News, Culture & Society

Fantasist whose lies police, BBC and Labour lapped up

Operation Midland – the investigation into an alleged murderous, VIP paedophile ring at Westminster – has already gone down as one of the most egregious and embarrassing blunders in the recent history of Scotland Yard. That disaster has now been compounded.

‘Nick’, the so-called source – the ONLY source – for the most damaging and sensational allegations at the heart of what, it could be argued, was an officially-condoned, £3million smear campaign, has himself been charged with paedophile offences.

The man who had the Metropolitan Police, BBC News and other interested parties eating out of his hands with his fantastical stories of the rape and murder of boys by establishment figures, will face crown court trial later this year. This news emerged only because a judge lifted a reporting restriction which had been challenged by this newspaper.

Died before his name was cleared: Lord Brittan, who is pictured with his wife

The Mail had also been first to throw doubt on Nick’s credibility, as early as 2015. Operation Midland collapsed the following year.

No one was charged but the reputations of several public figures – including the former prime minister Edward Heath, D-Day hero Lord Bramall and Tory politician Lord Brittan – were utterly trashed.

The public may find it strange that this latest, sensational turn of events was to be withheld from them – Nick was charged some time ago – and that proceedings against him had been moved to a court some way from his home town.

Where once there was open acceptance and discussion of Nick’s claims – not least by the man who was at the time the most senior police officer in the country, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, whose reputation never recovered as a result – now there was official silence.

How could this have happened?

It did so because a middle-aged former public sector worker called Nick came forward to make claims that a significant, politically motivated cadre wanted to hear. It also suited the politically correct times.

Tom Watson, now Labour deputy leader but then still a backbench MP, was on a roll following his crucial part along with the campaigning group, Hacked Off, in setting up the Leveson Inquiry into the conduct of the Press.

Now he was looking for a new cause that would damage his enemies. And if it burnished his own growing reputation as a crusader for truth and justice, well, why not?

Mr Watson found his cause in the allegations of the cover-up of historic VIP paedophile abuse, a clear source of public concern in 2012 following revelations about TV presenter Jimmy Savile, and the Liberal MP Cyril Smith who for years had preyed on young and vulnerable children for their own sexual gratification, despite widespread concerns and knowledge in some quarters of their predilections.

But the establishment cover-up went much further than that, Mr Watson claimed.

He told the House of Commons that there was ‘clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No 10’.

The paedophile rings went all the way to the very top, apparently. Mr Watson became the self-appointed witchfinder general in the House, ably assisted by a news website called Exaro, run by his friend Mark Watts. Mr Watts was a former presenter of the Iranian-government controlled propaganda outlet, Press TV.

Over the following months and years a number of senior establishment figures would be accused. And the star witness – whom Mr Watson met at least once – was the man who went under the pseudonym ‘Nick’.

Nick first contacted Exaro in July 2014. Previously he had claimed to be a victim of Savile and had appeared on a TV documentary about the presenter’s paedophile activities. But Nick had an even more sensational tale to tell.

Not only did he claim to have been abused by Establishment figures at Dolphin Square, a block of flats near Parliament popular with MPs who needed a London base, but he said he had also witnessed the sadistic murder of three boys by various high-profile figures.

Former MP who lost his home: Harvey Proctor

Former MP who lost his home: Harvey Proctor

Nick claimed also to have been raped by, among others, Lord Brittan, former chief of the defence staff Lord Bramall, Edward Heath and former Tory MP Harvey Proctor.

Nick’s allegations and Mr Watson’s campaigning on the wider child sexual abuse issue created a perfect storm.

In the autumn of 2014, the Metropolitan Police launched Operation Midland, not long after the then home secretary Theresa May had announced she was setting up the £100million Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Nick’s claims would feed into – and eventually undermine – both these enterprises.

Shortly after Midland was launched Mr Watson gave an interview to the Guardian.

He said he had met Nick but ‘it was a very, very traumatic and difficult conversation, as you would imagine. He only told me about one murder. He spoke very slowly, very intermittently, and I didn’t need to hear any more.’

