over their handling of discredited sexual abuse allegations he had faced. He criticised the police for publicly inviting more “victims” to make complaints against named individuals such as himself, smearing them without evidence and encouraging fantasists. Fellow radio star Sandi Toksvig said she had been approached by detectives, who invited her to make allegations against Gambaccini or others.

It would be interesting to know how all this is playing with the wider public. Tom Watson has long been building an image for himself as a fearless crusader against powerful vested interests, coming to national prominence for holding global media baron Rupert Murdoch to account when his News of the World tabloid was in trouble for phone hacking. This was a much more worthy endeavour than his squalid bullying of dying peer Lord Brittan, and was probably the main factor in his winning the Labour deputy leadership.

So many will see him as a noble figure who has at worst been naïve in believing the wrong people. Not his parliamentary colleagues though. They know him at close quarters and can see through his populist opportunism: he is neither loved nor respected.

The Anna Raccoon blog has got his number too, where industrious guest writer Petunia Winegum did a hilarious Billy Bunter parody of the portly Watson recently. Give yourself a treat and read this piece of sustained comic brilliance: it neatly exposes the Fat Owl’s dubious methods.

Most satisfying for me in all this was the exposure of an outrageous bluff by Watson. You might remember that a good while back he was the first MP to claim there was a “powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No 10”.  As the Daily Mail put it,  he “used the fact that an innocent Tory MP had a paedophile relative to bolster his claims”. He told the House of Commons in October 2012, without giving any names, that there was a child abuser who “boasted of his links to a senior aide of a former Prime Minister”.

We now know this “boast” was nothing whatever to do with an implied paedophile conspiracy. We have been told he had been referring to Charles Napier, whose half-brother is John Whittingdale, who was once Margaret Thatcher’s political secretary.

If there was a “boast”, it was not Napier’s but Watson’s – and an empty one at that. His boasted knowledge of a VIP conspiracy reaching right to the heart of government at No 10 Downing Street, was just a bluff, an attempt – a successful attempt – to hoodwink the nation, in the full, clear, knowledge that there was no merit in his claim.

Not that Whittingdale is quite as “innocent” at the Daily Mail claims. As Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in the present government, he is currently doing his damnedest to preside over the destruction of the BBC, in an orgy of cultural vandalism that constitutes a far greater crime than anything his half-brother Charles has ever done. But sadly Charles is the one currently serving a 13-year prison sentence, not John.

As I say, we still have little idea of how Tom Watson’s come-uppance is going down with the public. Will he be discredited, or will he be seen as a victim of the Establishment? And will the Metropolitan Police get away with their disgraceful arrogance in the face of Panorama’s exposure of their foolish faith in Nick’s “credible and true” tripe? Instead of ’fessing up, and admitting the BBC had done a good job, they went into attack mode, furiously arguing that the programme “could compromise the evidential chain should a case ever proceed to court”. In other words, as Stephen Pollard pointed out in the Daily Telegraph, “no journalist should ever investigate anything, because any investigation by journalists upsets the police applecart. That is the nature of investigative journalism. That police statement is, in its own way, as idiotic and inappropriate as the earlier statement that Nick’s allegations are true.”

Refreshingly, for an opinion piece in such a right-wing paper as the Telegraph, Pollard praised the Panorama programme, saying it had been “…surely one of the most important programmes the BBC has ever broadcast.”

I would like to agree. It would be great to see it as a new beginning, a sign of the tide turning against the excesses of recent years, in which, as Pollard wrote, “Ever since the revelations about Jimmy Savile emerged, we have been engulfed in a form of mania about paedophilia.”

I would like to think we have passed the darkest hour, but we have been here before and seen false dawns. There were earlier panics, were there not? There was the mania over Satanic abuse; there was the “recovered memory” fad, and much more. These bubbles were pricked, their absurdity exposed, only to be replaced by new nonsense. A resurgence of similar alarmism in as yet unexpected guises can safely be predicted until such time as there is a deep underlying shift in the economic and social conditions that are driving them.

Still, there has to be some hope that the Goddard enquiry, the overarching mega-investigation into child sexual abuse in all its manifestations going back as far as living memory can stretch in the UK and perhaps further, will take on board the recent hiccups and steer a course away from permanent hysteria.

Negotiating a little girl’s knickers down

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Judging by his obsessive repetition of the phrase “little girl”, and his fixation on getting into their knickers (“I like this issue”), Ross Coulthart may raise some eyebrows when his interview with me eventually goes out on Australia’s 60 Minutes TV programme. Viewers could be forgiven for thinking he was the one who “wants adults to be allowed to have sexual intercourse with children” – itself an expression rammed down my throat with rapacious insistence dozens of times in different variations, heedless of my protests.

As for the word “consent”, there were over 50 mentions. I know because I made my own audio recording. Trigger warning: heretics may find this induces anger and nausea!

Coulthart trained as a lawyer, according to his online profile. While his emotive use of language was pure tabloid rabble rousing, and the lurid conspiracy theory at  the heart of his purported investigation – an alleged Establishment cover-up of “VIP paedophilia” – was just evidence-free speculation, there is also a lawyerly forensic focus to his style that did actually succeed in pinning down one issue worth exploring a bit further here.

We think we know all the arguments over consent because we have been over it a million times. Usually, though, our frame of reference as MAPs is to see consent in a broader context. We know that children who supposedly “cannot consent” to sex often in practice do just that; we know that widely varying ages of consent apply in different legislatures and that where the age is lower there is no discernible problem compared to where it is higher. We also feel that the quality of the relationship is what counts, not the legalistic formality of consent, for which there is no requirement in many non-sexual contexts, even hazardous ones.

