Shy Keenan

Keenan is one of those souls with numerous aliases, who stumbled into the Victim Industry, having succeeded in convicting her step-father of historic sex abuse back in 2002. Keenan, whose birth name was Karen Wootton, came from a horribly dysfunctional family in Liverpool where, it seems, incest was rife. She and her family were the subject of various social services interventions and she was sent away to a special school in Shropshire (of which more later).

She went on to lead a life of crime, according to an interview which she gave to The Guardian in 2008 to promote her new memoir, Broken. According to that interview:

It is difficult to reach any clear understanding of what happened to Shy Keenan between 1977 and 2000, which is where her life comes back into focus. Back when she was in her teens she had an epiphany that she would never be abused by Claridge and his friends again, and she wasn’t. She ran away and lived rough on the streets of London.

She fell in with a criminal crowd and was a whisker away from prostitution, but because she was what she calls a FROW (Fuck Right Off Wanker), she got involved in cheque-book fraud instead and for a while cruised around London in a Porsche, lived in Kensington and checked into hotels like the Hilton under the name of Lady Ponsonby-Wootton. I look at her in amazement. ‘Fraud was much easier back then,’ she says.

By the time her step-father was convicted in 2002, it seems that Keenan was involved in litigation with Wirral Social Services, according to a report on the BBC’s website. This also explained that:

Ms Keenan turned to BBC’s Newsnight programme after frequent efforts to expose her abusers failed. 

The report, broadcast in November 2000, led to the launch of a joint inquiry between Merseyside Police and Wirral Social Services codenamed Operation Phoenix.

I wonder who her lawyers were, incidentally. By then, lawyers acting for victims of historic abuse were becoming quite a powerful force. Legal Aid was still available for such claims, and lawyers were pressing for limitation periods to be applied sympathetically to claimants alleging abuse a long time ago.

Now, I should explain that back in 2002, I was a lawyer practising in the very different field of reproductive rights. I have a vague memory of looking at a website that Keenan set up, using the name “Phoenix”, in which she offered services to people claiming to have been the victims of abuse. This was in the way of “media training”, as it was known then. She offered advice on how to conduct media interviews, how to do hair and make-up, and even mock interviews in a simulated studio setting.

At the time, I did not take much notice of this. It seemed as if the pathway to official recognition as a victim was becoming professionalised.

Nor was I aware then, though I have been since 2017, that Keenan had joined an organisation named “Fire and Ice”, a Merseyside self-help group for male survivors, run by a man named Matthew Byrne. In June 2002, Byrne appeared at a Select Committee of the House of Commons, to talk about his work, alongside Phil Frampton of the newly fledged Care Leavers Association. Frampton had been a Militant supporter from the mid-1970s.

Keenan described herself as a victims’ advocate. In June 2004, she attended a conference on behalf of Fire and Ice at Cumberland Lodge, presided over by the Head of the Family Division, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss. It was titled “Keeping Crime Out of the Family”. It’s not clear why Keenan was advocating for male survivors specifically, although I am sure there is a reasonable explanation for this shift in focus.

Keenan was also busy with a memoir, which Hodders later published on her behalf in September 2008, called Broken. Now, I must confess that I am not a fan of the genre sometimes disparagingly described as “Mis Lit”, and I have not read this book.

Unfortunately for Liverpool campaigners against abuse, in 2010 Matthew Byrne was convicted of violent sexual assaults against prostitutes, and jailed indefinitely. Happily, Graham Wilmer had also been involved in Byrne’s project, and gamely took up the baton in his absence. Wilmer rebranded “Fire and Ice” as The Lantern Project.

Time rolled on. By then, Keenan had hooked up with a woman named Sara Payne, whose daughter was tragically murdered in 2000. Payne was championed by Rebekah Brooks, the editor of the notorious Murdoch red-top, News of the World. Brooks’ minions had cynically hacked Payne’s voicemail, while Brooks used the murder as to promote a reckless and irresponsible crusade to “name and shame” alleged paedophiles, which was roundly criticised by law enforcement agencies.

Brooks, the flame-haired “witch of Wapping”, then used Payne as the postergirl for a campaign for a so-called Sarah’s Law, requiring the authorities to notify parents if a convicted paedophile is in their area. Brooks joined The Sun in 2003.

