Carl Beech, who sparked the VIP paedophile scandal with a series of lurid allegations against MPs and other high profile figures, has been found guilty of making the whole thing up. He will be sentenced today. But public authorities must learn from this case not to get carried away by public opinion - and to recognise nonsense when they see it, says retired York solicitor TONY LAWTON

The trial and conviction of Carl Beech, aka ‘Nick’, at Newcastle Crown Court before Mr Justice Goss on twelve counts of perverting the course of justice and one of fraud marks the end of the first stage of a deeply devastating and traumatic experience for his many victims and their families.

Beech's unfounded accusations of paedophilia, torture and murder against a number of people prominent in public life prompted prolonged, intrusive and widely publicised investigations by the Metropolitan Police, at an estimated cost of £2.5million, before they concluded that it was all nonsense.

They then handed the matter over to the Northumbria police with a request to investigate the accuser.

Throughout history such failures by governments and public authorities to recognise obvious nonsense and act appropriately are common.

Until quite recently we might have been able to console ourselves with the thought that nowadays at least we live in a less credulous age where more reliable information is readily available. Now, however, we seem to be regressing once again.

One infamous case from history which has parallels with the case of Carl Beech was that of Titus Oates.

In 1686 Oates, described by one Jesuit historian as 'that lecherous and dedicated liar', was prosecuted and convicted for perjury in connection with an imaginary ‘Popish Plot’ in which he claimed prominent Catholics had conspired to kill King Charles II.

He had begun making a series of outlandish accusations, implicating numerous Jesuits and an ever increasing number of prominent Catholics and indeed non-Catholics in the supposed murder plot against the king, in 1678. Those accused included Sir George Wakeman, the Queen’s doctor; Edward Coleman, the Duchess of York’s secretary; Samuel Pepys, Secretary of the Navy; and Joseph Plunkett, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh.

Another of Oates’s victims was Sir Thomas Gascoigne (1596-1686), a prominent Yorkshire Catholic. Arrested in London, he objected to being tried there, pointing out that under Magna Carta he was entitled to be tried by a jury of his peers, ie a Yorkshire jury. The Attorney-General agreed and his trial in London was delayed for a Yorkshire jury to be procured. The eventual

trial, in January 1679, lasted a week, at the conclusion of which the clearly underimpressed Yorkshire jury retired for only half an hour before acquitting him.

One important York institution at least probably owes its very existence to the fact Sir Thomas was acquitted. He was able to persuade the Mary Ward sisters in Hammersmith to send some of their number to York in 1686 to found the convent and school which, as the Bar Convent, is still there today.

Sr Thomas ultimately survived Oates’ accusations. Others were less fortunate.The accusations prompted three years of political and legal turmoil, and resulted in the execution of at least 15 innocents and the death in prison of many others before some semblance of sanity returned.

At Oates' subsequent trial for perjury the presiding judge described him as ‘a shame to mankind’ and another judge lamented that the law did not permit the court to sentence him to be hanged.

Oates’ accusations about a Catholic plot to kill the king had first surfaced in the summer of 1678, shortly after his return to London following his expulsion from the Jesuit college at St Omer, in the Spanish Netherlands. There was plenty in his background which should have given some pause for thought. He had been expelled as a pupil from the Merchant Taylors’ School and had left St John’s College Cambridge without taking a degree. By 1670 he had nevertheless contrived to get himself ordained as a minister in the Church of England by falsely claiming to have one.

As a curate at All Saints in Hastings he had falsely accused a local schoolmaster of a homosexual relationship with one of his pupils, seemingly in the hope of obtaining the post for himself. That accusation, however, was found to be false and by 1674 Oates was facing charges of perjury.

He managed to escape from prison, fled to London and by the following year had somehow secured a post as a naval chaplain on HMS Adventurer. By 1676 he had been dismissed from the Navy for serious misconduct.

He surfaces in 1677 as a candidate for the Catholic priesthood at the English College at Valladolid. He is sent packing, then somehow persuades the leader of the English Jesuits to send him to the Jesuit college at St Omer.

He stays there without interruption until 23 June 1678 when a newly arrived Jesuit Provincial promptly dismisses him for 'misdemeanour, seditious language and treasonable words too horrible to be reported'.

These dates are significant in the light of Oates’s ‘evidence’ to the Privy Council in the presence of the King three months later.

So how was it that his absurd allegations were able to gain such traction?

The atmosphere of the time was febrile. The genuine plot in which Guy Fawkes and a small band of co-conspirators had planned to blow up parliament in 1605 was just about within living memory and the Jesuits had been the chief bogeymen of Protestant England since the days of Queen Elizabeth.

The King’s wife, Catherine of Braganza, was a Catholic and the King himself was rightly suspected of having Catholic sympathies.

To add to the pervading hysteria, Oates and his companion in crime, Israel Tonge, had sworn an affidavit before the magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey on 6 September 1678 detailing their accusations. On 12 October, however, Godfrey had disappeared and a few days later his body had been found in a ditch on Primrose Hill, strangled and run through with his own sword. This too, according to Oates, had been the work of the Jesuits.

The identity of Sir Edmund’s killer remains a mystery to this day. But the whole crack-down on Catholics in general and Jesuits in particular had been due to anti-Catholic sentiment fanned into hysteria by Oates’s perjury.

In the case of Carl Beech’s allegations, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police until 2017, Bernard Hogan-Howe, personally apologised to Lord Bramall, one of Beech’s victims. “Although the police knew from very early on they had no case to answer they couldn’t stop investigating because they didn’t want to be accused of not investigating it properly,” he said.

The investigation according to him had been an over-reaction to 'apparent mistakes back in 2012 relating to very serious and serial child abuse, a mixture of public outrage and propaganda' which 'put immense pressure through the Home Secretary [Theresa May at the time], on the police'.

The Commissioner also apologised to Harvey Proctor and Lady Brittan, observing: “They have all suffered as a result of the investigation and our description of the allegations as ‘credible and true’. We should not have said this.”

In September 2017 Lord Bramall and Lady Brittan, widow of Sir Leon Brittan,  received a reported £100,000 in compensation from Scotland Yard,i n acknowledgement that their treatment had been wrongful and unjustified. The Metropolitan Police raised the homes of D-Day veteran and former head of the Army Lord Bramall and the late former home secretary Lord Brittan during the 16 month Operation Midland child sex abuse inquiry.

We can be thankful that the final outcome of Carl Beech’s fantasies had a less appalling outcome than those of Titus Oates. But the human anguish which it must have generated can hardly have been less.

A common element in both cases was the pressure of public opinion that had allowed hysteria to trump common sense.

The year 1678, when Oates first began making his accusations, also marked the death of Sir Matthew Hale, a notable and respected judge. Hale had compiled for his own guidance as a judge a list of Things Necessary to be Continually had in Remembrance. Items 11 and 12 on the list can serve as a useful aide-mémoire not only to judges but to all those concerned with law enforcement. They read as follows:

11. That popular or court applause or distaste, have no influence into any thing I do in point of distribution of justice

12. Not to be solicitous what men will say or think, as long as I keep myself exactly according to the rules of justice.

These were wise words then and remain so today. If the public authorities of today fail to heed them, we shall inevitably see a repetition of the disasters prompted by the likes of Titus Oates and Carl Beech.

Tony Lawton is a retired solicitor, former partner in Messrs Grays of York and a former President of the Yorkshire Law Society from 1994-1995