Saturday 18 April 2015

Janner v Beck and the conspiracy cloud atlas

With the announcement by the CPS that Lord Janner will not be prosecuted despite ‘credible evidence’ of serious sexual offences, the clock has been turned back to 1991 and the conviction of Frank Beck.

The Beck case was the first high-profile trawling operation in children’s homes. 

It formed the template for the massive police investigations across Britain in the following decade, beginning with the North Wales enquiry which has been resurrected in Operation Pallial.

At the core of these investigations was a belief by the police that paedophiles had infiltrated children’s homes on a massive scale and were farming children out to powerful people running rings and networks of abuse.

The Beck investigation began in 1989 at the height of claims about ‘satanic abuse’ sweeping Britain.

These had originally centred on impoverished dysfunctional families, with social workers imposing their beliefs on vulnerable young children.

As the social workers became locked into the self-reinforcing belief system, they began to posit a great chain of ritual abuse stretching to the highest in the land.

The fundamental flaws in this approach were exposed in a joint police and social services enquiry and family court cases with the findings later confirmed in a Government commissioned investigation by Professor Jean La Fontaine.

But back in 1989 there was an expectant air, with the potential victims extended to children’s homes.

The homes were, it was thought, the nursery slopes of a vast industry of child exploitation beginning with sexual abuse, moving on to commercial child pornography, snuff movies and the satanic overlords.

The homes were the lower and crossover levels of ‘organised abuse’ – the name adopted once the satanic claims came under critical scrutiny.  The term was ambiguous: was the ‘organisation’ the home, or the nature of the abuse?

For many it was an acceptable obfuscation of the satanic theories retaining the essential core belief in a massive interconnected conspiracy which had been successfully covered-up by powerful forces including senior police and politicians largely through allusions to corruption in freemasonry.

Adopting the modus operandi of the social workers, the police thought that victims would not, or could not, voluntarily complain.

This was not merely because they might be disbelieved or intimidated.  They were psychologically unable to speak out unless pressed - or led.

Sometimes this translated into being induced by the prospect of compensation.

In fact it was assumed that the nature of the abuse was such that victims may have no conscious recall at all. ‘Recovered’ and ‘dissociated’ memory – a cornerstone of the satanic abuse claims - became an accepted part of the interrogative investigative arsenal.

Frank Beck was a maverick social worker who had successfully managed a string of children’s homes in Leicestershire.  He had long courted controversy through his own use of behavioural therapeutic techniques based on the psychobabble theories popular in the 70s.

The overarching theory at the time was that the cause of child and adult disturbance was maternal rejection.  The cure was to ‘regress’ teenagers back to infancy and begin the developmental process
over again.

This included the bizarre practice of giving adolescents feeding bottles, or even nappies, while treating them like infants within a nurturing and loving environment, allowing them to develop the sense of security that had been previously lacking.

At the time it seemed as if these techniques had a measure of success and Beck was able to pursue his methods without censure, even though this included provoking children’s anger to breaking point in order to destroy their defences and begin the process of ‘regression’.

When the police began to look into these practices, they quickly formed the belief that the ‘therapy’ was a smokescreen; a means of making children vulnerable to horrendous sexual abuse.

But while castigating Beck’s ‘regression’ methods and theories, the police happily employed the rationale of ‘recovered memory’, gathering a mounting number of serious allegations against Beck.

Yet, as with subsequent investigations, as the enquiry progressed, the original hypothesis receded.

They expected to find evidence of child pornography and snuff movies connected to the hierarchy of ‘rings’ leading to the Shangri-La of the network controllers.  

But while the allegations were horrific enough, they remained rooted to the day to day mundanities of life in the homes.

Although others were charged with Beck, the end product for the prosecution was based on the force of Beck’s personality alone in successfully abusing children without prior detection.

Beck meanwhile protested his innocence: he had been framed.  But lacking any clear perspective of the trawling philosophy and its provenance, he adopted a conspiracy theory of his own.  There was indeed a network of powerful paedophiles at large, but far from feeding them, it was his own rear-
guard attempts to expose this which had led to his framing.

Thus the trump card for Beck in his defence became Greville Janner: a boy at a home had confided in him about abuse by Janner and because he tried to protect him from his incursions, he had become the victim of a massive witchhunt.

