This is a story about something terrible that happened. It’s a story about the dying out of empire and the death of the empire of childhood. In the shadow of Brexit, amidst all the tumult over Britain’s future, some of the last living monuments of Britain’s past were shamed in the public square, served up like an overdone roast on a tarnished silver platter.

First, the Accusations

The headlines were ghastly, shocking, and seemingly everywhere: “Scotland Yard Launches Review into ‘VIP Paedophile Ring’ Probe,” “Harvey Proctor Says Allegations He Was Part of Westminster Sex Ring Are Polluted Ravings of a Fantasist,” “Police to Probe Leon Brittan’s Alleged Westminster Paedophile Cover-up Beyond the Grave.” Indeed, the names of the 12 accused read like a Who’s Who of postwar Britain, including the war hero and peer of the realm Lord Bramall; Sir Edward Heath, former Conservative Party prime minister; Sir Maurice Oldfield, once director of M.I.6 (Britain’s secret intelligence service); Sir Michael Hanley, former director general of M.I.5 (Britain’s domestic-security service); Lord Leon Brittan, former home secretary; and Harvey Proctor, a former Conservative Party member of Parliament for Billericay.

The accuser? Enter Carl Beech, or “Nick,” the pseudonym used by the Northumbria Police to shield his identity. The rumpled, bearded former nurse and former inspector for the Care Quality Commission is a divorced father of one, now 51 years of age, who seemed to be a responsible member of his Gloucester community.

In 2014 and 2015, Beech made the allegations that a number of politicians, soldiers, and at least one celebrity—the disgraced TV personality Jimmy Savile—had sexually abused him in the 1970s and 1980s. Beech also claimed that some of these men, including Harvey Proctor, Sir Michael Hanley, and Lord Brittan, had been involved in child killings, an allegation that Mr. Proctor—the only one of the three still living—vehemently denies. Beech claimed that he witnessed the murder of three children during the years in which he was abused.

He claimed that from 1975 to 1984, he was beaten and sexually abused by his stepfather, Major Ray Beech, beginning when he was seven. That he was then passed around to other mostly military figures whom he said were members of a pedophile ring—what Beech referred to as “the Group.” He said he was picked up at school and driven to “parties” where “there were seven or eight boys and 10 to 15 men.”

The allegations were lurid, detailed, often grotesque. Beech accused Savile of raping him over a bath while holding his head under water. Beech also claimed that he watched former M.P. Harvey Proctor repeatedly stab a restrained 12-year-old boy for 40 minutes before strangling him to death. He alleged that Proctor threatened to castrate him—Beech—and then offer him the penknife as a memento. (Proctor vehemently refuted all of these allegations, calling Beech a “fantasist.”) Beech described how he and three others were commanded to choose which one of them would die. When they refused, Beech said, Sir Michael Hanley singled out a victim.

But Beech didn’t just claim that he was repeatedly sexually abused by a pedophile ring. The Guardian reported, “The most startling claim was that the gang murdered three boys—two were allegedly killed for sexual pleasure and another run over by a car to keep other abuse victims in a state of terror.”

Beech described how he and three other boys were commanded to choose which one of them would die.

In a videotape of Beech’s police interview, he recounts a horrific event. Head bowed, staring at the floor, he describes a terrible day in 1979, during his last year at Coombe Hill school, when Scott, a boyhood friend of his, was killed. Carl remembers walking home with Scott after school when “I just heard a loud noise behind me … the car hit him. He went over the front of the car into the road.” Carl ran to his friend’s side as he lay dying. “His leg was bent in a funny direction. There was blood on his head.”

Later, he insisted that Scott was murdered because he, Carl, had been disobedient. He was told by his abusers not to make friends. “He died because I didn’t do what I was told,” Beech says, wiping away tears. “It was like [Scott] didn’t exist, [because] nobody talked about it, nobody mentioned it.” He said that he’d tried to help his friend, that there was “a lot of blood,” but the killers dragged Carl into the car and injected something into his arm, so it was hard for him to remember exactly how it all happened.

