The Guardian, 25th November 2000
This editorial refers to The West Country Web
The Guardian, 25th November 2000
This editorial refers to The West Country Web
The Guardian, October 2000
by Nick Davies
A year after Bristol police finally started to unravel the ring of paedophiles in the city who had been abusing children for up to twenty years, they came across an informant who opened up a new and alarming line of inquiry.
The man, who himself had a long history of sexually abusing boys, told them that the paedophiles they were investigating had been spending a lot of time in Amsterdam, where they had become involved with a group of exiled British child abusers who had succeeded in commercialising their sexual obsession. They were trafficking boys from other countries; running legitimate gay brothels and selling the under-aged boys ‘under the counter’ and through escort agencies; they had branched out into the production of hard-core child pornography. And they had killed some of them.
One boy had simply been shot through the head, the informant said: he had been causing trouble and had been executed in front of several paedophiles in the basement of a club in the city centre. Another, about whom he knew very little, he believed had been thrown into one of the canals. But the one about whom he spoke the most – the one who seemed to haunt him – was a boy who had been tortured and killed in the most painful and bloody fashion in the course of producing a pornographic video. The informant said he had seen most of the video himself. He said he had vomited before he could reach the end.
The few detectives in Europe and North America who specialise in the investigation of child abuse, invariably say the same thing about ’snuff movies’: they have often heard of them, sometimes pursued them but never found one. The videos remain one of the great unsolved mysteries of the burgeoning underworld of international sexual exploitation. The Bristol informant’s account was so hideous as to invite disbelief. It was clearly possible that the man was simply inventing the story in an attempt to curry favour with the detectives as they turned over the paedophile culture of the city. And yet, the detectives soon found themselves taking the story seriously, because they discovered that the allegation had been made before. Not just once but repeatedly, evidence of one kind or another had come to the attention of police in England and Holland, indicating that, for their pleasure and their profit, some of the British paedophiles in Amsterdam had murdered boys in front of the camera.
Some of the evidence had been pursued, sometimes with vigour. Some of it had been ignored. None of it had led to a murder charge. For a short while, the Bristol detectives thought they might be able finally to make some progress in tracking down the truth, but when two of them flew to Amsterdam in the autumn of 1998 to pass on their information to Dutch officers, they hit a wall. The Bristol informant had described the flat in Amsterdam where he had seen the video; he had named the owner of the flat who was, by implication, also the owner of the video; he had provided the name and job of the man who carried out the killing; he had described events on the video in grim detail; he had provided the rough age and the first name of the dead boy. The Dutch officers said it was not enough: without the full name of a victim, they would not begin an investigation.
Having fought their way through the swamp of inertia which surrounds the British policing and prosecution of child abuse, the Bristol detectives had now hit the even deeper swamp of virtual paralysis that afflicts the international policing of paedophilia. Within their own jurisdictions, there are now specialist paedophilia detectives – for example, in both London and Amsterdam – who will work relentlessly to lock up predatory child abusers. But when they try to move abroad, this potentially powerful machine starts to misfire.
The result – as the Guardian has found by going into the paedophile scene in Amsterdam and Berlin – is that there is now a flourishing underground trade in boys who are being exported from the economic chaos of Eastern Europe, as well as from the streets of London, to be put to work in the sex industry of Western Europe, particularly Holland. And there is no effective police operation to deal with it. Quite simply: predatory paedophiles glibly cross whatever borders they like in order to pursue their obsessions; the police who might follow them are almost always trapped within their own narrow jurisdictions, partly by differences in law and procedure, partly by sheer institutional frailty, because they lack the manpower and the money to work internationally. There is an exception to this rule of parochialism – in the highly funded war against drugs – but in the perverse world of modern policing, the trafficking, rape and alleged murder of children has a far lower priority.
After speaking to paedophiles and their victims and to police and social workers in Britain, Holland and Germany, we have uncovered the inner workings of an international paedophile ring. Its roots spring from Amsterdam, where, in the late 1980s, a group of exiled British paedophiles set up a colony. Taking advantage of Dutch tolerance towards sexual behaviour, they exploited the freedom of the gay community in the city as cover to enact their fantasies and to make money from them. One of the first to do so was Alan Williams, the ‘Welsh Witch’, who already had a vicious history of abusing boys in south Wales.
Williams arrived in Amsterdam in 1988, aged 21, and soon set himself up as the manager of a gay brothel called Boys Club 21 on the first floor of 21 Spuistraat, near the central station. Across the road at number 44, another British paedophile, a chubby Londoner named Warwick Spinks, then aged 25, was running a similar club called the Gay Palace. Both clubs had a perfectly legal business, running a bar and offering the services of adult male prostitutes who could take customers upstairs to bedrooms. But Williams and Spinks had much wider and crueller interests.
Williams had fled to Holland after being convicted in Britain of indecent assaults on boys. In Amsterdam, he boasted of the day in South Wales when he had seen a ten-year-old boy on his bike, wanted him, grabbed him, raped him and, when he cried, strangled him to death. He liked to show people the video of himself as a teenager in Young Boys Pissing. From Boys Clubs 21, he organised the importing of boys from Cardiff and London, inflicting intense violence on any who defied him. Paul Conibeer, from Cardiff, who eventually managed to run away told us: “He put a contract on me. They were going to put a bullet in my head. Two of my mates came up with black eyes and warned me. I hid in this cafe – they were ripping people out, looking for me.”