I could go on, exploring this broad contextual background. That is precisely what Coulthart was determined to stop me doing. His strategy was to home in, myopically, on a single detail from my book Paedophilia: The Radical Case. As quite a few heretics here will know, there is a whole chapter on consent (Ch. 8). But my interviewer chose to take just three paragraphs from a different chapter (Ch. 3) and focus on less than three sentences cherry-picked from them. These are the paragraphs:

Take, for instance, the little girl who will happily smile at and chatter to a “nice man”, and will sit across his knee with her legs apart. If the man is susceptible to paedophilic feelings, he may be tempted to see this as “seductive” behaviour, when the child in fact may be quite unaware of the way he is interpreting events – she may be exhibiting, in the traditional sense, all the “innocence” of childhood (even though, quite independently, she may also be highly sexed and know how to give herself an orgasm).

The usual assumption is that this potential for misunderstanding is bound to be a bad thing, but this is not necessarily so. Typically, in the formation of a paedophilic attachment, as in those between adults, the actual behaviour of either party develops not precipitately, but step by step: each stage is “negotiated” by hints and signals, verbal and non-verbal, by which each indicates to the other what is acceptable and what is not.

In our example, the man might start by saying what pretty knickers the girl was wearing, and he would be far more likely to proceed to the next stage of negotiation if she seemed pleased by the remark than if she coloured up and closed her legs. Despite “being wrong” about her intentional sexual seductiveness, he might never-the-less be right in gradually discovering that the child is one who likes to be cuddled and who thinks it great fun to be tickled under her knickers.

The bold parts in the above are plain text in the original. I have emphasised them as these are the bits Coulthart concentrated on, to the exclusion of all else.

I had agreed to this interview simply to defend my “VIP” friends Peter Righton and Charles Napier from some outrageous allegations recently made against them. I had no reason to suppose the programme would be interested in my view of consent. I had no wish to avoid the issue, though, so when it was raised in the first few minutes I did not duck away from it, emphasising that the practice is more important than the theory, giving the example of Theo Sandfort’s Netherlands-based research demonstrating that children can consent without harm, and even with beneficial outcomes. I imagine they’ll cut this section out!

When he mentioned the “little girl” scenario in my book, he said:

Nowhere in that paragraph do you even talk about express consent. You talk about implied consent from that poor little girl.

He was right.

Ignoring the blatantly emotive and misleading “poor little girl” rhetoric, I felt the most urgent need was to drag my own 20th century language into the 21st with a nod to the contemporary debate on express or affirmative consent in the context of adult relationships. There was this exchange:

Me: In the light of the debate that has taken place in recent years on that aspect of consent, I am persuaded that maybe, yes, one does need to be a little bit more affirmative than as stated in the text just quoted.

Coulthart: So you no longer believe that implied consent from a child is enough?

Me: It may not be but I have not reviewed…that particular scenario for some time; in the light of the debate on affirmative consent I think I would need to think about that again. But most of all, where I need to think again, is with regard to what happens many years after, because people can be traumatised retrospectively.

It was doubtless a disappointing reply for him. He had hoped for something more scandalous, and tried to provoke it with a further resort to emotive language:

Coulthart: You’ll appreciate that the scenario you describe, of a little girl on a man’s knee, sounds just like the creepy, pederastic child molester scenario of every worst nightmare?

Me: No,  the worst nightmare is far worse than that. The worst nightmare is a child being abducted at knifepoint and raped and killed.

Coulthart: But fundamentally, isn’t this at the heart of the problem, that you have men who want to have sex with children, telling themselves that children are consenting when transparently that child is not consenting and couldn’t possibly consent?

Me: No, I don’t think so. It all depends on how the child feels at the time and whether you’ve got an atmosphere… of hysteria. The way it’s being cranked up is making things worse for children because we are now getting to the stage where children themselves are being accused of being sex offenders. I now see, there’s a police report recently… even four year olds are being taken to task in schools for being “sex offenders”.

This wasn’t what he wanted to hear either so he soon moved on, to the VIP allegations. And there the consent question might have ended. Once we had been over the Righton/Napier stuff, Coulthart said “OK, we’ll stop there”.

With the camera off, as I thought, my immediate response was to say to him “You don’t really believe all that crap, do you?” He admitted some of the allegations were “questionable” and we continued for a while with what I took to be a private conversation between the two of us, including him asking whether I really believed some of the things I had been saying. I was some way into answering before I realised the cameras were still rolling, and then I felt I needed to keep going because it was became quite confrontational and I didn’t want to back down.

So it seems his “OK, we’ll stop there” instruction to the film crew had basically been just a trick to catch me off guard. I shouldn’t have fallen for it, but I am glad we had the exchange that followed, even though it felt sterile and ridiculous at the time on account of its narrowness.

His tactic was to home in very tightly on a single phrase from my book – “each stage is ‘negotiated’ by hints and signals” – and enquire precisely what I meant. What would it take, he demanded to know, for a paedophile to be satisfied that he had the “little girl’s consent to have sex with her”? What words would do it? Or might non-verbal “hints and signals” be enough? If so, what examples could I give? Would I paint a picture for him of how this scenario of the little girl on my knee would play out, leading to “sex” with her? Imagine her, he said, she’s sitting there right now, on your lap. How do you “negotiate” – negotiate! – for this little girl to have sex with you? How do you really know she is consenting?

My answer, broadly, was that the benignly disposed adult will be satisfied with nothing less than an enthusiastic response, whether verbal or not. He will be keen to have the child’s approval and will stop in the face of silence or signs of anxiety. I did not make the mistake of saying clearly expressed verbal consent would be the definitive green light because I don’t think it is. It may work for adults and older minors – I am thinking of the valuable comments made here by “A” – but even verbal assent may be given fearfully. It may mask a lack of real enthusiasm. Any sensitive child-lover can tell when consent is really being given. Also, I pointed out, the consent concept implies one-way traffic: what about kids who take the initiative?

As for the insensitive or manipulative adult, he will run the risk of a later complaint by the child and a criminal conviction. I have never advocated taking away the protection of the criminal law, and neither did the Paedophile Information Exchange.