He firstly shouted out Janner’s name at a remand hearing.  This caused a furore ensuring that the subsequent two month trial would be swamped with media interest.

In due course  Beck mounted his defence with evidence of letters to a boy and correspondence from Beck to Janner which he claimed was to warn him off.

The alleged victim, Paul Winston, gave evidence in Beck’s defence telling of visits to the House of Commons and stays in the Leicester Holiday Inn.

Janner of course was not a witness.  He had denied the allegations and had been voluntarily interviewed by the police at his own request.  After the trial, he told the House of Commons that he and his family had befriended a boy, as had many others at the time, in order to improve his welfare and life prospects but this had soured, with the net result being false allegations in support of Beck.

At trial, evidence from Winston was inconsistent and the correspondence from Beck to Janner went no further than requesting him not to send presents, as this incited the jealousy of other residents.

The prosecution called the Janner defence a ‘red herring’ and urged the jury to discount this and the concomitant conspiracy theory.

Beck was in due course convicted of the major part of the charges and sentenced to five life sentences and 26 years.  He became dubbed as 'a monster' while the now familiar questions of how it could have happened under the auspices of the council and without prior detection by the police ran
rampant in the press.

A subsequent enquiry by Andrew Kirkwood QC carefully documented the rise and fall of Beck and the convictions of other care workers for minor sexual offences within the county over the years.

With hindsight there were numerous ‘warning signs’ and overlooked irregularities.  

But try as he might, he could not find evidence of a ring, or networks of freemasons involved in systematic cover-ups.

As with the prosecution, it was said to be the power of Beck’s personality that had dazzled to deceive.  The monster had been caged, but the mystery of how he had remained at large remained

Soon Beck and the Janner defence became forgotten, overtaken by the much larger trawl investigations elsewhere.  Beck died from a heart attack in prison in 1994, still protesting his innocence.

In the wake of the Beck case, it was the North Wales cases that adopted the mantle of conspiracy.

Once again, it was the police investigations themselves which fuelled, and were fuelled by, the theories, but once the evidence was sifted, there was nothing but a string of allegations against individuals.

And so once more the puzzle of how the extent of abuse could have happened without detection led to speculation and inquiries.

The Waterhouse Tribunal was specifically aimed at establishing, whether, beyond the convictions, there was an organised network in charge.

The conclusion, not without the Tribunal having invited a flood of  additional  claims against individual care workers, was in the negative.

However with the dawning of the internet age and social media, conspiracy theories, once confined to fringe publications such as Scallywag, Lobster and the occasional insinuation in Private Eye, went viral.

And there were powerful interests in the chase.  Mohammed Fayed, the former owner of Harrods who bore a grudge against the British establishment for refusing him citizenship, bought into the idea that the Establishment was indeed controlled by corrupt homosexuals and paedophiles.

And when his son and Princess Diana died in a car crash occurring under his patronage, he was determined to pin the blame on this very same establishment conspiracy - which could heuristically be extended to royalty in his cause.

And then came Jimmy Savile and the hundreds of alleged offences ‘hiding in plain sight’.  Operation Yewtree, posited on Savile being at the centre of a celebrity ring or network, was launched.

The sudden mushrooming of claims about Savile ignited fresh interest in conspiracies.  Wasting no time, the North Wales activists unplugged the genie in the Waterhouse bottle.

While the McAlpine claim collapsed in ignominy for the BBC, a fresh inquiry into Waterhouse was launched with a new major police investigation into North Wales care homes and outside networks, Operation Pallial.

And so it continues.  The overarching Goddard enquiry is tasked with examining the entire framework of alleged rings, networks and cover-ups.

Janner complainants will enjoy immunity from both defamation and effective defence in being able to give evidence to the enquiry, in the manner of 'ceremonial confirmation' demanded by complainants.

Meanwhile a High Court Judge, Sir Richard Henriques has been tasked to examine the failure to previously prosecute Janner.  It will be interesting to see his findings.  The CPS say there was sufficient evidence to prosecute in 1991.

But is that the case?  The only complainant then was Winston.  His evidence at Beck’s trial was inconsistent.  He may have had a criminal record.  At that time, there was a mandatory corroboration warning given to juries and other safeguards which have since fallen by the wayside.

