Libel or Legitimate Concern?

no one thought it mattered so very much

In the unique way the internet adds fuel to any fire, an Andrew Neil Twitter thread encouraging people to be vaccinated against coronavirus went from room temperature to the melting point of granite within a few exchanges. Not only was the wrath of anti-vaxxers incurred but of a Miss Jennifer Arcuri.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Jennifer Arcuri.
Lawrence Lessig at Second Home, London,
Innotech Summit
Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Vaccine sceptic to start with, and already irate at the way Mr Neil’s Spectator magazine had reported her close friendship with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, she sent a controversial tweet and attachment which provoked a prompt response from Neil, not threatening but promising legal action. On the assumption The Guardian has a more expensive lawyer than I, rather than quote the tweet I will quote The Guardian’s quote of Twitter.

“In a public spat that started with a disagreement over the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines, Arcuri tagged the former BBC presenter in a now-deleted tweet that read:” Citation for @afneil: Not only is he a paid for pharma puppet but here he is on the pedo elite train. Everyone knows what happened on that plane.”

Alongside were the hashtags #itsOver and #ticktock, a picture of Neil arms in arm with a woman, and a screengrab from Epstein’s address book purportedly showing Neil’s name.”

Neil wrote in response:

“I have clicked to follow you. Please DM your address/contact details so my lawyers can serve legal papers against you for this clear libel and defamation.”

Her attached screengrab had the names and redacted Epstein little black book addresses (ie obscured by black blocks) for Andrew Neil’s New York and London homes. Yes, as well as a villa in the South of France, Paisley’s finest has rooms in New York and South Kensington.

Besides the redacted addresses, Miss Arcuri’s tweet included a much-used photograph of Andrew Neil, regaled with gym kit vest and cap, in the arms of a similarly clad dark-skinned beauty. Beloved of Private Eye, the photo has infuriated thin-skinned Neil for decades. He is on record as claiming, rather than showing a middle-aged man making a fool of himself, the snap reveals the public school racism of Ian Hislop’s satirical organ.

The mystery lady is often mistaken as Neil’s previous squeeze, former Miss India and high-end £500 a night escort, Pamella Bordes, but your author can now exclusively reveal the lady in question is Sajata Robinson.

Perhaps not too exclusively as, despite decades of confusion, her identity was revealed in a Ross Benson Daily Express gossip column nearly 27 years ago. The un-cropped photo shows the Sunday Times editor and the New York based makeup girl at a Barbados party hosted by television producer Linda Agran. On her website, Ms Robinson is seen making up Hilary and Bill Clinton and boasts of being the “key make-up person” on Michael Jackson’s 30th-anniversary TV special.

According to her IMBD profile, at the time of the Express article, January 5th 1995, Sanjata was 35 and Andrew, 45. According to Benson, the pair were houseguests of Repton educated racehorse owner and breeder Robert Sangster and his wife Susan at their Barbadian James Harbour retreat. Next door is the Sandy Lane Hotel where rooms start at $2,000 a night and an 8oz tenderloin steak is yours for only £73.07.

Back in the present day, the Twitter spat continued. By 21:58 on the 8th December 2021, Neil was thundering,

“Lest @Jennifer_Arcuri thinks I’m not serious, my lawyers are tonight preparing papers to sue her, demand she delete tweet properly, apologise + admit her claims are baseless plus pay substantial six-figure compensation, much of which will go to child abuse charities.”

Note the canny Scot’s use of the phrase “much of which”. In addition,

“Then we will go after those who supported her heinous claims on Twitter. Yes, we’re coming for you too. And for the avoidance of doubt @Jennifer_Arcuri deleting, apologising and admitting you lied is not enough. Substantial compensation will also be demanded.”

As the rest of Twitter joined in, many hurling abuse at Neil or telling him to pack in, he remained in the fray blocking people who called him ‘hon’ and asking if he was ‘Ok’. By 11 pm, Andrew still hadn’t calmed down and tweeted,

“I will rely entirely on the McAlpine Precedent.”

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Andrew Neil.
Andrew Neil,
Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Interesting. The McAlpine in question was Lord Alistair McAlpine. Yes, he and his wife Romilly appeared with Mr Neil in the Epstein black book, as do Guy and Ben Sangster, the sons of the aforementioned Barbadian hosts Robert & Susan. As for the McAlpine precedent, what is it? And is use of it wise?


Repton educated Robert Alistair McAlpine, known as Alistair, was born into the family construction dynasty at the Dorchester Hotel on 14th May 1942. Appointed to the board of Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons aged 21, he became politically prominent in the 1980s as a fundraiser, treasurer and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, by whom he was enobled in 1984.