My use of the word “negotiate” in the book was a tricky one to negotiate in the interview itself. I just ignored Coulthart’s scornful emphasis on the term. Justifying my use of the word would have been tough. I would have insisted he was wrenching it out of context except that I could not remember the context of a passage written 35 years ago! Re-reading it since, I realise I was deliberately being provocative. It is a word from the world of business and diplomacy. We think of hard-nosed  bargaining between experienced players of a tricky game, in which they use all sorts of cunning ruses to get what they want at the other party’s expense. Going beyond the cliché of the hapless, helpless, outmanoeuvred child, though, my book revealed children as potentially skilful and successful negotiators: a “little girl” is often notoriously able to wrap her father around her little finger, as the saying goes. In the end, negotiation is simply about saying what you want, what you like doing, or might like to try out, and agreeing about it. That’s not so hard.

So I believe my argument stood up to intense close scrutiny but I doubt many viewers will see it that way: Coulthart’s emotive language, combined with his softly-spoken air of confident authority will guarantee that – along with editing out my stronger points!

My emphasis on showing real enthusiasm rather than verbal agreement turns out, somewhat to my surprise, to be pretty much what is said by proponents of affirmative consent. But opponents claim that in about a quarter of all states in the US, sex isn’t legal without positive agreement, and “Should we really put people in jail for not doing what most people aren’t doing?” Difficulties identified in a proposed new legal code in the US, are that it is said to consider consent meaningless “under conditions of unequal power” (between adults, that is) and that it would shift the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused.

 

TRANSLATION CUP RUNNETH OVER

Heretic TOC is delighted to report that there were more than enough volunteers for the task of producing a transcript of my interview with Testimony Films, which was used as the basis for David Kennerly’s film A Decent Life. These volunteers, who each transcribed one or more sections of the 11-part film on YouTube, all completed their work very quickly. Many thanks to each of them for their sterling work!

The project was undertaken following an offer to translate the film into French. This was itself a very generous voluntary gesture by an enthusiast, to whom I again extend my thanks. I am sure David will concur, as I trust will other heretics here who have seen his excellent film.

After all the transcription tasks had been allotted, another volunteer turned up. I found myself thinking: Great, how best to make good use of this wonderful willingness to help? One other task to which more than one person could contribute would be making a subject index of all the Heretic TOC blogs so far. I find I often need to refer back to previous blogs, and as they now number well over 150 the task of locating any particular theme I have written about previously is getting steadily harder and harder. The format for the index needs some careful initial thought, though. I hope to give it some attention very soon and then make a further announcement.

Pummelling the human face of paedophilia

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Never again!  No more getting wasted for me! As I slowly come round from the monumental hangover of yet another PR disaster, I swear to shun the intoxicating liquor of publicity for ever ­­­– or at least until the next tempting but illusory opportunity comes along to promote an alternative narrative in the mainstream media.

This time, on Monday, it was an interview for 60 Minutes, the Australian version of the US current affairs TV documentary series.

They said they had been looking into the alleged Westminster VIP paedophilia scandals of the 1970s and 80s, including talk of a wide-ranging conspiracy by leading government and legal figures – the so-called “Establishment” – to sweep misdeeds under the carpet. Having seen my Heretic TOC pieces defending a couple of the putative “paedos in high places”, they wanted to give some balance by airing the sceptical view I had taken. They reckoned the interview would last about 20 minutes “and a large part of it would be used in the broadcast”.

Bearing in mind the specific and narrow nature of this remit, I thought it was well worth having a go. In fact, I strongly felt it was my duty to defend my friends if I could, especially Charles Napier and Peter Righton, who have both been anonymously accused of heinous acts of brutality against kids, acts of which I am certain they would not have been capable.

Neither man is presently well placed to defend himself. Charles recently started a 13-year prison sentence for “historic” sexual involvement with boys; Peter, who died some years ago, was even accused of murder by some squalid, lying, opportunistic, scumbag of a so-called “victim”.

The interview venue, the Travellers Club in Pall Mall, London, could hardly have been better chosen to fit the VIP theme:  the membership has included eight prime ministers, to say nothing of many great explorers and travel writers, as might be expected from the name. I arrived there wearing a tie for the first time in years as the dress code for this Georgian (founded 1819) gentleman’s retreat requires one.

It was almost as though the TV people were setting me up to look like a dodgy VIP myself, part of a posh old boys’ network of “abuse”, although they insisted they often use the club when they happen to be filming in London. So, nothing personal then.

My introduction to interviewer Ross Coulthart was inauspicious, though. He was perfectly civil, but ominously pointed out that scandal and tragic death were not unknown to those who had previously stepped inside these walls.  Among the club’s famous members were two who had committed suicide, he noted. He named one as Capt. Robert Fitzroy, skipper of The Beagle on Charles Darwin’s famous voyage and inventor of the weather forecast; another was prime minister Lord Castlereagh.

As for scandal, he continued, there had been Sir Peter Hayman, holder of many high ranking posts, including High Commissioner to Canada, who was also a spymaster in his capacity as deputy director of MI6. Hayman was eventually exposed in the press and in parliament as someone who used to compose pornographic fantasies about sex with children, sharing them in a correspondence circle of like-minded other writers who would also post their stories to him. It turned out he had joined the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), under the name Henderson.

Long before hearing about his Travellers Club membership from Coulthart, I had of course expected 60 Minutes to ask me what I had known about Hayman, who was always bound to be a key figure in the programme because his case constitutes the one example of an Establishment cover-up for which there is strong – in my view incontrovertible – evidence. He was never prosecuted whereas less privileged people were, including me and several other PIE committee members.

When Coulthart asked, I just told him that I had never known Hayman at any stage of my involvement with PIE. He had just been a name, a false name, on our membership list. Only much later did I discover, to my horror, that “Henderson” had been writing fantasies that were not just pornographic but also sadistic – truly obscene, in my view. No one can prevent having their own dark fantasies if sadistic tendencies provoke them, and it is infinitely better they are written down rather than acted out. But they are deeply disturbing all the same and I had no wish to be associated with them.