Beech described to the Metropolitan Police how the weekly parties took place in various locales, including former prime minister Sir Edward Heath’s yacht, Morning Cloud. At one of the parties, Beech claimed, he was tortured by former M.I. heads Sir Maurice Oldfield and Sir Michael Hanley by being covered in spiders, given electric shocks, and having darts thrown at him.

Beech described a broken world. A world in which a child from nowhere found himself at the mercy of the most powerful men in England. It was a dark and cold and lonely place. It was pain, pure pain, given flesh and voice. It was a world that the police were only too happy to believe in. There was just one problem.

Carl Beech made the whole thing up.

Lives and Reputations Ruined

On March 4, 2015, Scotland Yard came for Lord Bramall. The 92-year-old was a veteran of the D-day landings, of the brutal fighting through Normandy, Holland, and Belgium, of the struggle to puncture the Siegfried line and break the Wehrmacht on their own soil. By 1982, Edwin Bramall was a Field Marshal and Chief of Defence Staff, the man in overall command of the British Army. He was made a lord in 1987 and a Knight of the Garter in 1990.

Lord and Lady Bramall were breakfasting in the kitchen of their Hampshire home when 20 officers, some in forensics overalls and some in body armor, arrived without warning and swarmed their house. Lord Bramall’s wife was 93 and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. “What are they doing here?” Lady Bramall repeatedly asked. “Have I done something wrong?” Lord Bramall tried to comfort her as the search continued.

The police spent 10 hours searching the house. They did not arrest Lord Bramall, nor did they disclose all of the extraordinary accusations made against him. He would not learn their full extent until a police interview at the end of April 2015, when he took the opportunity to deny all allegations.

Beech dragged the former prime minister Edward Heath into his cauldron of accusations. Heath, who had died in 2005, had been Britain’s prime minister from 1970 to l974, and leader of the Conservative Party for 10 years, until he was ousted by Margaret Thatcher. Heath was from working-class roots—his father was a carpenter, his mother a maid. He was passionate about classical music—he’d had a Steinway grand piano moved into 10 Downing Street. He was also one of the country’s more accomplished sailors.

Heath was a lifelong bachelor and not terribly well liked. Many speculated that he was secretly gay; Private Eye magazine referred to him as “Sailor Ted”—not just for his love of yachting but as an oblique reference to his possible sexuality. When he passed away, he left no immediate family members and few friends, so there was only the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation—and a godson, Lincoln Seligman—to vouch for him. The foundation issued this statement: “The fundamental principle that someone is innocent until proven guilty should apply to the dead as well as to the living; and no convincing evidence whatsoever against Sir Edward Heath has been produced.” Seligman described his godfather as a man of “great integrity” who would have never committed the “dangerous and pointless” crimes alleged against him.

On the Web site UnHerd, the journalist Douglas Murray wrote, “Without having left any family, and without having left many friends, or others keen to leap to his defense, it appears that the police may get away with destroying Edward Heath’s reputation without having to prove a thing.” Britain has had a history of equating homosexuality with pedophilia, and gay sex was only decriminalized in 1967. But what is so frightening about allegations of sexual abuse of any kind is that the accusation alone can destroy lives and reputations, even if the accused is found to be innocent.

A Soft Target

Most of the men Beech accused were deceased and thus unable to defend themselves; only three were still living at the time of the accusations—Lord Bramall, Lord Brittan, and Harvey Proctor. After Brittan died of cancer, in 2015, Bramall and Proctor bore the brunt of the inquiry.

One of these men was something of a soft target for a man like Beech. Harvey Proctor had stepped down as an M.P. in 1987 after pleading guilty to gross indecency with young men between 17 and 21 (“a charge that could not be made today because the age of consent for same-sex relationships is now 16,” noted The Guardian). In fact, what added plausibility to Beech’s accounts was that at least three of the accused had had earlier accusations of sexual misconduct, buried in their past. Besides Proctor, Lord Brittan had an allegation against him of the rape of a young woman, made in l967—a claim not prosecuted but not cleared until Brittan’s death. And rumors of a secret gay life had swirled around P.M. Heath as early as 1961, when homosexuality was still considered a criminal act.

