Saturday, 30 April 2016

How Lord Janner Avoided Prosecution; The Media’s Role.

In 1991 I was the investigative journalist/producer for the television documentary Betrayal which highlighted the physical and sexual abuse of vulnerable youngsters in Leicestershire children’s homes.

The programme exposed the scandal which lay behind the conviction of paedophile/ social worker Frank Beck.

Twenty five years later prosecutors admitted the late Lord Greville Janner should have been charged with 22 sexual offences against children, many of which coincided with Beck's time of employment in Leicester.

But why was Lord Janner unchallenged and how did he avoid prosecution for so long?

Two years ago an inquiry into historical child sexual abuse in private and public institutions was set up by the government. It is also supposed to examine allegations against people in the public eye, including Lord Janner.
To date three heads of the inquiry have resigned amidst mounting concerns that the investigation is independent in name only.

The following is part of my statement to the inquiry.

Let's call him Y. The least he deserves is his anonymity. After much counselling he walked into a Leicester police station and tried to explain about the pain. The sexual assault. The officer listened, even took some notes, but seemed to be going through the motions.
 Y emerged dejected. It took a lot of courage to speak about his ordeal. Now he sensed there would be no further action. He was right. In the words of this articulate young man, "we were expendable."

I thought of Y's story when appearing on a debate programme following the broadcast of Betrayal on ITV Central.
The presenter Anna Soubry, now a Conservative MP, suggested most of the youngsters in these homes were tearaways. Troublemakers, out of control and beyond help.
Soubry was possibly reflecting the blinkered views of much of society.
However, if Y was watching it would have only added to his low self esteem while reinforcing his belief that society considered them worthless.

But that doesn't fully explain an extraordinary catalogue of incompetence and remarkable series of
coincidences on the part of all sections of the establishment.
There are also numerous instances which show the media in addition to the authorities failed these children..

Consider this. You are in charge of the news output of Central TV in the Midlands, later part of the Carlton group. 
You're presented with an exclusive story. One of your highest profile parliamentarians has been questioned by police about  sexual offences against children.
In spite of undeniable proof you refuse to run the story. Now, why would you do that?
It was 1991 a year the CPS belatedly confess the then Mr Janner should have been  prosecuted.

I presented the story to the Editor of Central News East Derek Braithwaite in Nottingham.
He appeared enthusiastic, but had to rush off to phone his colleagues in Birmingham. At this point I wasn't concerned. The relevant police officers were keeping their heads down and couldn't be found, but I had confirmation of the politician attending a Leicester police station accompanied by his solicitor.

Braithwaite returned looking sheepish. The powers that be, he said, were against broadcasting the story.
Did that mean the Controller of News Laurie Upshon ? Upshon didn't have the reputation as someone who would have made this kind of decision without the approval of those higher up the chain of command.
The smell which surrounded the story following the Beck trial was getting stronger.

Confronting Greville Janner himself seemed the best way forward.
Speeding down the M1 to the relative safety of Westminster the MP answered his car phone almost immediately.
My only expectation was a firm denial of everything or a no comment about everything.
Instead, after identifying myself and asking for his reaction to being questioned by detectives I heard an obviously surprised and nervous man saying he couldn't possibly discuss the matter at that time because he had some of his family in the car.
There was no denial about being questioned.
He was then asked for his reaction to the allegations.
There was more panic in his voice as he stressed he couldn't possibly discuss this subject in the presence of family members.
Again there was no denial of anything.
The brief conversation ended. It was strange such an experienced,public figure didn't simply dismiss the questions.
But even more surprisingly television executives continued to insist they wouldn't broadcast the story.
To this day there's been no explanation.

The Labour MP represented Leicester West for 27 years. This was part of Central's broadcasting area , so inevitably friendships had been formed and television companies needed political support for franchises to be renewed.
But would that really make television executives ignore allegations about the plight of damaged children so they could protect a political ally?
My immediate reaction that night was to make sure the story appeared in a national newspaper the next day.  It duly did. The police questioning was now a matter of public record. There was no comeback from lawyers because the story was completely accurate.
Later the same week, however, I was informed there had been a complaint about Janner being intimidated. I understood this information was passed down from above, in other words the board of directors.
My brief telephone call to the politician had apparently given a new meaning to the word intimidation.

Perhaps the police were also intimidated. After all, they now say they had "orders from above" not to investigate the complaints against him more vigorously.
No doubt they had ambitions to protect, but they were already aware of correspondence on parliamentary paper from the MP to a boy who was in care. The letters were invariably signed, with love Greville.
In addition, their mistakes included failing to check reports that he had taken the boy to a particular hotel in Leicester. The hotel staff were never even spoken to.
The 1991 interview was to all intents and purposes a token gesture.
The MP refused to answer any questions. He was accompanied by his solicitor  Sir David Napley, a legal veteran of political sex scandals.
The most expensive brief in the country, his previous clients included the former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe.
 In spite of what the police knew it was a mismatch and the detectives concerned went to ground, perhaps with a sense of shame.

The police action or lack of it and that of prosecutors was indeed shameful, but so was that of television executives.
The documentary Betrayal was only broadcast after a threat from television management about its content.
Steve Clark had the title Controller of Factual Programmes. Clark warned me if the words Greville Janner were included in the documentary, "your programme will never see the light of day."
This was a programme about to reveal how the exploitation of children was covered up throughout the seventies and eighties following what was at the time Britain’s biggest investigation into child sexual abuse.
Yet Clark and those upstairs were prepared to sacrifice the broadcast if it referred to Greville Janner.
Yes, of course, there had to be some legal restrictions, but such a blanket ban on one person's name had no justification.  Clark offered no explanation.
In the event I scripted the words, “Beck was a man with friends in high places."
This was still 1991, the first of three occasions the Crown Prosecution Service admits Greville Janner should have been charged. In their words "there was a realistic chance of conviction."

