Following on from my last post, I thought I would look again at the relationship between Shy Keenan and Sara Payne, who as I explained teamed up as the Sun’s “Justice Campaigners” in October 2012, just over a week after the Savile scandal broke.

It seems that Payne and Keenan have been friends for nearly twenty years. They started campaigning together as an item from 2003, after “a friend” at the News of the World (i.e. Rebekah Brooks) put them in contact with each other. In 2008 they received a joint award as Women of the Year from the Women of the Year Foundation, a charity.

Payne described Keenan in her introduction to a book published in 2009 “Where Angels Fear: Children Lost, Innocence Betrayed”, as one of her dearest friends. Indeed, she described Keenan as “one of the kindest of natures….loyal, dependable, as fiercely stubborn as I am….fearless… in a million…..I would trust her with my life.”

She also acknowledged that Keenan wrote the book, though they are billed as co-authors. Payne herself seems to have no aptitude for writing (both her own books were ghost-written), and seemed happy to let Keenan speak for them both in her writing. Keenan said that they are “the best of friends” and communicate several times a day on Skype: “we’re in near-constant contact”.

Celebrity experts

Their Sun Justice Campaign, as an article published in The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice in 2013 explains, is an illustration of the rise of the celebrity expert: see Harper C., and Treadwell J., “Counterblast: Punitive Payne, Justice Campaigns, and Popular Punitivism – Where Next for ‘Public Criminology’?”

The celebrity expert is typically famous for being famous, while lacking any objective expertise or qualifications. Their public appeal is to emotion, rather than to facts and logic.

And predictably, as the authors note, Payne and Keenan’s focus was “little more than a call for increasingly harsh and restrictive punishments, primarily focused on their persistent references to their catch-all ‘paedophile’ category.” Their use of rhetoric in their Sun op-eds was crass, though in fairness their contributions were probably ghost-written:

Let’s see all countries club together for a global list of pervs.

Keenan and Payne’s Sun Manifesto included a shopping-list of demands:

AN END TO ANTI-VICTIM PREJUDICE. Children to be believed when they
speak to the authorities, however troubled their backgrounds might be. Sun Justice Campaigner Shy knows just how devastating not being believed can be.

LEGALLY-AIDED SOLICITORS FOR EVERY CHILD SEX ABUSE VICTIM. Currently, lawyers fight for the Crown Prosecution Service, not the victim. We want taxpayer-funded lawyers to speak up for the children in every case.It’s already an option for the accused so it should be for victims, too. Let’s make our taxes help kids, not their attackers.

SPECIALLY TRAINED ADVOCATES TO HELP CHILD SEX ABUSE VICTIMS. It is frightening enough to have to give evidence in court — even by video link.
[…] Children need  […]  trained counsellors and advisers.

But by then, DPP Keir Starmer had revamped the CPS guidelines on the approach to assessing witness credibility in child abuse cases, stating that it is “more sophisticated” to “start with the assumption that the victim [sic] is telling the truth.”

In reality, this approach has its roots in child protection in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when “believe the children” had become an article of faith among social workers.

It is disastrous, because it effectively reverses the burden of proof in criminal trials. As Sir Richard Henriques later explained, in his October 2016 Report into the Metropolitan Police’s botched Operation Midland, the injunction to believe a complainant perverts the course of justice.

Keenan and Payne’s second demand was for complainants to have party status in criminal proceedings. Note how they conflate “the accused” with “attackers”.

As for the use of intermediaries for vulnerable witnesses in criminal trials, there was already statutory provision for this in section 29(2) of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.

Keenan’s style

Keenan’s introduction to their 2009 book went to describe the aftermath of her second successful court case against her step-father Stanley Claridge in 2002. Interestingly, she does not mention the earlier successful prosecution of him in 1977, when she was aged 14.

She complains bitterly about being questioned by a policeman “who behaves like he doesn’t believe you”, and about the lack of aftercare for victims of abuse.

