A whitewash that made a mockery of a national scandal: STEPHEN WRIGHT, who has spent five years covering the Carl Beech case, looks back at how the scandal unfolded… and gives his verdict on the BBC’s controversial documentary
- BBC documentary on VIP abuse fantasist Carl Beech was branded a ‘cover-up’
- Victims and family members accused BBC of ‘glossing over’ its own failings
- Programme did, however, acknowledge that Beech’s allegations were ‘lent credibility’ by coverage on the News at Ten
Five years ago I flew to Gibraltar to meet a former Tory MP. He was in self-imposed exile across the border in Spain after he had been accused of being a serial child killer in the UK.
He had lost his job and grace-and-favour home on the Duke of Rutland’s estate as a result of claims that he was part of a murderous VIP paedophile ring – which also included former prime minister Sir Edward Heath, retired chief of the defence staff Lord Bramall and former home secretary Lord Brittan.
The man I met in the lobby at Gibraltar’s imposing Rock Hotel in September 2015 was Harvey Proctor, who had agreed to see me after I had written two prominent articles in the Mail exposing his accuser, a mysterious figure then known as ‘Nick’, as a suspected serial liar and conman.
A BBC documentary on VIP abuse fantasist Carl Beech, pictured above, was branded a ‘cover-up’ last night for failing to properly acknowledge the corporation’s own role in the scandal
We spent several hours together discussing the claims made against him, the support his accuser had received from Labour’s then deputy leader Tom Watson, and the reporting on the case by a little-known investigations website called Exaro – as well as the BBC.
At length, we also talked about the running of Scotland Yard’s controversial VIP abuse inquiry, Operation Midland, and a senior officer’s public declaration that Nick’s allegations were ‘credible and true’.
At the end of our meeting, Proctor – then in his late 60s and dapper in his summer jacket with a colourful pocket handkerchief – tearfully asked me whether I thought he was a serial child killer.
I looked him in the eye and replied firmly: ‘No… and I’m going to see this through to the end. Not only to force the Met to shut down Operation Midland, but to ensure your name is cleared.’
It was to be the start of an extraordinary relationship between me, a long-serving crime journalist, and the former politician who was desperate for anyone to believe in his innocence.
As we went our separate ways that day five years ago, neither of us could possibly have foreseen what lay ahead in the Nick case. Not only did Operation Midland close without any arrests or charges six months later, but a judge-led inquiry into the probe identified 43 major blunders by detectives. It also recommended that Nick – real name Carl Beech – be investigated for perverting the course of justice and fraud. The withering report by former high court judge Sir Richard Henriques also threw the book at Exaro and the BBC.
In addition, it highlighted the role that Watson had played in making the Met take Beech’s allegations – which included claims he had been tortured with wasps and snakes, and had his dog kidnapped by a former spy chief – seriously. Beech, a former NHS manager who was subsequently revealed to be a paedophile himself, was jailed for 18 years last summer.
Proctor belatedly received £900,000 in compensation and legal costs from the Met in an out-of-court settlement. It was a satisfying moment in my career.
So when the BBC approached me late last year asking me to contribute to a documentary on the Beech case, I was happy to help. I wanted to expose how police, politicians and journalists suspended disbelief and were gulled by an opportunist whose appalling lies damaged the hard-earned reputations of innocent VIPs.
This January a BBC crew came to my house and interviewed me for hours about my involvement in the case. I did not hold back in my condemnation of the effects of Beech’s lies, on his greed and lack of empathy for his victims, and how he had exploited the hysteria after the Jimmy Savile scandal for his own benefit.
I was sharply critical of the role of Watson, who had met and supported Beech, and Exaro, the (mercifully now defunct) website which peddled the paedophile’s lies.
I declared that Operation Midland was possibly the worst police investigation ever. Certainly in modern times.
For me, Beech was an outrageous liar who was testing the incredulity of the inept officers who interviewed him.
