The acquittal following a nine-day trial of former child actor Ben Fellows on 30th July 2015 by a jury at the Old Bailey on charges of perverting the course of justice, has left a great many questions for Establishment figures to answer.
Overall reporting of the acquittal in national media has been notably muted, certainly compared with the sensationalist coverage of the claims in the early days of the trial that Fellows was a “fantasist”.
Blogging on the very day of the acquittal, barrister Matthew Scott seeks to persuade the public that the jury acquitted Fellows not because they believed his assertions about being genitally groped in 1994 by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kenneth Clarke (still the MP for Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire) in the office of lobbying firm Ian Greer Associates, but that they perhaps instead acquitted him because they believed that he sincerely believed that this happened.
Also quick to clarify his position in public after the acquittal was Exaro News (and former Guardian) investigative journalist David Hencke, who stands by his earlier articles ridiculing Fellows. Hencke had told the court that as a then consultant to the Cook Report (the most important investigative programme on British TV in the 1980s and 1990s), he had no recollection of Fellows having made any such claim at the time, or of having seen any such footage in the Cook Report archive. Roger Cook himself took the stand to assert the same.
The question now must be why the coverage of the acquittal – and of the detail of Fellows’ claims – has been so disproportionately small in comparison to the coverage of Clarke’s insistence in court that the claims were “off the Richter scale” and “like Martians landing”. To seek to answer this, we must look at the context of three years: 1994, 2012-13 and 2015.
The 1994 Background
By 1994, John Major’s Conservative government was widely perceived to be a lame duck, if not a dead one. The 1992 election had been a surprise Tory win; in 1993 Major disastrously launched his “Back to Basics” morality crusade despite widespread knowledge of extramarital affairs among his Cabinet ministers (and, as is now known, despite his own affair with Edwina Currie). By 1994, the British national press was giving great play to allegations known as “Cash for Questions”, in which Cabinet ministers and other political heavyweights were alleged to be taking bribes to guarantee lobbyists that their issues would be raised in Parliament without having to go through the usual route of writing to local MPs, to forward the correspondence to ministers.
It was in this context that the Cook Report, according to Ben Fellows, hired him (then an 18-year-old who was asked to say he was a 15-year-old), and older actor Richard Jeffs, to play a businessman. Equipped with hidden cameras, the pair would go into the offices of lobbyists Ian Greer Associates, and would try to hand over cash from their “Russian clients”, in return for Greer having parliamentary questions asked.
Guardianlies.com website takes a penetrating look at the whys and wherefores of the whole “Cash for Questions” allegations. The title of the website is perhaps self-explanatory.
The 2012-13 background
One of Fellows’ earliest and fullest descriptions of what was done to him in 1994, and of how he was threatened in 2013 after talking about it, is given in an interview with Bill Maloney of Pie and Mash Films (51 minutes). As Fellows states in that interview, the first time that he mentioned his childhood abuse publicly as an adult was in an article for 21st Century Wire in 2012, followed by other media statements in November and December that year – the timeframe that was later specified when Fellows was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice. Also of significant interest are the following two videos:
Footage taken by Fellows in his own home of a police interview (1 hour) with him in 2013, part of Operation Fairbank (supposedly the Metropolitan Police investigation into “historical” child sexual abuse in Westminster), reveals that he is told a number of bizarre things, including that the police want to question him, but not in their capacity as police. The police subsequently announced that Fellows’ testimony had not been believed and he was later prosecuted. This video is known on YouTube as the Kengate Ben Fellows police tape.
Footage of Maloney repeatedly asking disgraced PR supremo Max Clifford (on Clifford’s way into court and back out again) why he supplied the 13-year-old Ben Fellows to Peter Stringfellow’s club, where cocaine was supplied to him, and why Clifford gave fellow child actor Charlie Nash £6,000, is a revealing nine-minute clip (not least for the number of mainstream journalists who can be heard and seen responding to Maloney's words and exchanging contact details with him afterwards). This footage is also from 2013, in which year Fellows fled Britain for Lanzarote, before being arrested on his return at Birmingham International Airport in December 2014, by West Midlands Police at the request of the Metropolitan Police.
