Abuse and cover-ups
Even as the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse reveals yet more evidence of systematic rapes and sexual assaults, Peter Manson asks why Tom Watson still faces attack over his role in the Carl Beech affair.
Scotland Yard has finally agreed to publish its report into an alleged paedophile ring involving MPs and leading figures from the establishment. As most readers will know, the police investigation was largely based on the claims made by Carl Beech, who on July 22 was convicted of fabricating evidence relating to child abuse and even murder and was subsequently sentenced to 18 years in prison. Beech had previously been convicted of voyeurism, and making and possessing indecent images of children.
He made false claims against 12 people, including former prime minister Ted Heath and former home secretary Leon Brittan, as well as two other ex-MPs, Harvey Proctor (Conservative) and Greville Janner (Labour). Of the above-named only Proctor is still alive - Brittan died in 2015, when the allegations against him had already been revealed, as did Janner, who had been elevated to the House of Lords in 1997.
Beech even claimed that this group of establishment VIPs murdered three children - two for sexual pleasure, and the third to warn off others. He claimed that Proctor had raped him as a child and he had been a witness when the then Tory MP stabbed a 12-year-old boy several times before strangling him to death.
Although these and other such allegations were concocted by someone who has now been widely condemned as a “fantasist”, the officer leading the investigation, detective superintendent Kenny McDonald, said in December 2014 that experienced officers had concluded that they were “credible and true”. They eventually discovered that the opposite was the case - although, for example, Brittan died during the inquiry without knowing that police had accepted that there was no credible case against him.
However, understandably, Proctor in particular has been campaigning vigorously against both the police for their original statements and also against Labour deputy leader Tom Watson for raising the affair in parliament. On October 24 2012, Watson suggested in the House of Commons that a paedophile network involving MPs and other establishment figures might have been protected by the connections of the abusers. He mentioned an aide to a former prime minister, but named neither person, and he called on the police to reopen a previous inquiry.
What is more, Watson actually arranged to meet Beech during the early stages of the investigation and later stated that he had come to the conclusion that Brittan, the former home secretary, had been “close to evil”. Watson later apologised for making that claim, but he was not the only one: Tory MP Zac Goldsmith had also alleged in a Commons speech that Brittan was a child abuser.
But Watson has been the main target of those who were falsely accused, their relatives and their media supporters. For example, Daniel Janner, son of former Labour MP Greville Janner, said Watson should “hang his head in shame”, while Proctor himself has stated: “Tom Watson has got a great interest in himself, and in grandstanding - just as he is doing currently on his so-called anti-Semitism campaign.” Meanwhile, writing in the Daily Mail, retired judge Sir Richard Henriques has been calling for a criminal investigation, because police officers had “unlawfully” obtained search warrants by using false evidence to raid the homes of high-profile figures. As for The Times, it claims that Beech caused a “moral panic”, thanks to the “incompetence and malign credulity of Scotland Yard, figures in the media and the Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson”.1 The Sun, the Express, etc, carry a similar line. The idea seems to be that fine, upstanding members of the establishment should be automatically believed by the police.
So what about Tom Watson? This paper is, of course, totally opposed to Watson’s despicable role in the current ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ campaign, aimed primarily at Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, by falsely claiming that many of his supporters - and perhaps even Corbyn himself - are anti-Semites. But does that mean we should fall in behind the rightwing media, which is targeting Watson simply for raising the possibility of an establishment cover-up?
In a statement issued after Beech was convicted of 12 counts of perverting the course of justice and one of fraud, Watson said:
I met the man I knew as ‘Nick’ once, on July 8 2014, two years after I had raised my question in parliament. During that meeting, Nick said very little and did not name any of his alleged abusers. I reassured Nick that the police had made clear that all allegations of historic sex abuse would be taken seriously and treated sensitively. That is what the police had asked me to do … It was not my role to judge whether victims’ stories were true.2
Hardly unreasonable. After all, it is not as though senior figures in the establishment have not in the past been involved in serious crimes - not to mention attempts to cover them up.
First there is the case of Jeremy Thorpe, leader of the Liberal Party from 1967 to 1976. With the Tories and Labour very evenly balanced, both parties were courting Thorpe as a potential coalition partner - and covering up. Thorpe was accused of conspiring to murder a certain Norman Scott, who had been involved in a gay relationship with him. Scott made numerous statements on this relationship, but was widely ignored by the media. However, it seems that Thorpe and his close confidant, David Holmes, decided that something had to be done, since Thorpe “would never be safe with that man around”.3 Holmes arranged for Andrew Newton to murder Scott in 1975. The assassination attempt was botched - only Scott’s dog was killed.
But it was not until 1978 - just under three years later - that the lid was lifted on all this and Thorpe was charged with conspiracy to murder. Eventually, he was acquitted after the judge in his summing-up referred to Thorpe’s “distinguished public record” and slated all the main prosecution witnesses. In 2018 the BBC drama, A very English scandal reminded us all of these events.
Then there is Jimmy Savile, the Radio 1 disc jockey, frequent presenter of Top of the pops and star of Jim’ll fix it. During his lifetime there were many stories of his grossly inappropriate behaviour involving hundreds of young women and pubescent teenage girls, but it was not until after his death in 2011 that the media gave any space to accusations of sexual abuse - including with young children. These finally came to the surface after he died, even though some of them went back to as early as the 1950s.
Savile was very adept at promoting himself through his well-publicised involvement with charities and hospital work. All of which he cynically used - he sexually assaulted hospital patients aged from five to 75. But he was lauded by the establishment. He became a close friend of Margaret Thatcher, when she was prime minister. She described his charity and hospital work as “marvellous”, while, for his part, Prince Charles stated on Savile’s 80th birthday: “Nobody will ever know what you have done for this country, Jimmy.” He was knighted in 1990.
No fewer than 450 people had alleged abuse against them by Savile. There were two police investigations into him during his lifetime - one as far back as 1958, the other in 2009. Both found “insufficient evidence”.
In view of these two examples and the recent revelations - about Nottingham city and county council care homes; the blind eye that was turned on Eddie Heath, the “dangerous and prolific child abuser” by Chelsea FC; and the ongoing Independent Inquiry into Child Abuse - it is surely correct for elected representatives not only to take accusations seriously, but to publicly raise their concerns of any possible cover-up.
Much as we may despise Watson for his leading role in the anti-Corbyn witch-hunt, and the attempt to ensure that Labour is rewon to the Blairite agenda of converting it to an utterly safe and reliable tool of capital, that does not mean we should join in the chorus of condemnation of Watson’s role in trying to ensure that Beech’s allegations were fully investigated l
Lead article The Times July 31.↩︎
S Freeman and B Penrose Rinkagate: the rise and fall of Jeremy Thorpe London 1997.↩︎