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From the file

Pariah | What does Harvey Proctor’s life tell us about the limits of our tolerance, and what we’re prepared to do to people who overstep them?

Pariah

Incredible

Incredible

To suffer one shattering public scandal in a lifetime is hard enough. Harvey Proctor has endured two. In the second episode of Pariah, one of the highest profile police investigations of the past decade – Operation Midland – comes knocking on his door


TRANSCRIPT

When you set out to tell someone’s life story for a purpose, not just because you think they have had, maybe, an admirable or a technicolour life, but because there might be a lesson in it, I think you have to watch yourself. In a way, you have to look in the mirror and warn yourself not to smarten everything up too much; there’s a risk you’ll try to make it all fit together too neatly. 

Maybe you’ll be tempted to leave out important bits of the life that don’t go with the grain or smooth out some of the rough edges of the person in the end, perhaps just to try to make him or her more likeable. 

I’ve been thinking about that a lot because we are telling Harvey Proctor’s life story for a reason. I’m fascinated by this idea of what we, all of us, are prepared to do to people we turn into outcasts but there’s nothing neat about his life and you’d have to leave out an awful lot to make him completely likeable. 

Even his friend, Matthew Parris, who we’re going to hear from later, calls him “my difficult friend”. But I guess that’s the thing, isn’t it? Obviously, I don’t think being difficult is reason enough to crucify someone but as we get further into Harvey Proctor’s story, into events that happened just a few years ago, we’re about to put him through something which feels to me dangerously close to a modern-day crucifixion. 

I’m Ceri Thomas and this is Episode Two of Pariah, from Tortoise Studios. 

Harvey Proctor: He said that he was over 21, he turned out to be under 21, he was 19. 

So, a quick reminder of where we’ve got to. At the end of the last episode in 1987, Harvey Proctor had been turned over by a tabloid newspaper. He’d fallen for a sting involving two male prostitutes: one of them was 19 and that was underage at the time so his career as an MP was effectively over, but he couldn’t resign straight away because there was an election coming up and his party managers wanted him to cling on until then.

Off the back of the sting, he’d been charged by the police with gross indecency, so he had a huge decision to take: would he plead guilty in court or would he fight? I’m going to run us through this next bit of the story and then I’ll bring my friend and colleague, Al Jackson, back in as we get closer to here and now.

Harvey Proctor: I was advised by colleagues in the House to have as my solicitor at the time Sir David Napley, who was quite famous because he’s represented Jeremy Thorpe and managed to get Jeremy Thorpe off his attempted murder allegations in court. So, I went to him. 

There was a brilliant book and a TV drama you might remember a couple of years ago about the Jeremy Thorpe case called A Very English Scandal, Hugh Grant playing Jeremy Thorpe for laughs, and you can see why that case made Sir David Napley look like exactly the right man to represent Harvey Proctor. I won’t go too far down the wonderful Jeremy Thorpe rabbit-hole but he was the leader of the Liberal Party and he was accused, about ten years before the time we’re talking about here, of hiring a hitman to bump off his gay lover and in one of those “trials of the century” which come along every few years, David Napley got him off. The thing about Jeremy Thorpe’s defence was that it had looked terrible, really paper-thin. Harvey Proctor thought he had something much better.

Harvey Proctor: The Sunday People tape-recorded him to send him into my house on the second and only other occasion when I met him, to record a conversation and in that conversation, he also says, lyingly, that he was over 21. So, I thought I had a good defence to the arguments against me. 

On the face of it, if one of the reasons Harvey Proctor had been splashed all over the papers and charged with gross indecency was that he’d had sex with a man who was underage… And that man was on tape, recorded during the sting, telling Harvey Proctor that he wasn’t underage, that surely looked like the beginnings of a solid defence. But of course, his legal team had to agree to run it in court.

Harvey Proctor: Sir David cut me off at the knees and said I had no such defence because there was a lacuna in the law that the provision that applies in the heterosexual case did not apply in the homosexual case. I immediately said, if that is the case then I must plead guilty.

What he means is, if a man who had slept with a girl who was underage but he had no reason to know she was underage, that would have been a defence but that didn’t apply to gay relationships. We talk about a lot of decisions being fateful and most of them aren’t really, but this one, the decision that he was going to plead guilty when the trial came, well this one really was fateful for Harvey Proctor. So, of course, even now, he plays through in his mind whether David Napley gave him the right advice and why he gave it. 