Detectives raided Harvey Proctor’s home near Grantham, Lincolnshire. The publicity, which named the former M.P. “a suspected paedophile and murderer,” was so overwhelming that Proctor had to go into hiding, stepping down from his job as the Duke of Rutland’s private secretary and leaving his home on the duke’s estate. Proctor complained that the police were harder on him because of his homosexuality; he also claimed that the police had leaked to the media to publicly disgrace him. “I looked up at the television to see my face looking back at me,” he said, so he called Radio 4’s Today and tearfully explained that the accusations and media feeding frenzy had hurled him into a “horrendous, irrational nightmare.” He considered suicide, and he insisted that he “was not guilty of any of the allegations.”

Dolphin Square, shown here in 1997, has a rich and lurid history dotted with names such as Ian Fleming, Oswald Mosley, Christine Keeler, and Mandy Rice-Davies. More recently, Carl Beech alleged the apartments were the setting for horrible abuses by members of Britain’s elite.

In August 2015, Proctor went public to refute the claims against him that had sent him into hiding. He pointed out that homosexuality should not be conflated with pedophilia, and he railed against the police and the press for once again destroying his life. Perhaps Britain has never quite escaped from the long shadow of Oscar Wilde’s trial in 1895. Hounded out of home and livelihood, Proctor told Sky News that he’d been reduced to living in a “glorified shed” on a friend’s property before escaping to the Continent, saying that he no longer felt safe in the U.K. The Telegraph announced, “Harvey Proctor child sex ring claims: ‘I can’t live in Britain any more.’”

Another accused, the former home secretary Lord Leon Brittan, died of cancer in January 2015 at the age of 75, not knowing whether Beech’s claims against him would be proved. Just six weeks after his death, the police raided his home in central London, without telling his widow, Diana, the reason for the raid. They confiscated computers and papers, many of which were Diana’s.

“He got iller and iller and iller,” wrote Lady Brittan. “He would never say anything to me, but I cannot believe from what he said to my daughters that he was not affected by it all.” Only after his death, and only after reading The Independent on Sunday, did she learn that no action would have been taken against her husband. “Leon was never told. I felt let down. I think he should have known that he was innocent of the charges before he died, but that didn’t happen.”

In justifying the home raids, a senior police official said, “What you are looking for is indicative behavior, images of child abuse on a computer for example, or letters or documents linking a suspect to a complainant. We use lots of officers in order to get searches done efficiently and swiftly.”

But in all their searches, they found nothing. And when no other victim came forward to claim abuse, and no witness corroborated Beech’s story, the tide turned against the accuser.

Operation Midland

Carl Beech first spoke to the police in late 2012, but it was not until December 2014 that he wove the incredible roster of famous names into his story. No matter—the Met believed him. Scotland Yard launched Operation Midland, an inquiry into the alleged existence of a V.I.P. pedophile ring. Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald stepped forward to say that he found Beech’s allegations to be “credible and true,” in part because Beech told a story “of extraordinary density.” He alleged years of abuse in a variety of locations: a military-training facility, army bases, private homes, members’ clubs, Lord Heath’s yacht, Dolphin Square, and a wildlife park.

In retrospect, why were Beech’s extraordinary accusations believed?

One reason is Jimmy Savile.

Two years earlier, Savile, the beloved TV presenter and personality, had been revealed to have been a child molester of more than 500 women and girls, many of them patients at hospitals and children’s homes where he often entertained. Scotland Yard did not want to be seen as allowing yet another massive sex scandal to occur, uninvestigated, right under their noses. The police were under tremendous pressure to show that they were willing to investigate the accused, despite their high standing in society.

