The Friday Night Song
The Friday Night Song
Many thanks to M
On the cards after the Daily Mail’s story last week.
I’ve no idea what they were thinking.
The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is currently investigating allegations made by a complainant that he was sexually abused by a number of men including various high profile figures.
The Solicitor General, Robert Buckland QC MP, would like to remind editors, publishers and social media users that where an allegation of a sexual offence has been made, no matter relating to the complainant shall be included in a publication if it is likely to lead to members of the public identifying him. Publishing such material is a criminal offence and could be subject to prosecution.
In addition, while the Solicitor General recognises the legitimate public interest in the press commenting on cases of this nature, he wishes to draw attention to the risk of publishing material that gives the impression of pre-judging the outcome of the investigation and any criminal proceedings that may follow, or which might prejudice any such proceedings.
The Attorney General’s Office will be monitoring the ongoing coverage of Operation Midland and editors and publishers should take legal advice to ensure they are in a position to comply with their legal obligations.
If I specifically address today’s comment piece in The Times by David Aaronovitch, it is not because I have failed to recognise that other articles in other newspapers aren’t also misleading their readership by deliberately conflating genuine allegations of abuse with false ones, it is simply because the issues are already complex and it is easier to address the broad point using David Aaronovitch’s comment piece as an example.
David appears to tackle the subject of non-recent child sexual abuse allegations against establishment figures as if it were a formal debate at university in which the proposition before the society is ‘This house accepts that David Aaronovitch was right about Establishment Child Abuse allegations from the beginning’.
In such a debate both sides would speak, no quarter would be given to the opposition, and any concession would only be a tactical withdrawal from an indefensible point before bringing to bear the full power of one’s own argument – and on conclusion the assembled members would vote on which side had won. There would be a winner and a loser, the proposition would be carried or it would not.
Unfortunately, the issue of child sexual abuse is not very well suited to such a format. Each and every allegation must be examined on the evidence. This, of course, means that it is impossible to draw up hard and fast general rules, the kind so beloved of ideologists of every persuasion. Such ideological rule making abrogates the necessity for critical thinking – why trouble yourself to consider a complicated issue case by case when it is far less taxing to the mind to have recourse to a general rule that can be applied instinctively, once learnt by rote? Of course, that history has demonstrated time and again that such general ideological rules, when applied, can be dangerous, can be comfortably set aside – for the polemicist understands that such easy answers are tempting and each generation must learn for itself the folly of applying generalities to complex issues.
“A few of us (at the beginning, very few of us) watched this process with alarm. From Watson’s acorn — or alleged acorn because, of course, no names were named and no cases detailed — grew a forest of lusty oaks.”
I would suggest that at the genesis of this sturdy English oak metaphor lies a desire on David Aaronovitch’s part to be validated, an altogether different and more personal acorn if you like. So, let’s look at that. Has David Aaronovitch been one of the very few who has called this correctly right from the start?
David mentions Tom Watson’s PMQ. He writes;
Nearly two years have passed since the Savile scandal broke and — in its wake — the MP Tom Watson (now Labour’s deputy leader) stood up in the House of Commons and asked David Cameron to ensure that the police “investigate clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and No 10”. In that time, the idea of a Westminster paedophile ring has entered the popular folklore of British politics. It has been deployed by social media partisans in the Scottish referendum campaign, in support of Ukip, and by just about anyone short of a stick to beat politicians with.
A few of us (at the beginning, very few of us) watched this process with alarm. From Watson’s acorn — or alleged acorn because, of course, no names were named and no cases detailed — grew a forest of lusty oaks. A phenomenon arose akin to a latterday McCarthyism, a general assertion that has relied on its own vigour to grow, rather than on anything as footling as evidence.
David is not the only journalist in recent weeks who has attempted to link Tom Watson’s original question to the Prime Minister [24 October 2012] and subsequent allegations of a ‘Westminster Paedophile Ring’ that have been reported in the media. Is it fair to do so?
Actually it is not – and conflating these entirely separate issues risks misleading readers.