A single complainant case in a non-domestic historical case in such circumstances would have had scant chance of success.

And there was another problem.  As Winston had given evidence for Beck, his evidence at a Janner trial, if accepted, could undermine the safety of the Beck conviction, forming a ground of appeal.

Meanwhile the defence might claim, in the light of the Beck conviction, that Winston was a Beck stooge, undermining his credibility.

It’s easy to see how the odds on conviction might be calculated without any need for a high-ranking cover-up.

It is of course true that other complainants have since emerged.  But then the Janner story has had a long period of gestation in the public domain. 

Interestingly the latest crop of complainants are all said to be from care homes in Leicester, yet none other than Winston made any allegations against Janner at the time of the Beck trawl.

So where does this leave Beck?

Was he, as the conspiracy theorists and the police originally believed, part of an organised hierarchy of abuse?

Or was he innocent – framed by the conspiracy extending to the police operation?

If the former, did he try and defend himself by grassing on Janner, exposing ‘the tip of the iceberg’?

Or if the latter, does this mean that other innocent people have been ‘framed’ to protect the guilty?

In general, the conspiracy theorists take it as read that those indicted in trawls are guilty.

But if  the guilt of Beck were to  be presumed, the ‘Janner defence’ would have been potentially self-incriminating, since it could have revealed Beck to have been part of a chain of iniquity far outstripping the offences with which he was charged.

And since that time, no other defendant in trawl cases has put forward a similar defence.

So the puzzle remains.  How is it that so many got away with so much for so long if there weren’t powerful interests protecting them?

There is an alternative.  Anyone looking into the rise of the trawls and exponential growth in historic allegations will see that there is a triad in common throughout.

It is the belief in past sexual abuse as a hidden cause of life problems; the belief in the ubiquity of paedophiles extending to rings and networks, and the growth of the compensation industry.

By some strange alchemy, these ingredients arose in the late 80s at exactly the same time, and to the same effect.

The inflation of belief may net true allegations, but it can also create an undifferentiated mass of false and exaggerated claims.  Distilling life’s problems through the prism of abuse on invitation is a way of excusing personal faults and shortcomings with the bonus of financial gain.

This alternative would explain how it is that the conspiracy theories not only refuse to go away, but become magnified.

As an increasing number of people are convicted for serious historic offences, the implausibility of this happening on an ever-widening scale without prior detection becomes magnified.  Thus the conspiracy theories are reinforced.

But if, on the other hand, some, or many, of the people are innocent and wrongly convicted, then the failure is explained by the fact there was nothing to detect.

However, if wrongful prosecutions and convictions are not detected, then not only is it  a personal tragedy for those involved, it also wrong foots the entire criminal justice system, the media and public opinion.

The failure to detect miscarriages of justice, and the flaws within the criminal justice system leading to them, increases the likelihood of an escalating rate of wrongful prosecutions and convictions, because the flaws leading to this, rather than being rectified, are reinforced and magnified.

So what of Beck?  Could he have been innocent, at least of the most serious charges, and if so why did he point to Janner and a conspiracy theory?

Janner may or may not be guilty of some things.  But it’s possible both that the prosecution were right about it being a ‘red herring’ and that Beck was largely innocent.

Confronted with the mass of allegations, he would have wondered what it was that had caused this.

He knew he had enemies within the council, but could, or would, they have manufactured a witch-hunt against him of this magnitude and scale?

But Beck was not immune to the mood music of the age – the conspiracy theory.  Whatever the truth of the Winston claim re Janner, here was a member of the elite implicated in abuse.

Just as complainants may convince themselves that abuse, real or imagined, is the sole cause of their life’s problems, so could Beck have come to think that Janner, and the powerful elite, were the sole cause of his difficulties.

That he had that kind of obsessional personality is indicated by his faith in half-
baked methods such as ‘regression therapy’.

The irony is that in attempting to defend himself, Beck would fuel the conspiracy bandwagon that has, as part of the collateral damage, condemned countless innocent men and women for non-existent offences.  

“We walked in clouds and could not see our way,” was an epitaph by one of the remorseful Salem witch finders.

Has something similar happened with the trawls and their ever-expanding legacy?  

And if so, who, or what, will guide the criminal justice system back on the right path?