Harvey Proctor: It never occurred to me that he might be anti-homosexuality, anti-homosexual, which he was. He concluded that homosexuality was an illness, a sickness, that if you could get the right treatment all would be well. If I went to a different solicitor, it may be that I would have got a solicitor who could advise me how to fight the law and recast the law in the same way but when you’ve got somebody sitting in front of you who is so magisterial, as he was at that time, and as eminent as Sir David Napley, I think I was – given my state of resignation – emotionally resigned because of the battering of the media over months and months and months, I was resigned to my fate.

Ceri: But it was a brutal decision for you to take, wasn’t it? It meant that this dream that you’d had of being an MP, that you’d held since you were quite young… 

Harvey Proctor: Yes, everything that I’d existed for had gone.

The night before Harvey Proctor’s court case, his fellow Conservative MP, Matthew Parris, gave him a call. 

Ceri: You invited him round for dinner. I’m interested because you were far from political soulmates, you probably were about as far apart in the Conservative Party as you could be at that time I guess. Why did you invite him round?

Matthew Parris: I never disliked Harvey. Some people in the Conservative Party did and a lot of people in the Labour Party did. I never disliked him personally, I thought that he had been pretty unfairly, pretty harshly treated – though not actually within the Conservative Party, and I simply felt very sorry for him. 

Obviously, being gay myself and seeing someone else being crucified for his sexuality made me particularly sympathetic, but it amazed me how few people were coming to Harvey’s defence. Well, as far as I could see, almost nobody except the Conservative whips, came to Harvey’s defence and I knew that the court case was coming up and I thought he must be in a very depressed state of mind, so I just picked up the telephone and said come over and have something to eat. I invited a lawyer friend of mine, a barrister, a criminal barrister, a very good friend, who I thought could give Harvey a bit of advice and he did and his advice was absolutely right: he told Harvey he wouldn’t go to prison and nor did he. 

And I sense that Harvey was depressed in the dangerous way, not in the sense of gnashing teeth and rending garments and tears and all that kind of thing, but a sort of strange flat almost featureless depression which is particularly dangerous.

Harvey Proctor: I think I’ve gone on record as saying he probably saved my life.

Ceri: Because by the time you got to dinner at his place the night before the court case, you were in a bad way.

Harvey Proctor: I was at a very low point because that was 18 months or more of continuous pressure in the media. No respite whatsoever. And having to, towards the end, portray one figure knowing what I was going to have to do, which is to not stand for re-election in 1987. And so yes, I was at a very low peak and he very kindly, sort of, said come round for supper the night before I went to my trial. Otherwise I may not be here now… he rang while I was opening my bottle of tablets…

Ceri: It’s really close, isn’t it?

Harvey Proctor: [Sighs deeply]

Ceri: Do you want to take a break?

Harvey Proctor: Yes. 

“The court heard this morning of Mr Proctor’s feelings of shame and despair about the case and with his career now at an end, how he had already punished himself more than anything the court could impose. Mr Proctor refused to speak to the press after his court appearance. His solicitor said it had been a traumatic experience for him. A cordon of police was thrown around him to protect him from the crush of journalists. His solicitor said he now had little money and little future. David Chater, News at One, at Bow Street Magistrates Court.”

News clip from Harvey Proctor’s court case 

I want to take a moment here for the record. There’s an argument to be had about whether Harvey Proctor should have been charged at the time with gross indecency and there’s that big question about whether he could have fought the charges, pleaded not guilty, but whatever happened then, he wouldn’t be charged now. His offences wouldn’t be offences now and the criminal record he got has been wiped. But what doesn’t get wiped – and perhaps this is the really important thing – is the scandal that ran for so long because he couldn’t resign until the election and the court case at the end of it, it cemented Harvey Proctor’s image and his reputation. It doesn’t get wiped from the way people remember him or from the newspaper cuttings. He pays for sex with young men, he likes it rough – those things are going to come back to haunt Harvey Proctor with a vengeance. 

There’s a sort of accounting exercise I’ve been doing in my head all the time I’ve been talking to Harvey Proctor. When things get difficult for him, how well or how badly is he treated by the institutions that he deals with? The press, the police, politicians – how did they behave? The press, newspapers – really badly. The police – not well, and actually the worst from them is still to come. Politicians – actually better than you’d expect, some of them anyway.

Harvey Proctor: I remember the last day I was in the House of Commons chamber and I was leaving for the last time and some of the Whips got me to sit on the front bench.

