Exaro: Spare us the sanctimony, spare us the bullying and try to be a bit more transparent

The online news organisation Exaro made the shortlist to win the UK Press Gazette’s award for “Campaign of the year.” It lost out yesterday to George Arbuthnott of The Times for his stories about modern slavery in Britain.

The award is given to “the series of articles or broadcasts which has done the most to make a difference for the better in society and serve the public interest.” The nomination related to Exaro’s series of articles about paedophilia in high places which gave rise to the over-arching inquiry into child sexual abuse.

One can see why the judges might well have concluded that Exaro has made a difference in that it has driven the issue of “VIPaedophiles” and sex offenders to the top of the news agenda. Whether it is one that has served the public interest is perhaps less clear.

The line taken by Exaro and its many vociferous online supporters is that it has prompted investigations into paedophilia and murder where before there was only apathy, cover up and conspiracy.

Others think that it has generated a poisonous atmosphere of outrage and hysteria in which wild and immensely hurtful accusations can be made and believed on the flimsiest of evidence; and that by publicising detailed allegations of paedophile orgies and murder it has risked destroying the prospect of fair trials either for victims or defendants.

Exaro has been much praised, for its tenacity in bringing into the open allegations such as that of “Nick,” who claims to have witnessed one or two, or even three child murders with his own eyes. One of these murders is said to have taken place in the presence of a Conservative Cabinet Minister, who also, he alleges, repeatedly raped him.

The organisation’s modus operandi is to give just enough information for the internet gossips to guess the identity of the alleged rapist or paedophile, while not actually naming him themselves.

The technique was well illustrated in May when it splashed a story from a woman it called “Jane” who alleged that she had been raped in 1967 by a young “high-flying professional man.” The man was said to have tricked a 19 year old woman called Jane into a “plush apartment in a smart part of London,” before locking her in, raping her and then apparently drugging her before she was able to escape. Jane had gone to the police in 2012 but they had refused to arrest the man, or even to interview him under caution.

The man was not named in the story but various hints were dropped. He later rose “to become a Conservative cabinet minister.” He had “greasy” and “slicked back” hair. The list of ex Conservative cabinet ministers old enough to have raped anyone in 1967 and still alive today is a very short one. The list of such cabinet ministers who also affected “greasy, slicked back hair” is even shorter.

Piously, Exaro said it was “refusing to name the ex-cabinet minister for legal reasons” although once Leon Brittan had been called in for questioning by the police all possible doubt was removed. Exaro duly reported the fact.

Lord Brittan – who strongly denies the allegation – has not been charged with rape. The smear, however, remains.

Even more serious than a single rape is the allegation that an “ex cabinet minister” (said by Exaro to be still alive) repeatedly raped Nick when he was a child, and that the minister witnessed a boy being strangled to death at an orgy. Again, there are precious few candidates for the offender. The few surviving cabinet minsters from the 1980s have as a result been smeared by Exaro, although a quick internet search again leaves little doubt about the individual whom the organisation is pointing at.

When Exaro broke its murder story in the middle of November I posted a blog under the headline “Exaro is playing a dangerous game with its paedophile murder story.” Quite apart from the danger of smearing innocent people with an appalling allegation, I suggested that publishing details of Nick’s allegations could both assist dishonest witnesses and undermine any corroborative accounts by genuine witnesses.

Since then, Exaro has continued to drip details of Nick’s account into the public domain. For example, two missing children from the relevant period were Vishal Mehrotra and Martin Allen. Exaro has revealed that one of the boys seen murdered by Nick could not have been Mehrotra but strongly hinted that he could have been Allen.

Exaro Martin Allen tweet

For what reason was that crucial information made public?

Although Exaro has continued with its own smear campaign it has, in an audacious example of a pot calling kettles black, reacted to those who it says have “smeared” it. Characteristically, it has not identified such people by name. Instead it issued a warning against them in a couple of tweets.

