I am still en vacances and have only just been able to access this article online. Decca Aitkenhead’s meeting with Gambaccini, reported in the Sunday Times on 23rdDecember, seems to have descended into a contretemps. This has prompted some reflections of my own.

What would I have done if I were in Aitkenhead’s shoes? I wouldn’t sit on a sofa with my interviewee – too chummy. And I would ask for sight of the court pleadings, which are a matter of public record, if I were going to discuss an ongoing legal claim.

Gambaccini made much during the course of the interview of the fact that he is a foreigner who feels bitterly let down by his adopted country. 

From Aitkenhead’s report, Gambaccini lost his temper after she questioned an analogy, which he sought to draw between the UK’s police and Putin’s Russia. It’s a pity, as there may be more to this seemingly extravagant comparison than Aitkenhead seemed willing to contemplate. I will explain more about this later.

Anger and damaged souls

Aitkenhead had noted, prior to the interview, his acknowledgement in his memoir Love, Paul that, as a result of his experience of being wrongly accused and kept on bail for an intolerably long period of time, he is prone to surges of intense anger: so much so that he avoided using public transport, lest he punch some hapless stranger.

It has been my experience of dealing with the wrongly accused that they are prone to intense emotions of anger and betrayal. To be arrested in a dawn raid, which is then plastered all over the media (the media having been tipped off by the police) is a seriously traumatic experience, as the retired school-master Christopher Jefferies can testify. I am not a psychologist, but it would not surprise me to learn that this can generate symptoms of PTSD.

As well as damaging press coverage, there is the dreadful experience of social isolation. It is deeply wounding to be suspended from one’s workplace and shunned by those previously happy to sing one’s praises. And, inevitably, the “no smoke without fire” rumour-mill sows its poison, especially via the internet.

Gambaccini’s arrest on 29 October 2013 was part of Operation Yewtree. This was a massive police trawling operation, which set out specifically to slur by association with the late Sir Jimmy Savile, by including allegations which had nothing to do with Savile. 

In common with police official policy at the time, it treated accusers as “victims”, thus giving a green light to all manner of false accusers, loopy fantasists and dishonest chancers.

As Sir Richard Henriques later explained in his report into the Metropolitan Police, this is a simple reversal of the burden of proof, which obviates the need for investigators to do any investigating. It perverts the course of justice.

Henriques acknowledged, though Aitkenhead does not, that household names (especially in the entertainment industry) are disproportionately likely to be victims of false accusations by compensation seekers, attention seekers and the mentally disturbed, who find in the internet a virtual template for false accusations. 

Henriques also describes the phenomenon of bandwagoners, which Gambaccini specifically raised with him, commenting that such people come forward after publicity to make a false complaint, and then either withdraw their allegation or disengage. Henriques voiced his concern that the police failed to recognise the danger of false complaints, stating:

“a cardinal principle of the criminal justice process is that a complaint may be false” 

In fairness, Aitkenhead acknowledged that Gambaccini had been subjected to a “living hell”. What I think Aitkenhead may have failed to appreciate is the extent to which this can cause permanent psychological damage, even in a previously happy and well-adjusted person with a loyal partner and a supportive network of friends. 

My guess, for what it is worth, is that some falsely accused persons experience a chronic form of adjustment disorder – or else a form of personality change – as a consequence of their treatment by the (in)justice system, characterised by mood swings and bouts of intense emotion.  Harvey Proctor’s tendency to burst into tears has been commented on by interviewers.

Remedies for false accusations

This is aggravated by the absence of any effective remedy, in practice. It is extremely difficult – indeed, almost impossible – to get the police or the CPS to charge a false accuser, especially in a non-recent case. More often than not, the authorities fall back on the get-out that the accuser is “vulnerable”, a euphemism for mental health issues. 

