An unpublished letter to Private Eye

The Editor (Letters)
Private Eye
Fax 0171 437 0705

22 March 1997


In his story about the North Wales Tribunal (EYE 920, 21 March 1997) Paul Foot cites a recent report in the Western Mail which appeared under the headline ‘WITNESS CLAIMED EX-POLICEMAN ASSAULTED HIM’. Paul Foot complains that other newspapers have been frightened by the Tribunal into referring to this former policemen simply as ‘another man’. In view of the fact that the phrase ‘a former policemen’ was specifically approved by the Tribunal’s chairman as a way of referring to the person in question, the basis of this complaint remains mysterious.

But since Paul Foot, who has campaigned so admirably and so effectively against many miscarriages of justice, now uses this phrase in order to recycle quite legitimately an allegation which has in the past been deemed libellous it is perhaps time that some of the facts behind the case were better known.

What most Eye readers do not know is that when, on December 1 1991, the former policeman was first implicitly identified as a sexual abuser, the newspaper which ran the story, The Independent on Sunday, was not in possession of a single solitary shred of evidence to support its claim. Only when the policeman issued a writ against Independent Newspapers was the freelance journalist who had researched the story Dean Nelson – despatched to North Wales in order to find evidence which might retrospectively justify the libel and save the newspaper the massive bill for damages it would otherwise have to face.

After much searching Nelson eventually found two troubled and deeply damaged young men who, after considerable prompting, were prepared to testify that they had been sexually abused by the policeman in question. A third witness, primed by the allegations of the first two, was discovered by another journalist. It was on the basis of their testimony that Private Eye ran its notorious story that the former policeman was a paedophile. 

It was in this way that Private Eye, together with The Observer and HTV, who had all followed the same journalistic path, found itself in court alongside The Independent as joint defendants in one of the most important libel trials in recent years. In the case of all three of the witnesses who complained against the former policeman, internal and external evidence suggested that their allegations had been fabricated. It was shown in court that two of the witnesses had not even been at Bryn Estyn at the time they claimed. The method by which Nelson obtained an allegation from his first witness was described by the policeman’s counsel, Labour peer Lord Williams QC, as ‘crookery’. Nelson himself did not contest this view in court since the defence decided not to call him as a witness. The jury found in favour of the former policeman and the defendants, including Private Eye, were left to settle a massive bill for damages and costs running into millions of pounds.

The real problem with this verdict is that Private Eye has never accepted it. Compelled to report the North Wales story with the arrow of a successful libel writ in its only good eye, it clings desperately to its own version of the story, proclaiming all the while its own unique  powers of vision.

Heaven knows we need the sanity of Private Eye. But we do not need its insanity. Perhaps in future any reports you publish on North Wales and related matters could be contained in a special supplement entitled Blind Eye.

Yours sincerely,  

Richard Webster 


Richard Webster, 2003


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