Show trial: Carl Beech, interviewed by Met’s ‘Operation Midland’ in October 2014
Anyone with a genuine interest in justice should be deeply worried by the trial of Carl Beech, aka ‘Nick’.
With his conviction last month for seeking to pervert the course of justice (PCJ) and fraud when making claims of child sexual abuse and homicide by what he called a “group” that included VIPs, he is officially “shown” to have made it all up. Accordingly, he was given a stiff prison sentence of 18 years in total.
But the public should be on the alert when the media works in near unanimity – and in lock-step with the state – to ignore the alarm bells over the way in which Carl Beech was convicted of 12 PCJ charges and one count of making a fraudulent compensation claim, and duly to pronounce that Britain’s scandal over VIP paedophiles was all so much nonsense.
As far as I am aware, I am a lone voice among journalists to point to reasons why the ‘Nick’ trial represents a serious miscarriage of justice.
While many journalists join in the official narrative, some who know otherwise in the national media either go along with them in a desperate attempt to protect their cowardly backsides or elect, understandably, to keep their heads down.
I was the only journalist to attend the trial every day and cover it consistently on Twitter @MarkWatts_1.
As I said in my tweeted statement immediately after the verdicts, forensic searches of Beech’s computers showed that the Metropolitan Police Service would have had no basis for referring to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) his statements made to ‘Operation Midland’ against anyone of child sexual abuse or homicide. Nothing about the flaws in the trial changes that.
So, as I believe was clear from evidence in his trial, Beech’s allegations against anyone have no credibility. But this is very different from saying that he is guilty as charged.
Indeed, the evidence against Beech on the charges was notably shaky, although one would not know that from the media coverage, accompanied in the BBC’s case by an artist’s sketch that made the forlorn-looking figure of a slightly hunched-shouldered, bearded Beech with a somewhat bewildered expression stereotypically menacing.
And prosecutors do not usually have the difficult burden of proving a negative as in this case.
Prosecution references to Beech’s downloading specific images of locations for alleged abuse were all too often vague as to when they were downloaded. It was only probative if the downloading was before he drew the relevant sketch of a location that he had supplied to the Met.
Likewise, prosecution references to his carrying out internet research on specific subjects were sometimes vague as to when they were performed. Some of the research was identified as coming after his Met interviews, so proving nothing much.
I was particularly struck by a prosecution reference to his looking up, before he went to the Met, articles on Exaro, where I was the editor, about Dolphin Square, the apartment complex where many MPs have their London homes.
This was entirely true.
But the prosecution’s sinister implication that he was researching Dolphin Square before his Met interviews was completely false. He had simply looked up articles about himself as the pseudonymous ‘Nick’ and his own claims to Exaro about Dolphin Square. He was not researching Dolphin Square at all.
But no one thought to point this out to the jury.
Much of the media wrote ‘Nick’ off as ludicrous years before the trial began when it was claimed that he had alleged that Sir Edward Heath, the former Conservative prime minister, had stopped Harvey Proctor, an ex-MP from the same political party, using a pen-knife to cut off his genitals.
Given the political gulf between the pair, it sounded far-fetched and ridiculous.
But ‘Nick’ had told the Met in interview that he did not know who had intervened to stop Proctor cutting his genitals. Recorded on video, they are known as “ABE” interviews – achieving best evidence.
Not cutting off his genitals, note, just cutting. And, ‘Nick’ told the Met in a video interview, he had no idea who stopped it from happening.
But this has not stopped the media constantly report an exaggerated version of his allegation.
Header gaps: ‘Nick’ trial
Ben Fellows and the CPS’s ‘fantastist’ flops
As the CPS carefully considered its case against Carl Beech, it would inevitably have had in mind the fiasco of the failed prosecution just four years ago of another alleged “fantasist” – the actor, Ben Fellows – who told police that a cabinet minister had sexually assaulted him in 1994.
Exaro was the first to raise doubts about his claims. So much for the false media narrative that Exaro had a pre-determined view of all allegations of sexual abuse by VIPs as true.
Unlike much of the media that was quick to judge all such accusers as “fantasists” and their accusations “ludicrous”, Exaro had a demonstrable even-handed approach to the issue and simply followed the evidence.
The Fellows prosecution proved a disaster for the police, the CPS and for the establishment.
Fellows went on trial at the Old Bailey in 2015 charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice by falsely alleging that the then chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, indecently assaulted him.
Fellows claimed to the Met’s ‘Operation Fairbank’ that Clarke plied him with alcohol and “groped” him in the office of a political lobbyist, Ian Greer, while working undercover for ITV’s The Cook Report. Fellows was 19 at the time, but said that he was posing as 15. He claimed that a covert camera filmed the assault.
