OF DEEP THROATS, DEAD POLITICIANS AND DANGEROUS JOURNALISM

Tim Tate is a multi- award-winning film maker, journalist, and best-selling author.

Republished from TimTate.co.uk in full with permission.

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“There is a moment in Alan J. Pakula’s film adaptation of “All The President’s Men” – the tale of how two dogged newspaper journalists pursued an investigation which would help bring down the President of the United States – when Ben Bradlee, their editor  at the Washington Post, dismisses one of their early stories with a terse instruction:

Get some harder information next time.”

One of the most striking aspects of Woodward & Bernstein’s book (on which the movie was based) is just how many off the record interviewees were quoted throughout their Watergate investigation. This was often a story peopled by anonymous informants and exemplified by the ultimate secret source – Deep Throat”.

But look a little closer.   For every damning – but non-attributable – allegation “Woodstein” had at least two sources.   Or supporting documentary evidence.   Single anonymous sources were conspicuous by their absence.

For journalists of my generation, Watergate set the standards for investigative reporting.   Whether in newspapers, radio, television or books, no editor would countenance a serious allegation to be made on the word of a single, anonymous source.   And references to “rumour” were banned outright.

Which brings us to the excitable news coverage about Ted Heath.

There is not a journalist in Britain who can prove whether Heath was – or was not – a child abuser.   There could be victims of, or eyewitnesses to, such abuse: but if they exist you can take it to the bank that no journalist is amongst them.

And yet over the past week yet there has been an acre of newsprint and hours of broadcast time devoted to allegations that Heath was a paedophile.

“Allegation” is a powerful and important word and journalists need to use it sparingly. Anyone can make an “allegation” about anyone: any professional hack can (and often will) gossip cheerfully about unsourced claims that have washed up on their desks, phones or e-mail accounts about any number of politicians, judges, rock stars and minor celebrities – not to mention other journalists.

The vast majority of this swill of the information age goes no further than the tap room or dinner party. It is disregarded (save for the selfish pleasure of gossiping) and goes utterly uninvestigated.   It also never makes it into the public arena for the very good reason that it is no more than rumour which has never been examined for any foundation.

For the past two years the genuine and very important problem of uninvestigated historic child sexual abuse has led journalists to abandon the fundamental tenets of our trade. Newspapers, television and – in particular – tweets on social media have been swamped with allegations about VIP paedophiles in politics.   Rarely, if ever, have these claims been sourced to an identified – and therefore checkable – source.

In Heath’s case, the saga originally began in 1998 with David Icke, who published allegations from an unidentified alleged victim. Then sometime-barrister Michael Shrimpton (before his conviction for making false claims about a bomb threat to the Olympics)  announced on Bristol Community Radio  that Heath had abused and murdered boys on his yacht anchored off Jersey.

I interviewed Shrimpton over several days and asked for his evidence: he regretfully said that he couldn’t disclose his sources.

Anonymous sources would be fine – pace Watergate – if there were more than one for each published specific allegation (ie: not a collective validation of the general tenor of the story) and if these sources were independent of each other.   Unfortunately that vital principle has too often been abandoned.

This reached its nadir with the announcement by Exaro News  (and republished by the Evening Standard) that Guy Marsden, the nephew of Jimmy Saville, has alleged that a friend of his once told him that Heath had sexually abused him.

For absolute clarity: that is one source (identified) making an allegation about what he had been told (hearsay) by a source (who he did not identify) about an alleged incident he did not witness.

Did Exaro trace the person who had (allegedly) told Marsden about the (alleged) abuse ? I asked Exaro this question. It did not reply: not for the first time, it declined to answer queries about its reporting on historical abuse allegations.

This matters. I have spent a lifetime – almost 30 years – investigating organised paedophilia and campaigning for better child protection. Last year I wrote a heartfelt plea for responsibility in reporting: I warned then – and I repeat here – that there is a backlash growing amongst those who seek to deny the existence of widespread child sexual abuse.

