Chasing demons: a note on Shy Keenan, Mark Watts and the new Exaro

On Friday afternoon, my attention was drawn to a tweet purporting to come from Dr Sara Payne MBE:

Good morning all, we are already aware of the stalker’s release on licence and of the new posts republishing those same lies about us. Whoever’s doing that, now faces criminal/ legal action. Ends #ZeroTolerance #THINKHUMAN [gold ribbon emoji] #StalkerRegister #VictimsLaw

Note the use of the royal “we”. Payne’s Twitter account is believed to be operated by Shy Keenan, a self-professed fraudster and invalid, who is known for her differences with (amongst others) a campaigner named Penny Mellor. Keenan promptly retweeted this tweet, as did Mark Watts and a tiny claque of the two women’s supporters.

Mellor in the past has campaigned on behalf of parents accused of Factitious Illness Syndrome or, as it used to be known, Münchhausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSP). Such parents were alleged to have fabricated symptoms of illness in their children, resulting in unnecessary medical intervention.

More recently, Mellor has had a Twitter presence advocating against false allegations of abuse, albeit in a broader sense.

It seems that Mellor and Keenan initially came into contact over the MSP issue. It is evident (from statements subsequently read out in court) that, at one stage many years ago, Keenan was under investigation by Essex social services herself.

The two women subsequently became involved in a dispute, centring on Keenan’s memoir of childhood abuse, Broken. Mellor became a strident critic of Keenan’s claims and wrote voicing concerns to Keenan’s publishers and others.

It seems that Keenan found the intensity and frequency of Mellor’s attacks unwelcome, and reported her to the police. The upshot was that Mellor was charged, and later convicted in 2015, of harassing Keenan. She was not jailed, but was made subject to a restraining order.

It’s ironic, therefore, that a number of Keenan and Payne’s online supporters behave in exactly the same way that Mellor was convicted of, i.e. making an excessive number of accusatory complaints designed to disrupt someone’s life and jeopardise their ability to work, or urging others to do so.

In January this year, Mellor faced a further court hearing, which alleged two breaches of the restraining order. The breaches concerned two admittedly rather Delphic tweets. Mellor did not take the stand, which evidently told against her in the eyes of the jury.

They convicted her of breaching the restraining order, albeit without knowing the full background. Mellor was sentenced to four months in prison, although half her sentence was commuted, as is the norm in Britain’s grossly over-crowded prison system.

Brooks no opposition?

Payne’s tweet can be seen as somewhat menacing, given the backdrop that I have outlined. Payne has been Keenan’s partner in “victim advocacy” and campaigning against paedophilia since 2003, after Rebekah Brooks brought them together.

Brooks is the former editor of the disgraced News of the World, who went on to edit the Sun and now sells advertising for The Times. She acquired notoriety for, amongst other things, spear-heading various vindictive public campaigns to expose alleged paedophiles, or to ensure they received their just deserts.

Thanks to Brooks, Payne and Keenan fronted Brooks’ Sun “Justice Campaign”, presumably for reward. That campaign also received criticism.

Watts (the former Editor-in-chief of Exaro) attended day 2 of Mellor’s second trial in January, and is evidently in Keenan’s camp, judging by the tenor of his tweets.

Keenan’s links with another member of Watts’ camp, namely Graham Wilmer MBE, are well-known. They were both involved with Fire and Ice in Merseyside, an advocacy group for male survivors, the precursor to Wilmer’s Lantern Project.

Keenan also used to provide a “makeover” service for victims (or would-be victims). I have sometimes wondered if she helped prep Wilmer’s protégée Esther Baker, aka Becky (“staff writer at Exaro”), before Baker and Exaro went public with her sensational claims of historic abuse on Cannock Chase by a bevy of Lords, judges and policemen in May 2015. This was a Sabbat in all but name.

Baker for a significant period then used a Twitter avatar that bore more than a passing resemblance to one of Keenan’s headshots.

Watts, as we have seen recently, is also supporting Baker in her libel action against John Hemming. And Watts is an ardent supporter of Payne on Twitter, tweeting aggressively at her critics (of whom I am one).

Watts – another serial complainer

Would you believe it, Watts has also been writing letters of complaint! He wrote to the judge who presided over a recent directions hearing in Baker’s action, alleging that a number of blogs about the case were not fair and accurate court reporting. In fact, there was only one court reporter, who came into court briefly: as far as I know, she has not written about the hearing.

