Scotland Yard has slammed the BBC following their broadcasting of a Panorama program focussing on the accusations of a man at the centre of the VIP child abuse scandal. The man, known only as David, told program makers he may have been coerced into making his allegations by campaigners. The Metropolitan Police force has severely criticised the BBC for airing the program, saying it may deter others from coming forward.
In a lengthy statement, the force said it had “serious concerns” about the impact the program would have on Operation Midland, the investigation into historic child abuse and murder at the hands of politicians and celebrities.
The program featured ‘David,’ who has previously claimed to be a victim of historic child abuse. He has now told the program makers that he provided names of VIPs, including the former home secretary Leon Brittan “as a joke to start with,” but later repeated them.
He also alleged that he contacted the police over concerns that Chris Fay, a former employee of the now defunct National Association of Young People In Care, was “putting words in his mouth.” Mr Fay denies the allegation.
Panorama claimed during the program that Mr Fay had been investigated by police for perverting the course of justice, but that charges were never brought.
Responding to the claims, the Met Police stated that they would not be offering “a running commentary” on the progress of Operation Midland.
It added: “We have warned previously about the risks of media investigations compromising a criminal investigation. When we initially launched our Operation Midland appeal, we specifically highlighted how a media organisation – the BBC in fact – had shown pictures of individuals to ‘Nick’ which could compromise the evidential chain should a case ever proceed to court.
“We continue to be concerned about approaches to witnesses by all media, and that warning was reinforced by the Attorney General on Friday September 25.”
In an appeal for witnesses when Operation Midland first started, police described their main witness, known only by the alias ‘Nick’, as “credible” and “true”. They later conceded that using such language may give the impression that the outcome of the inquiry was forgone, which they had not intended to be the case.
“We recognise that there is a public interest in reporting and commenting on the police and our investigations. We can and do accept criticism of our policing operations,” the Met said. “But we do believe there is a distinction to be made between fair comment and impacting on victims and witnesses in a way that may damage them or a criminal investigation.”
The strongly worded statement also referenced Jimmy Savile, who was allowed to rise to considerable fame and fortune within the BBC despite numerous rumours and allegations of abuse of children taking place over decades.
“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 program before it was aired, saying: “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. 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.”
A BBC spokesman added: “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.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Chief Constable of Norfolk Constabulary Simon Bailey defended his colleagues, saying the force was “absolutely right” to voice its concerns.
“I am entirely comfortable that the victims now more so than ever before have the confidence and courage to come forward and I absolutely welcome that,” he said.
“The worst possible thing that could happen from this is, is that victims who are considering coming forward and reporting their abuse when they were a child will not do so.”
“We still have, I believe, tens of thousands of victims who have still yet to come forward and report non recent sexual abuse. I would not want those victims to now feel that if they do come forward and they make those reports, that their lives will then be subjected to the type of scrutiny and the type of exposure that we’ve seen in the recent weeks and months.
“Because those victims have to live with that abuse and it’s only right in my view that we should be given the opportunity to investigate and investigate without our investigations being compromised.”