If you doubt this, you have only to read the rabid bile pumped out by Spiked magazine and its supporters in the London “Commentariat”, Barbara Hewson and David Aaronovitch (to name but two). The thrust of this argument is that alleged historic abuse should be consigned to, well, history. More disturbingly, Ms. Hewson – a practicing barrister –advocates a statute of limitations for abuse investigations.

Every piece of careless, sensational or irresponsible reporting empowers this backlash. Brick by brick it will – I guarantee this because I have lived through previous backlashes which did exactly this – dismantle the weak and inadequate defences which have been erected to protect children from sexual abuse.

I repeat: I don’t know if Ted Heath was a paedophile. I don’t know if he sexually abused children on Jersey or anywhere else. I do know that in 2013 I spent several days interviewing – on film – several genuine victims of sexual abuse in its care system, as well as Graham Power, the police chief who supported them (and who was essentially run off the island for his pains). Not one knew anything about Heath other than that he was rumoured to have regularly sailed to Jersey.

But neither does any other journalist know whether Heath had a sexual interest in children. Those who pronounce that they DO know and who thus seek to influence public opinion, on the basis of (at best) a single anonymous source are being grossly irresponsible.

Likewise those who – with nothing more than instinct or prejudice to support them – assert that Heath was unquestionably not a paedophile: it is wrong and playing with fire to denounce the perfectly proper police investigations into allegations against him.

Whichever side of the trenches in this war they fire from, pronouncements of definite guilt or absolute innocence are wild, dangerous and – above all – very bad journalism.   Journalists need to recognise that what we publish can – and often does – have an effect on public policy.   We do not have the right to dish out unchecked anonymous claims or prejudicial personal opinions and then shrug our shoulders when these cause harm.

As Ben Bradlee (allegedly) told Woodward & Bernstein when rejecting their story. “Get some harder information next time.””

Republished from TimTate.co.uk

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33 Comments

Filed under Abuse, News

33 responses to “OF DEEP THROATS, DEAD POLITICIANS AND DANGEROUS JOURNALISM

  1. This is an excellent – and balanced – post. Tim makes some great points. I traded a couple of emails a year or so ago with Tim Tate. He could not assist me although I understood why he could not and he made the point that his resources were exceedingly limited whilst the current opportunities offered by TV media for real investigative journalism, and hence some real investigation into child sex abuse, is very limited.
    Especially, investigation into the real taboo of Female child sex abusers.
    They are generally expected to be the perpetrators of between 5-25% of all child sex abusers – yet UK police “detect”, and almost always excuse, all but 0.05% or so.
    How we all miss Panorama, Cook Report, Despatches etc etc… but who cares as long as we are deluged by cookoffs, celebrity get me out of here , Big Brother and the ubiquitous Soaps.

  2. Jack

    Very good points raised in this article. Another example of rumour masquerading as evidence is in the bizarre online claims that Jill Dando was murdered because she was about to blow the lid on a paedophile ring at the BBC. Now despite the fact that this claim is made by numerous people on numerous sites I have yet to see one single verifiable source for this. Anytime I have seen this claim stated on a site I have asked the poster what the source of this story is. On every occasion I have received no reply. The reason for this is that they cannot provide a source because there isn’t one. All we have is one person quoting another repeating the same story in ever increasing circles. It is true that a National Newspaper ran the story ( Daily Star) but it is clear that all they did was regurgitate the rumours on the Internet. Now if I was cynical I would say stories like these may be introduced to discredit the very real scandals which have and are being discovered.