Spinks, who has described himself as “an international slut”, had been running a mail-order pornography business from Brighton, East Sussex, before he moved to Amsterdam, where he pioneered the trafficking of boys as young as ten years old into the city’s sex industry. He brought homeless boys from the streets of London and, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, fanned out across Europe importing vulnerable ‘chicken’, as he liked to call them, from the poverty of East Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Having got them to Amsterdam, he used them himself, sold them into the brothels or through escort agencies and put them in front of the camera. Some resisted, some ran away – most were made to comply with the removal of their passports and regular doses of drugs and violence.
By 1990, these two clubs on Spuistraat – together with Boys for Men, De Boys, the Blue Boy and the Why Not – had become the busiest watering hole in the international paedophile jungle. Dutch police at the time estimated there were 250 paedophiles involved in the production of child pornography in Amsterdam with an unknown floating population of child sex tourists from all over the world. A Swiss businessman, for example, was caught in the city with handcuffs, a gag and a large suitcase with airholes in the side; police found a video of him abusing two young girls with electrodes. A wealthy New York attorney was caught ferrying child pornography from Asia. But it was the British who formed the hard core of the new industry: Stephen Smith, who had helped to found the Paedophile Information Exchange, fled there to avoid imprisonment in England; Russell Tricker, now aged 58, a former private school teacher who was convicted of child-sex offences in the UK, moved to Amsterdam, where he used his job as a coach-driver to ferry suitable boys from London; Tricker’s friend, John Broomhall, opened a porn shop on Spuistraat and was caught with more than a thousand copies of videos of under-aged boys; Mark Enfield, now aged 41, sold a video of himself abusing a drugged boy; Andrew Prichodsky, now aged 50, jumped bail in England on the eve of his third trial for child sex offences.
Alan Williams introduced two paedophile friends from Wales, John Gay and Lee Tucker, both of whom were to become central targets for the Bristol detectives. The two men found they could sell Welsh boys into the clubs on Spuistraat at £120 a time and then make more money by investing in the booming business of child pornography. They borrowed money from a paedophile lorry driver in Bristol, bought state-of-the-art video equipment, set up TAG Films, and visited Amsterdam regularly to make porn films, which they sold through distributors in the United States and Germany. At the time, Dutch law said nothing about the possession of child pornography and punished its production with a maximum sentence of only three months.
By October 1990, detectives on the old Obscene Publications Squad at Scotland Yard were picking up worrying signals. An informant told them that someone called Alan Williams was trafficking boys into Amsterdam and that Wiiliams had asked him to smuggle a child porn video back into the UK. Soon afterwards, another informant told how he had smuggled a dozen tapes in the opposite direction: they had been produced, he believed, in a house in North London, which was equipped with a bondage room for boys. He had delivered the tapes in Amsterdam to Boys Club 21, to ‘Alan from Cardiff’. While he was there, this informant said, he had visited the Gay Palace across the road, where he had watched videos of boys in bondage, aged 11 to 14 years old, being buggered by masked men.
Soon, other informants were offering more detail – each new fragment of the picture a little more alarming than the last. One man, who was close to Alan Williams, said he had seen Warwick Spinks selling a special video for £4,000. It showed a boy whom he thought was only eight or nine years old being sexually abused and tortured by two men. But the most startling allegations came from a gay man, Frank, who had gone to Amsterdam in July 1990 and found himself caught up in this paedophile underworld. In 1993, he spoke to the same officers at Scotland Yard.
Frank told how he had met Alan Williams and seen him arguing with a boy from Rotherham who was owed money for four punters he had serviced in Boys Club 21. Williams had offered to pay him in cocaine but refused to pay him in cash and, when the boy had grabbed him and pushed him up against a fruit machine, the club’s security man had thrown the boy out of a first-floor window, breaking his leg. Frank told police of Warwick Spinks’ monthly trips to Berlin, often accompanied by compliant boys from Amsterdam who would persuade reluctant recruits that the clubs in Spuistrat would give them a good life with all the cash and drugs they could use. Spinks told Frank that if he saw a boy who was really cute, he would simply snatch him: “Spinks liked to pay them in drugs, coke and E and speed or even smack. He said it would help him if they got hooked.” He recalled, too, how he had met John Gay and Lee Tucker operating as a camera crew for child pornography.
One day, Frank said, Spinks invited him to come on a trip to the Canaries, delivering three kilos of grass to an old English gangster who had retired there. Frank went and that evening, in the gangster’s bar, Spinks had suggested he should help him sell videos and offered to show him a sample. Frank said he watched in growing horror as the video played out a murder – a boy who seemed to be no older than twelve years old was being beaten and attacked with needles, before being castrated and cut open with a knife. The video seemed to have been shot in a barn in what looked like Dutch countryside, and detectives later learned that Williams and his friends had been talking about making a video in a barn that belonged to a German from one of the Spuistraat clubs.