Mr Watson added: ‘What I’m certain of is that he’s not delusional. He is either telling the truth, or he’s made up a meticulous and elaborate story. It’s not for me to judge.

‘What I was hoping to do was build a relationship with him and get him back into the system, so he could make his allegations to the police. And to make sure that he had a degree of protection. With all the things that come from making these sort of allegations.’

The Met, then led by Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, a man who enjoyed working and socialising with politicians, was only too happy to play along with Mr Watson and Nick. And as with its pursuit of journalists in the politically-charged aftermath of the phone hacking scandal, the traditional Met approach of ‘proportionality’ went out of the window.

The home of then 91-year-old Lord Bramall, whose wife was in the last stages of dementia, was searched by 20 officers and the war hero interviewed under caution.

Lord Brittan was interviewed over a rape allegation made by another fantasist called ‘Jane’. A few weeks after his death from cancer in January 2015, aged 75, police raided the late peer’s two homes in connection with Nick’s bogus allegations. He went to his grave not knowing that police would conclude he had no case to answer.

As for Mr Proctor, he lost his job and his home as a result of the police inquiry into him.

There seemed to be a clear party political bias to Mr Watson’s efforts. Brittan and Proctor were Tories. Yet in April 2015, Mr Watson refused to join 11 other cross-party MPs in signing a letter calling for an investigation into another alleged political paedophile, Lord Janner.

Fantasist whose lies police, BBC and Labour lapped up

Twenty police raided the home of war hero Lord Bramall, pictured alongside his late wife Avril

Janner had also been named by Nick. But unlike the other high-profile suspects, the peer belonged to Mr Watson’s own Labour Party. Throughout this period Mr Watson and Exaro enjoyed a symbiotic relationship.

The MP was quoted in a series of Exaro stories about paedophile abuse while he in turn tweeted enthusiastically about the website. One tweet said: ‘I’ve spent all week telling reporters to phone Exaro if they want to know what’s going on.’

BBC News also bought into Nick and his claims, providing a platform upon which he could build a mountain of lies. In December 2014, Nick’s interview with BBC News about his alleged child sex ordeal was broadcast on primetime news bulletins.

One journalist was so excited that he is alleged to have described it as potentially ‘the biggest political scandal since Watergate’.

The police were just as credulous. Before his team even had time to corroborate Nick’s story, Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald, the head of Operation Midland, had said that the police believed Nick and that his claims were ‘credible and true’.

Sir Bernard, now Lord Hogan-Howe later said that Midland was ‘a very thorough and professional inquiry’. It was, as we know now, neither thorough nor professional. The stories told by alleged victims began to fall apart and by March 2016 Operation Midland was dead and buried and the recriminations grew.

Lord Hogan-Howe commissioned retired High Court judge, Sir Richard Henriques, to write a report on the handling of the inquiry. No doubt he hoped the fuss would die down, and certainly his efforts to distance himself from the day-to-day mechanics of the inquiry did him no credit.

Published in November 2016, the Henriques report was devastating.

Sir Richard said Nick’s baseless accusations should never have been given so much credence, and that the reputations of high-profile figures had been ‘shattered by the word of a single, uncorroborated complainant’.

He said that the Metropolitan Police had made a gross error in describing Nick’s claims of child murder and rape by an alleged Westminster-based VIP sex ring as ‘credible and true’.

He said: ‘The principal cause of the many failures in this investigation was poor judgment and a failure to accurately evaluate known facts and to react to them. A major contributing factor was the culture that ‘victims’ must be believed.’

Sir Richard added that prominent people were more vulnerable to false complaints from attention-seekers, the mentally ill and those seeking compensation.

How news website gave ‘Nick’ a platform for lurid accusations 

‘NICK’ and his sordid claims were paraded by the BBC and the since-discredited news website Exaro. They gave him a platform to accuse innocent Establishment figures of horrendous child abuse.

