First, a word of explanation about the odd title of today’s court report. It seems that the Crown Court at Southwark is now listing this case as a series of asterisks, due to the Court Order made under s45a, Youth and Criminal Justice Act 1999, which we mentioned on Monday. We are following their lead, and will be changing the titles of the previous posts as well.
Court very nearly started on time today, with legal teams on both sides turning up only about 10 minutes late…but then it turned out that they needed just a bit more time to ensure that their evidence was in order, and so there was a brief adjournment, with court resuming at 10:47 a.m.
Once the jury was seated, the admissions were read into the record. Admissions constitute a series of facts which both prosecutor and defence agree are accurate.
In brief, the admissions consisted of joint acceptance that in 2014 two children made false allegations of SRA against various people including their father, their teachers, children and parents in their school, social workers, and police officers. Both sides agreed to the facts of the police investigation, the children being taken into protective custody, and the fact-finding hearing which led to the 19 March 2015 judgment by Mrs Justice Pauffley. It was agreed that a massive amount of information was released onto the internet, in contravention of a court order intended to protect the children in the case.
It was further agreed that the defendant was arrested in Erith, at which time his MacBook computer and external hard drive were examined by police. A GoFundMe account was discovered, which at the time contained $5,072 in contributions. In addition, a Skype conversation between Sabine McNeill and the defendant was discovered, containing a link to the website http://www.hampsteadchristchurch.com. This site contained a link which contained the names of the five witnesses in this trial, as well as a reference to one of the witnesses being “constantly on the move”. The hard drive contained an Excel spreadsheet last updated on 30 July 2016, containing the names of all five witnesses.
It was further agreed that the original version of the defendant’s first YouTube broadcast about Hampstead, in which he discussed kicking down doors and taking blood samples, was broadcast in February 2015, and that it was reposted at least once since then under a different URL.
Witness: Steve Martin
DC Steve Martin, a member of the CAIT (Child Abuse Investigation Team) took the witness stand, noting that his involvement in the Hampstead hoax went back to its genesis in 2014, and that he had continued to be involved with the accused and exonerated families. On the stand, he was questioned about three particular pieces of evidence: the original YouTube video; the defendant’s show on American Freedom Radio in which he stated that he “didn’t want to kill them, only to beat them up real good”; and the defendant’s Facebook post containing a selfie of himself outside Christ Church Primary School, which was posted on 5 September 2016.
DC Martin played the original video, in which the defendant was heard to say, “If nobody else wants to do it, I’ll do it”, stating that he would be willing to go to Hampstead, kick down doors, and take blood samples from the accused.
Next, DC Martin played the American Freedom Radio audio clip from approximately 1 hour and 2 minutes. In this clip, the defendant stated that he had seen a video of the two children at the centre of the Hampstead hoax, that he had made a response video, and that he had been trolled for it. He stated he wanted to get the names of those who had allegedly abused the children, and that he would get those people to tell the truth. During this show he stated, “I want to go the violent route. I don’t want to kill them, just beat them up real good”.
On the defendant’s public Facebook page, which had at that time approximately 5,000 friends and 7,000 followers, he posted on 5 September a photograph of himself in front of the school, with the comment, “This is what I look like at a moment of acute defiance”. Under the photo, a friend of the defendant commented, “Is there a biscuit in your pocket?” to which the defendant replied, “Knife?” The friend said, “Biscuit knife”, to which the defendant replied, “Sharp ham”.
DC Martin stated that on the defendant’s computer, a link to the HampsteadChristChurch.com site had been found, accessed via a link sent by Sabine McNeill on Skype. While the list containing the names of the five witnesses was not on the homepage of that site, someone using the defendant’s computer had visited the site on numerous occasions, either by searching on a search engine or via Facebook link.
On the hard drive recovered from the defendant’s room, a file was found marked AB, containing an Excel spreadsheet named “Cult details” and dated 16 April 2016. DC Martin showed this spreadsheet to the court onscreen. The spreadsheet contained the headings “Count” and “Parents and Children”, and contained personal details regarding numerous people.
When the defendant was arrested on 13 September 2016, said DC Martin, he was interviewed at Bethnal Green police station. At that time, his solicitor advised him not to comment. However, on the date of his bail return, he indicated to DC Martin that he wished to make a statement. He was interviewed without a solicitor, though he was reminded that should he wish to stop the interview at any time and bring in a solicitor, he could do so.
DC Martin and prosecutor Martyn Bowyer read aloud from the transcript of that interview, with DC Martin playing himself and Mr Bowyer taking the part of the defendant. During this interview, the defendant stated that he had become disillusioned with the people who had wanted him to come to the UK. “I hung out with those people, and I’d be happy to let you know more about them”, he said. Later, he noted that “the dumbest thing I did was to go to Angela Power-Disney”.
He noted that a person called “Kevin Justice” also annoyed him. “He seems to puff up, maybe to assert himself physically”, he said, adding that possibly this was because this person could tell that “I wasn’t really into what they were doing”. He stated that in respect of the “journalistic investigation” he had planned to do, “I found absolutely nothing” to incriminate any of the accused in the Hampstead case.
