Witchhunts and Whispers

Christopher Booker writes in the Telegraph today (online not in print it seems - wonder why?) about paedophilia and witchhunts:

The greatest abuse would be to indulge in a witch hunt

He prefaces his piece with the Heath affair - I have no beef with that. I too am profoundly uneasy about the hunting down of the already dead and the invitations to make allegations - what a forensic gloop that is. How can one ever distinguish between the true and the fabricated allegation against that background? There is no presumption of innocence for the dead it seems. The Telegraph have published some good stuff about that this week.

But this article isn't really about Heath. It's about the trial of Marie Black and others, many of whom were recently convicted of assorted child sex offences (although in an uncharacteristic moment of coyness, Booker does not name the defendants, it is plainly that case same case that he is describing). And the cautionary byline : "in our rage we must not throw out due process" relates as much to the Norwich case as to the current frenzy around a deceased ex PM.

This is an opinion piece, and Booker's opinion is self-evidently that the Norwich convictions are not sound: Of the paedophile ring that a jury have found to the criminal standard existed (albeit that some of the many defendants were acquitted) he attaches a prefatory "alleged" by way of preliminary signal. He makes liberal use of quotation marks, to indicate his sardonic disgust and to distance himself from the meaning of the words. Christopher Booker, a "journalist" has allegedly written an "article" in the Telegraph today. You see how that works? Who needs content when you can manipulate punctuation with such skill? (Look into my eyes only in my eyes).

If you are short for time I can save you the trouble. That's it. The whole article boils down to : "Christopher Booker doesn't believe the convictions are sound. The end". This isn't an expose. It's a longwinded statement of Mr Booker's unevidenced opinion. Fin.

To continue...

Christopher Booker has "followed the trial in detail". Did he follow it remotely by means of emails from his chums? Did he follow it on the BBC? Did he attend the trial, sitting through weeks and weeks of it, hunched over typewriter each night in the Norwich Travel Lodge? (I did not). Far be it from me to "allege" he did not, I merely ask. If he did he seems to have come away with little to show for it.

There were, says Booker, lots of "odd" things about this trial. Firstly, that a number of the defendants were acquitted. This is, I imagine, a function of the high standard of proof and the inability of the prosecution to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt in respect of all charges. This sometimes happens, Mr Booker. The jury were, it seems, satisfied so they were sure in respect of the convicted defendants, so one can infer that they thought some of the evidence was pretty damn compelling.

There was, says Booker, little or no medical evidence or corroboration, but the case rested on evidence from the children themselves by way of foster carer notes and ABE interviews. In itself not an uncommon situation for cases involving CSE - something that makes them harder but not impossible to prove. That the defence counsel attempted to rubbish the evidential value of this evidence is hardly a surprise. One would be rather more surprised if defence counsel had not bothered.

That there had been suggestions that the professionals had somehow tampered with or edited the records of the disclosures made by the children has already been widely reported. It is a matter of public record that there was a police enquiry into these matters, and that the social worker involved was cross examined on the issue in the criminal trial (I note, incidentally that none of the social workers named in the press reports appear to have any disciplinary sanctions against their name on the HCPC website and that the police investigation into this was NFA'd). I anticipate that this "doctoring of the evidence" was a significant aspect of the defence, but it appears that it was not successful and the jury believed the children who (presumably) gave evidence by video link at the trial. Again, the jury heard the evidence, including the cross examination of the social worker involved, and assessed it in the knowledge that there were some procedural failings - they still thought it was strong enough to convict. (Of course it is concerning to hear that this issue arose at all - it is the sort of thing that can undermine a prosecution, causing injustice to victims and, on the flip side, which can lead to injustice to defendants. This was no doubt why the police took it sufficiently seriously to mount an investigation. But again, Booker's article gives us no reason to think the decision to discontinue this investigation and proceed with the CSA prosecution was wrong - and the jury took the view that they could rely on the evidence of the children in spite of these issues.)