During the high-profile trial, prosecutors called Clarke, Cook and an assorted array of journalists who worked on the investigation into Greer to tell the jury that it was all, well, fantasy.
Clarke described the claim against him as “bizarre” and “preposterous”, telling the jury: “My reaction to all of this was that it was rather like Martians landing.”
But, following an eight-day trial, the jury was unimpressed by the prosecution. It found Fellows not guilty. Again, this is very different from saying that his allegations are true.
Another alleged “fantasist” who accused VIPs of child sexual abuse was then charged with wasting police time, only for the CPS to abandon the prosecution ahead of trial and admit that it simply had no case whatsoever.
Although the media conveniently ignored the outcome of the latter case, the CPS learnt from these debacles.
This time, it wanted to make sure. And while the evidence against Beech was all too uncertain, the CPS potentially had a trump card.
After officers from Gloucestershire Constabulary, working with Northumbria Police, seized Beech’s computers in November 2016, they discovered that he had downloaded and possessed hundreds of indecent images of children, mainly young boys.
It led Beech to plead guilty last January at Hereford crown court to five charges of downloading/possessing indecent images of children and one of voyeurism.
Among the cache were 36 indecent images in “Category A” (the most serious), eight of them accessed via the TOR browser, which conceals the computer user’s location. So Beech had even learnt how to try to hide his appalling criminal conduct of downloading indecent images.
The haul also included another 116 indecent images in Category B, 209 in Category C, and 223 classified as “indicative” or “borderline”. There was a still from a video that showed a boy urinating in the downstairs toilet of Beech’s home – the voyeurism charge.
Plus there were traces of videos with some very suspect-sounding titles: “A little boy and a man,” “Man and two boys,” and, “F***ing our baby son.”
The downloading or possession of this material is, of course, a despicable crime, as I pointed out in my tweeted statement. Most people would think so. Most people on a jury would think so.
As a result, while the media could report on Beech’s conviction for indecent images in January, it could not link it to what was then the forthcoming PCJ trial. It would plainly prejudice the second case.
So obvious was it, the judge in the first case pointed out that no specific reporting restriction was necessary because it was already covered by the Contempt of Court Act.
But it did not stop plenty of twits on Twitter from tweeting at the time about the link between Carl Beech’s convictions for indecent images and ‘Nick’ who was facing PCJ charges.
of Carl Beech
CPS hits upon an extraordinary wheeze
If only, the prosecutors said to themselves, the ‘Nick’ trial could hear all the gory detail about Beech’s sickening indecent images, the jury would no doubt be utterly and thoroughly repulsed.
The problem is that prosecutors must not usually tell juries about any previous convictions of defendants otherwise trials would be hopelessly prejudiced. This is the same reason why the media could not link Beech’s images convictions to the PCJ case.
But there was a hope for the CPS – in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. It is a handy bit of legislation that is often used in particular to discredit witnesses who allege child sexual abuse because it enables defence lawyers to introduce evidence of any “dishonest” crime to be deployed against them to undermine their credibility. The fact that the “dishonest” crime may have sprung from the childhood abuse is invariably conveniently ignored.
Could the CPS break the usual rules and turn the Criminal Justice Act 2003 on to Beech the defendant and introduce his recent reprehensible past convictions into the trial? Well, it could certainly try.
The prosecutor, Tony Badenoch, made the application to the High Court judge who oversaw the trial at Newcastle crown court, Sir James Goss. The judge heard legal submissions about it immediately after the swearing in of the jury. Of course, the jury does not hear legal arguments.
Badenoch asked for a ruling before he gave his opening speech to the jury. His draft speech had an awful lot in it about those despicable indecent images. If his application were to fail, he would need a substantial re-write.
The defence counsel, Collingwood Thompson, naturally, argued strongly against. It would be highly prejudicial, he said.
Nonetheless, the judge granted the prosecution’s application.
Badenoch had his trump card: he could tell the jury all about Beech’s convictions and those disgusting indecent images.
At that point, I turned to one journalist colleague and said: “It does not matter now whether Nick’s allegations are true or not because, after that ruling, the jury will convict him either way.”
As I said in my tweeted statement, I believe that this ruling made it impossible for Beech to have a fair trial on the PCJ and fraud charges. It left the ‘Nick’ trial hopelessly compromised, making the subsequent convictions wholly unsafe.
I wondered whether Beech might, as a result of the ruling, change his plea on the PCJ and fraud charges to guilty, so hopeless were his prospects with such prejudicial material to be placed before the jury. He would have been rewarded with a lighter prison sentence for a swift end to a trial that was expected to last up to 12 weeks. Of course, he did not.