Ceri: As a show of support? 

Harvey Proctor: Yes, so I knew I had that support. Well, I don’t think you get that other than being a dedicated member of the Conservative Party and they knew that they could rely on me for votes for Mrs Thatcher. 

It’s actually quite touching what the Whips did, inviting him to sit on the front bench where the government ministers and the grandees sit. It was a sort of constitutional, slightly squeamish man-hug and Harvey Proctor chokes up every time when he remembers it. But what came next was even more surprising. 

He was out of a job, of course, and too toxic to be scooped up by someone in business or lobbying, so he opened a shirt and tie shop in south-west London. I remember at the time thinking “what a weird thing to do”. He didn’t have the cash to set it up on his own so he relied on the kindness of better-off Tory MPs and the ones who really went out of their way to help him. They weren’t his fellow travellers on the right of the party, it was actually liberal-left Conservatives who organised the whip-round and set him up in business. 

He had one last hurrah of his own choosing in public. There was this amazing programme on Channel 4 at the time called After Dark, it was the last thing on the channel at night. There were a bunch of guests on comfy sofas, there was wine to drink and it went on as long as it needed to. 

Harvey Proctor: “And how long after his occasion did you realise it was completely felonious and false?”
Annette Witheridge: “Probably four months later.”
Harvey Proctor: “And did you put it right?”
Annette Witheridge: “No.”
Harvey Proctor: “Thank you.”
Annette Witheridge: “Nobody asked me to.”

Clip from After Dark, Channel 4, 1988

Harvey Proctor went on it in 1988 to confront a journalist from the Star, called Annette Witheridge, about the false story she’d written about him under the headline: “Spank row MP urged to take AIDS test”.

Harvey Proctor: “The press have got to realise that like the members of the press, people who happen to take on their time and energy in public life are actually flesh and blood, you know, and we do have families and we do have friends and the sort of rubbish that you wrote at that time was deeply hurtful to me, deeply offensive to me and deeply hurtful to my mother, my brother, my family and my friends. It was a disgraceful article to write when a man was down. You stuck your stiletto heel into somebody when he was down. He was going to the court but you had to wring the last drop of blood out of that corpse that was going to that court.”
Annette Witheridge: “It was a very reliable source at the time, one that had never let me down before.

Clip from After Dark, Channel 4, 1988

And that was nearly it, there was just one more headline grabbing moment – not of his choosing – a homophobic attack, a nasty one, in 1992 when two men went into Harvey Proctor’s shirt shop, asked him if he had any ties for tying up rent boys and beat him up, along with a Conservative MP who was there at the time. The men who attacked him ended up getting six months in jail. Harvey Proctor was fading from view and the shop was struggling. It closed in 2000 and he went to live, eventually, with his partner, Terry, in the cottage down the end of the unmarked farm track in the middle of the fields that you’d never stumble across by accident.  

He worked for his friend, the Duke of Rutland, up at Belvoir Castle doing events and arranging press coverage. If he ever spoke to the media, he was always a spokesman for the Duke and Duchess, never Harvey Proctor, and if any journalists from the old days even had his phone number… well, they never rang. 

Alistair Jackson: So, this is the place that was raided?

Harvey Proctor: Yes.

Al: It is the place that was raided?

Harvey Proctor: Because I’ve come back to live here. Here’s the house, the white door there straight ahead of you and to the right is the bedroom, or a bedroom, and that’s where we were, Terry and myself. I looked out of that window this way to find a police car here.

On a Wednesday morning in 2015, Harvey Proctor woke up to find the police at his door. He told Al about it when he gave him a lift from the station a couple of years’ ago.

Al: How did the search evolve that day then, what were they doing in here, around… I can see there are three or four rooms on the ground floor, did they go through the lot?

Harvey Proctor: Oh, absolutely everything. Not only the rooms in the house but through the grounds and into the two stables where I’d got storage, not that I’d got horses, and a big barn. They went through everything. 

Operation Midland had come knocking and what’s hard to get over, if you’ve ever been to Harvey Proctor’s house, is just how incongruous it seems. An early morning raid out there in the middle of nowhere, 40 police officers in blue forensics overalls. 

Harvey Proctor: Well, they very quickly said “We’ve got a search warrant in connection with Operation Midland” and I had heard about Operation Midland because I had heard on the 18 December 2014 about the press conference at New Scotland Yard when their Superintendent McDonald had said that a person who had made allegations against certain figures unnamed, but was credible and true. 

