On July 22, a two month trial at the Newcastle Crown Court ended with the conviction of Carl Beech on 12 counts of perverting the course of justice, and one of fraud. A seemingly unremarkable NHS manager, Beech had spun a web of falsehoods naming numerous men—alive and dead—from the world of politics, the army, and the security services, of murder and mind-bogglingly dreadful acts of child sexual abuse. Millions of pounds were spent by the Wiltshire and Metropolitan Police investigating his claims, and then millions more by the Northumbria Police, proving that they were false. To make matters even worse, it emerged during his trial that Beech had pleaded guilty in January to spying on children for his own sexual gratification, and had made and stored hundreds of indecent images of children.
A man whose story had convinced the Metropolitan Police’s finest detectives, a number of MPs, journalists, and anti-abuse campaigners was finally proven to be a fraudster, a liar, and a paedophile. He will be sentenced tomorrow and can expect to spend many years in prison. [Update: On July 26, Beech was sentenced to 18 years.]
This had all started with the death of Sir Jimmy Savile eight years earlier…
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Savile will need no introduction to British readers. For those less familiar with the arcana of British popular culture, it is enough to record that his death in 2011 produced uniformly hagiographic obituaries that would have made St Theresa of Calcutta blush. When Savile had not been on television, he had been visiting the sick in hospitals and raising huge sums of money for 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 now dead, none of these allegations were ever tried in court. But a press that had showered him with adoration while he was alive now turned on him with the vengeful fury of a betrayed lover.
The Guardian spoke, unusually, for the majority when it ran an extraordinary editorial comparing him to 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 media now as indignant about his criminality as it had been fulsome in its praise. 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 were paid out in compensation, first from Savile’s relatively modest personal estate, then from the BBC and the NHS. For those unable to 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 almost 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, meanwhile, was living 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.” Sadly, it was neither a critical nor a commercial success, and what we now know about the author renders his personal guarantee that “everything (yes everything) in this book is true” worthless.
Then Jimmy Savile died. A year after his death, on October 3, 2012, ITV broadcast a documentary entitled The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, which accused him of serious sex crimes. Three weeks later, Carl Beech complained to Wiltshire Police that he and a childhood friend from Bicester called “Aubrey” had been abused as children by a number of people he called “The Group.” The only participants he was prepared to name were his dead step-father, Major Raymond Beech, and Savile. “Everything hit the press,” he would explain in court. “People were coming forward and I felt guilty for not doing it earlier. I don’t know if people are alive or not now, I suppose it’s a bit late. I thought if other people can, I can.” That last remark, at least, was undoubtedly correct. Over the course of the next six years, his claims developed until he was describing a kind of debauchery among Britain’s ruling class reminiscent of the court of the Emperor Caligula.
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 other public figures. Even though the only two people Beech had named were dead, the Wiltshire Police did their best to corroborate his claims. When they were unable to do so, 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 were to draw upon this experience of investigating dead men with a far more high profile and expensive investigation into the even more comprehensively dead Sir Edward Heath, with exactly the same result.)
The conclusion of the Wiltshire Police inquiry did not bring Carl Beech’s activities to an end. Quite the opposite. Armed now with a crime number, he made an application to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. The application was entirely fraudulent, of course, but that did not prevent him receiving £22,000 compensation two years later. The delay, however, annoyed him, and led him to write petulant letters. He said he needed it to pay his counselling fees, which would turn out to be another lie—when the compensation eventually arrived, he spent it all on a long-coveted white Ford Mustang convertible.
Beech began to promote himself on social media. He opened an account on Twitter (now deleted) with the handle @carl_survivor, and posted regular blogs about his abuse by “The Group.” His supposedly true stories of nursing had not been well received, but his supposedly 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.
Amid a smörgåsbord of confusing pseudonyms (as well as “Lucy Samuels,” Beech has variously styled himself “Nick,” “Stephen,” “David,” “Stephen Anderson,” “Sam Williams,” “Carl Andersson,” “Oskar Andersson,” and “Samuel Karlsson”), Beech publicised his allegations on his blog, his Twitter account, and in 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 Beech’s muse, one hopes, for good.)
