Before he signed on with Simon Cowell to make The Investigator, Mark Williams-Thomas was best known as the man who took down Jimmy Savile. Initially it brought him all the attention he could have hoped for – but, as he’s been finding out this year, not all attention is good attention…
When Jimmy Savile died in October 2011 he was feted as a national treasure. Celebrities of every stripe were tripping over themselves to send their good friend Jim off into the Great Unknown with the warmest slap on the back.
Prince Charles, Piers Morgan, Jeremy Hunt, BBC Director General Mark Thompson, Dave Lee Travis, the Catholic Herald, Christopher Biggins – all offered their sincere thanks to Savile for his tireless work in the community, the millions that he’d raised for charity and all the love that he’d brought to this world.
One year later, his reputation was toast.
Far from being the charmingly eccentric marathon cheat we’d all thought he was, it turned out that Jimmy Savile was actually an unrepentant child molester and rapist committing his crimes in plain sight, right under the nose of the nation.
Now best remembered as Britain’s most prolific paedophile, hundreds of people have since come forward offering to shed light on the darker side of Savile.
What caused this astonishing about turn in public opinion? How did our greatest son suddenly become our greatest shame? It all began with a documentary. ITV’s Exposure: The Other Side Of Jimmy Savile.
The man considered most responsible for bringing these stories to air and getting justice for the victims was the show’s host: an ex-policeman turned investigative journalist called Mark Williams-Thomas.
Williams-Thomas has since parlayed the success of that Savile documentary into quite the career for himself, becoming the go-to guy whenever TV shows want to talk about a big police story. But, like his current collaborator and colleague, Simon Cowell, his CV is also a little on the patchy side – and it’s not entirely clear quite why the string of significant failures he’s managed to rack up in recent years hasn’t generated more discussion.
Because when Simon Cowell cocks up, the worst that happens is a crap record makes it to number one. When Mark Williams-Thomas cocks up, it can put almost twenty years of serious police investigation in jeopardy.
As well as being the year that Jonathan King was first arrested on attempted buggery charges, and Simon Cowell was first offered the chance to be a judge on Popstars, 2000 was also the year that the Metropolitan Police underwent a bit of a boundary change.
Offloading some of their southwesterly areas onto a neighbouring force, one of the towns that was placed under the jurisdiction of Surrey Police in 2000 was Walton-on-Thames: home to both the infamous PR guru, Max Clifford, and the notorious teen disco, the Walton Hop.
Neither Clifford nor the Hop would waste much time in getting themselves on Surrey Police’s radar as, in May that same year, Max Clifford received a very significant email from a man named Kirk McIntyre.
Although Clifford declined to take up McIntyre’s case himself – leaving McIntyre to approach the National Crime Intelligence Service (NCIS) with it instead – he claims that he punted McIntyre’s details across to Surrey Police.
Whichever tip they ended up working off, within two weeks, Surrey Police had dispatched a team to take a statement from McIntyre.
One of the officers sent to take this statement was a junior detective constable, Mark Williams-Thomas. According to reports, Williams-Thomas initially arrived at McIntyre’s house with a colleague but, in an unusual break from regular police procedure, he dismissed this colleague, sending him off an errand while he took the statement himself. Alone.
It was in this statement that McIntyre first made his allegation about Jonathan King – which became an instigating piece of evidence in Surrey Police’s now-infamous investigation, Operation Arundel.
Operation Arundel got quite a lot of press coverage while it was active between 2000 and 2003. At the time, it was making headlines because it resulted in a number of high-profile arrests. Well-known names like Paul Weller, Mick Hucknall and Matthew Kelly were all swept up and brought in for questioning by Surrey Police (all three of whom, we should make absolutely clear, were cleared of their charges).
It was also the operation that resulted in the arrest and conviction of Jonathan King (the one which caused Simon Cowell to stump up £50,000 of King’s bail; later requiring Cowell to retain the services of Max Clifford to cover that same payment up).
