BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
It’s earlyish in the morning of a sunny September Tuesday. I’m at resplendent Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, sipping coffee in the public tea room of the castle, a room once used by the castle steward to host his guests. Today, different staff – guides, maintenance and security staff – run hither and thither preparing for yet another influx of tourists. The Duke of Rutland is on a train up from London. I am here to interview his private secretary, Harvey Proctor, once a Tory MP who represented Basildon during the Thatcher years, from 1979 to 1983, and then Billericay from 1983 to 1987.
You’ll likely have heard of Harvey Proctor. For all the wrong reasons. The media have been on his back for many decades now:
In June 1986, a left-wing newspaper published claims that Proctor had taken part in sexual relationships with male prostitutes aged between 17 and 21 in his London flat in exchange for money and that he took indecent photos of them with a Polaroid camera. The age of consent for same-sex relationships was still 21 in 1986 (although 16 for opposite sex relationships), no specific legislation existed at the time regarding minimum ages for prostitution and the following year Proctor was charged with gross indecency and resigned his candidature for the upcoming 1987 election. At his trial in May 1987, Proctor pleaded guilty to four acts of gross indecency with a 17-year-old male and a 19-year-old male – pleas of guilt Proctor was advised by his solicitors to make at the time, which he regrets now. They would not now be offences and are not on the statute book. Proctor had met the 19-year-old but he had lied about his age. To this day he does not believe he ever met the 17-year-old. On the 4th of March 2015, Proctor’s home, on the rambling Belvoir estate, was searched by the Metropolitan Police as part of the Operation Midland investigation into allegations of historical child sexual abuse and related murders. Proctor immediately denied any wrongdoing in an interview with the BBC Today programme. Proctor was questioned by the police regarding the allegations in June, and again in August 2015. He held a press conference at St Ermin’s Hotel in London on 25th August 2015 and gave several media interviews, turning the tide of Midland, which hitherto had been defined by police leaks and the presumed credibility and truth of the accusers. Proctor described the inquiry as a “homosexual witch hunt”, stating, “I’m a homosexual. I’m not a murderer or a paedophile. I’m completely innocent of all these allegations.” On 21st March 2016, Proctor was told that he would face no further action. In June 2019 Proctor appeared at Newcastle Crown Court where he gave evidence at the trial of Carl Beech, who was accused of lying to police about the alleged VIP paedophile ring investigated by Operation Midland. Proctor was clear that, “the allegations are wrong, malicious, false, horrendous” and later explained that intense media interest following the police raid had led to him losing his job and his home at Belvoir and then to him deciding to move temporarily to Spain as the UK “wasn’t safe”. He received, and continues to receive, death threats. At that trial, Beech was convicted for making false claims against Proctor and other victims, including Field Marshall Lord Bramall, former heads of MI5 and MI6, as well as Leon Brittan, the former Tory Minister. Beech was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment. In September 2019, Proctor criticised the Independent Office for Police Conduct for clearing the Met officers who investigated allegations made by Beech. Proctor claimed that “to fail to condemn this police misbehaviour in the strongest terms and at the first opportunity, is a dereliction of duty”. In November 2019, Proctor received a £900,000 pay-out in compensation and legal fees from the Metropolitan Police as a result of the police force’s handling of the catastrophe that, by then, Operation Midland had become.
So, to précis, you’ll have most likely heard of Proctor for a political scandal that today would not be deemed illegal (and would, quite possibly, be survivable). And for getting named by a paedophile fantasist whose fabrications turned out to be so fantastical that only ambitious police officers, highly partisan politicians and other prejudiced bad actors ever wanted to give them credence.
But there must be some truth to the allegations, right?
If you’re a no-smoke-without-fire type of person, then consider these two facts:
The 1987 scandal came soon after Proctor had won a libel case against a newspaper for misquoting Margaret Thatcher’s words to him in parliament. The win angered the newspaper. They launched attack after attack against Proctor. The newspaper was behind the 1987 scoop – Proctor’s sex scandal. That newspaper was Robert Maxwell’s The People. Maxwell’s best friend at the time? Eric Moonman, the Labour MP Proctor had beaten to the seat of Basildon in 1979.