Scotland Yard were in a difficult position: their informants were British and so was Warwick Spinks, who by this time had left Amsterdam and was living in Hastings, East Sussex; but everything else in the story was scattered round Europe – a video made in Holland but shown in Spain with an alleged perpetrator who was German and a victim of unknown nationality. Still the allegation – supported by the earlier fragments of intelligence – demanded action.
After long negotiations within Scotland Yard and with their counterparts in Holland, the detectives set up Operation Framework and, as the Guardian reported in 1997, they recruited a specialist undercover officer to pose as a child abuser and to befriend Warwick Spinks in England. Over a series of meetings, Spinks took the bate and started to boast about his activities: “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… ”
The undercover officer asked Spinks if he could get him a sado-masochistic video featuring boys as young as ten, and Spinks replied that he knew people in Amsterdam who could. The officer went on to claim 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.
“About 13, 15. He thought he was going to make 200 guilders and ended up being dead.”
But Operation Framework ended in frustration. Spinks divulged no more about the video and failed to produce a copy of it. Without more evidence, the detectives could not justify the expense of keeping the undercover officer or of sending officers to Amsterdam, where, in any event, they lacked police powers. The Scotland Yard detectives arrested Spinks in Hastings and charged him with adbucting and raping two homeless boys from the streets of London and selling one of them into a Spuistraat brothel. In February 1995, he was jailed at Lewes Crown Court for seven years, reduced on appeal to five.
But the allegation of murder would not go away. As The Guardian reported in 1997, another gay man, Edward, a friend of Frank’s, spoke of his experience of the British paedophiles in Amsterdam. He, too, had mixed with Spinks and Williams and their friends and he claimed to have seen five videos, each featuring the sexual torture and death of a boy. He said their bodies had been dumped in a lake. The Dutch police investigated and said they could no find no evidence to support the claims.
Now, the Bristol detectives have come up with their own informant who has offered yet more evidence. He, too, described the same cauldron of commercialised child abuse, bubbling around Spuistraat. He explained how John Gay and Lee Tucker set themselves up as video pornographers, first taking a group of boys by minivan to an isolated farmhouse in France, and then making visits to Amsterdam to film with the boys there. And he told how, in 1989, he had been alone in a flat which belonged to one of the key figures in the Amsterdam paedophile scene, whom he named; he had found a video and played it and watched in horror as it played out a murder – a boy who was being buggered and beaten before being castrated and cut open with a knife.
At first sight, this informant was describing the same video as the one which Frank saw in the Canaries, and yet its details differ: Frank described a video shot in a barn; the Bristol informant says it was shot in a flat. Frank described the abuse and murder of one boy; the Bristol informant says there was a second boy, who was also being abused and who was still alive at the point when he turned off the tape. And yet, the overlap is striking: the specific nature of the violence is unusual and identical; and the Bristol informant names the man who actually committed the killing – he is the same German whose barn was allegedly picked as a porn studio by the ring of child porngraphers.
Frank and the Bristol informant were certainly involved with the paedophile colony in Amsterdam. So, too, were Spinks and Edward. All four of them were there in 1989/90 and all four separately claim that at least one boy was killed on video. Spinks told the undercover officer that a German boy was killed; Frank says that two Germans disappeared as well as an American; Franks says that Spinks once hinted to him that a German boy named Manny had been murdered; one of the English boys told Operation Framework that a German boy named Manny had gone missing; we have confirmed from talking to boys who worked in Spuistraat at that time that a boy of that name and nationality, then aged 14, disappeared after being caught breaking into a gaming machine at one of the clubs.
The Bristol informant, however, says he thinks the victim of the video which he saw was Dutch, named Marco and probably aged 16. At one end of the scale of possibility, every one of these men may be lying in an attempt to score favours with the police or to cause trouble for other men on the Amsterdam scene, and certainly it was not unusal for boys to disappear from Spuistraat simply because they had had enough of being exploited and ran away. At the other end of the scale, the truth is that one or more boys was killed in a paedophile snuff movie – and the murderers have got away with it. As Spinks told the undercover officer: “I know I’m a fat old queen, but I get away with it. I get away with murder.”
The Bristol detectives can get no further. The Dutch say they will not investigate, and Avon and Somerset police have neither the funds nor the legal power to run their own inquiry in Holland. They have been frustrated not only in their attempt to pursue the allegation of murder but also in relation to a separate statement from one of the Welsh boy victims, who says he was raped at gun point by one of the British paedophiles in Amsterdam. The Bristol detectives arrested the man, but could not even put the allegation to him, because the alleged rape was outside their jurisdiction.
There have been successful paedophilia operations between British and European police. Scotland Yard detectives recently have twice arrested wanted men and extradited them to Holland for trial on child-sex offences. The Bristol detectives, following the activities of Gay and Tucker, led German police to raid a video distributor in Dusseldorf. Within their borders, the Dutch paedophilia unit have arrested several of the key British paedophiles for sexual abuse and the production of pornography and, since January 1996, they have introduced a tougher law, which threatens up to six years in prison for the production of child pornography. But the wider picture is of police being trapped within their borders with the result, we have found, that the European trade in boys for sexual exploitation has grown into an international industry.
