It all started with Sir Jimmy Savile.
The platinum-blond disc jockey with a taste for shell-suits needs no introduction to British readers. To others it is enough to record that when he died in 2011 he was at first treated to obituaries that would have made St Theresa of Calcutta blush. He had been a television institution for decades, and when he had not been on television he had been visiting the sick in hospitals or raising huge sums of money, including according to some estimate up to 90% of his own earnings, to charity.
Then, within a few months of his death allegations started to emerge that he had abused children and women on a vast scale. Because he was dead, none of the allegations were ever tried in court but the press, so adoring of him while he was alive, now turned on him with the vehemence of a betrayed lover. The Guardian spoke, unusually, for the majority when it ran an extraordinary editorial comparing him not altogether favourably with Pol Pot, and calling for a public ceremony of commination, as “a ritual expression of public condemnation and disgust.”
The institutions with which he had been associated – mainly hospitals and the BBC – fell over themselves to apologise for his behaviour. Accounts of Savile’s wickedness were collated in various official reports and they were all accepted, without question, by a press that was now as indignant about his criminality as it had been fulsome in his adoration. Anyone – and there were a few – who dared to question so much as a single individual account was considered beyond the pale, even though some of the allegations against him bordered on the incredible.
And of course there was the money. Lots of money, millions of pounds, was paid out in compensation, first from Savile’s relatively modest personal estate, then from the BBC and the NHS. For those that could not ascribe blame to either the BBC or the NHS there was always the option of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, a fickle and imperfect quango which awards or refuses government compensation to the victims of crime. It virtually always gets it wrong: it pays far too little to those genuinely injured, it often refuses to pay anything at all for quixotic reasons, and it sometimes fails to identify fraudsters.
Carl Beech had lived a quiet, even a rather dull, life. After a brief career as an estate agent he worked as a nurse, specialising – somewhat creepily in the light of subsequent events – in paediatrics. He obviously impressed his employer, and rose to become a Staff Nurse, working (amongst other places) in Brighton, Swindon Birmingham and Hereford before moving into hospital management. He married, had children and settled down in a village near Gloucester. He became an inspector for the Care Quality Commission, earning a respectable £55,000 salary.
His first literary venture, Nurse Nurse, was self-published in 2006 under the pseudonym Lucy Samuels. Readers were promised “a hilarious account of what it is like to work as a nurse in the NHS,” and came with the reassuring guarantee: “everything (yes everything) in this book is true.” Sadly it was neither a critical nor a commercial success, and what we now know about the author makes even his personal guarantee ring hollow.
Then came the death of Jimmy Savile.
October 2012 saw the broadcast of a documentary accusing Savile of serious sex crimes. Three weeks later Mr Beech complained to Wiltshire Police that he and a childhood friend of his from Bicester, called “Aubrey” had been abused as a child by a number of people, none of whom he was prepared to name apart from his dead step-father, Major Raymond Beech, and Savile. He called them “The Group.”
His explanation for making the complaint was that “if other people can, I can.” In that, at least, he was undoubtedly correct, but it was one of the few true things he was to utter over the course of the next 6 years as he led the police, politicians, journalists, and an internet attack mob headed by the VIP-paedophile-obsessed online “news” organisation Exaro News.
Wiltshire Police treated the investigation into his claims as “an off-shoot of Operation Yewtree,” the huge investigation into Savile’s associates that ultimately yielded very few convictions of any sort, even fewer safe convictions, and a number of demonstrably false allegations against public figures such as the broadcaster Paul Gambaccini and the singer Sir Cliff Richard.
Even though the only two people Beech had named were dead, the Wiltshire Police did their best to corroborate his claims. They failed to do so and the inquiry was dropped. No action was taken against Beech. No doubt the allegations were filed away in 2014 as “unsolved child sexual abuse” in the Wiltshire police archives.