But if the police were investigating impartially, as they should, they should consider the possibility that an accusation is a product of mental disorder much earlier on in the process. To take an extreme example: if someone claims that they were raped at a Satanic orgy at which babies were killed and eaten, you can be pretty sure that they are either seriously mentally unwell, or brain-washed by extreme cranks. 

A personality-disordered false accuser is a very different kettle of fish, however. He or she may be emboldened by the absence of sanctions to attempt further false claims. Likewise, a cynical fraudster or a pathological liar. I should stress that genuine victims regard such people as a menace, and with good reason: they drain scarce resources away from those who are real victims of crime, and their pretensions are an affront to those who have suffered real abuse.

The problem with an uncritical approach to false accusers, then, is that it fails to set any boundaries for such people. This cannot be ignored because false accusations – especially of sex offences – undeniably cause real harm. They put innocent people at risk of wrongful arrest or even worse, wrongful imprisonment. Not for nothing does one of the Ten Commandments state: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”.

Back to the interview. There were many aspects of his treatment by the Metropolitan Police (the Met) which Gambaccini is entitled to be aggrieved about, not just their craven “believe the victim” approach. The decision to arrest him is another. 

Why the high-profile arrest?

A decision to arrest a person can only be taken lawfully where (a) there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that s/he has committed an offence and (b) arrest is necessary.

At the time of his arrest, Gambaccini could fairly be described as a National Treasure. The Met was obliged to consider whether other, less intrusive measures could be deployed instead.  

The criteria for arrest are prescribed by statue, s. 110(5) Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. They are:

(a) to enable the name of the person in question to be ascertained (in the case where the constable does not know, and cannot readily ascertain, the person’s name, or has reasonable grounds for doubting whether a name given by the person as his name is his real name);

(b) correspondingly as regards the person’s address;

(c) to prevent the person in question—

(i) causing physical injury to himself or any other person;

(ii) suffering physical injury;

(iii) causing loss of or damage to property;

(iv) committing an offence against public decency (subject to subsection (6)); or

(v) causing an unlawful obstruction of the highway;

(d) to protect a child or other vulnerable person from the person in question;

(e) to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the person in question;

(f) to prevent any prosecution for the offence from being hindered by the disappearance of the person in question.

Obviously, the criteria in s. 110(5)(a)-(d) and (f) do not apply. That leaves s. 110(5)(e). That would only apply where there are reasonable grounds for thinking that an investigation would be frustrated: for example, where the police have reason to think that a suspect would not attend voluntarily, or might destroy evidence, or intimidate or threaten witnesses. It is difficult to see how these could apply to Gambaccini, especially when the allegations against him were so old, dating back to the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Other examples given in extant PACE guidance include where a suspect has given a false statement, or where the police anticipate that s/he will be found in possession of incriminating objects, at or near the scene of the crime when it was committed. Clearly these could not apply.

Looking for agreement

As for investigation, forget it. The Met rang round the BBC looking for employees to accuse suspects. When one employee declined their kind offer, asking “surely you need evidence?”, the police replied, “No. We only need people who agree”! This hardly squares with the constable’s oath “to faithfully discharge the duties of the office … with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality”.

Aitkenhead, however, comes across as an unrepentant fan of the “believe the victim” and “trawling” approaches: “Many may dare not report the crimes if they risk being punished should the police not believe them”. She seeks to justify the practice of trawling as a prosecution tactic, designed to obviate the problems of proof in sex cases by trying to establish a pattern of offending, and naming suspects “so more victims [sic] can come forward”. She invokes the Me Too movement as a lesson in “the power of publicity to produce the truth”.

Possibly Aitkenhead was being deliberately provocative here.  The problem with her approach is twofold. Traditionally, criminal courts considered that some form of independent evidence, known as corroboration, was desirable in sex cases precisely because the consequence of a wrongful conviction – especially in the days when rape was a capital offence – was so drastic for an accused. Nowadays that is seen as sexist, though I am not convinced that it was.

