The Guardian, March 1997
By Nick Davies, Eamon O’Connor and Melanie McFadeyan
It is an ordinary flat. The camera pans around the room catching sight of a bookshelf full of paperbacks, a desk which is untidy with letters and files, a couple of paintings on the wall, a chair or two, and then the doorway, the blank open doorway, and, as the camera waits, a man suddenly appears there. The only sound is the quiet crackle of the video tape.
In himself, this man is as ordinary as the flat. The camera carefully avoids his face, but his build suggests that he is in his 20s, slim, strong, casually dressed. His feet are bare. He is carrying something across his arms and, as he walks slowly towards the camera it becomes clear that it is a small boy, probably seven or eight years old, dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt. The boy is utterly limp, his lower legs trail downwards over the side of the man’s right arm, his head lolls gently backwards over the crook of the other arm. But it is the boy’s head which catches the camera’s eye and stops the heart. It is hooded.
The man walks confidently across the room. The camera follows. The man tips the faceless boy into a wooden chair and pushes him into a sitting position. He takes the boy’s wrists, lays them along the arms of the chair and carefully straps them into place. Then he yanks off the hood, and the camera closes in on the baby sweet face of the blond haired boy, slumped helpless in his bonds. And no-one needs to see a single minute more of this film to know exactly what is going to happen next to this child.
This film is known as the Bjorn Tape after the boy who is its central character and victim. It has been sold to paedophiles all over Western Europe and it is the subject of an intense police inquiry. It was made in Holland in March 1990. The man on the tape is English, though nothing is known about the man behind the camera. Neither they nor Bjorn have been identified. Stills from the tape have been released by Scotland Yard’s Paedophilia Unit to ITV’s Network First documentary, The Boy Business, to be shown on Tuesday (April 8).
The Bjorn Tape is important, not only because of the crime which it reveals with every frame, but also because of what it discloses about the inner workings of a bizarre and cruel world. As the veils of ignorance have been removed from paedophilia over the last decade, it has become clear that paedophiles will operate not only as strangers, hovering around public places where children gather; not only as family members, abusing their own children; but also as entrepreneurs.
For the last two years, we have been investigating the activities of a group of British paedophiles who exploit children ruthlessly – as sex objects for their own pleasure and as a source of profit in the international sex industry. They have based themselves in Amsterdam, where they have taken advantage of Dutch tolerance to turn their obsession into a lucrative business, running brothels and escort agencies, and producing pornographic films. To do this, they have imported their “raw material” from abroad – from the economic chaos of Eastern Europe and from the poverty-stricken streets of the inner cities of England.
Working with police in England and Holland, we have identified these men and we have also traced some of their victims. We have found close associates who have agreed to speak out. Most disturbing, in a story of grotesque pain, we have found compelling evidence that up to five children have been abducted, tortured and then killed in front of the paedophiles’ camera.
Three British men who lived in Amsterdam in the early 1990s have spoken quite independently of each other of their knowledge of paedophile “snuff movies”. All agree that they were made in Amsterdam by British paedophiles. Two of them name the same individuals, though neither admits to his own involvement. One of them appears openly in the Network First documentary. He has identified two houses where he says the films were made; he has named two Dutch criminals who he says were involved in distributing the films; he has given detailed descriptions of the boys in the films, described a club in Oslo where one of them was picked up, and he has identified a lake where he says their bodies were thrown. His allegations to Network First have been taken seriously by Scotland Yard, who have interviewed him twice at length, and by Dutch police who last month (March) launched a formal murder inquiry.
The origins of this extraordinary story lie in a small incident which briefly disturbed the calm of the British Embassy in Amsterdam on the morning of August 3 1993. The Dutch police called to say that on the previous night, they had found a young British boy who needed help to get back to England. The boy was telling a very odd tale. He said he had been held against his will in Amsterdam in some kind of brothel and that he had escaped by climbing out of a toilet window and running through the streets until he found a policeman. The British Embassy repatriated the boy and alerted Scotland Yard.