Al talked to Harvey Proctor about this extensively so I am going to bring him in here to help me tell this part of the story. We’ve touched on Operation Midland in passing but now, here it is, it’s turned up at Harvey Proctor’s front door so I think we need to explain it properly. It was all triggered by a set of allegations made by one man and I want to take those two things in turn. So, first up, what were the allegations?

Al: Well, I think you have to say they were horrific, that’s the first thing you’ve got to say. They went back to the 70s and 80s and not only did they involve serious child sex abuse, they involved torture against children and, most shockingly, the murder of children. The police had also been given the name of the perpetrators and those names went to the heart of the British establishment – former heads of security services, senior military figures, politicians – one of which, of course, was Harvey Proctor.

Ceri: And the guy making the claims, he’d been given the pseudonym of Nick, hadn’t he?

Al: He had, yes, and he’d been by that stage already interacting with campaigners that were asking for witnesses coming forward for historic allegations to be treated better by the police. We knew he was in his 40s, he was actually an NHS manager living near Gloucester and we started eventually to hear of his real identity and he was a guy called Carl Beech. 

“It could be just you with one man, it could be you with lots of men, it could be you with other boys.”
“And as I turned round to see what the noise was, it hit him… I had blood on my hands.”
“I had poppies pinned to my chest whilst they did whatever they wanted to do. I must have been about 11 or 12.”

Series of clips from Carl Beech interviews

Ceri: To remind ourselves how at this point we were both working on the BBC’s investigative programme, Panorama. You’d actually spent quite a long time looking into other allegations of historic sex abuse because the cork had kind of come out of that bottle after the Jimmy Savile scandal but then Operation Midland and we get to this amazing turning point, that press conference in December 2014.

Al: Yes, and it was an amazing press conference, simply because the police came to a judgement. They said Carl Beech – Nick – the man making these extraordinary allegations was credible and true and the press conference took place only a few weeks after we knew that the police had started interviewing him, so this was amazing stuff. The police, normally not willing to go on the record and say very much, in a press conference effectively telling you this guy was credible and true, you could believe him.

Ceri: And the thing was, it wasn’t a slip of the tongue, was it, Al? 

Al: No, it wasn’t because I was there, there was a long press conference where the officer in charge was saying it and was taking questions about it and then afterwards, on the recorded interviews with media, the detective in charge, Kenny McDonald, repeated it. 

“Nick has been interviewed over a long period of time by experienced detectives from the Child Abuse Command and he has also met an investigator from the murder command. They and I believe what Nick to be saying is credible and true.”

Detective Kenny McDonald speaking to media

Al: I think looking back, the difficulty was that little phrase, credible and true, overtook everything, overtook any purpose of that police press conference, which was largely to encourage other people who had similar stories to Beech to come forward but they came up with that phrase, “credible and true”, and it absolutely overtook everything.

Ceri: And I guess the effect that that moment had was that anybody who had had reservations about running this story beforehand, those reservations evaporated.

Al: Absolutely, because you had the police judging him, you had murders being investigated and it was the most sensational allegations people had probably ever heard the police force outline. So of course, it was massive. 

Sophie Raworth: “Police investigate allegations that three young boys were murdered by a Westminster paedophile ring more than 30 years ago… Now police are urging other victims to come forward.

Tom Symonds: “Sophie, what’s called Operation Midland has to be one of the Met’s most careful investigations currently… The police have made it clear they are not going to be saying very much at all about this case…”

BBC News report on Operation Midland

Al: And it wasn’t just the British media, the media all over the world started running this stuff.

Ceri: When I look back on that moment, I’m conscious that I was in this relatively luxurious position – that I was fascinated by Operation Midland but I didn’t have to go off, like you did, and do all the hard work and gather the evidence and understand properly what was happening so you could make a programme about it. So I just want to pick out a couple of the lines of enquiry that you followed. So, let’s first go to the hit and run in Kingston, tell me about that.

Al: Well, unlike the other two murder allegations, this was alleged to have happened in broad daylight, outside Carl Beech’s school in Kingston, a busy part of London. And he said that a friend of his had been run over by the group, the group that were abusing him, killed and he’s been bundled back into the car and driven away. 