Monday 16 March 2015

CPS guidelines and the Pinocchio effect

The trial  had all the hallmarks of ‘grooming’ – a gang of adults luring a vulnerable young girl into sex, drugs, prostitution and trafficking.  

But last week, six weeks after it began, the juggernaut case ground to a halt.

In an unusual move, Judge James O’Mahoney ruled that the complainant’s evidence was too unreliable to be put to the jury.

While she was undoubtedly a vulnerable witness with an unhappy life history, he said her evidence was replete with lies and contradictions as against the known facts.  

The seven defendants, Roma Slovaks, as was the complainant, walked free.

The newspaper report stated that the judge criticised the investigation ‘ “the police had asked leading questions, had failed to consider the girl’s “tendency to confabulate”, had failed to challenge inconsistencies in her evidence and had failed to restrict the number and length of interviews with the teenager.

‘He said there had been a serious lack of neutrality during police interviews with officers telling the girl, “I know you have told the truth”, and “I think it's awful what you’ve gone through”.’

With such manifest flaws, it might be asked how the multimillion pound case got past the Crown Prosecution Service.   

But the answer is simple, it was in line with their guidelines.

For when interviewing complainants, investigators are led to expect that

  • They may give inconsistent and contradictory accounts
  • They may need to be repeatedly interviewed giving piecemeal accounts, sometimes  saving the worst until last 
  • The fact of inconsistency and contradiction may be symptom of abuse and confirmatory supporting evidence
  • The complainants are victims.
The danger of confabulation in such circumstances is not recognised at all.  Yet it is a fundamental risk, not just in this case but in all grooming and historic cases where ‘case building’ relies heavily on a progressive narrative by complainants, and where there is a presumption of victimhood. 

In multi-complainant cases the risk is greater because not only are potential complainants allowed to be told about what others are claiming, leading to the possibility of cross-contamination, but there is a greater likelihood of the case being decided by the jury where the lurid similarity of claims may prompt a jury to convict on dubious grounds.

For the fact is that the term ‘vulnerable’ when applied to witnesses who have a history of difficult and wayward behaviour, or as GMC police chief Sir Peter Fahy termed it ‘putting themselves at risk’, does not only mean they are open to sexual exploitation, but can also mean they are open to suggestion by their saviours – the police, social workers and allied multiagency services.

While it is undoubtedly true that these cases are tricky to investigate, and that serious crimes may have been committed, the CPS guidelines are in fact a rehash of the notorious ‘child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome’ which fuelled the ‘satanic abuse’ daycare cases such as McMartin and a host of miscarriages of justice.  

Such ‘counterintuitive’ theories, while popular within the sexual abuse industry, have no empirical basis and when used as an investigative tool may massively inflate claims, building a phantom shared narrative.   

It may then become very difficult to distinguish the real from the imagined with genuine offences becoming submerged within fantasy, or even overlooked.

However, the most imminent danger is that of miscarriages of justice.  For not only are the CPS guidelines a template for investigation and prosecution, but judges may now direct the jury to similar effect.  

Under the rubric of ‘myth busting’ in the Crown Court specimen direction benchbook, juries can be told that (at pp361-2) inconsistencies may be a result of trauma caused by the offence, and may discount them in coming to a verdict. 

These directions have been upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Not only is this presumptive, since in order for the jury to consider the evidence in this way, they have to decide that the offence was committed, but it undermines the standard of proof.

Where a case depends substantially on oral testimony, the only way a jury can be sure of guilt is by examining the cogency and consistency of testimony.  

Of course there will be cases where the defendant’s evidence is poor and that can support the prosecution, but in many cases all that may be possible for the defendant to give is a flat denial, with nothing other than the complainant’s evidence to rely on.  

If a complainant’s evidence is seriously inconsistent, then the only fair and rational verdict is to acquit.  

Of course it does not mean that a complainant is necessarily lying or mistaken about the offence, but insofar as the burden of proof is on the prosecution and the standard of proof is to be sure of guilt, then acquittal is the only safe conclusion. 

With the police and CPS falling over themselves in conducting mass investigations into CSE, and other historic inquiries, Judge O’Mahoney’s intervention is as timely as it is exceptional.

While there are still judges who believe in the principle of the ascendancy of cogency and consistency in evidence, it has been discarded by the CPS in this field, and compromised by the Judicial Studies Board.  