Perhaps because the Hayman story has long been in the public domain, Coulthart did not dwell on it once he knew I had nothing to add. Instead, He wanted new stuff from me, about people I definitely had known, especially Napier and Righton. The background is mainly in two Heretic TOC pieces, Hi, this is Charles. I’ve been a naughty boy and Exposé outfit murders its own credibility, so I won’t labour the details of what I told 60 Minutes about them.

What I will point out, though, is the extraordinary lengths this “investigative” journalist went to in order to suppress the results of his own investigation. Instead of simply hearing me out and allowing me to say how I knew neither Charles nor Peter were violent people, I found my own credibility was on trial from the outset. Nothing I could say was given any credence.

Not that he called me a liar. Instead, it seemed I was being set up as a deluded dupe, someone so heavily invested in the ideology of consensual paedophilia that I could not see that a violently abusive gang of VIP paedophiles – including Napier and Righton as well as Hayman and others – were using PIE as a relatively respectable front for their heinous crimes.

The only time I came near to disrupting this politically congenial narrative was when I introduced material Coulthart may not have expected. I reminded him of a BBC Inside Story documentary in 1994 called The Secret Life of a Paedophile, which focused on Peter, including his friendship with Charles. In its day, this programme was itself meant to be an exposé of the pair’s supposedly dreadful deeds. Seen against the present lurid background of murder allegations, though, it turns out to be an excellent piece of evidence for the defence.

Coulthart had played up the idea that Peter had been a “powerful” figure in the Establishment, darkly implying he could have had people killed at the snap of his fingers like some mafia boss, or, better still, a man with the resources of the state at his disposal. It would be truer to say that in his role as director of education at the National Institute for Social Work, Peter was professionally influential rather than powerful: it was not the sort of job that would put cadres of tooled-up heavies wearing shades at his disposal. His influence depended, rather, on his experience and wisdom when it came to improving the lives and prospects of children traumatised in the course of a difficult upbringing, including violent, neglectful, chaotic parenting.

As I pointed out in the interview, Inside Story interviewed a number of Peter’s senior social work colleagues. While they professed themselves shocked to learn he was a boy-lover, following his conviction in 1992 for importing child porn, they admitted he was a man of enormous gifts and “a degree of good intentions”. They conceded that he came across as a kind, avuncular figure and that the “unconditional affection” he was able to show towards difficult adolescent boys made him very effective in “getting through” to those kids so their behaviour improved. It was this rare talent that made him so well respected and liked.

Did this impress Coulthart? Oh, yes, it impressed him with the need to change the subject! But try as I might to add more evidence from Inside Story, he just shouldered me off the ball, insisting we move on. So I never got to mention the home-movies shown by the BBC, seized by the police after raiding Righton’s home. This was not pornography but footage that included a holiday scene with Charles and Peter giving a couple of boys piggybacks. The kids were plainly having fun, without the slightest sign of any fear or brutality by the guys. I could have added, too, the programme’s revelation that Peter became a godfather to some children of the kids he had taught, and that his friends included a number of men he had “abused” when they were boys: plainly, they did not regard themselves as victims.

For me, though, the biggest surprise of the interview was not Coulthart’s reluctance to face the facts, frustrating as that was. Rather, it was his decision to question me at length on the more philosophical side, especially my views on why I thought adult-child sex can ever be acceptable. I would have been delighted to speak about such matters to a reasonable interviewer asking intelligent questions, such as the Guardian’s Jon Henley a couple of years ago, or even, more recently, Corinne Purtill of Global Post. What I got instead, though, was not 20 minutes in which to defend my friends, as had been proposed, but more like an hour and 20 minutes, with a whole hour of bludgeoning by Coulthart mainly on a single very narrow aspect of a child’s ability to consent. It was boring and repetitious.

Whenever I tried to develop an argument by discussing relevant research I was interrupted and diverted. After introducing Susan Clancy’s data from her book The Trauma Myth, for example, which demonstrates that the harm in consensual cases comes not from the sex but from society’s response, often years later, her findings were brushed impatiently aside. He didn’t think people were interested in the musings of “some Harvard academic”, as he disparagingly put it, compared with the more urgent task of listening to the victims. Any “victims” who had not felt traumatised, it transpired, including Clancy’s interviewees, were not to be listened to.

I know I made a number of good points despite the heavy-handed tactics. My suspicion, though, is that these will end up on the cutting room floor – always a danger with a non-live interview – and that I will come across merely as a man in denial that “a child cannot consent”, as Coulthart kept simplistically insisting.

Should I have bothered? Was this really just another PR disaster, as I said at the start? Hard to say. Perhaps only someone with the forceful rhetorical skills of former MP George Galloway should have taken on such a tough mission. My own rather polite style doesn’t work at all without being given room to breathe. I suppose I could have stuck robotically to a few simple points, as media-trained politicians do in order to “stay on message”. This guarantees you won’t make a fool of yourself but intelligent viewers hate it.

One thing they cannot take away, though, is that anyone who turns up to face the cameras will be willingly presenting a “human face of paedophilia” that otherwise finds no place in the media. There must be some value in this, don’t you think? It would be better if the face happened to be younger and more attractive than mine as I near my 70th birthday, but even so…

 

MOVIE SCRIPT WRITERS WANTED

Well, sort of.

The good news is that a native French speaker was so impressed by David Kennerly’s film A Decent Life (click on the ad below the Blogroll in the right-hand column for YouTube links) that he has offered to translate it into his own tongue.

David and I very much welcome that, but this translator says he would appreciate first being supplied with a transcription into written English of the original words, spoken by me. He will need this to work from when doing his translation into French. The spoken English in question runs to about 68 minutes.

This will be quite a time-consuming task. Both David and I are incredibly busy right now, and we will certainly remain so for at least the next several months. Accordingly, we wondered whether we might be able to find a few volunteers to take on this task. If each volunteer tackles just one or two segments of the 11-segment film, the workload should be manageable. It will probably be best to reply to me at tomocarr66@yahoo.co.uk . Look forward to hearing from you!