Beech might have remained just another anonymous internet crank. He could have enjoyed his Ford Mustang and lived out his days in anonymity, sustained by an online community that constantly told him how courageous he was. Instead, he became involved with an investigative website called ExaroNews.com (the domain now has new owners). His blogs and tweets were seen by journalists from Exaro at a time when the newly created website was struggling to make money charging a monthly subscription fee for reports about corporate bankruptcies. That unexciting business model was failing, and so a complete change of tone was needed. Beech’s lies were what Exaro‘s editors hit upon to propel the site—and Beech himself—into prominence.
Exaro journalist Mark Conrad contacted Beech and started to write up his stories. Soon Exaro was publishing almost nothing but wild tales about paedophile rings in high places. “Nick,” as Beech became known in Exaro‘s reports, was the shiny, gleaming thoroughbred in their stable of “survivors,” although they promoted other equally implausible eccentrics and chancers. Although the names of living people were not published in the early stages, enough clues were scattered to enable readers to guess the identities of some of those accused. Later on, after Exaro and others published details of police raids, these names would be leaked into the public domain, anyway. According to Mark Watts, Exaro’s editor, Beech was the “bravest and most genial of men.” Others who had dealings with Beech disagreed.
One of Beech’s methods was to seize 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.” For his refusal to join the online cult of #IbelieveNick, Lavery was then subjected, like others who publicly doubted Beech, to a tsunami of abuse.
Exaro’s technique was simple: journalist Mark Conrad would show Beech pictures of famous people, and Beech would announce whether the person he was looking at had abused him or not. Exaro described this ludicrous procedure as “a picture test.” Conrad then wrote up whatever Beech told him, and toned down the most ridiculous parts (such as Beech’s claim that former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath had intervened to prevent Conservative MP Harvey Proctor from castrating him with 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.” Instead of investigating Beech’s claims, as might have been expected, the Met went out of its way to promote them. One of its top detectives, Kenny McDonald, notoriously described Beech’s allegations as “credible and true.” It never became entirely clear if McDonald actually believed this or if he was dutifully reciting the official policy that “victims must be believed” no matter how implausible their stories. In any event, he never faced any censure for 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 repeated and further embellished his stories to Operation Midland. “The Group” had now been expanded to include swathes of people with nothing in common except that his internet searches revealed they had been part of “the establishment.” Conservative Party politicians from the left of the Party (like Sir Edward Heath) were said to have conspired with their bitter political foes from the right, such as Harvey Proctor. Beech claimed he had been tied up and had his bones broken by Generals and Field Marshals. He said that doctors were employed to patch him up after abuse sessions. Wasps and spiders were set upon 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 at the hands of Harvey Proctor.
The list of innocent people he traduced is very long. Some were dead, like Sir Edward Heath, and the former heads, respectively, of 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 Beech’s allegations but before he was discredited (although Janner’s dementia was probably too far advanced for him to understand what was happening). Two of the men he accused were distinguished D-Day veterans in their ’90s: Field Marshall Lord Bramall and General Hugh Beach. And the more absurd Beech’s allegations became, the more ready people were to believe, enable, and encourage him.
The list of believers, 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 Carl Beech seriously from the moment they met in 2014. Watson described Beech’s allegations as “truly shocking” and was, as Beech would later testify, “part of the little group supporting me and putting my information out there to encourage other people to come forward.” In this, Watson was successful. He did indeed encourage other fantasists and chancers to come forward, and he used his parliamentary voice and privilege to promote Beech’s claims within mainstream 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 of those people was Beech.
Other MPs, including Simon Danczuk and the Conservative Zac Goldsmith, were also prominent in promoting Beech’s lies. These men spoke about a conspiracy of child abusers as though it were an established fact. Quite what they hoped to gain by hitching themselves to a man like Beech it is hard to know. Perhaps they simply hoped to enhance their reputations as people who had understood the lessons of the Savile scandal and resolved to be uncompromisingly tough on child abuse. Watson now believes that he was one of Beech’s victims, although this requires a rather capacious definition of victimhood.