(A few years later Wiltshire Police was to draw upon this experience of investigating dead men with a far more high profile and expensive investigation into the still more comprehensively dead Sir Edward Heath, with exactly the same result.)
The conclusion of the Wiltshire Police inquiry did not bring Beech’s activities to an end. Quite the opposite.
Armed now with a crime number, Mr Beech made an application to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. It was of course entirely fraudulent, and although that was no bar to him receiving £22,000 compensation two years later, the delay annoyed him, and led him to write petulant letters. He said he needed it to pay his counselling fees, another lie since when the compensation eventually arrived he spent it all on a long-coveted white Ford Mustang.
Meanwhile, Beech started to promote himself on social media. He gained followers on twitter as @carl_survivor, and posted regular blogs about his abuse by “The Group.” His “true” stories of nursing had not been well received. His “true” stories of child abuse were lapped up. He even contributed – as “Stephen” – to a TV documentary about Jimmy Savile. Mr Savile, he told the credulous reporter:
“… was just sadistic in what he wanted to do and what he wanted other people to do. Yeah. Just evil and enjoyed seeing pain inflicted and humiliation I suppose. It was hard to comprehend because you know who it is when you’re sat watching TV and he’s on the TV and, you know, it’s just a really strange feeling. I think all of us were just objects, the best way I can describe it is like sweets in a bag that you hand round and share. We meant nothing, nothing at all.”
This is not the place to go into the florid detail of Mr Beech’s allegations as they eventually developed. The confusing snowstorm of false names – “John,” “Aubrey,” “Fred” and others – his own smörgåsbord of confusing pseudonyms (as well as Lucy Samuels, Mr Beech has variously styled himself Carl Survivor, Nick, Stephen, David, Stephen Anderson, Sam Williams, Carl Andersson, Oskar Andersson and Samuel Karlsson), the numerous platforms on which he publicised them himself, his blog, his whiny tweeting as @carl_survivor and his execrable poetry, over-generously described by Richard Bartholomew as “misery memoir blurb channelled through William McGonagall:”
“They came in the night and they came in the day
Myself and my friend were always their prey.
(One of the few successes, albeit unintended, of the subsequent Metropolitan Police investigation into his claims was that it silenced Mr Beech’s muse, one hopes for good).
Mr Beech might have remained just another internet conspiracist. He could have enjoyed his Ford Mustang and lived out his days in anonymity, sustained by an online community constantly telling him how brave he was, were it not for his involvement with what has been described as the “odd” website ExaroNews.com (the domain now has new owners, but remains rather odd).
His blogs and tweets were seen by journalists from Exaro, at a time when the newly created website was trying to make money by charging subscribers a monthly fee for news about corporate bankruptcies. With that unexciting business model failing, a complete change of tone was needed, and Beech’s lies were what it hit upon to propel it – and Beech himself – into prominence.
Exaro journalist Mark Conrad saw Beech’s blog, contacted Beech and started to write up his stories. Soon Exaro was publishing almost nothing except a string of salacious lies about paedophile rings in high places. “Nick,” as Beech was named by Exaro, was the shiny, gleaming thoroughbred in the Exaro stable of “survivors,” although they also promoted a number of other equally, or if that is possible, even more implausible eccentrics and chancers. Although no names of living people were published in the early stages, enough clues were left to make it relatively easy to understand against whom at least some of the allegations were being made. Later on, after Exaro and others published details of police raids, the names were out in public anyway.
According to Mark Watts, Exaro’s Editor, Beech was the “bravest and most genial of men”. Others who had dealings with him – Beech, that is, not Watts – disagreed.
One of Beech’s methods was to expand upon internet rumours and to pretend the same thing had happened to him. At other times he appropriated the real suffering of others for his own ends. Andi Lavery, for example, who had been appallingly abused at a Catholic boarding school, was telephoned by Beech, who tried, as Lavery put it:
“to access my memories and try to use my truth and the horrors of my childhood to further his own malodorous ends.”
