Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Keith Vaz

The Blair Years Part Six

Colman's Column3Sleaze and Achievements

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Much of the reason for the voters’ distaste for the Major administration was because of the “sleaze factor” but the new administration itself became besmirched in its very first year. Labour had pledged to ban tobacco advertising. Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone had donated a million pounds to the Labour Party and this came to look like a bribe when health minister Tessa Jowell, who was fiercely anti-tobacco, was forced to argue the case for exempting Formula One from tobacco advertising restrictions. Blair apologized and the money was returned but it was later proved that he lied about the timing of decisions in this matter.

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The Hinduja Foundation is back in the news after promising to contribute £3.5m to the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Back in 2000 the Hinduja Brothers donated £ one million to the Millennium Project and brought about the resignation of Peter Mandelson in their quest for British citizenship. The Hinduja passport applications also affected Keith Vaz, a junior minister for Europe, whose wife ran a company that advised on applications for British citizenship, which had received money from the Hinduja Foundation.

Elizabeth Filkin, who was Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards between February 1999 and 2002, was subject to a venomous whispering campaign and one political reporter was told she was a “mad alcoholic”. Filkin resigned in December 2002, complaining about the “quite remarkable” vitriol from the Labour MPs she investigated, including Geoffrey Robinson and Keith Vaz.  Vaz is known to Sri Lankans as an LTTE sympathiser and is, as I write, again under a cloud following allegations relating to rent boys and drugs.

Lord Cashpoint

One of the consequences of Blair’s “success” in getting rid of Clause IV was that the trade unions, who had once been the mainstay of Labour Party finances, were no longer inclined to be so generous with funding. New Labour had an enduring problem raising enough cash with which to fight elections. It was alleged that Lord Levy (formerly a pop music entrepreneur whose stable included Alvin Stardust and Chris Rea) was tasked with raising funds for the party and was offering knighthoods and peerages in return. Levy became known as Lord Cashpoint.

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Blair himself was interviewed by police. He and the Labour party were not exonerated from acting illegally. The decision of the Crown Prosecution Service not to proceed was made solely on the basis of a lack of evidence and an assessment of the likelihood of a conviction. Some of the police officers involved in the inquiry claim there was political pressure applied to them and that some of the politicians interviewed were less than helpful.

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Messiah, Mafia and Porn King

Broken Vows is a recent illuminating (although not beyond criticism) biography of Tony Blair by Tom Bower. Bower also wrote a biography of someone whose support Blair sought – Richard Desmond, proprietor of the Daily Express newspaper.  In 1982, Desmond’s company, Northern & Shell, began to publish the UK edition of the soft-porn magazine Penthouse, including Forum (for which Alistair Campbell once wrote). The company soon moved on to publishing a range of adult (sic) titles, including Asian BabesBig Ones, Eros, Horny Housewives, Only 18 and Mothers-in-Law.

John Sweeney wrote in the London Observer in May 2001 that Desmond had made a deal in 1991 for running advertisements in his “adult” titles for telephone sex lines run by Richard Martino of the Gambino crime family. In October 1992, Desmond’s then managing director, Philip Bailey, had a Taser applied to his testicles in New York as an explicit threat to Desmond himself. Desmond hired James Brown, a convicted criminal, as his bodyguard. An associate of Brown’s has claimed that bags containing £2 million were delivered to an Italian restaurant in Soho, London, to settle the issue with the Gambinos

Blair’s interest in this model citizen was sparked by Desmond’s acquisition of the Express. Blair invited Desmond to meet him at Number 10.  Desmond claimed to be a socialist and donated £100,000 to the Labour Party. Blair did not know that Desmond had also contributed to the Conservative Party and had ordered the editor of his pornographic magazine Readers’ Wives to “put Cherie Blair on the front cover”. Stupidly, Labour spent £120,000 (more than the size of Desmond’s donation) on buying campaign adverts in Desmond’s papers.

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Mandelson, Blunkett

Peter Mandelson was renowned for his manipulative Machiavellian skills but had a tin ear about his own actions. He bought a home in 1996, partly with an interest-free loan of £373,000 from Geoffrey Robinson, a cabinet colleague and millionaire whose business dealings were subject to an inquiry by Mandelson’s own department. Mandelson failed to declare the loan in the Register of Members’ Interests, or to his building society. He did not believe he had done anything wrong but his evasions embarrassed the prime minister who persuaded him to resign in in December 1998.  He came back to the Cabinet after ten months. In October 1999, he was appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. On 24 January 2001, Mandelson resigned for a second time, following his involvement in the Hinduja passport scandal.