The trafficking of boys into Amsterdam’s sex industry continued to grow long after Warwick Spinks left the city in the early 1990s. A couple of years ago, I sat in the Blue Boy club on Spuistraat, amidst the dry ice and the boys in thongs, and flicked through the catalogue on the bar, offering “truly the best boys in town” – East German boys, Polish boys, Dutch boys – and watched a Japanese businessman make his purchase. I spent an evening on Paardenstraat, just around the corner from the tourist cafes on the Rembrandsplein, where the pavement is strewn with garbage and there’s a smell of piss in the air. East European boys sit chewing the skin around their finger nails in the shadows of the three bars – the Festival, the Music Box and the Cupido – waiting for business. One of Alan Williams’ Welsh boys ended up in the Festival Bar. By the age of 16, he was HIV positive and was last heard of in a mental hospital in England.
In search of their origins, I went to Berlin, to the Bahnhof Am Zoo, where the trains arrive from all over Eastern Europe, bringing the destitute in search of a dream. A specialist social worker there, Wolfgang Werner, told me there were some 700 East European boys, aged from eleven to seventeen, who had ended up in the sex industry in Berlin but, to his knowledge, many hundreds of others who had been taken off on a kind of underground railroad which fanned out to Zurich and Hamburg and Frankfurt and, most of all, to Rotterdam and Amsterdam in Holland. Werner told me about the boys from Polish villages who were selling themselves to support families back home who survived on only £30 a month; about the Bosnians who wash up on the banks of the Bahnhof Am Zoo not only financially destitute but also emotionally mutilated; about the steady trickle of lost boys from Turkey and Kurdistan; and about the group of Romanian boys who had been sold by their parents to a wandering Polish criminal, who had paid cash for some and a mere bottle of vodka for another, before putting them on to the streets of Berlin. All now ‘chicken’ for the pleasure of paedophiles.
I went to the cluster of ‘boy bars’ in Fuggerstrasse, fifteen minutes’ walk from the Bahnhof, and saw adolescent East Europeans bartering for trade. Just around the corner, in the PC Inn, Berlin police found Bosnian boys of only 12 on sale to customers. I followed the trail of two men, Peter Goetjes and Lutz Edelman, who have been identified as traffickers in the Berlin press. Eventually, I spoke to a close friend of theirs who shrugged and said, of course, they had been trafficking – it was easy money. They had started in the autumn of 1991 with a couple of boys from the Bahnhof whom they had driven to Holland. They had made a good sale. Yes, one of them was under 16, but who was counting? So they had started making regular runs, sometimes two or three times a week. They must have sold 150 between them, before Goetjes was caught on the Polish border in the summer of 1992 with a boy from a rundown industrial town called Gorzow Wielkopolski in his boot. He was charged with smuggling, released on bail and then simply drove away and never came back for his trial. At about that time, they had stopped trafficking, not so much because of Goetjes’ arrest but because they had been told that some of the boys were being used in snuff movies. There were plenty of others who carried on.
In May 1995, Bjorn Eriksson, then president of Interpol and chief of the Swedish police, told a conference on cross-border crime that organised paedophile networks were operating across European frontiers and that as many as 30,000 paedophiles were believed to be linked to organisations or publications throughout Europe. His warning went unheeded. In the late 1990s, the trafficking of boys from Berlin to Holland hit the north European press when police belatedly tried to find out what had happened to a 12-year-old Berlin boy named Manuel Schadwald who had gone missing on his way home in July 1993. At the time, Berlin police had told his family that he must have run away and they had done nothing. By 1997, however, Dutch journalists had dug out a history of sightings which suggested he had been put to work in a brothel in Rotterdam.
The brothel was one of several in the city which were being run by a German named Lothar Glandorf, now aged 36. After ignoring complaints for 18 months, Rotterdam police finally targetted him and found he had been selling hundreds of boys. Of those they could trace, nearly half were under 16, some by many years. One of them was only nine. Tapping Glandorf’s phones, they heard one customer say “I’m looking for a young boy, a very young boy, a nice little blonde one, who can stay the night”; and another who specified a pre-pubescent boy, “You know, no hair.” This was a kind of slavery. They heard Glandorf tell one boy that if he tried to run away, he would send his family pornographic pictures of him; another was told simply he would be shot in the head.
The Rotterdam police reported: “Even if Glandorf knew the perversions of a customer, he would still send a young boy to a customer who had a sexual preference for sado-masochism. Glandorf had one customer who specialised in deflowering young boys.” In one of Glandorf’s houses, they found an unmailed letter from a Turkish boy called Attila, written to a young girl named Aysum. “Don’t feel sad about me,” he wrote. “Things are the way they are and there is nothing to be done about it. You can do what you want. Don’t be sad.” They found the same boy in a video, with his testicles wired to a whining electrical generator while a Belgian customer abused him.
In the midst of all this, the Rotterdam police were looking for Manuel Schadwald. Three different boys had run away from Glandorf’s world and reported sighting the missing Berlin boy. Police logs which were leaked to the Dutch TV programme Network, reveal that three Rotterdam surveillance officers saw Glandorf with a boy whom all three of them believed to be Manuel Schadwald but they failed to rescue him: the leaked logs suggest that they were reluctant to break cover for fear of jeopardising their operation, asked for urgent advice from senior officers, received none and watched passively as Glandorf drove the boy away in his car. With the Dutch and German press baying for action, police in the two countries finally set about trying to find him – some four years after his disappearance. They failed. Manuel Schadwald has never been found. The last sightings suggested he was working in the dark bars on Paardenstraat in Amsterdam.
