First some corrections from yesterday – I was very tired and didn’t proof read properly; dining is spelt dining, not dinning; I’m has got an m after the apostrophe; I was 16 and coming up to my 17th birthday not my 16th birthday; and the curtains for ‘her flat’ refer to Miss Jones’ flat – I could have worded that better. I am putting them here and in an erratum because I am very aware that the text from yesterday was downloaded several hundred times, and read many thousands times, and I don’t want to be accused of having changed the text after publication. (and my heartfelt thanks to the few brave souls who ventured into the comments to encourage me, those silent readers can be very daunting sometimes, and this is definitely one of those times!)
Jimmy Savile. The bit you’ve all been waiting for – I do hope you won’t be disappointed.
You can imagine how gobsmacked I was when this story first emerged. How closely I read everything that was said – and noted what was not said. Not the ‘Jimmy Savile is a paedophile’ story, the Internet is full of such tales. No, it was the Daily Mail story which caught my eye; how ‘two brave women’ had come forward and identified themselves as being the victims of this paedophile. One word lept out of the print, long before I had got to the relevant sentence. Duncroft. Not just Duncroft, but Wedgewood dormitory. 1965. I consumed every detail. My jaw was frozen to the ground for several hours.
‘There were girls in there who were quite terrified of him‘ – I read elsewhere that ‘girls were hiding behind the bedroom doors’ to escape his attentions. I was mesmerised. And puzzled. For I had never hidden behind a bedroom door to escape his attentions nor anyone else’s attention. I had simply never met the man. Period.
How could that be? How could I have been so unobservant as to not notice such a comment worthy event as a major celebrity galloping around the building unescorted? There had to be some mistake in the reporting. Or maybe in my maths? I rechecked all my fingers, yep I was definitely there in 1965. Except for one month at the end of the year – but I was back four months later. Perhaps this had occurred whilst I was absent? Possibly, but I was quite confident that the older girls would have still been sitting round the fire in the common room ‘casting the runes’ and regaling the new arrivals with tales of the night Miss O’ Niall had hit the sherry bottle so hard she had tripped on the steps, or when Miss Grey’s poodle went missing and someone had locked it in the clothes cupboard – we had nothing else to talk about and observed the staff as closely as they observed us. We were obsessed with them and monitored their every move – mainly to make sure we didn’t miss a thrown away dog-end, but you get the picture…it was said that this celebrity had stayed overnight in Miss Jones’ flat…
Now I was truly puzzled; I am aware that victims of child abuse will hold their secrets for many, many years out of shame, embarrassment, a feeling that no one will believe them, but it was not the abuse which so consumed me by this time, but that small detail which had apparently passed me by. A man in Miss Jones flat – for the subject of Miss Jones’ sexuality and her relationship with Miss O’ Niall was our major ‘Mastermind’ specialist subject. Just for the record, I doubt that there was one. However, whoever was cleaning her flat, and it was I for a long time, was permanently in the inquisition seat – how many glasses on the coffee table, level of sherry in the bottle, no detail was too small for forensic examination.
Trust me on this one – if a Morrocan goat-herder had spent the night in that flat, or the goat wearing trousers for that matter, it would have been number one on the nightly agenda for years afterwards. There was also the other irritating detail – where was Miss O’ Niall, had ‘Nelly the elephant packed her bags and said good-bye to the circus’ as we used to sing late at night when she was out of earshot? There were only the two beds in that flat, not so much a flat as two bedrooms and a small sitting room in between. I couldn’t help myself, I started digging. I started digging because this story was the building block on which the media circus was having a libel-free gorge on Savile’s corpse. I couldn’t care less about Savile, I am not attempting to defend his reputation; his sexual preferences are a matter for the police – but I am perennially interested in the ‘truth’ as reported by the media.
I googled the given name, and right there, second item on the first page something stood out. It seems Bebe wasn’t sure of her dates. I tried to follow the link to read more – but the item had been removed from Facebook, ‘not available’. Ah, well, links do get broken, intriguing though, because if it wasn’t 1965, then it would explain why I knew nothing about it. Must have happened in late 1966 after I had left permanently. Then it hit me, if it was late 1966, then Bebe wasn’t a ‘vulnerable child’ attacked by a pervert – she’d become an adult admittedly ‘subjected to sexual harassment’ by her account – but not the ‘evidence’ of paedophilia (yes, I do know it is technically Ephebophilia, but you can’t expect the media to be that precise in selecting a keyword for ‘hits’) that it was alleged Newsnight had suppressed.