Operation Arundel officially wrapped up in 2003 shortly after the case against Matthew Kelly fell apart, but it continues to be revisited to this day because there have been a lot of questions left dangling about just how badly Surrey Police managed to mangle the whole thing.
Those questions started being asked in earnest in 2013, largely in response to the far-reaching fallout that Mark Williams-Thomas’s Savile documentary unleashed.
As a result, Surrey Police was forced to bashfully admit that not only had officers actually interviewed Savile in 2009, but they had been sat on a pertinent lead about Savile’s sex crimes as far back as Operation Arundel, more than ten years previously – and had failed to follow up on it.
This admission triggered an independent review into the operation, where Merseyside Police were drafted in to see if they could spot any other significant slip-ups that Surrey Police had made in the course of Arundel.
Their report is known, rather prosaically, as the Merseyside Report and the contents of it have never been made public. The only reason we have any inkling as to what it contains is because, earlier this summer, a judge presiding over a related case insisted upon reading an unredacted version of the report so she could see for herself just how far Surrey Police had bungled Arundel.
Without wishing to put words in the mouth of her honour Judge Deborah Taylor, we don’t think it’s misrepresenting her position to say that they fucked it right up. Good and proper.
Surrey Police get some extremely juicy chunks ripped out of them in her ruling – both for botching the original investigation, then for trying to shield the Merseyside Report from any public scrutiny. But fingered for particular scorn in Judge Taylor’s final statement (getting seven full paragraphs of the stuff) was the police liaison officer trusted with taking the initial statement of Kirk McIntyre: Mark Williams-Thomas.
She couldn’t hold him responsible for every single failure in Arundel however, because four months after he took that initial statement – in October 2000 – Williams-Thomas left the police force for good.
And he took his notebooks went with him.
Gum For Hire
Almost immediately after leaving Surrey Police, Mark Williams-Thomas took a job as the marketing manager for GumFighters: a company which removes chewing gum from the streets. Peeling gum from pavements is necessary, honourable and humble work but, quietly, Williams-Thomas had other ambitions. He still harboured dreams of taking down celebrity paedophiles.
He had decided that the police force wasn’t his best chance at doing that though. All those procedures. All that protocol. It was all getting in the way of him nailing bad guys. He was certain he could do better work outside the system.
Instead of working for the police, Williams-Thomas set himself up as an investigator. Part journalist, part pundit, part police contact: MWT was going to do it all. However he could best use his contacts, skills and expertise to grease the wheels of justice, that’s how he’d play his part.
In that respect, he was carving himself out a role not unlike Max Clifford’s. Not beholden to any one industry, Williams-Thomas was free to be a true maverick. A jack-of-all-trades, a gun for hire, available to anyone who wanted to pay him.
It seems that he was a particularly busy boy in the summer of 2001, just before Jonathan King stood trial. For not only was he requesting statements from Surrey Police about King’s case throughout that time, he was also trying to sell sensitive information to journalists – information that he’d been privy to as a working police officer the previous year.
How do we know this? Because in 2002, Williams-Thomas was himself arrested on a charge of attempted blackmail, regarding a story he’d been involved with about a funeral home in Leatherhead. The allegation laid at Williams-Thomas’s feet in that case was that he had tried to extort a payout from a funeral director during a meeting (glamorously held in a Gatwick Airport hotel) and telling him that if he didn’t pay up, he would hand a story over to the press about how their company was stuffing multiple bodies into the same burial plot.
Williams-Thomas was quickly acquitted when that case came to trial in 2003 but, as part of the surrounding investigation into it, his computer was seized by police. While scouring his hard drive, they found a text document which was created in the summer of 2001 and last accessed in October that same year. The document contained a list of the victims and complainants in the Jonathan King case – alongside correspondence with the journalists to whom William-Thomas was trying to sell an introduction.
In his pitches to reporters, Williams-Thomas made no bones about the fact that he had obtained this information during his time as a police officer and told that journalists that his fee for providing this intel would have to be “commensurate” with the “significant risk” taken by him in acquiring it.