The safeguards to the integrity of justice in England and Wales have not only been eroded, but are hanging by a thread.

Friday 27 February 2015

Savile abuse inquiries – a case of demonic belief possession?

‘We now know the identity of the most reviled man in the world…’ said the BBC broadcaster.  On the day of the publication of the long-awaited report into Jimmy Savile at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, it might be thought to be a reference to the deceased celebrity.  

In fact it was ‘Jihadi John’, who proudly parades beheadings on the internet.

However the eliding of a bloodthirsty terrorist with the posthumous reputation of Savile is not that far-fetched in view of the hyperbole that has attended his fate since the first claims became publicised back in 2012.

Beginning with the Met police and NSPCC report ‘Giving Victims a Voice’ findings have been made on the strength of the historic allegations alone.  

Subsequent detailed reports intended to investigate claims tend not to go further than rudimentary checks, where available, while the allegations remain vague, replete with stereotyped notions of sexual assault.

On Radio 4’s Today programme, a former friend and employee of Saville for 40 years had the temerity to question the posthumous demonization. 

Frankly, she said, she could not accept any of the allegations as true without a proper court case.  She did not know what was true, but it didn’t accord with her experience of him at the time, nor many others she knew.

For the authors of the report however there are no doubts, and nor had there been. 

They proceeded on the basis that all claims were true and found accordingly.  There was no documentary evidence, and it seems the only complaints made at the time were seen as ‘inappropriate behaviour’ (in one case giving a 14 year old girl flowers) rather than sexual assault or worse.

As the presumption of guilt has gathered pace the authors are casually flippant about the defects in methodology, citing CPS policy and ‘sexual abuse ‘experts in support.

We learn from the report:
6.6 Some of the victims were confused about dates and on occasions a few provided inconsistent accounts. However it should be understood that this is entirely normal and recognised as such by both sexual abuse experts and the Crown Prosecution Service. In itself this is not an indication that an account is false and is a frequent feature of statements given by individuals who are reporting events from a long time ago. Alison Levitt QC, Principal Legal Advisor to the Director of Public Prosecutions, wrote a report in March 2013 which said “… damaging myths and stereotypes which are associated with these cases. One such misplaced belief is that false allegations of rape… are rife”. Alison Levitt’s research shows that false allegations are rare and current thinking stipulates that victims should be believed unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise. In the case of the Stoke Mandeville Hospital victims no such evidence existed.

6.7 The Investigation could not find clinical records for each of the patient victims as most of these had been destroyed. Personnel records for staff victims (who no longer worked at the Hospital) had also been destroyed and visitor victims left no traceable evidence behind them to show that they had ever been to the Hospital.’

All the allegations therefore are rubber-stamped as true without more. 

You can see their point.  Why bother to look into claims when you’ve already come to a decision?

Strangely enough though, there is no mention of psychotherapist Valerie Sinason’s claim that patients from Stoke Mandeville told her about 'satanic abuse' at the hospital. 

Were these claims not submitted to the enquiry?  Or were they put aside as being fanciful, undermining the credibility of other complaints?

Ms Sinason, who is a specialist in ‘multiple personality disorder’, is an ardent crusader for belief in ‘satanic abuse’ despite its doleful history as a mythical conspiracy theory. 

Nevertheless her status as a former NHS psychotherapist and her publicising of claims ought, one might think, have drawn the attention of the panel to consider it in some measure.

The Stoke Mandeville report is in fact unique among the slew of new reports published in that although it has the most extensive and serious claims, and is likely to be the most influential, it affords the least effort among the reports in terms of attempts at substantiation.

Some of the other reports, while nominally more probative, made findings on the basis of alleged ‘encounters’ or potential ‘sightings’ of Savile as if not only his alleged offending is a worthy subject of damning enquiry, but his very presence.

The term ‘demonised’ is frequently an over-used cliché, but the Jimmy Savile ‘legacy’ suggests that he really has become, in secular terms, the devil incarnate.  

Indeed, some of the descriptions appear to resemble sightings of a mythical incubus, rather than anything happening in space and time, which may be telling in itself.  

Meanwhile in Leeds, a new report builds on the previous one (which kick-started the mortuary allegations) with fresh complaints considered at length, that were prompted by the previous report.