Watts has also been complaining to the editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye, after it published a series of critical pieces about allegations concerning the late Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath. Watts is not the only person to attack the Eye in recent days. Indeed, he has joined forces with a former TV reporter named Anna Brees, who recently posted an extraordinary personal attack on one of the Eye’s reporters, Rosie Waterhouse.

The latter made her name for her critical coverage of the 1990s Satanic Panic: her research in this field subsequently earned her a PhD, and a lead role in teaching investigative journalism at City University. As a result, Waterhouse has gained some enemies among the “True Believers” who insist that Satanic Ritual Abuse exists.

By a strange coincidence, this latest contretemps also concerns a memoir about past experiences of abuse, this time by a man named Michael Tarraga. First published under a different title, “The Successful Failure: the Life of an Uncouth Lout”, it is now called “Meat Rack Boy”.

The second edition includes a new allegation that Heath abused Tarraga aboard his yacht. Brees, who encouraged Tarraga to include his new allegation about Heath, is the recipient of royalties from the book. Unsurprisingly, she is seeking to promote controversy and to attack perceived detractors.

Private Eye had drawn attention to certain inconsistencies in Tarraga’s recent claims. Brees responded by posting an interview on YouTube with Tarraga, naming Waterhouse as the author of the Eye’s articles. Tarraga reacts splenetically to the Eye’s article about him, and verbally attacks Waterhouse, threatening that he would “see [her] in the gutter”, as well as in the dock.

Now, I haven’t read Tarraga’s book, but surely as the author he must know that books are open to critical review? Brees must know this too, yet she posts Tarraga’s embarrassingly intemperate reaction to her questions about the Eye, seemingly to generate public sympathy for him and hostility to Waterhouse.

She has accused Waterhouse and the Eye of causing distress to survivors. This is a stock Exaro tactic.

Watts’ letter to Private Eye – which he posted on his Twitter feed – is the latest in a series of complaining letters, all of which he has uplinked to his Twitter feed, accusing the Eye of having “an agenda”.

I should explain that Watts’ issues with Private Eye, which had previously mocked his use of the hashtag “VIPaedophiles”, go back some years. Watts’ first letter was dated 2 December 2015, complaining that the Eye’s coverage of Exaro was “error-strewn”.

His second is undated (on the version recently uplinked to Twitter), but complains in a much more unpleasant vein, referring to “your dubious source” and stating: “You should tell your red-faced source to take more water with it in future”.

Watts cautions against dismissing claims about “VIP paedophiles”, and concludes: “Anyone would think that the Eye has become part of the Establishment”.

But if anyone has an axe to grind, surely it is Watts himself. His latest letter to Private Eye dated April 11 refers to “my work to expose VIP paedophiles”, a topic on which he is evidently fixated. He accuses the Eye of “continual attacks on survivors of sexual abuse, whistleblowers and journalists who shed light on VIP paedophiles”, and of publishing not news, but “PR – for the establishment.”

Name-checking PIE

Ah, that mythic UK Establishment which is riddled with paedos and child-murderers, operating under a code of omertà. In order to play to his conspiracy theory milieu, Watts is nakedly partisan in his tweet posting his latest letter:

ANOTHER poke in the Eye…

PIE-eyed Private Eye wrong AGAIN…

This is very nasty. “Pie-eyed” is slang for inebriated. But it is also a direct reference to the notorious Paedophile Information Exchange.

The latter reference is a gross and intentionally damning slur. (I have experience of being similarly slurred, for example by the notorious conspiracy theorist Sonia Poulton, who is also fixated on alleged paedophiles in Parliament, as well as by a member of the IICSA’s current Victims and Survivors Panel, no less).

Back in 2014, Exaro’s stock insult to perceived critics and opponents was to brand them “spooks, paedophiles, or paedo-apologists” who were, allegedly, causing distress to unnamed “survivors” i.e. Exaro’s stable of accusers.

To question claims of historic sex abuse, no matter how extravagant, was verboten. Anyone who transgressed this prohibition on critics or sceptics risked being unpersoned, in the Orwellian sense.

In 2015, using the same sort of rhetoric, Wilmer tweeted aggressively about “team paedo”. He and his son Rory were even openly predicting “arrests”, rather as Payne is doing now. Wilmer pere used menacing expressions like “Tick, tock”, and “Justice is coming”. And he vilified critics as “doggy-doo”, “maggots” and “children of the night”.