There was Bebe again, still unsure of her dates, replying to yet another name, Karin Ward, that meant nothing to me at all. 1974, long after my time. Long after Bebe’s time. Er, long after Miss Jones’ time too, in fact long after Duncroft was a ‘Home Office Approved School’ – it belonged to Barnardo’s by then and things had obviously changed. However, Bebe still had ‘happy memories’ of Duncroft. I will agree that it is unsurprising that victims of child abuse should put forward a happy face and conceal the truth.
Still intriguing though that someone so unsure of their dates should be quite definite that Savile attacked her aged 15 in 1965. She’s allowed to be unsure though, memories fade, but I would expect investigative reporters to be quite keen on corroboration.
As if by magic, Karin Ward appeared from the shadows that day, another brave victim come forward. Before anybody has anything to say, let me add that I have every sympathy with Karin Ward. She has not only been brutally used by many scumbag men in her life, she was in the process of disclosing all this as part of her therapy when she fell ill with cancer. Nobody knows better than I how debilitating chemotherapy is, and shame on the TV reporters who pressurised her into turning accounts she had written anonymously of sexual abuse on fantasy story web sites (stories she has now removed – but here is a link via wayback machine, and two earlier literary efforts of hers still on sale in the US) into a high octane celebrity exposure. They want shooting in my book for that alone. When I discovered that one of them was Miss Jones’ nephew, I blew a fuse. Yes, Meirion, I’m pointing the finger at you! If anybody was in a position to make strenuous forensic inquiries, it was you. Your aunt, Margaret Jones, is still alive and well, aged 90, living in North Wales. You should, or certainly could, have revealed the presence of her archive, something I will go into later. It might have made a nonsense of your story – a story that by your own admission was one ‘any journalist would want to run’ – was that too risky?
‘Outraged Meirion’ – outraged because his editors wanted ‘proof’ not just allegations. So far he had a group of girls, all in contact with each other, making a series of allegations. So Meirion made strenuous efforts to find such proof, and he came up with another Duncroft resident ‘Fiona’. Fiona claimed to have a letter from Surrey police saying that an investigation into Savile had been dropped in 2007 because the star was frail and unwell. She promised to scan it and send it to him, indeed she claims that she did so, but for whatever reason he never received it. Meanwhile he had e-mailed his editor, told him of the Surrey police investigation and sat back satisfied that his story now ‘had legs’ as they say in the trade.
A pity he didn’t go as far as Ian Gallagher of the Mail on Sunday, who actually tracked ‘Fiona’ down and got a hard copy of that letter.
[The letter] says that Fiona was interviewed by police in 2006 despite the inquiry not beginning until May the following year.
The letter is also headed by a Surrey Police crest not in use at the time it was supposedly written. Significantly, there are no reference numbers included within the text.
A spokesman for Surrey Police said: ‘This letter is not genuine and was not sent by us at any time. The suggestion that we advised anyone this case would not be pursued due to the health of the individual concerned is wholly inaccurate.
Why would such a forged letter be in circulation? If not forged by Fiona, and I have no reason to believe it was, then by whom? Who were the circle of ‘others from Duncroft’ who had told Fiona that they had also received the same letter? Who had a vested interest in giving this story legs, who was photoshopping off line, out of sight, determined to give these allegations the credence that would enable Newsnight to go ahead with their expose?
By now the story was exploding by the hour, questions were being asked in parliament, lawyers were lining up on behalf of their clients, the BBC was being whacked over the head by every journalist sore at their coverage of the Murdoch debacle, and a Met police investigation was announced into the ‘more than 200 victims’ who had come forward; Sky news had given up describing them as allegations and they now became ‘revelations’ and ‘evidence’, talking heads on the shoulders of dozens of has-been show-biz figures were paraded on TV hour by hour – ‘I remember having lunch with Jimmy and a girl who ‘could have been 14 or 15′ and I ‘think they may have had sex’, oh it was disgusting, dreadful, I should have reported it but it was the culture of the time’; Esther Rantzen was sobbing into her microphone – and it all started with a Newsnight programme that no one had actually seen based on the slightly iffy evidence that I was staring at huge holes in.