Thanks to Brooks’ sponsorship and the Murdoch Imprimatur, the Labour Government adopted Payne as a mascot. She was given an MBE in 2008, and almost immediately made the “Victims’ Champion” by Home Secretary Jack Straw in 2009.

How much Payne actually contributed herself to these initiatives, and how much was done by Brooks, Murdoch ghost-writers, civil servants and others using Payne as a figurehead, is open to debate. Payne left school at 16 and is most unlikely to have been able to dominate or direct the course of events by which she was made a poster-girl for a media campaign favouring penal populism.

Less than a fortnight after the Savile scandal broke, on 23 October 2012, Brooks signed up Payne and Keenan to author a column in The Sun to give  a voice to “victims…who are not being heard”. I assume their columns were ghostwritten for a fee, as is the way with these wealthy red-tops.

Unfortunately for Keenan, on 21 January 2014 Hodders announced that it would no longer be distributing her memoir Broken. Evidently, this was because of a lawsuit by a man named Jack Mount against the publisher alleging defamation.

Hodders had been forced to settle, hence the report. You can imagine Keenan’s reaction.

Well, in fact, I think you can’t. So let me help you. Keenan had in the previous few months used her Sun column to agitate against Mount, albeit without naming him directly, but rather calling for people to make allegations against his former school.

Sun Justice campaigner wants to hear from YOU

thesun11th July 2013, 11:00 pm Updated: 5th April 2016, 7:34 am

DID you attend the Brookside School, Clungunford, nr Ludlow, during the 1970s?

Sun Justice Campaigner Shy Keenan would like to hear from you and of your

Email Shy at

Lo and behold! It appears that he was in fact the headmaster of the school in Shropshire, to which Keenan herself had been sent during her turbulent childhood.

It is difficult to resist the conclusion that she was acting vindictively, I am afraid. In 2014 Mr Mount was interviewed, and charged, thanks to Keenan’s campaign. His case became a cause celebre – and he went on, as a nonagenarian, to face three trials. The CPS evidently could not avoid being seduced by the “We Believe Her” mantra.

They were, for the most part, rehashes of allegations that he had previously been tried for and acquitted in the 1970s, in four separate trials. Did Keenan feature in them as a complainant/ accuser?

I first learnt of these cases through a blog run by a man who tweets as @moor_facts. My interest was because I have long been opposed to the late prosecution of very old allegations. Mount’s case became a marathon, but his third trial never took place. According to the BBC in June 2016:

The former head of Brookside School in Ludlow, Shropshire, denied 50 offences alleged to have taken place between 1954 and 1979.

Judge Geoffrey Mercer QC ruled the third trial should not proceed in light of the defendant’s deteriorating condition.

Mr Mount suffers from Parkinson’s disease, is visually impaired and uses hearing aids. He had an intermediary to assist him during the trials and cue cards were used to signal when he required a break, or could not hear proceedings.

He was found not guilty of three rapes and one indecent assault, relating to two girls in the 1950s and 1960s, following the first trial in January and February.

The Second World War veteran was acquitted of two charges of buggery and six indecent assaults in the 1960s and 1970s after the second trial in April and May.

A jury was unable to reach verdicts on three counts of indecent assault, one of gross indecency and one of attempted buggery.

Prosecutors wished to retry Mr Mount on these charges, as well as counts relating to further complainants, in the third trial.

My understanding is that Keenan was herself an accuser in these latest trials, but that the CPS dropped her. Perhaps it became aware of the history of litigation, and decided that she was a hostage to fortune.

The recent trials of Jack Mount were a farce, which in my opinion brings the British criminal justice system into serious disrepute. Indeed, counsel for the defence later published an essay outlining their concerns about the legal, policy and human rights issues raised by putting such an elderly and disabled person on trial, in Counsel (the barristers’ in-house magazine): “The Aged Accused”, November 2016.

I have noticed Payne ranting on her Twitter feed today, including her claim that Broken will be republished.

It is not clear what is meant by this. Jack Mount is now aged 100.

Seriously, is Keenan hoping to republish, once he passes away? One hopes that Hodders have the gumption to resist such a dubious tactic.

Postscript: I am grateful to Moor Larkin for pointing out that Keenan’s step-father had a previous conviction for indecent assault of her, dating back to 1977. Which highlights the intriguing gap in Keenan’s history, noted by the Guardian reporter, between 1977-2000.