David Blunkett resigned as Home Secretary on 15 December 2004 after allegations that he helped fast-track the renewal of a work permit for his ex-lover’s nanny. Following the 2005 general election Blunkett was returned to the cabinet as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. He was ousted again because of a directorship in a company proposing to bid for government contracts to provide paternity tests to the Child Support Agency (CSA) – part of his department.

Caplingate

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Although Blair used the media relentlessly for his own ends, Mrs Blair resented intrusions of privacy and did not try to hide her contempt, which was reciprocated by the press. Cherie had asked her “lifestyle advisor”, Carole Caplin, to find her property in which to invest in Bristol where her son was going to university.

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Caplin’s boyfriend, Peter Foster, helped to find two flats and got a discount of £40,000 by mentioning the Blairs. Foster had been convicted in Australia of fraud. Cherie lied to Blair about this and the lies were passed on to the press, causing the prime minister great embarrassment.

Carole Caplin and Peter Foster in grabs from BBC documnetary called " The Conman, his Lover and the Prime Minister's Wife " 15/02/03 for paul

Carole Caplin and Peter Foster 

Achievements

Despite the sleaze and the disappointments, Blair did transform the Labour Party and presided over three consecutive general election victories, a feat which had eluded every previous Labour leader. The UK did generally become a more comfortable place to be after ten years of Blair. New Labour adopted the EU social chapter, introduced a minimum wage, reduced child poverty, shifted state aid from the middle class, increased taxes on the better-off, concentrated considerable resources into deprived areas and used windfall profits from the privatised utilities to create job and training opportunities. A five-year homelessness strategy was effective. Government figures published in 2005 showed homelessness acceptances had fallen by nearly 7,000 on the previous year.

I cannot do justice here to Blair’s impressive achievement on Northern Ireland. I recommend two books by people who followed the process step by painful step. Deaglán de Bréadún was Political Correspondent with the Irish Times. His daily coverage of the negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland was published in a book, The Far Side of Revenge: Making Peace in Northern Ireland which is essential reading. In Great Hatred, Little Room, Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff, gives an insider’s account.

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Blair’s success with Northern Ireland was due to his faults as well as his strengths. He was determined to look at Northern Ireland afresh, free from the received wisdom of his predecessors. Ignorance and naivete were assets in this case, helping him to resolve a situation that history seemed to have made intractable. It was a tribute to Blair’s doggedness, communication skills, resilience and creativity that he persuaded Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness not only to govern together but even to become friends. McGuinness wept when Paisley died.

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Michael Burleigh adds the caveat about the Northern Ireland triumph: “Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell … were surely influenced by their triumph amid the steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone to scale up to the mosques of Basra, Baghdad and Ramadi?”

 

Next week – Blair’s later career.

Greville Janner

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday April 21 2015 under the heading “Cowardly and Wicked” (accompanied by a picture of Lord Longford rather than Lord Janner).

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/51-90502-news-detail-cowardly-and-wicked.html

“Cowardly and wicked”  were the words used by Keith Vaz MP in 1991 to describe the allegations against Greville Janner.

Colman's Column3

Keith Vaz is chair of the Commons home affairs select committee. Vaz 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.

Lord Janner Will not Stand Trial.

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Baron Janner of Braunstone is a prominent ex-barrister, aged 86, widowed with three children. As Greville Janner, he represented Leicester West as a Labour MP for almost 30 years. Janner is also a former president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and he has been prominent in the field of education about the Holocaust.  He was President of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Anti-Semitism, and chaired the All-Party Britain-Israel Parliamentary Group. He co-founded (along with Prince Hassan of Jordan) the Coexistence Trust, a charity to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

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After retiring from the House of Commons in 1997, he became a life peer. Janner was a member of the Magic Circle. One of his few subsequent forays into the public eye came in 2002, when Uri Geller, a friend, arranged for him to accompany Michael Jackson and David Blaine on a tour of Parliament. Lord Janner was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009 and now requires round-the-clock care for his dementia.

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The UK Crown Prosecution Service said on 16 April 2015 that Janner would not be tried for sexual offences against children. Alison Saunders, the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions), said that because of Janner’s dementia a trial would not be in the public interest.