The boy’s name was Gary, he was 14-years old, he had grown up on a rough estate in the north east of England, he had never met his father and already he had spent years dodging in and out of trouble with the law. He described how several months earlier, he and his friend, Peter, also then 14 , had run away together and gone to London, sleeping rough in squats, begging and thieving for a living. Their main aim, he admitted, had been to get out of their heads, and so they had a contacted a man whom Gary had met once in the street, a helpful man who had given Gary his pager number and said certainly he could always get Gary drugs. His name was Warwick Spinks.
Spinks told the two boys that he had got some LSD for them at his home in Hastings on the Sussex coast, he paid for them to come on the train with him and took them back to his flat, where suddenly he produced a kitchen knife and made them strip naked. The burly 30-year-old ordered them to have sex together while he took photographs. When they failed to perform as he wished, he buggered both of them. Both of the boys pleaded with him to stop, but Spinks told them he liked it best when they were scared. He kept them in the flat for two days and gave them LSD. Some of the time, Gary was weeping.
Back on the streets, the two boys reported nothing – they were no friends of the police – and they returned to scavenging for anything that would get them stoned. Towards the end of July 1993, Gary alone contacted Spinks again, in search of more drugs. Spinks met him in Hastings, gave him some LSD and some hours later, in a state of wild confusion, Gary found himself on board a Jetfoil en route from Dover to Ostend. Spinks and another man were beside him. They had got him a false ID, pretending he was a 17-year-old called Michael Samuels. Gary guessed they must be going somewhere to get more drugs. He was wrong. They were going to Amsterdam, to Spuistraat, to a club called the Blue Boy, where Spinks quite simply was going to sell him.
At first sight, the Blue Boy looks like an ordinary bar: loud music, low red lighting, a counter full of spirits along one wall. The clues to its real nature soon emerge. On the walls, there are collages of naked and semi-naked young men. On top of the bar, there is an album – rather like a mail-order catalogue – in which there is page after page of advertisements for young men who are available to the Blue Boy’s customers. “We always have a wide choice of truly the best boys in town.” A young man walks on to the tiny stage at the far end of the bar, dances and strips. Other young men appear, wearing only brief underpants, inviting customers to come upstairs, to the little bedrooms with the neat white towels on each bed, to the S and M room with the cage and the bed with straps at each corner. “Indulge your wildest fantasies with the very best boys in town.”
In Amsterdam, it is legal for men aged over 18 to work in the sex industry. But when Warwick Spinks sold him to the Blue Boy, Gary was only 14. Gary says that in the club he was drugged and sexually abused. “People could do what they wanted to you,” he told us. Other young men who have worked in the Blue Boy have complained bitterly that they were trapped, by threats of violence and by the removal of their passports. They say they were pressured to do as customers demanded, regardless of whether they consented. On the evening of August 2, Gary scrambled out of the toilet window and found a policeman. The secret world of Warwick Spinks was about to collapse
Acting on Gary’s evidence, Scotland Yard’s Paedophilia Unit raided Spinks’ flat in George Street, Hastings. There they found a collection of seven photographs, showing Gary and John Paul locked in a naked and timid embrace; and a mugshot of Gary which had been used to produce the false ID in the name of Michael Samuels. They charged him with abduction and buggery and, in March 1995, at Lewes Crown Court they saw Warwick Spinks jailed for seven years.
The Spinks who was exposed in that trial was a deeply secretive figure. Outwardly, he was an ebullient, street-wise East Ender, a bit of a show-off who liked to boast that he could speak half a dozen languages, a bit of a loud-mouth who liked to hold court in the nightclubs of Amsterdam, Prague and Tenerife, in all of which he owned flats which he rented out to tourists. In reality, he was an obsessively promiscuous paedophile, who rented his flats out to paedophiles and criss-crossed Europe in search of young boys – “chickens”, as he called them – for his own ravenous appetite and for sale to others.