His impression of Beech was blunt:
“He is a psychopath, he reminds me of Harold Shipman.”
For his refusal to join the cult of #IbelieveNick, Lavery was then subjected, like others who publicly doubted him, to a barrage of abuse.
Conrad’s technique was simple: he showed Beech pictures of famous people, Beech then announced whether they had abused him or not. Exaro described this ludicrous procedure as “a picture test.” Conrad then wrote up whatever nonsense Beech told him, although Exaro toned down the most egregiously ridiculous parts – such as Beech’s story that former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath had intervened to prevent Harvey Proctor castrating him with what turned out to be a fruit knife. It was an extraordinary way to operate, and had Beech been a genuine victim – as we must assume Conrad believed him to be – his contamination of any resultant identifications would have caused immense difficulties for any prosecution.
Having trampled all over the evidence in this way, Exaro then introduced Beech to the Metropolitan Police who named their inquiry into his allegations “Operation Midland.”
Almost immediately the Met went out of its way not, as one might have expected, to investigate but to promote Beech’s claims. One of its top detectives, DS Kenny Macdonald, notoriously described them as “credible and true.” Whether he actually thought this, or whether he was simply parroting the official policy that “victims must be believed” was never entirely clear, but he never faced any censure for making one of the most irresponsible public statements ever made by a senior police officer, and his boss, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, was subsequently rewarded with a peerage.
Beech happily repeated and expanded his stories to Operation Midland. “The Group” had now expanded to take in swathes of people with nothing in common except that his internet searches revealed that they had been part of “the establishment.” Conservative Party politicians from the left wing of the Party (like Sir Edward Heath) were said to have conspired with their bitter political foes from the right, such as Harvey Proctor. Generals and Field Marshals had tortured him. He had been tied up and had his bones broken. Doctors were employed to patch him up after abuse sessions. He had had wasps and spiders set on him. He had been orally and anally raped and subjected to near drowning. Worst of all he had witnessed the murder of three boys, two of them by Harvey Proctor.
The list of innocent people he traduced is very long. Some were dead, like Sir Edward Heath, and the former heads of respectively MI5 and MI6, Michael Hanley and Maurice Oldfield. One or two were hounded into an early grave: former Home Secretary Leon Brittan and Labour MP Greville Janner both died after learning of his allegations but before they knew he had been discredited (although Janner’s dementia was probably too far advanced for him to understand what was happening). Two were distinguished D-Day veterans in their 90s: Field Marshall Lord Bramall and General Hugh Beach (Bramall was caring for his dying wife when police conducting what was very possibly an unlawful raid burst into his house). Harvey Proctor, was young enough still to be working, and as a result of the raid on his house lost his job and with it his home.
The more absurd his allegations became, the more ready people were to believe, and indeed to encourage him.
The list of enablers and encouragers is also a long one, and includes many of the least distinguished men in British public life.
Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, took Mr Beech very seriously from the moment they met in 2014. He described his allegations as “truly shocking” and was, as Beech was to say in court, “part of the little group supporting me and putting my information out there to encourage other people to come forward.” In this he was successful. He encouraged other fantasists and chancers to “come forward” and lie, while using his Parliamentary voice and privilege to promote Beech’s claims into the mainstream of political debate. Speaking specifically of Leon Brittan a few weeks after his death, and showing no concern for his bereaved wife, Mr Watson tweeted:
“I think I have made my position on Leon Brittan perfectly clear. I believe the people who say he raped them.”
One such person was Beech.
Other MPs, including the Conservative Zac Goldsmith, were also prominent in promoting Beech’s lies, at least by talking about a conspiracy of child abusers as though it were an established fact. Quite what such people hoped to gain by hitching themselves to a man like Beech it is hard to know, but perhaps they hoped to enhance their reputation as people who would be tough on child abuse. Mr Watson now believes that he was one of Beech’s victims, although this seems to stretch the concept of victimhood some way beyond breaking point.