So, I remember going to the British Library and combing through the local newspapers from that time and thinking, is there a report of a road traffic accident, something that could perhaps look like that? And going through those papers there was nothing that really could even be portrayed as that; finding teachers from that school, kind of thinking… if a child had been run over and killed outside the school at lunchtime they might have remembered and there was really, you know, petty quickly there was nothing.

Ceri: And the other point of detail in this case, we had the name of the child who’d supposedly been run over, didn’t we?

Al: Yes, we got to hear… he came up with the name Scott as a possible victim, remembering his classmate, so as we looked for Scotts, asking classmates if they could remember the name of a Scott, we eventually got a full name and tracked that full name down to Australia and I dialled this number and the guy picked up the phone and I said obviously you’re not dead, and he said no, I’m not. 

But I think the more important detail was when I started asking him whether the police had actually been in touch with him.

Al: “You’ve not heard anything at all about this?”
Scott: “No.”
Al: “About your time at Coombe Hill?”
Scott: “No.”
Al: “Not a sort of check call about this guy Carl, the guy who might have been a classmate of yours?”
Scott: “No, I’ve never heard of him.”

Clip from phone interview between Al and Scott

Ceri: So that was a really big moment for us because there were the police doing this huge enquiry and it turned out you got to this key witness, even before they had. And then the other line of enquiry I remember you spending ages on was Dawn Beech, Carl’s ex-wife.

Al: You’d had no contact with the police by then at all?
Dawn Beech: No, nothing, nothing. I mean you’re the only person who’s actually talked to me.

Clip from interview between Al and Dawn Beech

Al: Again, it was the same picture, when we got hold of her, whilst being careful, quickly establishing that the police hadn’t been in touch with her.

Ceri: So, the point is, increasingly from what you were finding out, what you were telling me at the time, this was looking like a very odd piece of police work. People in Operation Midland weren’t talking to us directly and their bosses at the Met Police weren’t saying anything useful but then we had this extraordinary meeting with this sort of emissary, this recent ex-cop who was sent out to talk to us. 

Al: Yes, that’s right. We wanted to understand this, well, I think is the way to put it; we’d not really got very far with talking to the Met directly, I was asking for an expert voice and this very senior ex, newly ex-detective, if you remember, came to meet us just in a coffee shop in London. He talked us through it but the phrase that he came up with, you’ll remember, was along the lines of “With stuff like this there tends to be no smoke without fire”. 

Ceri: And my jaw just hit the table because that’s just such a terrible basis for policing, isn’t it?

Al: Well, it seemed to be indicative of what we were discovering.

Ceri: So, there were the police and they really weren’t going about their business in the way that we would have expected but what about journalists?

Al: Well, just like for the police, this was a difficult time, a challenging time for journalists because they too were trying to not dismiss allegations like this too soon, in particular one online site, Exaro, was making a lot of the running in reporting these allegations and in fact, it was one of their reporters, Mark Conrad, to whom Carl Beech first told his story…

***

Al: Where did the meeting take place?

Mark Conrad: The meeting took place at Selfridges, in the café at Selfridges, I think it’s on the third or fourth floor, which I thought was an unusual place to meet. I subsequently discovered that he liked to shop… But it was a central London venue, it was a very busy café and I thought it was probably not the place to talk about these kinds of allegations, so we ended up wandering off and we went into Hyde Park and had a wander round with a cup of coffee and just chatted generally at that point.

Al: What were your impressions of him at that point?

Mark Conrad: My impression of him was he was unlike many of the other alleged victims of child abuse, or indeed genuine victims of child abuse that I’d met. I’d met an awful lot of people who had been genuinely abused at that point and he didn’t present in exactly the same way but he did share some of the common characteristics of people who I knew had genuinely been abused as a child. 

He presented as a somewhat nervous character, he’s an intelligent man but he was somewhat nervous. He spoke very softly, I had to keep leaning right across the table to speak to him, it is very difficult in a sort of busy café but he had what appeared to be a tight story at the time and he stuck with it for quite some time and the allegations were extraordinary. They were the most extraordinary set of allegations I’d ever heard. He talked about not just child abuse but also violence abuse towards children, not just him but others, and also eventually, allegations of murder and extraordinary though the allegations were, he initially provided enough circumstantial evidence for me to think that I’d got to go off and have a look at this.

Al: Sure, so just tell me what he said specifically about Harvey Proctor.

