The star victim whose false allegations were too readily swallowed by the BBC was a known fantasist. If you read nothing else today (except this blog, of course!), check out the astonishing detailed account in the Daily Mail. I despise that paper’s anti-BBC vendetta, and their motive of further embarrassing the beeb should not be overlooked. But the story speaks for itself.
Briefly, Steve Messham – or “mess ’em about” as we should now think of him – had been given every opportunity at an earlier enquiry to air all his wild yarns of alleged abuse. He was never muzzled as he claims. He was very clearly interested in milking his victim status for money, and showed no inhibitions about making up additional absurd stories as he went along. The enquiry in question declared him unreliable.
The BBC has rightly been castigated for failing to check out Mess’em’s credentials and nobody who heard the director general’s car crash interview with John Humphries yesterday morning could possibly have doubted he would soon be on his way out.
Humphries, legendary hardman of the BBC’s Today programme, was merciless. His forensic brilliance was ironically a powerful demonstration of what is best about the beeb’s news coverage. The fact that he could smash his own boss’s face through the windscreen so brutally could hardly be a more convincing demonstration of beeb journalism’s’ editorial independence!
Poor George Entwistle (“Incurious George”), knew nothing and checked nothing before the fateful Newsnight went out. He didn’t even know about a vital pre-show tweet that reached even my eyes many hours ahead of the broadcast, alerting the world to promised damning revelations about a former Tory minister.
But George’s abject failings are nothing compared to Newsnight’s. The fact that Mess’em was seriously flakey was not a state secret. It should have been obvious following the simplest checks relating to the Waterhouse enquiry into the Welsh children’s home abuse allegations.
What is less well known – though it ought to be – is that the Waterhouse inquiry was itself seriously flakey not because it gave too little credence to abuse allegations but because it gave far too much: which is why the likes of Mess’em were able to get away with so much drama-queen grandstanding.
The whole sorry fiasco of Waterhouse was painstakingly exposed in Richard Webster’s 700-page book The Secret of Bryn Estyn. The secret was that there were NO dark secrets! Webster laid bare exactly what had gone wrong. The problem can be laid squarely at the door of dubious police trawling methods and unscupulous solicitors tempting care home residents with the prospect of big money compensation for assaults that may never have happened.
As the Daily Mail put it today:
But the police method of ‘trawling’ former residents, many of whom had long criminal records, and inviting them to make allegations – has long been recognised as risky. In 2002, the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee warned such a process was liable to create miscarriages of justice, and that some people had made false allegations in the hope of being paid large sums in compensation.
I note that the Mail, taking all the credit for its own reporting, makes no mention whatever of Webster’s work. Unfortunately the admirable Webster died a while back so, as the BBC would say, he has not been available for interview. His excellent website lives on, though.