And so Badenoch was able to deliver his opening speech as drafted, watched by journalists in the packed Press benches and yet more who nearly filled an annex to watch a video relay.
His big reveal for the jury: the defendant who alleged child sexual abuse by VIPs was himself “a committed and manipulative paedophile”. Or with Badenoch’s theatrical, extra emphasis on the strong syllables, together with perceptible pauses after his adjectives: “a committed [pause] and manipulative [pause] paedophile”.
If the jury had the impression that “a committed [pause] and manipulative [pause] paedophile” had actually carried out contact sexual abuse on children, then job doubly done, even though there is no evidence of any such thing.
The judge did warn the jury in his summing up at the end of the trial that it must not be prejudiced by the “abhorrent” nature of Beech’s convictions, but the whole case was infused with it.
Of course, the jury should not be prejudiced. But of course it was.
This compounded the fact that, long before the trial began, there were already acres of prejudicial Press coverage. It repeatedly labelled Beech a “fantasist”, often splashed on front pages. That in itself should have been the basis for a defence application that a fair trial was impossible. Such an application would have been refused, even though it had merit.
The state and the media in lock-step. So much for our so-called “free Press”.
Again, the judge did warn the jury that it must not be prejudiced by media coverage of the case.
Of course, the jury should not be prejudiced. But of course it was.
To be a ‘fantasist’ or not to be a ‘fantasist’
Badenoch traded on the “fantasist” tag during the trial, or as he liked to over-emphasise it: “fantasist”. When cross-examining the defendant, for example, he repeatedly put it to Beech that he had fantasised about various specific episodes of abuse.
Beech, standing in the witness box with a bushy beard and in drab clothes after many months in prison on remand, repeatedly denied it.
Badenoch: “You are a fantasist.”
Beech, speaking in his usual soft-spoken and drone-like voice: “No, I’m not.”
The Press echoed Badenoch during the trial by frequently using the “fantasist” sobriquet in headlines on reports of the trial, albeit in inverted commas, which of course makes it all fair.
But by the end of the trial, Badenoch had changed his tune. Beech was not a deluded fantasist at all, he said, but instead a manipulative liar.
Nothing had surfaced in the evidence during the trial to explain this change of heart. It was as if a jumpy prosecution team feared that the jury would decide that Beech might have a delusional belief in his allegations. If so, while his allegations may be completely untrue, he would not actually be guilty.
Badenoch seemed to be slightly unnerved by Thompson, who had the air in the courtroom of Laurie Taylor, professor of sociology and presenter on Radio 4, thinking aloud in a lecture theatre about some fascinating, if rather esoteric, point.
Thompson would ask of some former underling of Field Marshall Lord (Edwin) Bramall, also accused by Beech, whether if the general had ordered a major in the barracks to come to see him with his young son, it would happen, wouldn’t it?
Yes, I suppose it would, came the begrudging answer, time and time again, to no discernible effect.
Thompson landed points, but landed no punches.
And this was no lecture theatre with an adoring and attentive audience. Rather, a panel of glum-looking jurors, who were made to set aside three whole months of their lives for this. A single female juror assiduously took notes, although she did not become the forewoman of the jury.
Thompson would float the notion that, even supposing for a moment, Beech’s allegations are after all untrue, his client nonetheless genuinely and absolutely believes them. If so, he was not guilty of the charges.
Entirely correct. Utterly unconvincing. A point, no punch.
But even as the prosecutor adopted the tone of a schoolmaster as he witheringly accused Beech of changing his story, Badenoch did the same. To be a fantasist or not to be a fantasist?
No one pointed out the irony of the prosecution’s evolving stance to the jury.
And what of the witnesses?
The roll call of witnesses was astonishing, but mainly for who was missing.
It included former pupils at one of Beech’s schools who spoke of a fantastic chicken fondue on one memorable camping holiday, an assortment of assistants to accused generals who denied anything untoward with children at the headquarters of UK Land Forces at Erskine Barracks in Wiltshire or at any other barracks, and even written statements from several of Sir Edward Heath’s yachtsmen. Britain’s former prime minister was not a capable sailor, apparently. “He couldn't tie a knot,” said one.
But not a peep was to be heard during the entire ‘Nick’ trial from many of the key officers responsible for the Met’s ‘Operation Midland’, which investigated Beech’s allegations.
Not even Supt Kenny McDonald, the highly respected detective at Scotland Yard who blotted his copybook by publicly declaring in December 2014 the account given by ‘Nick’ to the Met to be “credible and true”.
Had they all booked a cruise on the other side of the world for the trial dates? Had they even extended the booking when the trial was put back a couple of months just to make sure?