“When I got here I should have gone to the police and said, ‘I was funded by people I don’t like’,” he said, adding, “I was just going through the motions”. The defendant said he realised he had been wrong, and that since that realisation he had “just been trying to weasel out”.
The defendant also said he was being harassed online. He said he had gone to the church: “I was only going there to take pictures,” he said. “I was only there to show up the people who said I couldn’t”. He stated that he had not spoken to anyone while he was at the church and school.
In explanation of the conversation about the biscuit and knife under the Facebook post, the defendant said that this had arisen from a private joke between himself and his friend. This joke had originated when his friend had thrown a ham sandwich in a tinfoil wrapper at his head, which the defendant had found very funny.
The defendant said he was “aware of the collateral damage” from his activities, and noted that while he was “not asking for pity”, he had “never been taken this seriously before”. Asked whether he understood why people were scared, he said he did. “I was being a jerk online and things got out of control”, he said.
In the afternoon, the defendant took the stand and was questioned by Mr Tom Stevens for the defence.
The defendant stated that prior to his involvement in the the events leading up to this case, he had been an hotelier in his hometown in the United States. Asked about his stint on American Freedom Radio, he said he had been broadcasting there for about a year before he made the post referring to “beating them up real good”. He admitted that he had been in conflict with the law on one previous occasion, involving a “tiny amount” of cannabis and a pipe. This occurred in 2001.
Asked about the circumstances under which he’d posted the YouTube video on 16 February 2015, he stated that he’d been made aware of the Hampstead children’s story, and that it seemed to meet the criteria for a video, due to its provocative nature. He made the video right after watching a video of the two children making their allegations, and had edited it and uploaded it an hour or two later.
Referring to the video of the children, the defendant said, “The content made me angry….Some pretty bad things were talked about. I had a sort of gutteral anger”. The reference to “kicking down doors” of churches and schools was a direct response to the video he’d seen, he said, adding, “It was hyperbolic, a figure of speech….I didn’t think it would happen”. He also said that the expression “kicking down doors” is common in America, and doesn’t imply any intention to actually do it.
“It was how I felt at the time,” he said, “I didn’t anticipate it would take on a life of its own”. Asked whether he had any intention that the accused in the case should see the video, the defendant said it had been intended for “his audience”.
Referring to the American Freedom Radio broadcast, the defendant said he had made it whilst he was in Holland. He said the people at home had wanted an update from him, and that he had also been experiencing considerable harassment online. Mr Stevens noted, “This is what you meant in your (police) interview—you’d had a negative response to your (earlier YouTube) video, and you were on the receiving end of people saying negative things about you”. The defendant agreed, stating he’d been “intimidated for about a year”, which had affected him. “I was very tense, and I was trying to maintain myself at work”.
The defendant stated that before leaving for the UK, he had received “threats about when and where people were going to meet me”.
Asked why he had made threats on the American Freedom Radio broadcast, the defendant said that this had been a response to the people who had been trying to dox and threaten him.
“Was that directed at the parents?” Mr Stevens asked.
“No,” said the defendant. “I was trying to express my frustration. I don’t know why I thought that would straighten things out. I had no intention to beat anyone up”.
Asked who would usually listen to his American Freedom Radio broadcasts, the defendant said, “Conspiracy theory buffs”. Mr Stevens asked whether the defendant had any idea that the people named in this case were listening to his broadcast. “No, only my family and the harassers”, the defendant said.
Mr Stevens asked who the main harasser was.
The defendant stated, “[The father in the Hampstead case]”.
He noted that he wanted out of his current city when he left the USA, due in part to the loss of his job and in part to the evolving political situation there. “It was an opportunity to travel”, he said. “That doesn’t happen much”. He said the first place he wanted to visit was the UK, but that he had interviewed Kevin Galalae who was going to Italy, and decided to accompany him there, to assist him whilst he was on his hunger strike in front of the Vatican.
Asked about the source of funding for his travel, the defendant said, “It was mostly from me. I sold everything”; the GoFundMe site was meant to supplement the money he was already putting into the trip. In a Skype comment, he stated, “I’m going to the UK to fight pedos. Please share”, which he characterised as a “brief way to say that it was going to be an investigation”. This message was sent to multiple people. The defendant claimed he was being sarcastic in characterising his trip this way: “It wasn’t meant to be taken literally”.
Mr Stevens asked the defendant about the £1,000 donation from Angela Power-Disney. The defendant replied, “She is…I guess you can call her an activist”. He guessed that she had contacted him because of the YouTube video he’d made about Hampstead.
Judge Griffith asked the defendant whether Angela had been actively interested in Hampstead. “Adamantly”, the defendant said. “She didn’t accept the outcome”.
The defendant said that the more he and Angela had talked, the more she had tried to take over and influence him, scheduling his itinerary and planning what he could do. “I never said yes, she just donated”, he said.
When his plane landed in the UK, he was “petrified”, due to the people trolling him online.
“Why did you come, then?” asked his barrister.
