Exaro or Exaro News was a British website run out of offices in London's Covent Garden from 2011 to 2016 and supposedly undertook political investigative news journalism, but is now primarily known (together with its editor Mark Watts) for its direct involvement in the false allegations put forward by "Nick" (Carl Beech) in Operation Midland.
Launched in October 2011, Exaro, under its motto "Holding Power to Account", claimed to be specialising in "carrying out in-depth investigations". It claimed to "set out to produce “evidence-based, open-access journalism – not spin, not churnalism, not hacking – just journalism about what should be transparent but isn't"".
Exaro was supposedly set up by the city entrepreneur Jerome Booth.
In articles by journalist Mark Conrad, Exaro became the first publication to publish claims made by Carl Beech (under the pseudonym "Nick") that a VIP paedophile ring had abused children at Elm Guest House in Barnes in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Labour MP Tom Watson, having been passed information from Exaro journalists, raised the allegations in parliament and the police subsequently launched a scoping exercise under the name "Operation Fairbank". Later, a full-scale criminal investigation specifically addressing allegations relating to Elm Guest House was launched under the name "Operation Fernbridge". Operation Fernbridge was subsequently closed after no evidence to support the claims were found.
False allegations of sex crimes and murder committed by the fictional VIP paedophile ring made by Beech later became the basis for the Metropolitan Police Service's Operation Midland, a £2m probe which closed in 2016 with no charges being brought. A later inquiry found that those accused were victims of false allegations and the Metropolitian Police Commissioner issued an apology to Beech's victims. In July 2019, Beech was convicted of charges related to his false claims and was jailed for 18 years. Harvey Proctor, whose home was raided as part of the failed investigation, called Exaro Beech's "support team". Then-editor-in-chief Mark Watts stood by Exaro's coverage and said they "never asserted" that Beech's claims were true, but also called Beech's conviction "wholly unsafe" because he did not think Beech got a fair trial after the judge had allowed jurors to hear that he had pleaded guilty to child pornography offences in a separate trial.
Former MP John Hemming, who had been falsely accused in an article by Exaro journalist David Hencke of abuse, succeeded in a libel action against him in January 2019, resulting in Hencke and Graham Wilmer of the Lantern Project paying over £10,000 in compensation for the false allegations. In August 2019, Staffordshire Police confirmed that they were investigating whether Hemming's accuser, Esther Baker, had misled detectives.
Civil service tax avoidance
On 1 February 2012 an investigation by Exaro revealed that the UK's Student Loans Company was paying its chief executive, Ed Lester, through a private company, enabling him to reduce his tax bill by tens of thousands of pounds. The day after the story broke the Chief Secretary of the Treasury, Danny Alexander was summoned to the House of Commons for an urgent debate. He announced a review of all civil service contracts.
In partnership with Channel 4 news, Exaro revealed secretly recorded tapes of Rupert Murdoch talking to The Sun journalists, criticising the "incompetent cops" who handled the phone-hacking investigation and promising to take care of any journalist that had broken the law.
Military intervention in Syria
In July 2011 a RUSI expert told Exaro that the chances of foreign military incursion into Syria to secure chemical weapons had risen to "more than 50 per cent". The same month Exaro also reported that hawks in the US administration were pressing for military intervention to topple the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Bribery in defence contracts
In August 2012 the Serious Fraud Office launched a criminal investigation into bribery allegations in connection with a UK-Saudi Arabian defence contract between the EADS subsidiary GPT Special Project Management, and the Saudi Arabian National Guard. Exaro persistently investigated the allegations, writing more than 20 stories over seven months before the SFO launched its criminal investigation.
Private Eye magazine wrote on 18 September 2015 that "Exaro is struggling to live up to its strapline of 'holding power to account.' For several months the investigative site has published no news at all apart from the latest paedo developments and, slightly bizarrely, items on a corporate insolvency monitoring service it runs alongside its 'news.' The latter centres on the supposed 'Whitehall paedophile ring' and the lurid allegations against former Tory MP Harvey Proctor, and involves magnifying the slightest procedural development and tweeting like mad under the hashtag #VIPaedophile."
Barrister Matthew Scott, a consistent critic of the site's modus operandi, stated that "it has generated a poisonous atmosphere of outrage and hysteria in which wild and immensely hurtful accusations can be made and believed on the flimsiest of evidence; and that by publicising detailed allegations of paedophile orgies and murder it has risked destroying the prospect of fair trials either for victims or defendants." A report in The Guardian stated that the conduct of Exaro had been the subject of complaints to officials supporting the Goddard Inquiry into child abuse.
Dame Janet Smith called the editors "irresponsible" following Exaro's publication of a leaked draft copy of her report into child sex abuse, stating that “Exaro’s decision appears to have been taken for its own commercial gain without any thought for the interests of the many victims of Savile or the integrity of the reporting process.”
- Burrell, Ian (23 January 2012). "Holding power to account is Exaro's creed. But is there a readership for it?". The Independent. London. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
- Mayhew, Freddy. "Former Exaro editor says no need to apologise for 'good faith' reporting of fantasy 'VIP child sex ring' claims". Press Gazette. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
- "Operation Fernbridge: Norfolk priest Tony McSweeney arrested". The BBC news online. London. 7 February 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- Evans, Martin (21 March 2016). "Operation Midland: The story behind the Met's controversial VIP paedophile ring investigation". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
- Dodd, Vikram; Taylor, Matthew (8 November 2016). "Operation Midland police fell for 'false claims' of VIP abuse, report says". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
- Dodd, Vikram (22 July 2019). "Carl Beech 'was given credibility because he was middle class'". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
- Evans, Martin (27 January 2019). "Former MP falsely accused of abuse wins libel action". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
- "Esther Baker: Police investigate woman who said MPs abused her". BBC News. 14 August 2019. Retrieved 16 August 2019.
- "Civil servant tax claims: Danny Alexander orders review". BBC. 1 February 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
- "Urgent question on public servants tax avoidance". Parliament.uk. 2 February 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
- Revealed: The Rupert Murdoch Tape
- "Military intervention in Syria is 'more than 50 per cent' likely". exaronews.com.
- "Pentagon hawks plan military strike for 'regime change' in Syria". exaronews.com.
- "SFO launches criminal probe into deal with Saudi national guard". exaronews.com.
- Private Eye No 1401 (18 September 2015), p. 8.
- Exaro: Spare us the sanctimony, spare us the bullying and try to be a bit more transparent, BarristerBlogger, 3 December 2014
- Laville, Sandra; Halliday, Josh (21 September 2015). "Westminster child sex abuse inquiry 'split over credibility of witness'". The Guardian. London.
- Rawlinson, Kevin (25 February 2016). "Janet Smith: Exaro was 'irresponsible' to publish draft Savile report". The Guardian. London.