The same cross-border weakness persists. Investigating Glandorf, the Rotterdam police found that British paedophiles were routinely using his brothels. They found their names and details in Glandorf’s paperwork: one was crossing the North Sea on a weekly basis. The Rotteredam detectives produced a detailed report, De Handel In Kinderen – The Trade In Children – which the Guardian has obtained. It presents a detailed picture of the trade and of some of its British links, and yet they never even sent a copy to Scotland Yard. Glandorf, himself, had little fear of international policing. When a senior Dutch civil servant phoned him from Poland to say he was bringing back a boy for him, the police phone taps recorded Glandorf saying: “Be careful. When you get to the bridge at the border, let him out so he can go on foot so they can’t catch you.” That was all it took.
Within their borders, the Dutch did better. Having finally targeted Glandforf, they jailed him for five and a half years, and yet the Amsterdam paedophiles remain relaxed and casual about their world. I visited one in his cosy home next to a canal in the centre of the city. He is a chubby bespectacled man with a string of convictions, and he stood in his sitting room, ironing his shirts with considerable care, while he chatted about his hobby – the boys he had had recently, the videos that were on sale, and the trafficking from all over Europe. He didn’t like to think of it as a paedophile ring. “It’s a spider’s web,” he said, “people criss-crossing and finding interests.” In Utrecht, two years ago, I went to the home of Rudy van Dam, the most prolific boy pornographer in Holland and, although at first he pretended to be somebody else, he eventually let me in and sat in his neat parlour, in front of the old oak sideboard, and he talked about his career, apparently quite indifferent to the video-editing equipment behind his head, pouring out a constant stream of soundless boy pornography.
Van Dam is dead now. So is Alan Williams, a victim of AIDS and heroin. John Gay and Lee Tucker were jailed by the Bristol detectives, although Tucker jumped bail and was last seen heading for Amsterdam. The Berlin traffickers, Goetjes and Edelman, were never prosecuted. Warwick Spinks absconded from a London probation hostel before the end of his five-year sentence, ripped off several credit card companies on a spending spree in the boy bars in Fuggerstrasse in Berlin before settling in Prague. Some of the other key figures from Holland have joined him there, apparently drawn to the easy supply of vulnerable boys and the lack of police activity. Lothar Glandorf from Rotterdam served only four years of his sentence and is free again. In their report, the Dutch detectives noted that as soon as Glandorf and his men had been arrested, “other club owners moved in immediately.” The trains still pull into the Bahnhof Am Zoo with their consignment of vulnerable children. The international boy business is alive and well.
The Guardian, 25th November 2000
by Nick Davies
A little way south of the centre of Bristol, there is a neat and peaceful patch of suburbia called Brislington. In among its redbrick rows of Victorian terraced homes, there is Churchill Road – an ordinary collection of two-storey houses with patches of grass out back and a couple of For Sale signs in the front. The door to number 49 is painted cream.
In October 1997, a woman telephoned the police in Bristol to say that she was worried about her nephew, Ricky. He was 15, he had had some trouble in his family, and he kept going off for a day or two at a time. When he came back, he had new clothes or little gifts and he wouldn’t say how he had got them. Was he stealing, was he mixed up in drugs? It worried her, and all she knew was that Ricky was going to a house at 49 Churchill Road.
As a result of that call, the police opened the cream-coloured door and uncovered a rats’ nest of child abuse – a full-blown paedophile ring. The house was a honey trap, fitted out with a gaming machine, a sauna, plenty of videos and drink and drugs and anything else that might persuade a wandering boy to come in off the streets. Inside the house, some of the boys had been slowly groomed for the sexual pleasure of men who lived there. Others had been simply raped. Some had been given heroin to keep them compliant. Several had been forced into prostitution. Some of the abusers had been busy for 20 years in one location or another.
Three years on, the officers of Avon and Somerset’s Child Protection Team have identified 89 boy victims, aged between 6 and 16. They have run four major trials at which victims have told stories of unmitigated pain and exploitation. Twelve men have been convicted of rape, forced buggery, indecent assault, supplying heroin and living off prostitution. Many of the men admitted their guilt and they have been jailed for a total of 66 years. The police found links between the house in Bristol and addresses in south Wales as well as Holland and France. All this conceals a deeper story.
This other story begins four years before that phone call – with other phone calls, other alarm bells ringing. By October 1994, social services and police in Bristol had been warned repeatedly that vulnerable boys were being sexually abused at 49 Churchill Road.
The loudest warning had come from a gay social worker, whose boyfriend was living in the house. Neither the social worker nor the boyfriend had any interest in child abuse. The social worker was worried about a 14-year-old boy who had run away from a children’s home and returned in an agitated state.