 Exaro Tweets 30th November 2014

Do not fall for smears against Exaro re CSA survivors. We cannot discuss the arrangements that we make to ensure their safety and security.”

BTW the smears are coming from paedophiles as well as spooks. But some are one and the same. But they all know that the tide has turned.”

I have asked Exaro if they can name those whom they say are spreading these “smears” for which we should not fall. After all, unless we know that a person is a paedophile or a spy how are we to know of whom we should be wary? They have neither replied nor clarified who, or what, on earth they are talking about. Once again, Exaro prefers insinuation and innuendo to taking the risk of naming those that they accuse of smearing them.

They returned to the same theme earlier this week, tweeting:


Exaro blocking not naming

For the first time we are blocking some paedophiles and paedo-apologists who have engaged in extreme trolling to upset abuse survivors

Asked if they would “name and shame them,” Exaro replied:

Not worth naming them. We do not want to give them publicity.

Well really. First Exaro warn us not to fall for the smears coming from paedophiles and spooks. Then they say it’s not worth naming them. For that section of the population that looks to Exaro for a lead it is all most unsatisfactory.

Does it mean that anyone who criticises Exaro, as I have done, is to be regarded as “smearing” them? If so then I must be one of those that they are warning people about.

Does Exaro regard me as a paedophile, a spook, or a bit of both?

If the accusation is that I am a paedophile then, though untrue and hurtful, such insults are, almost literally, Exaro’s stock in trade. The insinuation that I am a spook, or a spy, on the other hand, with the suggestion that I am paid to further the interests of some state or other – again absurd and false – is in some ways even more breath-taking.

It is a particularly curious insult to come from Exaro, since one of its Directors, its “Editor in Chief,” and the author of many of its most lurid stories, including those that relate to Nick’s murder allegations, is the journalist Mark Watts. For Mr Watts:

Transparency is critical to everything … it’s the role of investigative journalists to make transparency work.”

So important is transparency that he has made it one of the defining principles of Exaro:

Our aim is to demonstrate how investigations that help ensure openness and transparency can be an economically valuable part of a global internet-based economy, culture and society.

Fine words indeed, but it’s hardly very transparent to fire wild accusations indiscriminately at people who question you. A word which might describe it better than “transparency” would be “intimidation.”

It’s also odd to hear Mr Watts attempting to take the high moral ground, and to accuse unspecified others – including perhaps even myself – of working for intelligence agencies when seven years ago he was himself prepared to work as a top presenter for Press TV.

Press TV, for those who have not have heard of it, is the propaganda voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Yes, that’s right, the Republic which, in 2007 when Mr Watts started his work, was headed by Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, a holocaust denying anti-semite and hardly someone known for his commitment to transparency and fearless investigative journalism. More to the point, he led a country in which the most basic human rights were ignored; where, for example, teenage boys could be hanged for sodomy; a country in which, round about the time that Mr Watts took up his comfortable post spouting soft propaganda on Ahmedinejad’s behalf, a man was stoned to death for adultery, a country, indeed, which allowed the death penalty not just for murder, sodomy and adultery, but also for rape, armed robbery, apostasy, blasphemy, drug trafficking, prostitution, treason and espionage.

I don’t know whether Mr Watts ever conducted one of his fearless investigations into who pulled the strings at Press TV. I rather doubt it, but I suspect that if he had tried to do so he would pretty soon have come across the influence of Iranian intelligence.

In fairness to Mr Watts there is no suggestion that he ever allowed the fact that he was working for an Iranian government television station to affect what he said, and he has always stressed that he was allowed complete editorial freedom. He got on with his job of presenting a perfectly good weekly press review in a relaxed and affable style.

But while that may have salved his conscience it rather misses the point. By working for an Iranian government broadcaster he was allowing himself to be used by a horrible regime anxious to present a decent and friendly face to the world. To be sure, some countries are even worse than Iran, but on any reasonable view Watts was a useful idiot performing a service for one of the world’s nastier regimes.