Booker tells us that "defence counsel were not happy at the judge’s ruling that they could not call as an expert witness the country’s leading academic authority on “false recovered memories’’ and how interviewees can be led by persistent questions into recalling events which never happened." There is no information in the public domain about why this application may have been refused, but it is a controversial area and one man's "leading academic authority" is another's hired gun or lone soldier. If there are appeals from the conviction perhaps this will feature. A well founded appeal does not inevitably follow however, from the disappointment of defence counsel. Unless and until there is an appeal it is as well not to speculate. At the moment the judge and jury know a hell of a lot more than we do.

"We can only hope" says Booker, that "as the police set out to tackle their “greatest challenge of the 21st century”,... any evidence they come up with is put to the most rigorous test of reliability, and has only been acquired strictly according to the rules." 

A "most rigorous test of reliability", you say? Perhaps you have in mind something like...ooh, I dunno...a full criminal trial spanning many weeks of evidence, involving highly skilled advocates employed to test the evidence for both defence and prosecution, a jury of twelve of the good men and women of Norwich, and a judge to give them careful direction on the law? Something, it is worth reminding ourselves, is not available to dead men like Edward Heath, but was afforded to the defendants in the Norwich case. Alternatively, we could rigorously test the reliability of convictions by just seeing if Christopher Booker floats? After all, his opinion does seem to derive from some magical knowledge that he has not shared with us - and I am pretty sure he is made of wood.

It appears that Booker has something he wants to say, but he can't say it "for legal reasons". The result is an article that discloses no sort of basis at all for supposing that the convictions are not sound. Wrongful convictions do happen, and these may in due course be appealed and overturned, but I don't have a crystal ball and I wouldn't suggest that the jury were wrong on the strength of an insinuation of something sinister (conveyed primarily by means of an exorbitant use of quote marks) from Mr Booker.

If even the Telegraph's lawyers won't let him say it, it is probably just as well they have "legalled" him (perhaps the article was still being butchered by the lawyers when the print edition went to press).

Whatever has gone on behind the scenes, this article is a pointless puff as a result. But it has at least afforded us the opportunity to visualise Christopher Booker in a pointy hat and long black frock. And that has cheered me right up.

19 thoughts on “Witchhunts and Whispers

  1. I am disgusted by your comments, you have no knowledge of paedophiles obviously! This blog is simply to allow you to advance your career not to work at improving justice. Shame on you.

    • I’m sorry you feel that way, but am not quite sure what I have said that has upset you.

    • Eva, *I* have knowledge of paedophiles and of paedophila and it sounds as if you do too. I don’t know if you’re referring to a professional or personal knowledge of perpetrators of abuse. To be clear, my knowledge is of having survived sexual abuse.

      Lucy doesn’t need an apologist and I offer no apologising here. I do, however, get motivated to speak up when I read or hear emotional blanket statements such as yours, Eva.

      I needed to challenge your all-encompassing statement that Lucy obviously has no knowledge of paedophiles. I’ll be up front and honest here: I get sick of people claiming provenance in matters of sexual abuse. I’m aware of the phenomena held by some that 1, unless you are sexual abuse survivor you cannot comment on any matter pertaining to sexual abuse and 2, that unless you are a professional worker and work with sexual abuse survivors in a professional, supportive, capacity then you cannot opine about sexual abuse. [It’s been my experience that the persons identifying with my ‘group 1’ are usually highly suspicious of and rarely grant admittance to ‘group 2’ to their sacred inner sanctum of sexual abuse].

      Let us assume that Lucy has no clue at all about sexual abuse. If this were the case (highly doubtful in the course of her professional work), of what assistance would such knowledge be to her or to either of us if she doesn’t ‘know about paedophiles’?

      I, for one, have no special insight into the foul world of paedophila just because I was sexually abused. I have no special powers of discernment granted me though I have met other sexual abuse survivors throughout my life though, who claim to have a ‘heightened sense of awareness’ or empathic ability to “know” more than people who haven’t suffered similarly.

      Even with extra-sensory perception, how could such power assist in any legal case involving sexual bause?