  3. Raymond

    I’ve no idea whether Heath was a paedophile or not, either. And the fact that he was a life-long bachelor cannot justifiably be held up as some sort of “evidence” against him – it is nothing of the sort, of course. It tells us NOTHING of any value about possible criminal deviancy in the man’s personal life.
    Once again, this morning on the Today programme, the BBC were defending Heath by giving a platform to the former PM’s PPS of the day (his name escapes me; I was focusing on the entire lack of scrutiny on the part of his interviewer – Humphreys IIRC). There were two things I did pick up on here, however. Firstly, the BBC seem unaccountably keen to defend Heath which makes no sense on the face of it. Secondly, Heath’s former PPS and others of similar professional association are at great pains to point out that Heath could never have done the things he is accused of since he had at least 2 personal protection officers with him 24/7. Like the inference we are supposed to draw from Heath’s purported asexuality, the evidential value of this fact is precisely zero. We have already had reports on Sky News by one woman, who waived her right to anonymnity, in the West Midlands who claims she was abused regularly in woodland by VIPs whilst the police, in uniform, provided security, enabling these abhorrent acts to take place in secret.
    I do hope to God we get to the bottom of all these claims eventually, but it’s going to take years and years and years with no guarantee of any success and needless to say by that time, all the vile perpetrators will either be dead or judged to ‘ill’ to stand trial for anything.
    It’s a most unsatisfactory situation, but we must do all we can to press for its pursuit, for the sake of the victims, surviving or otherwise.

    • Anon

      As with other recent allegations against other political figures, the BBC and other MSM do not want to rock the boat and this appears to be more important to them than objective investigative journalism.

    • Mudplugger

      We should adhere to the old Watergate principle and ‘Follow The Money’.
      The BBC, uncharacteristically for that left-leaning organisation, appears to be deliberately defending Edward Heath, why ?
      Well, if it were ever to be proved that Heath was indeed a child-abuser, that would then provide volatile fuel for the other rumours that Heath was being blackmailed by certain state agencies (e.g. the CIA) into taking Britain into the EEC in the first place (Cold War time, remember). If that truth were to take hold publicly, it would increase the chances of an OUT vote in the forthcoming referendum.
      Maenwhile, the BBC receives many millions of ‘bribery funding’ every year from the EU to ensure that it only ever broadcasts EU-positive stories. That funding would be at risk, indeed entirely lost, if Britain ever left the EU. There’s the money.
      So now you may make the connection.

  4. TonyM

    In the other article by Tim Tate about Leon Brittain he writes:

    “In April 2014 I met with the senior Operation Fernbridge detective with whom I had previously spoken. Over the course of a two hour, off the record interview he told me…”

    Then later he writes that the detective had left Operation Fernbridge.

    Isn’t the whole point of an “off the record” interview that what is said isn’t linked with the person who gave the information and perhaps isn’t for direct publication at all? How many senior operation detectives have left Operation Fernbridge? Suppose it’s five, three or maybe just one!

    Now in this article he mentions that other people wouldn’t reveal their sources to him? Can’t really blame them can you?

  5. Andy Barnett

    Excellent points very well made. But do we still have to hear the word ‘historic’ used to describe non-recent abuse? Even Goddard has learned the effect it can have on survivors and is not using it.

  6. There are some mistakes in reasoning here. For thousands of years, ‘gossip’, was the only form of news for most people. Even until quite recently, ‘gossip’ was the only real information most people had outside the BBC, and the newspapers.
    Most people read their newspapers, then went down to the pub to hear the ‘real’ news. Polititions and filmstars, getting married, who everyone knew were in fact gay. News about someone in number 64, who was abusing a child. The local Priest who was caning boys in the Church Hall. Of course none of this was in the ‘media’.
    Today we have the internet, a worl wide ‘gossip’ network.

    I was in a pub, years ago, talking to a teacher who had retired to Spain. The subject came round to corporal punishment, and he said that when looking for a short term teaching job, to supliment his pension, he had come accross a web site asking people to sponsor boys at a school in India.
    He said the strange thing was that the boys were dressed in the same uniform as a school he had visited in Suffolk, years before, run by a man called Derek Slade.

    I had not heard of derek Slade, but he told me the man hd been in prison for abusing boys in the UK. I looked up the site, and the man, ‘collecting the money’, was Derek Sawyer, there were photo’s of boys to sponser. the site said that the school ‘prefered’ orphans.
    The full adress of the school was on the site. This site went down not long after, but a new one appeared, with Derek Slade being ‘promoted’ by a charity to set up more schools in Russsia.
    I wrote to the charity, but they ignored my emails, I put things up on other sites about the school, and had an email from a man who worked at the school, confirming that abuse was going on. He gave me Derek Slades passport number/mobile number, his false passport name, Derek Sawyers pasport number/moblile number. He said Derek Slade was coming to the UK and staying with his sister, begging me to stop him returning to India.