In the two years since that trial, we have entered Spinks’ world. We have had access to tapes of Spinks which were secretly recorded by an undercover police officer in Holland. We have found paperwork on which he recorded details of his paedophile deals. We have spoken to his victims and to his friends. Some of them remain anonymous but others have come out into the open to expose him and his associates and the breath-taking crimes they committed against the children they abducted.
The world of Warwick Spinks was based in Amsterdam, where scores of British paedophiles settled after a police crack-down in London in the 1980s. When the Dutch police reviewed all their intelligence on child pornography in 1985, they found there was almost nothing in the whole of Amsterdam. In four years, they had come across only three cases. Seven years later, after the arrival of Spinks and his friends, they repeated the exercise and found that nearly 250 people in the city were involved in the industry, most of them foreign; they seized 6,000 videos.
The paedophiles tucked their illegal life in amongst the relaxed and lawful surroundings of the gay bars and brothels of Amsterdam. In the late 1980s, Spinks managed one of these, the Gay Palace, where he sold alcohol and young men to tourists. One of his customers was a gay man from Birmingham, ‘Edward’, who says that even then, Spinks was operating as an entrepreneur, not only selling lawful sex with young male prostitutes but also meeting a very specific demand in the sexual market place: “People would approach him, being the sort of character he was, and say that they wanted to have sex with boys who were younger than were allowed in the brothels, or to have rough sex, or extremely dangerous sex with under-age children.”
According to Edward, who tells his story for the first time in Tuesday’s Network First, Spinks was soon searching out suitable young boys all over Europe. He always called them “chickens” and he was soon finding them in Munich, Berlin, London and, after the collapse of the Soviet empire, in the Czech Republic: “He would find their weak spot, so he was able to approach the boys and offer them something that they needed at the time, whether it was just a roof over their head or security or money or drugs or just two meals a day.”
Spinks himself made similar boasts to another Englishman who befriended him in Holland who was, unknown to Spinks, a police officer working undercover. Spinks boasted to him: “I am good at picking up stray chickens… I have been all over the world, I’m an international slut.” He described how he picked up boys in Dresden, in Bratislava in the Czech Republic, and in Poland where, he claimed, they cost only ten pence. “All those chickens with no money, ” he chuckled. In London, he said he was particularly keen on the hamburger bars around Picadilly Circus. And he was full of excitement about Hastings. “The chickens down the coast are very bored, they have got no money, they are not streetwise like Londoners and they spend all of their time in arcades… ”
Kenny Abbott was 17, he was homeless, penniless and drifting into drugs in November 1992, when Spinks befriended him at Victoria Station and gave him his phone number. By now, Spinks was living in England again and a few weeks later Spinks invited him to come on a trip to Amsterdam. Kenny accepted: “I didn’t have much friends at the time and he seemed OK.” But on the first night in Amsterdam, Spinks took Kenny to a private club and showed him an album of photographs of naked boys, aged between nine and thirteen. “Some of them looked scared,” Kenny told us. “Some of them looked drugged up.” One of the pictures, showing a boy of about ten, was marked “virgin”.
Spinks took Kenny on a tour of Amsterdam clubs, got him drunk and then raped him. Later, Spinks tried to insist that Kenny should pay for his drink and his ferry ticket by working for him, recruiting young boys for sex and for making films. He pointed to a group of 13-year-olds playing near by and told him he’d pay two or three hundred pounds a head for boys like that. Kenny argued: “I says ‘What do you get out of it?’ And he says he likes them to bleed, he likes them to cry, he likes to see pain. He gets orgasms over the pain. I mean, that’s what he does. He just enjoys it.”
The boys who Spinks found were an investment as well as a pleasure. He pimped them through his own escort agency. In his flat in Hastings, police found two lists marked Klantenlyst or Clients and Jongenlyst or Boys. The clients were listed by name, telephone number and sexual preference. Michael of Slough wanted light corporal punishment, Richard of Paddington wanted trios and was married, Mike from north London preferred his boys smooth and hairless. The boys were listed by age and penis length. Against several of the clients, he had noted one particular preference – “chicken”.
