The collapse of Jonathan King’s trial raises questions about Surrey Police that go beyond disclosure failures

Last May the journalist and author Bob Woffinden died of mesothelioma. He will be remembered as a formidable campaigner against miscarriages of justice.

While judge after judge rejected the legal attempts of the Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4 to obtain justice – per Lord Denning MR“appalling vista …;” per Lord Lane LCJ “the longer this case has gone on the more convinced this court has become that the verdict of the jury was correct ….” – Woffinden and other journalists such as Ludovic Kennedy and Paul Foot, (and of course lawyers like Gareth Pierce, too) doggedly chipped away, until eventually the cases were revealed for what he had believed them to be from an early stage; grotesque miscarriages of justice, brought about by a combination of systemic disclosure failures, bungling by expert witnesses, police malpractice, prejudiced jurors and judicial complacency. His 1987 book on the cases, Miscarriages of Justice, remains a classic.

In his final 2016 book, The Nicholas Cases, Woffinden turned his attention to more contemporary possible miscarriages of justice. One of these was the 2001 conviction of Jonathan King on charges of historic abuse of boys. He made a compelling case that the original trial had been unfair and produced evidence that suggested King had a strong alibi for one of the offences – he was in America at the time, as attested by several witnesses and documents discovered after the trial. Another of Woffinden’s revelations was that the main complainant in the case against King had, reportedly, after the trial, admitted lying against King for money: he had also apparently sold his story for £45,000 to one newspaper and £5,000 to another.

There was, in fact, a second trial, but that ended in King’s acquittal on all charges.

Before going to the police many of the complainants against King had first contacted the publicist Max Clifford, who was in 2005 able to give the Guardian the benefit of his unique insights into paedophilia:

“In my experience paedophiles always try to justify themselves and never show remorse. I spent a great deal of time with his victims. They all came to me, I never went looking. It was a very emotional experience.

Through the good offices of Mr Clifford stories about King were sold to the media and more complainants then “came forward.”

As well as an emotional experience the long periods of time that Mr Clifford spent with the complainants also proved  profitable for Mr Clifford, at least in the short term. In the longer term, though, it did not turn out well for him. After King’s release from prison he learnt about Clifford’s taste for underage girls through a mutual friend, and encouraged one of his victims to complain to the very same Surrey Police force that had arrested him, neatly turning the tables on the PR Svengali, and bringing about his downfall.

Earlier this year King was charged with more historic sex offences against teenage boys and faced yet another trial. After one false start and prolonged legal argument largely concentrating on disclosure issues, the trial at Southwark Crown Court finally collapsed last week, with the judge describing the approach of Surrey Police as “lamentable.”

She had, she said, been misled “on several critical occasions.” It turned out the Magistrates Court had also been misled – not deliberately but with “a deplorable lack of seriousness and rigour” – in an application for a search warrant. Disclosure had been a mess. Documents capable of undermining the prosecution case or supporting Mr King’s defence were not disclosed, or were “inadequately” described on schedules, or had simply disappeared.

It also emerged that the Surrey Police had gone to the extraordinary lengths of undertaking a covert surveillance operation against King in 2015. Why this was considered an appropriate use of resources in a case alleging historic abuse was not explained in the judgment, but disappointingly from the point of view of the police it had revealed nothing to suggest that he had done anything wrong. Obviously this was something which was potentially helpful to Mr King’s defence, but the fact of the surveillance was not even revealed until a late stage, and then only after an application had been made to withhold disclosure on the basis of Public Interest Immunity.

Summarising her reasons for stopping the case, HHJ Deborah Taylor said:

… the integrity of the criminal justice system and processes have been undermined publicly in a fundamental way by the disclosure failures and persistent misleading of the court.”

Judicial condemnation does not often come more scathing than that.

So far, one might think, so appalling; here is yet another case of a prosecution being brought without proper attention being given to disclosure issues. That is true, but the implications of the case potentially go rather further.

One of the complainants in the case – he cannot, of course, be named but we can call him Complainant A – was a man whose statement had originally been taken in 2000 by a police officer in the Surrey Police. When this blog was originally posted it was unclear whether identification of the police officer had been authorised by the judge; it is now clear that his name can be reported. It is Mark Williams-Thomas, now a journalist and fairly well-known TV presenter.  That explains the references to “Mr X” in the comments section.

