On 21 October 2016, retired police chief superintendent and former libel litigant Gordon Anglesea was convicted of historic allegations of child sex abuse. He was convicted of indecently assaulting one man when he was a boy at a house in Mold in the 1980s.
He was also convicted on three other charges of indecent assault, two carried out between 1982 and 1987, when he was an inspector running an Home Office attendance centre based at St Joseph’s School, Wrexham.
Mr Anglesea was the successful claimant in a libel action, 22 years ago, where he sued The Observer, the Independent on Sunday, Private Eye and HTV, the holder of the ITV franchise in Wales over allegations that he had abused children during visits he made to the Bryn Estyn children’s home just outside Wrexham.
The case was tried before Mr Justice Drake and a jury. Gareth Williams QC appeared for Mr Anglesea, George Carman QC for the first to third defendants and John Mathew QC for the fourth defendant. The jury heard from three individuals alleged that they had been sexually abused by Mr Anglesea at Bryn Estyn. However, the jury found in Mr Angelsea’s favour 10:2. The damages were agreed at £375,000.
The allegations against Mr Anglesea were considered by the Waterhouse Inquiry into child abuse in North Wales. In its 2000 report “Lost in Care” it considered the evidence of libel trial witnesses and additional evidence but concluded that the allegations against Mr Anglesea had not been proved to its satisfaction.
Mr Justice Drake had considerable doubts about the verdict in the 1994 trial. In 2010 he told Rebecca Television
“For about five years as the Judge in charge of the civil jury list … I tried a very, very large number of defamation cases. Many of them did not make any lasting impression on me; but others did and none more so than that of Supt Anglesea. ,,, One thing which I still have a very clear recollection of is the splendid advocacy of George Carman for the defence and Lord Williams of Mostyn for the plaintiff. Although George Carman displayed all his usual skills with the jury he was, on this occasion, outshone by Gareth Williams.
“Without Lord Williams’ advocacy I think it very possible indeed that the jury would have found for the defendants — and meeting both of them socially I told each of them that view. … In my view the evidence was very finely balanced. My summing up was, I believe, absolutely free of any indication of what I felt the verdict should be. I would not have been surprised if the jury had found for the defendants.
I believe that it was the evidence of Mrs Angelsea which tipped the scales in favour of the plaintiff. Many jurors would find it difficult to believe that a married man could have a full sexual relationship with his wife at the same time as he was committing buggery … ”
Now that Mr Anglesea has been convicted of offences of indecent assault it is possible that the 1994 media defendants could seek to have the jury’s verdict set aside on the grounds of fraud (although it seems unlikely that he will be in a position to repay the costs and damages). However, Private Eye Editor Ian Hislop who described the trial as one of the darkest periods of his editorship of the magazine said
“During the libel trial Anglesea said that he had never assaulted any teenage boys. We now know that this was a lie, that he was indeed a paedophile, that in truth he had no reputation to defend and that he should never have sued anyone on this basis. I take a certain grim satisfaction in this verdict today and in the fact that justice has eventually been done. But it is a miserable story and it was one of the darkest periods of my editorship. I can’t help thinking of the witnesses who came forward to assist our case at the time, one of whom later committed suicide telling his wife that he never got over ‘not being believed”, Private Eye will not be looking to get our money back from the libel damages. Others have paid a far higher price.”
[Update] On 4 November 2016, Mr Anglesea was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment. Judge Geraint Walters said Anglesea “grossly abused” the trust placed in him by the boys and said that “The consequences for them has been profound, indeed life changing,”