Through the boyfriend, he discovered that the runaway had been staying at 49 Churchill Road and that there were clear signs of paedophile activity there. The social worker went to the social services department. The police interviewed his boyfriend, who told them all he knew about the honey trap and the boys and the drugs and the sexual abuse. Other social workers had reported separately that a 13-year-old boy, who was on their register of children at risk, was believed to have become embroiled in Bristol’s rent boy scene: he was disappearing for days at a time, he was believed to be using strong drugs and he was found to be carrying a piece of paper with a phone number – traced to 49 Churchill Road.
Two other boys who had been living in a children’s home had been reported to be visiting the house; one had been caught up in an earlier inquiry into child pornography. Worse still, a social worker who was based at the children’s home was said to have introduced a vulnerable boy to the men in the house.
On October 7, 1994, Avon’s Child Protection Committee held a special meeting to discuss what they described as “a potential paedophile ring” at 49 Churchill Road. Three social workers and a police inspector reviewed all the clues and agreed to check all their records and to interview the children they believed to be involved; the social workers sent a minute of the meeting to their area manager; the police inspector said he would talk to his superintendent and to the Crown Prosecution Service . . . and essentially nothing happened. Two years later, two more boys made allegations about the house. The rape and seduction and all the rest of it continued unabated.
There is nothing unusual in that kind of failure to uncover and prosecute child abuse. Paedophilia is the least effectively policed crime in Britain. It is grossly under-reported by its victims: like the adult victims of sex abuse, they suffer from shame and the anticipation of disbelief in court; in addition, they are far more easily confused and intimidated by their abusers. Police generally make almost no attempt to go out and uncover unreported abuse: while every police force in the country pours resources into fighting drugs and robbery and burglary, only a handful of the 32 forces have proactive paedophile units.
The operation which finally destroyed the Bristol ring broke through this wall of inaction, not because any-one in the Home Office or the Association of Chief Police Officers finally had the courage to address the scandal, but because of the chance involvement of several unusual individuals.
In the autumn of 1996, a young detective sergeant named Rob Jones had moved to Avon and Somerset’s Child Protection Team. The unit did not investigate cases at all. They just supplied back-up for social workers and advice for families and children who found themselves in police hands. It was no place for a real detective. But Rob Jones is one of nature’s outsiders, a black belt in karate, a discipline which has given him unusual strength of will.
He was joined by two experienced detective constables, Pete Mainstone and Phil Brown, and together they determined to go out and actively look for abused children. It was Pete Mainstone who took the call from Ricky’s worried aunt in October 1997. And instead of merely processing it, he pushed to find out more. He arranged to meet Ricky with his aunt and he checked intelligence records and found that the house in Churchill Road was already suspect. Jones prepared for the possibility of a full-scale inquiry.
Almost every step was a struggle against inertia. Ricky was reluctant to talk, but slowly he agreed to tell what he knew. He spoke of rent boys coming to the house; there was a suggestion that pornographic films were being made; he spoke of a stream of men who visited; he broke down and described eventually how he had been buggered relentlessly by two men; and he named them. One was Christopher Leek, now 44, a costume dresser who had worked on The Bill and who owned the house. He had been using it as a honey trap for years, but Avon and Somerset police had no intelligence on him. The other man, however, was noto-rious: Tony Stevens, now 45, had a long history of abusing boys. He had previously called himself Mark Underhill, but he was better known to under-aged rent boys in Bristol and south Wales as Fat Tony, and, although he had never been convicted in Britain, he had been arrested and jailed in Portugal in 1993 with two other British men after being caught paying local children to make pornographic videos.
Rob Jones knew he was on to something important, but he and the two DCs could work on the case only part time, while they continued with conventional child protection work. They needed extra resources: surveillance officers to watch the house in Churchill Road; technical support so they could video those coming and going; more officers to follow up on the leads which Ricky had given them. Jones managed to borrow three officers from other units, but that was all.
After months of part-time frustration, Jones decided to take a chance: he got a warrant to search the house and persuaded his bosses to give him proper back-up for just one night. He was taking a risk: Ricky had now disappeared without signing his statements, and if they found nothing in the house, the officers would have no evidence with which to charge the paedophiles and they would have squandered the tiny credibility they enjoyed with their bosses. On the night of February 3 1998, Avon and Somerset police finally opened the door at 49 Churchill Road.
They found the whole place had been sanitised: no boys; no drugs; a computer hard disk that had been professionally wiped; photographic equipment stowed away. It turned out that during the months of delay, Ricky had told the men in the house that he had been talking to the police, and they had covered their tracks.
There was no evidence there to justify a charge. But, by sheer persistence, the detectives had managed to track down Ricky only hours before the raid, and he had signed his statements. On that basis, they now arrested Christopher Leek and Fat Tony Stevens. As they searched the house, a boy named Andrew arrived. He started to talk, painting the same picture as Ricky, describing indecent assaults which he had suffered, and crucially he added the names of other boy victims and other men.
Now, Rob Jones had a full-blooded investigation. But he was running it out of a shoebox. He needed more detectives to carry out interviews; he needed an incident room and he needed administrative officers to run it. But all he was given a single terminal and a part-time data inputter. At least one senior officer was actively arguing for the whole inquiry to be stopped immediately. And Jones had a more immediate worry: if Leek and Stevens got bail, he would have no chance of getting their victims to talk. Ricky had told them that the two men had taken him to a solicitor to file a complaint that the police were harrassing him.