Complainant A’s evidence – seemingly the very first witness ever to make a statement about King – did not in the end form part of the original trials, and a count relating to it was “left on the file,” where it remained until 2018. At that point the prosecution applied to resurrect it, in order to join it to the new case. They told the court that they had made full disclosure, and on that basis the judge allowed counts based on A’s case to be joined to the new trial.

As Judge Taylor put it:

I make clear that had full disclosure regarding [A], and the involvement of Williams-Thomas been made known, those counts would not have been added to the Indictment.”

A jury was thus empanelled and earlier this summer the trial began.

But the Prosecution – in particular the Police – had not made full disclosure at all.

The defence continued to press for more, including of material relating to the by now ex-police officer, Mr Williams-Thomas. It was provided, late and piecemeal, but it was enough, eventually, to undermine A’s evidence so much that the Crown dropped the allegations which depended upon his evidence. The judge explained that

… it was the Crown’s view that due to the evidence which had emerged late it could no longer maintain the position that [A’s] statement was reliable evidence.”

The result was that the jury was discharged, and the Crown decided to try again, this time without A’s evidence.

A significant amount of this “evidence which had emerged late” related to the involvement of the ex-police officer, Mr Williams-Thomas. In particular:

  • When Mr Williams-Thomas left the force he took his notebooks relating to inquiries into Mr King with him. They were, as the Prosecution said, not his to keep; they were official documents belonging to Surrey Police. A police officer’s notebook, of course, is always of great importance, being in many cases the only contemporaneous record of relevant events.
  • No attempt was made to recover the notebooks by Surrey Police, and nor did Mr Williams-Thomas, return them to the police. Why he did not return them voluntarily once he knew that Mr King had been charged and put on trial is not explained.
  • Evidence also emerged of what is described as “a declared personal link between Mr Williams-Thomas, who had left the police force by then and ‘CH’ within the police.” Quite what that was all about is not explained in the judgment. It may well have been of no great significance, after all it would not be very surprising for an ex-Police officer to remain friendly with serving officers.
  • Three years after Williams-Thomas left the police, he was prosecuted for an unrelated offence. That much was well known, and he was in fact acquitted. However, what was not disclosed to the defence until a very late stage is that during the investigation into the other offence, a document was found on his computer “offering for sale names and introductions to victims of Mr King.” This information came into the hands of Surrey Police’s Anti-Corruption Unit in 2014 – what it was doing between 2003 and 2014 is not revealed in the judgment – but the Anti-Corruption Unit did not pass it on to the officers investigating Mr King.
    Unsurprisingly, King’s defence counsel, Henry Blaxland QC and Alexandra Felix, argued that:there was deliberate concealment of … the documents indicating attempts to gain financial advantage from selling details of Mr King’s case.” Surrey Police have issued a rather dismal apology to Mr King. They have indicated that they will be commissioning an independent inquiry into the case. Mr Williams-Thomas on the other hand, has yet to comment in detail on its collapse or to proffer any explanation for why he may have appeared to have been“offering for sale names and introductions to victims of Mr King.” He did say that he was “unhappy” and he believes the truth will come out. He is better placed than anyone to see that it does.Of course there may be some innocent explanation for all this. Cock-ups tend to be rather more common than conspiracies. Mr Wiliams-Thomas was not prosecuted for any offence relating to corruption or misconduct in public office, so we should not assume that he was guilty of any wrongdoing. One would like to think not, because a police officer, or an ex-police officer, making money by selling the contact details of complainants, or even thinking about doing so, is the sort of thing which utterly corrupts not just one case but potentially every case in which he is, or has ever been, involved.

    For his part, Mr King has already applied to the Criminal Cases Review Commission to review his original convictions, and I understand that as a result of the material revealed about Mr Williams-Thomas and the Surrey Police during this collapsed trial, the CCRC will shortly be receiving another thick bundle of material.