    I went on friends reunited, where the boys he had abused, all assumed Derek was dead, or in a care home, as he had always been overweight.
    They were shocked to find out that Derek Slade was teaching again.
    I gave them the details of the school, being the only one who had the address, and the details of the charity. The rest is history.

    ‘Gossip’,will always be the start of a good news story, that is why Fleet Street Pubs were so busy before the internet came along. Journalists, Politics, and paedophilia, have never been a good mix though, the mixture tends to muddy the waters so to speak!

  7. Bea J

    I completely disagree with the points you make here. My impression is that rather than Heath being hounded by the press, the opposite is the case – the media is working en masse to shield his reputation.

    I have just searched Google on articles on Ted Heath in the last 24 hours. Contrary to your assertion that the media is awash with stories about Heath being a paedophile, I have not managed to find a single story in support of these allegations.
    Every single story, from the Guardian, the Independent, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Herald, the Express, the Times, the BBC, not to mention the Irish Independent and a host of smaller UK and foreign newspapers and blogs, follows the “Heath was asexual and should be left alone” line.

    Furthermore, many if not most of the stories are peddling the line that the allegations against Heath are “hysterical”, a “moral panic” and a “witch hunt” of an innocent man.

    Where are all the stories about the fact that 12 police forces are independently investigating allegations about Heath? About the allegations that Heath raped him on multiple occasions by Nick, cited by the police as a credible witness? About the fact that Lord Armstrong’s defence of Heath’s reputation is deeply suspect due to his previous shielding of Westminster paedophiles?

    This is wildly unbalanced reporting – dangerous journalism indeed.

    • Sabre

      Good to see that not everyone is crashing around in the dark wide asleep ! We don’t have a free press it is very very expensive, the task of the media is to influence those consuming it to the advantage of those that own it.

  8. Peter McKelvie

    Tim Tate and I have known each other since 1994 and have been on the same side all along
    I can assure everyone never mind which side of the fence that you are on that it is 100% inaccurate to say that the ” allegations ” against Edward Heath ” are based on ( at best ) a single anonymous source ”
    The coordination of police work under Operation Hydrant on this matter is quite extraordinary and making up for what has been lacking in investigations of this nature over the last 50 years
    It’s about time that credit, truth and responsible reporting and commenting took over in all forms of the media, both MSM and social media

  9. Bea J

    A Google search of Edward Heath child sex abuse allegations in the news over the past week bought up 104 articles.
    Of these, 98 articles were headlined “Ted Heath completely asexual”, and – without analysis of any kind – relate the claims of former advisor to Heath, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, that the child sex abuse allegations against Heath are “totally uncharacteristic and unlikely”.

    Article after article, from sources including the BBC, the Guardian, the Independent, the Times, the Mirror, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Huffington Post, the Western Daily Advisor, the Latin American Herald Tribune, News.com Australia, Stroud News, the Herald Scotland, Barry and District News. The Warrington Guardian, the Cotswold Journal, etc etc., focussed on the claims that Heath’s reputation is being unfairly maligned.
    Only 6 articles had a different headline, but apart from a single exception (the Mirror’s story “Police to quiz ex-brothel madam over ‘rent boys”), every article focussed on CRITICISM OF the Edward Heath child sex abuse investigations.

    Not exactly a media “witch hunt”, is it?

