Another post in the making myself even less popular series.
It does strike as just slightly odd then that mere weeks later a genuinely extraordinary press conference by Harvey Proctor, during which he outlined in full the allegations of both child sexual abuse and murder, made not just against him but other senior members of the establishment, has slipped down the news agenda quite so quickly. Only the Mail and Independent lead with it on their front pages, and beyond the interviews Proctor gave, little in the way of further analysis of the claims being made about a Westminster/establishment paedophile ring has been forthcoming. One has to wonder if whether this might either be as a result of a request from the Metropolitan police, who yesterday were declining to comment on Proctor's media blitz, or if others have taken the same tact as the Guardian, declining to name the other figures identified out of a misplaced sense of not further spreading unproven allegations.
Some of it can undoubtedly be put down to the extravagant, hyperbolic way in which Proctor put his message across. Either he should be arrested, charged and prosecuted immediately, or his accuser, known only as "Nick", should be charged with wasting police time, while the officer in charge of Operation Midland, Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald, should either resign, be sacked or demoted to traffic duties. Oh, and both should be medically examined to ensure they are of sound mind.
Proctor has done himself no favours with such personal attacks. He does though have absolutely every right to be as angry and bewildered as he is. When someone makes allegations as lurid and as serious as the ones that Nick has, not just against Harvey Proctor but, to reel off the list Proctor was provided with, Ted Heath, Leon Brittan, Lord Janner, Lord Bramall, the heads at the time of both MI5 and MI6, General Sir Hugh Beach, a man called Ray Beech, as well as to be asked as to whether he knew or had any association with Jimmy Savile, Leslie Goddard or Peter Hayman, the expectation has to be that they will be investigated thoroughly, properly, and without favour or prejudice. Instead, one of McDonald's first actions following the interviews with Nick was to hold a press conference at which he said that he believed the allegations made to be not just credible, but "true". Nick has since appeared on television a number of times to relate his story, albeit with any details beyond that he was abused by establishment figures and also witnessed the murder of three other boys almost entirely shorn from the interviews.
Now that we know precisely whom Nick is accusing, it does, as Proctor said, seem "so farfetched as to be unbelievable". As Evan Davis nearly summarised on Newsnight last night, either the very worst fears of an establishment abuse ring and cover-up are true, or this is the biggest witch-hunt since the Satanic abuse panic of the late 80s/early 90s, with some of the same individuals involved. The police strategy appears on the surface at least to have been to give publicity to Nick's allegations in the hope that other witnesses will come forward to corroborate them. If anyone has, it would seem their accounts haven't matched, leaving the Met with little evidence other than Nick's statements. This would explain why despite searching Proctor's home and twice interviewing him under caution, he has not been arrested.
Instead, the police have allowed the drip, drip of the claims against various figures, not just Proctor and Heath, to continue for the best part of the 9 months. In the vanguard has been Exaro News, the online agency that has come to specialise in investigating cases of historic child abuse, with a journalist from Exaro apparently sitting in on the interviews between the police and Nick. Exaro also had the scoop on just when Proctor was to be raided and interviewed, whether as a result of the police telling Nick and Nick informing Exaro, or being told directly.
Nick's testimony, regardless of the figures he says were involved in his abuse, is clearly compelling. Without other witnesses however, or when most of those named are either dead or advanced in age, it's left the police with almost nowhere to go. When you've already declared the account given by the witness to be true, a word that Exaro notably have been leaving out of their defences of Nick, saying only that he is regarded as credible, to then not act against Proctor other than to leave him to be judged in the court of public opinion is deeply troubling. Proctor's claims of a homosexual witch-hunt may be over done, at least when it comes to the police, but that these allegations have been made repeatedly and principally against gay men does raise concern.
As does so much about the way these cases have been reported and consumed. I don't know whether Nick's account is true, nor do I know if as Proctor protests, he is innocent. You might well have thought that Proctor's downfall in 1987 over rent boys, albeit ones that would now be above the age of consent, would have led to these even more sensational claims coming to the fore sooner, for instance.
Nonetheless, the more serious and the higher allegations of wrongdoing go, the rule normally is the more evidence is needed in order to convince. Neither the police or media have come close to providing anything other than innuendo or a single, necessarily anonymous source to back up the claims being made. The so close to almost be inseparable involvement of a media organisation with both the witness and the investigating state body also raises alarm bells. For the same media organisations that have had no problem with repeatedly publicising allegations against senior figures without naming them or detailing exactly what they have been accused of to suddenly blanch when the principal accused sets out in unflinching detail the rapes, the stabbings, the running over of a 12-year-old, a list of exactly who is being accused, it smacks of them thinking that their readers will conclude they've been strung along for months once they're given the whole picture, rather than as Exaro laughably claims, about "avoiding contaminating the evidence pool".
This still doesn't explain why so many have been convinced from the moment Nick's allegations were first made public that they were true. Exaro yesterday retweeted someone who asked them to send their regards as Nick was a source of "hope". If that's out of the sense that survivors of abuse will be believed, fine. If however it's because many want Nick's account to be true because it will prove accurate the worst fears or rather prejudices many have long had for politicians, especially Conservative ones, as it's difficult not to detect, that's something quite different. Barth's Notes puts it down to a form of anti-establishment millennialism, but to me it reminds of Nick Davies' mea culpa over the murder of Hilda Murrell, an anti-nuclear campaigner whose death became a cause celebre in the 80s.
Then it was the shadow of the secret state combined with the viciousness of the Thatcher era. Now it's the spectre of the failure to expose Jimmy Savile while he was alive, combined with the general contempt for politicians and the belief that exposing the figures of the past will do for their successors today. Others call for the abused to always be listened to regardless of how outlandish their claims may seem, ignoring how if it turns out that Nick's story is false or doesn't lead to prosecutions the damage likely to be done to public faith in similar exposes will be considerable. Like what Proctor did or not, his actions are a more than understandable response to the mistakes and questionable decisions of both Exaro and the Metropolitan police.