The Lord MacAlpine precedent emerged during a 2012 furore surrounding a BBC Newsnight investigation that didn’t name him as a paedophile but did mention a senior Tory in connection to a North Wales children’s homes scandal. At the time, the BBC was smarting over Jimmy Saville’s unchallenged behaviour and was embroiled in the reporting of a series of alleged London establishment paedophile rings. However, following the broadcast, McAlpine’s name appeared on Twitter prompting his Lordship’s lawyers to threaten crippling legal action against tweeters great and small. But why would social media name Lord McAlpine when the Newsnight programme had not?

London media hagiography has Michael Crick extracting a name from BBC source, and Bureau of Investigative Journalism supremo Iain Overton, over drinks after an Oxford Union debate the night before transmission[1]. This is over-generous to Crick. As soon as North Wales, care home and senior Conservative appeared in the same piece, a connection to McAlpine would be obvious to any interested party.

In 1994, Scallywag Magazine (un-sued) had called McAlpine a pervert and placed him to the Bryn Alyn scandal in North Wales. The magazine claimed the police and media had a sworn affidavit from a victim claiming McAlpine had abused him in a car. The article also said Lord MacAlpine had received a caution for the sexual assault of a minor in Glasgow in 1965. In the Newsnight programme, former Bryn Alyn resident Steve Mesham recalled being taken in a car to the Crest Hotel in Wrexham and abused by someone who the programme referred to as “a prominent Thatcher-era Tory figure”.

However, the day after Newsnight Mesham retracted his claim stating, having been shown a photo of Lord McAlpine, he was not the man who abused him. The following Thursday, The Guardian[2] published an article claiming Lord Alistair was mistaken for his conveniently dead cousin Jimmie, a resident of Gerwyn Hall near Wrexham. Further, Lord McAlpine had been ‘exonerated’ by Sir Ronald Waterhouse’s 1997 enquiry into Bryn Alyn.

Very strange.

Twitter detractors were now in a difficult position, as were Newsnight and ITV who McAlpine’s lawyers said had also identified the peer. Although having threatened the entire Twitterati, and insisted those involved identify themselves and pay £25 damages to charity, Lord McAlpine’s briefs later announced they would limit their action to 20 high profile tweeters with more than 500 followers.

Some folded quickly. Comedian Alan Davies, the next day before eventually paying £15,000 for tweeting,

“Any clues as to who the Tory paedophile is?”

and retweeting a response naming McAlpine. According to McAlpine’s lawyer, Andrew Reid, George Monbiot of The Guardian apologised twice. One of his humiliating communications was released to the press.

“I am feeling worse than anything else I have ever done, though I realise that this is nothing by comparison to what you have gone through with the help of my stupidity and thoughtlessness.”

Monbiot went on to self define as “unprofessional, thoughtless and cruel” before being further humiliated when McAlpine insisted him to voluntary work. The BBC settled out of court for £185,000 of licence fee payer’s money. ITV paid £125,000 after an indiscretion by Philip ‘Pippy’ Schofield. Others held out for longer. In May 2013, Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow saw Lord McAlpine in court having tweeted,

Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*

After conceding Lord McAlpine was innocent of the Newsnight claims, the Bercow defence revolved around whether or not her comments defamed the aggrieved party. The judges decided *innocent face* was defamatory as a ‘stage direction’ towards Lord McAlpine not being innocent.

One hesitates before judging the judges, in case they ignore one’s ‘natural and ordinary meaning’ compliment, and assume instead an expensive ‘innuendo meaning’ insult.

Ms Bercow lost, had to apologise and to pay £15,000 in damages.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Sally Bercow.
John Bercow and Sally Bercow outside Westminster Abbey,
Steve Nimmons
Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Regarding the cautioning of Lord McAlpine[3], a freedom of information request proved inconclusive. Inspector Graeme Cutherbertson of Police Scotland replied such information is not retained indefinitely and he was not sure it would ever have been recorded in Scotland as a conviction. The 1965 force concerned could have been any number of small Scottish forces, since amalgamated, with the information destroyed given the passage of time.

Therefore, Lord McAlpine’s integrity remains intact, the bar for legal action against tweeters is low and Andrew Neil is prurient in calling upon a McAlpine precedent.

Perhaps not.


Despite The Guardian deciding Lord McAlpine had been exonerated by the 1997 Waterhouse enquiry, reading it and the subsequent Macur Review places a question mark next to The Guardian’s claim.

Sir Ronald Waterhouse’s report concluded abuse allegations against North Wales Police Superintendant Gordon Anglesea had not been ‘proved to our satisfaction’ but Angelsey was later prosecuted for what he’d been exonerated of and was jailed for twelve years. By which time, nineteen years had passed leading to Anglesea serving only six weeks in prison before dying of natural causes aged 79.