For those who missed the background, you can catch up by reading my blog piece last month (beneath the main blog): A DECENT NEW FILM BY DAVID KENNERLY.

Hi, this is Charles. I’ve been a naughty boy…

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Like Chris Denning, about whom I wrote last time, Charles Napier was a very bright spark – witty, charming, the life and soul of the party.

Even the judge who sentenced him to thirteen years just before Christmas admitted that as a popular (not feared) young prep school teacher in the 1960s and 70s Charles for the most part charmed the pants off his mainly pre-teen pupils, whatever his principal accuser, cry-baby journalist Francis Whine (sorry, Wheen), might claim.

I will return to his accusations, taking them seriously along with much worse allegations that Charles appears to have made no attempt to deny. He told the court he had been “completely out of control” and was “desperately sorry” for his actions. To my mind, incidentally, these were significant expressions of remorse, but that didn’t stop the media quoting a police chief who asserted he had shown “no remorse”: damning opinion is apparently to be preferred over facts even when the latter are right there in plain view. Also, the judge appears to have given Charles no credit for his expressions of regret. All that surfaced publicly, so far as I can see, is that he would have got twenty years but for the fact that he pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.

For the moment, as with Chris Denning, I am going remember the better side of the man I knew. I met Charles when I joined the executive committee of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) in the mid-1970s. He joined the organisation at the start of its London operation, some months before me. Like his friend the late Peter Righton, who was also one of the first PIE committee members while working as Director of Education for the National Institute of Social Work, he has been presented in the media as an elite paedophile, and possibly part of a sinister ring of perverted high-ups.

Being a humble peasant myself, I never moved socially in such elevated circles, if they existed. But Charles undeniably has an upper class pedigree. He is a descendant of King Charles II of England, no less, via Lady Sarah Lennox, the king’s great-granddaughter, who married General Sir Charles James Napier. Gen. Napier commanded the British army in India in Victorian times and was famous in those days for conquering Sindh in what is now Pakistan. To this day the general’s statue is a towering presence in Trafalgar Square, London, occupying one of the four plinths. There have been leading figures in the family’s recent past and Charles has a half-brother, John Whittingdale, who is currently the Conservative MP for Maldon and Chelmsford East.

So Charles was posh. His racy sports car spoke of a penchant for swagger and swank, while his handsome mien and gracious manner suggested the hero of a bodice-ripping romantic novel. One could easily imagine him as a dashing officer, as his forbear the victor of Sindh must once have been, with all the young ladies swooning over him.

He was cultured, too, and clever. Not for nothing was he appointed to a senior role with the British Council in Cairo. But for his career being a “chequered” one, with several falls from grace over boys, he could well have become head of the entire outfit, and thus in effect the UK’s official cultural ambassador to the world. He was also a talented actor and singer in amateur productions. Above all, like Charles II, the Merry Monarch, he was lively and had a tremendous sense of fun: even Wheen admits that his young “sir”, Mr Napier, was a dazzling, exciting figure.

Not that his jolly japes were just for the kids. Back in the days when telephone answering machines were a novelty, subscribers had to make their own “please leave a message” tape recording. Most of us simply announced our name and number and invited callers to leave a message at the beep. Not Charles. His tape started something like this:

Hi, this is Charles. Sorry, I’m tied up at the moment, but if you’d like to leave a message…

In the background you could hear why he was tied up: there was a fearsome thrashing sound followed by yelps of ecstatic “pain” as Charles was punished by a stern dominatrix (one of his fellow thespians, no doubt) telling him he had been “a naughty boy”.

Well, plenty of people would say he got that right, wouldn’t they? The judge last week obviously thought he had been really, really naughty, in fact properly wicked.

Should we agree with him? It’s time to face the facts insofar as they can be gleaned from dubious mainstream press reports. Those accounts, it should be pointed out, were dominated by the perspective of just one individual, and I don’t mean the judge or a really traumatised victim. I refer instead to the man I have already dubbed the principal accuser, Francis Wheen, now deputy editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye, who has been banging on about Charles for decades. It was apparently Wheen’s testimony that led to the arrest in August last year of the man who had been his teacher at Copthorne School.

Way back in 1996 Wheen had a piece in the Guardian (28 August) headlined “School for Scandal”. He wrote:

Charles Napier was my gym master at prep school – and a very good gym master too, always willing to lend a hand (quite literally) as the boys practised their back-flips and head-stands.

From time to time he would invite his favourites into a small workshop next to the gym, where he plied us with Senior Service untipped and bottles of Mackeson before plunging his busy fingers down our shorts. Although I rejected his advances, I continued to help myself to beer ’n’ cigs from his secret depot when he wasn’t around. It never occurred to me to report him to the authorities. Why? Because he was the authorities.

Complaining about a teacher was as unthinkable as refusing to participate in a cross-country run. Anyway, no 11-year-old boy wishes to parade his sexual innocence: Napier warned me – and many others – that by refusing to cooperate we were merely demonstrating our immaturity.

“X lets me do it you know,” he said, naming a class-mate of mine. For weeks afterwards, X sneered at me for my squeamishness.

Several very similar rehashes of this account were published in later years, the latest being only this week in the Daily Mirror.

But there have been subtle changes, too, as time has passed. On BBC TV news on the evening after sentencing, Wheen spoke in scandalised tones about having been taken aback when Charles abruptly shoved a hand down the front of his gym shorts. Now I’m not about to accuse Wheen of lying, or even exaggerating. After all, this latest version presumably corresponds to the contents of his official witness statement to the police, so it’s not just a dashed off bit of journalistic hype.

But dashed off articles often have one great merit: the words spill out in a relatively unguarded way. Whereas his recent, written-with-the court-in-mind, pieces emphasise the sexual total innocence of the boys, his earlier, more casual work tells a rather different story. In another Guardian article in 2005, for instance, he admitted that at his prep school “there was a fair bit of leaping in and out of beds in dormitories, comparing notes, and general exploration”. He also mentions a physics master at Harrow, his later public school, who caught a couple of boys in sexual action and warned them “I don’t mind mutual masturbation, but I draw the line at buggery.” And that, he said, became accepted as a sort of unofficial school rule. Note the admission, too, in the 1996 article, that at least one boy sneered at Wheen’s “squeamishness”. How innocent does all this sound?