All we know is that McDonald retired from the Met just ahead of the trial, and several of the other missing officers had also left.
Of what, exactly, was the prosecution so scared to leave them all off the witness list?
Grateful as we all are to learn that Ted Heath, contrary to the public myth, could not so much as tie a sailor’s knot, the CPS seemed content to leave unanswered at the ‘Nick’ trial the big question about Operation Midland: what on earth made McDonald say “credible and true”?
I do not see, though, why the defence should not have summoned the missing officers.
A few, rather junior Met detectives were called, including one lowly DC who was dragged all the way to Newcastle even though he had also left the job. No round-the-world cruise for him, it seemed.
But no one thought to ask them, especially those who worked on Operation Midland from the outset, just what was the basis of the Met’s staggering “credible and true” assessment.
The answer would have been illuminating, putting a different complexion on the trial.
For some reason, it is the issue that everyone is desperate to duck. No one even seems to have told poor old Sir Richard Henriques, the retired High Court judge commissioned by the Met to review Operation Midland and other investigations into “VIP paedophiles”.
A public inquiry into ‘Operation Midland’ needs to address it.
Seen through the prism of “a committed [pause] and manipulative [pause] paedophile”, Beech in his Met video ABE interviews that were played to the jury cut an especially pitiful figure, appearing pathetically sorry for himself.
However, seen through the prism of having suffered child sexual abuse, Beech looked an utterly tortured soul.
Much of the ABEs were played to the jury, although some parts were read out. A Met witness would play the role of himself, ie the interviewer, while Badenoch’s junior, Peter Ratliff, read out Beech’s replies.
And Ratliff did a splendid job of adopting a small and pathetic, child-like voice for Beech’s words. The voice of a stupid and slightly surprised child. It was just this side of mimicry.
Smoke and mirrors – and a load of red ribbon
The prosecution pulled off a master stroke by managing to persuade the judge, despite exasperated defence protests, to allow it to show the jury a picture of Carl Beech stood dressed only in his boxer shorts, taken by him in his bathroom mirror. Ratliff put them up on television screens all round the court.
Badenoch sought the application on the pretext that the “selfie” disproved Beech’s comment from the witness box that he could not stand looking at his body.
Appearing as awkward and uncomfortable with himself as he did in the bathroom-mirror picture, it proved no such thing. To my mind, showing it to the jury was gratuitous.
Whatever next? Perhaps if Badenoch had asked whether he could tie a long, red ribbon tightly round the defendant’s neck, he would have been told to go right ahead and would he like a cherry to go on top?
I am sure that the jury, still yet to recover from the gruesome details of the indecent images, was even further repulsed by the distinctly unappealing sight of an overweight, semi-naked Beech in his ill-fitting boxer shorts. Whatever the truth of Beech’s claim that the picture allegedly disproved, the jurors evidently could not stand looking at his body.
As the slightly hunched-shouldered Beech looked on impassively from the witness box, Badenoch seemed to relish making them do it.
Ta-da, Beech in his bathroom!
Beech in his boxers!
Beech near-enough in the buff!
The heads of the few in the Press benches recoiled a little.
There were several screeches from the public gallery.
Badenoch, after initial distinctly nervy and slightly tetchy exchanges with some of his early witnesses in the trial who were not quite up to speed with him, had re-discovered his rictus smile.
By now, Badenoch was enjoying himself.
The ever-helpful CPS merrily distributed Beech’s semi-naked selfie in the bathroom-mirror to the media, which gleefully served it up to what was no doubt a grateful public. [Note 26.08.19: the CPS distributed to the media a different semi-naked selfie from the one shown to the jury in which he was smiling weakly.]
Now for that red ribbon.
Although a prosecution never has to prove motive, it always helps.
The prosecution suggested that Beech was motivated by money. The problem with that interesting theory was that Beech made his claim to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) the year before he went to the Met – at the request of the Met, it should be noted – to make the allegations that formed the overwhelming bulk of this case.
The money motive simply does not work. [Note 26.08.19: this has been corrected from “four years before he went to the Met”. The point still holds. Beech had already made his compensation application before going to the Met. He already had a crime reference number, which is needed for a CICA application. He had this from Wiltshire Police in 2013 after alleging to that force in 2012 child sexual abuse by his step-father, Jimmy Savile, and unnamed others.]
No matter. Badenoch bounced back to his trump card – the indecent images.
He savoured elucidating his speculative theory that Beech – “the committed [pause] and manipulative [pause] paedophile” – was motivated by a sexual interest in children, even though it is every bit as likely that his own childhood abuse had led to his twisted fascination in viewing indecent images of boys.