    An irony that will not have escaped the Chief Constable of Surrey as he considers what his own inquiry should look into, and perhaps his own position, is the judge’s finding that this disastrous attempt to prosecute Mr King was driven “not … by complainants’ allegations, but by concerns about reputational damage to Surrey Police in the wake of the Savile case ….” Bringing a case because of concerns about reputational damage to a police force seems an extraordinary thing to do, but if that was the reason why it was thought fit to place Mr King under covert surveillance and then to prosecute him it has proved spectacularly unsuccessful.

It is to be hoped that the independent inquiry promised by the Surrey Police – whether it is a judge led inquiry or a police led criminal investigation – will get to the bottom of what has gone wrong. Only then will the reputation of Surrey Police begin to recover.

Bob Woffinden’s intuition proved to be right about the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four. It now seems more than ever that he was also right to raise the most searching questions about the convictions of Jonathan King.

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

44 thoughts on “The collapse of Jonathan King’s trial raises questions about Surrey Police that go beyond disclosure failures”

  1. Reputation recovery…
    There’s an ongoing irony theme here.

    3 years after hearing 21 hours of prolonged fantasy and invention, masquerading as testimony, about a “paedophile ring” the members of which the complainant appears to have plucked from an old family address book, South Wales Police received the report on their handing of the case of the “Lost Prophet” Ian Watkins.

    It was damning. They had received direct tip-off information on a dangerous active paedophile from a former girlfriend, more than once, and had ignored it…
    He had gone on to abuse and rape infants.
    Well, I wonder what may have motivated them to suddenly resurrect the 3 year dormant case and decide to arrest the five innocent old men and try and squeeze and shape what evidence they could to fit these five up.

    And why, when decent lawyers followed trails within the successive releases of “unused evidence”, it emerged that there were at least 10 good reasons why the CPS would have never sent the case to trial hidden in said evidence.

    That the CPS only cited three issues when they threw in the towel, 2 weeks before the month long trial was set to begin, was not just a kind cover up for the police but also if their own failure to read the evidence that was available to them.

    Disgraced abound in our system, and the worst failures are all down to badly motivated police….
    And that is a mixture of corrupted detectives and insane justice denying instruction from above.

    We need the police to be motivated to investigate the truth, somehow…
    As it stands the instruction to “believe the complainant” and “increase rape convictions” has them breaking laws. And wrecking the lives of tens of thousands if innocent families, to try and win favour and promotions.

  2. Matthew

    You are not the only one to question the activities of Mr X.

    I understand that he is a prolific tweeter, both supporting and claiming inside knowledge of many an investigation, but when it goes wrong and there is negative publicity, he very quickly becomes a simple spectator. It’s almost as if his involvement and knowledge suddenly falls off a cliff.

    I understand that the magazine, Private Eye, mentioned this type of behaviour a few weeks ago.


      1. Yes, although I was told that the judge at one stage asked for all names to be redacted. Only the Mail seemed unaware of that. However, we are now indeed free to name Mr Williams-Thomas as the perhaps not so mysterious Mr X.

  3. Surrey police are corrupt. They tell witnessess what to say on their statements and even have them in the same room. Their reputation has been damaged for a long time. The police are only interested in convictions too look good. It is NOT up to them to decide if someone is guilty or not, that is why he have a jury, but a jury is reliant on the so called evidence that is presented. It is that old addage… garbage in.. garbage out.

  4. Scary. What needs to be done now to find out for sure? The chances of Surrey Police of their own volition providing any independent reviewer with hidden or undisclosed evidence seem, through this prism at least, most unlikely. Is there any other process that stands a better chance?

  5. Intriguingly, the “retired senior officer” from Wiltshire Police, whose allegations set the ball rolling with Operation Conifer, also retained his Police Notebooks – seems to be a rather common trait in the VIP paedophile scenario. Sadly, his notebooks appeared rather unhelpful to him as, according to the Operation Conifer Closing Summary, he initially reported that the aborted case occurred in 1989, rather than 1994 …. rather a large margin of error!

  6. Well done,
    I hope you are are joining the call for the Innovation of Justice and attend and make known the plans of these meetings on a dialogue of all those who are part of the justice system, the voluntary and charitable groups, supporting both the accusers and those accused. Along with solicitors/barristers and judges.