Mark Conrad: So, with Harvey Proctor, he named him on the very first day I met him, so the very first meeting that day, which began at Selfridges, he named the three senior military figures and then he moved on to some extraordinary allegations against politicians and I think Harvey Proctor was either the first or the second name of a politician that he gave me. 

Ceri: And there was a real worry at the time in the BBC newsroom, and I know other newsrooms too, that places like Exaro were the future.  

Al: Yes, I think that’s true, I think that places like the BBC were being portrayed particularly on this stuff as too cautious, too slow and ponderous and Exaro were nimble and they were brave, that was what they were portraying and saying and they were getting readership. Of course, for them, that was attractive. 

Mark Conrad: To be blunt, this came from the editor, this need to be seen to be at the forefront of this story the whole time, to be ahead of everybody else and there were definitely occasions when Exaro, I think, put material into the public domain that wasn’t ready to be in the public domain, that we later dismissed but it was too late. 

Al: That’s a pretty alarming thing to say, isn’t it, when it’s somebody’s reputation there?

Mark Conrad: Yes, absolutely, yes. 

Ceri: So, what’s fascinating looking back now, and we didn’t know this at the time, was that Exaro had done some of the same work that you’d done but they’d come up with a really different set of conclusions at the end of it.

Al: Yes, it’s been very interesting for me talking to Mark Conrad to realise that as we were investigating, we were in the same place sometimes…

Al: But hang on. You’ve got, you’ve got, you’ve got, I’m just, just, just testing this, you know, you’ve got a guy saying, I saw a kid murdered in broad daylight in the high street in South West London. And, uh, I was frequently out of school and the rest of it. Very quickly it could be established that that was, you know, I would say, you know, more than highly unlikely to not, to not be true. So that is a serious dent in that guy’s credibility.

Mark Conrad: Yep, and we did that work.

Al: But, but, but did you ever challenge him about that? Did you ever say, so “I don’t think this is true”. You said that to him?

Mark Conrad: I went back to him and said, look, we found no evidence of this. And of course his story at the time was, well, of course you haven’t, you know, it’s been covered up. Um, but I’d gone door to door in the area. I’d done all the newspaper clippings checks. I’d sat in the British Library and archives down in Kingston…

Al: And yet you’re still prepared or the, or Exaro was still prepared to keep running stuff. Accusing Harvey Proctor and others of murder. 

Mark Conrad: Well no, I’m gonna stop you there Alistair because Exaro never accused Harley Proctor of murder.

Al: Well, they ran the testimony of the guy that did…

Mark Conrad: Yes, indeed. As did every newspaper in the country.

Al: Yeah. yeah.

Mark Conrad: As did the BBC.

Al: Yes. 

The press – or sections of it anyway – had started behaving in the way the police were behaving: they’d given up on evidence.

Mark Conrad: You’ve got to keep taking a step back and you’ve got to keep asking yourself “What evidence do we have here?” and keep challenging the evidence and, looking back, there was a point at Exaro when that was not happening enough. 

Throughout that spring, from January to March 2015, the momentum behind Carl Beech’s story ratcheted up and by the day that Harvey Proctor’s house was raided by the police, there was almost a frenzy. And it wasn’t only his door they knocked on that morning. 

Lord Bramhall: “My wife, who was terminally ill, we were in the kitchen having breakfast and two police came to the door, so I said ‘How nice to see you, come along in’ and I said, ‘How can I help you?’”
Sophie Raworth: “…Lord Bramall, one of Britain’s most decorated soldiers, told the BBC he was mystified when police raided his home in Surrey…”

BBC News report on Operation Midland 

On that very same morning the police were at the house of the former home secretary Leon Brittan. He’d died just two months earlier, knowing that he was under investigation. So his wife Diana was left to deal with all this.

Lady Brittan: “They neither told me what it was, for what operation it was, they didn’t tell me the nature of the allegations, they came with a search warrant which said the items that they were going to look for…”

Lady Brittan speaking about Operation Midland

Ceri: I think it’s worth dwelling a bit, Al, on what these raids on Lord Bramall and Lady Brittan’s homes mean and what they tell us because the point is, with the best will in the world, Harvey Proctor was a nobody when all this happened. He hadn’t been an MP for more than 25 years, he’d been overseeing fetes and steam engine rallies and sort of Son et Lumiere shows at Belvoir Castle. But Lord and Lady Bramall and Brittan, they’re in a different category. The former head of the UK’s Armed Forces and the widow of the former home secretary… it looked as if the police were really getting stuck into the establishment. 