Here are the facts
All in all, not a bad day’s work by Tom Watson and Peter McKelvie, his source…
The point that I’m trying to make is not that David Aaronovitch has been entirely wrong or that anyone else, including myself, has been entirely right. This isn’t a university debate and justice will not be the winner if it is treated as such. Each case must be considered on the evidence.
To conflate significantly different cases just because they might superficially resemble each other is just a way of duping readers. Yes, there have been a few false allegations that have been reported in the media in the last few years but there have been many more truthful allegations reported that have led to the convictions of child abusers.
On a subject where the public have been ill-informed for decades, don’t we owe it to them to make the effort to better inform them ?
The allegations that Nick has made that readers will be more familiar with have been against powerful establishment figures. A former Prime Minister, a former Home Secretary, a former Head of MI5, a former Head of MI6, a former High Commissioner in Canada, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, a former Master-General of the Ordnance, and Harvey Proctor a former MP – among others.
*Nick has also made allegations against Leslie Goddard, Adam Ant’s father who was convicted in 1987 of child abuse as part of the notorious ‘Dirty Dozen’ which also included both Sidney Cooke and Lennie Smith who were later convicted for Jason Swift’s death.*
[A correction is needed here. I’ve been informed that despite Harvey Proctor having mentioned Leslie Goddard in his own statement, the Op Midland witness Nick has never made an allegation that Leslie Goddard abused him. This information comes from a reliable source and I accept it as true]
Yet another man that Nick has made allegations against is Jimmy Savile.
This five minute extract from a documentary called Crimes That Shook Britain: Jimmy Savile which was first broadcast on the Sky Crime and Investigation Channel on 17th August 2014, contains an interview with Nick about his abuse by Jimmy Savile. The full programme can be viewed HERE.
Nick’s allegations against Savile are very unusual. I’m not aware of any other genuine allegation against him which suggests that he was a sadist or that he ever abused within a group.
I should explain that in this documentary ‘Nick’ is referred to as ‘Stephen’
Transcript from programme
Stephen was only seven years old when he began to be abused at home.
Post by @darrenlavertyx.
A video which demonstrates that both Journalist David Rose and The Observer attempted to discredit a North Wales Survivor by illegally using a North Wales Police Statement and amending it to include very damaging, and entirely false, allegations of rape.
False allegations which have led Darren Laverty to face continued harassment to this day.
The article was published in 1992 at a critical time for the investigation into child abuse in North Wales care homes, including Bryn Estyn where Darren had been a resident.
I just wanted to make a very quick statement following the release of the Metrpolitan Police statement regarding Operation Midland which can be found (HERE)
And it is this;
I stand by everything that I’ve published on this subject since the 25th August when Harvey Proctor made his own statement.
Before that point I had hardly commented on this police operation.
Those articles, in chronological order, are :
The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) recognises the media’s and the public’s interest in its historic child abuse investigations, and in particular, in Operation Midland. The focus of this investigation is on allegations of the homicide of three young boys. There are also allegations of sexual abuse but the MPS has made clear from the outset that this is, and remains, a murder investigation.
The historic nature of the allegations means this is a complex case where the normal avenues of evidence-gathering from CCTV, DNA and telephone data, are not open to us. These cases take time, but the public can have confidence that allegations from witnesses will be investigated thoroughly. We can all see the legacy that has been created by police and other authorities who appeared not to take allegations seriously in the past and the impact that has had on the confidence of victims to come forward.
There are particular challenges where details of the allegations and those facing accusations are in the public domain. This can create potential conflicts between media and criminal investigations, and have an impact on vulnerable witnesses and those accused. This has been especially true in Operation Midland, and we wish to highlight to the media and to the public the risks that our investigation may be compromised. We raised this concern when we initially appealed for more witnesses and it continues to be an issue. We also need to clarify our investigative stance in cases of this kind
Our starting point with allegations of child sexual abuse or serious sexual assault is to believe the victim until we identify reasonable cause to believe otherwise. That is why, at the point at which we launched our initial appeal on Midland, after the witness had been interviewed for several days by detectives specialising in homicide and child abuse investigations, our senior investigating officer stated that he believed our key witness and felt him to be ‘credible’. Had he not made that considered, professional judgment, we would not have investigated in the way we have.