    So why this blanket coverage of the “Ted Heath completely asexual” story?
    It is puzzling to say the least, considering the controversy which seems to be attached to Armstrong’s past handling of allegations of paedophilia.
    According to the sources below, while he was cabinet minister in the 1980s, Armstrong was accused of having a ‘shocking’ attitude after he defended an apparent failure to investigate links between Sir Peter Hayman and violent paedophiles. Armstrong was aware of Hayman’s paedophilia, and since leaving office, has commented “Clearly, I was aware of it at the time but I was not concerned with the personal aspect of it.”
    It was the same Lord Armstrong who gave Margaret Thatcher what he himself called a “veiled” warning not to sanction Jimmy Savile’s knighthood for charitable work, due to allegations around his sexual abuse of children.
    And it was Armstrong who was warned by the security services in 1986 that an MP had ‘a penchant for small boys’ but refused to name the MP involved and insisted the allegations were just ‘shadows of a rumour’. He said he believed the decision not to investigate the paedophile claims was ‘correct at the time’.

    Why so little mention of the fact that Armstrong’s opinions on the matter may be suspect?
    Why all these articles about media hysteria, witch hunts and lynch mobs?
    And why the almost complete media blackout on the substance of the child sex abuse allegations against Heath, including the fact that a man described by investigating police officers as a “credible” witness alleges he was raped as a child on multiple occasions by Edward Heath?

    • Aardvark

      Exactly! The interview on the Today program with Lord Armstrong was incredible in the lack of any vigor in any of the questioning. It is frustrating to hear the opinions of an establishment figure going without any real challenge, when he been accused of covering up for the likes of Peter Hayman.

      • IWTT

        For those who missed the interview to which refer, it is here:

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02zly7q

        14 August 2015 (running time: 11 minutes)

        Lord Armstrong: Handling of Heath allegations are ‘against justice and unfair’

        Robert Armstrong – later Lord Armstrong – became a close friend when he became principal private secretary in the prime minister’s office when Sir Edward Heath came to power in 1970.
        He said investigations should go ahead without media involvement – “they should happen in private”. Lord Armstrong agreed an investigation should go ahead “no holds barred” adding that “it would make Chilcott and Savile [inquiries] look like easy money”.

        When asked about whether he was aware of an institutional cover up in the ‘establishment’, he said “I don’t think it’s impossible. I wasn’t aware of it at the time.”

        On the former prime Minister he said, in his opinion, Edward Heath was “completely asexual”.

        Lord Armstrong also clarified comments about the late Jimmy Savile that he made to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He said it would be “better not to give him a knighthood”, suggesting she would be “taking a risk which she didn’t need to take”. He said there was ‘a general sense’ around Savile but he had no specific information.

        Robert Armstrong later became Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service, and their friendship lasted until the end of Heath’s life.

  10. dpack

    the “watergate rules” are an excellent example of how to progress towards a balance of probability or beyond reasonable dought truth.

    a while back i used the phrase “this is beginning to make “watergate” look like “a damp mousehole” which still seems an appropriate assessment.

    as well as basing belief on independent sources it is also wise to verify those sources are really independent (or relevant in the context where they are presented or seem to fit)and as always cui bono and occam’s razor are useful tools.

    rumour is an interesting subject in that it can lead to solid evidence or it can help to break mirrors,blow away smoke and identify the illusionist’s and the motives for their work.it can mislead deliberately or by accident and in rare cases it can be the thing that makes lots of solid but apparently unconnected evidence fit together to expose a truth.

    the value of rumour depends on where and how it fits into context.

  11. peter mckelvie

    In reply to Bea J and her exceptionally useful trawl of media coverage ( extremely interesting results ), all I would like to say is that I sincerely hope that the BBC have it high up on their ” to do list ” in say 2016 or 2018 to re-interview Lord Armstrong.

  12. TIM

    I have worked with Peter McKelvie and can honestly say that no-one has done more to get the issue of historic child sexual abuse examined. He has fought long, hard and bravely to ensure that there will, at last, be good and rigorous investigations.

    And so, when he praises what Op. Hydrant is doing I believe him and will trust the police to investigate.

    For absolute clarity (and apologies for the nit-picking), what I wrote in my blog was that there is a danger in media organisations (whether new or traditional) and internet posters in relying on a single unidentified source for a single, specific allegation. That’s all.