A long time ago, maybe 15 years ago, I had reason to research Duncroft. I stumbled upon a ‘Friends Re-United’ forum that had been set up by some women of my age. I actually met some of them, one in France, one in America, and one in Wales. We had all repaired our lives, agreed that Duncroft wasn’t what we might have wished for our lives, but Miss Jones had given us a better start than we would have had without her. Now I returned to that Forum – all those women I had been in contact with had vanished, withdrawn their names from the list of ex-pupils, as had I, in fairness. But there was more, dozens of comments had been removed, loads of photographs taken down, entire threads disappeared. Something had occurred in this community. In their place were comments such as this:
I want there to be an investigation in to Maggie Jones who ran Duncroft school and who was great friends with this Jimmy Saville and allowed him to spend his sordid time with the girls there. This woman was an imposter and should also be exposed in this enquiry.
Here we go! The government sponsored paedophile ring snatching vulnerable young girls and feeding them to old perverts! Who is Rochelle Shepherd? Well damn me if she doesn’t turn out to be another of Meirion Jones five interviewees.
Then I found this on yet another ‘Duncroft’ forum:
Date Posted: 07:01:03 10/06/12 Sat
Author: Sandra Gunn
Subject: Re: duncroft approved school staines
In reply to: GD ‘s message, “Re: duncroft approved school staines“ on 10:48:27 06/05/07 Tue
Yes I was there at the same time. We have all been bullied by you online GD aka Gxxx Dxxxxxx.* You live in Ireland and your name changed lol. We also ALL know the identity of ‘A’. So grow up, go away and leave us all to our own memorys, not your autistic moanings. You did not know of what we had to put up with and yet you think you know! Grow up! For anyone who cares (not that many) Gxxx Dxxxxx* has even been banned from a lot of sites. We all meet in private and she is upset as she is not included….we don’t want a wingeing big mouth who thinks she knows it all.
Complaints of on-line bullying? A group meeting in private off-line, not wanting to include anyone who ‘did not know of what we had to put up with’ – what the Hell had been going on in the years since I last looked at the site? Despite the many comments detailing ‘happy memories’ of the place, there were obviously still some very unhappy ladies who blamed Duncroft for their unhappy lives.
Then I discovered that a group, or at least two ex-Duncroft girls had approached the Daily Mirror with the same ‘Jimmy Savile’ abused me whilst I was there’ story back in 1994. 18 years ago. The Mirror had been unable to substantiate the story, but were prepared to run it if the girls would sign an affidavit that would protect them from a libel suit, which seems perfectly reasonable under the circumstances, if a tad ‘ring the bell and run away’ on the part of the Mirror. Now, usual caveat applies, abuse victims, keeping their secrets, etc, etc, – but it seems slightly odd that you aren’t prepared to talk to parents, child line, the police, counselors, or anyone other than journalists on a national newspaper. They are perhaps the people I would be least prepared to talk to if I wanted to preserve my anonymity. So this story had been doing the rounds for a long time then?
That probably accounts for why Claire Ellicott of the Daily Mail was trawling that forum:
Date Posted: 03:01:20 10/01/12 Mon
Author: Claire Ellicott
Subject: Re: duncroft approved school staines
In reply to: bebe roberts nee scott ‘s message, “duncroft approved school staines“ on 12:40:55 08/08/06 Tue
I’m a journalist from the Daily Mail and was wondering whether any of you had met Jimmy Savile while you were at Duncroft?
If so, please do get in touch or send me an email on email@example.com or 020 3615 1067.
I was beginning to wonder whether this was a ‘chicken and egg’ affair. Had the rumours about Savile started because people in the business were genuinely concerned, or had they started because the story was being put around? Which came first?
Now, for the final time – I am not defending Jimmy Savile. In fact it was fear of being called yet again a ‘paedophile defender’, a suggestion I find repulsive, that had kept me quiet so far. I am concerned merely with the qualities of the ‘hare’ that has been sent roaring round the track in front of the panting hounds. It had better be a fine, healthy, and genuine hare – for there are now so many hounds that it will be hard to see the truth. I am concerned with Miss Jones’ reputation. She is too ill to be interviewed right now – but her voice lives on, as I will show. There never was a woman less likely to persuade girls to become vulnerable victims – she would have choked on her cornflakes at the mere suggestion. Her entire life was dedicated to persuading us to stand on our own two feet – and I defy anybody who knew her to say otherwise. If she had any ‘obsession with sex’ it was with making sure that we didn’t ruin our lives by having it, backed up with the ever humiliating VD and ‘virginity’ gynaecological examinations for anybody who failed to return from wherever. I can see the gathering storm though, and she can’t speak up for herself, I am prepared to do it for her.