The abolition of the corroboration requirement has led to a situation where weak cases are taken forward, provided that (as the Met memorably put it), there are people who “agree”. But this is what has been called “the logical fallacy”. Volume does not necessarily mean that all, or indeed, any complaints taken together are well-founded. 

Hypothetically, you could have three complainants, one of whom is genuinely mistaken, one is a bandwagoner and one is bipolar. All their accusations are false, and yet by putting them together you produce a situation where a jury is invited to assume that the case must be a strong one. That is illogical and unprincipled. 

As Mr Justice Eady pointed out in the famous Shieldfield libel case, about two nursery workers falsely accused of assaulting children, in 2002:

I reject any analysis to the effect that, abuse having been alleged in so many instances, it must be a true bill in all or even some cases. Not only is that an inherently sloppy approach to any serious allegation, but it ignores an essential part of the Claimants’ case in this litigation; namely, that there has been a “feeding frenzy” leading to a grave risk of cross-fertilisation between the accounts given. Such an approach would in my judgment have obvious dangers. At one level, that which may legitimately be prayed in aid as corroboration is elevated into a substitute for primary evidence. In relation to each child, there must be admissible and credible evidence before one looks elsewhere for corroboration. At its worst, such a reasoning process leads to manifestly flawed conclusions…..


It is perhaps relevant to bear in mind the words of Lord Hewart C.J. in Bailey [1924] 2 K.B. 300, 305:

“The risk, the danger, the logical fallacy is indeed quite manifest to those who are in the habit of thinking about such matters. 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. It is so easy to collect from a mass of ingredients, not one of which is sufficient, a totality which will appear to contain what is missing. That of course is only another way of saying that when a person is dealing with a considerable mass of facts, in particular if those facts are of such a nature as to invite reprobation, nothing is easier than confusion of mind….”.

Rochdale, Rotherham……

Aitkenhead then tackled Gambaccini about Muslim grooming cases. But there are obvious differences. It is now acknowledged that a barrier to those complainants being taken seriously by public officials was a fear of seeming racist. The accused men, many of whom were subsequently convicted of appalling offences, were not household names. And social workers were instructed that young girls could not be stopped from going out with older men, despite all the red flags, and warnings going back many years from Labour politicians, such as Ann Cryer in 2002, and later Jack Straw in early 2011, by which time Labour was in opposition.

It’s a pity that Gambaccini and Aitkenhead’s encounter broke off at this juncture, because this was where their conversation could have become interesting. 

Some commentators agree that Operation Yewtree was a desperate attempt by the authorities, embarrassed by the aforesaid grooming scandals, to compensate by following DPP Keir Starmer QC’s “more sophisticated… assumption that the victim [sic] is telling the truth”. Starmer also insisted that authorities should separate the credibility of an allegation from the credibility of the accuser and focus on the former. 

By concentrating on non-recent abuse claims, the police and CPS no doubt sought to deflect understandable public anger and concern about contemporary abuses.  A number of the grooming scandals that first surfaced were in Labour constituencies or boroughs like Rotherham and Rochdale, which added a political dimension.

But as the judge who lambasted Surrey Police on 30 August this year noted, it is unacceptable for an authority to charge someone in order to save its own reputational skin, rather than because the interests of justice demand it. 

She condemned the wholesale failures of the police to disclose evidence that was vital to the defence, and the deliberate misleading of the court. She was dealing with the prosecution of Jonathan King, which she stayed. She commented that to do otherwise would be to create the impression that where a public figure was concerned, judges in sex offences cases were prepared to let the end dictate the means.  

Starmer’s successor Alison Saunders (the first DPP not to be honoured in the New Year’s Honours list) went to considerable lengths to try and boost the numbers of convictions for sexual offences, even though both police and CPS were – as the disclosure scandal of 2018 has shown – sitting on exculpatory evidence in many, many cases, as well as failing to investigate the veracity of accusers and their supporters. 

Official policy

That was deliberate. It was a conscious move to implement particular social policies, and in particular to imprison more men as sex offenders.  