The evidence is that Beech did suffer sexual abuse as a child. By whom, is another question.
As defence counsel pointed out to the jury, his ex-wife told the trial that early in their marriage, long before he went to any police, the defendant wrote a letter to his mother about sexual abuse by his late step-father, an army major. Beech was seeing a counsellor about his childhood sexual abuse, and she suggested to him that he wrote the letter.
The prosecution, quite reasonably, called a medical expert to say that there was no trace of any physical injuries that Beech had told police he had suffered as a child.
However, in my view, it was a mistake for the defence to call no expert witness as to the possible psychological effects of childhood trauma on Beech and specifically on his recall and behaviour.
Several abuse survivors have told me that the clips of Beech’s video interviews with the police and released to the media are indicative of a sufferer of disassociation.
Her Majesty’s Press
Harvey Proctor and the blocked evidence
And then there was the evidence that the jury did not hear.
This included the evidence about Harvey Proctor, the denied request for further disclosure by the prosecution about the former Conservative MP, as well as the barred lines of cross-examination, as I summarised in my tweeted statement.
Private Eye later claimed that I was casting aspersions on Proctor; but Private Eye was wrong, again. I was reporting what the court heard.
Perhaps if someone from Private Eye had bothered to move away from the desk, out of the office, even travel from its southern enclave altogether and actually attend the trial, it would have learnt about the extraordinary hearing on the Proctor issues on June 21.
Had it done so, it would have known what it was talking about, instead of relying on media coverage, my tweets and CPS hand-outs.
I have since set out in detail just what was said at the hearing about Proctor. Again, as far as I am aware, a lone voice among journalists to report on startling disclosures in open court.
Other journalists were there. An alert even went out to the national media who were missing it. And yet, nada.
And, I can reveal, that was not the only denied application for further disclosure to the defence.
DI Derek Barrett, who managed the “major incident room” for Northumbria Police’s ‘Operation Ruby’, its investigation into Beech, admitted to the trial under cross-examination that some material gathered by Operation Midland was not disclosed to the defence.
He did not disclose how much.
He did not know.
An officer at Northumbria Police had reviewed all the Midland material and deemed what should be disclosed, he said.
From what we heard at the trial, the prosecution did not appear even to have disclosed to the defence the full Henriques report. The defence seemed to have had to make do with the truncated version that the Met published in November 2016.
Beech’s lawyers repeatedly complained of a failure by the prosecution to provide them with proper and relevant disclosure about Operation Midland and other police investigations.
These included the national investigation led by Wiltshire Police into Sir Edward Heath under ‘Operation Conifer’. He was another of the VIPs accused by Beech.
Again, the court heard (without the jury) that the prosecution did not disclose to the defence the full Conifer report.
Behind the scenes, defence and prosecution lawyers wrangled about whether disclosure of “third-party material”, such as that held by police forces other than the Met, was appropriate. This became apparent on July 2 when the defence team, in the absence of the jury, asked the judge to “assist the parties” by effectively refereeing on their disagreement.
As the judge noted, the defence wanted him to “indicate” whether there was any substance to its complaint and, if so, to help crystallise the issues.
The judge said:
“There was no apparent basis for a conclusion that there has been a failure on the part of the prosecution in relation to its disclosure obligations. I added that whether there should and could be agreement as to any facts relevant to the case arising out of the unused material or other enquiries undertaken by the police that are placed before the jury was entirely a matter for the parties.”
Quite how the defence could engage in meaningful discussions about any such prospective additional agreed facts without seeing the relevant material was left unclear.
Among the requests for disclosure was what the defence described to the judge as “credible material” from 10 investigations by other police forces. Yes, you read that right – “credible material” from 10 police investigations.
Why we heard nothing of this material at the Westminster hearings in March of the inquiry into child sexual abuse was not a matter for the trial.
The arguments about disclosure continued out of the courtroom through the ‘Nick’ trial, largely left to junior counsel of each side while the QCs continued battle in court.
One could tell how sharp the disagreements were becoming because Thompson’s junior, Ray Tully, would walk ever more frantically back into the court to consult with his senior on the latest prosecution blockage. But Tully walks in very tiny steps, so he never seemed to make any progress.
It came to a head while the first witness for the defence, the defendant, was being cross-examined.
Thompson told the judge (without the jury) that he did not know whether he was able to call further witnesses beyond his client because it depended on how the disclosure dispute was resolved.
So, on July 12, the defence made a formal application under section 8 of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 (CPIA), having failed to reach agreement with the prosecution “on agreed facts reflecting the wider investigative landscape regarding other complainants”.
