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.

 

 

 

Police seal of approval for Heretic TOC

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To be honest, it would be stretching it a bit to say that a blog described as “distasteful” by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre actually has police “approval”. A recent official statement from the quango, which has police powers and functions, is sponsored by the British Home Office, and is set to become part of a new National Crime Agency later this year, has however confirmed that the blog has been inspected and not found to be in breach of any laws.

The statement was issued in response to a complaint about Heretic TOC by a certain Dr Liz Davies, whose (WordPress) blog website describes her as “a registered social worker who, following a career in frontline child protection social work, is now a Reader in Child Protection at London Metropolitan University. Oddly, her site has a “Gallery”, which is the sort of feature you might expect to see at a porn site (or so I am told!) Sure enough, be warned, the photos exhibited here are very heavy indeed – way too scary and sickening for all but the strongest stomachs. Entirely legal, though: no kids.

Dr Davies says her specialism is “the investigation of child abuse and the investigative interviewing of children, particularly in the context of organised and institutional abuse”. Awarded her PhD as recently as 2010, she is becoming quite a high-profile figure. Tom Watson MP said he relied heavily on her work and advice in his published response to Jon Henley’s Guardian article on paedophilia, covered here early last month (in Finally, a word in edgeways at the Guardian! and It’s all kicked off in the British media ). Aspiring to be an “organised and institutional abuse” crime buster, perhaps Davies sees Heretic TOC as fair game in this light. But why? She says she reported Heretic TOC to CEOP but gives very little indication as to why she felt police action was needed. It would seem there is no distinction in her eyes between, on the one hand, expressing the view that the laws relating to adult-child sex need reforming and, on the other, breaking those laws or inciting people to break them. To the censorious mind it is doubtless all one and the same: “promoting paedophilia”.

Which leaves me wondering, whatever happened to education? Has this woman never, at school or since, learned the principles of free expression and the democratic process?

CEOP’s response to her complaint, which she reproduces on her blog, apparently in full, is mercifully somewhat more sophisticated. Attributed to a CEOP Intelligence Officer, the message quotes a report on Heretic TOC from the Internet Watch Foundation indicating that no abuse images had been found at the site, so the IWF felt unable to act. The Intelligence Officer then adds on behalf of CEOP, “Furthermore, the content of what Tom O’Carroll is writing does not constitute as an offence, he is stating his opinion, and although distasteful he is entitled to free speech. Therefore CEOP will unfortunately be unable to take any further action.”

For a public body which exists to uphold the law rather than to moralise, CEOP here exercises considerable freedom of speech for its own views: Heretic TOC is considered “distasteful”, and it is “unfortunate” that no action can be taken. But at least, unlike Dr Davies, CEOP has clearly accepted that free speech is not just for popular opinions. So, bravo: credit where it is due.

I still think they need to take one further civics lesson, though. The Intelligence Officer grudgingly refers to my freedom of speech as though allowing heretics to have their say is really just another tiresome example of “political correctness gone mad”. Instead of thinking of my freedom of speech CEOP should try thinking in terms of everyone’s freedom of access to information and argument from every shade of opinion and standpoint. When any voice is silenced by censorship the right of the entire community to hear that voice is forfeited.

They should try reading J.S. Mill’s classic text On Liberty, in which the Victorian philosopher advocated an open market in opinion, from which the “buyer” should be free to choose, according to perceived merit. Even Mao Tse-tung once said that “letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend” was a good idea, although his sincerity has to be doubted. His encouragement of free speech was just a ruse. Having “enticed the snakes out of their caves”, as he put it, he had all those who revealed themselves as dissidents locked up! Heretic TOC can only hope CEOP is not being just as crafty as the ruthless old dictator!

‘Work of genius’ lost in obscurity

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Heretic TOC yesterday meant to cover a further aspect of “Three reasons to be cheerful” but ran out of time and space. Well, I say ran out of space: I suppose a blog page can stretch to infinity but I doubt the same can be said for readers’ patience.

I had wanted to elaborate on one of the sources used by Jon Henley in his Guardian article. He refers to J Michael Bailey of Northwestern University: “…writing last year in the peer-reviewed Archives of Sexual Behaviour, Bailey said…he was forced to recognise that ‘persuasive evidence for the harmfulness of paedophilic relationships does not yet exist’.”

What Henley did not reveal is that Bailey’s article in the Archives was a review of my book Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons. I hope fellow heretics will read his full review, but here is a brief taster:

…fascinating, challenging and discomfiting. Anyone wanting to understand Michael Jackson will need to read it. The idea that pedophilic relationships can be harmless or even beneficial to children is disturbing to many people, including me. The lack of scientific evidence supporting my largely visceral reactions against pedophilic relationships has been one of the most surprising discoveries of my hopefully ongoing scientific education…O’Carroll argues against my intuitions and he argues well. J Michael Bailey, professor of psychology, Northwestern University, Chicago

I trust I will be forgiven for plugging Bailey’s recommendation, especially once you hear about an extraordinary campaign two years ago to have the book suppressed. I had written Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons under the pen name Carl Toms, but angry Jackson fans discovered my identity and outed me online as a “convicted paedophile” soon after the book had been printed and just weeks ahead of its planned June 2010 publication. Until that disaster it had been tipped by Amazon in pre-launch publicity as a likely best-seller. Publishers Troubador had been aware of my real identity all along but panicked and disowned the title in the face of Jackson loyalists who hated my portrayal of their idol.  This was because Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons defended Jackson as an active boy-lover rather than as a child-like “innocent”.

The upshot was that the only way I could get the book to market was to assume the role of publisher and distributor myself, and I started a company, Dangerous Books Ltd, for this purpose. All this necessitated legal action to secure the publishing rights and a heavy personal financial investment. That is one reason why the book cannot be offered at a low price if I am ever to break even. Another is that it is a 624-page doorstopper, which was expensive to print.

A year after the abortive launch, in May 2011, I was able to announce a re-launch via a press release headed “Sabotaged ‘work of genius’ to be relaunched”. The “work of genius” bit is not my hype, by the way: it is what historian Prof. William Percy, of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, actually said. It’s way over the top, of course. Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons is just an analytical biography, not Einstein’s theory of relativity. I was grateful for Percy’s enthusiasm, though, and the re-launch worked well enough to attract interest from The Sunday Times: their features editor said they were thinking of running an extract in the magazine section, although that interest evaporated just as soon as they realized my angle was pro-BL as well as pro-Jackson!

All in all, Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons has managed to attract many excellent reviews and notices, but they have all been confined so far to obscure academic journals hidden behind pay walls and other places that are not exactly like an interview with Oprah Winfrey in terms of mass exposure. So I urge all you heretics here to ponder at least a few of the reviews and consider whether this is a book for you. One thing is for sure: love him or loathe him, Jackson was one of the most colourful, fascinating and enigmatic figures ever to perform in public, so making the book an interesting read was the easiest of my tasks. Making it original, insightful and truly illuminating took years of research and hard work, but there is no shortage of critics who say I have succeeded.

Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons is available at amazon.com (recommended supplier: MindGlow Media) amazon.co.uk (recommended supplier: SafeSend) and Dangerous Books.

 

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