Dani Garavelli was then a junior reporter on the Leicester Mercury. In Scotland on Sunday today she recalls:
As part of his defence, Beck claimed he had acted to protect a 13-year-old from Janner, who had groomed and abused the boy over two years. The evidence against Janner amounted to allegations made by Beck and the boy, a witness who overheard Beck telling the boy to stop seeing the MP, and affectionate, but not sexually explicit, letters written by Janner to the boy.
The development opened up many dilemmas for a regional newspaper. On the one hand, the claims were explosive. On the other, Janner was a highly respected figure. Not only was he an MP, but he had co-founded the Holocaust Education Trust. In journalistic terms, he was an important contact. And, he hadn’t been charged with anything. Ultimately the Mercury, like everyone else, had no choice but to play it straight, reporting only what was said in court.
In the end, the Beck jury was told the Janner allegations were a “red herring” and he was exonerated. The narrative was he had been the victim of a smear campaign by Beck, and other Leicestershire MPs, including Keith Vaz, rallied to his defence.And what an effective defence it was! Jay Rayner, then a young freelancer working the Independent on Sunday, writes in the Observer:
The establishment, in the shape of his fellow MPs, men such as Labour’s Keith Vaz, Tory David Ashby and the then Lib Dem MP now Lord Carlile, closed ranks. Janner was a barrister and MP, a man who campaigned for justice for the victims of the Holocaust. It simply couldn’t be true. That Frank Beck was eventually found guilty of horrendous abuse charges and sent to prison (where he later died of a heart attack) aided them. Clearly Beck had been trying to save his own skin. The possibility that Janner had also been guilty didn’t seem to occur to them.He goes on:
All reporters have stories that get away from them. The Janner story is mine. At the pub meeting, I was given copies of letters from Janner to one of his alleged victims. Only if you had been told a backstory do those letters look incriminating. They make arrangements to meet in hotels, talk of “mutual understanding” and sign off with expressions of “love”. My expectation was that these letters would be tested in court alongside other evidence.
Getting Beck’s shouted accusation about Janner suited my purposes. Since it happened in open court it put something on the record that at some point could be used in a story. While the Beck case was ongoing it was all sub judice and nothing further about Janner could be reported. The MP was also bound by the Contempt of Court Act. The moment Beck was found guilty, however, Janner declared in the House of Commons that there was “not a shred of truth in any of the allegations”.
What happened next was crucial. There was a (failed) parliamentary attempt to change the Contempt of Court Act to protect people named during proceedings in the way Janner had been. During the debate, many MPs, including Ashby and Carlile, spoke up for him.
Key was Vaz, MP for the neighbouring Leicestershire constituency, who clearly hadn’t been party to the rumours circulating in his home town. He said his dear friend had been the “victim of a cowardly and wicked attack”. That was it. The story was dead.And what of Mr Vaz today?
Today, Vaz is chair of the Commons home affairs select committee. He enjoys portraying himself as a champion of the voiceless, happy to castigate the Home Office over its handling of the current investigation into child abuse. Last week, I asked Vaz via Twitter whether he had anything to say about Janner, given the CPS announcement. He responded by blocking me. He later unblocked me but, at the time of writing, has still not commented.