ITV Central inexcusably chose to look the other way about controversy on their own doorstep.
Yet in 1996, when some of the same hierarchy was still in place as part of ITV Carlton, a documentary  about Columbian drug cartels was made and broadcast.
Such courage about events thousands of miles away. Alas, for their credibility, the documentary was exposed as a fake. Reputations were irreparably damaged. Some staff were moved on and the television company was fined two million pounds by the regulators.

A report into the management of Leicestershire children's homes during the Beck period was completed by Andrew Kirkwood QC early in 1992.
Pleas for a public, judicial inquiry had fallen on deaf ears at Westminster where honourable members on both sides would eventually go out of their way to support Janner and express outrage at the way he was treated.
Keith Vaz, no stranger to controversy himself, called the treatment wicked.
Twenty four years later the evidence given to the Kirkwood inquiry by 42 witnesses who had been in care and 12 family members has still not been made public.
Greville Janner was also interviewed. Appendix 2 includes the name G Janner QC MP under the heading Other Witnesses. Nothing else.
Mr. Kirkwood's press conference on the day his report was published was quite extraordinary considering the gravity of the offences and allegations.
The packed press room  at Leicestershire County Hall was told the QC would read a prepared statement and wouldn't answer any questions.
The restriction was bizarre given the acknowledged public scandal and the cost to the taxpayer of the inquiry.
Yet nobody challenged it. We all meekly accepted it, waiting to be spoon- fed and assuming the statement would compensate for the chairman’s reticence.
The statement was bland. The author gave the impression he wished he was a million miles away. Yes, Beck's crimes were shocking. Yes, there was negligence. But there was little that wasn't already in the public domain.
The distinguished member of the legal profession got up determined to rush off into history.
 All over in a couple of minutes. There was complete silence. Still nobody questioned or challenged what was going on. Were they all stunned or just indifferent? .I shouted out a question, wanting an explanation for his silence.But it only made him vanish all the quicker.
There’s no doubt he was nervous and really uncomfortable, and it was little wonder. Janner had lied to his inquiry about contact with Beck and it’s impossible to accept the inquiry team didn’t have an inkling of this.
Even more astonishingly the Kirkwood inquiry agreed to the politician’s request that he could tell the outside world he hadn’t even been questioned about offences against children.

That evening I broadcast how the QC took a great deal of persuading behind the scenes to even come to Leicester.
At first he refused point blank .He didn't want anything to do with the publication of his report.  Many conversations later he reluctantly agreed to appear on the strict condition he couldn’t be questioned.
This remember, was the publication of an allegedly independent inquiry’s findings..
Privately a senior representative of the local authority conceded the report was incomplete while acknowledging the money spent had been wasted.
In other words the findings were in many respects a whitewash. Perhaps, it was implied, the establishment  was looking after one of its own.

Eventually, of course, the establishment would break ranks. The police and CPS embarked on damage limitation.
They blamed each other. Another telling sign of what had been covered up.
Social services never pointed the finger at anyone, hardly surprising given their ineptitude during the Beck years almost defies description. For the record these years included children being mysteriously admitted to care homes late at night. No paperwork, no questions asked.

However, this critical period in the early nineties shows the media was as guilty as the rest of the establishment in letting the victims down.
Journalists, it's said, love nothing better than exposing a cover up. However, in this instance important sections of the media created their own cover up.  What else can you call banning stories and deliberately restricting information which could and should have put pressure on the authorities by questioning  their unprofessional conduct.
Conduct which included undermining victims and  failing to follow basic procedure.
By this time it was common knowledge that suspicions about the authorities went as far back as the seventies. Police were then told who they should and shouldn’t interview while investigating allegations of offences against children in these homes.
Would any reputable police officer accept such restrictions, such orders? Why were they ever acceptable in this case?
A truly independent media would have had a vital role to play. .A truly independent media would have ensured those in authority were accountable

Whistleblowers existed, but many didn’t come forward because they felt there was next to no chance of being taken seriously.
I met dozens of victims over a lengthy period. Not one of them ever asked for money or any kind of compensation and that was almost unheard of with a story of national interest.
They just wanted to be listened to. They just wanted justice.

So why did it happen? The comment of a BBC Newsnight editor who explained they dropped their Savile investigation because it wasn't their kind of story springs to mind.
What does that mean? It wasn't their kind of story. Was it beneath them ? Perhaps the exploitation of vulnerable members of society  wasn't serious enough.
Orwell's assertion  70 years ago about the most class ridden society under the sun still rings true.

There was evidence of that mentality in the Beck/Janner affair. Y constantly felt it.
They were ripe for exploitation. They were bits of dirt.
 But society's indifference is only part of the explanation.
The cosy relationship between some journalists and politicians also played a part. Does anyone seriously believe that political correspondents were completely unaware of the rumours circulating around Westminster for so many years ?

Yet the full story can never be told.  Betrayal revealed there are too many 
graves with too many secrets.
Among the coincidences there were untimely deaths. The woman in charge of a children's home with knowledge of outsiders being involved with other children died during the Beck trial.
There were suicides including the social worker who fled to Amsterdam before being charged.
And there were suspicious deaths. These included children who had absconded from the homes.

And what should we make of all the coincidences and incompetence?
Coincidences, of course, they happen. Incompetence, of course, it can be seen anywhere.
But there comes a time when the level of coincidence and incompetence is such that it becomes something else.

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