News, Culture & Society

Carl Beech: Calls for VIP sex ring website Exaro chiefs to be prosecuted

The men behind a website which published Carl Beech’s ‘VIP sex ring’ lies and ‘facilitated his fantasies’ should be prosecuted too, one of his wrongly accused victims said today.

Beech’s wild allegations against a string of respected politicians and top figures were published on a little-known website Exaro in 2014, when he was known only as ‘Nick’.

Exaro’s editor-in-chief Mark Watts has since admitted he did not have supporting evidence for the claims. 

But today an unrepentant Watts said Beech had not been given a fair trial after the fantasist’s lies were exposed at the High Court.

He said in a statement on twitter today: ‘At the outset of the #NickTrial, the High Court judge, Sir James Goss, decided to allow the prosecution to tell the jury all about Carl Beech’s convictions in January of five charges of downloading/possessing indecent images of children and one of voyeurism (as well as about his absconding to Sweden last year.

‘These were despicable acts, but prosecutors must not usually tell juries about any previous convictions of defendants otherwise trials would be hopelessly prejudiced. I believe that this ruling made it impossible for Carl Beech to have a fair trial on charges of seeking to pervert the course of justice and of making a fraudulent compensation claim.’ 

Exaro reporter Mark Conrad

Exaro editor-in-chief Mark Watts, left, and reporter Mark Conrad, right, published Carl Beech’s fabricated tales through 2014 and 2015 without any supporting evidence

The website’s reporter Mark Conrad had showed Beech photos of men he would later make false claims against before he went to police.

After Beech was convicted of perverting the course of justice today, Harvey Proctor, an MP who was falsely accused by Beech, said the conduct of Exaro should also be probed by the police.

Mr Proctor said: ‘In the light of evidence revealed in this trial, including the showing of locations and photographs of alleged suspects to Carl Beech to facilitate his fantasies during a live investigation, or an investigation they knew would become live, consideration should be given by the Police and the CPS to investigate Mark Watts and Mark Conrad, masquerading as journalists, from the disgraced and now defunct, odd Exaro News Agency, for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.’ 

The now-defunct website published a series of exclusives based on lies told by Carl Beech

The now-defunct website published a series of exclusives based on lies told by Carl Beech

Exaro came under fire over its role in supported Beech before he went to police in a way in which critics say bolstered his invented stories. 

Conrad showed the convicted paedophile how to use an anonymised web browser, which is untraceable by the authorities, and an encrypted email service with which Beech would later correspond with police, pretending to be a corroborative witness.

Former finance reporter Conrad, whom Beech described as ‘part of a little group that was supporting me and put my information out there’, also took Beech to the home of Sir Edward Heath. 

Beech later told detectives he was abused there as a small boy.

Exaro editor Watts, whom former colleagues said harboured the ambition of becoming ‘the face of celebrity child abuse’, later admitted to the BBC he had published Nick’s tale of seeing a boy run over and murdered in the street in Kingston upon Thames without checking whether there was any evidence it happened.

Beech’s trial heard police got in touch with Conrad after reading one of his reports online. 

Beech later spent 20 hours telling police a web of lies about child abuse and murder committed by famous political figures, and now faces years in prison having been found guilty of perverting the course of justice and fraud.

It emerged at the trial that Conrad had helped Beech compile his claims before he went to police.

But Beech’s lies were eventually undone when it emerged that he had never mentioned many of the men he accused of abuse when he first went to police two years before he met the Exaro reporter. 

Carl Beech spoke to the Met Police for more than 20 hours after detectives reached out to him after reading his false claims on Exaro News, his trial heard

Carl Beech spoke to the Met Police for more than 20 hours after detectives reached out to him after reading his false claims on Exaro News, his trial heard

Who is Exaro editor-in-chief Mark Watts?

Mark Watts

Mark Watts

Mark Watts began his career at the Hull Daily Mail in 1988 before moving into television to produce investigative pieces for The Big Story and World In Action.