You may feel that this is a pretty incendiary piece of information. How the hell was something as suspicious-looking as a former police officer apparently attempting to sell the names, addresses and statements of witnesses in an active celebrity sex abuse investigation to journalists not bigger news at the time?
It’s a great question – but no-one really has a clear answer. Surrey Police appear to have no idea what happened with that potentially incriminating information between 2003 and 2014. When it finally did end up in the hands of Surrey Police’s Anti-Corruption Unit, the unit seemingly did nothing but sit on it.
The only reason we know anything about this conspicuous file on Williams-Thomas’s hard drive is the same reason that we know anything about what’s contained within the Merseyside Report. It all came to light as part of the same court case that collapsed earlier this summer – the one in which Judge Deborah Taylor tore Williams-Thomas a new arsehole about his bad evidence collecting techniques.
And still there’s more.
Between his blackmail acquittal in 2003 and his big break in 2012, Mark Williams-Thomas knuckled down in his attempts to achieve his dream of becoming a big media titan.
During this time, he set up his own company, WT Associates, which bills itself as a combination child protection/TV consultancy firm. On paper, it’s actually quite a sensible service to offer – and one that someone like Mark Williams-Thomas is uniquely positioned to provide. As former policeman, he could help victims navigate the sensitive legal side of things. As a media professional, he could also help them manage their relationship with the exploitative press.
For the best part of a decade this has been a big part of his portfolio career.
Then, in 2011, he had a life-changing stroke of luck. Williams-Thomas found himself sat next to Newsnight reporter Meirion Jones on a flight. The two got to talking and Jones explained that he had been trying to investigate allegations about Jimmy Savile’s suspected abuse – but that no-one would touch the story.
That all changed when Savile died a few months later. Jones was quick to call Williams-Thomas in as an expert when it looked like Newsnight might investigate it. However, the BBC made the fateful decision to spike the story and the investigation was dropped.
It was then that Williams-Thomas asked Jones if he could pick up the baton and take the story to ITV instead. Jones agreed. From there, the Exposure documentary The Other Side Of Jimmy Savile was born.
The documentary was a bombshell. Every news bulletin reported it for days. Savile stories dominated the papers for months. The BBC, the CPS, the NHS – all became engulfed in scandal, all accused of being complicit in or neglectful of Savile’s conduct. The Metropolitan Police was inundated with hundreds of new leads into similar historical allegations of sexual abuse and assault, opening up its own investigation to deal with them all: Operation Yewtree.
Throughout it all, Williams-Thomas was the toast of the town.
Very quickly, Operation Yewtree began reeling in some pretty big fish. Rolf Harris ended up in jail for a series of assaults committed against teenage girls in the 70s and 80s. Dave Lee Travis was given a suspended sentence of three months. Gary Glitter got himself hauled back into the Big House too, adding another 16 years to his timesheet.
But the biggest, perhaps the most surprising casualty of all to get snared by Yewtree? Max Clifford.
Clifford: the PR who had initially been approached by Kirk McIntyre two weeks before Williams-Thomas took his statement; the PR who claimed he had been helping funnel victims and accusers to the police; who acted as a conduit between the press and police; who prided himself on helping the force bring so many celebrity sex offenders to justice.
He was up to his neck in it too.
From a purely cynical perspective, Clifford’s arrest worked out pretty well for Mark Williams-Thomas. Though the pair of them had once acted as counterparts, both working towards the common goal of securing a court date and prison sentence for Jonathan King (Clifford running stuff from the press to Surrey Police; Williams-Thomas running stuff from Surrey Police to the press) the two had since spent a decade effectively in competition with one another – crowding out the ‘maverick’ market.
When Yewtree collared him though, a number of the people who would have ordinarily turned to Max Clifford looking for representation in a high-profile celebrity sexual assault story were now better served turning to none other than… Mark Williams-Thomas.
