Tom O'Carroll Biography

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Tom O’Carroll was an activist in Britain’s Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) in the 1970s, campaigning for replacement of the age of consent law with a more flexible and liberal legal framework. It was felt the legitimate protection of children could be reconciled with an acceptance of child sexuality, the right of the young to sexual self-determination, and the legitimacy of consensual child-adult sexual contacts. A journalist, O’Carroll was PIE’s public face in the later 70s, when he propelled the organisation to national prominence and, in tabloid press terms, notoriety. Invited by a London publisher to write about his experiences, he delivered Paedophilia: The Radical Case, a book that was a personal account of how he came to be involved with PIE, the work of that organisation, and also a polemical exploration of the ethics of paedophilia. His second book, Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons, is a definitive 624-page review of the late King of Pop’s intimate friendships with young boys. A sympathetic account, the book appeared in 2010 to considerable acclaim within the academic world, but was trashed by outraged fans even before they could possibly have read it. They saw it as a slur on their idol’s “innocence”.


Tom O’Carroll writes:

“I am honoured that Bill has asked me to contribute some notes about myself for the pages of his excellent website. He emphasised I should not worry about keeping to a tight length limit – and that will be my first excuse for rambling on and saying more than anyone could ever wish to know. My second excuse may be a better one, though; I sure hope so. While the words of the Summary, above, are perfectly adequate as a guide to my small contribution to the cause of sexual sanity, a fuller picture of the hazards to be faced in the course of a life spent swimming against the tide may be instructive. The Crime and Punishment section, especially, with its description of the lengths to which undercover police will go to get their man, could not have been compressed much without losing the essence of the story. I have written in the third person, partly because it encourages objectivity; also, I simply found it fun to pretend I was writing about someone else.”


Tom O'Carroll was born on 9 August 1945 in Warwickshire, England. His father was an engineering craftsman and his mother a housewife. Tom and his older brother were brought up in Coventry, Warwickshire, where they attended state schools. The family environment was stable and loving. Education was encouraged and both boys went to university. Tom read history at Lancaster University and, as a postgraduate, studied education at Cambridge University, following his brother to Downing College, Cambridge. In later life, while in prison, Tom would attain First Class Honours in philosophy with the Open University: see Crime and Punishment below.


O'Carroll has dual British and Irish nationality, the latter based on the Irish birth and family descent of his paternal grandfather.


O'Carroll has the unusual, if unenviable, distinction of being fired after a few short years from every professional appointment he ever held, and his track record in terms of earning a living is not the place to look for work of lasting significance.

The euphemism "chequered" to describe a career with as many downs as ups could almost have been coined with him in mind – the downs resulting invariably in his case from clashes with society over his radically controversial views on child sexuality and paedophilia.

Initially a teacher, in the late 1960s he spent three years in the profession before coming into conflict with authority over his declared love for one of his pupils, a boy age 13. It was a "scandal" that resulted in his sacking. Devastated in both personal and career terms by the crisis, he turned to writing as a cri de coeur and a catharsis. The resultant novel, The Operation – an exercise in science fiction based on the then very new theme of transplant surgery (a middle-aged, discreetly paedophilic, teacher is mangled in a car crash; his undamaged brain is transplanted into the body of a ten-year-old boy who has died of a brain disease), was never published, but this opus in 1970-1 marked the beginnings of a love affair with personal and "political" expression through a range of literary forms.

Starting as a reporter with a local newspaper, the Leicester Mercury, the better part of O'Carroll's career from this point on would be largely one of observing and writing, with a preference for extended non-fiction – feature articles, essays, TV and film criticism, books. Fired again in 1974, this time after his past caught up with him while doing volunteer work with a local boys' club – a local politician made trouble about both that and his position on the paper – he joined the Open University as a press officer.

It was during these years that O'Carroll became a member of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) and eventually its Chair. Ultimately this led to an even bigger, higher profile, scandal in 1978 which saw him fired from the university and jailed for conspiracy to corrupt public morals. These years also witnessed the publication of his first book, Paedophilia: the Radical Case, in 1980.

Many years would pass before the dust would settle sufficiently for O'Carroll to get another staff job. These were wilderness years in which he would struggle to keep himself afloat financially through ghost-writing and irregular low-profile work mainly in the realm of freelance technical writing.