In Amsterdam, Spinks decided to open his own brothels – on boats outside the city, beyond the sight and hearing of neighbours. Edwards saw Spinks the pimp in action one night when he appeared outside a gay club with a young boy, probably aged seven or eight, blond with blue eyes. Spinks was holding the boy’s hand. McCullagh asked him what he was doing: “He glanced down at the boy and said ‘I’ve got to make a delivery, I’m going to be another half an hour’. I don’t know what happened to that boy. I never saw the boy again and I decided not to ask Warwick what he meant by making a delivery.”
Spinks was not the only British man one who was procuring boys in this way. One of his friends in Amsterdam, Peter Howells, was involved in a particularly effective honey trap. He owned a theatrical agency for children, with offices in London and Amsterdam. It was called Bovver Boots. Howells is a convicted paedophile who has also been named in police statements by children from Hackney in north London who say that they were abused, photographed and filmed.
These children found themselves being used for Howells’ picture library after being befriended by an amiable old man, known to his neighbours in Hackney as ‘Uncle Harry’. His real name is Owen Jeffries, he is 71 years old and he, too, is a convicted paedophile. He told children he was the official photographer for Bovver Boots, he gave them sweets and drinks – and a chance to become film stars. He conned them into posing in swimming trunks, rubbed oil on their bodies – “it enhances the picture” – and cajoled or threatened the children into stripping completely. Once he had his first nude pictures, he warned the children that he would show them to their parents and their friends on the estate if they did not do as he told them.
The youngest child photographed by Jeffries was only five. The children were prodded with a metal stick to make them strike the right pose. One of Jeffries’ victims, Matthew, says there was a hole in the wall between the room where the children were photographed and the next room, where Harry’s friends could watch the fun. After five years of abuse, Matthew, who was then 14, went to the police with the result that Jeffries was jailed. Detective Inspector Ian Delbarre, who led that inquiry, believes many of Uncle Harry’s pictures found their way to Amsterdam. Dutch police who visited Howells’ houseboat on Prinzengracht in Amsterdam found the walls papered with obscene photographs of young boys.
While men like Peter Howells were content to treat children as sex objects, Warwick Spinks and some of his Amsterdam friends broke new boundaries in treating them also as marketable goods. Some of those most closely involved have spoken of a house in North London where boys, aged between 11 and 14, were bound and buggered for the camera by two of the Amsterdam paedophiles. They say that boys were imported to Amsterdam for more film-making. They recall Spinks trying to charge £4,000 for a video of an eight-year-old boy being sexually abused and tortured by two men and, most alarming, they describe him showing a video in which a pre-pubescent boy was tortured, castrated and murdered.
The words of these anonymous associates may stretch belief. They may be built of nothing but malice. Yet the allegations that Spinks was distributing such films is supported by others and, most significantly, by the words of Warwick Spinks himself. The undercover police officer asked Spinks if he could get him a sado-masochistic video involving some very young chickens. Unaware that his every word was being record, Spinks said he thought he could.
“How young is young?” he asked.
“Pretty young,” said the officer.
“Yes, that sort of age.”
“I know people in Amsterdam,” said Spinks.“I might even have one myself. I’ll have a look… I think I might have one hidden away in my cellar downstairs.”
The officer went on to tease more out of Spinks, telling him that some friends of his had been offered a snuff movie, in which someone was tortured to death, for £6,000. Spinks spoke with the voice of an expert.
“They’re not six grand,” he said. “I know, well I knew some people who were involved in making snuff movies and how they did it was, they only sold them in limited editions, made ten copies or something, ten very rich customers in America, who paid $5,000 each or something like that – which is a lot of money to watch some kids being snuffed. I mean, I steer a wide berth from those people. I know somebody who was in a snuff movie and somebody got snuffed in front of him and he never knew it was a snuff movie. They had tied him up and done terrible things to him and killed him.”