In statement issued through lawyers, Janner’s family said he is entirely innocent of any wrongdoing. “As the Crown Prosecution Service indicated today, this decision does not mean or imply that any of the allegations that have been made are established or that Lord Janner is guilty of any offence”.

In 1995, the DPP decided not to try Szymon Serafinowicz, a retired carpenter from Surrey, under the War Crimes Act in connection with murders of three Jewish people during the Second World War because of his dementia. Janner condemned the DPP’s decision. “I don’t care what bloody age they are,” he told The Jewish Chronicle. “These criminals should have been dealt with years ago.”

The Faulds File

I remember Andrew Faulds from my childhood. He played  Captain Jet Morgan in Journey into Space on the radio in the 1950s. He had already been a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1948. He was Labour Member of Parliament for the Smethwick constituency from 1966 until his retirement in 1997. When he  died in 2000 at the age of 77, Michael White, in his Guardian obituary described Faulds as “unmistakably loud and thespian… a man of deeply-held passions…who lacked either the patience or the subtlety to do effective justice to those concerns at Westminster.”

 

Shortly before retiring, he created an archive of the paperwork he had accrued during three decades in Parliament and lodged it at the library of the London School of Economics. Among the 263 boxes,  is a four-page leaflet published by a group which called itself ‘Concerned Leicester Parents’ and  a 24-page booklet, which claimed on its cover to reveal: ‘How people in high places covered-up for a Parliamentary paedophile’.

Janner and Frank Beck

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From 1994 to 1997, I worked at the Department of Health as a policy advisor to ministers on child protection. Someone I often met at Home Office meetings was Alison Saunders, who is now Director of Public Prosecutions.

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One of my colleagues spent a great deal of his time on the Frank Beck case. Beck was an officer-in-charge of several children’s homes in Leicester during the 1970s and 1980s. Beck died in prison in June 1994. He had been  convicted at Leicester Crown Court in November 1991 of 17 charges of sexual and physical abuse of boys and girls including rape, buggery, indecent assault and assault and sentenced to five life terms. My colleague had a very fat file of correspondence in which members of the public made serious and credible allegations against Greville Janner that connected him with Frank Beck.

Indeed, Janner’s name came up during Beck’s trial. One witness, who had previously said he had had a two-year sexual relationship with Janner, named the politician as one of his abusers. The jury was told the claims were a “red-herring” and irrelevant. In 1991, during the investigation leading to Beck’s trial, a man, Paul Winston,  alleged he had been groomed by Janner from the age of 13. Janner’s only police interview took place that year at a police station in Leicester. He attended with his solicitor and gave “no comment” answers. The CPS advised there was insufficient evidence to charge.

Closing Ranks

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In 1991, the House of Commons rallied to Janner’s defence. That scourge of Sri Lanka, Labour’s Keith Vaz, a fellow Leicester MP, rose to deplore the “cowardly and wicked” slur on a “distinguished” colleague. The majority of the MPs who spoke in Janner’s defence were Conservatives.

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Jay Rayner was a young freelancer in 1991 trying to do a story on Janner’s connection with Beck. He now recalls the wall of silence he encountered. He writes that Vaz is happy to castigate the Home Office over its handling of the current investigation into child abuse. Rayner tweeted Vaz to ask his views on the DPP decision. Vaz blocked him.

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Blair made Janner a life peer in 1997 – after the credible allegations mad against him in 1991.

 

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During Operation Magnolia in 2002, another Leicestershire Police inquiry, residents of a care home made further  allegations against Janner. Police decided to take no action against him.

During Operation Dauntless in 2007, an individual made complaints about serious sexual assault against three people, including Janner, over incidents alleged to have taken place in 1981. The CPS ruled there was insufficient evidence. Mick Creedon, now chief constable of Derbyshire police, but then a detective sergeant on the Beck case, told the Times last year that he and colleagues wanted to charge Janner but senior officers ordered him to neither arrest Janner nor search his London flat.

Anti-Semitism

A website connected with neo-Nazi groups has  been publicising the Janner case. They will no doubt exploit Janner’s activities for anti-Semitic purposes. For many years, bloggers campaigning against paedophiles in high places have been pointing out the fact that Janner and Leon Brittan are Jewish.