The 2015 Trial
The above is all necessary background to understanding the trial, which shamefully was not covered by national media in any detail, but which was covered decently by two alternative news sources: the Tap Blog in writing and IFN News in video reportage in which IFN News is joined by Deborah Williams of the Kent Freedom Movement, who also followed the trial in court. The salient details reported from court by these sources may help answer the question of why the reporting on Regina v. Fellows has been so muted about the acquittal and since. (Exaro News, whose David Hencke testified in the trial, also produced a stream of near-live tweets of courtroom developments.) Tap Blog noted in its post-acquittal report that the prosecution offered no material evidence and that Ben Fellows was able to defend himself successfully using only documentary evidence and his mother’s testimony.
On Day 2 of the trial, the opening testimony given to prosecuting barrister Duncan Atkinson was by Sylvia Young. The Sylvia Young Theatre School in Marylebone has for decades had a high profile as the nation’s most prominent trainer of child stars. Young denied even knowing Fellows and said he had certainly never trained at her school as a minor. She insisted that there had “absolutely not” been any complaints of abuse of which she had heard.
It was then time for Young to be cross-examined by the defending QC, Bernard Richmond (who started out in pre-trial preparation telling Fellows impassively that as a Legal Aid-funded silk he was merely going to do his job, but who later came to strongly believe in Fellows’ case, and even ad-libbed his impassioned summing-up). He produced more than twenty documents that Fellows’ adoptive mother Stephanie (a secretary at a legal practice) had archived. These included an acceptance letter for Ben to study at the school as a child actor and receipts for fees paid by Stephanie. At this, Young said that she must have been “mistaken”. IFN News court reporters assessed Stephanie Fellows as a reliable witness and a careful person with good record-keeping habits.
Also taking the stand on Day 2 was Jack Malvern, a prominent Times journalist of long standing, who had met Fellows at a hotel in Greenwich to hear his accusations and had subsequently (as he said in his testimony) satisfied himself merely from Internet research that Fellows must be lying, including about his age at the time of the alleged incident.
Finally, three former senior employees of Ian Greer Associates testified, reportedly contradicting each other on details, but all strongly denying that IGA had never had business or dealings with Clarke of any kind. The only one of them named by alternative news reporters is Jeremy Sweeney.
On Day 3, the figure of Clarke came more into focus. Both Tap Blog and IFN News report this day’s evidence for the prosecution as having been riddled with confusing contradictions.
Hencke, reportedly nervous on the stand to the extent that he giggled and knocked over his water, backed the prosecution’s insistence that Clarke did not grope Fellows. His testimony also appeared to include an insistence that he knew where every man’s hands had been in relation to every other man’s body during the office encounter!
Sylvia Jones, at the time of the allegations a researcher for the Cook Report, contradicted Fellows’ insistence that he walked alone to Greer’s office by testifying that she accompanied him as a chaperone out of a “duty of care”, and waited on the pavement outside while the transaction was secretly recorded inside. Her demeanour struck both of the alternative media reporting teams in court as inconsistent, by turns domineering and flummoxed.
She vehemently denied that Fellows had been hired as “eye candy” for the operation, insisting that he was not physically attractive enough, and was equally vehement that the operation was “not a honey trap”. She spoke at great length about how she had selected Fellows for the role of the businessman’s junior assistant in the sting operation, although it concerned IFN News court reporters that she made no mention of ever having had any other young actor in mind for the role and had a “disturbing” amount of control over whom to cast on Central Television (then known as Carlton and run at the time by one David Cameron).
According to Jones, Fellows was hired because the actor playing the senior business client, Jeffs, knew Fellows’ mother from work. Jones went to great lengths in her testimony to insist that she had briefed Fellows to be well aware that he would be “dealing with homosexuals” in this sting operation. The sum of cash for consultancy fees with which Jones sent the teenage Fellows into Greer’s office was mentioned by one of the former IGA senior employees as £2,000, by another as £3,000, and finally another said that it had been £5,000 (in 1994 money). Despite this huge amount of money having been entrusted to a teenager for an evidence-gathering operation of national interest, Jones testified that she had never viewed the secretly-recorded footage from the briefcase afterwards. (In his own testimony, Fellows said that he had told Jeffs and the whole crew about having been groped by Clarke on the day that it happened, and that “it was never mentioned again”.)
It is very significant to a proper understanding of her testimony that Jones also used to be the crime correspondent for the Daily Mirror, and that Clarke, as Home Secretary (1992-93) and Chancellor of the Exchequer (1993-97), was a prized source of hers. In fact, Jones testified that she had interviewed Clarke several times and had known him for a long time in both a personal capacity and a professional capacity, having already shown by her whole testimony that she was highly protective of anyone in her vicinity.
