Sunday Times article
IN A further twist to an already tangled tale, one of the key witnesses in the VIP paedophile ring allegations now says he was “coerced and manipulated” into making claims that were then “hyped up and exaggerated”.
The claim by the man, known as “Darren”, comes only days after the Metropolitan police scrapped its controversial Operation Midland, which has cost almost £2m and was based solely on the uncorroborated evidence of one anonymous witness, known as “Nick”. It will raise further questions about whether detectives and some sections of the media have been too ready to believe the claims of individuals who are clearly troubled.
Nick had alleged that three children had been murdered by a Westminster gang that included the former head of the army, Lord Bramall; the late former home secretary Lord Brittan; and the former Tory MP Harvey Proctor. Police found no evidence to support his claims.
Darren, who was part of a separate inquiry and whose claims were also unsubstantiated, said last week that the Met had “fallen into a trap” by believing Nick’s account and that the resulting furore would put off other victims from coming forward.
“Operation Midland could not have done a better job of dissuading survivors from coming forward than they have done,” he said.
While Darren’s credibility is inevitably open to question, his description of his own experience gives an insight into the baffling world of claim and counterclaim that has dogged the issue of historic child abuse allegations.
Why, critics will ask, were the police and sections of the media so ready to take the initial claims at face value?
It is also a further blow to those, including the deputy Labour leader, Tom Watson, who have alleged there was a VIP paedophile ring operating at Westminster.
Darren was in touch with a charity and social services after the Jimmy Savile revelations in late 2012.
His story emerged on the investigative news website Exaro but now neither side can even agree on who approached whom. Darren says Exaro contacted him; the website claims it was the other way around.
“I was vulnerable. Exaro were leaving messages. [The Exaro reporter] befriended me. I began to trust him — he almost seemed to be my best friend,” said Darren last week.
The stories that emerged on the website told of how Darren fell into the hands of the alleged VIP paedophile ring at the age of 15 while doing work experience at the Thornham Magna estate in Suffolk.
At the time, he said, the known paedophile Peter Righton was renting a house on the estate after his conviction in 1992 for possessing child pornography.
Darren claimed on Exaro that Righton was involved in the killing of a man in his thirties on the estate and that Darren knew of a girl who had died during a paedophile party at the Dolphin Square apartment block in Westminster.
Suffolk police abandoned their inquiry when they could find no evidence to back up Darren’s story, including the claim that the man had been murdered after first being tied between two cars that were then driven apart.
Last week Darren insisted he did not make up the story but he never said the man had died.
However, Mark Watts, Exaro’s editor, said: “Darren repeated to Exaro the allegations attributed to him on several occasions and he had been consistent in what he was saying.
“He made many of the same allegations in an anonymous video interview with Exaro.”
Perhaps the real question, however, is why anyone should have believed such a story in the first place. This, after all, was a man who at the age of 22 was convicted for making a hoax bomb threat.
Darren does not deny the bomb hoax but said he was drinking heavily at the time and had “fallen in with a bad crowd”. “He was in turmoil,” his mother added.
If Darren was a bomb hoaxer and admits the stories of two people being killed by the gang were not true, then why believe him now? “I have never lied. I was pressured and manipulated,” he said last week.
Watts disagreed and said it was “completely false” that Darren was “coerced and manipulated”.
Darren now describes some of the material published on the Exaro website and in newspapers outlining his claims as “stupid articles”.
“I was coerced into saying some of the stuff that wasn’t strictly correct. It was exaggerated. They hyped up a lot of the stories,” he said.
Watts said this was false, too, adding that the Exaro reporter had checked all the pieces with Darren before publication.
Like everything else Darren says, these claims must be treated with caution, though his account of his experiences with both the police and Exaro mirror those of Nick.
The first time Nick met police officers, an Exaro reporter was present. Darren claims he was also accompanied by an Exaro journalist when he first met the police and was “debriefed” by the same reporter after later interviews.
Watts said that the reporter was not present at Darren’s first meeting with police, but did speak to him after subsequent interviews with officers.
He said the website had “full regard to Darren’s welfare throughout”.
“Darren does unfortunately have a history of falling out with people to whom he makes disclosures,” Watts said.
There is, however, one thing upon which both sides agree: Darren was not paid for his story.
The Met and Exaro are likely to face more pressure this week when Proctor holds a press conference on Tuesday to launch a memoir, Credible and True, which gives his account of his treatment at the hands of Operation Midland.
The VIP sex inquiry falls apart: this is the law of diminishing returns, Dominic Lawson, Comment