Dark forces

Watts and Exaro helped to foment this feverish climate of division and incipient paranoia, famously tweeting on 17 November 2014 about “dark forces”:

Catch up: @tom_watson calls on PM to order national investigation into VIPaedophiles + torture + murder [tweeting a link to a piece by Mark Conrad for Exaro dated 15 November 2014 with the strapline “Exposure of VIP paedophiles depends on brave survivors of child abuse such as ‘Nick'”]

This was retweeted by the usual suspects, including Exaro-writer David Hencke, James Reeves (who has also accused Heath), and the vicious Turkish bikini troll account, ostensibly operated by one Clare Sheahan.

Watts continued:

@DuncanBirss [a now suspended account] It is not the Tories about whom we have to worry. There have been some very dark forces at work.

Sheahan also retweeted this tweet by Watts. She is a cheer-leader for “Nick”, Reeves and Baker, and repeatedly reviled Ann Widdecombe as a “bitch” for having the temerity to stand up for Heath. Sheahan has also reviled me as “evil”, “scum”, “bitch” “a bag of poo” and – well, of course – a “paedo-apologist” and, even, a “bullying paedo-apologist”.

A demonic comms strategy

I am drawing attention to this, because you can see a common resort to the Exaro-approved rhetorical device of slurring critics and perceived opponents either as apologists for paedophilia, or having links to paedophiles.

This goes beyond mere abuse: it is a calculated attempt to demonise opponents. It is a part of a deliberate and orchestrated comms strategy, in fact. Exaro’s director, Tim Pendry, ran two comms companies, IPPR and Pendry White, which in my view mostly likely assisted and developed Exaro’s comms strategy, which included the use of Twitter and the technique of astro-turfing.

Also note Watts’ accusation of drunkenness which, as you will have seen, Watts likes to deploy: the implication being that no one takes the ravings of a drunkard seriously. This is classic Zersetzung: see Luke Harding’s “Mafia State” (Guardian Books, 2011).

Incidentally, Russian trolls use precisely the same rhetorical techniques to discredit the present Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May, who is also accused of having a drink problem. As for May’s late father, Watts’ army of attack trolls (e.g. Alan Goodwin) like to accuse him of paedophilia.

Double whammy, then. But this type of personal attack is extraordinarily vicious.

Now, let’s get back to Exaro. The keen-eyed will have spotted that, round about the time Jerome Booth’s New Sparta group (which financed Exaro’s campaign of disinformation) put Exaro into liquidation, much to Watts’ and Hencke’s chagrin, Exaro’s Twitter account and website unaccountably vanished. Questions still remain as to the source of the monies used to fund Exaro.

Lo and behold, Exaro’s website and Twitter account reappeared last autumn, courtesy of a Canadian company named Arador Corporation. It now styles itself Exaro News International, and claims to report on abuse of power, corruption “and the human right to life and liberty, freedom of opinion and expression”!

A couple of days ago, Exaro “Mark 2” published a vicious attack on Daniel Janner QC, which deploys the selfsame rhetorical technique that I have described above. Even its title is venomous: ‘ “Lord Paedophile” & Son: a Tale of Two Janners.’

It refers to a recent news report that the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) is investigating Leicestershire Police for alleged failings in handling historic allegations of abuse against the late Lord Janner.

Daniel Janner QC, who represents his late father’s estate, is quoted as protesting that details of this latest enquiry were private and should not have been published.

Exaro2 claims:

In an intergenerational abuse twist, Daniel Janner is himself now accused of continuing the abuse of victims after he appeared in a Sky News interview mocking and attacking the dozens of people affected by child abuse in the IICSA inquiry, referring to their testimony as “tittle-tattle” and “rumour”.

Daniel Janner had been commenting on the Westminster strand of this inquiry, which had singled out his father as a subject of investigation, despite supposedly being an inquiry into institutional failings with regard to historic child sex abuse. He spoke of “the trashing of good people” who are dead, and cannot defend themselves against extremely grave accusations. As well as his late father, he mentioned Heath, and the late Lord Brittan (who was also Jewish). The House of Lords made this topic the subject of a debate late last year.

Daniel Janner called the IICSA a “disgrace” and called for it to be shut down. And, of course, he is fully entitled to hold and to express strong opinions very robustly about matters of major public and political concern.

One Janner accuser before the IICSA seems to have simply parroted a claim by David Icke in his “The Biggest Secret” (1999) that Lord Janner was linked to Dolphin Square, one of the venues for Exaro’s previous atrocity narratives.

It is truly bizarre that a self-styled “news” organisation claiming to support free speech should object to the exercise of that right by others. But it replicates the comms strategy deployed by Watts and his fellow campaigners. And it perpetuates the implacable demonisation of critics, by accusing them of attacking “victims” and thereby re-abusing them.