Worse, the disgraced superintendent had been awarded £375,000 in libel damages against media outlets, including HTV, The Observer and Private Eye, after they previously accused him of what he was later convicted of.

Waterhouse was so unsatisfactory a subsequent review was conducted by Lady Justice Macur. From Macur we learn victims made allegations against ‘McAlpine’ to Waterhouse but neither of the McAlpines were called to give evidence and the name McAlpine was redacted from the final report.

Although names are also redacted in her report, phrases such as “large builder/contractor” aren’t which makes it possible to piece together from Macur extra eye-witness evidence, withheld by Waterhouse, linking a McAlpine to abuse.

The publication of the Macur review resulted in Operation Palliol which brought about the conviction of Angelsea and others but by this time (2016) both the McAlpines were long dead. If there were important omissions in Sir Ronald Waterhouse’s Report, there are also omissions elsewhere.

Jimmie McAlpine’s Wikipedia entry contains no mention of Bryn Alyn, Waterhouse, Macur or Newsnight. The Guardian obituary of his cousin, Lord Alistair, remembers a “true eccentric in the finest tradition”, “a brilliant and generous host” and “a man of wonderful fun and mischief.” Lord McAlpine’s ‘impressive’ collection of modern art and sculpture receives a shoutout but an important gap emerges. One that might legitimately lead to an ironic *innocent face*, or justify a re-tweet, in the face of an abuse scandal.

A 2003 a London Standard headline “McAlpine Erotic Sell-Off” outed Lord Alistair as the “well known and anonymous collector” for whom Bloomsbury Book Auctions was selling a portfolio of works entitled ‘A (Very) Private Collection’. This included “fashion and eroticism” photographs and “snaps of very young girls in very suggestive poses”.

At the time, some of these images were held in online art catalogues including that of the Tate Gallery. Legal advice suggested thumbnails could be viewed but clicking to reveal the larger image might constitute an offence. Suffice it to say, via thumbnail investigation, Lord McAlpine’s collection contained explicit images of naked underage girls.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Lord McAlpine, as freeman of Broome, Australia.
Sculpture by Linda Klarfeld: Alistair, Lord McAlpine – Cable Beach, Broome,
Anil Alfa
Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

In response to a newspaper enquiry, McAlpine replied, “I bought the Ovenden pictures from an exhibition in the Waddington Gallery,” adding, “There is nothing illicit or seedy about the photographs in the collection.”

The courts were to disagree.

The Ovenden in question was artist Graham Ovenden, successfully prosecuted for child abuse in April 2013, the year after the Twitter scandal and a year prior to McAlpine’s death. Ovenden was jailed having been found guilty of six charges of indecency with a child and one charge of indecent assault against a child. A 2009 attempt to prosecute had been unsuccessful. An establishment figure, astonishingly his clients included Princess Dianna who commissioned a work of an underage girl depicted from behind and naked from the waist down.

As a consequence of the conviction, District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe decided Ovenden’s own cache of pieces, similar to those sold to Lord McAlpine, were obscene and ordered them to be destroyed. Galleries removed his works. At the time, Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones commented,

“New attitudes have made yesterday’s hip romanticism look deeply worrying and bizarre.”

He went on to reference, “self-conscious decadence”, “frank child nudity” and “bold pictures of young models” before concluding,

“It is the quite crude sexual suggestiveness of some of Ovenden’s pictures that now poisons them as art. Nowadays, we don’t take that lightly. Ovenden’s success in earlier decades shows how profoundly times and values have changed. No one can ever have looked at his pictures of children and failed to see their flirtation with sexualising the young. But once upon a time no one thought it mattered so very much.”

The phrase “no one thought it mattered so very much” sticks in the mind. For decades the girls in Rotherham, and many other places, did not matter very much nor did the victims of Epstein and Maxwell. Jones’s assertion of changed times catches the eye too. No, they haven’t. It has never been permissible to sexually assault children and distribute indecent images of them.

What has changed is, thanks to the internet and alternative media, the rest of us are more aware of what the elite’s ‘hip romantics’ get up to. A better precedent than McAlpine’s would be, no matter how inconvenient to the likes of his Lordship or Andrew Neil, legitimate concern should be free of the threat of libel action.


[1] The Guardian, “The Newsnight fiasco that toppled the BBC director general”
[2] The Guardian ‘Mistaken identity’ led to top Tory abuse claim
[3] Freedom of Information request Lord McAlpine’s caution

Aknowledgement & Further Reading

Scallywag Magazine, Lord McAlpine And The paedophile Ring

© Always Worth Saying 2022

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file