Last week I wrote here about James O’Brien of LBC. In particular, I highlighted the platform he gave to the convicted liar and paedophile Carl Beech (aka ‘Nick’). In July Beech was sent to prison for 18 years for fraud and perverting the course of justice. Over the course of some years, he had made outrageous and untrue claims about a number of public figures, including two D-Day veterans.
And while most of the British media was incredibly wary of giving a megaphone to Beech’s lies, James O’Brien consistently used his LBC show to give publicity to Beech and his main promoter, Mark Watts of the now-defunct media organisation Exaro. The transcripts show that over the course of many months O’Brien used his LBC show to share allegations that:
After Beech was sentenced to prison, the only response that O’Brien gave was a distinct non-apology. One that was not remotely commensurate with the damage he had done in promoting conspiracy theories that damaged the lives of many people.
Yet this was not a one-off. O’Brien’s desire to believe the lurid and false stories told by Carl Beech was just one example of him using his platform to promote what turned out to be lies.
Last week I focused only on the case of Carl Beech and the megaphone that O’Brien gave to his lies. But this time I should like to focus on another case. That of the man known as ‘Darren’.
‘Darren’ was the name of another man who made outrageous claims against prominent public figures. Once again, they were promoted by the now-defunct Exaro. Like Carl Beech, ‘Darren’ is now also known to be a fantasist and liar. And once again, he found his foremost media promoter in the form of LBC’s James O’Brien. But if anything the case of Darren is even worse than the case of Carl Beech. Because as well as his stories being even more extreme and implausible than those of Carl Beech, in the case of Darren the LBC host was giving a platform to somebody he should have already known to be a liar.
Whereas O’Brien might plausibly say that he could not have known Beech was lying (other than applying some variety of common sense or carrying out basic journalistic legwork of his own) the same is not true with Darren. O’Brien broadcast and gave fuel to the allegations made by Darren long after he should have known he was lying.
Darren’s allegations were among the most lurid and unbelievable claims anyone could make. For instance, Darren alleged that as a child he had been taken to a torture chamber in a flat near to Parliament in Westminster where a senior politician made him dress up in women’s underwear. There Darren claimed that he met a girl who he believed was then murdered. He also went on to claim that he had witnessed a man with Down’s Syndrome being tied between two cars which were then reversed so as to pull the man’s body apart.
Ordinarily, such stories would require a certain amount of follow-up before being put out on air. A responsible journalist might ask a few questions about such claims.
Neither Exaro nor James O’Brien seemed to have had much interest in doing so. In fact, they continued to promote Darren’s claims even after Exaro had been warned that they were untrue.
Darren apparently approached Exaro in August 2014. Exaro published their first stories based on his claims in January 2015 and James O’Brien immediately ran with them. But by that point, Exaro ought to have known that there was a problem with their source. Not least because in the Autumn of 2014 the Metropolitan police, according to the Telegraph, had warned Exaro that they should not rely on Darren’s evidence, pointing out that they had looked into his allegations and they ‘didn’t stack up.’ The Met themselves were clearly nervous about simply closing all investigations into Darren and instead passed them on to another police force. Suffolk Police then wasted a year looking into Darren’s claims before themselves concluding that there was no evidence to support them.
In December 2014 there was a report in the Sunday Times (one of those mainstream papers that Exaro and O'Brien showed themselves to be so contemptuous of in their broadcast conversations) saying that the claims of ‘Nick’ (the man now known to be Carl Beech) were not able to be corroborated. Since Darren had been in contact with Exaro since August, and had made claims about murders and tortures being carried out at the heart of Westminster, this strongly suggests that Darren’s allegations had been passed to the Metropolitan Police, and were being treated as not credible.