Exaro2 is not simply making an unfair criticism of a person who is understandably seeking to counter unjust attack on a deceased relative, and who is lawfully criticising a public body: it is being malicious and dishonest.

The facts are that the Janner estate has successfully defended civil actions for damages by several people. The estate’s representatives are therefore entitled to take a dim view of the merits of these claims, which were all withdrawn, presumably because their legal advisors considered that they stood little prospect of success. And his son is entitled to invoke the presumption of innocence for his late father.

The absence of forensic evidence

The IICSA has also become the target of hardcore conspiracy-mongers, as the recent hearings into the Westminster strand made painfully obvious. A very senior police officer told it that the police could find no evidence of the alleged “Westminster paedophile ring”, belief in which both Tom Watson MP, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and Exaro had so enthusiastically promoted.

Watson has now distanced himself from these types, but Watts keeps banging the drum and attacking non-believers as heretics, just as Exaro2 is doing.

As the historians Richard Webster and David Frankfurter have each argued, those who mobilise against “evil” are themselves the perpetrators of evil against their targets, whom they seek to destroy in an attempt at expelling evil from society.

History teaches us that atrocities perpetrated against Jews, alleged witches and others have arisen after influential actors have determined that these persons are a manifestation of evil, who must be purged.

Frankfurter explains: “There exists, in some sense, a myth of evil conspiracy – using ‘myth’ in the sense of master narrative rather than false belief” (italics in original). And he goes on:

Organised conspiracies always have a particular reassurance, for they suggest that not just misfortune but evil exists and has its own horrific intentions. Indeed, it is by our discovery of organized evil that we can obliterate it – at least through the bodies of those who manifest it.

He explains that in these orchestrated outbursts of conspiracy panics, two key components are required. First, the active leadership of “experts” who are specially equipped to detect evil. They integrate local fears and social anxieties, and portray themselves as indispensable to public safety. Just as Matthew Hopkins did in the seventeenth-century.

Second, alleged victims emerge, whose “testimonies” are treated as compelling proof of the existence of evil in our midst (not for nothing was Exaro’s chief accuser named “Nick”: a calculated use of irony, I suggest).

Frankfurter argues that such testimonies are simply performances: sincere, “driven by complex social and psychological backgrounds, but performances nonetheless”.

Call me cynical, but Exaro’s close control over its stable of accusers suggests something rather more manufactured. Look at the TV interviews, which Watts organised, of “Nick” and Baker.

Instead of evil being an external force, Frankfurter argues that “evil is a discourse, a way of representing things and shaping our experiences of things”. And this discourse “inevitably takes on a life of its own, shifting into large-scale myths of evil conspiracy and Satanic rituals, and almost never with any forensic basis at all.” It is all smoke, and no fire.

Disrespecting genuine victims

Watts’ and Exaro’s obsession with “VIP paedophiles”, like the Satanic panic of the late 1980s and early 1990s, ignores the mundane reality and prevalence of intra-familial child abuse, in a way that is contemptuous of victims of such abuse.

Those real victims are dismissed as unimportant, because they do not fit into extravagant narratives of evil conspiracies allegedly involving extreme atrocities: ritual murder, Sabbats and the like.

The IICSA is just as guilty of this, incidentally, and so is May, for privileging a particular category of “institutional victim” at others’ expense, in a deeply misguided attempt to curry favour with influential lobbyists (which include ambulance-chasing law firms, that have found institutions far more lucrative targets than private individuals accused of abuse, who are, almost invariably, not wealthy VIPs).

It is my hypothesis that whoever was really behind Exaro’s “dirty tricks” smearing operation (Labour? fellow-travellers of Russia?), its use of the myth of an evil conspiracy involving the abuse of children by VIPs was psychologically astute, and served to create division and foment mistrust in the democratic institution of Parliament.

Whether its ultimate goal was simply to topple the existing U.K. Government, or something more sinister (the collapse of popular trust in conventional politics, and the advent of a more authoritarian regime?), its influence was unquestionably malign.

Exaro and its backers have evidently learnt the lessons of history well. Whatever their ostensible objectives, they have caused real harm.

And so, turning their own slogan of “holding power to account” against them, they should be held to account.

In my opinion.

Sources

https://amp.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/may/03/russia-propaganda-war-skripal-poisoning-embassy-london

Richard Webster, The Secret of Bryn Estyn: the Making of a Modern Witch Hunt (Orwell Press, 2005)

David Frankfurter, Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History (Princeton UP, 2006)