ON Wednesday night the LBC radio presenter James O’Brien was feted at the Parliamentary Book Awards for having written the ‘Best Political Book by a non-Parliamentarian’. According to the Bookseller magazine, How to be Right: In A World Gone Wrong ‘delves into how public opinion has been shaped in the modern day, where double standards exist, and how to ask the key questions that expose fallacies and inconsistencies in popular arguments’.
Rather amazingly, O’Brien collected his award just a day after the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse concluded there was no evidence of a VIP paedophile ring having operated in Britain in the 1970s, as claimed by a fantasist called Carl Beech.
Beech had falsely suggested that Ted Heath, Leon Brittan and the retired chiefs of the armed forces, MI5 and MI6 were guilty of a range of grotesque crimes. These claims did incalculable damage. The wife of Field Marshal Lord Bramall – the war hero who was traduced by Beech – went to her grave without knowing that her husband would be fully vindicated. The former MP Harvey Proctor lost his job and was made homeless thanks to Beech’s allegations. Others suffered as well.
Beech is now serving an 18-year prison sentence for perverting the course of justice, fraud and sexual offences.
During the time that he was actively making his lurid allegations, nearly a decade ago, he was afforded the protection of anonymity and was known simply as ‘Nick’ in the media.
Beech’s stories were taken particularly seriously by an obscure news website called Exaro, since closed after a brief but chequered history. Its promotion of these tall tales was enough to attract the attention of James O’Brien, the LBC presenter. He gave Exaro’s editor, Mark Watts, a special place on LBC, inviting him on to his morning show six times to discuss Beech’s (or rather ‘Nick’s’) grave assertions. Writing in the Sunday Times in July 2019, columnist Dominic Lawson described these encounters as ‘unctuous’ and said Watts and O’Brien ‘jointly denigrated those who dared suggest “Nick” was a compo-seeking fantasist.’
Others, including Douglas Murray, say O’Brien actively ‘whipped up’ the story.
Yet since Beech was imprisoned in 2019, O’Brien has failed to make a proper apology to those whose lives have been so appallingly marked by his lies.
He did write a tweet after Beech was convicted last summer in which he stated: ‘We gave his allegations against dead politicians a lot of coverage on the show & it turns out he was bullshitting everyone.’ But there was no hint of shame or remorse.
I have always thought that it reflects particularly badly on LBC that it did not insist O’Brien make a proper apology. That is a matter for the station, I guess.
But for O’Brien to begiven an award for writing a book – titled How to be Right – which shows up ‘double standards’ and asks ‘the key questions that expose fallacies and inconsistencies in popular arguments’ takes this scandal within a scandal to a new level. For him to have collected it is even more astounding.
O’Brien must hand it back. He should think carefully about how he can make amends. And he has to apologise in a meaningful way.