Jewish friends have described to me their own encounters with Janner. One said, he was so “galled by his pomposity and unmistakable air of the huckster that I distanced myself from his causes. I did not want this creep speaking for me”. He went on to say that he was frustrated by the fact that Janner seemed to be above criticism on the left and among Jewish activists. “I was shot down…for daring to express my strongly-held view that he was a wrong-un”.

Innocent until Proved Guilty?

In statement issued through lawyers, Janner’s family said he is entirely innocent of any wrongdoing. “As the Crown Prosecution Service indicated today, this decision does not mean or imply that any of the allegations that have been made are established or that Lord Janner is guilty of any offence”.

I have often written against witch hunts, vigilantism and smearing by unsubstantiated rumours. As Lord McAlpine said: “There is nothing as bad as this that you can do to people. Because they [paedophiles] are quite rightly figures of public hatred. And suddenly to find yourself a figure of public hatred, unjustifiably, is terrifying “. It is possibly worse to be falsely accused when you are someone with few resources. Dawn Reed and Christopher Lillie were cleared by a court but they lived in fear of their lives when the Sun whipped up a lynch mob.

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/the-persecution-of-lillie-and-reed/

CPS lawyers spent nine months studying evidence gathered by Leicestershire police’s Operation Enamel. Detectives approached more than 2,000 potential witnesses and interviewed more than 25 men who claim Janner abused them when they were children in care. Some of them told police about extreme sadistic behaviour, involving the use of blindfolds and restraints.

Credible Allegations

DPP Alison Saunders has stated publicly and clearly that both the CPS and Leicestershire police were at fault for the failure of previous inquiries. The CPS statement conceded that Janner, while “in a position of authority and trust as the local MP for Leicester West”, befriended the manager (Frank Beck) of a children’s care home to allow him access to children.

In some cases, the CPS decides there is not sufficient evidence to take a case to court. Ms Saunders said quite clearly that her office had decided that there WAS SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE for  Janner  to stand trial on 22 sex offences against children. He would have been charged with 14 indecent assaults on a male under 16 between 1969 and 1988; two indecent assaults between 1984 and 1988; four counts of buggery of a male under 16 between 1972 and 1987; and two counts of buggery between 1977 and 1988.

DPP Criticised

Leicestershire police took the unusual step of issuing a statement saying they might challenge the DPP’s decision in the courts, possibly calling for a Judicial Review. Sir Clive Loader, Leicestershire Police and Crime Commissioner, a Conservative, said the decision was “not just wrong” but “wholly perverse” and “contrary to any notion of natural justice”. The Assistant Chief Constable of Leicestershire feared that other victims would be dissuaded from coming forward. “

Victims and their families are also exploring avenues of redress through civil proceedings now that there criminal proceedings have been ruled out. Liz Dux, of Slater & Gordon solicitors, said the 25 alleged victims could claim for up to £100,000 each. She said: “If they are successful, damages could be very sizeable.”

One victim said: “Let someone feel the pain and suffering that I’ve endured and am still going to endure for the rest of my life. It’s not a case of being found guilty or going to prison – it’s about being believed after so long being told we were lying. Justice needs to be served.”

hamish Baillie

Hamish Baillie, one of Janner’s victims.

The Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who used parliamentary privilege to be the first to publicly  name the Liberal MP Cyril Smith as a paedophile, said Janner should be stripped of his peerage. (Danczuk‘s relentless efforts on behalf of his constituents forced the reluctant Sri Lankan authorities to take action against a thuggish local politician who murdered a British tourist and raped his girlfriend.) “This terrible decision is bringing the whole justice system into disrepute and will be devastating news to the alleged victims.”

DPP Defended

The evidential test prosecutors must apply before a criminal charge is laid has been passed. This evidential test was also passed in the three previous police investigations but the CPS failed to charge Janner. Many have condemned the DPP’s decision  on the grounds that  Janner could have been put before a court where his fitness to stand trial could be assessed by experts publicly in front of the trial judge. One   lawyer defended the decision. She told me: “She has had the guts to make a difficult and unpopular decision. The right to a fair trial is enshrined in the European Convention on Human rights .Inability to follow proceedings or instruct lawyers will prevent a fair trial. The DPP has had four medical reports saying that he is not fit to stand trial.  There would be no benefit in bring Janner before a court when the judge’s decision would be the same as hers. Indeed it would be regarded as an abuse of the process of the court ”.

Julie MacLusky

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