On Day 4, a frail and elderly Ian Greer appeared by video link from South Africa, where he now resides. After initiating sexual banter with prosecuting barrister Duncan Atkinson (“I can now see you in your full glory” … “Mr Greer, you’re the first person to say that to me in 27 years”) while the link was being set up, Greer contradicted the prosecution testimonies of the previous two days by saying that he perfectly well recalled Fellows’ visit to his office.
He described Fellows’ physical appearance in detail. Fellows’ double act with Jeffs had been convincing enough, he said, that his “gaydar” had registered them from their mannerisms as a homosexual couple. (Note here that Fellows had been told emphatically by Jones that he was going into a homosexual environment and also that he had been told to say loud and clear, at the social stage of “guesting” the clients through to the apartment, that he was fifteen years old. In other words, Greer did not bat an eyelid at being approached by a client who ostensibly had a sexual relationship with his own fifteen-year-old employee.)
He again contradicted his own former senior employees and Jones, by testifying that what had passed between Jeffs/Fellows and his team was not cash (which had been described in such contradictory detail in the previous day’s evidence), but rather a contract and discussion of a further business relationship. Not only that, but by being frank about having encountered Fellows and having well registered his physical appearance, Greer contradicted his own original written statement that he had never met Fellows, which he was apparently obliged to retract because he had subsequently written a book describing the Cook Report sting operation.
The other main feature of Day 4 was the dramatised reading of the Metropolitan Police’s version of an eight-and-a-half-hour interview with Fellows conducted at Belgravia Police Station after his December 2014 arrest. The assistant detective named Julie-Ann White (as heard) who had taken Fellows’ statement played herself in court and the prosecuting barrister played the defendant, Fellows. (This highly questionable and prejudiced way of presenting juries with police/CPS evidence is now becoming routine.) Presenting another Metropolitan Police witness, Detective Chief Inspector Sell (or Sale, as heard), prosecuting barrister Atkinson had him state that he had no connection at all to any paedophile or abuse investigation departments, and that his interest and experience was in looking after Establishment figures, in which task he headed a team.
This is the same DCI who told Fellows in Fellows’ own recording of the 2013 home interview that he was presenting himself as an investigator of Fellows’ claim of child sexual abuse – that he wanted to be friendly to Fellows and “I’m talking to you not as a copper”, in what IFN News judged to be “an attempt to put Ben Fellows off guard”.
On Day 5, Roger Cook contradicted investigative journalist Clive Entwistle, who had insisted in previous unsubstantiated testimony for the prosecution (quite incredibly given that the year of the allegation was as late as 1994) that hidden cameras were “too big” at the time to be concealed in a jacket. On the contrary, Cook recalled having bought such pinhole cameras for as little as £50 as the 1990s wore on. Cook corroborated the prosecution by insisting he knew nothing of Fellows at the time of the allegations (even though testimony much earlier in the trial had established that the Cook Report signed another contract with Fellows after the cash-for-questions episode: this was for Episode 11 on illegal immigration).
He and a technician who had formerly worked on the Cook Report, Philip Braun (or Brawn, as heard), described how the making of each episode produced thirty to sixty large video tapes which were sent off on a palette, sealed with copious quantities of gaffer tape, to the Iron Mountain storage facility. (This safe storage facility has had a number of “unfortunate” fires, including the fire which allegedly destroyed all the Cook Report tapes.)
Despite the assertion that all the footage of all Cook Report episodes had been incinerated in the fire, the prosecution managed – to the surprise of IFN News court reporters – to produce a single tape, apparently a master tape from original shooting rather than a VHS or Betamax copy from broadcast, from the archive. How did this survive, and how had it been separated from the gaffer-taped consignments in safe storage at Iron Mountain, they wonder.
On Day 6, Fellows himself took the stand. Clarke insisted that he was now seeing Fellows for the first time in his life, and fixed him with steely gazes several times. The prosecution attempted to pick holes in Fellows’ account of just how upset he was by the grope at different points in time in the hours following it, accusing him of “just making this up as you go along”. The prosecution also made much of the fact that Fellows had failed to mention Dolphin Square in his statement in Belgravia Police Station; this, they asserted, was evidence that he had only cottoned on to child sexual abuse at Dolphin Square from Internet coverage and that he had leapt onto that bandwagon.
Fellows explained that the ommission was simply the result of exhaustion by the eight-and-a-half hour ordeal. IFN News court reporters were astonished that the police should treat people presenting themselves as victims of child sexual abuse in this terribly protracted manner and also remarked that Fellows remained calm and composed throughout his day’s cross-examination.