      As I say, I have ‘knowledge of’ paedophilia and of paedophiles. But how might this knowledge assist my understanding of the Black case or the Heath case or the Savile case for that matter?

      Of course a professional, working knowledge of the phenomena of paedophilia could, arguably, give one a certain skill set in being able to forensically examine evidence. But of what use would such a skill set be to you or I (or Lucy) when we are not even IN-directly involved in a specific case?

  2. I would hold your counsel on the Black case. I have had no personal involvement with the Black case but others have kept me in touch from quite some time before any criminal allegations were made against her. There appears to be more evidence that has not yet made it to court. As you rightly point out: “one man’s leading academic authority is another’s hired gun” but that works both ways. Given the number of cases that Kids for Cash UK has investigated where social workers are evidenced as conspiring to pervert the course of justice, sometimes having colluded with ‘expert witnesses’, it would be unwise to make a final judgment on Booker’s position re Black. Noteworthy is that one of the cases in which we are tangentially involved, that has just received exceptional case funding for a full review, evidences collusion between social workers and an expert witness in fabricating evidence provided to the court.

    [your allegations re Leicester CSA And Haigh case edited for legal reasons]

    The MoJ and the police are aware that, at the insistence originally of Starmer, all CSA cases should be reviewed by a specialist CPS lawyer. That edict has been completely ignored by all concerned in the Haigh case. Starmer’s National Panel did no more than bounce the case back to S Yorks police for review.

    [More Haigh material edited for legal reasons]

    In terms of organised child sex abuse, the top and bottom of it is that the discussions around ‘incompetence’ at Rotherham are a red herring. Social workers, across the UK, have been farming out children in care for abuse by the Great and the Good. Those involved will stop at nothing to avoid this coming to light. We have at least eight murders, unexpected deaths and disappearances in the Leics cases.

    I think that you’re well-meaning but painfully naïve as to the influence of establishment players with the kind of connections that can ensure that cases are listed to safe pairs of hands. The sneering words of an eminent peer’s threat to an individual who threatened to expose the culpability of his company at a scheduled public inquiry still ring in my ears: “Don’t you realise there isn’t a judge in this land that I can’t get to…”

    • David, I am holding my counsel. That, if you had not appreciated it, was rather the point. If and when some evidence is produced to undermine the convictions so be it – I am not closing my mind to that possibility. I just haven’t seen anything yet, and certainly nothing in the Booker article that drives me to the conclusion the jury were wrong or the trial corrupted. I am well aware of a number of allegations and rumours swirling around the internet about this and other cases. I tend not to rely on chat things the internet believes as my sole source of information. It talks rubbish a lot of the time. I’m not at all naive about CSE or the potential influence by people upon due process. I just haven’t seen any evidence of that here. I do not say the system is infallible, but if we can’t rely on convictions as prima facie evidence of criminal conduct where are we?

  3. I’m not trying to defend Mr. Booker in his reporting, but if you want to challenge his opinion you would do better to acquaint yourself with the facts of the case and make a proper argument. There is a cloud of doubt surrounding this case, firstly the police abandoned their initial investigation in 2010 because [edited].
    Social Services were investigated for making changes to the children’s testimony allegedly removing leading questions (why would you do that? Social Services interview with children should definitely be recorded!) and [edited] allegations of satanic abuse such as the children being forced to drink the blood of babies Baby blood allegations ‘nonsensical’
    Police Investigate Social Workers

    • I have acquainted myself with the facts of this case as they are available and in the public domain. I am also aware of a lot of allegations, theories and hypotheses around and about – along with some other very interesting information about the case that cannot be reported. I did not find much factual information in the Booker article. I have edited your comment to remove assertions that I have not seen in the public domain. I’m not challenging Booker’s opinion – he may be right, although I have seen no evidence to back up his views. What I am challenging is the purposefulness of him stating his opinion when it is supported by no evidence at all. Mr Booker’s article would have made better reading if he saved it until he was able to produce evidence. Otherwise it is no more than speculation and insinuation about the corruption or failures of others. And apart from anything else it is quite disrespectful of the experiences of the children who the criminal process has deemed to be victims of these crimes. I think they are entitled to be treated as such unless and until there is a successful appeal.