Sub-editing proved to be another "backroom boy" role where his difficult past could be shrouded in obscurity. However, a job of that sort with the Wakefield Express ended in yet another sacking in 1994. By now a "Father of Chapel" (local trade union representative and company salaries negotiator) in the National Union of Journalists, he was exposed in the tabloid press after his presence at the union's annual conference was noticed, and his dismissal became all but inevitable when his prison background was made public.

O'Carroll's last and longest post was the seven years he spent from 1994-2001 as a sub-editor with the Gulf Times, an English-language newspaper in Doha, Qatar. This, too, ended in conformity with the long-established pattern: he was fired after being "outed" as a paedophile in the pages of a tabloid newspaper, this time the News of the World. His nemesis on this occasion was that paper's notorious chief investigative reporter Mazher Mahmoud, otherwide known as the "Fake Sheikh".

Mahmoud and his team had been given a tip-off that O'Carroll would be vacationing at a naturist resort in France – so they went along "under cover" (or, rather, under no cover whatever) pretending to be naturists in a bid to befriend O'Carroll and coax him into indiscretions about paedophilia. He was not fooled, but that did not prevent Mahmoud's photographer from getting a long-lens shot of a naked O'Carroll allegedly cavorting with a naked 10-year-old boy (he and the boy were merely in the shower area together beside the resort's swimming pool) and running a story based solely on innuendo, fabrications, and O'Carroll's PIE and prison background.

By this time into his later fifties, O'Carroll would never work again as a staff journalist. The next decade would be a constant battle for him against seemingly never-ending legal fallout from the Fake Sheikh's story. Interspersed with these troubles, though, he spent time researching his definitive study of the late King of Pop's intimate friendships with boys, Michael Jackson's Dangerous Liaisons, which was published in 2010.


Having become aware by age 10 of his own sexual attraction towards young boys, and, by his mid-teens, of his lack of interest in the opposite sex, O'Carroll at first took a conservative view, identifying his situation as a problem to be resolved by gaining experience with girlfriends; or, if that failed, medically. Briefly, as an undergraduate, he was engaged to be married; but that relationship foundered, as did a number of others, over his decision not to hide his sexual orientation from these women.

Although sexual attraction to prepubertal girls came as a new development that took him by surprise in his twenties, it remained the case that neither gender beyond puberty had any appeal to him. By his thirties he felt sure that a partnership with another adult was not an option, and he thereafter resigned himself to the bachelor life.

Has he ever had sexual relations with minors? It is a possibility he has always refused publicly either to confirm (which would of course be dangerous) or deny. There has been no queue of adult "victims" complaining of "historic" offences; and the high level of scrutiny to which he has been subjected by the police and media for many decades suggest either abstinence or else a degree of discretion that has never in other respects been a salient feature of his life. Some have speculated that the dedication "To A and Z, with love" in his book Paedophilia: The Radical Case, may refer to "special" young friends.


While O'Carroll's response to his own sexuality was one of alarm and foreboding as he entered adulthood, his thoughts began to take a more optimistic and radical turn as he began to learn about sexually tolerant cultures in which children were/are not regarded as "innocent", asexual, beings, and even where adult-child sexual intimacy was/is considered normal.

His introduction to this brave new world of possibilities owed much to the writer Angus Stewart, whom he met as a "fan" at the writer's home in Oxfordshire, England, after reading Sandel, Stewart's 1968 novel about a loving relationship between an undergraduate and a young choirboy. Stewart, who died in 1998, spent much of his time in those days based in Morocco, where he had prepubertal boyfriends of his own.

The "sexual revolution" of the late 1960s and early 1970s was also a time in which O'Carroll and many others – including philosophers Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Louis Althusser ( ), plus former red revolutionary and latterly prominent green politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit – felt that liberating children's sexuality and abolishing the age of consent were issues very much up for debate and action. The increasingly vocal gay liberation movement in these years provided a model, inspiring the establishment of the Paedophile Information Exchange in Britain in 1974, a group that O'Carroll joined in the same year.

He soon became involved in the organising committee, first becoming Secretary then Chair. At that time a press officer with the Open University, and with experience as a journalist, O'Carroll made it his task to give PIE a high campaigning profile, intended to showcase PIE's well researched and actually quite moderate law reform proposals. The age of consent would not simply be abolished under the scheme but would be replaced with an alternative which would only involve the criminal law if a child had not been a willing participant; other cases giving cause for concern would be adjudicated by the civil courts, which could prohibit relationships deemed to be against a child's best interests.