At this moment, another unusual individual joined the inquiry. Brendan Moorhouse is a barrister, working for the Crown Prosecution Service in their New Bridewell office in Bristol. He had grown up in apartheid South Africa with a real drive for justice and, when Rob Jones asked for his help, he made it his business not simply to act as a CPS case worker but to guide the police inquiry.
From the first day, he organised a special strategy. They would build a big picture for the jury, aiming where possible to keep different offenders together in the same dock with a collection of their victims as witnesses. It would be much harder work than simply running a sequence of small trials, but it was their best chance of showing the jury the truth. And Moorhouse volunteered to turn up in court personally to take charge of every bail application. His first success was to keep Leek and Stevens behind bars while Jones’ officers tracked down their victims.
For three months, with Moorhouse’s guidance, detectives gathered more evidence. By June, they had 15 victims and a queue of men waiting to be arrested – and no extra resources. And senior officers had made up their minds to pull the plug. They had appointed a new chief inspector to run the Child Protection Team and briefed him to stop the job before it got any bigger.
At this point, Jones’ team had two strokes of luck. First, the new chief inspector, Ian Appleton, turned out to be a man who understood what they were doing, and he got them their own incident room and even some cars. Rob Jones assembled a “dirty dozen” officers, begged and borrowed from uniformed work or CID teams. Operation Panorama was born. The second stroke of luck was the arrival of a new chief constable, Steve Pilkington, who agreed to support the inquiry in a way that some of his predecessors and many of his contemporaries would not. On July 7, 1998, Jones’ team co-ordinated a series of dawn arrests. Now, they had a total of 10 men in custody.
Following the grapevine of victims, they traced a 26-year-old Welshman named Wayne, who had first be-come a victim of Fat Tony Stevens 14 years earlier, when he was only 12. Wayne told them how he had grown up in south Wales and how, when he was six or seven, he had joined a stamp club run by an adoles-cent boy called Alan Williams. Wayne was not to know that Williams was to grow up to become one of the most ruthless abusers in Britain, a rapist and child pornographer known in the paedophile world as the Welsh Witch.
Wayne described how Williams asked him to stay behind after stamp club and introduced him to an old man, who smelled bad. They took it in turns to bugger him. Then they threw him out, and Wayne recalled how he wandered off in panic. Wayne never even tried to tell what had happened. He knew no one would believe him if he did.
From that day, Wayne became a plaything for Alan Williams and his adult friends. They told him, if he ever betrayed them, they would kill his dog and hurt his sister and tell his family he was queer. Sometimes, they gave him cannabis and LSD. If they wanted him during the day, they would send the school forged letters from his parents to justify his absence. This had been going on intermittently for four or five years, when Alan Williams first introduced him to Fat Tony. Wayne said he was coming out of school when Williams came up beside him in a car with a man. They gave him some dope to smoke and some Pernod and drove him to a house in Roath on the edge of Cardiff. Fat Tony was waiting there, and all three of them now went for him at once. When he eventually got home, his father beat him for being so late back from school. Wayne took to sniffing glue; the more delinquent he became, the more vulnerable he was. Fat Tony and the others abused him in chalets and caravan parks, and in each other’s houses. They took him to other paedophiles and swapped him for their boys for the night.
It was clear that not all the men who lived at 49 Churchill Road were involved or even aware of the child abuse there. The house became a magnet for Fat Tony and his friends – Army John, Rob the Van Man, Kevin the Gerbil, Gerry the Dog, Peter the ice-cream man, who was too obese to act out most of his fantasies, a 61-year-old dope dealer called Alan Tanner, and Alan Williams.
Chris Leek, who owned it, rented out rooms, many of them to men looking for young boys. Fat Tony himself eventually took one of them. Leek spent hours down on Anchor Road in the middle of Bristol, where the old public toilets were the main market place for the city’s rent boys.
Sometimes the rent boys sold themselves willingly. Other times, they were raped. The men also targeted boys from two local schools and picked up runaways from children’s homes, offering them the safety of a bed in Churchill Road. One was picked up hitchhiking and raped at knifepoint.
Older boys were just as vulnerable. One boy described how, as a 17-year-old, he had fled from his family home, where his father had been using him for sex. He stayed with a friend, had a row about the rent and found himself homeless. One of the men from Churchill Road found him and offered him safe haven.
The police found that Leek had been reaping a financial and sexual bonus by forcing some of the boys to sell them selves. One 13-year-old made the mistake of asking him for cannabis: Leek gave him heroin to smoke, got him addicted, forcibly buggered him and then later put him to work in the toilets in Anchor Road under threat of cutting off his supply.
The boy who had run away from his father’s abuse was eventually paid £14,000 compensation. Chris Leek persuaded him to invest it in a building society in their joint names and then spent almost all of the money himself.