“Because I said I would, and I was at the point of no return”, the defendant said. However, he quickly realised that much of what he’d said when he was at home would not be attainable in reality. “I wanted to prove I’d looked into it, and then get out”.
The defendant travelled to the Canary Islands at Angela’s invitation, but he cut that trip short. “She was not a nice person”, he said. “I thought it would be best to put some miles between me and her”.
Once in the UK, the defendant said that at some point he went to Hampstead, for two reasons: “to prove it does exist, and because a lot of things were being said about me being a scam artist, and I wanted to be absolved from those accusations”. He said he had been told that he would be killed if he went to Hampstead. “The trolls reached a fever pitch, and I felt trapped”, he said. “My defiance was against people speaking badly about me”.
Mr Stevens asked whether he was referring to anyone mentioned in the indictment for this trial, and the defendant said he was not. He said he had no plans to meet anyone in Hampstead, and said he would have turned around and left if he’d seen anyone near the school. He said he was not aware that the day he posted the Facebook post was the first day of school.
“My motivation was that I was getting taunted, and I reacted to that”, the defendant said. “I didn’t want to release the picture but I didn’t want to be called a chicken”.
“Who did you think would view it?” Mr Stevens asked.
“I wanted my family and the people who were taunting me to see it”, the defendant said. He also said that he didn’t think anyone would interpret the “banter” about carrying a knife as a threat. “I just didn’t want to bend to the people who were harassing me”.
Asked about the Excel spreadsheet found on his hard drive, the defendant said he didn’t know how it had got to him, but that he understood that the author of the sheet was the mother of P and Q. He stated that he was not familiar with any of the names on the sheet, except one.
He stated that he had no memory of checking out the HampsteadChristChurch.com site, adding that he knew it contained a list of the accused in the case, but not what that meant.
The defendant said that when he heard the witnesses testifying in court yesterday, he found it very painful. “I had a panic attack”, he said, adding that he’d found it very upsetting.
Cross-examination of defendant
Noting that the defendant had stated that the abuse he experienced online had affected his life negatively, Mr Bowyer asked, “Before you even left (the USA), you realised the serious, devastating effects of posts online”. The defendant disagreed that this was true.
Asked about why he had published the video about Hampstead, when his usual video fare consisted of more lighthearted material, the defendant said, “Sometimes I don’t make a distinction (between lighthearted stuff and paedophilia”. Mr Bowyer asked, “Don’t you think you ought to?”
“Now, yes”, the defendant replied.
Mr Bowyer asked whether the defendant was aware that the case about which he’d made the video was in court, or whether he knew how the material he’d included in the video came to be online.
“No,” said the defendant. However, he added, “there were so many outlets doing it. It was on LiveLeak, and I thought that was a tacit green light”.
Mr Bowyer suggested that the defendant was not an “investigative journalist”, and said his degree of journalistic integrity would not match that of any actual news outlet. “No, it’s the internet”, the defendant said. “We are still discovering how it affects people”.
“To the extent that you were fearful, can you see how (your behaviour) could have affected the witnesses?” Mr Bowyer asked.
The defendant responded that this had been unintentional. “I’ve never gone over the edge like that”, he said. “I didn’t know I had, at the time”.
Mr Bowyer asked why those who the defendant claimed were harassing him had been angry with him. “It was just character assassination”, the defendant replied, adding that it “made him furious”.
“Did it cross your mind that you should leave it alone?” Mr Bowyer asked.
“Even bad press is good press”, the defendant responded, adding that he had been “angry and excited”. “There’s a saying that if you hit a nerve you must be doing the right thing”, he said.
Mr Bowyer asked whether the defendant thought any of the people named in this case had been among those harassing him. The defendant said he thought this was possible, but that it was more likely that others were doing it.
Mr Bowyer noted that having attracted a degree of attention, the defendant had begun to attract “activists” such as Angela Power-Disney and Sabine McNeill, who wanted him to campaign on their behalf. “Not specifically”, responded the defendant.
The defendant agreed that Angela disagreed “extremely” with the High Court judgment on the Hampstead case.
“Do you remember when she tried to supply you with the names of the accused?” Mr Bowyer asked. The defendant said his memory of this was hazy.
“Someone sent you an Excel sheet. Was it her?”
“Maybe, I can’t remember”.
Asked why he continued to engage with Angela, the defendant said, “She got really nasty when I started to question where she got her information”.
“If you’d been given information about how to track [the father in the case] down, would you have taken it?”
“We know his name appears on your computer, and we know you accessed a site with information as to where [the father] was alleged to be”, Mr Bowyer said.
“Yes, I might have, and put it in the file”, said the defendant.
“Did you have any reason to believe he might be in America?”
“I heard he might be in San Francisco or Los Angeles”, said the defendant.
At this point, the proceedings were adjourned for the day. The case will resume tomorrow morning at (dare we say it?) 10:00 sharp.
As we have been saying, it’s extremely important that no one on this blog speculate on the outcome of this trial in any way. In addition, it’s now equally important that the defendant not be named here, lest we find ourselves in contempt of court. Thank you all very much for your cooperation.