Now, that could be seen as a form of “Zersetzung”, which means “undermining” or “dissolution”, a tactic of social control deployed first by the Nazis and then the Stasi:

The goal of Zersetzung is the fragmentation, paralysis, disorganization, and isolation of the hostile and negative forces, in order to preventatively impede the hostile and negative activities, to largely restrict, or to totally avert them, and if applicable to prepare the ground for a political and ideological reestablishment.

At the level of the criminal justice system, the ideological aim was to move official decision-makers away from a belief in due process and the presumption of innocence, and to place victims centre-stage. Anyone who opposed or questioned this new official policy could be accused of being a rape apologist and of failing to “support” i.e. believe victims.  

The intentional concealment of exculpatory evidence is, of course, illegal. The fact that the police and the CPS thought that they could get away with this – and, indeed, did so for so long – is chilling. And the idea that the end justified the means because it serves a higher cause, is a very dangerous notion. 

In 1944, Hayek wrote:

The principle that the end justifies the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals. In collectivist ethics it becomes necessarily the supreme rule; there is literally nothing which the consistent collectivist must not be prepared to do if it serves ‘the good of the whole,’ because the ‘good of the whole’ is to him the only criterion of what ought to be done. …[C]ollectivist ethics… knows no other limit than that set by expediency—the suitability of the particular act for the end in view.

In Russia after the 1917 Revolution, individual legal rights were subordinated to the dictatorship of the proletariat. The presumption of innocence was regarded as incompatible with the primacy of the state, therefore. Even in the 1980s, when ideas of the rights of the defence had started to take root, a survey of Soviet judges in 1982-3 found that 40% disagreed with the maxim that it is better to let ten guilty men go free than to convict an innocent. Then, judges actively led criminal investigations into accused persons. 

Even the Communist Party of the Soviet Union accused Russian judges in 1986 of “a preconceived, tendentious approach” to criminal investigations and of “a hardened indifference to the fate of people”. 

In 2002, a more adversarial system was introduced, leaving Russian judges in the role of umpire. But in 2014-5, Alexander Bastrykin, head of Russia’s Investigative Committee and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, repeatedly spear-headed a bill before the Duma seeking to dispense with the presumption of innocence in favour of a Soviet-era notion of “objective truth”. The bill’s explanatory notes ominously dismiss the presumption of innocence as a “legal fiction”. The presumption would only apply, where establishing “objective truth” was impossible.

Was the Met’s seeming obsession with celebrity paedophiles part of a more orchestrated effort aimed at undermining or dissolution of “hostile or negative forces” i.e. supporters of due process and/ or critics of Operation Yewtree itself? This is a difficult question to answer. Certainly in Gambaccini’s personal experience, as recounted in his memoir, the authorities’ decision to rebail him always happened on a day when another prominent person was due in court on charges of historic sex offending against minors.  This was clearly coordinated.

Savile, the BBC, Parliament – and Satan

The curious foreigner may wonder who might want to target, in one fell swoop, both the UK’s state broadcaster and the entertainment industry. But matters became even more surreal in late 2012, as the UK Parliament immediately became the next institution to come under attack by anti-abuse activists and their willing helpers.

Within a fortnight of ITV’s notorious “Exposure” programme about Savile airing on 3 October 2012, a former social worker named Peter McKelvie contacted Labour’s Tom Watson MP with his belief that a powerful paedophile ring “with links to a senior aide to a former prime minister” had been covered up two decades before. And lo! Watson believed him. 

By Wednesday 24 October 2012, Watson was repeating such claims in the UK Parliament, calling on the Met to investigate McKelvie’s claim of “clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No 10”. Such a claim was as extraordinary as it was subversive. Yet Watson, who stumbled over his lines, seemed unaware of this. So did PM David Cameron, whose furrowed brow betrayed his incredulity.

