IN COMMON with many journalists, I was shocked and horrified to learn that Peter Wilby, former editor of the Independent and the New Statesman and respected columnist and commentator on politics, education, cricket and current affairs, had been found to be a long-term paedophile, downloading over many years appalling images of children being sexually abused.
Although I did not know Wilby well, I took notice of his articles on university and secondary education as he was considered something of an expert, having been an education correspondent on a number of newspapers. He contributed a weekly article to the New Statesman until November last year, and wrote frequently for the Guardian.
Yet after I read the report of his conviction in the Times on Saturday August 19, a memory started to surface. This was that Wilby had written many articles saying that allegations of paedophilia were often witch hunts perpetrated against innocent people.
What I, and others, now realise is that all this time Wilby, now 78, was hiding in plain sight and covering up his own paedophilia by exonerating others who had been accused of this crime. Why, he even castigated journalists who were investigating the claims made of sexual abuse in children’s homes, saying they were naïve and, in hot pursuit of a story, often conveniently ignored the truth. Wilby drew comparisons to allegations of Satanic abuse which he denigrated as ‘baseless conspiracy theories’ and conjured up Dennis Wheatley-type images of evil monsters in black robes, presiding over child torture. No sensible person, the articles implied, could possibly believe such things actually went on.
Wilby praised a book by Richard Webster, an academic who had made an exhaustive study of abuse claims and concluded that many were without foundation and were created and maintained by public hysteria. Webster argued that there never was a paedophile ring at the Bryn Estyn boys’ home in Wales, which was investigated by the Independent, and that the supposed perpetrators had all been falsely accused. Wilby supported Webster’s theories all the way.
Dean Nelson, a journalist working on abuse allegations at Bryn Estyn for the Independent during Wilby’s editorship, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) on August 20: ‘As the editor of the New Statesman, Peter Wilby was the paedophile’s friend. He ran articles denigrating victims as liars on the make. He sided with those convicted of abuse against their victims.’
Nelson continued: ‘Peter Wilby was one of my editors on the Independent on Sunday where I investigated the North Wales child abuse scandal. I was sued for libel by Supt Gordon Anglesea, a senior policeman implicated as an abuser. He won and three of my witnesses killed themselves. In 1998, Wilby became editor of the New Statesman and ran a piece criticising my investigation by Richard Webster, who campaigned for convicted paedophiles who, he claimed were innocent victims of a modern witch-hunt. He claimed my witnesses were liars manipulated by me. Wilby never contacted me to offer a right to reply. When I complained that Webster was an apologist for paedophiles, Wilby said: “You mustn’t say that, it’s not fair, he’s a serious academic.” Bea Campbell thought he [Webster] was an apologist for paedophiles too.
‘Gordon Anglesea was later convicted of the abuse my witnesses had accused him of, and he died in jail a few weeks later. All too late for my witnesses.
‘Wilby had championed an apologist for paedophiles and now I learn that Wilby himself is a paedophile. He admitted a long-standing sexual interest in children and some of the images on his computer showed real children being sexually abused. He was given a ten- month suspended sentence. No jail time for Wilby; he was a gentleman journalist after all. He should die in jail, for the abuse and the abuse of trust.
‘It’s no wonder paedophiles like Supt Gordon Anglesea felt above the law. They had champions like Peter Wilby in their corner, shaping the debate.’
While the Lucy Letby story has received saturation coverage in every branch of the media, and the neonatal nurse who has been accused of killing seven premature babies was labelled as being so wicked that her lifetime prison sentence should mean life, there was hardly a word about Wilby following the short news report about his sentencing at Chelmsford Crown Court on Friday, August 18. For downloading horrific images of children aged nine to 13 being abused, which he admitted, Wilby was given the most lenient sentence possible: a ten- month prison sentence suspended for two years. He was also required to undertake 40 hours rehabilitation, be subject to a ten-year sexual harm prevention order and placed on the sex offenders’ register for five years.