O'Carroll, like his predecessor as Chair, Keith Hose, also felt that an open and vigorously campaigning group could not easily be portrayed as merely a shady cover for nefarious activities – a fate that had already befallen sister group Paedophile Action for Liberation, which collapsed in the wake of a tabloid expose.

Initially, the results were not bad. In 1976, O'Carroll gained a significant platform when he addressed the conference of the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty) on the use of chemical castration for paedophiles, securing a resolution to deplore this form of "treatment". He was also served as a member of NCCL's gay rights sub-committee.

Arguably this was the right level of activism, aimed at broadly liberal and libertarian institutions and media. But O'Carroll went too far and too fast in aggressively courting attention right across the media, including even the more rabid tabloid papers.

Described by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger as having "an obvious flare for publicity" in his role as PIE's spokesperson, he undoubtedly succeeded in putting the group on the map in 1977 but at a terrible cost. A summer of events in which PIE was involved were splashed across the front pages of the entire national press for day after day in bursts spanning several months, with particular focuses on his presence at the Nottingham conference of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, the British Psychological Society's "Love and Attraction" conference in Swansea and an open PIE meeting at the Conway Hall, London. O'Carroll was repeatedly offered other speaking platforms too (including a prestigious invitation to address the historic Oxford Union debating society) but then found himself abruptly disinvited when public protests threatened to get out of hand.

O'Carroll was later named among its "people of the year" by the Sunday Times newspaper, but his publicity tactics had been gravely misjudged. The tabloid press had simply zero'd in on the scandalous possibility that sex with children "as young as four" would be theoretically permitted under PIE's scheme, while the extensive safeguards built into their proposals were utterly ignored. Name recognition for PIE had been massively achieved, but only in terms of scandal and notoriety that would soon render the organisation vulnerable to attack under discredited conspiracy laws.

PIE's high profile did bear two notable fruits, however. In 1978, psychologists Glenn Wilson and David Cox, approached the group with a request to study the PIE membership under the auspices of the Institute of Psychiatry, London. With O'Carroll's approval and that of the PIE executive committee, these researchers conducted a survey of PIE's membership, the outcome being a book called The Child-Lovers: A Study of Paedophilies in Society. This was a great improvement on previous research, almost all of which had been based on unrepresentative clinical and legal samples.

The other major positive outcome was that O'Carroll was approached by publishers Peter Owen Ltd to write his own book, which appeared in 1980 as Paedophilia: The Radical Case.

Less positively, O'Carroll was fired by the Open University for allegedly bringing the university into disrepute, and soon after this, in 1981-2, he found himself serving a two-year jail sentence for "conspiracy to corrupt public morals". Disillusioned, discredited and jobless, he would spend the best part of the next two decades in obscurity, simply trying quietly to earn a living.

In the late 1990s, though, an old friend who had been an army officer ordered him out of retirement ("It's your duty") to contribute behind the scenes to several TV programmes on paedophilia, including Dea Birkett's for Channel 4's Witness series and Chris Morris's celebrated Brass Eye satirical spoof documentary, which aired in 2001. By 2003 he was in front of the cameras for a confrontation with anti-child abuse campaigner Esther Rantzen in the late-night discussion programme After Dark.

This same gung-ho military pal would also commandeer O'Carroll's deployment to two other sectors of the Western Front: in the Netherlands he began to work with International Child and Paedophile Emancipation (IPCE); in France he would have a high-profile presence at two Paris conferences, that of the International Academy of Sex Research (2000) and the World Congress of Sexology (2001).

These conferences marked the beginnings of continuing contacts with leading academic and clinical figures that would be of great assistance in ensuring his later book on Michael Jackson's sexuality would receive the attention of scholarly reviewers.


1978: Paedophilia: Some Questions and Answers. Authored jointly with Keith Hose, former PIE Chair, and "John", a nominee of the partly government-funded Albany Trust, which commissioned the work but withdrew from publishing it after coming under attack from socially conservative campaigner Mary Whitehouse. This booklet was distributed by PIE to every Member of Parliament.