Yet none of this seems to have either reached or dissuaded James O’Brien, who a month later – in January 2015, hot on the heels of Exaro’s expose – devoted a special programme to the claims made by this fantasist. Here is part of O’Brien’s broadcast on what amounted to a ‘Darren special’ on LBC on 14 January 2015:
'If you're new to this it's a promise we made on this programme over a year ago now when we caught ourselves taking a call from somebody who had been a victim of horrible abuse and – it's a very personal thing this and I make no apology for that because I want you to understand what most people do in these circumstances so that we can be a little bit more charitable and forgiving of people doing it now the environment is changing somewhat. A chap started telling me what had happened to him, I think at the hands of a teacher or a priest rather than a family member, and within 30 seconds of him beginning to explain I caught myself flinching and wanting to stop the conversation.
And that is a natural reaction, I think, when you're confronted with barbarism, truly horrific testimony. It's just a sort of self-preservation technique to go, 'oh no I don't want to...' And I caught myself doing it. I didn't end the call but I just caught myself sort of going, 'oh ah, can...' No, he has to tell his story. He has to tell his story.
And what I promised myself then, and you [the listener] by association, is that we would do our level best to draw as much or to continue as many conversations about these issues as we possibly, possibly could. I've got to be completely honest with you though and admit that we probably couldn't have had two thirds of the conversations we had last year if it wasn't for the work of Mark Watts and his colleagues over at Exaro News because they do the investigating, they do the actual inquiring and they speak to the victims who are increasingly, please God, prepared to take their complaints and to take their stories to the authorities.'
This goes on interminably as build up before O’Brien broadcasts the allegations made by Darren. In O’Brien’s defence, one of the allegations made relates to a man (Charles Napier) who had indeed been convicted of paedophile offences. Whether or not Darren ever came into contact with Napier or whether he was making up this story too is not known. But what should have been known by then was that Darren was willing to make claims that should have made anybody listening to him ask questions about his reliability as a source. Yet O’Brien does not question his reliability. Instead, he provides the biggest platform he can for the allegations and introduces them in the following lurid terms:
'We're going to hear more from Darren after the news. I have to warn you, as you've already established, there's some graphic content contained within his narrative and it is... well you haven't heard the most graphic yet. So please, if you're just tuning in, wondering what's going on, we're discussing the investigation, the continuing investigation, into child sex abuse in the establishment, if you will, at Westminster conducted by politicians and other members of the great and the good and the subsequent cover-ups of those crimes.
And we're hearing from, via our friends at Exaro News and their editor Mark Watts, one of the people who's found the courage to come forward and tell them about what happened to them in their youth. And we will hear more imminently but it will not be easy listening, I assure you of that. And I do warn you to turn off the radio, I don't think I've ever said that before, if you've got children in the back of the car or anything that you'd be uncomfortable trying to explain, because it's as grim as grim can be. It really is.'
The ensuing broadcast includes Darren claiming that Cabinet ministers had made him dress up in women’s underwear at a flat in Westminster and that they had also murdered a young girl. None of this made O’Brien feel any doubt. All of it was simply fuel to prove his case that ‘the establishment’ had for years been raping and murdering children and that he, James O’Brien, along with Exaro, were among the few people prepared to face up to this truth and bring it to light.
In the January 2015 broadcast O’Brien’s lieutenant in all this – Mark Watts of Exaro – is brought on to claim that ‘Darren’ has been receiving death threats since revealing the truth about the VIP establishment paedophile and murder ring. Watts and O’Brien then have the following exchange:
Mark Watts: So information about who's been behind these threats is shared not only with the police but been shared with [Labour MP] Tom Watson and I can tell you he actually said he had a bit of a sleepless night over the weekend because of that weight of responsibility and at the end of the day is the fact that he has this information that Darren regards as being the most important thing and the fact that everyone knows it because we've published that in a national newspaper and I've just repeated it now. So you know, that puts him in a better place.
James O’Brien: I understand why. But what a brave man he must be to do this now in the face of the risks that he clearly runs and is being reminded that he runs by people who would rather he stopped. It's breathtaking. Every element of this investigation, this story is breathtaking.