    • The general point is a fair indeed wise one, perhaps a bit of forensic rigour in future to ensure the distinction between a general point and a specific one.

  13. nuggy

    the source of the rumours about heath long pre-dates david iscke i believe the original source for this is george kenedy young

    • dpack

      i have come across a rumour that the “rumours” (and possibly some facts)about heath were first promoted by neave and subsequently spread around fleet st by “the urinal” aka chapman pincher.

      as rumours go at least that one does fit into context and dates from the late 1960’s or early 70’s.

      as sabre mentioned elsewhere a shadow of a rumour is a place to start looking ,but it is not evidence and should never be mistaken for evidence .

      as to heath his well documented attitude to nuclear weapons strategy and european integration are fact,how that fitted into context might be a road to insight regarding the “heath rumours” which now seem to be employed as a distraction from other matters that are both of the past and of the present.

  14. Terry B

    It’s been mentioned numerous times about Heath in his younger days being caught, I believe the term is, importuning in public lavatories.

    Is this a case of the rumour being repeated so often it becomes accepted as the truth?

    • Sabre

      There are similar rumours about an Anthony Linton Blair, whoever he may be, however I don’t think that anyone has ‘stood them up’

      • Steve

        Yes precicely, another good example like the Jill Dando ‘rumours’. Both these stories are peddled all over the Internet without a single credible source to back them up. It’s all just people repeating the rumour which they read errrrr on the Internet.

    • Terry B

      To be honest I really was hoping someone would speak up and say either they know for a fact this is bull or they had it from a reliable source that’s there is something to it.

      • It’s virtually impossible to prove a negative. All I can say is that I’ve not seen any credible evidence that Heath is an abuser but then I’m not in possession of the same information that the police have, so I can’t go further than that.

      • Terry B

        Sorry, I should have been clearer, I was referring to the rumors that Heath had been caught in public toilets and the secret service had stepped in to save him.

  15. chrisb

    The disclosure or lies or a mixture of the two continues:

    http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/edward-heath-brothel-madam-eastenders-6260631

    To add some balance if you can to possibly false allegations: there is also the theory that the allegations of child sex abuse against Heath were false and initiated by MI5 officers in order to replace Heath with Thatcher.

    Tim Tate is correct: traps are being set for blundering fools to run in to. Remember McAlpine.

  16. Becky

    Like most people, I have no idea whether Ted Heath was paedophile. However, one aspect of this I do find disturbing is the automatic tendency that society has to be suspicious of anyone over a certain age who is a. single, b. childless and c. gay. It’s ironic when a married heterosexual man is statistically 85 per cent more likely to be a child abuser than an individual from any other group in society.

    • Sabre

      I’d love to know where you get this stuff Becky. Perhaps you would like to cite the source? Relative probabilities are generally given for one group relative to another your figures seem to be very precise assuming that they aren’t mere assertions on your part. How many other societal groups are there in this ‘study’ ? Assuming that your figures aren’t absolute nonsense are married heterosexual men (1.85) x (0.5) = 92.5% likely to be a paedophiles or (1.85) x (0.000001) = 0.000185% likely to be a paedophile. So even IF the study that you haven’t cited exists you fail to provide any helpful information !

  17. JMcDaniels

    All fair points Tim Tate. But you do realise that what you are saying also applies to you as a journalist? Last week, your assessment of some past issues was reproduced by GoJam, and it was interesting. But it also carried the same potential problem you outline as a flaw of recent mainstream media reporting. Namely that you relied heavily on a single, anonymous source (your police officer contact). Not only have you largely failed to protect your source (it is very obvious who it is, and you have done him no favors) but it is also widely known that his own handling of allegations has been under the spotlight of late. I don’t know enough about any of these issues to call a truth or falsehood. But the even application of your logic dictates that we should also question your own expertise.

    • As I’ve written in reply before. I’d disagree with a couple of points that Tim has made in that previous account but I can confirm most of it and I had more than a few credible sources. Just because Tim has mentioned one source doesn’t mean that he only had one.