  4. [Edited. Brian I have edited your comment for legal reasons. Sorry.]

    • What can be said is limited since I assume there is likely to be an appeal.

      however I can only suggest Lucy you examine the American SRA and CSA cases of 25 – 28 years ago and their conclusions.

      And the British cases of 22 – 26 years ago following them, in particular the JET Report (Joint Enquiry Team) Report of the Broxtowe, Nottingham Case,

      Also the reasons why the ABE interview system was set up.

      We have not even got on yet to the Recovered Memory movement of 23 -21 years ago to which Christopher Booker appears to refer.

  5. [edited]

    The only information I’ve posted here is derived directly from information I found through a quick internet search and is therefore all in the public domain, I have no direct, confidential knowledge of the case myself. Can you explain what your legal reasons are please?

    • No, I can’t explain my legal reasons without doing the thing I’m trying to avoid inadvertently doing in the first place. I am aware that everything you attempted to post is in the public domain. I am adopting a cautious approach for the time being.

  6. I thought it was a good blog and journalists need to be called out for their shoddy page filling. Some people are actually influenced by made up nonsense and insinuations in the press.

  7. Marie Black was in my opinion [edited – legal reasons]. My friend Lynne Daniels attended court every day and kept Christopher and myself well briefed despite a petulant judge singling her out to forbid her to take any notes !
    [edited – legal reasons]
    As for Booker’s article. He gave no opinion as to innocence or guilt. He attacked the highly irregular and possibly illegal way in which the trial was conducted by a hostile judge [edited – legal reasons] Booker was quite right to correct the way in which the bbc initially publicised but later corrected the result.

    • “g”. Unusually, for you, you do not identify yourself. Why?
      You are wise enough to know that I would not be able to publish your comment for legal reasons, and thus I have edited it heavily.
      I disagree that Booker gave no opinion as to innocence or guilt. His opinion is pretty clear.

  8. Christopher Booker is to investigative journalism what Arthur Scargill once was to political leadership. Any talents he once may have had are misapplied in the wrong direction. He sees conspiracy theories around every corner. I am surprised the Telegraph still allow him to write for them. Then again there is quite a tradition of printing this sort of off-the-wall stuff from those who should long ago have been pensioned off. Woodrow Wyatt was a classic example. I think they are probably just doing it for a laugh.

  9. Thanks for this objective, clear, reasoned and well argued piece. Makes a change from all the opinionated unsubstantiated articles using unnamed sources to argue that allegations of child sex abuse are usually witch hunts, fantasies, false memories or lurid sensationalism!

    Seems to be a concerted media smear campaign to that effect, and the forthcoming BBC Panorma doc “debunking” the VIP child sex a use inquiries (see my use of quotation marks!) looks all set to jump on that bandwagon.

    Extraordinary how hard the media will fight to insist it’s all a big fantasy, and SO unfair on the poor maligned suspects/accused – even when they are, as in the case of Marie Black – actually convicted!

    So little media coverage argues the case for survivors, witnesses or whistleblowers. So much derides their claims and smears their characters.
    Why this dramatic contrast in representation, I wonder?

  10. A paedophile ring consisting of four men and six women. Yeah, right. I’ve only ever heard of one bona fide ring that contained one female, and she was in it only because she had been groomed, to use a fashionable word.

    The exclusion of expert evidence is damning. I suggest you familiarise yourself with McMartin, Bakersfield and in particular the Kelly Michaels case before you too dismiss it. Very young children are easily groomed by leading questions. Groomed and brainwashed. The implanting of false memories in even well-balanced adults is a scientifically proven fact, as demonstrated by Elizabeth Loftus and replicated many times including by studies on this side of the Atlantic.

    The imbeciles at the CPS are interested only in convictions, which is why the protocols for developing “best” evidence have been so devised.

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