Watson’s blog on the subject has since been deleted. McKelvie had claimed to have seen a letter in 1992 about a “senior aide”, which had then gone missing. Watson was then targeted by what he later described as an “avalanche” of claims by persons alleging that they had been assaulted by “much more powerful people”, and wanting Watson to help them.

Watson set up “a cross party group of MPs, survivors and experts looking into allegations of child abuse which may have involved senior Westminster and Whitehall figures in the 1970s and 80s,” an even earlier period.

Perhaps predictably, given such official encouragement, the claims became wilder and wilder. The conspiracy theorist (and former associate of David Icke) Sonia Poulton wrote a piece for the Sunday Express dated 2 March 2014 called “Paedophile MPs are mocking British law”. In it, she stated that between November 2012 and March 2014 she had interviewed “many survivors of child abuse” and had:

recorded testimonies from a number of adults who have implicated former MPs, from all parties, as their abusers.

.. heard stories of satanic ritual abuse, a significant factor in many paedophile rings, at the hands of household-name parliamentarians past and present.

.. listened to claims of acts so obscene, so grotesque, borne out by the physical as well as mental scars many of these survivors carry, that to hear them relay their experience has left an indelible image in my mind and no attempt to erase the details has been successful.

Poulton’s account makes no attempt to look critically at what she alleges she was told. Her ambiguous word “testimonies” imputes truthfulness, but also stems from the Evangelical tradition of public statements of conversion experiences. 

Of such testimony alleging abuse, the historian Professor Philip Jenkins has commented: “As with any religion, survivorship implies a total world-view impervious to disproof or even challenge by conventional standards of evidence or rationality.”

In other words, Listen and Believe. 

Enter ACAL

To be fair to Poulton, she was by no means the only person hoping for a reboot of the “Satanic panic” that dogged the USA and, to a mercifully lesser extent, the UK during the late 1908s and early 1990s. Both the founder and the President of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers (ACAL) are True Believers, who support this irrational myth-making. 

The former is a barrister named Lee Moore, who according to ACAL’s website was a victim of Satanic ritual abuse throughout her childhood. Moore, who also claims to be an experienced healer according to her personal website,  even provided training to the Met in 2004 on how to recognise signs of Satanic ritual abuse in children. She did so at the request of DCI Peter Spindler, who later oversaw the Met’s posthumous investigation into Savile.

The latter, solicitor Peter Garsden, now a partner in a large law firm, published an extraordinary manifesto on his website on 13 October 2014 at 4.52 a.m. In it, he first drew attention to a US group named Survivorship, for those claiming to have experienced Satanic Ritual abuse. A quick peek at this group’s website shows that it is obsessed with ritual abuse – it prefers to omit the sensational word “Satanic” – mind control and torture.

Garsden wrote:

My own belief is that there are several hidden societies in England and Wales which practise ritualistic abuse to the present day, which includes the sacrifice of children described graphically in Dennis Wheatley novels. The Wicker Man film is obviously fictional, but not far away from the truth, I believe. A similar attitude would have been adopted to child abuse 70 years ago, I would imagine.

And he concluded:

It will be interesting to look back at this blog in years to come, when maybe there have been a glut of satanic abuse prosecutions in this country, and we have uncovered secret societies operating right under our noses…the broadmindedness of the police appears to be limitless, which is gratifying…watch this space

Dissent will not be brooked

In response to a critical comment posted in response, Garsden replied:

The fact that this blog attracts such opposition adds credence to the need to write it. The victims would be upset that their allegations are dismissed as illusory.

So questioning obviously far-fetched claims is verboten, because it upsets the “victims”. And he went on:

I rely on testimony from several victims of satanic abuse who have consulted either this firm or other firms I have been in communication with. I am not a victim myself, so must rely on information passed onto me in a position of solicitor/client trust. I have also spoken to a survivor at some length who was at one time connected with the Association I lead.

The disbelief of the existence of Satanic Abuse, is very much part of the problem.

