I saw up close how an establishment closed ranks over the Janner affair
As a young reporter, I was given letters that might have helped make a case against the MP for child abuse
I telephoned the Leicester office of Raymonds News Agency and arranged
for a reporter to cover an imminent pre-trial hearing at the city’s
magistrates court. It was the sort of mundane hearing that would not
normally trouble the media. A few days before, in a Leicester pub, I had
met a solicitor’s clerk, to whom I had been introduced by a source on a
previous story. The clerk told me that at the hearing a former
children’s home manager called Frank Beck, who stood charged of sexually
abusing the children in his care, would claim the man responsible for
the offences was actually Leicester West’s long-standing MP, Greville,
now Lord, Janner.
Events played out exactly as I had been told they would. At the
hearing’s conclusion, Beck shouted out his claims and was duly wrestled
to the floor by the clerk of the court, before being taken back to the
cells. Rumours about Janner that had circulated in the city for some
years were now recorded by the journalist I had placed there and thus
out in the public domain.
Last week, the director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, announced that the now 86-year-old Janner would not be facing any charges
on the grounds that he was suffering from dementia and therefore unfit
to stand trial. It required the CPS to add that “this decision does not
mean or imply that… Janner is guilty of any offence”. In turn,
Janner’s family issued their own statement praising the man’s
“integrity” before adding: “He is entirely innocent of any wrongdoing.”
However, in an exceptionally rare move, the CPS went on to
detail the exact charges Janner would have faced had he been deemed well
enough: the 22 sex offences, alleged to have taken place from 1969 to
1988, involving nine children and young adults then cared for in
children’s homes. These ranged from indecent assaults to buggery. What’s
more, Saunders admitted Janner should have been charged in 1991 and
that there were two further missed opportunities in 2002 and 2007 when
the “evidential test was passed”, meaning there was a realistic prospect
Saunders has now appointed a high court judge to investigate the
failings, though, if he likes, I can tell him now what went wrong and
spare him the trouble.
The establishment, in the shape of his fellow MPs, men such as Labour’s Keith Vaz,
Tory David Ashby and the then Lib Dem MP now Lord Carlile, closed
ranks. Janner was a barrister and MP, a man who campaigned for justice
for the victims of the Holocaust. It simply couldn’t be true. That Frank
Beck was eventually found guilty of horrendous abuse charges and sent
to prison (where he later died of a heart attack) aided them. Clearly
Beck had been trying to save his own skin. The possibility that Janner
had also been guilty didn’t seem to occur to them.
Faced by stories of cover-ups around paedophiles such as MPs Cyril Smith and Thatcher’s henchman Peter Hayman,
hindsight can make it tough to get a handle on how such conspiracies
functioned. Who covered up for whom? Did everybody collude to do so?
What was the mechanism? Sometimes, as we can with the Janner case, you
simply have to play the tape forward.
All reporters have stories that get away from them. The Janner story
is mine. At the pub meeting, I was given copies of letters from Janner
to one of his alleged victims. Only if you had been told a backstory do
those letters look incriminating. They make arrangements to meet in
hotels, talk of “mutual understanding” and sign off with expressions of
“love”. My expectation was that these letters would be tested in court
alongside other evidence.
Getting Beck’s shouted accusation about Janner suited my purposes.
Since it happened in open court it put something on the record that at
some point could be used in a story. While the Beck case was ongoing it
was all sub judice and nothing further about Janner could be reported.
The MP was also bound by the Contempt of Court Act. The moment Beck was
found guilty, however, Janner declared in the House of Commons that
there was “not a shred of truth in any of the allegations”.
What happened next was crucial. There was a (failed) parliamentary
attempt to change the Contempt of Court Act to protect people named
during proceedings in the way Janner had been. During the debate, many
MPs, including Ashby and Carlile, spoke up for him. Key was Vaz, MP for
the neighbouring Leicestershire constituency, who clearly hadn’t been
party to the rumours circulating in his home town. He said his dear
friend had been the “victim of a cowardly and wicked attack”. That was
it. The story was dead. The Independent on Sunday was not a
paper to be cowed by pressure from above, but it was simpler than that.
Clearly Janner was set up. I don’t even recall being taken off the
story. It was just never spoken of again.
Today, Vaz is chair of the Commons home affairs select committee. He
enjoys portraying himself as a champion of the voiceless, happy to
castigate the Home Office over its handling of the current investigation
into child abuse. Last week, I asked Vaz via Twitter whether he had
anything to say about Janner, given the CPS announcement. He responded
by blocking me. He later unblocked me but, at the time of writing, has
still not commented.
temptation is to demand a law change to stop something like this
happening again, but the law is perfectly adequate. It’s the way it has
been exercised – or not exercised – that is at issue. In 1991, Janner
consulted solicitor David Napley and the barrister George Carman, both
now deceased. According to a source with knowledge of that meeting,
Carman was astounded, based on what Janner had told him, that he was not
Leicestershire police are baffled now, too, and are apparently
investigating ways of challenging the CPS decision. They even released a
statement from an alleged victim. “If he was an everyday person with a
normal life and job, justice would [have] been served,” he said. Curiously, it echoes Janner’s comments in 1997
about a man spared a trial for Nazi war crimes because of his age. “I
am sorry that he was not tried while he was fit enough to stand,” he
said. “There was absolutely no reason why he should have escaped charges
How was this allowed to happen? Perhaps it was simply force of
personality, which I saw at first hand. In May 1992, Janner invited me
to tea. I was intrigued. I knew people who worked for him and had been
asking pointed questions. He must have known this. If so, he gave no
indication. He cheerfully poured the tea, handed round sandwiches and
talked light politics. He didn’t give the impression of a man who feared
the judicial system catching up with him. As of last week, it never
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