The judge often felt the need to apologise to the jury for its being made to wait for long periods during the 12-week trial. He assured them that plenty of work was going on in the case in their absence. One time, the judge admitted, he was to blame for the delayed start to a day. He had been late to court, but only because his train was delayed. But often, as on this occasion, that plentiful work going on in the jury’s absence was legal argument before the judge.
First, the defence wanted material from Operation Conifer, saying that the prosecution had concluded that none of it passed the disclosure test.
The judge recorded in the reasons for his decision on the application:
“It is argued that too restrictive a view was taken and some disclosure was inevitable on the basis that there was material made against Ernest Warren, who worked at Erskine Barracks, where the defendant’s stepfather, Ray Beech, was also stationed, that included the suggestion of ‘group’ child sex and child murder.”
That did not appear in the published version of the Conifer report, and nothing further was said in court to identify Ernest Warren who worked at Erskine Barracks.
On the second part of the defence application, the judge said:
“Other credible material contained in 10 investigations by other police forces and material held by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the Independent Office for Police Conduct relating to a propensity for the sexual abuse of children by those named by the defendant falling within s. 8(3)(c) or (4) [of CPIA] should have been inspected and, where relevant, disclosed.”
Thompson, morphing ever more into a legal version of Laurie Taylor, postulated that, if successful, his application would inevitably necessitate something of a, shall we say, slight delay to proceedings, given the ways in which, in his experience, these kind of things do have a bit of a tendency to work.
This, he ruminated, would inevitably be necessary in order that the requested further material could in fact be gathered by the Crown Prosecution Service from all of the relevant parties; thereafter, could indeed be disclosed in the appropriate manner to the defendant and, not forgetting of course, his lawyers; and thereafter after that, as it were, actually analysed by the aforementioned defence lawyers and, of course, allowing sufficient time for full instructions to be taken on the rest of its case.
It would take a really long time, the judge said bluntly, managing to find a pause for breath by Thompson.
The jury would have to be dis-charged, he added even more bluntly.
It would mean a mis-trial.
The CPS would then have to decide whether to re-try the defendant.
The few of us on the Press benches at this point exchanged astonished, WTF glances.
The stakes were all of a sudden very high indeed.
This was not merely a matter of what witnesses the defence could call, as Thompson had posited.
The issue was whether the ‘Nick’ trial had to be halted here and now.
Was the judge going to make the momentous decision to grant the defence application and by so doing scrap the trial?
Was he, hell.
Fortunately for the CPS, the judge saved it from a fiasco that would easily have surpassed even its Fellows disaster.
The judge, in rejecting the defence application, said in his written reasons:
“The Operation Conifer material is not material that has been obtained or retained by those investigating these offences and is not material that is in the possession of the prosecutor, nor is it material which the disclosure officer is obliged to give to the prosecutor because it has not been retained by him.”
As to the other part of the application, he said:
“Similarly, the material… is not material which has been either copied to the prosecutor or which the ‘disclosure officer’ is obliged to copy to the ‘prosecutor’.”
“Further, and in any event, the bases of the applications are generic and unspecific. There has been a very significant amount of work undertaken to identify material which might support the defendant’s claims and justifiable conclusions reached upon it. There is no specificity as to why the disclosure of underlying material is required under the statutory test. The narrowing of the application to credible complaints imports normative assessments of credibility. The basis for the conclusions is apparent from the reports on the disclosed material on the particular investigations and is justifiable and justified. None of the material sought by the defendant constitutes material which a reasonable prosecutor should pursue as a reasonable line of inquiry.”
In other words, you can trust the police and the prosecutors to provide any and all material that might help the defence of the man who accused a host of establishment figures of child sexual abuse.
Phew! What a relief!
For the police and the prosecutors at least.
As I have set out, in reality, the whole prosecution was sorrowfully infused with unfairness.
A detective from Operation Ruby drove the prosecution team to and from the court throughout the 12-week trial in an unmarked police car, a Skoda Octavia estate.
This was a Skoda kind of prosecution.
Partly as a result of the judge’s ruling, the defence called no further witnesses beyond Beech himself.
The defence had needed something dramatic to have any prospect of overcoming the prejudice in the case. In my view, and notwithstanding the constraints of adverse judicial rulings, it was an error to call no witnesses other than the defendant.
I know of witnesses who were keen to testify. None of these could corroborate specific episodes alleged by Beech, but they could provide relevant testimony in relation to some of the now-deceased suspects.
And there was at least one former police potential witness whose team was threatened and warned off as it investigated child sexual abuse by now-deceased VIPs at locations in London that included Dolphin Square.