His star in the ascendancy, Williams-Thomas soon found himself being offered his own TV deals with ITV to investigate crimes and make documentaries about them. Not only would he be able to do his Clifford-esque work representing victims and accusers behind the scenes, he’d be able to mop up the attention that comes from being in front of the cameras too.
For a few years, it all appeared to be working out for him quite nicely. But in 2018, things began to nosedive horribly.
Over The Cliff
In late 2012, shortly after the Exposure documentary on Savile aired, Mark Williams-Thomas took up a new client. Someone who came to him with a story of abuse he had supposedly suffered at the hands of Cliff Richard.
Ordinarily, this would have been exactly the sort of story to end up on the desk of Max Clifford but as his arrest had caused business to slow somewhat, Mark Williams-Thomas – the hero of the moment – was the natural choice in his absence.
Williams-Thomas wasted absolutely no time in trying to get this Cliff Richard story some legs. Using much the same methods you’d have once found in the Clifford playbook, he went on a very public two-part press offensive. One arm of it was getting the word out about investigations into Cliff, so that any other people with a story to share could come to him and help build a case. The other was just to heap pressure on South Yorkshire Police, haranguing them for not doing enough to bring Cliff to justice and forcing them to act.
Convinced he was on to a good thing and high on his own hype, he pressed ahead full tilt.
Trying to work any possible angle that showed him as being the hottest source for any police or paedo story going, Williams-Thomas started giving interviews to the major broadsheets in which he teased out Yewtree news, talking about the next wave of arrests as if he was promoting his big comeback album.
To boost his social media profile, he took to tipping his Twitter followers off to the latest names he’d heard were in the picture to be brought in for questioning, while neglecting to mention that he was also representing some of these same people’s accusers.
He also took up a regular spot on the This Morning sofa, were he started holding forth about all sorts of stories, offering up his personal theories on the Madeline McCann case and telling Phil and Holly he knew who Jill Dando’s killer was.
Mark Williams-Thomas was no longer happy to be the man who brought down Savile. He wanted to be a one-man justice machine.
It’s perhaps a tad unfair to hold him responsible for any lack of tangible progress on Maddie and Dando’s cases – but how did all his work with the Cliff Richard stuff go?
You know the answer, of course. It went horribly, horribly badly.
While he’s been uncharacteristically tight-lipped about his involvement in the Cliff Richard story now that it’s a smouldering heap of rubble, Mark Williams-Thomas’s part in it behind the scenes can’t really be overstated.
Between 2012 and 2016 Williams-Thomas was regularly popping up in tabloids and television to push the story along, seemingly the sole source keeping it in the news. Whether it was taking an interview to confirm that he’d just passed on new information about Cliff to the police to make it look like a case was quietly building, or claiming that the detectives’ hands-off handling of the case was actively making his client (Cliff’s original accuser) unwell, Williams-Thomas kept driving this story into the news cycle.
Then, when it all spilled over and the BBC and South Yorkshire Police took a gargantuan amount of flak for raiding Cliff’s house, Mark Williams-Thomas quietly expunged himself from the narrative and slunk away into the shadows.
However, the Cliff Richard case wasn’t the one that did Mark Williams-Thomas the most damage this year. The case that collapsed this summer, causing Judge Deborah Taylor to tear a red, raw strip out of him, was a completely different one.
That was the third trial of… Jonathan King.
The Return Of The King
Upon receiving Merseyside Police’s 2014 report into their mishandling of Operation Arundel, Surrey Police decided that the smartest thing they could do would be to take a second pass at the investigations they’d borked the first time round and pick them back up where they left off.
This sequel was called Operation Ravine and it basically involved Surrey Police rounding up their regular sex pest suspects again and bringing further charges against them. In among that line-up were Walton Hop perennials owner Deniz Corday, DJ Robert Randall, Chris Denning and Jonathan King.