The 2015 Operation Midland accusations not only suggested that Proctor liaised in heinous crimes of lust and murder with sworn political enemies Lord Janner (Labour) and former Prime Minister Ted Heath (on the opposite wing of the party to right-wing Monday Club Assistant Director Proctor), but they also implied his involvement with Jimmy Savile, who Proctor had the good fortune of never speaking to in his life although he did once see him at a Conservative Party garden party in Scarborough.
Much has been written about Operation Midland and Harvey Proctor, now aged 76 and back in the employ of the Duke of Rutland, living in the vicinity of Belvoir. There are books, documentaries and dramatisations. So, I open our interview by telling Mr Proctor that I am focused only on two things: on the characters behind the two obviously political hitjobs; also, in how on earth he has managed to get on with his life lugging these two crucifixes around on his back.
For the first of four occasions during our two-hour interview, Mr Proctor’s eyes well up with tears. “I am not, like many politicians, a thick-skinned person,” Proctor continues, “I really feel this pain.”
I take the opportunity to have a really good look at Harvey Proctor. Eye to eye. Man to man. This is no act. This is no heartless, narcissistic politico putting on a psychopathic spectacle. His ambition has evaporated – these are no crocodile tears. This is an elderly gentleman, an open book, dressed without ado in a scruffy pair of jeans, still living – in and out – a nightmare that many would not have survived or bothered wrestling with.
“When I resigned from here in 2015,” Proctor explains, “I went to Spain to avoid all the death threats. I could not relax at all. I expected the Guardia Civil to knock on the door at any time to arrest me on behalf of the Met, or a journalist to doorstep me. Then eventually I returned home with my partner to England and I lived in a shed for 18 months. The winter was bleak. We had to beg a neighbour to use their showers. I was reduced to nothing by Beech’s allegations and by the police believing him.”
But I am beginning to feel like a torturer. It’s the little details that trigger the most pain. I ask whether the police returned everything that they took when they raided his home at 8 a.m. on March 4th, 2015, and Proctor replies that, as far as he knows, “as they never produced a promised list of items seized”, he was returned everything except a 1979 diary. His face screws up in a fusion of raw agony and anger, “If I’d have had that diary I’d have known what I was doing on any given day of that year, and that was when one of the … one of the alleged child murders, for which I was blamed, was supposed to have happened.”
It occurs to me that, far from being reduced to nothing by Beech’s allegations (and by the puppet masters amplifying the smears on him) Proctor has been reduced to a reluctant fighter – one who’d much rather be reading a book or walking dogs in all the beauty that surrounds Belvoir.
So, if a vengeful Maxwell was behind Proctor’s 1987 abrupt fall from grace, who were the manipulators behind the 2015 Operation Midland tsunami?
I ask Proctor and he is careful to avoid ‘conspiracy’ but to ‘look at the facts’. I mention Tom Watson who met and supported Carl Beech and who, the (former High Court Judge) Sir Richard Henriques’ report mentioned, had ‘pressured officers who may have been “in a state of panic” over a letter sent by Labour’s soon to become deputy leader (Watson) on House of Commons notepaper’. I also mention the Exaro website whose journalist Mark Conrad first stumbled across Carl Beech’s weblog about a VIP child abuse ring. Why hadn’t Conrad spotted the obvious Janner/Heath incongruities and smelt a rat? It was public knowledge that Janner hated Proctor’s guts, as did Heath.
Proctor proffers, “Perhaps Conrad did not want to investigate because he wanted it believed to be true. Which leads into the party-political dimension.”
There were 3 main witnesses to Operation Midland. Beech known as ‘Nick’ was one. Then there were witnesses ‘A’ and ‘B’ who have not yet faced the music. Proctor still does not know who these individuals are, as at present they benefit from lifelong anonymity. ‘B’ eventually came clean to police when he was overcome with guilt, he confessed to making the accusations as merely a joke and revealed his claims had been supplied by ‘two well-known campaigners’ he had met. Who were these two well-known campaigners? Someone knows. ‘B’ knows.
