22 tarnished lives, seven children labelled victims, a business forced to close, a nation's reputation tarnished, millions of internet hits ... one devastating fantasy
SUNDAY 17 JUNE 2012
By: David Leask - Investigations Reporter
1: THE CAMPAIGN
IT is the biggest Scottish story on the internet. A girl with Down's Syndrome portrayed as the sex slave of a ring of paedophiles for a decade and a half and the victim of a cover-up reaching to the highest law officers and politicians in the land.
This, at least, is the online story of Hollie Greig, a vulnerable young woman who has become the poster girl for conspiracy theorists around the world.
The real story is quite different ... but every bit as devastating, according to those smeared by what the Crown Office last night called "unfounded allegations".
Twenty-two people in and around Aberdeen have been accused of being paedophiles by campaigners styling themselves as "Hollie's Army".
Those named include a prominent sheriff who supposedly abused children at the home of his sister, despite the fact he does not have a sister.
And in a clear breach of laws designed to protect victims of sex crimes, another seven people have been named as rape victims along with Hollie.
Four of the "victims" would have been in their 20s at the time of the abuse. Two police investigations have resulted in no charges.
Only one person has been convicted in connection with Hollie Greig: a 66-year-old campaigner from Warrington called Robert Green.
He was jailed earlier this year for harassing those he falsely accused of paedophilia.
Green's conviction did not make headlines in Scotland. But it did spark international attention on websites such as that of David Icke, the former BBC sports presenter who thinks the world is ruled by lizards.
Green says he received 2000 letters of support from 35 countries while in jail.
His story – now wrapped together with that of Hollie and her mother Anne Greig – also inspired American talk radio shockjocks who rail against the world's ruling "Illuminati".
Green has appeared on radio in England, Sweden, Italy and South Africa. Some of these radio shows have joined online bloggers in rubbishing Scotland's justice system, with Hollie's case being linked to the Dunblane massacre, the Shirley McKie fingerprint row and even the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
Mainstream Scottish journalists have been accused of suppressing the story.
The campaign's battle cry is "Google Hollie Greig". If you do, you get more than 400,000 results.
One is the official webpage of the campaign. It compares Hollie's story to the Dreyfus case – arguably Europe's highest-profile miscarriage of justice – in which a Jewish officer in the French army was wrongly convicted of spying in the late 1800s.
Another site headlines on Hollie "as an abuse victim of the Scottish Establishment".
2: the targets
The jailing of Robert Green – the man who gave the loudest voice to the accusations – did nothing to diminish the online conspiracy theory.
Why not? That is what one widow who was accused of abuse wants to know. Speaking last night, the woman, who does not wish to be named, said: "We are the victims in this.
"We are the ones who have been falsely accused. A man has been jailed. Yet this thing just won't go away. What is wrong with these people?"
Her friend Sylvia Major knows how devastating it is to live in the shadow of lies and false accusations.
Few of her neighbours in Ferryhill take the claims seriously. The quiet Aberdeen neighbourhood is home to many of the innocent people accused of being part of the abuse network.
Major, a hairdresser, had to close her shop and take early retirement because of the "whispers". She said: "It has been hellish. It was also claimed that my late husband was a paedophile too, and my kids were really upset."
Major's story is typical of the many people falsely accused of being part of the Hollie Greig conspiracy. The thing she finds most galling is that despite being distantly related to Hollie, she only knew the girl for a short time.
"I saw Hollie when she was born but I didn't see her again till I met her mother in the street when she must have been nearly 18."
Over the period of a few years in the late nineties, Major would meet Hollie and her mother – now known as Anne Greig – for a gin and tonic at the Ferryhill House Hotel. Then the pair disappeared from her life.
Major is depicted by scores of websites and blogs as a core figure in Hollie's abuse, said to date from 1985 to 2000, along with her late husband Terry.
In real life, he was a civilian fingerprints officer at Grampian Police. In the internet conspiracy, Major's partner was a "senior police officer" and her children, like Hollie, were shared by a paedophile ring including the sheriff, a headteacher and social workers.
One of the children abused, according to Green and his conspiracy, was Major's daughter Cath, named by an online site that ignored the normal legally binding anonymity granted to the victims – proven or otherwise – of sex crimes. Cath was already an adult, and a successful footballer, by the time her mother made friends with Hollie and Anne Greig.