But when the BBC showed me an early edit of Monday night’s documentary a few weeks ago, I was appalled.
Some sequences were creditable, it is true. The harrowing accounts of Lord Brittan’s widow Diana and Lord Bramall’s son Nick – along with the comments of Beech’s ex-wife Dawn – gave viewers a powerful insight into the damage caused by the paedophile’s lies.
But as a matter of principle, I could have nothing to do with the programme. The reason? I felt I had been misled and was stunned that the BBC had airbrushed the egregious role of Watson, who had taken Beech at his word to harry innocent people for political gain.
His name was not even mentioned in the first edit. The programme’s final cut only referred to him in passing after I had complained that it had distorted the facts about the Nick scandal.
It was in 2012 that Watson told the Commons there was ‘clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No 10’. This set the hare running on the VIP abuse inquiry. He later met Beech and
described one of their conversations in 2014 as ‘very, very traumatic and difficult’. He said: ‘He only told me about one murder… and I didn’t need to hear any more.’
When Lord Brittan died in January 2015, Watson – quoting an email from Beech, whom he described as a ‘survivor’ – wrote in a newspaper column that the former home secretary was ‘as close to evil as a human being could get’.
The campaigning politician was later forced to apologise to Lord Brittan’s widow, who was devastated by the shocking attack on her innocent – and recently deceased – husband.
Despite all this – and an official inquiry ruling his VIP abuse claims were baseless – Watson’s hugely significant role in the Nick case was not considered in Monday’s documentary. I found that truly disturbing.
Powerful backer: Carl Beech’s lies were given credence by Tom Watson, pictured above
But my deep unease was not just about this. It was also triggered by the benign treatment of Mark Conrad, a former reporter at Exaro – the disgraced website which gave oxygen to Beech’s lies and which had close dealings with Watson during Operation Midland.
Conrad also had regular contact with Beech and was criticised in Sir Richard’s scathing report on the Met’s inquiry.
Given the damage caused by his questionable reporting, I was shocked that he had such prominence in the programme (‘almost narrator status’, another contributor told me privately yesterday) and was presented as a credible and sympathetic figure.
I found this deeply offensive to Beech’s victims and it made it impossible for me to remain in the programme – although all my criticisms of Watson, Exaro, and the Met ended up on the cutting room floor anyway.
As well as covering the Nick case, Conrad reported extensively on a bogus allegation of rape made against Lord Brittan by a mentally ill Labour activist known as Jane, who was also supported by Tom Watson.
His coverage of the case caused Lady Brittan severe trauma – another factor in my decision to pull out of the programme.
Another aspect of the BBC documentary which I found deeply troubling was the lack of any proper examination of the corporation’s own role in the Nick scandal.
BBC journalists Tom Symonds and Tom Bateman were key players in a ‘harmful’ catalogue of incidents which made the probe even harder for police, Sir Richard said in his 2016 report. Beech met both Bateman and Symonds, yet neither were mentioned in the programme, let alone interviewed over their extensive dealings with him. Why?
I know from well-placed sources that BBC journalists spent days courting the serial liar in 2014 – some allegedly convinced they were onto the biggest political scandal since Watergate.
Instead there was merely a passing reference to Beech’s murder allegations being headline news in a prime-time BBC bulletin.
This was extraordinary. The BBC’s decision to place him at the top of the news agenda gave him the credibility he craved – and gave false authority to the VIP abuse inquiry story.
The decision to gloss over this key aspect of the case, and effectively exculpate the BBC of any wrongdoing, was poor judgement which undermined Monday’s programme.
The fact is this documentary overlooked important facts – and by doing so, in my opinion, showed how badly it was compromised on the story – possibly because of its other failings in the wake of the Savile affair, such as its coverage of the false sex allegations made against Sir Cliff Richard.
For the sake of Harvey Proctor and others wrongly accused by Beech, I was left with no option but to ask to be removed from programme. Seeing the final cut, I have no regrets.
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