He was head of investigations at the now-defunct Sunday Business from 1997 to 2001. He founded Exaro – Latin for ‘I dig up’ – in 2011.

One former colleague described Watts  as ‘a very serious-minded, slightly awkward character, verging on the obsessional, who is totally convinced of the importance of what he does’.

Another told Private Eye he was a ‘Walter Mitty character’ who aspired to make himself famous as ‘the face of celebrity child abuse’.

He was nominated for the European Press Prize Editor of the Year for 2012, but fired by Exaro in the summer of 2016, following the collapse of Operation Midland.  He sued successfully for unfair dismissal.

In 2012 Beech had accused his step-father and Jimmy Savile of abuse in interviews with Wiltshire Police.

But with both the accused dead, the force closed the case as ‘undetected’.

At that point, Beech never mentioned Edward Heath, Harvey Proctor, Lord Brammal or spy chiefs Maurice Oldfield or Michael Hanley, all of whom he would go on to name to the Met.

But from April 2014 he expanded his tales into stories of a shadowy ‘Group’ of conspiratorial child abusers on blogging site The Tangled Web.

Mark Conrad then made contact with him.

Conrad then produced a dossier of 42 faces which Beech told detectives he had him look through ‘to see if there was anyone that I recognised’.

They included pictures of the high-profile military and political figures he accused, as well as others he did not such as Liberal Democrat MP Cyril Smith.

Beech told police: ‘I was just asked to mark on them if I recognised them, and if I did recognise them and they took part in the abuse. Then he had a whole bunch of photos that I just looked through. 

‘I picked them out, I didn’t know either their first name or their surname, some of them I knew what they did. That made a difference.’

When Beech later met with Scotland Yard detectives, in October 2014, he asked whether Conrad could be present.

And at that point he provided detectives with a list of typed names, some of which were underlined.

The news website, which also sold its copy to national newspapers, became synonymous with stories of historic child abuse allegedly carried out by high profile people and politicians

The news website, which also sold its copy to national newspapers, became synonymous with stories of historic child abuse allegedly carried out by high profile people and politicians

Who is Exaro reporter, Carl Beech confidante, Mark Conrad?

Mark Conrad

Mark Conrad

Mark Conrad started in local newspapers in 1997 in north London.

After writing for a consumer magazine he spent most of the 2000s writing and editing the publication Public Finance, dubbed ‘The Economist for the public sector’.

On his LinkedIn profile he describes his time at Exaro as: ‘Former Head of News and Reporter at an investigations unit, where [I] jointly-managed a team of award-winning researchers and writers breaking national and international news’.

This year Conrad co-founded Byline, a new investigative journalism website.

Detective constable Young asked him: ‘Did anyone else help you create that list?’

Beech replied: ‘I think I asked Mark beforehand whether I should write down the names and places before I gave it to [the police]. He just said whatever I felt comfortable with.’ 

The trial also heard how Conrad introduced 51-year-old Beech, an NHS middle manager, to encrypted web systems which Beech would go on to use to mislead detectives.

Mark Conrad told police this March that he had discussed using TOR with Beech.

TOR, or The Onion Browser, uses a vast network of hidden servers to relay users’ data requests, meaning the IP address, location, and identity of the user is untraceable. 

TOR has been used by paedophiles and drug traffickers to access the so-called ‘dark web’.

Conrad said in a statement: ‘I also noted at this point a secure way of communicating with Carl to reassure him that we would do everything we can to protect his identity.

‘I mentioned using TOR in order to mask online identity and scramble IP addresses.’

He added: ‘Along the same lines, but possibly on another date, I told Carl about ProtonMail, a secure email service.

‘Carl set up a Proton email account and we used it for a short period of time, however, we reverted back to normal emails.’

How Exaro first became entangled with Carl Beech after he started blogging about his experiences

October 2012: Beech told Wiltshire Police he was abused by his step-father and Jimmy Savile. They close the case as ‘undetected’.