For 30 years, Savile hosted Top of the Pops, the world’s longest-running television music show, in which popular music acts would lip-synch their hit songs. Sporting a blond, pageboy haircut, neon jumpsuits, and an oversize cigar clenched between his teeth, Savile was a pop successor to the baggy-pants comedians of the English music hall, such as John Osborne’s Archie Rice in The Entertainer. Savile also hosted, for nearly 20 years, Jim’ll Fix It, in which he played the role of the nation’s benevolent uncle. Some 20,000 children a week would write in their deepest wishes—such as singing with their favorite rock band or playing football with Manchester United—and Savile would make it happen. He burnished his image by volunteering at infirmaries, hospitals, and children’s homes. He was knighted by the Queen and given a papal knighthood. Jimmy Savile was a beloved British institution.

But after his death, in 2011, it was revealed that he was a one-man sexual crime wave, one of the worst sex offenders in Britain.

Savile’s predation began in 1963 and lasted for decades, and included the abuse of girls at Duncroft school in Surrey, where he was a frequent visitor. By 2013, Scotland Yard had officially labeled him a “prolific predatory sex offender.” Their inquiries discovered 214 criminal offenses committed between 1955 and 2009, and 73 percent of Savile’s victims were children.

It wasn’t until October of 2012 that the Metropolitan Police undertook an inquiry, called Operation Yewtree, into the legions of accusations against Jimmy Savile. How was it allowed to go uninvestigated for so long? They wouldn’t let that happen again.

Problems and Inconsistencies

Savile’s victims were legion. New allegations emerged daily. Decades of shame and trauma emerged in a matter of weeks. During an interview with a detective in December 2012, Beech recalled: “Everything hit the press.... And people were coming forward and I felt really guilty I suppose for not doing it earlier.... I thought well if other people can do it perhaps I should as well.” Beech even included Savile among his alleged abusers. (“VIP paedophile accuser claims he was abused by Jimmy Savile,” announced the Evening Standard.)

But problems and inconsistencies began to appear in Beech’s account. Details were often hazy. After describing Harvey Proctor’s horrific murder of a young boy, Beech was unable to recall where the alleged killing took place. One address that he was sure of, however, was Dolphin Square, an apartment complex a brief walk from the Houses of Parliament with a colorful history.

Dolphin Square was built in the heart of Pimlico shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Georgian and Regency houses, the color of beaten egg whites, line graceful avenues that broaden into garden squares. In contrast, Dolphin Square is a modern brick complex some 11 stories high, punctured by mean windows—a glottal stop of a building among its stately neighbors where one can rent a one-bedroom apartment in the complex for $2,172 a month. It looks as if it had been built to house a fourth-rate Hungarian intelligence agency.

Despite a private rose garden and a fountain where three carved dolphins cavort, this is a forbidding place. It’s where Oswald Mosley, the leader of the black-shirted British Union of Fascists, was arrested and dragged off to Holloway prison. It’s where Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies lived, the two women at the heart of the Profumo affair that brought down a government. It’s where Naval Intelligence recruited Ian Fleming. It’s where Winston Churchill’s daughter Sarah was evicted for tossing empty gin bottles out of her window.

If Carl Beech was indeed a fantasist, as some were beginning to suspect, he knew what he was doing when he set elements of his tragic, sordid tale in Dolphin Square.

The Unraveling

It took 18 months and $3,118,275 for Scotland Yard to conclude that there was no evidence or corroboration to support Beech’s claims of abuse and murder. In fact, police came to believe that the murdered boy, Scott, didn’t even exist. There was no record of the death of a child named Scott who had died under mysterious circumstances, or been murdered in Kingston upon Thames. No missing-person reports and nothing in the newspaper morgue or the police files were found. Carl had indeed been at school with a number of boys named Scott, but most were living and were interviewed by the police. There was a Scott born the same year as Carl, but the boy’s mother said that he’d been killed in a motorcycle accident in 1998. Investigators were dispatched to Australia to track yet another school chum named Scott, but he was not found.