  7. Have I got this right: Mr King has now been adjudged not guilty of two different sets of charges against him? Has he been found guilty of any others?

    “Cock-ups tend to be rather more common than conspiracies”: the two are not mutually exclusive. I dare say cocked-up conspiracies are reasonably common.

    Now then: useless behaviour by the police and CPS. It really won’t do that apologies are offered and a bit of taxpayers’ money handed over. Some of these policemen and lawyers need to go to jail. Things seem to be so bad that it probably makes sense to assume that the higher the person is in the institutional hierarchy the more corrupt and crooked she is.

    1. Apologies if this is a duplicate, mobile playing up!

      I too am confused:

      “There was, in fact, a second trial, but that ended in King’s acquittal on all charges.”

      Is that “second trial” retrial/appeal of the first that overturned the original conviction in the first?

      Or is it an entirely separate trial and the original conviction still stands?!

      1. No, sorry, I should have made it clear. It was an entirely separate trial. The original conviction still stands, until the Court of Appeal decides otherwise.

  8. The word is “historical”, not “historic”.

    Bob Woffinden believed Hanratty was innocent and probably still did when he died. Foot wrote a book about the case and definitely did believe Hanratty was innocent until the day he died. Ludovic Kennedy believe Timothy Evans was innocent in spite of his repeated confessions and compelling evidence that Christie could not have murdered Beryl.

    Gareth Pierce rooted for the clearly guilty Satpal Ram who was paraded before the media on his release, although the same media had nothing to say after he was recalled to prison for several years for violating the terms of his parole.

    Max Clifford was innocent. The letter in his drawer was from a woman who was not right in the head, as Louise Clifford pointed out at the trial.

    While some of the alleged victims of Mr King were lying, he has bigger problems if he wants to challenge his convictions. Unlike the Yewtree witch-hunt, the investigation behind his first trial was extremely low key. Initially he denied everything; later he claimed these encounters were consensual.

    As for Surrey Police, they are total assholes who don’t appear to understand the difference between a crime and a tort. Nor that it is impossible in English law to harass a dead girl. More on that anon.

  9. Oh no Alexander Baron; the 2000 investigation had as much press coverage as Savile did later; I never had any kind of sex with the 5 false accusers in my 2001 conviction and have never said they were consensual as they never happened. And please don’t fall into the police trap of rewriting “I have no recollection of this person” as “I deny everything”. But whilst at 73 it may be easily possible not to remember ever meeting someone, it is not so easy to forget sexual encounters. Any that I had were 100% consensual and with people over 16.

    1. These statistics are skewed in your favour because they include many articles in which the words Jonathan and King are unrelated. Savile is a relatively rare name. They speak for themselves:

      NewsBank 2000 – search term Jonathan King 1,503 hits; 2001, 2,297 hits
      Jimmy Savile, 2012 – 8996 hits; 2015 = 5,030 hits

      Cruises around in his Rolls Royce and invites underage boys to his home , seriously?

      Don’t forget the photographs. No one put it better than you Jonathan: vile pervert.

      You’ve had fame, then infamy, now you’ve got freedom. One thing you will never get back is your good name. Live with it.

  10. British Crime Survey:
    more respected than many methods of calculating actual crime rates, yes?

    They say, 85,000 women actually raped in last years report period. (figures since used by Rape Crisis & Women’s Aid)
    They also say between 10 and 15% reported that rape to the police.

    The police say 41,500 rapes were reported last year.

    Even allowing 5% variation for statistical error – and splitting the difference for the sake of using one figure…
    we still have only 11,500 genuine rape victims who reported that crime to the police.

    Which gives us an estimate of 30,000 liars.

    As a percentage this is the highest yet of the number of false accusations, and at nearly three times the number of genuine reports – no sane margin for error can work its way back to the ghastly all pervading Feminist myth, that false accusations are “very rare”.

    (NB the figures for male victims and male accusers do not help or hinder the arguments for the cultural and police norm of “believing all who accuse of sexual abuse”.

    There is much more smoke from vaping than genuine fire going on here.