April 2014: Beech wrote elaborate fictions about a shadowy ‘Group’ of abusers on blogging site The Tangled Web.

Conrad reached out to Beech and became a confidant, later described by Beech as ‘one of the little group supporting me’ along with Labour MP Tom Watson and a retired social worker.

Summer 2014: Conrad worked with Beech, providing photos for him to identify possible abusers, teaching him how to use encrypted web services, and walking him to Ted Heath’s old house.

Meanwhile Exaro published a string of articles based on Beech’s lies, alleging child rape and murder at the heart of Westminster.

October 2014: Beech spoke to the Met for the first time – with Conrad present. 

November 2014: The Met launched Operation Midland and a month later described Beech’s claims as ‘credible and true’.

Exaro editor Mark Watts took credit for the launch of what became a fruitless £2.5m, 18-month witch hunt. He said of the investigation: ‘It’s very important to recognise only happened as a consequence of evidence that we found’.

October 2015: A scathing Panorama revealed the flimsiness of the evidence behind the Met’s operation and Exaro’s stories. 

The following night Watts tells the BBC Exaro did not research Beech’s claim that a boy was run over in front of him before publishing it, saying: ‘I suppose the main focus went on other alleged murders because they involved prominent people’. 

March 2016: Operation Midland was wound up with no arrests.

July 2016: Mark Watts was fired, and later sued successfully for unfair dismissal and Exaro News was wound up by investor Jerome Booth.

July 2019: Beech is found guilty of perverting the course of justice and fraud.

During the course of his interviews, Beech would use a ProtonMail email account to communicate with detectives under the assumed name of Fred, claiming to be a contemporary who could provide a corroborating account of the abuse of groups of young boys by powerful men. 

But once Northumbria Police started investigating Beech for possible perversion of the course of justice, they tracked ‘Fred’s’ email account.

They found the ProtonMail account, based in Switzerland, was in fact registered to the email address

The trial also heard how Beech only told detectives he had been abused at the London home of former prime minister Ted Heath after Conrad took him to the address.

In July or August 2014 Conrad took Beech to the area of Wilton Street where Sir Ted had lived, and walked him around. He did not tell him who lived in the area.

Beech later told detectives he suddenly recognised Mr Heath’s street.

‘As we walked down my anxieties went sky high, it was very familiar to me,’ he said.

‘Mark said “who do I associate with the place?” The only people I would associate with it was Harvey [Proctor] and Edward [Heath], he didn’t tell me who lived there or anything.’

Mark Watts was challenged on Newsnight over his methods and told Evan Davies he had not confirmed Beech's claim to have seen a young boy run over on order of 'the Group'

Mark Watts was challenged on Newsnight over his methods and told Evan Davies he had not confirmed Beech’s claim to have seen a young boy run over on order of ‘the Group’ 

By 2015 other news outlets were already starting to question the claims in the stories Exaro had published.

A BBC Panorama investigation found no evidence of claims by ‘Nick’ that a young boy had been mown down by a car on instructions of ‘the Group’ – claims we now know were an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

The following day, Mark Watts appeared on Newsnight and was asked by Evan Davies how his team had fact-checked the claim.

He said: ‘I suppose the main focus went on other alleged murders because they involved prominent people’.

Watts was made redundant at the end of June 2016 and then sacked three weeks later after being accused of breaching company confidentiality by speaking out about his case in the media and on Twitter.

He would later successfully sue the company, which was shut down by investor Jerome Booth the following month, for unfair dismissal.

Following the shuttering, BBC Panorama editor Ceri Thomas called Exaro an ‘unpleasant and wrong-headed’ organisation which had ‘done damage’ to public interest journalism. He accused the site of publishing without supporting evidence.

Mr Watts hit back that Panorama’s piece was ‘the most shameful piece of work in this area in recent times.’

In mid 2016, Mr Watts described Exaro’s reporting of allegations of Westminster paedophilia as ‘absolutely terrific’ and said he expected it to be ‘vindicated’.

