Telegraph.co.uk — Oct 6, 2015
Scotland Yard has accused the BBC of undermining its investigation into historical child sex abuse, claiming that the corporation’s actions risked deterring victims from coming forward.
An hour-long Panorama investigation aired on BBC One last night, scrutinising allegations of a historical paedophile ring in Westminster.
On the programme, a man known only as David, claimed he may have been led by campaigners into making serious allegations against members of the establishment.
David said he had provided the names of VIPs, including former home secretary Leon Brittan, “as a joke suggestion to start with”, but that he later repeated them.
He also alleged that he called the police with concerns that Chris Fay, who worked for the now-defunct National Association of Young People In Care, was ‘putting words in his mouth’.
Panorama claimed that Mr Fay had been investigated by police for perverting the course of justice but that charges were never brought.
Chris Fay denied putting words into ‘David’s mouth’.
The Met has previously singled out the BBC for showing pictures of possible suspects to the main witness in the Operation Midland probe, a man given the alias “Nick”, who was at the centre of yesterday’s documentary.
In an appeal for witnesses when the inquiry first started, police described him as “credible” and “true”.
Officers later conceded that using such language may have suggested it was pre-empting the outcome of the investigation, when that was not the case.
Responding to claims made on Panorama, the Met reiterated it would not be giving a “running commentary” on the progress of Operation Midland.
Scotland Yard said that the BBC’s actions “could compromise the evidential chain should a case ever proceed to court”.
In a strongly worded statement it cited the example of Jimmy Savile, who was propelled to stardom by the corporation, to illustrate the dangers if potential witnesses are deterred from coming forward. Savile went unchallenged for years despite rumours of him abusing underage girls.
“Hundreds of people never came forward in part because they feared the consequences of making allegations against a powerful public figure,” said the statement.
“We are worried that this programme and other recent reporting will deter victims and witnesses from coming forward in future.”
Ceri Thomas, the editor of Panorama, defended the programme ahead of its going on air. “What we’ve found while we’ve been making this Panorama is a concern that all those big institutions – the police, press and politicians – are so determined to atone for the sins of the past that they’re in danger of inventing whole new categories of mistakes,” he said. “The motivation may be good, but the outcome can be awful.
“What has emerged is a story which, arguably, says as much about how some of this country’s most important institutions are behaving now as it does about child abuse more than 30 years ago.”
But Scotland Yard has insisted that the BBC’s handling of the investigation threatens to hamper its own criminal inquiries.
A spokesman for the Met said: “We trust that the BBC has given due consideration to the impact of its reporting on ‘Nick’ and how it fulfils its responsibility to a witness making allegations of a sensitive and personal nature which were broadcast to millions of people.”
A BBC spokesman said: “This is important and fair investigative journalism that rightly asks legitimate questions about the conduct of the police, journalists, campaigners, and politicians in handling historic allegations of child abuse.
“We were aware the Met Police had concerns about this Panorama going ahead but as they recognise there is public interest in reporting on their investigations.
“Whilst we take their statement seriously, the Met Police has not yet seen the programme and people should watch it before drawing conclusions.”