It seems that the Savile legacy will be a never-ending story, at least until the money dries up.

But in fact there is not a single allegation of any seriousness against Jimmy Savile that we have read about which could be said to be evidentially reliable on the basis of the evidence provided.  

Claims that ‘everybody knew’ he was a sex pest or a paedophile appear to be post hoc reminiscences, possibly based on vague rumour or exaggeration, since he was certainly tactile and given to kissing ladies’ hands or arms in public. 

The ‘paedophile’ rumours surrounded him for some years before his death – but again there was no reliable evidence and plenty of people who now claim ‘they knew’ were happy to hobnob with him at the time.

The fact is we don’t know the nature and extent of his alleged offending.  What we do know is that there are numerous claimants seeking compensation from private and public resources.  Some of these have already been sifted as unreliable using minuscule resources compared to the official reports

Even a few dogged individual researchers on the internet have been able to find evidence to contradict claims – often through critical scrutiny of publicly available news reports and documents – which are, to coin a phrase ‘in plain sight’. 

They in turn have been contacted by people who did know Savile and are bemused and sceptical. 
But outside the blogs, it appears that these plaintive witnesses are given no voice by the media or the enquiries.

Of course there are many claimants, but nearly all have come forward since the broadcast of the Exposure documentary, which has been investigated as being critically flawed.  

The presumption that numbers necessarily dictate truth is wrong.

Whatever the actual truth in individual cases there are numerous ways mass claims may be false.

Firstly, none of the claims are truly independent.  They have come in the wake of the original claims. When it is claimed complaints were made at the time, there is no proof that this was the case, or if so, that the complaint at that time was similar to that made now.

Collective delusions and mass hysteria are well-known psychological phenomena. While they generally affect confined communities, in the age of mass and social media, they may travel across a wide community.  

Anyone who met Savile, or might have, may then ‘remember’ an alleged assault, or exaggerate an innocuous event.  Being told he was a very bad man, may invite radical memory reconstruction.

Then there are people who are fantasists and habitual liars. These may be a minority of claimants, but can be significant, particularly when it comes to dramatic claims.

Then there is the previous history of rumour surrounding Savile. The fact that rumours were already in circulation prior to his death, is an invitation for people to make false claims.  That is the nature of rumour.  Celebrity may attract this, just as claims of child incest were levelled against Marie Antoinette on the basis of her position and profligacy (and of course her alleged sexual licentiousness was the subject of numerous published pornographic libelles).

As judges used to say, experience shows that people do make false allegations of sexual crimes. 
Whether there is something particular about the subject matter that turns heads, other than being hard to refute, is an open question.  

Freud thought his patients had all been sexually abused having presumed this was the case.  Then he decided that women have sexual incest fantasies.  But whose were they? His implanted in their minds, the women’s, or true experiences?  

Perhaps a mixture, but bearing in mind the age old ideas about demonic sexual predators – the incubi – there may be something in the idea that fantasies about sexual experiences are more prevalent than might be the case in other domains.

Yet it was the Freudian heritage that concentrated modern minds on the idea of the ubiquity of sexual abuse,  the  supposed unique effect undermining psychological well-being and, finally, the belief that ‘memories’ of assaults can lie frozen in the mind for decades until ‘defrosted’ by a ‘trigger’ event.

The theory of ‘repressed’ and recovered memory for significant adverse experiences has no scientific standing.  Yet many of the alleged Savile victims claim it was only when they saw or read about his alleged offences that they ‘remembered’.

In all cases, the prospect of significant compensation payouts without being held to account has to be seen as a significant incentive to exaggerate, lie or fantasise. 

Yet for the report writers no such possibility appears to either be contemplated or to be worthy of consideration.  

Given the incentives to make false allegations and the effect of the publicity surrounding the initial claims, this complete absence of scepticism is staggering, if predictable.

For as the report says, this is what the CPS and the police consider to be right in addressing sexual allegations, while constantly appealing for more people to make claims.  It is true that many sexual assault victims do not report their experiences, but this is usually because they are relationship based where understandable factors may inhibit.  

But as the ease with which claims such as those in Stoke Mandeville are accepted without scrutiny becomes more widely recognised – and with it the CPS and police policy to this effect – it is inevitable that yet more false allegations will be generated, to the further detriment of justice in the UK.