  11. These statistics are skewed in your favour because they include many articles in which the words Jonathan and King are unrelated. Savile is a relatively rare name. They speak for themselves:

    NewsBank 2000 – search term Jonathan King 1,503 hits; 2001, 2,297 hits
    Jimmy Savile, 2012 – 8996 hits; 2015 = 5,030 hits

    Cruises around in his Rolls Royce and invites underage boys to his home , seriously?

    Don’t forget the photographs. No one put it better than you Jonathan: vile pervert.

    You’ve had fame, then infamy, now you’ve got freedom. One thing you will never get back is your good name. Live with it.

    1. Mr Baron – those internet search of name statistics do not speak for themselves. The Savile scandal was a free reign dead person witchhunt and had 1000s of hits related to the BBC cover up, TV exposure, and after effects – there is no comparing like with like here.

      The police are the ones who should be never getting back their good name here – but somehow that is the fate of thousands of falsely accused innocent men rather than the vile perverse persecutors of anyone some fame or money seeking menace cares to name to police…

  12. Excellent blog Matthew!
    It seems the unsavoury and corrupt past of our chewing gum expert is finally starting to catch up with him. I tend to agree with Misa that it is, in a way, a shame that MWT will be scapegoated for this, and that others may get a stay of execution, but the sooner that pathetic fraud is removed from society, the better. He is an embarrassment to the species.
    I think you may find that this story will become an awful lot bigger than it currently is – there are a lot of skeletons in that closet!!

    1. I agree that this is an excellent blog. I also share Misa’s view. But I suspect that this story, so far only covered by the Daily Mail, is going nowhere. MWT is the goose that laid the golden egg of the Savile claims.

  13. Baron; I invited many people to my home and drove some there in one of my many cars. Which photos? No pornography was ever there – or ever found or seized. Don’t believe everything you read in the tabloids. And hopefully I never had a “good name” and never wanted one.

  14. “is the sort of thing which utterly corrupts not just one case but potentially every case in which he is, or has ever been, involved.”

    I wonder if every case in which the Leeds Japanese Hairdressing and Manicure Gang trial judge has ever been involved in will now be reviewed for “cock-ups”?

  15. Matthew – I assume the Mark Williams Thomas reply you have posted on Twitter is the real thing but just in case it’s not, and is a hoax, I carry my questions answering his statement below on here for you to decide whether or not to pass them on. Asked in all innocence and not trying to imply anything…

    Please spell Jonathan correctly.
    Question One – did you have any previous or current (at the time) contact with Max Clifford?
    Were you involved at all in the cases of false allegations against either Paul Weller or Mick Hucknall?
    Did you take the statement from the original false accuser, told to invent a celebrity by Max Clifford, in order to increase the value of his story, with another officer present, as was procedure at that time; if so who was he or she, and can they back up your account?
    Could you provide written evidence regarding being told to keep your police notebooks?
    Did you actually immediately give any evidence brought back from the original false accuser to Surrey Police? Or did you keep some of it in your home for several weeks? And if that was the case, why?
    Should it not be FROM not FORM?
    Could you please show us the document and explain the contents? Would you be happy for that document and its contents, if it exists, to become publicly available?
    Are you sure there exists no other evidence that you may have been conspiring with other officers to pervert the course of justice?
    Would current serving officers at Surrey Police, such as Detective Inspector Clare Loving, confirm that you never contacted them at any time after leaving Surrey Police, trying to obtain confidential information about victims, and that you never asked any officer not to tell other senior officers about your requests? And are you sure there is not evidence of some of those contacts?
    Are you certain that, if any such evidence exists, it will not become available to investigators?
    Will your fine and honourable work, supporting victims of crime, include bringing to justice false accusers who ruin the lives of innocent men and women? And the reputations of dead celebrities?
    Which is your favourite Cliff Richard hit?

  16. This case has a familiar feel. I’ve commented on some of the anomalies in the MWT statement on Richard Barthlomews latest blog.

    To go back to the beginning, there are multiple accounts of how the ‘information’ came into the hands of the police and MWT’s prior ‘knowledge’. However it was also claimed that the first complainant had contacted the head PO at the NCIS in May 2000 after he had seen reports of Chris Denning’s 1999 conviction in Prague. According to this report, it was the PO Mark Steels who ‘actioned’ the case re JK. And also the first complainant had given the PO at the NCIS seven high profile names – which corresponds to the Arundel number in the first post trial press reports.

