25 July 2019

child abuse inquiry

Conspiracy theorist

Was Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson allowed to get too close to the failed police investigation of a Westminster paedophile ring?

By Alistair Jackson

The conviction of Carl Beech has left lingering accusations that some politicians interfered with investigations and pressurised police over allegations of historic child abuse, particularly concerning prominent people.

Chief suspect in this has been the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson.

Beech will be sentenced tomorrow after being found guilty earlier this week of perverting the course of justice by inventing the story of the Westminster ‘VIP paedophile ring’ which triggered police investigations into Sir Edward Heath, Lord Brittan, Lord Bramall and many others. At the same time he will be sentenced for fraud, absconding while on bail, and paedophile offences.

Watson has always denied overstepping the mark. After Beech was found guilty of making false allegations, Watson acknowledged meeting him, but denied interfering in a police inquiry, telling reporters: “It was not my role to judge whether victims’ stories were true. I encouraged every person that came to me to take their story to the police. That is what I did with (Carl Beech).”

Whilst there are few hard-and-fast rules about how politicians should deal with active criminal investigations, the convention is that elected politicians remain at arm’s length from operational policing.

As the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, wrote in The Times this week: “Politicians should never use criminal justice, still less particular investigations, as a way of inserting themselves into a news cycle.”

For a politician to be invited by a police force to be briefed on one of its most sensitive, active investigations and kept up to date on its progress is highly unusual – but that was the treatment Tom Watson received from the Metropolitan Police.

Tortoise understands that in November 2012 Watson was invited into the police offices in west London where the Met’s paedophile unit, including Operation Fairbank, was based. By the time of the briefing Fairbank was sifting through hundreds of allegations of high-level child abuse. The force had been deluged ever since Watson stood up in Parliament and claimed that evidence of a paedophile ring with “clear links to Number 10” had been buried by the Met.

Edward Heath in 1970

Fairbank was the precursor to the now-notorious Operation Midland which investigated Carl Beech’s claims. A detective who went on to interview Beech was deeply involved in this inquiry, and the names of some of those Carl Beech later accused were already in the frame, Sir Edward Heath’s and Lord Brittan’s especially.

One officer who was at the meeting with Tom Watson has told us that he was taken through how Operation Fairbank was progressing. Its focus was on a guest house in south-west London, Elm Guest House, around which rumours had circulated for years of child abuse by high-profile people including MPs and others.

Our source says the briefing given to Tom Watson made clear that the picture which was emerging was far less sensational than had been suggested. None of the claims of abuse involving prominent people or trafficking of children were standing up to scrutiny (although two managers at a nearby children’s home were eventually prosecuted for child abuse as a result of Fairbank’s work).

There was another purpose to the meeting.

Tom Watson was shown how children were being groomed online to be abused – and told that investigating the historic Westminster claims would inevitably draw resources away from more current investigations.

Site of the former Elm Guest House in Barnes

Watson’s invitation to the police briefing had been signed off at a high level. And his engagement with the force continued after the Metropolitan Police opened Operation Midland, its investigation into Carl Beech’s claims. Tortoise has established that an officer from that investigation spoke on the telephone with Tom Watson in May 2015, and in August of that year the pair met.

In interviews he has given, Mr Watson has claimed that his involvement in Operation Midland was limited to reassuring Carl Beech that his claims would be taken seriously. But the meeting in August 2015 came long after Beech had been interviewed by the police and a major investigation had been launched. There was little doubt about the seriousness of the Met’s approach by that point.

If senior officers thought these conversations would keep Watson onside they were to be disappointed. His track record of applying public pressure on the police might have served as a warning.

After his initial briefing from the police Tom Watson would go on to write to the Director of Public Prosecutions to severely criticise a decision not to interview Leon Brittan, the former Conservative home secretary following a separate rape allegation. The detective in charge had concluded there was no evidence to support the claim. The investigation was eventually reopened and Brittan’s name made public once he was interviewed. He died not knowing that this investigation, too, went nowhere.

The words of Tom Watson

The House of Commons, 2012: “[I] want to ensure the Met . . . investigate clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and No 10.”

Letter in 2014 demanding an investigation into a rape claim against Lord Brittan: “I am driven to the unpalatable conclusion that the identity of the alleged perpetrator — Leon Brittan — may have influenced the case.”

Sunday Mirror article in 2015 after Leon Brittan’s death:“Yesterday, one survivor said to me that Brittan . . . was ‘as close to evil as a human being could get in my view’ . . . I believe the people I’ve spoken to are sincere.”

Watson’s spokesman this week admitted that he had made a “real mistake” in believing Carl Beech (the ‘survivor’ quoted by Watson).

We approached Watson’s office for comment but at the time of publication, they did not respond.

There will be a fuller account of the support Carl Beech received from politicians and journalists in making his allegations in Tortoise this Saturday.

Photography by Getty Images

Alistair Jackson

Produced BBC Panorama's investigation into claims of a VIP paedophile ring