Again that loaded word, “testimony”. As a solicitor, Garsden is surely better placed than most to know that no lawyer is required simply to accept whatever their client says, in the absence of supporting evidence. Strangely, Garsden does not cite a single decided case in which a single one of his “victim”-clients’ claims of Satanic ritual abuse was upheld by a judge. 

It beggars belief that, in the 21st century, a practising lawyer who has been making money out of abuse claims since the 1990s is so wedded to such absurdity, designed to appeal to those incapable of distinguishing fiction and reality. Dennis Wheatley and The Wicker Man – seriously??? 

Indeed, it’s difficult to see how any sensible person could possibly take Garsden, or his organisation seriously after going on record with this sort of nonsense. Yet there he is, Head of Abuse Claims in a national law firm and garnering awards from his peers. He has also represented various claimants before the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse, doubtless at tax-payers’ expense. 

Interestingly, in an appearance before the IICSA in January 2018, he sought to instigate a police investigation of disbelievers and sceptics, for daring to “upset” a self-proclaimed “victim” of political paedophiles (Esther Baker) by publicly daring to disbelieve her, thereby causing her personal injury in the form of alleged self-inflicted overdoses on allegedly twelve occasions. 

In so doing, he misrepresented the scope of the IICSA’s powers, suggesting that he could not even understand the wording of the statute on which he purported to rely. Perhaps he should stick to Dennis Wheatley novels.

Garsden’s tendentious claims, incidentally, offered an unnerving insight into the apparent credulity which, seemingly, some abuse lawyers extend to clients who allege: “I’m ill. X is to blame”.

I’m sorry, but that is simply not how PI litigation works. As in criminal law, you cannot self-certify as a victim, still less can you prosecute those who do not share your own convictions about yourself. Fortunately, the IICSA did not fall for such self-serving guff.

A provocation

So here we are in 2019, and those extravagant claims of political paedophiles in a “ring” encircling Parliament from 2012 have got precisely nowhere. 

But the provocation of Watson’s claims, in particular, and those of his associates (notably John Mann MP) have helped to cause disorganisation and mistrust, especially where the arms of government are concerned. 

On 21 August 2015, ARD’s programme “Weltspiegel” reported Mann as claiming:

One could feel it. People were threatened. We have informed police about a murder that happened in direct connection to it. There was a second murder four years later, directly related, We had physical evidence, video evidence, This was a big thing, this was heavy organised crime.

I see people walking over there, in Parliament, that should be in prison. And there are people out there who know that. And victims. And parents who don’t know why their child killed themselves or disappeared.

Is such an hysterical campaign essentially anti-democratic? I sometimes think so. It appeals to the irrational, whilst implying a profound contempt for liberal democracy which – according to its dystopian narrative – is a cloak for murderous paedophiles and so (implicitly) not worthy of support.

Were foreign mischief-makers at work in promoting this dystopian caricature? Certainly, if – chiefly – on the internet.  

Now, I doubt that the police or the CPS (or politicians, for that matter) possess the powers of reflection or analysis to comprehend the wider ramifications of their antics in Operation Yewtree and elsewhere.

But the UK’s damaging obsession with historic child sex abuse, as it has been played out in recent years, is certainly a propaganda gift to any external actors hostile to the UK; and I can think of a few. A country perceived – or portrayed – as decadent is also perceived as weak.



  1. Reblogged this on Spin vs Truth and commented:
    Reblog of an excellent article by barrister Barbara Hewson on the likely causes of Paul Gambacchini’s anger towards a Times interviewer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bless you Barbara – for being a beacon of sanity in a world where mad fantasies masquerading as evidence have been encouraged by people within the judicial system.
    I did smile at this quote of Aitkenhead, “She invokes the Me Too movement as a lesson in “the power of publicity to produce the truth”.
    I wonder – has she thought of interviewing Anthony Bourdain’s bereaved friends, or indeed Asia Argento herself and thus seeing what the “power of publicity” has done to her and other celebrity #metoo hypocrites?


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