As it happens, I wrote to Wheen back in the nineties, challenging what I thought was his overly harsh view of Charles. This was based on my reading of the situation, which now appears to have been incorrect, that Charles had his hands down other boys’ shorts, if they were willing, but not Wheen’s because unlike other boys Wheen “rejected his advances”. In other words, it seemed the boys would have been aware of what went on in Charles’s “den” and were free to join in or not, as they chose.

In my letter, I said:

I am completely in favour of resources such as Childline and other means through which children can challenge bullying and abusive behaviour by adults, including parents. Having said that, I cannot help feeling you have been unfair to Charles, not so much in what you say he did but in the opprobrium you pour on him regardless of the fact that he actually seems to have done very little.

Wheen could have put me right on that, but chose not to. He responded to my brief initial approach with at least one short letter of his own, but I do not recall any further communication.

So, all in all, I remain sceptical that the molestation of which Wheen complains so bitterly had much to do with the force of Charles’s authority and the boys’ inability to refuse his wishes. I think it was more positive: no one was forced to spend extra-curricular time with Charles. They were drawn by the exciting allure of being with a popular – let’s not forget that word popular – teacher and getting up to all sorts of outrageous illicit things, including the cigarettes and booze.

It seems to me Wheen has been in a massive sulk all these years because he couldn’t be in the gang on his own terms. He said Charles called him a baby for not joining in, which made him feel “inadequate”. Gosh, how awful! That bruise to the delicate young Wheen’s ego must be worth a 13-year stretch on its own! But isn’t it time this grand-daddy of all cry-babies finally grew up and moved on after nearly half a century of wailing? Maybe, indeed, he should remember his school motto:

Pervincet Vivida Virtus: Lively manliness conquers all. (Albeit diplomatically re-translated as “All can be achieved by hard work” after they started taking girls!)

Oh, and another thing. As he is so keen on giving “historic” offenders hell, I presume he won’t complain if he is now nicked for stealing Charles’s property and sentenced to the maximum penalty: seven years for theft!

As for a far more serious complaint that Charles, “forced” a boy to “perform a sex act on him” I again find myself sceptical. That would not be the Charles I knew. He had a conscience and could not have brought himself to do anything in the face of a child’s reluctance. He might have gone so far as to exhort and cajole (bad enough in itself, to be sure), but not to threaten or force. He did not pester Wheen, after all, once the embryonic journalist had made his displeasure clear.

Yes, Charles was grossly irresponsible in his use of cigs and beer to “groom” his young charges. Yes, he knew that children could not in law give sexual consent however willing they were. And, yes, among the complainants there are those who say they have suffered depression and even suicidal feelings as a consequence of what Charles did.

Had he been caught and punished with a prison sentence for his prep school offences back in the 1970s he could have no complaint.

Is it right, though, that he and others should be judged today, after decades have passed and in a much more harshly punitive atmosphere? These days, it is said, there is a better understanding of the long-term harm caused by adult-child sexual encounters. So, if this is recent knowledge (not that we need accept its accuracy), how was Charles supposed to be aware of it in the 1970s? Should he and others be punished now with far greater severity than they would have decades ago on the basis that they didn’t have a reliable crystal ball in those days? Is that fair?

Ought there to be a statute of limitations?

Barrister Barbara Hewson recently argued in favour of such a statute.* To me the case seems unanswerable. Mores have changed so enormously in less than half a century that bringing Charles to “justice” this year was hardly any different from posthumously putting Thomas Jefferson on trial for keeping slaves, including his own personal child sex slave (Sally Hemings, aged 14). Should the author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and that country’s third president be dishonoured and have his grave desecrated, as happened recently in the case of Jimmy Savile? It would make just as much sense, or as little, as the hounding of poor Charles.

Also, the further removed a trial is from the alleged offences, the more ills can be dubiously attributed to the original acts. One of Charles’s victims is said to have been suicidal “later in life”. But over the course of decades many of us suffer all sorts of misfortunes that might make us suicidal. We might have lost money disastrously on a business venture, been through an acrimonious divorce, be depressed about getting fat and diabetic. In such circumstances it is all too easy to claim that you wouldn’t have made a foolish investment, or married the wrong woman or fallen prey to overeating but for this thing that happened at school. It’s possible, to be sure, but many other factors may have been more determinative. You don’t – or shouldn’t – condemn a man to a 13-year prison sentence on such a nebulous basis.

But the frenzied blood-lust that has seized the media, the masses and even the courts in the wake of the Savile debacle will not be sated or satisfied by rational proposals for a statute of limitations. Raising the idea is like having pointed out mildly, in the midst of the French Revolution, that not all the aristocrats being trundled to the guillotine were necessarily very bad. The present mood of deluded indignation demands a universal “Off with their heads!” response, be the transgression great or small.

Perhaps, in the circumstances, Charles Napier should reflect philosophically on the fate of another of his ancestors – not Charles II but that king’s father, Charles I, who lost his head in the English Revolution. At least the good people of England are not literally going in for decapitation these days – not yet, anyway!

*The link is to Part II of an article titled “The cult of victimhood and the limits of law” in The Barrister. Part I is also relevant to historic cases.

STOP PRESS: THE ESTABLISHMENT FIGHTS BACK

The Queen’s New Year honours have just been announced and I see I have been overlooked yet again. Unbelievable! 🙂

What makes it even worse is a damehood for that horrible bitch Esther Rantzen. Sorry for the sexist language, ladies, but had she been a bloke the word would have been bastard or shit, which is hardly an improvement. Not only did she refuse to shake hands with me in the BBC reception room as we waited to go on air for the TV discussion show After Dark about a decade ago, she also set her Rottweiler (bitch) friend “June” on me – a screaming “survivor” and ex-prostitute whom I found most discombobulating. She was so loud and in-yer-face aggressive it was hard to think or talk straight. It took all the diplomacy I could muster just to ward off the imminent threat of June giving me a Glasgow kiss. As that city happened to be her home town and she was built like a battle tank I fancy she’d have been good at it.