On Day 7, it became apparent from the Cook Report contract signed with the eighteen-year-old Fellows that he had been engaged not as an actor playing a minor, but rather as a researcher, which was probably illegal even in 1994. This may have been why his adoptive mother Stephanie had not been told at the time about the job, or the alleged sexual assault by Clarke, besides the fact that she would not have approved of the sexual nature of the role.
Both of the alternative media reporting teams present noted that the jury and others present at the trial steadily swung around from being sceptical about Fellows to being quite convinced by him as his testimony proceeded. They also both note that Justice Peregrine Simon was at pains to sum up fairly and thoroughly, and that the prosecution summing-up by Duncan Atkinson was inordinately long-winded, like much of the prosecution’s case throughout.
In his post-acquittal media statement, Fellows made the point strongly that he had only been able to defend himself successfully because of the (now increasingly threatened) provision of Legal Aid.
The trial and the not guilty verdict has proved that the testimony of Ben Fellows has been truthful and reliable in many aspects; he did train at the Sylvia Young Theatre School in Marylebone, Sylvia Jones Cook Report researcher did warn Ben Fellows that he would enter a 'homosexual environment', Ben Fellows was also told to declare his age as 15, the focus of the Cook Report's and the target for the Cook Report sting with Ben Fellows was the office of Ian Greer. Ben Fellows personal testimony was strongly supported by his mother who had kept letters and contracts which proved his involvment with the Sylvia Young Theatre School. His testimony was also supported by Ian Greer in as much as Greer acknowledged he recognised and had certainly met Ben Fellows, which had not been the prior case of the prosecution at all, and which perhpas only slipped out because Greer was testifying from the other side of the world.
A large number of questions arise from the Regina v Ben Fellows trial. We list those that the UKColumn feels are important, but they are by no means exhaustive.
1. Since the trial has shown that Ben Fellows was working with the Cook report and was present at the office of Ian Greer, why did the Metropolitan police allow Exaro journalist David Hencke to write a pre-trial article deliberately undermining Ben Fellows, by claiming that he (Hencke) had helped the police prove that Ben Fellows allegations were untrue?
2. Why did the police submit Ben Fellows, who had come forward as a sexual abuse victim, to a gruelling eight and a half hours interrogation, rather than giving a supportive and sympathetic questioning?
3. Why did the Met police use officers to question and investigate Ben Fellows who were employed with protecting Establishment figures, rather than specially trained child/sexual abuse officers?
4. Why did Det Chief Inspector Sell (or Sale) try to put Ben Fellows off his guard in an interview by urging him to speak to him as if he was not doing a job for the police?
5. Why did MET police officers harass and intimidate Ben Fellows family to such an extent that Ben Fellows felt that is was better to leave the country, for his safety and that of his family?
6. If the public has repeatedly been told that the Cook report tapes had been destroyed how did a supposedly 'vital and significant tape to the Ben Fellows case' suddenly turn up in court?
7. How was it that David Hencke's testimony appeared to include an insistence that he knew in detail what had happened during the 1994 office encounter?
8. Why did the Met police tell Ben Fellows that some members of the political establishment were 'untouchable' when it came to allegations of abuse?
9. Why did all mainstream press and media focus on the initial accusations that Ben Fellows was a 'fantasist' and then fail to report in any depth, or even at all, as the case progressed and as more than one prosecution witness appeared to commit evident perjury?
10. What did David Cameron know about the Cook investigation and tapes in his position at Carlton TV?
11. Why was published material questioning the credibility of David Hencke not entered into court by the defence?
12. Ben Fellows was in the office of Ian Greer as part of the Cook report. He alleged that Ken Clarke MP, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, had genitally groped him in 1994. What will the Met police now do to investigate that sexual abuse allegation, with particular focus on who was present?
13. In pursuing the Regina v Ben Fellows case, both the Met police and the CPS have either demonstrated a serious failing of their 'duty of care' to vulnerable sexual abuse victims, or have demonstrated a deliberate and premeditated policy to silence allegations of sexual abuse against senior politicians and or members of the Establishment. Will there now be a full and independent into the MET and CPS handling of this case to ensure that other abuse whistleblower are not subjected to charges of perverting the course of justice, simply by having the courage to stand up and speak out in public?
14. Will the Goddard CSA Inquiry now take full and public action to investigate the Met and CPS action in the Ben Fellows case as part of the independent inquiry into the cover up of child abuse within State, Public Sector and linked third party organisations?