Proctor does not know.
It is these facts, learning about who the manipulators of these likely vulnerable men were, that Proctor is keen to comprehend. Neither Conrad nor Mark Watts from Exaro have been decent enough to shed any light – Conrad is now a reporter for the oft-sued Byline Times of Peter Jukes notoriety. Tom Watson has still not issued an apology to Proctor who has ‘not heard a peep from him’. Yet Proctor even now holds out hope that the police will uncover who urged whom and certainly there is a renewed police and MSM focus on ‘Darren’ and ‘David’ (the fake names given to ‘1’ and ‘2’), if not the Tory-haters behind them.
I then ask Proctor how he felt about Sir Keir Starmer having Tom Watson ennobled. He tells me that he warned the appointments committee against the peerage when Corbyn had tried, that when Watson was still an MP, Proctor had gone public about standing as an independent parliamentary candidate against Watson if he stood again in his seat – Watson conveniently announced within 48 hours that he was standing down as an MP.
As for Starmer: “As DPP back then he changed the background music. The police were told to stand innocent until proven guilty on its head by believing the victim. That percolated all the way down through the police force. I was never arrested or charged yet the police believed Beech over me.”
What about others who claimed that Beech’s accusations against him were ‘credible and true’?
Zac Goldsmith was busily encouraging Theresa May to open the IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse), which was originally focused on VIP sex rings until Midland collapsed. No apology from (now Lord) Goldsmith.
In July 2014, LBC Talk Radio presenter James O’Brien told Exaro’s Watts on air that “the door to his studio was always open” if Watts ever wanted to talk about Exaro’s investigations into organised child sex abuse. Proctor has not received any apology from O’Brien but dismisses him, somewhat amusingly, as mere troll: “Why give him any kudos? I’ve got so many people in my little black book who are far higher targets than O’Brien.”
There are others who have remained silent including the financial backer of Exaro, Jerome Booth. Exaro reporters have backtracked but never apologised. John Mann, the former Labour MP who very publicly handed over a list of VIP names to the police, has been quiet. Theresa May went on the Andrew Marr Show as Home Secretary and echoed the Met’s warning that Midland was ‘just the tip of the iceberg’. No apologies from May.
Bernard Hogan-Howe, now Baron Hogan-Howe, was the head of London’s Metropolitan Police as Commissioner for the Metropolis from 2011 until 2017. He did find time to apologise to Proctor in person and recognised that Midland was all a nonsense. But those in charge of the investigation have remained silent. Steve Rodhouse, who led Operation Midland, was even promoted to the National Crime Agency and faces a hearing for gross misconduct imminently about his role in part of the travesty.
The tears return.
“Every morning and every night I think about this. I will think about this on the day I die,” Proctor reflects. “No apology, no compensation will ever change this.”
I apologise to Proctor for my questions which are clearly causing his pain to return. There is a silence. Then I level with Mr Proctor by opining that his wound is a fatal one.
I suspect that with or without my questions, Midland and Maxwell are on Proctor’s mind every minute of every hour of every day. There have been homosexuals in the past who have suffered – Wilde and Turing spring to mind – but Proctor’s double tap, thirty years apart, involving such dark accusations of child murder, politically driven and in an era of Googling omniscience, has to sting.
As I leave the towering Belvoir Castle and head down its snaking drive to the level where the masses live, I cannot help but think of Sisyphus. Camus uses the Greek legend of Sisyphus, who is condemned by the gods for eternity to repeatedly roll a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down again once he got it to the top, as a metaphor for the individual’s persistent struggle against the essential absurdity of life. As Proctor arrives for work and scales the hill up to Belvoir (meaning beautiful view for the Normans who first sited a castle there) he pushes up a boulder for which he is essentially blameless but is forever cursed. Proctor’s tale is a tragedy of our age. Camus was right: ‘At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman’. We can all learn from Proctor’s crucible of agony and suffering; from humanity’s inhumanity via mistaken prudence.
Dominic Wightman is Editor of Country Squire Magazine.