The Guardian today said this latest honours list was intended “to focus on those who help vulnerable children”. Hence the damehoods for ChildLine founder Rantzen and also for Joyce Plotnikoff, “who has revolutionised the way courts treat child witnesses”. And there was a CBE for Kate Lampard, “the independent overseer of the NHS investigation into Jimmy Savile”.

Much more interesting, though, was a damehood for Fiona Woolf, who was forced to resign from the government’s overarching child abuse inquiry recently. Victims’ groups had protested that she was an unsuitable chair because of her links with Tory peer Leon Brittan, a friend and neighbour, whose role as home secretary in dealing with allegations of child abuse in the 1980s “is likely to be scrutinised”, as the Guardian inscrutably put it.

It may be remembered that yet another dame, Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, was the first person appointed to head the ill-fated abuse enquiry and, like Woolf afterwards, was shown the door by the victims’ lobby. Butler-Sloss was forced to stand down because her late brother Sir Michael Havers had been attorney general in the 1980s and his actions would have been subject to investigation by the inquiry.

Now, in a sign of an establishment fight-back matching the new honour for Woolf, and even topping it, Butler-Sloss has gone public with some very pointed remarks about the danger of handing over too much control to the victims.

She has said she fears the government will never be able to find an experienced figure to run the abuse investigation, but that victims should not think they can do it.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 today she said for victims to be deciding who should be the person chairing the inquiry “creates real problems”.

She said:

You are going to need someone who knows how to run things and if you get someone with an obscure background with no background of establishment, they will find it very difficult and may not be able to produce the goods.

She agreed that the normal processes of sifting of evidence, and neutrality between accuser and accused, might go by the board if the victims were allowed to dominate.

Quite so, your ladyship!

I was severely amused by paedo Chris Denning

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Well, that’s it, another Christmas Day is over. Mine was fine, I hope yours was, but it must have been pretty bleak for Charles Napier and Chris Denning.

Thirteen years for both of them! Charles Napier, sentenced the day before Christmas Eve, got exactly the same as was meted out to Chris Denning earlier in the month, as though these savage punishments were choreographed to send a seasonal message of goodwill to all mankind except paedophiles.

The message might almost, indeed, have been tailored specially for Heretic TOC, bearing in mind that I personally knew both of these guys and announced recently that I would be blogging about their sentences once both of them were known.

In the circumstances, it would be expedient for me to play down my friendship with the pair, as there is such a thing as guilt by association: a man is known by the company he keeps; birds of a feather stick together, and all that.

It would be cowardly and heartless to disown anyone purely to ensure one’s own survival, though, and I am not going to do that. Instead, I see several possibilities for responding in far more defensible ways. One is to celebrate the best aspects of the person you knew, and to express the hope that their best may be seen again and that their worst – if there has truly been a terrible worst – will not. The Christian message, after all, is that no one is beyond redemption.

Another response, wholly compatible, would be to face the facts of any misdeeds that have been disclosed and examine one’s feelings about them in a measured and sober fashion.

So, let’s see where that takes us.

I’ll start with Chris Denning , who was one of the first announcers heard on BBC Two when the channel began broadcasting in 1964, and was one of the original Radio 1 DJs when the station launched in 1967. Now 73 and in poor health – he has suffered a heart attack and has diabetes – he once worked as a music producer for the Beatles, and helped launch the careers of the Bay City Rollers and Gary Glitter. Older readers will remember that the manager of the Bay City Rollers was himself convicted of sex offences involving youngsters back in the 1980s and of course Gary Glitter’s fall from grace for similar reasons is even more well known. Chris, the Rollers’ manager Tam Paton, and pop impresario Jonathan King are now all notorious for having been regulars at a Walton-on-Thames teenager’s disco in the 1970s known as the Walton Hop, said to have been a happy hunting ground for “predatory” grooming.

I didn’t meet Chris until his years of fame, fortune and Walton Hopping were but a distant memory. My encounter with him was at a very different gig: Her Majesty’s Prison Wandsworth, London, in 2006-7. By this time both of us had a substantial criminal record, his starting way back in 1974 with a conviction at the Old Bailey for indecent assault. When we met, he was already doing time for historic offences involving boys under 16. Then he was hit with a European arrest warrant and extradited in 2008 from Britain to Slovakia, where he had been living. He was jailed there for producing child pornography.

The amazing thing to me about Chris was his indestructible cheerfulness, considering that even then he was locked, apparently permanently, into a nightmare of perpetual police action against him, even while he was safely incarcerated.

A successful radio DJ needs a lively personality, needless to say, with plenty of wit, gags and bounce. But one often hears of a sad dark side to comedians and clowns. Not Chris, though: what you heard on the radio was what you got on the prison wing – a laughing, joking character who brightened the whole place up. Being depressed was not an option with Chris around! Perpetual jokers can be annoying, to be sure, but I always found him interesting to chat to – usually as a guest in his cell during “unlock”, when I would stroll along the landing the deliver my copy of the Guardian to him when I’d finished with it.

I remember one time he said “Thanks, you’re the nicest paperboy I know!”

“No way!” I replied, “not with all the paperboys you must have known in the biblical sense!”

“I said nicest, not prettiest, you ugly old bugger!”

He was a great source of anecdotes, of course, and also of tea bags and dried milk sachets, which I always needed and he was generously pleased to let me scrounge.

As for the anecdotes, here’s a sample. Chris had to go for minor eye surgery, which entailed attending a nearby National Health Service hospital while under guard by two burly uniformed officers to whom he was handcuffed, one on either side. His visit entailed walking through a crowded ward where his handcuffed state was totally visible not just to the nurses and doctors but to all the other patients, who were members of the general public.