His stories formed the basis of reports by the BBC that a paedophile ring operated at the heart of the Westminster.

His claims were given credence by police and by Labour MP Tom Watson, who trumpeted allegations of a VIP paedophile ring in Parliament.

In November 2014, Nick gave an interview to BBC News about the Westminster VIPs he said had abused him.

‘A group of men, very powerful people, and they controlled my life for the next nine years. They created fear that penetrated every part of me,’ he said.

Investigative website Exaro, run by journalist Mark Watts, published numerous articles based on his claims. But Nick’s story evolved over time – and it later became clear he had previously presented himself as a Jimmy Savile victim under a different name.

The Sunday Times discovered the accuser had appeared on an obscure satellite TV station in August 2014 to say he was a victim of the late paedophile DJ. Interviewed in silhouette, he made no mention of Westminster VIPs.

Three months after its broadcast, he was telling the BBC lurid tales of paedophile rape and murder in Westminster, this time as Nick. The early BBC News and Exaro reports were later pulled apart by BBC Panorama, which established that at least one of the murders Nick claims to have witnessed – the only one about which he has provided detailed information – could not have taken place.

The ‘victim’ was a schoolfriend – and none had died.

‘These men are all victims of false allegations and yet the presumption of innocence seems to have been set aside,’ his report said.

The judge also said that journalists had shown Nick photographs of suspects. He did not name those responsible, but Scotland Yard has previously said that the BBC had ‘shown pictures of individuals to Nick’ which could have compromised Operation Midland.

Mr Proctor responded to the report by saying: ‘I call on police to extend their investigation into Nick to include Exaro and the BBC.’

The BBC declined to comment. Mark Watts, former editor in chief of the now-defunct Exaro, admitted showing a series of photographs of suspects and to Nick but claimed that it was a ‘completely legitimate way of operating’.

It also emerged that Nick made an application for damages from the Criminal Injuries Compensation

Authority and that police officers helped him process his application. He was reportedly awarded £50,000.

Even before the publication of the Henriques report, Lord Hogan-Howe announced he was stepping down several months early from his London commissionership.

His former force has since paid £100,000 compensation to Lord Bramall and Lady Brittan. Mr Proctor is pursuing a £1million civil action against the Met. Mr Watson, who was made deputy Labour leader in 2015, had to make a grudging apology to Lady Brittan.

In an interview with the Daily Mail last November, Lord Bramall, then 94, was scathing about the police.

Recalling the raid he said: ‘There were 20 police officers here for ten hours. They went through everything: every book, every pile of papers, pulled everything out. My wife was downstairs, and later on she was more or less always upstairs.

‘It was awful for her. She said: ‘What are all these people doing?’ You couldn’t really explain to her.

‘Periodically she’d say, ‘Have I done something wrong?’ And I said, ‘You haven’t done anything wrong, and nor, for that matter, have I.’

He said of the Met: ‘Everyone was telling them that Nick was a fantasist but they wouldn’t believe it. Eventually, I got a written apology saying they should never have done it. The whole thing was a disgrace.’

Meanwhile, the £100million Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse limps on.

But the shadow of Nick – against whom the Crown Prosecution Service is also considering laying charges of perverting the course of justice and fraud in relation to Operation Midland – lies heavy upon it.

Last week, the Westminster strand of the inquiry – which was to have focused largely on the claims of VIP paedophile murder ing – held a preliminary hearing and ruled out investigating any claims relating to Westminster.

It also said that ‘victims’ or ‘survivors’ would now be referred to as ‘complainants’ and there would be no findings of fact.

Andrew O’Connor, QC, the inquiry counsel on the Westminster strand, told the hearing: ‘We suspect that much of the public concern relating to Westminster child abuse issues may have been created, or at least exacerbated, by a lack of knowledge.’

He added that concern over the allegations had ‘diminished considerably’ since Scotland Yard’s Operation Midland had been discredited. Some may regard that as an understatement. 

Sorry we are not currently accepting comments on this article.