Tom Watson and the "Paedophile Witch-hunt"
Friday 16 October, 2015
By Martin Hickman
Liar. Loudmouth. Attack dog. Just some abuse hurled at Tom Watson in the past few days. Watson is the Labour Party’s deputy leader, MP for West Bromwich East and a friend.
National newspapers have attacked him for urging Scotland Yard to investigate claims of child sexual abuse by powerful people. One alleged perpetrator was Sir Leon Brittan, the late Cabinet Minister.
The attacks started with a BBC Panorama, The VIP Paedophile Ring: What's the Truth?, broadcast on 5 October 2015. A former colleague of mine, Guy Adams, accurately reported in the Daily Mail:
“Panorama’s thesis was, broadly, as follows: having seriously mishandled allegations against such high-profile abusers as Jimmy Savile, Cyril Smith and Rolf Harris, our cowed police forces are now giving credence to manifestly flaky witnesses in far less convincing cases.”
At the same time Panorama questioned the journalism of the Exaro news agency which has investigated the “VIP Paedophile Ring”. For instance, Panorama suggested, Exaro could have checked an allegation by a complainant to Scotland Yard, Nick, that a school friend had been mown down by a car.
Now I don’t intend to rebut every criticism of Watson, Exaro or the police investigations into historic sexual abuse of children.
I don’t have the time or resources, or, to be frank, the inclination.
The truth is that I don’t know whether Sir Leon Brittan or any of the other eight suspects in the Metropolitan Police's Operation Midland sexually abused children.
I don’t know whether a “VIP paedophile ring” operated at Elm Guest House in south-west London, or at Dolphin Square in Westminster, or at any other location.
Instead, I want to give my views on Watson, Exaro and the police inquiries – because, unusually, I have a working knowledge (of varying depth) of all three.
While a reporter at The Independent I worked day in, day out with Watson on the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World. We wrote a book about it, Dial M for Murdoch.
I don’t recognise a picture of Watson as a loudmouth or smearer or political assassin. He’s a much more thoughtful, subtle, intelligent man. He has a ferocious grasp of detail and lots of stamina.
I think he has been emboldened by the lifting of News International's cover-up of hacking, which took in the Metropolitan Police. I think he is motivated by a desire to uncover a new scandal in the British establishment.
I wonder about the motivation of the newspapers who want to destroy him. (see bottom for more)
Scrutinising all their recent attacks on Watson would take too long.
But two falsehoods have been stated time and again.
The first was that the Metropolitan Police only interviewed Sir Leon Brittan about an alleged rape of a woman called Jane in 1967 because of a complaint from Watson to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Crown Prosecution Service and Scotland Yard have confirmed that Watson’s letter was forwarded to police after Brittan was interviewed in May 2014, in line with official guidelines.
The second is that the allegations against Sir Leon (who died in January this year) have been disproved. The rape investigation is not proceeding but Operation Midland into child murder and sexual abuse is ongoing.
Those allegations against Brittan and others might be disproved. But they have not so far, publicly at least.
In a statement after Panorama was broadcast, the Metropolitan Police criticised the programme, saying:
The Metropolitan Police Service has serious concerns about the impact of this programme on its investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse and homicide, on the witnesses involved, and on the willingness of victims of abuse to come forward to police.
So to Exaro. After taking voluntary redundancy from the Independent in April 2013, I worked briefly for Exaro at its offices on New Fetter Lane, off Fleet Street.
I didn’t cover the VIP paedophile story and I didn’t enjoy some aspects of working for Exaro. But I did come away with a high regard for the journalistic prowess of its editor-in-chief, Marks Watts, and for many of its staff.
One of its reporters who has covered the Elm Guest House story is David Hencke, the Guardian’s former Whitehall editor and a multi award-winning journalist.
Before I left the Independent, I also did some reporting on the emerging police investigations into Elm Guest House.
My initial impression was that the police should investigate because it was indeed possible (though I don't say likely to certain) that figures from “The Establishment” had abused children.
This is a good moment to reflect on what we now know about sexual abuse of children by powerful people in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s.
We know that children in local authority homes were abused – viciously, frequently and often with impunity for years – across the country.
We also know that famous/powerful people sexually abused children – and got away with it for decades.
One of the stories I worked on was a "rent-a-quote" Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens's presentation of a “dossier” naming powerful paedophiles to a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government: Sir Leon Brittan, the Home Secretary.
There is no doubt that Dickens met Sir Leon. But the “50-page dossier” subsequently – mysteriously – went missing from the Home Office.
On 28 February 2013, I emailed Sir Leon about the dossier. I asked him: “I wondered if you could remember receiving it, what it contained, and what action, if any, you took after reviewing its contents.”