Without the existence of “Scott,” Beech’s stories unraveled.

Unlike the Jimmy Savile investigation—Operation Yewtree—during which hundreds of witnesses had come forward to corroborate the charges, the lack of a single witness undermined Beech’s credibility. Because there was no forensic evidence after so many years, “what you are looking for is other witnesses who are giving similar accounts,” said a senior police officer. Without even one witness, the Metropolitan Police had to retreat from their earlier statement, made by Detective Superintendent McDonald, that they believed “Nick’s” account to be “credible and true.” McDonald was removed as lead officer of the inquiry.

Lord Bramall would finally win an apology—and a settlement of $124,731—but Lady Bramall died just four months after the raid on their home in Hampshire, never knowing whether her husband would be cleared of Beech’s accusations. The Telegraph reported, “Exclusive: ‘Met police allowed my wife to die without knowing I was innocent’—Lord Bramall finally gets apology over false child sex abuse claims.”

The Met then turned their full investigation to Beech himself, who by now had been awarded $27,440 by the government for pain and suffering. But if all of his allegations were false, then Beech was subject to charges of perverting the course of justice and fraudulently taking government funds. It fell to the Northumbria Police to do the kind of deep investigation that Scotland Yard had neglected to do. They were asked to investigate Beech, and they subsequently raided his home in Gloucester.

Lady Bramall died four months after the raid on their home, never knowing whether her husband would be cleared.

Bit by bit, his story began to fall apart. The prosecution showed that Beech’s school records indicated stellar attendance, including a teacher’s prize for never missing a day, although he had claimed that every week for nine years he had been taken out of school to be abused by the ring of pedophiles.

A forensic medical examination found no trace of injuries Beech claimed he had sustained from repeated abuse.

The police impounded a car he had bought with his settlement, a white Ford Mustang, whose G.P.S. suggested that he had scouted the places where he would claim the abuse had occurred.

The police did not initially interview Dawn, Beech’s former wife of nearly two decades, who later said that the penknife he claimed was wielded by Proctor was actually a fruit knife given to him by his grandmother, which he kept in a “happy memories box.”

Beech had claimed that he was afraid of water after attempted drownings he said he suffered at the hands of the pedophiles, but his photo album contained many pictures of him swimming and snorkeling.

They seized his home computer, which revealed that he had rather haphazardly plagiarized other accounts by survivors of abuse.

​Even more troubling, they found child pornography on his iPad. Beech initially claimed that his own son was responsible for the images that police discovered hidden inside an app on his device, before switching his plea to guilty and admitting sole responsibility.

By February of 2018, Beech had used the $27,440 compensatory award and an almost $75,000 early retirement sum from the National Health Service to start a new life. He traveled to Sweden via Calais and bought a small, rather worn-down wooden house for $21,200, five miles from Överkalix, a remote, forested area. He bought a second house in Sleddo. Beech grew a beard, used different aliases and untraceable gift cards that kept his whereabouts a mystery.

He could not have chosen a more remote place to restart his life. Överkalix’s population is less than 1,000 in winter months. “He said he liked the snow, the wind, the cold, and the loneliness,” said Anna-Lisa Andersson (no relation), who operates a guesthouse in Överkalix, where Beech first stayed when he arrived. He was welcomed into the little village, where a strong sense of community prevails. “He is a nice man,” Andersson said. “I was helping him with his new life,” she told The Times of London.

Beech planned to refurbish his house into a bed-and-breakfast, and even created a Web site, the SixtySix Degrees North. According to Nathalie Navez, who befriended “Andersson” on his Facebook page, the residents of Överkalix “were not interested in his past. When you come to the north, you have a blank sheet, you start again,” which is exactly what Beech intended to do. “Up here if you are honest and friendly, people will give you a chance. He was a sweet, nice guy who was hoping for a better life,” she added.

