The case against Lord Janner seemed unshakeable. But is he another victim of the VIP sex abuse witch-hunt?
April 24 2016, 1:01am,
The Sunday Times
Despite the calm atmosphere of Leicester magistrates’ court in 1991, Frank Beck was a desperate man.
The 48-year-old children’s home manager was facing the possibility of life in prison on charges of grievous sexual abuse of youngsters in his care and was about to be sent to the crown court for trial.
But Beck had one last card to play.
As he was led from the court during the committal hearing, he shouted that he was being prosecuted to cover up child sex abuse by the local Labour MP, Greville Janner.
The claim sent shockwaves through the media, Westminster and — not least — the police, who had investigated Beck for three years. It has reverberated ever since.
Frank Beck, top right, was the first to raise the claim of abuse by Lord Janner, left with daughter Marion last year. Justice Lowell Goddard, below right, will lead the inquiry
A “trial of the facts” in a new case brought by Leicestershire police over allegations of 22 child sex offences against Janner was due to begin this month, but it was halted when the former MP, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, died aged 87 in December last year.
Instead, the case will now come under the scrutiny of the child sex abuse inquiry chaired by Justice Lowell Goddard, with public hearings due to begin in September. Unlike in a court case, the witnesses will not face cross-examination, although the inquiry can make “findings of fact” regarding the truth of allegations.
In contrast with the recent claims against Lord Bramall, Lord Brittan and the former MP Harvey Proctor as part of the Operation Midland inquiry, which was based on the word of just one witness, the case against Janner appears much stronger. There is no dispute that he knew his main accuser, nor that a considerable number of further alleged victims have come forward.
Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, said last year when she announced that Janner would be prosecuted: “It is a matter of real regret that prosecutions weren’t brought by the police and CPS in the past.”
However, she added: “I have always said that . . . this was an extremely difficult and borderline case because of the strong arguments on both sides.”
Reporters from The Sunday Times have talked to people in and around the police inquiry — some speaking off the record; others prepared to be named — and uncovered some troubling questions about the evidence against Janner.
None of this is conclusive in terms of Janner’s guilt or innocence. Indeed, some may ask why it matters.
Police have made no secret of their belief in Janner’s guilt
Of course it matters deeply to his friends and family, who fear that in the absence of any proper legal process the allegations will never be subject to proper scrutiny. But it also matters to anyone who is concerned that, in the desire to ensure victims of abuse are not dismissed in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, the pendulum may have swung too far the other way.
Police have made no secret of their belief in Janner’s guilt. When Saunders announced last year that the prosecution of Janner could not go ahead because of his advanced Alzheimer’s (a decision that was later overturned), the Leicestershire police and crime commissioner, Sir Clive Loader, condemned the decision as “perverse”.
Roger Bannister, the Leicestershire assistant chief constable, said: “There is credible evidence that this man carried out some of the most serious sexual crimes imaginable over three decades against children who were highly vulnerable.”
But Nigel Cohen, Janner’s godson, said: “I have huge questions as to whether the police properly followed up and evaluated all the evidence, or whether they just wanted to prove a point.”
The Goddard inquiry has decided that, of its 13 separate investigations, all will focus on institutions except one, which is entitled simply “Lord Greville Janner”.
The late peer’s family are not taking part in the inquiry because they believe, friends say, that it is a “kangaroo court”.
The family will contest the civil action that has been launched against their father’s estate; had the “trial of the facts” taken place, it is understood they believe it would have cleared their father’s name.
Which places them very much in a minority: a great many people believe Janner guilty.
The late peer’s family are not taking part in the inquiry because they believe that it is a ‘kangaroo court’
Ben Emmerson QC, counsel to the Goddard inquiry, made an unfortunate slip in his opening remarks when he referred to “Lord Janner and other individuals allegedly associated with him in his offending”, implying, unintentionally, that Janner was an abuser.
And therein lies the problem: suspicion has become guilt; allegations are seen as proof. When Beck made his first comment about Janner in court in 1991, no one was more surprised than the police. They had interviewed about 400 people, yet none of them had mentioned Janner.
“Not one. Nothing at all,” said Tony Butler, former deputy chief constable of Leicestershire police. “We had started investigating Beck in 1988, and it is a long time ago now, but as far as I can recall, it wasn’t until he said that in court that anyone mentioned Janner.”
Defence lawyers had almost 30 witnesses ready to go to court this month to speak in Janner’s defence, some of whom contradict key prosecution witnesses.
One prosecution claim was that a boy had been abused in the swimming pool of one of Janner’s friends, Victor Keats, a property tycoon. Keats denied it when asked by police, but he too has since died.
However, his son Michael Keats, 59, recalls a time when the alleged victim visited his home in Hampstead Garden Suburb in London — he was not alone with Janner, but accompanied by the MP’s family.
“I can remember this small kid [the alleged victim] . There would be a fourth kid [Janner had three children] hanging around, and they just treated him like the rest of the family,” Keats said.