Forty-four minutes later, Sir Leon replied briskly:
“I have no recollection of these matters. Sorry! ”
In summer 2014, MPs were getting suddenly vexed about the missing dossier and the Commons Home Affairs Committee was becoming interested. Labour politician Simon Danczuk told the committee Sir Leon had “questions to answer", amid what the Mirror termed "rumours of a high-level cover-up."
On 2 July 2014 Sir Leon suddenly made a public statement about his meeting with Dickens. Issued through his solicitors, the statement was richly detailed. Sir Leon said:
“During my time as Home Secretary (1983 to 1985), Geoff Dickens MP arranged to see me at the Home Office. I invariably agreed to see any MP who requested a meeting with me.
“As I recall, he came to my room at the Home Office with a substantial bundle of papers. As is normal practice, my Private Secretary would have been present at the meeting.
“I told Mr Dickens that I would ensure that the papers were looked at carefully by the Home Office and acted on as necessary.
“Following the meeting, I asked my officials to look carefully at the material contained in the papers provided and report back to me if they considered that any action needed to be taken by the Home Office.
“In addition I asked my officials to consider a referral to another Government Department, such as the Attorney General's Department, if that was appropriate. This was the normal procedure for handling material presented to the Home Secretary.
“I do not recall being contacted further about these matters by Home Office officials or by Mr Dickens or by anyone else."
How very odd. A very clever man, a barrister and a Cabinet minister remembered nothing at all about a meeting one year and then a year later – when MPs with powers to summon witnesses were becoming interested – remembered it in great detail. Usually, the memory of an old man worsens, rather than improves.
Of course, this discrepancy doesn’t prove anything.
Which brings me back to the wider picture. There is no doubt well-known individuals serially sexual abused children and got away with it for decades. We don’t know how many there were.
But we do know that the police are investigating complaints that there were hundreds.
The BBC has a good guide to the scale and scope of the various police investigations here. Overall, this is the state of play for the over-arching national operation, Operation Hydrant:
On 20 May 2015 the NPCC announced that the operation [Hydrant] had received reports of 1,433 suspects from police forces in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - 666 of the suspects were "related to institutions", while 261 were classified as people of public prominence.”
I don’t know whether any allegation is founded on fact.
But it is a fact there are allegations against 261 “people of public prominence.”
It also seems worrying that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating allegations that Scotland Yard officers colluded to protect paedophiles.
In March BBC Newsnight was told “an undercover police operation that gathered evidence of child abuse by Cyril Smith and other public figures was scrapped shortly after the MP was arrested.”
In March 2015, an IPCC investigation was launched into multiple claims of police corruption that covered up historic abuse:
The police watchdog is investigating alleged corruption in the Metropolitan Police, including claims it covered up child sex offences because MPs and police officers were involved.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating 14 referrals spanning four decades.
It said the claims were of "high-level corruption of the most serious nature".
The investigation was widened in September:
Thirteen further investigations have been launched into police corruption relating to historical child sex abuse claims, the police watchdog says.
The allegations include a claim that an investigation into a paedophile ring in the 1970s in London was closed down on instructions by high-ranking officers.
Another allegation involves claims that Special Branch interfered in an investigation involving an MP.
All relate to child sex offences from the 1970s to the 2000s, the IPCC said.
Twelve involve the Metropolitan Police and one relates to Essex Police, it added.
As far as I can see this IPCC inquiry has been totally ignored by newspapers claiming Watson and Exaro are engaged in a baseless “witch-hunt.”
This is not a hunt for witches. It’s a hunt to see if individuals evaded justice for decades because of a failure of the criminal justice system.
Because victims did not think they would be believed.
Because – allegedly – "VIPs" were protected.
We’ll have to see what the detectives find.
It might be: nothing. Or it might be something.
If the evidence is there.
My publishing house, Canbury Press, has republished an important book about a historic case:
Abuse of Trust: Frank Beck and the Leicestershire Children's Home Scandal ISBN 9780993040788 A new chapter deals with the allegations against the late Labour MP Greville Janner.
Motivation of newspapers
Last month Rebekah Brooks, who was acquitted of hacking at the News of the World, became chief executive of News UK, whose Times and Sun have been blasting Watson daily.
We know that years ago she told a colleague she would hound Watson for the rest of his life for deposing Tony Blair.
Brooks has been known to talk to Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, another newspaper which – despite running the Elm Guest House story – has been damning of Watson.
You may remember that Brooks and James Murdoch were coming back from a meeting with Dacre that they stormed into the Independent’s offices and did some third-rate Mafioso impressions.
Martin Hickman & Canbury Press
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