Al: Absolutely, and of course that was the thing that they were most afraid of, was being accused of not wanting to go there, to people like this, a former senior military figure, a former home secretary. If you are going to show that you’re not afraid to go there, who better than two people like this? But then when you looked at their circumstances – Leon Brittan dying of cancer, Lord Bramall’s wife with dementia – and yet they still searched them, it tells you what the Met wanted you to know, is that they were going to go there regardless, I think.

Ceri: Without fear or favour, they would have said. 

Al: Without fear or favour was the phrase, yes. 

***

Lady Brittain: I sort of couldn’t get my head round the fact of what they were doing because you are in a state of sort of animated shock and I couldn’t even say why are you here, I couldn’t say this is not a legal search warrant because of course you can’t do a search warrant for somebody who is dead. I was just frozen to the spot and I was frozen to the spot most of the day. I couldn’t go round the house while they did it because I couldn’t bear to do so, so I sat looking through the letters of condolence and tried to reply to some of them.

Al: Whilst the police were searching the house?

Lady Brittain: While the police were searching the house. I was just, I was totally alone, I didn’t really know how to deal with it, I had no experience of this sort of thing. A major criminal allegation against somebody, my beloved husband who had just died. 

Lord Bramhall: I sat there while the police were there and they said, well allegations have been made. I said, “oh really, against who?” They said, “against you”. So, I said, “what allegations?” Well, all they would tell me and all they would tell me for two months was that 40 years ago I had abused, unspecified, an underage male. That was all they would say.

Al: What sort of time in the morning was this? Early morning was this? About ten o’clock in the morning did you say?

Lord Bramhall: Nine o’clock. And at that moment, and they said we have a warrant to search your house and within a few minutes, 20 policemen came in and for ten hours they took everything apart. 

Al: Ten hours? And what did you have to do during that time yourself? Just watch it?

Lord Bramhall: Move my wife around in a wheelchair to get her out of the thing. She kept on saying, “have I done something?” She was fairly far gone, “Have I done something wrong?” I said “no, you haven’t done any wrong.” My daughter was here and she got at… how many children, how many grandchildren did I have, how many great-grandchildren and had she ever seen me alone with them. I mean the whole thing was absolutely monstrous. 

Al: You’re laughing about it now but I mean that’s a question to your daughter that’s incredibly…

Lord Bramhall: Awful. 

Al: …awful for her to think about. 

Lord Bramhall: She said they were quite polite but you know, they were dreadful questions… 

***

Ceri: I don’t know what you thought at the time, but once in a while you’d step back and you’d look at the range of people who were caught up in this whole Operation Midland investigation and it was really hard not to wonder if there weren’t some other agendas being played out there.

Al: I think that’s right, I think you were left looking for reasons. It was only natural to try to do that and then you start to look at the names and you think, well Harvey Proctor’s gay, Leon Brittan is a high-profile Jewish politician, Lord Bramall the very epitome of an establishment figure, so you’re starting – and I was certainly starting to think is that the reason these allegations are being made? Some homophobia, some anti-Semitism, anti-establishment feelings? And when that comes into your mind, you start to wonder whether the police are, for whatever reason, prepared to be accomplices to those types of prejudices. 

We don’t know how the police thought their way through all those ethical and moral dilemmas; we don’t really know if they thought about them very much at all. Officially, all we got was a lot of talk about pursuing their investigations without fear or favour and in the end, whatever they thought, whether they had qualms or not, the raids on Lord Bramall’s home and Lady Brittan’s, went ahead on the same day that 40 police officers raided Harvey Proctor’s cottage and his mind went back to the scandal that had wrecked his career as an MP nearly 30 years earlier. 

Harvey Proctor: One of the things I was talking to the police about, knowing what had happened in 1987, was “is my name going to get into the media?” I was advised that it would not. And so, when the police left at eleven o’clock, having had the police in my house for 15 hours, I was obviously upset, I was concerned, I knew I hadn’t done anything but I wasn’t sure quite which way this was going. I made myself a cup of tea and a sandwich because I hadn’t eaten during the day and I went to bed with the television on. 

Mark Conrad: The editor’s view was this had cleared the public interest bar now for naming this individual as somebody who’d had his home searched.

This is Mark Conrad again from the news agency, Exaro. 