"I wasn't a victim of child sex abuse," the 37-year-old said yesterday. "I was playing half-back for Scotland and travelling the world."
Wyn Dragon Smith, a friend of Greig and Major, was named as a child sex abuser on the internet. "It was ludicrous," the 69-year-old said yesterday. "It was only later I realised what this was going to mean for me." Dragon Smith's health has suffered. So have her finances: she lost a lodger. Her sons – now in their 30s – were also named as those abused.
In the eyes of the campaigners, they are supposed to be victims. But that hasn't stopped their car and motorbike registrations being put on the internet.
3: THE 'COVER-UP'
The campaign believes the "establishment cover-up" stretches up to the Lord Advocate's office. One target was Elish Angiolini, who stepped down as Lord Advocate last year but worked as area procurator-fiscal in Aberdeen in the summer of 2000.
Angiolini has sought a non-harassment order against Green, banning him from approaching her or stalking her online.
That would give her the same protection as the accused sheriff and 15 other supposed "paedophiles" or "paedophile victims" who have been granted court orders against him.
Many, including Dragon Smith, only learned they were named by Greig and Green in 2009 or 2010.
One only found out she had been accused after Green put letters through doors around Ferryhill.
It was those letters – and related internet campaigns – that saw him detained by Grampian Police for committing a breach of the peace.
He was brought in while campaigning as a candidate in the 2010 General Election, despite being effectively banned by interdict from entering Aberdeenshire due to his pursuit of the Hollie conspiracy.
The Crown Office last night said: "The procurator-fiscal at Aberdeen raised proceedings against Green for making unfounded allegations against a number of people via leaflets and the internet, amounting to a campaign of harassment against them.
"The use of the internet to harass members of the public is deplorable and unacceptable. Threatening behaviour of this nature is menacing and is a form of stalking."
Green is now out of prison, but tagged. He claims his case, delayed as he changed solicitors, was one of the most expensive breaches of the peace in Scottish history.
He regrets nothing. He told the Sunday Herald he was protecting children from suspected paedophiles.
4: the mother
Wyn Dragon Smith believes Anne Greig, with whom she was very close in the late 1990s, is a very vulnerable woman. Nevertheless, she is furious with her.
"I loved her to bits," she said yesterday. "I believe she has mental health issues but how could she put her best friend on a list like this? She is the source of this evil lie."
The Sunday Herald yesterday approached Greig for comment through Green, but she did not respond.
Greig was sectioned in September 2000 in Aberdeen, a week or so after she took Hollie to a police station to name a list of abusers. Inevitably, her supporters believe she was hospitalised as part of the cover-up.
Green last night insisted Greig was quite sane, and produced documents showing assessments from psychiatrists agreeing with this.
However, social services in England, where Hollie and her mother now live, are worried about the family. The local council is currently involved in complex legal proceedings involving Hollie.
Campaigners say this is an action to have her declared mentally incapable. They staged a protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice in February during a connected case.
Greig and Green are barred by an English injunction from taking Hollie to demonstrations.
5: THE 'ARMY' DESERTERS
Tom, a forty-something accountant from Aberdeen, along with several other former members of "Hollie's Army", has turned his back on the campaign and apologised to those they accused – in person.
The growing group of former Green allies has now launched an internet counter-attack. Last week they published a YouTube video of Major and Dragon Smith telling their side of the story and – perhaps most devastating – the 2008 report by the Scotland's Police Complaints Commissioner saying there was no evidence to support any of the campaign's claims.
They are not the first to split away from Hollie's Army. The campaign reacts by suggesting former friends were spies. Its official website explains how to spot what it calls "MI5, trolls and disinformation and agents."
It says: "Hollie's abusers are part of a much bigger group that has tentacles throughout the echelons of the British Establishment, which is why from the offset Hollie's campaign has attracted their most trusted agents."
The site also invites donations through a Paypal account, which it says will help fund a private prosecution of "Hollie's abusers".
Among the protesters supporting the campaign are members of the British branch of the Truth Movement, many of whom believe the US government and not al-Qaeda terrorists attacked New York's Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.
"The Truthers jumped on the Hollie Greig case," explained Tom. "In fact, they used to promote the Hollie case more than their 9/11 theories. Basically, we are talking about people who think that Scotland is run by Satanists and paedophiles."
6: THE REPORTERS
Green likes to draw parallels between Hollie's fate and that of Stephen Lawrence, the London teenager murdered by racists only convicted 19 years after the crime.