Indeed it is. Though not for the reason that O’Brien thinks. It is breathtaking that a broadcaster operating on a station with a broadcast licence should be able to pump out lies about murder, rape and paedophilia after the police and responsible journalists have already made it clear that the claims didn't stack up and couldn't be corroborated.
Yet Exaro and O’Brien continued to pump out their claims. In the weeks that followed, Exaro claimed that in 1993 ‘Darren’ had been forced to go to between 15 and 20 sexual abuse ‘parties’ attended by VIPs in Westminster. In March 2015 the Met once again warned Exaro that they should not be relying on evidence provided by ‘Darren’. Perhaps Exaro simply saw this as more evidence that the entire British establishment was trying to stop these sex and murder crimes committed by VIPs from getting out. Whether Exaro informed O'Brien of the police's warnings about Darren is not known.
Nevertheless, it is also telling that while Exaro continued to share Darren’s claims, they continued to engage in an ongoing campaign of mutual back-slapping and cross-promotion with O’Brien. For just as O’Brien constantly praised Exaro for their work, so in April 2015 Exaro could be found once again praising O’Brien. According to Exaro, throughout the whole effort to get these abuse stories out there, ‘James O’Brien on LBC was the most on the ball on the subject, running a series of five special items since July 2014.’
Meanwhile, the reasons why the rest of the media might not have wanted to be on this particular ball just kept coming along. In September 2015 Suffolk Police dropped their investigations into the claims made by Darren. That same month the Telegraph reported that Darren was a fantasist. The paper reported that this man who had been the source for Exaro and O’Brien had previously been sentenced to two years in jail for making hoax bomb threats, for nuisance, criminal damage and making threatening calls. He had also falsely confessed to the murder of a prostitute in the midst of a high-profile 1990s manhunt. In 2000, a judge had accused him in court of telling ‘some pretty whopping lies’. Perhaps the police had tried to stop Exaro and O’Brien pumping out Darren’s lies, not because they were trying to protect high-level child-raping, body-ripping, car-reversing murderers at the heart of the British establishment, but because they already knew what everyone else should also have worked out: which was that Darren – like Carl Beech – was a fantasist and a liar.
In March 2016, the Sunday Times ran one final, fascinating piece on Darren. In it, Darren was quoted as saying that he felt he had been ‘pressured and manipulated’ by Exaro into making the claims that he had. According to the paper, Darren said, ‘I was vulnerable. Exaro were leaving messages.’ Referring to an Exaro reporter (possibly one Tim Wood) who had ‘befriended’ him, Darren said:
‘I began to trust him — he almost seemed to be my best friend... I was coerced into saying some of the stuff that wasn’t strictly correct. It was exaggerated. They hyped up a lot of the stories.’
Why is all of this important? Firstly, because the lies of Carl Beech and Darren ruined numerous lives and, apart from Beech going to prison, nobody else has paid the price for their role in helping these lies along. Tom Watson MP remains the deputy leader of the Labour party. The head of the Metropolitan police at the time, Bernard Hogan-Howe, who wasted so many public resources, has even been elevated to the Lords. And the most prominent figure in the media to give a platform to the most grotesque lies and slanders has simply issued one non-apology.
But lessons need to be learned from the whole affair. For, now that the court cases are in, we can see that while most of the media kept its standards in place, some did not. Most prominent among those who did not was James O’Brien of LBC. Once again, it is important to remember that we all make mistakes. But to have successively given a platform not just to one, but to two proven liars would appear to display a serious problem.
There has been much talk in recent years about the decline in standards in journalism and even claims that we live in an era of ‘fake news’. If we do indeed live in such an era then we ought to find a way to get out of it. And if we are to get out of it then fake news of the kind repeatedly broadcast on LBC in recent years ought to be addressed.
It is no small thing that James O’Brien used a public platform to broadcast the most lurid lies about people. Nor is it right that everyone else should pretend that this is all done and dusted, yesterday’s news and then move on to something else. The mess revealed by the Carl Beech / Darren / Exaro / LBC / James O’Brien affair ought to be understood and learned from if the public is going to be able to have any trust in the media ever again.