Harvey Proctor’s news conference on Tuesday was either a chilling display of hypocrisy, or the moment a brave man finally took on the combined might of a misguided Metropolitan Police and a small but nasty and highly influential section of the press and internet. By so publicly denying the appalling allegations that have been levelled at him, Mr Proctor has ensured that his accuser’s claims – that he and other boys were raped and tortured, and in three cases murdered by a paedophile ring that also included Leon Brittan, Ted Heath, various Generals and the heads of MI5 and MI6 – can no longer be ignored.
The allegations come from a man with the pseudonym “Nick.” Amongst many other appalling sexual crimes Nick says that Mr Proctor threatened to castrate him with a pen-knife and was stopped from doing so only by the intervention of the former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath. And worse even than this, Nick accuses Mr Proctor of murdering two boys, and implicates him in the murder of a third. No bodies have been found and the identity of the boys allegedly murdered – though the subject of considerable online speculation – is unknown.
Of course if the police receive allegations of child abuse and murder it is essential that they investigate them. The more serious the complaints are, the more important that they are properly investigated.
Readers will draw their own conclusions about whether the allegations are likely to be true. The idea that Ted Heath, the very archetype of a “One Nation,” pro-Common Market Conservative, would be likely to cavort at sex and torture parties with a maverick from the extreme right of the Party, someone he had had removed from the official Party candidates’ list and one of the many people that, according to Proctor, Heath would not even deign to talk to, was ridiculed by Proctor and will strike many as exceedingly unlikely.
The campaign to investigate “VIP paedophiles” has been led by the online news organisation “Exaro News.” For understandable reasons Mr Proctor described it as “odd.” Exaro’s Editor in Chief, and the person whom we must assume takes overall responsibility for the campaign is Mark Watts. Mr Watts is a highly experienced journalist who, before setting up Exaro, had contributed stories to the Daily Telegraph (amongst other papers) and who also for a short period hosted a news discussion programme on the Iranian backed TV station Press TV (to his credit he resigned).
He must know the incredibly high stakes for which he is now playing. His liberty may not be at stake, but as the public face of Exaro News his reputation for responsible journalism most certainly is.
If Exaro is proved right and successful prosecutions of “top people” follow, it will be entitled to claim that it was its campaign that nailed paedophiles and murderers. If it is wrong, then its treatment of people like Harvey Proctor, Lord Bramall and Leon Brittan will be seen as quite outrageous. Although it has been careful not to name names too early, its modus operandi has been to release just enough information about Nick’s allegations to encourage speculation amongst a small army of self-appointed internet paedophile hunters who seem to have nothing else to do but share their conspiratorial obsessions with each other all day, and especially all night, long. By the time the first police raid on Mr Proctor was carried out – also, lamentably, though these days entirely predictably, leaked by somebody to the press – nobody following the story would have been in much doubt that he was one of the “two still living Conservative MPs” that featured in Nick’s story, the other, at the time, being Leon Brittan.
Either Exaro actually has stumbled across the story of the century, or it has been muckraking on a grand scale, exploiting a possibly vulnerable “witness” and exposing innocent people and their families to a grotesque and seemingly endless trial by internet. Mr Proctor may or may not be right that Leon Brittan was “driven to his death” by the campaign against him, but anyone relentlessly, anonymously and falsely accused of rape, paedophilia and child sex murder might well feel that death was a relatively easy option.
In an internet trial there are no rules of evidence, no right to insist on answers to questions or even to know the identity of the accuser. “Nick” is anonymous and as a result almost beyond criticism. Why did he contact Exaro in the first place? We don’t know whether he sought them out, or whether they went and found him. If the latter, why and how did they find him? Has he been paid for his story? Exaro has not revealed. Has he undergone therapy? Exaro has said only that he has had “counselling” although its nature, a potentially crucial issue, has not been revealed. Why, if his abuse stopped in 1984, did he wait until 2014 before contacting the police? Why, for example, did he not contact the police in 1987 when Mr Proctor was very publicly implicated in what was then regarded as a “gay sex” scandal? Why, as Mr Proctor asked, was a representative from Exaro permitted to be present when he was interviewed by the police? Those publicising Nick’s story at Exaro, skilled and experienced journalists as they are, are able to reveal or conceal whatever details they like and have – as Mr Proctor pointed out – dripped out a steady trickle to keep the story alive over the last 14 months. Even to question Exaro’s methods is to invite the ludicrous accusation from their online supporters that you are an apologist for paedophiles and murderers.
Exaro has been helped by a motley collection of other news outlets, with the Russian propaganda station RT, for example, giving considerable airtime and publicity to its star presenter George Galloway interviewing Exaro’s Mark Watts in a way that makes his infamously sycophantic interview of Saddam Hussein look like a hostile cross-examination by George Carman.
None of this means that the allegations are untrue.
But even if they were to be true Exaro’s behaviour would still have been contemptible. By publicising carefully chosen details of Nick’s allegations Exaro has undermined any potentially corroborative witnesses, and given encouragement to any false witnesses that might be tempted to jump on a passing bandwagon.
And once it started leaking its titillating gobbets of evidence, it can hardly claim surprise that, after months of silence on the details of the case, Mr Proctor has finally decided to put the whole grotesque case against him into the public domain. If Exaro can act as his chief prosecutor, then why should he not try to defend himself?
The upshot is that should Mr Proctor ever stand trial, the central evidence against him will have been laid bare in public for months, if not years, in advance. It will be all but impossible to find jurors capable of coming to the case without prejudice or preconceptions.
Many of them will – perhaps even today – be forming unshakeable opinions about his guilt or innocence on the basis of Exaro’s untested assertions and Mr Proctor’s statement at yesterday’s news conference. We have sub judice rules to avoid precisely what Exaro’s actions have, quite foreseeably, brought about. Since no charge has been laid against Mr Proctor there has been no technical breach of the law but it is hard to imagine a more comprehensive trashing of its spirit. The possibility of a fair trial for Mr Proctor, and for that matter for Nick, have been sacrificed in the interests of Exaro’s publicity.
Exaro were greatly assisted in December when the senior police officer in the investigation, Det Supt Kenny McDonald announced to the BBC that he believed “Nick’s” allegations to be “credible and true.” When challenged over his story Mr Watts constantly defends himself by reference to this announcement.
It was a disgraceful statement from a police investigator. His job is to investigate, not to judge and most certainly not to broadcast his opinion on national television. Expressing any opinion about the truthfulness of a witness would – as he knows perfectly well – be wholly inadmissible and improper even in the controlled environment of a trial. To announce on national television that you believe a suspect is guilty of multiple rape and murder, at the beginning of an investigation, before a single body has been found, and months before speaking to Mr Proctor, suggests such incomprehensible levels of prejudice and foolishness that it is mind-boggling that this man would be entrusted with leading the investigation into the alleged crime of the century.
This has now gone on long enough. It is probably a forlorn hope, but either Mr Proctor should be charged and prosecuted, or his accusers should fold their tents and silently steal away. Exaro’s motto is “holding power to account.” Fine words, but time will tell whether it is Mr Proctor, or the Metropolitan Police and Exaro News itself that are the powers that must be held to account.
A slightly shorter version of this article appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 26th August 2015.