Adam Sprague, operations manager at the National Crime Agency, said: ‘The material accessed by Wilby and recovered from his computer showed real children being cruelly and sexually abused.
‘He was viewing this content while working as the editor of prominent national news outlets, a role in which he was entrusted to form the news agenda for the British public. A trust which he has greatly betrayed.’
Pictures of Wilby coming out of court showed a pathetic, bent old man walking with a stick and wearing a raincoat. I don’t know whether it was a dirty raincoat, but the convicted Wilby looked a far cry from the jaunty, confident journalist of yesteryear.
All this was faithfully reported, but there was little else from the media outlets which had published Wilby’s articles. Toby Young came forward to write a Spectator column on Wilby’s hypocrisy, later republished on the Daily Sceptic, on how he himself had been vilified by the man when he set up free schools. Wilby even accused Young of being a pornographer; the very thing he was himself. Police found 167 indecent images of children on Wilby’s computer, stating that many were of ‘the worst kind’.
Until being arrested in October 2022, Wilby had covered his tracks so successfully that nobody suspected him of having a perverted sexual interest in children. His demeanour was that of an elder statesman, dispensing wisdom and well-reasoned opinion from on high. It seemed that he was a commentator to be trusted and nobody, at the time, wondered why he was writing so many articles about paedophilia, or what particularly interested him in this seedy subject.
So why, we have to ask, has there been so little coverage in the mainstream media about Wilby following his conviction? Why so little outrage? True, the Daily Mail’s excellent investigator Guy Adams looked into Wilby’s championing of paedophiles in a long article published on Saturday August 26, but no other branch of the media followed it up and there is continuing silence from the New Statesman, Guardian and Independent, the very media outlets which published so many of Wilby’s pro-paedophile articles, which, as Guy Adams points out, are still up on their websites.
Press Gazette, the journalists’ online newspaper, owned by the same company as the New Statesman, repeated the news story, but did not add any comment.
And so far, Stephen Glover, one of the founders of the Independent, has not said a word about his former colleague. Nor have any other columnists. The story has, apparently, died.
Some people reckoned the lack of coverage was because very few people outside the media would have heard of Wilby and while this may be a factor, had anybody heard of Lucy Letby before that scandal broke? Peter Wilby was far more high profile than she was when she worked anonymously as an NHS nurse. As well as being a prominent left-wing commentator on current affairs, Wilby is also the author of a number of books, the latest being a well-received biography of Anthony Eden, the former prime minister.
I believe that the main reason the Wilby story has not attracted more comment is because the MSM are still protecting their own. After all, are the Guardian, New Statesman or Independent likely to admit that they were very, very wrong to publish Wilby’s articles exonerating paedophiles and accusing their victims instead? So far, the only statement from the New Statesman has been this: ‘The New Statesman staff and management had no knowledge of Wilby’s arrest or charges before they were reported yesterday, and are shocked and appalled to learn of these horrifying crimes.’
Dean Nelson, the journalist who first investigated allegations of abuse at Welsh children’s homes, believes that the staff and management did know about Wilby, as he wrote so many articles accusing journalists of mounting witch hunts against purported paedophiles, but that they chose to say nothing.
It’s good, of course, that Wilby has finally been found guilty of downloading obscene images of children and that Guy Adams did a proper, traditional investigation into the former newspaper editor’s holier-than-thou articles, as the Daily Mail headline had it. But while Wilby’s articles remain on websites for all to read, paedophiles are still being protected.
I particularly remember one article where he wrote that non-relatives should be allowed to show children physical affection without being demonised for it, and thought it sounded creepy at the time. Yet I never twigged that Wilby himself might harbour a sexual interest in children; a perversion he admitted in court.
At the very least, the media outlets which published so many of Wilby’s pro-paedophile articles should issue grovelling apologies for having misled their readers for so long. But will they?