‘Schofield, the decoy witchhunt and the black arts of spin’
The Firm… At 9.51pm on Wednesday, an email popped into my inbox from an individual I had never encountered. No introduction, no pleasantries, no context, and no frame of reference, except the line in the subject box: “Newsnight & the guilty men”. The tone was brusque, abusive and could even be construed as threatening, and it was an attempt to steer me off any further reporting of the online naming of the figure or figures at the heart of the abuse scandal. And it came from a producer at the BBC.
Why would someone in such a post at the institution which occupies such a central role in the Jimmy Savile story, try to persuade me that abuse survivor Steven Messham’s testimony was “unreliable”, and that he was a “damaged individual”? Newsnight certainly didn’t feel that way, and as we have learned this week, a deluge of formerly concealed corroboration of systematic abuse claims similar to Messham’s has come to light. And last night, a former Clwyd council worker revealed revealed a list of 56 alleged abusers whose identities were protected by the Waterhouse report, 30 of whom were never spoken to by the police. Three, it is claimed, were recognisable names in authority at the time.
The intervention and objective of this figure in the BBC was not isolated. Messham himself, who only took to twitter this week, had complained earlier in the day that a reporter from the Daily Mail had phoned him and was compiling a story that said Messham was telling lies, and that he had not been resident at the infamous North Wales care home at all during the key periods.
What is Michael Crick’s role in the the take-down of Newsnight?
A little earlier than that, ex-Newsnight reporter and now Channel 4 correspondent Michael Crickhad declared via twitter that he was “more and more sceptical” whether the (then) largely unnamed figure from the Thatcher cabinet was guilty as alleged.
And thirdly, at the same time, the Guardian had run an online news story headlined “Inconsistencies found in child abuse allegations against senior Tory”, which narrated some contradictions in the various accounts of abused children. Two national newspapers have now run stories excluding one senior former Tory from connection to these events, although that intervention doesn’t get anyone any closer to securing justice.
Philip Schofield has now become the subject of much challenge and criticism over his handling of his interview with the Prime Minister, but his sudden vilification carries a ring of familiarity.
People in my trade learned (or ought to have) how what has become known as the “dark arts” are perpetrated, and thanks to The Thick Of It, so have most of the public. I think we can all accept that a ritually violated child may remember things differently from another similarly ritually violated child over a forty year timeframe. And I don‘t know about you, but as a 9 year old, my ability to identify politicians was pretty feeble. But at no point prior to yesterday was witness credibility openly challenged in relation to this affair.
That master of the dark arts, Alistair Campbell, coined a term for what I experienced yesterday, and narrated it in his memoirs when discussing the “sexing up” of the dodgy dossier which was used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Campbell aggressively attacked the notetaking capabilities of Andrew Gilligan and the editorial judgement of the BBC, and as Nick Davies describes it “used it as a decoy to distract attention from a highly embarrassing story”.
“This move finally established the decoy story as the main media line,” Davies continues.
“The original questions about the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were shunted into the sidings. Several political reporters wrote at the time that this looked like a diversionary tactic.”
In his diary for that day, Campbell noted: ‘Flank opened on the BBC.’
Tory MP Rob Wilson: Was he the fall guy if things went sour?
The exact repetition of the tactic in this instance, and the apparent outrage expressed by MP Rob Wilson, who has spearheaded the Conservative party’s attack on Schofield, mirrors the flanking operation undertaken by Campbell, and is indeed quite successfully diverting the main media line away from the acts of abuse at Bryn Estyn, and onto the manner in which it is being reported.
I challenged the individual who contacted me, a person who is -as far as I am aware- unconnected with Newsnight, and challenged them on why they would seek to divert me, and evidently others too. The response went on to denigrate Newsnight for their “absence of judgement”, and my second attempt at seeking an answer was met with a withering traducement of Angus Stickler, the investigator who had sourced the Newsnight story in the first place.
The BBC are in a tough spot just now, criticised for dropping their exposure of Jimmy Savile last year, and for enabling his activity over all those years. Newsnight’s subsequent story into North Wales has threads that appear to lead to the heart of the Tory Government of the 70s and 80s, a place, coincidentally occupied by that same Mr Savile, who boasted of spending fireside Christmases on ten successive occasions with Mrs Thatcher at Chequers in each year of her office. I cannot speculate as to why someone in the heart of the BBC would want to steer inquiry away from the North Wales story, but as I assured them, it got my nose twitching.
And I smell a rat.