‘I have no doubt that as time goes on, if it’s not clear enough for people already, it will become even clearer,’ he said three years ago.

Now that Carl Beech awaits a jail sentence for perverting the course of justice and a court has heard how easy it was for police to disprove his claims, the truth behind ‘Nick’, Exaro News, and the Westminster paedophile conspiracy that never existed seems all too clear.

Timeline of Beech’s falsehoods and the investigations they launched

2011: Beech downloads a criminal injuries compensation form later found on his PC

2012: Carl Beech gives his first interview, to Wiltshire Police, in which he claims to have been abused by his step-father and Jimmy Savile. The enquiry was classified ‘undetected’ and taken no further.

October 22, 2014: Carl Beech begins to make his accusations to the Met Police in the first of five interviews between October and April. Over more than 20 hours of recorded police interviews, he makes lurid allegations of child rape and murder against senior Establishment figures including Ted Heath and Lord Brammall.

November 2014: Operation Midland launched with a dramatic appeal for witnesses in which Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald describes Beech’s allegations of years of abuse at the hands of VIPs in Westminster as ‘credible and true’.

March 2015: Twenty officers search the home of D-Day hero and former army chief Lord Bramall and his dying wife. The homes of Harvey Proctor, the former Tory MP, and of the late home secretary Leon Brittan are also searched.

April 2015: D-Day veteran and former Army chief Lord Brammal has his home raided by a large team of police officers, and is interviewed.

June 2015: Former Tory MP Harvey Proctor, whom Beech accused of child murder, has his home raided by and is interviewed under caution.

August 2015: Harvey Proctor holds a press conference revealing he has been accused of murder, child abuse and torture and denying all allegations. He accuses the Met of running a ‘gay witchhunt’.

September 2015: Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe admits the Met was wrong to describe claims as ‘credible and true’.

October 2015: Kenny McDonald replaced as head of Operation Midland

January 2016: Lord Bramall is told he will face no further action.

February 2016: Hogan-Howe announces an independent inquiry of Midland by Sir Richard Henriques, a retired high court judge.

March 2016: Harvey Proctor is told he will face no further action. Midland is wound up.

June 16, 2016: Beech is charged with five counts of making indecent images and one charge of voyeurism, which involved rigging up a camera to film a boy using a toilet

October 2016: Hogan-Howe apologises to Lord Bramall.

November 2016: The Henriques review concludes Operation Midland was ‘riddled with errors’, that the judge who approved search warrants was wrongly told Beech had been consistent in his testimony, that police seemed to set aside the presumption of innocence and that the reputations of the accused were traduced.

2016: Northumbria Police conclude Beech’s claims are ‘totally unfounded, hopelessly compromised, and irredeemably contradicted by other testimony’.

November 2, 2016: Police arrive to raid Beech’s home in Gloucester.

March 2017: Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse and Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald are cleared of misconduct by an IOPC investigation into Operation Midland following the Henriques review.

September 2017: The Met pays Lord Bramall and Lady Brittan compensation understood to be around £100,000.

January 23, 2018: Beech gets £60,000 as an early pension from the NHS

February 6, 2018: He travels to Calais preparing to flee to Sweden, where he buys a cabin in the woods and lives under a series of assumed identities, travelling hundreds of miles from city to city to stay on the run

May 2018: Harvey Proctor sues Scotland Yard and Beech for £1million.

October 1, 2018: He was tracked down by Swedish and British police and arrested in advance of a 20-hour train journey to Gothenburg booked in the name of ‘Samuel Karlsson’.

2018: A highly critical review of Operation Midland reports police ‘acted like they were searching for bodies’ during raids on homes.

December 2018: restriction on reporting of Carl Beech’s real identity lifted.

January 2019: Beech pleads guilty to possessing child pornography, in a separate trial.

May 2019: Beech goes on trial for perverting the course of justice and fraud

July 2019: Beech found guilty of perverting the course of justice and fraud.