Curiously, given her lack of public support for her son, Charmian Beech visited him with her sister in February and stayed for several weeks. According to The Times, Charmian wanted to move permanently to Överkalix, but Carl dissuaded her, telling another resident that “he did not want them living on top of each other.” Carl’s teenage son also wanted to join him in the frozen north, but Dawn wasn’t happy about the plan, so the boy stayed in England.

But a special fugitive unit in Sweden, working in tandem with the Northumbria Police and the National Crime Agency, issued a European arrest warrant. Beech was arrested in Gothenburg in October 2018 and returned to Britain to face the inferno he had ignited. He was ordered to stand trial for 12 counts of perverting the course of justice and one count of fraud. In July, he told his new friends in Överkalix, “I am having some stressful things right now. I need some time. I will text you when it is clear.”

Based on the pornographic images on his seized iPad, Beech was now being described in the press as “a paedophile.”

The Trial

In court, Carl Beech denied all of the charges. His fate now lay in the hands of the jury sitting in Newcastle Crown Court. The trial began in May and lasted until July 22. Opening the prosecution’s case, Tony Badenoch Q.C. argued that Beech had taken steps to “embellish a false story and then cover his tracks when challenged.… He took the only option that was really available to him: he fled the country and he lived overseas as a fugitive.”

Badenoch moved to discredit many of Beech’s claims, including the 20 or so sketches in black notebooks he’d made and shown to the police, depicting places where the abuse and torture allegedly took place. One of the sketches included notes of abuse that he said occurred at a swimming pool, resulting in Beech’s claim of a “lifelong fear of the water and swimming.”

“Quite the opposite is true,” Badenoch said, citing “photographs and videos of him doing precisely that all over the world, ranging from swimming at theme parks with children to honeymoon snorkeling at depth for shells, and at a pool finally with flippers, mask and snorkel. He even had a waterproof camera for photography.”

June 17 of the trial was a particularly important day. It was the first opportunity that the jury had to hear Lord Bramall’s testimony. The prosecution played a video recording of a police interview with Lord Bramall, conducted in 2015, because Bramall, now 95, had declined to give evidence in person, citing ill health. Bramall introduced himself for the benefit of the tape recorder: “I am Field Marshal Lord Bramall.” The video shows a small, gray room at the Aldershot police station. Bramall wears a suit with a pocket-square stuffed into his breast pocket. He speaks in an accent that has now all but vanished from England: the accent of empire.

Lord Bramall, a nonagenarian veteran of D-day, was among those falsely accused.

The detective leads Bramall through the accusations that Beech (referred to throughout as “Nick”) made against him, to wit: that from roughly 1976 to 1984, Bramall sexually abused him, usually in the company of other men, and from 1978 to 1984, Bramall and others abused him at a series of pool parties. This prompted the detective to ask Bramall: “Can you swim?”

Bramall laughed and said, “Can I swim? I landed at Normandy and I jolly nearly had to swim.”

Throughout the interview, Bramall asked the police to be more specific: Who had allegedly brought Carl Beech to his office? Where did these pool parties take place? Time and again, the detective declined to answer. Over the course of the interview played to the court, it emerged that the detective could not respond to many of Lord Bramall’s questions for the simple reason that he did not know the answers—Beech had not provided them.

The accused sat behind glass at the back of the courtroom, dressed all in black, his face vacant. From time to time he glanced down, as if there were something of interest in the vicinity of his left shoe.

​Carl Beech has been found guilty, but a single mystery remains, perhaps the greatest of all. Why did he do it?

The accused sat behind glass at the back of the courtroom,
dressed all in black, his face vacant.

Is Beech a fantasist, a sociopath, and a consummate actor, or had he actually been abused in the past, and had that memory triggered an ultimate revenge fantasy? In videotapes of his accusations to the police, he comes across as a wounded soul, barely keeping it together and frequently sobbing. He is disheveled, unhealthy looking, frightened. Something happened. The one accusation made among the 12 men accused is the one that seems most believable, and one that, if true, sheds light on why he made such extreme and apparently unfounded accusations against Britain’s Old Guard elite.