For sure, the prosecution would have objected. There would then have been yet more legal argument, and it is entirely possible that the prosecution would have succeeded in blocking these witnesses from testifying. But that was no reason for not trying to call them.
has been studiously
In the end, amidst a mountain of prejudicial material and a great valley in the middle of the evidence, the jury had to decide whether Beech had lied about his claims of abuse and homicide by VIPs.
As the judge remarked to Thompson during legal arguments about Proctor: “We are somewhat in the dark. You are in the dark, I am in the dark, and I’ve got to make a judgment.”
Only now, it was the jurors who were in the dark, and they had to deliver verdicts.
Outside, meanwhile, a sunny summery Newcastle beckoned with a pop-up beach – complete with golden sand, sky-blue deck-chairs, mock candy-striped beach huts, palm trees and offers to smiling families of ice cream – just over the road from the “combined court centre” on the promenade in Quayside along the River Tyne. It overlooked the Tyne Bridge one way, the Millennium Bridge the other, and the giant glass bubble-building of the Sage concert centre on the opposite river bank. The pop-up beach was on the short walk from the court to the luxury, riverfront Malmaison hotel, where Harvey Proctor and the Daily Mail stayed.
In the dark in court-room 1 of Newcastle crown court with Beech, or with ice cream in the Quayside sun on the beach?
In his directions on law, the judge identified the key question for the jury on the PCJ charges: “The issue is whether the defendant knew he was making false allegations and thereby intended to pervert the course of justice,” adding, “Was he making it up, was he telling the truth?”
On the fraud charge, he said, the jury must decide whether the underlying allegation in the compensation claim was untrue or not, whether he made the claim dishonestly, intending to make a gain for himself.
Later, in summing up the evidence, the judge told the jury that it had to decide whether Beech was lying.
There is a danger that the jury was left with the impression that this latter point was the key issue in reaching its verdicts when it absolutely was not.
Beech had certainly lied, for example, telling Wiltshire Police in 2012 after being pressed to name names that members of the “group” never identified themselves, but later saying to the Met that some of them did. At least one of those claims had to be a lie.
As the judge told the jury elsewhere in his summing up, Beech’s telling a lie did not necessarily mean that he was guilty.
But I think that the jury would have benefited from greater clarity on what central question it had to decide.
The jury, after a few hours of deliberating, demonstrated some confusion on much simpler matters. It returned to ask the judge whether the fraud charge related to Beech’s allegation to the Met or to CICA. The fact that the jury, or at least some of its members, did not know that it was of course the latter suggests that some basic points of the case had been totally lost on them.
The jury also showed some confusion by asking the judge whether it could split the charge that the defendant falsely supplied to the Met a pen-knife and military epaulettes from the time of his alleged abuse. Of course, it could not. But the question implied that the jury had some doubt about the charge in relation to either the pen-knife or the military epaulettes. Otherwise, why ask whether it can be split?
And yet, a very short while later, the jury returned to declare him guilty of the entire charge, and indeed all the charges on the indictment.
One occasionally has a glimpse into what goes on in the sausage factory of a jury room. The jury is the crucial bed-rock of our creaking criminal justice system, but it can be scary to learn how verdicts are made and just what goes into them.
But the state had turned up top trumps.
trying to ignore
Scandal, what scandal?
The judge invited the 12 jurors to return for the sentencing hearing four days later. Only five of them did. Most had their fill of Messrs Rictus Smile QC and Laurie Taylor in silk, let alone the plaintive voice of the stupid and slightly surprised child, albeit brilliantly acted by a bright barrister, and the frantic man with the very tiny steps, and, worse than the lot of them, a semi-naked Beech in the mirror.
His defence team appeared taken aback when the judge sentenced Beech to 18 years in prison in total, 15 of them specifically for seeking to pervert the course of justice.
John Humble, notorious as “Wearside Jack” whose hoaxes to the police when he pretended to be the Yorkshire Ripper enabled the mass killer to kill three more women, and who was this week reported to have died, was only jailed for eight years for perverting the course of justice.
There can be no doubt that Beech was made an example of, and the message to anyone else making similar allegations is clear.
The jailed Beech, despite being friendless and isolated, has nonetheless launched an immediate appeal against conviction, as I revealed on Twitter yesterday. His lawyers initially have to seek permission to appeal. A single judge considers the submitted grounds for appeal, and decides whether to give permission for a full hearing.
No one should be in any doubt that the Court of Appeal would naturally be reluctant to overturn the rulings of a senior judge in such a high-profile case.
I would be astonished if Beech were not also appealing against his sentence.
Sir James Goss, the trial judge, himself sometimes sits in the Court of Appeal.
Of course, he should have no part in considering any appeal.