One of the reporters closest to the Lawrence family was Mark Daly. Now BBC Scotland's investigations correspondent, Daly looked in to the Hollie case in 2009.
He wasn't the first investigative reporter in Scotland to do so. Like others who had investigated, Daly – initially intrigued by the fact Hollie had received compensation – dropped the story, unconvinced.
The result was an astonishing outburst of intense online abuse.
"I hope somebody rapes you," one internet poster told Daly. "You talk pish."
The journalist explained his decision last night. "I knew that the vast majority of these allegations would be impossible to prove," he said. "Then I became part of the 'cover-up'.
"I had apparently been threatened by the government and my bosses at the BBC to drop the story or I would lose my job. It was insulting and preposterous."
Daly received hate mail. Members of Hollie's Army protested outside BBC studios.
"The truth," Daly added, "is that the claims of the paedophile ring were based on a tissue of false assertions.
"Hollie's campaign was fronted by people claiming to be 'truth seekers' and 'investigators'.
"They claimed they were doing this for Hollie and were among the last champions of free speech in Scotland.
"But their campaign is about the most flagrant abuse of free speech that I can think of. And as for the welfare of Hollie, it seems to me that was the last thing these people had on their minds."
Aberdeen 2000: how the allegations started
THE claim that Hollie Greig had been sexually abused was first reported to Grampian Police by her mother in 2000.
Robert Green passionately believes the claim is true. He said: "Hollie has never had any possible motive to say anything that is not the truth. The same cannot be said for any of those who deny her allegations."
Green says his views are supported by the fact that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) awarded Hollie £13,500.
The CICA was told a doctor had examined Hollie and found evidence that she had had sex – although there was no evidence to suggest with whom.
A Grampian Police inspector told the authority that "on the balance of probability" the young woman had been the victim of abuse at some point in the past, but said there "was never a sufficiency of corroborative evidence to make a prosecution viable".
The police told the CICA the allegations from Hollie's mother that a "large number of people" had been involved in the abuse "were difficult to find evidence for".
CICA – using a burden of proof far lower than that which would be required for a criminal conviction, "beyond reasonable doubt" – decided to make the award in 2005.
They say Hollie reported that her uncle had seen her abused by another relative. However, Hollie's uncle, Roy or Robert Greig, took his own life in 1997. His car caught fire near Balmedie, north of Aberdeen, as he tried to kill himself with exhaust fumes. A passer-by pulled him out of the car and resuscitated him.
The Sunday Herald understands a post-mortem examination showed Greig had broken ribs and a bruise to the back of his head. Both are consistent with attempts to revive him. Green and Greig believed he was murdered to stop him talking.
Law enforcement agencies regard the matter as closed.
The allegations of a paedophile ring have been investigated twice.
Grampian Police interviewed Hollie and her mother several times from 2000 onward and filed a report with the procurator-fiscal in Aberdeen.
Through Interpol, they traced a relative of Hollie who was questioned overseas under caution, but released without charge due to "insufficient evidence".
Different officers re-investigated the claims in 2009 after the case blew up on the internet. They filed another report to the procurator-fiscal.
Many in "Hollie's Army" believe reports to the fiscal amount to evidence of wrongdoing, but there is no suggestion the reports contained such evidence.
Greig formally complained to Grampian Police about the first investigation, as well as about a series of other allegations she made, including the murder of her brother.
The complaint most cited by her supporters is the failure of police to interview more than one of the 22 people named by Hollie. However, Greig's complaints were investigated and dismissed. The force's handling of the complaints was upheld by Scotland's independent police watchdog in 2008.
Grampian, according to an anonymised response to Greig published by Scotland's Police Complaints Commissioner (PCCS), carried out "background checks on all the individuals concerned to establish if there was any other basis upon which to proceed- there was nothing found as a result of these checks which supported the position."
The anonymised published response from Grampian Police to Greig's complaint also that revealed officers – and a social worker attending the interview – had concerns about Hollie's list of abusers when she first revealed it.
The report said: "Further questions to help establish whether X [Hollie] understood what telling the truth meant did not result in a position where those present were comfortable with accuracy of the allegations being made."
The Crown Office last night repeated its official line regarding the case: that after two police investigations, its counsel decided there was "insufficient credible, reliable and admissible evidence" to justify criminal proceedings.