That first alleged perpetrator is his stepfather, Major Ray Beech, now deceased, who in 1976 was briefly married to Carl’s mother, a vicar, the Reverend Charmian Beech. Beech told Detective Sergeant Mark Lewis that “his stepfather started beating him soon after he and his mother … moved into the officers’ accommodation on an Army base in Wiltshire.” The Belfast Telegraph reported on May 18, 2019, that “the court was told further details about Beech’s stepfather.… Official Army records revealed Ray Beech had a drink problem, a history of domestic violence and a record stated he had a ‘personality disorder which led to him being dangerously explosive.’” His marriage to Charmian Beech lasted only four months.

In fact, the only part of Beech’s story to have some form of paltry corroboration is his stepfather’s alleged sexual abuse. In June 2019, Dawn Beech, who was married to Carl from 1992 to 2009, told Newcastle Crown Court that Carl had once shown her a letter he’d written to his mother in which he stated that his stepfather had sexually abused him. Dawn testified that Carl had said “his stepfather would come up to his bedroom and abuse him, and his mother was aware of what was going on and so thought it was OK.”

If true, it’s a cruel irony that Charmian Beech was appointed rural dean of Hodnet in 2011, which included the responsibility of protecting children from abuse. Yet she did not testify on her son’s behalf. “I am concerned about him,” said Pete Saunders of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood. “I have no doubt that Nick has been abused, and he won’t mind me saying that we have been supporting him in any way we can.”

Could Beech’s tales of extraordinary, widespread abuse at the hands of military elites have been his way of finally getting revenge against his stepfather⁠—conflating his father’s militaristic authority with Britain’s leading military and political men of power⁠—because he could no longer confront Major Beech, dead now since l995? After all, to a seven-year-old boy, no one is more powerful than a father figure. It could also explain the images of child pornography found on his computer, to which he pleaded guilty, as many sexually abused children grow up obsessed with the very crimes that were inflicted upon them, crimes that leave indelible wounds to the soul.

Will this verdict have a chilling effect on the assumption of credibility for all future claims of sexual abuse? Will it go far to protect the privacy and reputations of those accused, particularly when the accusation itself can shatter lives?

“Man hands on misery to man / It deepens like a coastal shelf,” wrote Philip Larkin in his poem “This Be the Verse.” As the case of Carl Beech unfolded, the soundings seemed to promise nothing but further reaches of opaque water and the long pull of currents far, far below the surface.

Carl Stephen Beech in a mug shot.

In the end, the jury took just a day of deliberation to find Carl Beech guilty of 12 counts of perverting the course of justice and one count of fraud. The case against him was overwhelming. On Friday, Beech was sentenced to 18 years in prison. The judge, Mr. Justice Goss, said: “I’m quite satisfied that you are an intelligent, resourceful, manipulative, and devious person.” After the verdict, demands went out to force Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, to apologize to Lord Bramall and Harvey Proctor for the “irreparable damage” done to their reputations, as reported in The Times of London.

But innocence is not all it is cracked up to be today. Our Brave New World, our Digital Salem, forgets nothing and forgives nothing. Beech saw the men he accused as characters in his own bleak pantomime. They were serfs in thrall to his desperate need for attention, pity, recognition. They cannot have been human to him. Harvey Proctor, Lord Bramall, and all the rest were pieces on a board, and only Carl Beech knew the rules of the game. His false allegations will live forever now, extraordinary careers and private lives linked to the worst crimes conceivable.

Harvey Proctor and Lord Bramall have lived to see their names cleared of all wrongdoing. They have watched their faceless accuser coalesce into the figure of a man in black, staring vacantly at his left shoe. To them, it must seem a hollow victory.

Sam Kashner is an editor-at-large for AIR MAIL. A. J. Poots is a writer based in Belfast.