The falsely-accused brigade and its cheerleaders in the media have exposed their hypocrisy in their celebration of this trial. If they were genuinely interested in fair justice, they would not be ignoring the dubious way in which Beech was found guilty.
In truth, members of the falsely-accused brigade are not remotely interested in justice, but in proclaiming with a pseudo-religious fervour that they or their loved ones or their friends or associates are innocent of accusations of sexual abuse levelled against them.
But when assessing the truth or otherwise of allegations of sexual abuse in particular, as some lawyers have been prepared to admit, the criminal justice system is often hopeless. And that is a problem both for those who have been sexually abused and for others who have been falsely accused.
Even as society has slowly begun to recognise its prejudices against those who come forward to allege sexual abuse, especially when committed by people of public prominence, with marginal improvements such as a formal recognition by the CPS of some of the “myths and stereotypes” about “victims”, the falsely-accused brigade wants to turn back the clock.
And it sees the dubious convictions of Carl Beech last month as the lever to do it.
Some people have even sought to exploit the dubious convictions of Carl Beech to vindicate themselves or their loves ones of all allegations of sexual abuse.
Giving his ‘victim impact’ statement to Beech’s sentencing hearing, the barrister son of Greville Janner, the late Labour MP, Daniel Janner, said that the allegations of Beech and other “false accusers” against his father made him feel “physically sick” and distressed. But as he widened his attack from Beech to the many other “false accusers” of his father – a lot of whom turned out to have criminal records, he said – the judge had to intervene to remind him that he should limit his comments to the one man in the dock.
Even fans of the BBC’s Jimmy Savile like to pretend that the dubious convictions of Carl Beech, who also accused their hero, shows that he was not really a prolific paedophile and sexual abuser after all, but just a victim of hundreds of false accusers.
And the establishment and the media, again in lock-step, similarly seek to exploit the dubious convictions of Carl Beech to pretend that Britain’s scandal about VIP paedophiles is “fake news”.
the truth of this.
Miscarriage of justice
The ‘Nick’ trial has created consternation among survivors of sexual abuse – whether in their childhood or adulthood, be it non-recent or not – and not only because it feeds this “falsely accused” narrative.
Many survivors were profoundly upset to see how police seized Beech’s supposedly confidential counsellor notes and communications and used them against him in the prosecution. Before he was found guilty, the CPS handed some of them out to the media.
And survivors were deeply dismayed to see extracts from Beech’s ABE video interviews with the police played on the news bulletins during the trial – again, crucially, before he was found guilty – again, helpfully supplied by the CPS.
A press officer from the CPS even dropped into the trial one day, sitting alongside a solicitor from the prosecuting body and right behind Badenoch and Ratliff. When the court rose as the judge entered that day, he immediately said to Badenoch that he had observed a “scruffily dressed” man sitting behind him. Who was he?
Badenoch, somewhat taken aback, having some difficulty finding his words, began to say: “He is from the press…” but before he could complete his sentence, “… office of the Crown Prosecution Service,” the judge had had enough.
“Then he can go to the Press benches,” he declared.
The flustered press officer quickly packed up and meekly shuffled off to join the mostly scruffily dressed people in the three rows of Press benches. As he sat down in front of me and re-set up his laptop, he turned and muttered to me that he was not scruffily dressed and had even put on a shirt and tie specially.
I was impressed by how quickly the CPS spokesman had got in his denial, but then that is his trade.
However, as the judge would no doubt note, there are shirts and ties, and there are shirts and ties. Moreover, there was no jacket whatsoever. I had not seen the judge so angry throughout the entire trial. He played a wonderfully stereotypical judge right down to the tip of his red gown tail.
The CPS spokesman provided a rare moment of levity, and the very few journalists who regularly attended the trial were all grateful for it. The jury unfortunately missed it, but then it always missed the best bits, and it had to make do with weak laughs about chicken fondue.
But the ‘Nick’ trial will leave a legacy of damage to survivors of sexual abuse.
Several survivors of child sexual abuse – who have no public profile – have told me that the case has sparked fears of seeing their own ABEs played on the 10 O’Clock News. Comments range from, “I would be mortified,” to: “It would kill me.”
To be accompanied, of course, by the terror of seeing any semi-naked snaps of themselves plastered across the salivating media.
Once again, in their conduct of this case, police and the CPS showed no consideration for the impact on anyone and everyone who has been sexually abused. A miscarriage of justice in this case and well beyond.
Several journalists commented to me about how unusually helpful the CPS had been to them with R v Carl Beech. They “expect things will go back to normal after this case.”
No doubt about it: this was a show trial.
Mark Watts (@MarkWatts_1), co-ordinator of the FOIA Centre, is the former Editor-in-Chief of Exaro.
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