    Of course it is quite possible that the complainant contacted both the head PO at NCIS and Clifford. It is also quite possible that he used whatever stuff he found re Chris Denning plus whatever he knew of him to implicate others, including JK. Denning was not a likely publicity ‘high note’ since his convictions for underage sex dated back to 1974 and have gone on from this at various stages without much of a defence – other than , interestingly, the one recently dropped which appears to have been a latter day attempt to link JK and Denning in offences by implication.

    Of course had there been an evidential ‘link’ of substance they would have been tried together long ago. This has never happened.

    The mysteries surrounding MWT taking the original statement are too diffuse to unravel. He had a ‘source’ he says – a ‘writer’ previously he has said his ‘source’ was a woman journalist five years before and that he didn’t know what to do with the information. So again it’s not clear from MWT’s statement what the ‘link’ was – but I would have thought the head of CID would want to assign an independent officer to the taking of a statement rather than by the source of previous hearsay. And again these vital paper trails appear not to have been disclosed to the defence in any of the cases until under duress and possibly through the redacted Merseyside Report disclosure. And even now they are obscure. Why no statement from the the writer/journo source, why no statement from MWT about his prior info. Why no statement from Clifford? Why no statement from Mark Steels?

    But here’s the thing – it was this statement (and a second mentioned in the Barts Notes comment) that led to the publicised arrest in November 2000 – which gave rise to the other complainaints. And Operation Arundel – a kind of prefiguration of Yewtree without much effect.

    And, strangely, but not unusually, the police and prosecution did not want to rely on this original complainant at the first trial, but on ‘cherry picked’ ones who came forward after the publicity.

    Only with these convictions in the bank – and presumably the first trial was prejudiced by not being able to go into the circumstances of the first complainant, reliability and provenance (and this also begs the question of adequate disclosure on these matters) were they willing to put other cases in evidence. Nor it seems were they keen to advertise the facts about MWT who had left the force by then, with his ‘list’. Was this the ‘Arundel list’? Who knows – he’s not a particularly consistent narrator.

    I did read that the prosecution wanted the lot at the first trial but that the defence had successfully applied for severance. This is not unusual if there are different sets of complainants from different eras.

    What is odd is that the prosecution opted not for the first complainants but the later ones at a ‘first shot’. It would mean they thought they were most likely to be seen as credible whereas the others – despite being first – would need a credibility ‘boost’ by a prior conviction.

    I suspect there is much more to reveal about the way the whole thing was handled from start to finish, the various ‘fingers in the pie’ and the ‘reticence’ of Surrey Police and the prosecution.

    1. Jk, on reflection, thought that the application for severance was probably a mistake. He explains why in his musical comedy documentary “Vile Pervert.”

  17. I’ve always had a bad feeling about MWT and have read some very detailed blogs on the Saville investigation and the ‘victims’ that came forward and MWT’s involvement in the media coverage. It made me very uneasy about the whole Saville affair, subsequent police fishing expeditions and indeed the whole set of historical allegations against celebs.

    Surrey are much the same as South Yorks police (Cliff Richard fiasco and non-investigation of Rotherham sex scandal) as they are both in ‘cover your arse’ mode and it seems they are willing to bend or even break laws in an attempt to portray themselves as competent by achieving a conviction against anyone they feel like convicting.

  18. “…grotesque miscarriages of justice, brought about by a combination of systemic disclosure failures, bungling by expert witnesses, police malpractice, prejudiced [journalists and other commentators] and judicial complacency.”

    These things account for the feeble-minded inability to question the guilt of Russians in the cases of Alexander Litvinenko and the Salisbury poisonings. Britain’s political and legal establishment clearly learnt precious little from the cases of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four.

  19. See the terrible injustice done to Aravindan Balakrishnan by a legal system which coludes with the police and the state and is prepared to believe every single word a lying and a fantasist complainant says( as in the case of ‘nick’) while refusing to listen to those who know the truth.

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