Nor was Exaro News alone amongst news organisations in treating Beech’s allegations seriously. Tom Symonds of the BBC conferred a degree of respectability on him by interviewing him uncritically, although to its credit the BBC as a whole quickly backed off. James O’Brien, a popular presenter on the London radio station LBC, gave a great deal of publicity to his allegations, over a much longer period. O’Brien has not apologised, and still believes that “telling abuse survivors they will be believed” is the right thing to do, even though telling Beech he would be believed was patently the wrong thing to do.
Beech’s targets were mainly “establishment” figures. Only one, the former Labour MP Greville Janner, was from the Labour Party, and his prominent position within the British Jewish community and support for Israel made him, like Lord Brittan, a perfect target for some disgusting anti-semitic agitators who gleefully jumped on Beech’s bandwagon.
For a Russian government actively promoting “anti-establishment” movements all over Europe, this was an opportunity not to be missed. George Galloway, used his platform as a presenter on the Russian state broadcaster RT.com to promote Beech’s claims. Galloway’s purpose, and that of RT, was obviously to promote the idea that British politicians – apart from himself, of course – were debauched chancers with the morality of feral cats, in contrast to the fine upstanding family men and women running democracies like Russia, perhaps, and maybe Syria.
Exaro was funded by Jerome Booth, a successful investor in emerging markets; and supported by Tim Pendry a Tunbridge Wells “reputation management” expert with an interest in transhumanism, who provides advice “primarily … for family offices and high net worth individuals.” One such high net worth individual whose reputation he had once been paid to enhance was Asma Al-Assad, wife of the Syrian dictator (had Bashir Al-Assad been sensible enough to employ Mr Pendry to manage his own reputation it is quite possible that it would by now be almost as high as that of his wife).
They could have pulled the plug on Exaro, as they eventually did, but neither Pendry nor Booth seemed to care when Mark Watts started to become a regular guest on Sputnik, RT’s little sister, where he would gleefully promote and publicise Beech’s hogwash as evidence of an evil British establishment. The Iranian propagandists who run Press TV also enjoyed promoting Beech’s allegations.
Whether he realised it or not, in this way Beech helped contribute to a general cynicism about British politicians that, amongst other things probably assisted the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum and has left its mark in British politics in many other ways.
Conrad’s involvement was not limited to writing up Beech’s lies and introducing him to the police. According to Beech’s evidence at his trial, he showed him how to access TOR browsing – a useful skill for anyone wanting to buy guns, drugs or child pornography discretely – and told him how to set up a Proton email account, to facilitate secure communication.
As it happened, Beech had no need of a TOR browser. He wasn’t interested in guns or drugs and although he was very interested in sexual images of children he was able to amass his own library of these, partly by the more straightforward method of installing a hidden camera in his toilet. The Proton account, however, did come in handy to produce a fictitious series of email communications from someone he claimed was a fellow victim, known as “John.” John was purely imaginary but Beech was cunning enough to compose both sides of the email exchange, although not clever enough to prevent that fact becoming known to the Northumbrian Police – who investigated Beech once Operation Midland, seventeen months later, drew to its lame conclusion that there would be no prosecutions.
Egged on by Exaro the Metropolitan Police dug itself deeper and deeper into ignominy. Raids on the homes of Lord Bramall, Lady Brittan and Harvey Proctor were carried out with improperly obtained search warrants, and then publicised almost immediately, either through Exaro, or their media partners who happily promulgated their stories.
Lord Bramall – a nonagenarian D Day veteran and the carer for his dying wife – had to face a police interrogation while the police turned his house upside down.
Proctor, for his part, lost his home and his job as a direct result of the publicity.
It was Proctor, though, who finally turned the tables on Beech, by the simple expedient of holding a news conference, declaring himself innocent, and revealing the full absurdity of Beech’s allegations. Once exposed to the sunlight of publicity, Operation Midland started to wither. A brilliant BBC Panorama documentary a few weeks later revealed more of the inconsistencies. Mark Watts desperately tried to prevent the Panorama broadcast, claiming that “survivors” might commit suicide as a result. The BBC, to its great credit, refused to back down.