Mark Conrad: Not naming him as somebody we think committed these crimes but as somebody who had had his home searched, but of course there’s a problem with that isn’t there? It gets you past the legal threshold for publication, there is a public interest in doing that, there’s a public interest argument you can make – I’m not saying it is necessarily the one that you go for – but in my view it was inevitable therefore, once we’d named him, that people would begin to think the allegations might be true and I think, looking back, that was a mistake to name Harvey Proctor at that point. 

Ceri: Were you against it at the time?

Mark Conrad: I wasn’t… a lot of people ask me this, I wasn’t either for it or against it. We had a really detailed discussion about …

Ceri: You must have had an opinion. You are about to put a guy’s name into the public domain, accused of three murders, based on the account of a guy that you’ve interviewed at length and taken to the police.

Mark Conrad: Yes.

Ceri: You must have had a view on it.

Mark Conrad: Well, I didn’t take him to the police but …

Ceri: Well, sorry, you went to the police with it, I’m not …

Mark Conrad: Well, I expressed it in just those terms. At the meeting on that day of the police searches, that’s exactly how I put it and I was reminding people, this is serious stuff now, we’re getting to the point where if you put people’s names into the public domain, we have to have a very good reason to do so.

Harvey Proctor: I went to bed with the television on. At seven o’clock the next morning, I woke up to see my face on BBC News, looking down at me in bed. 

Fiona Bruce: “Police investigating alleged child sexual abuse by establishment figures in the 1970s and 80s, have raided the home of a former Conservative MP. Officers searched Harvey Proctor’s house near Grantham early yesterday morning. He has denied involvement in any paedophile ring...”

Reporter: “For years he’s lived quietly on a country estate in Leicestershire. Today, Harvey Proctor, former MP…

News clips on Operation Midland

Harvey Proctor: So, my partner, Terry, and I had a discussion about what to do about it and my instinct was to say least said soonest mended, say nothing, keep well away. Terry and I had a ten-minute conversation about it and he said, well it didn’t do much good last time. And I paused on that, considered that and decided, okay, I’ll give it a go, I’ll ring the BBC, the Today Programme, and say do they want to interview me, fully believing one, I’d would never get through to the Today Programme and two, if I did, they would not wish to interview me. Well, I did get through to them …

Harvey Proctor: “I have not been part of any “rent boy ring” with cabinet ministers, other Members of Parliament or generals or the military.”
James Naughtie: “Looking back at that period, after you first came into the Commons, which is the period we’re talking about, very late 70s into the 80s, were you ever aware yourself that there was paedophilia or the sexual abuse of young people? Did you ever have reason to believe that that was going on in an organised way, even if you weren’t part of it?”
Harvey Proctor: “Absolutely not, no and if I’d have known about it at the time, I would have contacted the police.”
James Naughtie: “Let me just ask one final thing. We are presumably correct in assuming that you will assist the police to the best of your ability in this matter?”
Harvey Proctor: “The police wish to interview me, they talked in terms of that interview taking place in a matter of weeks. I asked for that interview to take place at the earliest opportunity.”

Harvey Proctor on the BBC Today programme, 2015

With all the allegations about him that were swirling around and after not many hours sleep to recover from the police raid the day before, I can’t think of any lawyer who would have advised Harvey Proctor that it was a good idea to do a live interview, it was probably borderline reckless and all the more so because of one massive missing piece of the jigsaw – he still didn’t know exactly what Carl Beech had said he’d done – and he wouldn’t find that out for another two months when he was about to be interviewed by the police.

Harvey Proctor: Three days before, I’d been given a police document upon which the interview in June was going to be based. My solicitors, who were based in Leicester, invited me to their office so that I could read the document in their presence… because they were fearful if they emailed it to me of how I might react. 

Al: In terms of what you might do to yourself?

Harvey Proctor: I think though that’s true… 

What that document made clear for the first time is that Harvey Proctor wasn’t accused of being an ordinary member of the extraordinary VIP paedophile ring, he was the most vicious of all. Carl Beech said he’d seen, with his own eyes, Harvey Proctor commit two murders. The stakes had been raised yet again and that question which keeps coming round in his life, to fight or to hunker down, that’s coming right back at him. 

Pariah is produced by Hannah Varrall. The sound design is by Karla Patella. It’s written by me, Ceri Thomas, and by Alistair Jackson. 

Next in this file

The high wire

The high wire

For the second time in his life, Harvey Proctor was being battered by a storm of dreadful allegations. His lawyers advised a safety-first approach. He had other ideas

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