Keenan’s written style is fairly combative, and her vocabulary is blunt, even crude at times. Almost immediately, we are treated to a long list of ailments from which she says she suffers, ranging from comfort-eating to:

…my crushed hip, my spastic uterus, flashbacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hyper-vigilance/smell/ audio and taste, the hyperhidrosis [excessive sweating] and the agrosociophobia

Note that Keenan is evidently comfortable using the term “spastic”. The last condition of which she complains, if such it be, seems to be a composite term that Keenan has made up herself: I can find no reference to it other than in her text. Perhaps she means agoraphobia?

Keenan has a tendency to invent words and phrases, seemingly as a form of shorthand. Her website and twitter feed are full of such idiosyncratic formulations, such as “Anti-Victim Prejudice” or AVP, and “GoodBless”. She even told the Sun that some complainants of sexual offences were “Uncredibles”:

“We call them The Uncredibles — a whole section of our society ‘hardcore
ignored’ by the judicial system, because they were already troubled children….”

Evidently Keenan – or her Sun ghost-writers – are too blind to see that what, in fact, they are doing is stereotyping these victims themselves, whilst claiming to speak for them. I can’t imagine anything more insensitive than inventing your own Duckspeak, as Keenan is wont to do.

Keenan’s use of scary quotes is revealing, however, and reminiscent of a notorious Twitter disinformation troll, based in Turkey. I’ll say more about that in another blog.

On their own website, Phoenix Post, Keenan is rather truculent:

my blogs are not for the emotionally sensitive or vulnerable and, as for anyone else, if you don’t like my posts then please just stop looking and/or formally complain (in writing) to the victims ombudsman #OFFPISS!

In 2013, she wrote that she was “a wheelchair user who also manages severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD)”. She also claimed to be “three times stronger than any household bleach”, as well as being:

the UK’s leading expert in Anti-Victim Prejudice (#AVP). I live within a paedophile-groomed anti-victim society that’s more afraid of the victims than the offenders and far too afraid of the offenders to be of any real help in stopping them.

This claim to fame is really a caricature of the truth. Keenan has no formal expertise. AVP (as she terms it) is a crudely reductionist construct. British society is neither “paedophile-groomed” nor “anti-victim”, and the acknowledged problems which arose in recent Muslim grooming gang cases were more complex than she is prepared to acknowledge.

Thanks to the various legal initiatives discussed earlier, it can also fairly be said that British society is decidedly victim-centric. Keenan is straw-manning, therefore. But the problem with this distorted argument is that it misleads the less well-informed and the credulous, just like the Sun’s tub-thumping.

Pastures new?

Although Payne and Keenan say they retired from campaigning in 2017, they continue to solicit funds from the public for a computer game, which Keenan began working on in 2016. This seems to be an animated version of a child’s dolls house.

Going by their present-day Twitter activity, the two women seem enmeshed to a point where it is difficult to be sure whose voice is speaking.

I have previously noted how, in a series of tweets on February 20th, Payne posted a series of extravagant claims concerning another of Keenan’s books called “Broken”  e.g. “they lied to, abused and harassed @ShyKeenan ‘s publishers into temp. removing ‘Broken’ from the shelves….we are hoping to see the book back on UK shelves soon”.

On 15 January this year, Payne tweeted a link to a Paypal account for donations to The Phoenix Post with the words:

PLS RT – URGENT @SKYPE CALL – Phoenix H&G AR/VR Game APPEAL – Can you help us spread the word? Many, many thanks, Sarax

Today, Payne’s account tweeted:

PLS RT Dear #PhoenixFriends, we have approx. two months to raise the last few thousand pounds needed to help us finish our House & Garden #AR #VR Game presentation, if anyone can help us, now would be a brilliant time to do that, many thanks Sarax

Keenan now claims on her Twitter account that she has been “a stalker victim” for twenty years. Unfortunately, her Twitter output is so elliptical, it makes little sense to a passing reader. The impression conveyed to outsiders is one of extreme self-absorption.



Sir Keir Starmer QC, Human rights, victims and the prosecution of crime in the 21st century, (2014) Crim LR 777, 782