“Did they?” asked the officer.
“And he has been really petrified since, because he was like from Birmingham, middle 20s… I know the person who made the film. I felt sorry for this boy, it was a German boy.”
“How old?” asked the officer, nudging Spinks along.
“About 13, 15. He thought he was going to make 200 guilders and ended up being dead.”
What was Spinks talking about? Was he involved only in the distribution of these films, or did he know something about their production? One of Spinks’ closest friends in Amsterdam is a convicted international drug dealer, ‘Frank’, who lived with his boyfriend just outside the city. The boyfriend comes from Birmingham and was in his mid 20s when Spinks knew them. Frank has since told British police that Spinks and his friends were involved in producing films in which children were raped and killed.
Edward, too, was close to Spinks and Frank at this time. He claims to have seen five videos which were produced by Spinks and Frank and Frank’s boyfriend, in which young boys were abused and murdered. There is one particular video which he has described for Network First with terrible clarity.
There was a man, he says, “who was allowed to do anything he wanted” to a boy. They were on a boat and, he says, he saw the boy choke to death while being orally raped by the man: “There was sound on the camera. You could hear the waves slapping against the side of the boat, you could hear noises of water fowl in the background, you could hear the boy gagging, you could hear the man grunting.
“You saw the guy trying to shake the boy and the boy was a rag doll, the boy couldn’t move at all, and he left him lying down on the seats, going around to the left in a half circle. The boy was actually flopped across the seat, faced towards the camera.Then there was panic, there was a lot of running in and out, the camera got hit from the side and got blanked out.”
Network First have passed all of their information to British and Dutch police, who examined it and decided to launch a murder inquiry. Edward has spoken to both forces and identified a house in Hoofdorp near Amsterdam where, he says, some of the videos were made and a second house where, he claims, Spinks was living with Frank and his boyfriend. He has taken police to a lake where, he says, Frank’s boyfriend told him that the bodies of the dead children were dumped. He has named two Dutch criminals who are said to have sold the tapes in extracts, starting with the death and charging more and more for the preceding clips: one of these criminals is described by police as a member of the Dutch mafia; the other is a Dutch paedophile who has run his own brothels in Amsterdam.
In Tuesday’s programme, Edward describes the children he says he saw in all five videos. “There was a boy with sallow skin and brown hair, brown eyes, which is unusual for Amsterdam. I’ve no idea where they got him from. There were two blond-haired boys and a strawberry blond boy, and a boy with a very distinctive haircut. It was shaved over both ears, with a loop and a parting down the middle.” Edward says he couldn’t tell their nationality: “They cried and screamed a lot. They did cry out, but I don’t know what language they were crying out in.”
Police in London and Amsterdam confirm that Edward was a known associate of Warwick Spinks and of Frank, and that he approached British Customs officers several years ago to make these allegations. Dutch police confirm that Spinks was living at the one of houses identified by Edward with two British men. Edward has taken them to the lake.
Scotland Yard and the Dutch police are believed also to be looking for links between Spinks and the Bjorn Tape. The fate of Bjorn is not known. Detective Constable Terry Bailey who has conducted an exhaustive search for clues in the tape told us: “When you see the terror that is on the child’s face, and the fear that is there – to actually drug a child, to actually wake him up and hear him scream when he is being buggered…It is so horrific. And the boy, he obviously can point the finger at the abuser if he’s eventually found. I wouldn’t like to say what has happened to this boy. They’ve done so much to him. The next step could be that they’ve killed him.”
This summer, Warwick Spinks is due to be released from prison. The Appeal Court cut his sentence from seven years to five. As Spinks boasted to the undercover officer: “I know I’m a fat old queen but I get away with it. I get away with murder.”
* The names of Gary and Peter are false, to protect their privacy as the victims of sex offences.