I was saddened, shocked and shaken when I learnt that the distinguished journalist James Gillespie had died suddenly and unexpectedly.
I am very sorry for his family in their loss, and extend my condolences to them.
We used to follow each other on Twitter and I was aware that he took a keen interest in the thorny issue of historic sex abuse allegations.
He was the personification of a brave investigative reporter.
The nuclear fallout from the exposure of claims about the late Jimmy Savile has had a searing impact on British society. This is still playing out.
Of course it is right that the immensely serious problem of child sex abuse, both past and present, has been given the priority which it deserves. Many countries and institutions have now been forced to confront the toxic legacy of child sex abuse. Many brave survivors are campaigning, and have been campaigning for justice and they deserve justice.
But James’ journalism grappled with another difficult dimension of this dreadful problem, namely, the way in which the immensely serious problem of child sex abuse had been taken up by opportunists, who weaponised child abuse for other reasons.
As the Sunday Times reported yesterday:
He made his mark at The Sunday Times, which he joined in 2011, with a series of articles pulling apart false claims of historical child abuse against high-profile politicians. James’s stance, which went against the grain at the time, was vindicated when Carl Beech, a fantasist known as “Nick”, was jailed for 18 years.
I attended Harvey Proctor’s latest Press Conference last week. I asked the question: “where did Exaro’s monies come from?”
At this time of increased scrutiny of claims-makers, I do not think it surprising that Tom Watson MP, Labour’s Deputy Leader, has now announced his departure from political life.
But turning back to James, I shall never forget James’ dramatic Sunday Times‘ demolition of false claims against Lord Janner on 24 April 2016 (the art work was memorable), entitled:
The case against Lord Janner seemed unshakeable. But is he another victim of the VIP sex abuse witch-hunt?
As an Irish national, and an outsider, I was repelled by Westminster Magistrates’ public parading of Lord Janner. It was punitive and unnecessary. James’ article was a much-needed corrective to the authorities’ complacent assumption that an accusation = guilt.
As he wrote:
And therein lies the problem: suspicion has become guilt; allegations are seen as proof. When Beck made his first comment about Janner in court in 1991, no one was more surprised than the police. They had interviewed about 400 people, yet none of them had mentioned Janner.
My research also played a small role in his piece:
“There is a presumption of guilt everywhere,” said Keats, who has been interviewed by the police twice. When he asked what evidence the detectives had — the raids on Janner’s home and office in the House of Lords found nothing — they told Keats the case was based on “weight of numbers”.
Legal experts say this attitude creates the danger of miscarriages of justice. As long ago as 1924, the lord chief justice, Gordon Hewart, warned of “the risk, the danger, the logical fallacy” of this approach. “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.”
I also applaud James’ coverage of Graham Wilmer’s Lantern Project which promoted Esther Baker, and which uses “Unstructured Disclosure Therapy”:
Matthew Scott, a barrister who has worked on a number of child abuse cases, said: “It would be hard to devise a form of counselling more fraught with the danger of producing unreliable evidence than one in which therapists prompt their ‘patients’ to disclose sexual abuse by telling them in graphic detail about their own experiences. It’s crazy from a forensic point of view.”
Roger Kennedy, a consultant psychiatrist with the Child and Family Practice in London, who has worked with a number of adult victims of Jimmy Savile, was also critical of Wilmer’s approach. “The therapist or counsellor should not be divulging vast amounts about their own lives and pushing that onto the patient. It’s very confusing.”
Wilmer defended his methods: “What we are trying to do is to open the debate about what does help victims.”
These high-profile cases are “electric fence” issues for journalists. Whatever your approach, there will be critics to hound and goad you.
It shouldn’t have to be like this but, sadly, these are the times we live in.
My heart goes out to his family.
Rest in peace, James.