Answering questions on my support for Exaro
While my company New Sparta funds Exaro, Mark Watts and his team operate entirely independently of New Sparta. I have no influence over the subject of their investigations whatsoever, and nor should I.
That was the principle - editorial independence - upon which I agreed to fund Exaro four years ago and upon which Mark Watts agreed to edit it. I rarely see Mark and when I do, we talk about general issues, rather than specific Exaro stories.
As a result of the questions below put to me personally by The Sunday Telegraph, though, together with media intrusions at my home by other newspapers which have affected my family, I have today, for the first time since Exaro was founded, had a more detailed discussion with Mark - and some other members of the Exaro team – about these matters.
Throughout the conversation, Mark and his colleagues have paid careful attention to protect their editorial independence and confidential sources - as I would expect them to and as is their right. During this meeting I have not, nor would I ever, seek to influence the editorial direction of Exaro in any way.
The answers below are the result of today’s conversation and my general reading of the Exaro site since it was founded in 2011. The first I know of any Exaro story is when I read it on-line at www.exaronews.com - just like everyone else.
QUESTIONS PUT TO ME BY THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
******* Question 1 *******
Is Jerome aware of concerns over the testimony of 'Darren', one of the main sources for a series of articles by Exaro? 'Darren' had been convicted of making hoax bomb calls in the past and had been jailed for that. He had also falsely confessed to murder and rape. A judge had described him as telling 'pretty whopping lies' in a previous case and “with that track record [he] should be approached with considerable care”.
******* My answer to Question 1 *******
I’ve read about “Darren” on the Exaro website for some months. Only recently have allegations surfaced in rival media that “Darren” has been convicted of hoax bomb calls.
I have no way of knowing if this or any other allegation about “Darren” is true. I have no access to the national criminal database. Details of “Darren’s” actual convictions, as oppose to allegations of convictions, have not been reported anywhere to my knowledge.
“Darren”, anyway, remains anonymous to the public - another reason I could find nothing about his past.
In general, the credibility or otherwise of sources is rightly a matter for the journalists at Exaro and, above all, its Editor.
******* Question 2 *******
Is Jerome aware that when The Sunday Telegraph asked Mark Watts if he was aware of 'Darren's' previous convictions and false claims of rape and murder, before they published his allegations, Mark told me in an email dated Sept 18 that I had "been badly misinformed about his past"? In an interview on Newsnight last night, Mr Watts did not deny the same allegation when it was put to him. Has Exaro changed its view or did Mark Watts misinform The Sunday Telegraph in his email?
******* My answer to Question 2 *******
I saw that Mark had been quoted in the Telegraph online on 19th September, saying that “Darren” had endured a difficult start in life and that the Telegraph was misinformed about his past. That is all I know about his past.
I was in the United States on business when Mark was on Newsnight - but I have since caught up with the interview. Mark told Evan Davis he didn’t want to answer questions about specific survivors of child sex abuse, both to protect their identity and not to put further pressure on them at a time when they are especially vulnerable. That must be a judgment for Mark and his Exaro colleagues.
Again, the credibility of sources is a matter for Exaro.
******* Question 3 *******
Is Jerome concerned at the distress and upset caused by Darren's claims which Exaro made public? Owners of the estate at Thornham Magna in Suffolk, which I visited as part of my own inquiries, were alarmed at Darren's claims that a man with Down's Syndrome was murdered on their land after his arms were tied to one car and his legs to another and then the two cars were reversed. Police could find no evidence for this.
******* My answer to Question 3 *******
I am always concerned to hear about distress caused to innocent bystanders - in Suffolk or anywhere else. And the claims made by “Darren” are indeed alarming. I have seen from the website that an Exaro journalist went to Thornham Magna some time ago to investigate “Darren’s” claims about what happened there. I am not aware that there has been a Police investigation into this allegation and neither, according to Mark, are any members of the Exaro team.
******* Question 4 *******
Police have privately told me they blame Exaro for thrusting 'Darren' into the spotlight when his past record shows him as an attention-seeker with mental health problems. Is Jerome concerned at how Exaro has handled 'Darren's' unfounded allegations which police say has made him more vulnerable?
******* My answer to Question 4 *******
As I stated earlier, I am not in a position to know about “Darren’s” past record or, indeed, if he does have mental health problems or not. It is unfortunately the case, of course, that many child abuse survivors do.
Seeing as your question relates to Exaro’s treatment of a source who is a child abuse survivor, rather than the identity and veracity of a particular source, I have in this case, asked Mark specifically about this today.
Mark has informed me that many child abuse survivors have approached Exaro with their stories in recent years. In the view of himself and his colleagues, they have always treated child abuse survivors who are sources fairly, extending full support reflecting Exaro’s duty of care.
In general, I think it makes sense to avoid commenting on specific child abuse survivors at a time when they are acutely vulnerable. Mark and his team are worried that some recent press coverage may have already increased pressures upon them.