Deniz Corday died while on bail, Rob Randall took his own life and Chris Denning plead guilty to twenty odd counts, leaving King as the only one who actually made it to trial – a trial which eventually collapsed.
Judge Taylor attributed the collapse to what she described as “a deplorable lack of seriousness and rigour” on the part of Surrey Police, “a lamentable lack of joined up approach to the provision of information” and “numerous, repeated and compounded errors”. She also said “the integrity of the criminal justice system and processes have been undermined publicly in a fundamental way by the disclosure failures and persistent misleading of the court” as well as singling Mark Williams-Thomas out as a particular frustration.
Even by a layperson’s standards, Taylor’s ruling was pretty damning. By legal standards, it is excoriating.
In it, she outlines the peculiarity of Williams-Thomas taking a key witness statement solo; the unusual method by which Williams-Thomas took the statement, recording McIntyre’s answers but not the interview as conducted; the equally unusual fact that Williams-Thomas filed his statement days (“if not weeks”) after taking it, having assembled it from ‘trigger notes’.
It wasn’t just Judge Taylor who had a problem with that. She refers to a section in the Merseyside Report which says their own review of Arundel was “unable to ascertain if the procedure of taking statements in this way was standard practice… [as] this practice not only increases the possibility of error, but the integrity of any statement taken in this manner is open to question.”
She also notes that the Merseyside Report as a whole, far from recommending that Surrey Police simply take a second crack at the whip with Operation Ravine, actually appears to have made some grave criticism of the way that statements were taken and handled in Operational Arundel, suggesting that Surrey Police should have taken measures to evaluate the methods by which they gathered evidence, not simply reprise it all.
She is baffled at why Williams-Thomas was tasked with taking the statement in the first place, given how freely he’d been talking to colleagues about tip-offs he’d received about Jonathan King from a journalist in the months before McIntyre’s interview (a kink that information in his contemporaneous notebooks could have presumably helped iron out, had he not taken them with him when he left the force to shop the contents around to journalists in the summer of 2001).
She is similarly baffled at how Surrey Police’s Anti-Corruption Unit knew that a file had been found on Williams-Thomas’s hard drive suggesting that he had been attempting to turn profit on potentially privileged information, but no other departments were told about it – including the team working on Operation Ravine.
The final sting in the tail? On the evidence she’d been presented with, Judge Taylor ruled that this latest case had been brought not in the interest of getting justice for victims but out of “concerns about reputational damage to Surrey Police in the wake of the Savile case and the consequent Merseyside investigation.”
Putting reputation before proper police work is pretty much the Mark Williams-Thomas story.
For someone who has built himself a brand on getting results that the police can’t, it seems that Surrey Police’s biggest hurdle in getting those results was Mark Williams-Thomas himself. In fact, his conduct as a serving officer is now under such question that there’s talk of reviews being conducted into other cases that he worked on during his time on the force.
A ruling like Judge Taylor’s should be mortally wounding to his reputation as an investigator. Among those in actual law enforcement, it might well be. To those in the light entertainment business though – the industry in which he is currently making his money co-producing a mass-market primetime, true-crime series with Simon Cowell – none of this is likely to make a dent.
The qualms that Judge Taylor and the Merseyside Police have about Williams-Thomas’s fundamental ability and credibility when dealing with basic evidence gathering sit at pretty jarring odds with his on-screen maverick persona. As his on-screen maverick persona is the Mark Williams-Thomas people seem to prefer, it is going to be the one that wins out – and he will be able to coast on the glory of Savile for a long while yet.
Mark Williams-Thomas ought be wary though. A reputation for getting results can get you a long way. But, as Max Clifford discovered to his cost, it can only get you so far.
In Part Three
We’ll revisit Max Clifford’s part in all of this. How he found himself involved right at the very start of the celebrity paedo panic, how he managed to gain a reputation as one of the police’s golden boys for busting nonces, how he made other people’s offences disappear without trace, how he ended up dying in prison on a series of sexual offences himself – and how he got his comeuppance…