It should be made clear that Watts was not alone. George Galloway, it almost goes without saying, has been a Press TV regular over a number of years, while other British journalists have somehow convinced themselves that working for the Iranians was compatible with their self-respect. Andrew Gilligan, for example, worked for the station for some time before concluding that “taking the Iranian shilling was incompatible with my opposition to Islamism.”

Again, in fairness to Watts, his conscience got the better of him when, after leaving Iranian television, he, along with other ex-Press TV personalities, signed a letter to The Times protesting about the 2006 death sentence imposed for adultery on an Iranian woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. It seems that the letter may have worked, because Ashtiani was eventually released from prison in March of this year.

Another British journalist who worked for Press TV at the same time as Watts was Fiona O’Cleirigh, who was an assistant producer on “Between the Headlines” the flagship news programme fronted by Watts.

O’Cleirigh is now a regular contributor to Exaro. Both Watts and O’Cleirigh have posted online biographies on the Exaro website. Surprisingly for an organisation that prides itself on “transparency,” neither mentions their shared history working for Iranian television. Watts puts his CV like this:

The Sunday Times, The Independent on Sunday, The Sunday Telegraph, and Sunday Express. He also worked on World in Action and an array of other television current-affairs programmes.

The closest O’Cleirigh’s Exaro biography gets to transparency about her days with Watts at Press TV is to mention that she has worked for “a range of Middle Eastern Broadcasters and news outlets ….”

Does it matter? In itself, perhaps not that much. After all, we have all made mistakes and Watts’s former connection to Press TV is readily apparent to anyone googling him (although O’Cleirigh’s is a little harder to find). On the other hand, if Exaro wishes to make transparency its guiding light and central principle, and if it thinks his previous experience relevant (which it obviously does) then it hardly seems very consistent with that principle not to mention the fact on its website.

And if Exaro intends to shut down debate about its own behaviour by making sweeping accusations implying that those who criticise them are paedophiles, “paedo-apologists” or spies, in other words to attack the morality and good faith of its critics, then it is certainly relevant – in the interests of transparency if nothing else – to ask whether the ethical standards of its own journalists have always been quite as impeccable as they would like us to believe.

Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

16 thoughts on “Exaro: Spare us the sanctimony, spare us the bullying and try to be a bit more transparent”

  1. Excellent ! David Hencke a regular muck-stirrer for Exaro, was also nominated (apparently) for an award. I wonder who nominates these people ? I notice that the man who ran the infamous Elm Guest House now says that the stories, upon which the whole VIP ‘peado-ring’ scare, were based, is false. I assume we’ll hear fewer stories about EGH now that the paedo-papp appear to have switched their attentions to an apartment complex in Pimlico ?


    There is so much intellectual dishonesty in the way these matters have been presented by the media, that it is hard to know where to begin.

    The problem with Exaro is that it is cynically recycling old, old stuff, the origins of which seem to stem, at least in part, from ex-NAYPIC’s Mary Moss (now Mary Josofar Valdivieso Fortuno Flores aka Jo Flores aka Jo Galvin) and the now convicted money-launderer Chris Fay – instead of doing any real investigative journalism of the kind which the BBC used to do, back in the day e.g. the Beeb’s programme about the ghastly Peter Righton in 1994.

    One of the poisonous legacies of Leveson, and our now cowed mainstream media, is that we now have no decent, old-school investigative journalism: just crass political smears; sensationalist “penny-dreadful” rumour-mongering by the blogosphere (and, let’s face it, Exaro is basically an internet blog), plus the lazy propagation of old urban myths (like your snuff movies, da-dum da-dum). We have no Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein living in this hour, doing hard-hitting investigations: no matter how much the pygmy scribblers of Exaro might aspire to occupy those great men’s shoes.

    Ironically, the reason why deviants like Righton could flourish was a suffocating left-wing political correctness, which prevented the social work profession from challenging them: compare the dismal failure of today’s social workers – schooled in the same blinkered ideology about the evils of “patriarchy” and the critical importance of not being “institutionally racist” – to challenge sustained Asian abuse of girls in Rotherham, and other deprived areas of the U.K., where the Home Office likes to dump certain immigrant, and woefully unintegrated minorities. The evils of patriarchy, indeed!