The Operation Panorma team soon found themselves in an ever-increasing web of alleged offences. By the beginning of 1999, they had some 80 possible victims and more than 60 suspected abusers – and only 10 of them had been arrested. Some of those who were still at large were prolific paedophiles. The man who was known at Churchill Road as Army John turned out to be John Gay, now 49, whose history of abuse went back even further than Fat Tony Stevens’. Police discovered that he was a close friend of Alan Williams, and that he had been abusing Wayne when he was only six or seven.
With 10 men in custody awaiting trial and 60 more waiting to be investigated, this had become a big job. A perpetrator claimed to have been raped by one of the men in custody when he was only 13 and agreed to press charges. At the CPS, Brendan Moorhouse was working in an office which had lost more than a quarter of its lawyers through funding cuts. It was a full time job simply dealing with the 10 men who had been arrested. And he was juggling this with some 250 other cases. His determination to hold all the defendants together to make a big picture for the jury made the job even more complex.
For senior officers at Avon and Somerset police, the big problem was the Home Office, which now steers police activity with a list of “best value performance indicators”, on which each force is judged. There are 37 of them. But there is nothing anywhere in any of them about child abuse. By diverting resources into Operation Panorama, Avon and Somerset was risking its corporate neck.
At current strength, Operation Panorama could just about cope with prosecuting the 10 men. At one point, they lost their incident room, when a murder squad pushed them out. Under this pressure, there was no chance of Panorama being given extra resources to deal with the 60 new suspects, all of whom remained at liberty more than a year after the last wave of arrests.
Instead, the Panorama officers ran a risk assessment on them, singled out Gay and Tucker as the two most dangerous, and looked forward to the moment they could spare officers to start investigating them. Alan Williams had escaped justice by dying in a mess of heroin and Aids during the delay. Dozens of other suspects were put on the back burner.
In September 1999, the Panorama detectives began three linked trials at Bristol crown court. By December, without a single word of national publicity, all 10 defendants had pleaded guilty or had been convicted by a jury. Most of them were jailed – Christopher Leek for 12 years, Tony Stevens for eight. The judge commended Jones and his team.
By the time the trials were over, John Gay and Lee Tucker had been arrested, and the Panorama team were ready to gather more evidence on them and to get to grips with the long queue of up to 60 other suspects. But their time was running out. Avon and Somerset police had by now ploughed huge resources into the inquiry, on a scale unsupported by the Home Office.
The Bristol detectives could pursue all the loose ends effectively only by setting up a full-time paedophilia unit. But the pressure from Whitehall was to focus resources on the 37 performance indicators. Senior offic-ers regretfully told Rob Jones’s team that they must look for an “exit strategy”. Six of their 12 officers and an administrator were taken.
On this limited basis, they launched Operation Parallel. They drew up a list of priority targets, weeding out those whose offences were historic and/or minor. In this way, they discarded some 40 suspects. Jones’s reduced team was given a dozen extra detectives for a single week in March this year, to arrest and process the dozen or so suspects still on their list.
John Gay and Lee Tucker were convicted last month at Swindon crown court. After 20 years of unremitting abuse, Gay was finally sent to prison for 12 years for two counts of buggering Wayne when he was under 16, seven counts of indecently assaulting Wayne and two other under-aged boys, four counts of supplying drugs, and one count of forced buggery on the boy who had been addicted to heroin by Christopher Leek.
Lee Tucker was jailed for eight years on nine counts of buggering and indecently assaulting under-aged boys as well as administering them stupefying drugs. Tucker, however, had been given bail so he could be treated for the HIV virus, and three days before the verdict, he vanished.
By the time their work was over, the Bristol Child Protection Team, with the support of Brendan Moorhouse in the CPS, presented a model for the investigation of child abuse – a 100% conviction rate against serious and unreported child abuse. They had torn the heart out of a network of abusers who had flourished for up to 20 years.
And yet, none of this is standard practice in the rest of the country. Almost without exception, Child Protection Units continue to operate passively.
The difference between Bristol and the standard approach was revealed when they agreed to hand over to South Wales the prosecution of five offenders who lived there. The prosecution of child abuse cases is notoriously difficult but the fact is that using procedures and strategy routine throughout this country, South Wales lost every single case.
The political reality is that the Home Office continues to steer police resources into dealing with reported crime. In its major 1996 inquiry, Childhood Matters, the NSPCC concluded: “The legal system, designed to provide justice and redress for victims of abuse, is failing to do so consistently.”
That warning has been repeated by Lady Justice Butler-Sloss, who wrote the report of the Cleveland child abuse scandal; Alan Levy QC, who investigated the pindown scandal in Staffordshire; and Sir William Utting, who conducted two searching reviews of child abuse.
The Home Office’s own research, commissioned in 1995, concluded that it needed “a radical improvement in the investigation and prosecution of offenders”. The Home Office has no more heard these urgent warnings than the adults around Wayne heard the six-year-old’s screams when he was being raped.
Rob Jones is still working in the Child Protection Team in Bristol. Last year, he devised his own package of proactive child protection to safeguard children from abuse, particularly in the world of sport. He called it Child Safe. His chief constable supported him. It was the only such scheme in the country and he set out to spread it to other forces and recruited footballing stars, including Gary Lineker and Kevin Keegan, to help him. Some forces have adopted it. Others are not so keen. They say it’s women’s work.
To protect their privacy, names of all victims in this story have been changed