Clearly I have no knowledge of private conversations that The Sunday Telegraph may have had with the police.
******* Question 5 *******
Is Jerome concerned at claims that 'Nick', another of Exaro's witnesses, named a number of major figures including Lord Bramall, Britain's most decorated soldier, who was interviewed under police caution? Is he satisfied that Exaro was not responsible for leaking details of the raid on Lord Bramall's home? Friends of Lord Bramall have told me of the incredible upset and distress this has caused him.
******* My answer to Question 5 *******
I am aware that Exaro - in conjunction with two Sunday newspapers - were the first to report that Lord Bramall’s house had been searched by the police. This story was quickly followed up and reprinted by other newspapers, including The Telegraph. Lord Bramall himself has also since publicly confirmed the search took place. That is all I know about this case, and it would anyway be inappropriate for me to pass comment on what I understand is a live criminal investigation.
******* Question 6 *******
Does Jerome stand 100 per cent behind Exaro's paedophile investigation? Is he as certain as Exaro that these murders did take place?
******* My answer to Question 6 *******
From my reading of the website, Exaro has always been very clear it is reporting on allegations that are under active investigation by the Metropolitan police.
The police said at an early stage they believed Nick’s allegations to be “credible and true” - a statement they later, of course, changed to “credible”.
While it is very difficult for me or anyone else outside these investigations to judge, it is clear that, over recent years, many instances of genuine child abuse have come to light, resulting in numerous convictions, including of high-profile people.
At the same time, as I again learnt from the Exaro website, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has recently announced it is now investigating allegations made by former police officers that 31 previous police investigations into child sex abuse by prominent people have been halted because of “corruption”.
In response to your question, Exaro has never described as “certain” its position on any particular live police investigation - and it is wrong to suggest that they have.
I also just read on the Exaro website that Robert Buckland QC, the Solicitor General, says the media should not prejudge the outcome of any police investigations. Neither should any member of the general public such as myself.
******* Question 7 *******
Is Jerome concerned that Exaro's editor in chief has become too focused on the paedophile investigations when the news website was supposed to be investigating other areas of corruption and financial crimes?
******* My answer to Question 7 *******
I have full confidence in Mark Watts and Exaro’s highly-experienced team.
While many know Exaro for its recent stories on child sex abuse, the site has also broken big stories on (among others) Whitehall and media practices, which have won it recognition in major awards.
And just last week, Exaro broke a major story that the Home Secretary is considering the launch of an inquiry into police conduct during the notorious Orgreave confrontation in the mid-1980s miners’ strike.
As I have said before, there is no question of Exaro coming under pressure from me to divert resources from any of its existing stories.
I am aware of, and have said I will financially support, plans to further expand Exaro's business coverage. I’ve also made clear to Mark and his colleagues that any such expansion would be funded from additional resources, so as not to divert Exaro from any aspect of its existing work.
******* Question 8 *******
Is Jerome aware that Exaro printed details of where Panorama's reporter Daniel Foggo lived on its website with a claim that he grew up in the same street as Peter Morrison, a former Conservative party deputy chairman accused of sex abuse? Exaro was suggesting that Foggo was close to Morrison and this explains why he was trying to discredit Exaro. Does Jerome think that was the right thing to do?
******* My answer to Question 8 *******
I was abroad when this story was published, but have read it since. The decision whether or not to publish a story must always be for Exaro and, above all, its Editor. As I stated at the outset, it is inappropriate for me to comment on particular Exaro stories.
******* Question 9 *******
Is he aware that Mark Watts wrote a story at the Sunday Express in which he accused a man of stealing a list of Bloody Sunday soldiers and selling it to the IRA? This story was false and the newspaper paid out £125,000 in damages and a further £1m in costs. See link http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1434923/Binman-Benji-wins-125000-for-libel.html
******* My answer to Question 9 *******
I was not aware of this libel case. I asked Mark about it today and he tells me The Sunday Express settled this matter out of court ahead of trial, with no admission of liability, in order to limit the newspaper’s exposure to costs.
******* Question 10 *******
Is Jerome concerned at the importance given by Exaro to Chris Fay, a convicted fraudster?
******* My answer to Question 10 *******
I was in the US when Panorama aired, but I have now watched it - which is when I became aware of Chris Fay. I have since looked on the Exaro website and seen that Fay has occasionally been quoted, talking on the general subject of VIP child abuse. From my reading of the site, Exaro has not placed any great importance on him.
******* Closing comments *******
In conclusion, I would like to add that while it has always been my intention that Exaro would become a profitable business, the nature of online journalism suggests that won’t be the case for the foreseeable future. I have anyway continued to fund Exaro and that won’t change. While I insist on sound financial management, Exaro is under no financial pressure from me.
I believe that Exaro and its journalists are carrying out important work in the public interest, breaking stories about VIP child abuse and a range of other subjects.
Dr Jerome Booth
9 October 2015