    If Exaro had bothered to read Philip Jenkins’ excellent “Intimate Enemies: Moral Panics in Contemporary Great Britain” (Aldine De Gruyter, 1992), they could not fail to spot the same memes coming round again: the late Geoffrey Dickens MP’s obsessive homophobia; the tales of decadent Tory perverts getting their rocks off with members of the same sex (this is rather amusing, when you consider that it was the Tories who introduced Clause 28), and the ugly undertow of anti-Semitism.

    Indeed, their pointed refusal to distinguish between true paedophilia (which, strictly, means a sexual interest in prepubescents) and adults interested in teenagers (the English language has no word for this) enables them to smear any old gay, back in the day, who fancied a 20yo, a 19yo, or an 18yo, as an evil kiddie-fiddler.

    Whilst it is not, theoretically, impossible that an elite “ring” of politically savvy pederasts might have raped and murdered hapless minors, just for the hell of it, this thesis makes far, far less sense than the acknowledged outrages of the terrorist Provisional IRA, who really did conspire to murder innocent members of the British public – and their own community – in the “noble cause” of a united Ireland. The reality is that sex-murder of minors of the kind that the conspiracy theorists like to ruminate over (why? I cannot begin to comprehend their obsessive fascination with this grim subject) are far more the province of pornographic fantasy, than actual fact.

    The blunt fact is that sexual murders of minors are, thankfully, extraordinarily rare. But yet we have been treated to a lurid, titillating sequence of horrors – the drowning in the bath, the MP strangling the twelve year old, etc. These sound like pornographic narratives designed to thrill: like the recent, dystopian Northern Irish TV drama of serial killing called (with all those “Paradise Lost” echoes) “The Fall”.

    And so we have lately see the tired old nonsense about the corrupted “kitchen-boy” (how very “Gormenghast”) in Buckingham Palace, aged 16, hitting the news. Mais quelle surprise! I recommend people read Leon Brittan’s considered letter to Dickens on this subject – freely available on the Internet – and make up their own minds.

    But the really unforgivable aspect of Exaro’s rumour-mongering and poison-pen sniping is the way it is using someone – or some people – who are manipulable and, it seems, badly damaged, to generate a series of sensational stories. Remember Dean Nelson. But then, I don’t suppose the esteemed scribblers of Exaro have troubled to read all 714 pages of Richard Webster’s “The Secret of Bryn Estyn” (Orwell Press, 2009) – too much work, lads? – or have any understanding of the evils of confirmation bias, or of police trawling, as recognised by Chris Mullin MP when he chaired the Home Affairs Committee report on the subject back in 2002.

    No, no, what, it seems, they prefer to peddle to the public is a bizarre middle-class morality play, involving pornographic tales of sadistic degradation, violation and death. Their trouble is: the maverick editor W. T. Stead got there first….in 1885. His legacy lingers on, in the United Kingdom media’s prurient fascination with sexual deviancy in high places.

    Exaro: you are so nineteenth-century.

  3. I’m less concerned about their “impeccable standards” than I am about their credulous standards of reality. I had a long debate with Hencke/Exaratchiks here:
    and it’s like arguing with a mudslide.

    That dated blog also shows how long this has all been going on and the story only ever gets less convincing rather than more (as idiotic fantasy does). The Police Fed keep moaning about “the cuts”. How much Police Funding must have been wasted on this nonsense, but then on the other hand, it is very much the sort of “jobs for the boys” some cpos seem to like to do, with zero actual purpose served but lots of hours spent on the internet.

    1. Blimey! I can’t say I’ve quite grasped all Mr Pendry’s stream of consciousness on hermetic alchemy but I think I’ve read enough to know that it’s not really my cup of tea. Whether all that gobbledegook finds its way into Exaro is anyone’s guess.