Nor was Exaro the only news organisation to take 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 quickly backed off). James O’Brien—a rather sanctimonious presenter on the London radio station LBC, whose new book is unfortunately titled “How To Be Right”—gave a great deal of publicity to Beech’s allegations, and over a much longer period. Following the verdict, O’Brien did not apologise. Instead, he tweeted this:
Hate the Carl Beech story. We gave his allegations against dead politicians a lot of coverage on the show & it turns out he was bullshitting everyone. But from Rotherham to Westminster to the BBC, telling abuse survivors that they'll be believed still seems the right thing to do.
— James O'Brien (@mrjamesob) July 23, 2019
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 his support for Israel made him, like Lord Brittan, a perfect target for the antisemitic agitators who gleefully climbed aboard Beech’s bandwagon.
A Russian government energetically promoting “anti-establishment” movements all over Europe was not about to miss an opportunity like this. 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 to promote the idea that British politicians—apart from himself, of course—were dissolute and corrupt, in contrast to the fine upstanding people running a free society like that in Russia.
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. Booth and Pendry could have pulled the plug on Exaro (as they eventually did). But, for the time being, neither seemed to care that Mark Watts was regularly on RT and Sputnik publicising Beech’s lies as reliable evidence of an evil British establishment.
In this small way, whether he realised it or not, Carl Beech helped contribute to a general cynicism about politicians that, inter alia, probably assisted the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum, and has left its mark in British politics in many other ways.
Exaro journalist Mark 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, Conrad also showed him how to access TOR browsing—a useful skill for anyone wanting to buy guns, drugs, or child pornography discreetly—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 and Beech was cunning enough to compose both sides of the email exchange. He was not, however, clever enough to prevent that fact becoming known to the Northumbrian Police.
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 the site’s media partners. Lord Bramall—a nonagenarian D-Day veteran and the carer for his dying wife—had to undergo 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 negative publicity.
It was Proctor, in the end, who would finally turn the tables on Beech in August 2015, 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 inconsistencies. Mark Watts had desperately tried to prevent the Panorama broadcast but the BBC had refused to back down. Watts subsequently made this claim on Twitter:
— Mark Watts (@MarkWatts_1) August 3, 2016
Finally, with the collapse of Operation Midland, Northumbria Police were brought in to investigate Beech himself. His collection of 350 sexual images of children was quickly discovered, and included dozens in the most serious category of abuse. 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.
While on bail, he planned an escape to the remote town of Överkalix in northern Sweden. He bought a bed and breakfast there under an alias, which he planned to run with his elderly mother. Having run up sizeable debts with various local craftsmen (including nearly £4,500 for a new bath), his luck finally ran out. Several months later, he was caught, sporting a luxuriant beard and yet another false name, at Gothenburg Station.
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What wider lessons can we draw from this extraordinary story? The first is that liars and fraudsters do exist, and sometimes they pretend to have been the victims of sexual abuse. It is obviously absurd, pace James O’Brien, to presume that everyone alleging sexual abuse is telling the truth.
Second, although Beech’s motives were partly 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 he was not paid to do so. It may be that his own sexual proclivities were titillated by relating graphic stories of child abuse, but it also seems likely that he simply enjoyed the adulation and moral capital he accrued as the poster boy for victims of molestation. (Beech helped 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).
Third, detecting liars is remarkably difficult. It is 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 people were taken in by Beech. Perhaps his stories played to their prejudices, or encouraged them to adopt positions they wished to be seen to hold: that “virtually no one lies about sexual abuse,” or that “the establishment” is made up of wicked people who, as a class, are capable of just about anything. In the police videos, Beech sobbed, murmured, appeared to struggle over the more traumatic aspects of his story, and generally behaved the way one might expect were he the victim of appalling abuse. 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, interviews with his schoolmates and family, a review of his surviving school records, forensic examination of his computers, and even a medical examination for signs of past injuries or broken bones (there were none), that it could be conclusively proved that Carl Beech was a liar.
Finally, what of Exaro and Mark Watts? The original Exaro has long since collapsed amid mutual recriminations among its former owners and staff. 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. Watts did more than anyone to create a monstrous trial-by-internet. He was happy to be used as a tool of Russian propaganda on RT.com. He promoted the character assassination of two distinguished veterans of D-Day. He caused an innocent man to lose his job and his home. Now this same man, who staked his reputation on the word of a convicted liar and fraud, claims 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 an irony that Watts is probably not yet in a position to appreciate.