How to do so? I had not wanted to write these posts; my first port of call was to a very old friend of mine who is now an editor on a serious Sunday newspaper. I could talk to him as a friend, not just a reporter. I told him that I feared, not that anyone was outright lying, nor that Savile wasn’t a filthy old pervert, but that the Newsnight story was not as solid as those who were complaining that it had been unfairly ‘pulled’ were claiming. I showed him the evidence that these girls had become a ‘group’ rather than a series of unconnected individuals with the same story, that I feared that there had been a certain amount of bullying going on towards anyone who didn’t corroborate their story – either by them or by whoever was behind the forged police letter. I also, crucially told him that there were official records available that had not been accessed since Duncroft had closed, that would confirm dates and who was present.
Now, I am not an idiot, I am well aware that official records can be fudged. In fact I know they can. The girl who claimed she was pulled from Savile’s caravan in the grounds screaming that she had been assaulted – an essential part of the story. She was not believed ‘and chucked in detention for three days’. One thing I was sure of, is that the records would show she was in detention – Home Office inspectors turned up too regularly, unannounced, for anybody to risk taking her out of circulation without putting it in the day book – the records might well say it was for cutting her toe nails without permission or some other lie – but if that period coincided with anything that could be substantiated with Savile’s whereabouts, then that might give a tad more credence to the tale – on the other hand if the only record of her being in detention was when he was on a well publicised tour of Japan…tough.
‘Whew’, he said, ‘I didn’t realise there were official records – but if they proved the girls were mistaken, God, that would be ‘commercial suicide’ in this climate’. Interesting.
I turned to another old friend, someone who worked for the BBC. Look, I said, I don’t know how to do this – I’m sitting on this, this, and this, and I can’t access Miss Jones’s archive from France, can you do it? ‘Ouch’ he said. ‘Can’t tell you what I’m working on, but getting involved in this would be ‘career suicide’ for me’. It’s that suicide word again! ‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do, explain to me exactly where that archive is, and I’ll speak to a producer on Panorama, they’re making a full investigation into why the BBC pulled that programme, they’ll be very interested in this’. A little later he e-mailed me with a woman’s name, he’d given her all the details of the archives hiding place – woud I speak to her in confidence? Yes, I said, quite happy to do that.
She never did call me. I checked again, no one had accessed that archive. They seem very shy of it. It’s the hot potato nobody wants to touch.
Abuse victims should be heard. They should be listened to intently. By the same token, those accused of such heinous crimes should be so accused by tested evidence, not newspaper circuses. This shouldn’t be a subject to push up newspaper circulation, nor for a Punch and Judy show between branches of the political media – the damage done by sexual abuse is too profound for that. What is happening, with a – shall we call it polite disbelief – in some quarters, that not all the ’400 victims who have come forward’ are entirely motivated by a desire for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, does a disservice to every genuine case.
I’m not afraid of the truth, I have nothing to fear from it. If other girls were cowering behind bedroom doors in 1965 and I failed to notice, nor even hear mention of the man’s name, let alone meet him – well then, after eating my Raccoon tail, I shall take myself off for counseling; I would obviously have a profound case of ‘false memory syndrome’.
The Newsnight story was the foundation stone of this saga – come on then investigative reporters that are so vital to our democracy, or the Met police, or anyone else interested in the truth – let’s be having you! Let’s see how strong that foundation is.
Off to Liverpool with you. The lady you want is Dr Maureen Watry. You’ll find her at the Sydney Jones library at Liverpool University. You want the box marked NRA 22753 – it’s filed under Barnardo’s. In it you will find all the minutes of meetings, financial records, correspondance from old girls, day books noting everybody’s presence or non-presence and even the girls’ files (although access to those is restricted to genuine researchers) running from 1948-1982: It contains Miss Jones’ entire archive (here’s looking at you Meirion!) it will make fascinating reading. Next to it you will even find another box marked D.965 – all her photograph albums. Happy hunting! You might find an even better story, who knows. Of course you could find that you’ve all been chasing after a stuffed rabbit – how embarrassing would that be?
The truth is out there.
*Edited to add: I have been asked to blank out the name of the girl who was subject to on-line harassment. I have done so, much against my better judgment, I don’t like altering a post after publication but I have no wish to cause further distress. Allegedly, the forum on voy.com has ‘been abandoned’ and it is no longer possible for the original thread to be taken down by the person who set up the forum. Although curiously, and allegedly, a post from ‘Rochelle’ was removed in recent months. Hmmn, would that be the same Rochelle Shepherd interviewed by Meirion? I don’t know.