      1. Indeed. But just because Exaro is in the hands of someone who seems to believe, well, anything, does that invalidate their journalism as such? A quick check suggests that, at a basic level, their stories can’t in fact be relied on.

        For example here is a recent Exaro story which has been picked up by others:-



        However Hayman, an undoubted paedophile, was given the job of High Commissioner to Canada, which a priori means he can’t have been working for MI6/SIS, a claim Exaro gives no evidence for. The matter is not hard to check:-

        (from Nigel West “At Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and other sources, here is the who’s who from the relevant era) –

        * Rennie was C till 1973, with Oldfield as his deputy

        * Oldfield was promoted to C in 1973, with two deputies: Rowley and then Franks

        * Franks was promoted to C in 1978, with Rowley as deputy.

        Hayman was never part of SIS, never mind deputy. Yet Exaro continues to run with their fantasy, which in my eyes undermines the rest of what they have published.

        Saying this no doubt makes me, to Exaro, a “spy” out to discredit them but I’m not, I’m just a hack of the same generation as David Hencke. There are important scandals which need to be uncovered but better, less credulous and less disingenuous, journalism is called for.

  4. Re what no-one quite dares call Paedogate. Funny how many of these stories depend on the idea that the malefactors were too famous or powerful to be previously exposed. Now, anyone who has studied convictions for homosexual offences in the pre-Wolfenden days will notice they read like a Who’s Who of the time. Men in the arts or showbiz suffered particularly heavily but peers of the realm were not immune and at least one MP was convicted (Ian Harvey, a Tory junior minister). After the notorious ‘suitcase murder’ in the 60s (the killing of a teenage boy with sexual overtones), the police went out of their way to question every gay celebrity they could think of, whether they had any connection with the case or not. Their dragnet certainly pulled in one politician, the fun-loving Tom Driberg.
    Of course the law on sexual offences changed. But are we to assume that coppers who were so keen on harassing consenting adults just weren’t that bothered about paedophilia?
    Rather it seems that police have always loved collecting celebrity scalps. And the myth that the rich and famous are particularly prone to sexual vice dies hard. For years hints about ‘top names’ were a standard journalistic embellishment to any story about prostitution or paedophile rings. The Elm Guest House rumours seem a particularly florid example of this.
    So pervasive is this particular story that it has an international reach. Portugal had its Casa Pia case, where claims of a ring of celebrity and political paedophiles evaporated with the conviction of just two defendants, one a superannuated diplomat and the other an obscure care worker. If you can bear a barbarous Wikipedia translation, you can read about France’s Coral Affair. With typically Gallic class, the suspects there included Michel Foucault. I could multiply instances but these cases usually turn out to be genuine cases of abuse which have been exaggerated beyond all measure or self serving stories told by miscreants trying to get themselves out of trouble.
    I feel equally dubious about the current imbroglio, not least because memes roam not just from claimant to claimant, but from suspect to suspect. Whenever you read that Mr X was caught cottaging/stopped in a car full of child porn/seen visiting a boy’s home, the names seem interchangeable.

  5. I note that Exaro had a busy night last night. First of all blocking a survivor and calling them a liar. The survivor had contacted Exaro earlier in the week, was asked if it was with regards to “a name” and the survivor then heard nothing more, so can we assume interest was lost because only “a name” is of interest to Exaro?

    Secondly, their latest Saturday night story where it appears that Exaro infiltrated a police forum, and a private non public police forum at that. Exaro claims that a forum member allowed them access to it – not the owner, but a member. Did the member therefore give Exaro their login details? I assume so. Such goings on hardly seem ethical to me and have left me quite astounded.

  6. “Guardian Westminster correspondent David Hencke lies in his articles and signed witness statement to create the false impression that he had given the lobbyist Ian Greer and the two Tory MPs whom he accused Greer of bribing, Tim Smith & Neil Hamilton, due notice of those allegations — when, in fact, he had given none.”


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