Many of us would have felt utterly humiliated by such a public display of our criminal status; but not a man of Chris’s confidence and style.

“Don’t worry,” he shouted out to the entire ward, “I’ve got these two guys under complete control!”

As for Chris’s past, a bit of it turned up right there in HMP Wandsworth in the shape of a middle-aged prisoner called Bob. I met him while he was chatting to Chris in the latter’s cell one day. He was a new guy on the wing, but he and Chris seemed remarkably relaxed in each other’s company, nattering away like old pals – which they were.

A day or two later, Chris told me all about it. He and Bob had met about forty years earlier when Chris had been presenting Top of the Pops on TV. At that time Bob had been a teenager in the studio audience, invited because his brother worked for the BBC. No doubt he had been a very attractive boy because he caught Chris’s attention and the two struck up a relationship.

I have no idea what sort of trouble got Bob into prison, but he clearly wasn’t blaming it on any “abuse” by Chris: the pair of them got on like a house on fire; I saw not the slightest hint of any lingering resentment, quite the opposite.

And despite many “boys” (albeit now quite ancient themselves) testifying against him, this lack of any convincing account of harm done by Chris’s “abusive” sexual encounters is striking. Instead, we are left to infer from the words of the judge in the case, plus reporters, “abuse experts”, etc, that his behaviour must have been devastating.

In the Daily Mail, for instance, reporter Richard Spillett refers to Denning as a boy’s “tormentor”. Judge Alistair McCreath, in the same report, is quoted as calling his behaviour “depraved”, saying “It is not to be forgotten that all of this suffering was inflicted by you without thought for anything other than your own selfish pleasure.”

But what “suffering” does he mean, exactly? What “torment” was there in reality? I saw all the main reports, in the Daily Mail, the BBC (website and TV coverage), the Guardian and the Independent. I saw absolutely nothing to support all this extravagant denunciation. It seems entirely based on dubious dogma and presumption.

Against this, on the other hand, some facts emerged in support of the view that the boys Chris went with were not forced into anything, were happy to be involved and suffered no harm other than hassles from the police.

The Independent, for instance, reproduced a remarkable Prague Post interview with Chris that first appeared in 2001. In that piece, reporter James Pitkin wrote that one boy was 14 when he first met Denning in a Prague club. He testified against Chris but then phoned him as soon as the former DJ was released from prison, and remained close to him during his last days in Prague. The boy was quoted as saying “Chris is my good friend. I had to testify against him. The pressure from the police was really heavy.”

As well as having lived further east, in Slovakia, Chris also dwelt for a while in the Czech capital, spending time in the gay clubs there. He says that in the Prague clubs boys always approached him first and he often formed lasting friendships with them. He would offer payment or gifts at first; once a relationship was established they often they liked to hang out at his apartment.

It is a mistake often made to suppose that so-called “rent boys” such as these were just vulnerable prey to abusive men. Yes, a club scene will expose youths to undesirables but a bigger part of the story is the exciting access they get to the exact opposite: desirables! These teenagers may be hunted by lustful men, but they are also deliberately on the hunt themselves, ostensibly for money but in reality they often crave the glamour and excitement of having their own big, properly grown-up, friend – and if they are gay, the desirability of the adult will focus on, well, desire – a hunky guy is precisely what they are after.

Chris knew this. He had been a rent boy himself from the age of 13. This had been entirely voluntary. Coming from a comfortable middle-class home, with non-abusive parents, he wasn’t desperate for the money nor is he a case of “the abused becoming the abuser”.

He does, however, remember being sexual from long before his teens. In boarding school, he says relationships with other young boys were commonplace. At eight, he was visiting an elderly museum curator for “favours”, and as a teenager he was hitting the streets and clubs of London on weekends, getting paid for sex but often giving it away free.

He insists that for men, prostitution is a choice. “The press always talks about being forced into it, as if they were reluctant,” he told the Prague Post. “They do it because they enjoy it.”

The teenagers at the Walton Hop were not on the gay scene like the Prague rent boys. But you don’t have to be gay to appreciate a glamorous adult in your life, as Chris was. To the straight youngster at that age the attraction is often a matter of overwhelming, hair-trigger, sexuality that will burst out at the slightest provocation, combined with the flattering attention of a hero-worshipped grownup and a positive need for affection.

Men like Chris are excoriated for “grooming” such youngsters. But what does this mean? It means being decent, nice and kind enough to make friends with a kid and spending time with him, rather than just having sex. It means being affectionate, taking an interest in the boy’s own life and preoccupations. It means earning a boy’s trust through being reliable and steadfast.

All these things are good and fine qualities. Simply to propagandise against them by insisting they are somehow evil is itself a monstrous distortion and perversion of the truth.

As for the middle-aged men who made the allegations in the UK case, it may be that some or all of them were approached by the police following leads in the aggressive pursuit of their Operation Yewtree, set up as one of many investigations aimed at leaving no stone unturned from the supposed misdeeds of decades ago, following the (still totally unproven) Jimmy Savile allegations. In other words, rather than having gone through decades of “torment” over what happened, they may instead merely have been badgered by the police into making statements. If any of them had made powerful and persuasive “victim impact statements” you may be sure the media would have made a meal of it.

I was going to write about Charles Napier as well in this piece. In order to justice to his case, though, I will have to return to it separately. More soon, then, inshallah.

 

THANK YOU, HERETICS

A huge thank you to all those heretics who have responded with encouraging words after hearing the audio recording of the interview I gave to Testimony Films, which was intended for Channel 4’s The Paedophile Next Door but never used. It is very gratifying to know that the consensus view is clearly much more positive than I had feared. Thanks to the sterling work of David Kennerly, it is now also possible to hear an amusing audio of less than 17 minutes in which interviewer Steve Humphries’ questions are stitched together in the absence of my answers, followed by some telling quotes from the programme as broadcast. Titled Stitching Up Steve Humphries, this compilation cleverly shows who was actually stitched up, and how. Excerpts from the show as broadcast come in at the 13-minute mark.

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