We must add that whilst we start from a position of believing the witness, our stance then is to investigate without fear or favour, in a thorough, professional and impartial fashion, and to go where the evidence takes us without prejudging the truth of the allegations. That is exactly what has happened in this case.
The integrity of our investigation is paramount, and the public can have confidence that allegations of homicide are being investigated thoroughly. Our officers have the resources to test all the evidence, and we have not yet completed this task. It is then for the Crown Prosecution Service to make a decision on whether to prosecute. More significantly, only a jury can decide on the truth of allegations after hearing all the evidence. We should always reflect that in our language and we acknowledge that describing the allegations as ‘credible and true’ suggested we were pre-empting the outcome of the investigation. We were not. We always retain an open mind as we have demonstrated by conducting a thorough investigation.
In this respect, our approach in Operation Midland is the same as if we were investigating a contemporary rape allegation. Anyone familiar with the history of child abuse and rape investigations will recall that for many years, the first instinct of investigators appeared to be to disbelieve those making the allegations, which had a negative impact on people’s confidence to report to the police or other authorities. This undoubtedly led to crimes going unreported and un-investigated, and we do not want to return to that situation.
The media has shown in recent years how important they are in bringing issues concerning historic abuse to public notice and has been both challenging and supportive of the way in which police and the criminal justice system have adapted our approach. Reporting has also rightly questioned the official response to allegations. The media is also valuable in witness appeals and to show possible victims that they can have confidence their claims will be investigated.
What can be overlooked, at times, is that those making allegations are very often vulnerable individuals. A useful definition of ‘vulnerable people’ is set out in the Ofcom code for broadcasters (8.22). It is important to note that the police must take account of this vulnerability at all stages, irrespective of whether the allegations can be substantiated or not. We ask the media and those asked to comment to do likewise. We also think the press should consider following Ofcom’s approach by amending its code to recognise that vulnerability in reporting of crime is not just a matter of the age of witnesses or victims.
Our other main concern is the risk that media investigations will affect the process of gathering and testing evidence in our criminal investigation. In recent weeks, one journalist reporting on Operation Midland has shown the purported real identity of someone making an allegation of sexual assault to a person who has disclosed that they have been questioned by police concerning those allegations. This action has a number of potential impacts.
First, for those who have made allegations of sexual abuse, it is extremely distressing to discover that their identity might have been given to anyone else, particularly if that is to someone who may be involved in the case. Secondly, possible victims or witnesses reading the article may believe their identities could be revealed as well, which could deter them from coming forward. Ultimately, that could make it harder for allegations to be proved or disproved. This might not just deter those who could provide information for this investigation but also concern anyone thinking of coming forward with sexual abuse allegations. Finally, the potential disclosure by a journalist of a name may possibly hamper an investigation. Names will be disclosed by police to those involved in the case, but that will be at the appropriate time for the investigation depending on how those lines of enquiry progress.
We do understand that there are occasions when people making allegations of crime – including sexual abuse – disclose their own identity to the media and disclose facts associated with the case. Again, we ask that the media exercise care and caution when these are the circumstances and recognise our earlier point about vulnerability.
We would also like to make it clear that the Metropolitan Police Service does not name or confirm names of those arrested or interviewed. That is our clear policy. We will be as open as we can be about policing activity – for example confirming arrest activity – but not confirming the names of individuals. If a police employee revealed the name that would be a clear breach of policy and dealt with in the appropriate manner. Moreover, the Commissioner told the Home Affairs Select Committee in March that he supports the proposal for granting accused people anonymity until charge.
We expect the challenges for media and police alike to continue once witnesses start to give evidence to the Goddard Inquiry. We think it is important, therefore, to offer this context now so that journalists and police officers can continue to do their job, and pursue a shared interest in justice for victims and fairness to those facing allegations.