Finally, with the collapse of Operation Midland, and in response at least in part to demands from Mr Proctor, Northumbria Police were brought in to investigate Beech himself.
His library of 350 sexual images of children was quickly discovered. His first response was – as ever – to lie, and to blame other members of his family. Then his other claims began to unravel, as the Northumbrian Police did what the Met had conspicuously failed to do, and started to investigate Beech more closely.
He realised the game was up and whilst on bail he secretly planned an escape to the remote town of Överkalix in Northern Sweden. He bought a bed and breakfast which he planned to run with his elderly mother, while catering for tourists visiting the town’s famous Traktor Museum and Arctic Moose Farm. Having run up sizeable debts with various local craftsmen (including nearly £4,500 for a new bath) his luck finally ran out when, several months later, he was caught, sporting a luxuriant beard and yet another false name, at Gothenburg Station.
What wider lessons can we possibly draw from this extraordinary story?
The first is that liars and fraudsters do exist, and sometimes they pretend that they have been victims of sexual abuse. It is obviously absurd to have a presumption that anyone alleging sexual abuse is telling the truth.
Secondly, although Beech’s motives were obviously in part financial, that was not his only, and possibly not even his main motive. After receiving his payout from CICA, he continued with his activity, even though – unless he was being funded by Exaro, which would add another dimension to the scandal – he was not paid for doing so. Perhaps he gained some sort of sexual thrill from relating stories of child abuse, but it seems likely that he also simply enjoyed the adulation that he received for being a poster boy for abused children (in fact, he became almost literally a poster boy by helping to organise “The Wall of Silence,” an exhibition of pictures drawn by abused children which was shown in Bristol and Cardiff, and very nearly shown at the House of Commons).
Thirdly, detecting liars is remarkably difficult. It is quite impossible to just listen to someone and tell whether they are lying or not. No-one should be better at spotting liars than senior detectives and journalists, yet many of these believed Beech, possibly in part because his stories played to their prejudices: either that “virtually no-one lies about sexual abuse”, or that “the establishment” is made up of wicked people who are capable, as a class, of just about anything. In the police videos Beech, a man with no known acting experience, did a splendid job of sobbing, speaking softly, appearing to struggle over the more traumatic aspects of his story and generally looking and sounding for all the world as you would expect a victim of appalling abuse to look and sound. His internet research enabled him to “remember” seemingly telling details, and to draw – as if from memory – the places where he said abuse had taken place. It was only after meticulous investigation of Beech’s story, speaking to his schoolmates and family, examining such school records as still existed, forensic examination of his computers, and even medically examining him for signs of past injuries or broken bones (there were none), that it could be conclusively proved that he was a liar.
Finally, what of Exaro and Mark Watts? The original Exaro has long since collapsed amidst mutual recriminations amongst its former owners and journalists. As for Watts, even now this strange and obsessive man is refusing to apologise, or even to accept that Exaro did anything wrong in promoting Beech. Notwithstanding the undeniable fact that the man on whom he staked his reputation has been proven beyond any doubt to be a cunning and compulsive liar and an admitted paedophile, Watts appears to believe that his conviction is unsafe. There is an irony that he will probably not see in the fact that that a man who did more than anyone to create the most monstrously unfair trial by internet that this country has ever seen, who was happy to be used as a tool of Russian propaganda on RT.com, who promoted the character assassination of not one but two distinguished veterans of D-Day, who caused an innocent man to lose his job and his home and who actively trashed the good name and reputations of so many others both dead and alive, should now claim to be concerned about the fairness of Beech’s trial, which was conducted in front of a judge and jury according to well-understood rules of evidence and procedure.
This is a slightly altered version of an article which first appeared in Quillette on 25th July 2019