The suggestion that Janner was alone with the child “couldn’t have happened”, Keats added.
There is a presumption of guilt everywhere
Michael Keats, son of Janner’s friend Victor,
The police placed weight on the fact that the witness could describe both Janner’s home and the friend’s swimming pool — but no one denies that the child was a friend of the family and had visited their home.
Janner, friends said, had a history of helping young people, and at the time Leicestershire social services ran an official “befriending” scheme in which people could mentor youngsters from children’s homes. Although Janner was not a formal member of that scheme, he had frequent conversations with the head of social services about his contact with the witness. “He was a rescuer,” said one friend.
“There is a presumption of guilt everywhere,” said Keats, who has been interviewed by the police twice. When he asked what evidence the detectives had — the raids on Janner’s home and office in the House of Lords found nothing — they told Keats the case was based on “weight of numbers”.
Legal experts say this attitude creates the danger of miscarriages of justice. As long ago as 1924, the lord chief justice, Gordon Hewart, warned of “the risk, the danger, the logical fallacy” of this approach. “It is so easy to derive from a series of unsatisfactory accusations, if there are enough of them, an accusation which at least appears satisfactory.”
Midland collapsed last month when police admitted there was no evidence for Nick’s lurid accounts
Police are understood to have had 14 witnesses ready to go to court this month to testify against Janner. Only one witness made a statement at the time of Beck’s allegation. The rest have all emerged in subsequent years. Few, if any, of the alleged victims have been specific about dates when assaults are claimed to have happened.
One who has been specific said he was assaulted by Janner over a specified three-day period in 1987. However, a source close to the investigation said there was evidence the MP was abroad on the days in question.
Most of those who have made allegations spent time in children’s homes in Leicestershire. One who did not was the discredited witness known as “Nick”, who sparked Operation Midland and claimed Janner was a member of a Westminster VIP paedophile ring that held sex parties at the Dolphin Square apartment block and was responsible for three murders. Midland collapsed last month when police admitted there was no evidence for Nick’s lurid accounts.
Detectives from Leicestershire interviewed Manoj Jasani, 54, who was Janner’s personal assistant and driver for six years until 1994.
He told The Sunday Times: “The police asked: ‘Did you ever take him to Dolphin Square?’ No. He never went there. If he had gone, I would have been the one who took him.
“I told them there was not a shred of evidence against him. They said: ‘OK, that’s your view, but we have other witnesses who say different.’ ”
Maureen Gold, parliamentary secretary to Janner for 21 years, says she reacted with “absolute fury” when she heard the allegations.
She was interviewed by police on two occasions, once for three hours. “It was ridiculous . . . it appeared to be a witch-hunt. They were asking, did I know this one? Did I know that one? They were just fishing.”
Clearly, these are people who knew Janner and remain loyal to someone they describe as a “kind, honourable man”.
Liz Dux, a sex abuse lawyer from the firm Slater and Gordon who represents 16 of the alleged victims, said: “All my clients want to do is assist the Goddard inquiry in uncovering what happened and to air the evidence some of them have waited decades to give.
“They only consulted me when it seemed unlikely their evidence would be heard in a criminal court, as they were so incensed at being denied all hope of justice. They are not motivated by anything other than getting to the truth.”
Six of her clients are claiming damages against the Janner estate. More are expected to follow.
There appear to be inconsistencies in the way some of the allegations have emerged.
The numerous convictions of the claimants are understood to include fraud, sex offences, burglary, drugs and shoplifting
The witness who backed Beck’s account and accused Janner made no mention of the MP when he was interviewed by police in August 1990. It was six months later (after Beck’s outburst) that he added the MP’s name to his accusations. (Beck was sentenced in 1991 to five life terms. He died from a heart attack in prison in May 1994, aged 51.)
Another witness was interviewed three times by police before making a fourth statement in which he claimed he had discovered that Janner was his abuser.
At the time of Beck’s trial in 1991, a cellmate of his, Nick Newell, gave a statement in which he claimed that Beck admitted the story about Janner was false. This has been dismissed on the basis that the informant — who has since died — was a career criminal whose word could not be trusted.
No one has extended the same judgment to the character of the alleged victims — one of whom was jailed for two years after admitting child sex abuse and spent 10 years on the sex offenders’ register.
The numerous convictions of the claimants are understood to include fraud, sex offences, burglary, drugs, shoplifting and obtaining property by deception.
This does not make their claims invalid. Children who spend their formative years in care often lead dysfunctional lives marred by addiction, crime and jail sentences.
How will Goddard handle the question of witness character? “Matters relevant to the credibility of a witness, including any relevant previous convictions, are generally explored by counsel during the witness’s oral testimony,” an inquiry spokeswoman said.
Leicestershire police declined to comment. The Janner family also did not comment, but they have always maintained their father is innocent of all the allegations that have emerged since Beck shouted his accusation 25 years ago.
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