1978: Chemical castration, Gay Left 7, Winter 1978-9, pp. 37-8. See Activism, above, for more on the theme of this article.

1979: Is PIE sexist? Magpie 12, January 1979, pp.7-9

1979: Paedophilia: A Response, Gay Left 8, Summer 1979, pp.13-17

1980: [Paedophilia: The Radical Case]. Described as "a well researched and articulate book" by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger (Guardian, 14 March 1981 ), this first major work by O'Carroll divided reviewers sharply. In the academic world it has stood the test of time with over 90 Google Scholar citations by 2012. For many years it was a recommended text for postgraduates at Cambridge University's Institute of Criminology. A major discussion of the book is to be found in Li, West & Woodhouse, Children's Sexual Encounters With Adults, where Li contrasted O’Carroll’s position with that of David Finkelhor, who has been described as “probably the most prominent sociologist” at work in the field of child sexual abuse. Li examined and criticised both positions, finally proposing a five-point compromise . In 2005, the ethical underpinning of O’Carroll’s writing received critical attention in Sex from Plato to Paglia: A Philosophical Encyclopedia. In the encyclopaedia’s entry on “Pedophilia”, Igor Primoratz, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, describes and discusses the challenges O’Carroll makes to the concept of childhood sexual “innocence”, the view that early sexual experience harms children’s development, and the claim that “informed consent”, as opposed to simple willingness, is an ethical necessity for engagement in sexual acts with others. Primoratz concludes that, “If sexual activity cannot be shown to be different [to other activities in which adults become involved with children], then the moral and legal standing of pedophilia depends solely on whether it is harmful to the children. On this question the jury is still out.”

1983: The Age Taboo, by Dan Tsang: a review. This review has a colourful history: there were questions about it in Parliament. O'Carroll wrote the review while in Wandsworth Prison for conspiracy to corrupt public morals...The review was written on prison stationery, complete with his prisoner number, L20711, and sent as a letter to PIE member Charles Oxley, who later turned out to be the founding headmaster of a private school based on "old-fashioned moral values", and also an amateur spy. Oxley's efforts resulted in Eldon Griffiths MP raising the matter at Question Time in Parliament. On 11 November, Griffiths, Conservative Party spokesman for the Police Federation, asked Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew whether paedophile literature was permitted in Her Majesty's prisons; and why a prisoner at Wandsworth was allowed to receive and review for publication..."a book on the subject of sexual intercourse with children". The question prompted an equivocal reply, and an apology on behalf of the prison governor. (Minor Problems 1, 15 April 1983, pp.10-11)

1993 A Jackson jury on the streets, NAMBLA Bulletin, 14(8):14-16,November 1993. This article was based on O'Carroll's own informal public opinion survey in relation to Michael Jackson's alleged sexual abuse of young boys, a story that broke in August 1993 and was still dominating the tabloids months later. Already O'Carroll was researching the book on Jackson that would eventually be published in 2010.

2000 Sexual Privacy for Paedophiles and Children, Symposium on Sexual Privacy at the annual meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research, Paris. O'Carroll was a speaker at the invitation of Richard Green, founder president of the IASR, and president for a second term in 2000.

2001 Is paedophilia violent? World Congress of Sexology, Paris. O'Carroll's proposed paper was given sustained encouragement over nearly a year by Dr Marc Ganem, President of the WCS. However, the paper was eventually rejected without explanation by the organisation's Scientific Committee. After repeated demands for an explanation went unanswered, O'Carroll was finally able to talk to Ganem. In a phone conversation Ganem indicated that the President of the Scientific Committee, Dr Willy Pasini, appeared to be concerned not about the scientific quality of the paper but by the controversy to which it might give rise. It seems the committee did not want to upset the major pharmaceutical companies sponsoring the congress, nor the politically sensitive World Health Organization with which it was associated. In order to combat this censorship, O'Carroll's supporters attended the congress, where they distributed his paper on a CD, along with a flyer titled Censored: The Speech They Didn't Want You To Hear.

2001 A gay view of 'child abuse': Review of The Abomination by Paul Golding.

2002 Sentencing in child pornography cases: A Response to the Sentencing Advisory Panel's Consultation Paper. This was a 55-page, detailed, extensively researched submission made in response to a call for submissions from the public. When the press got wind of it, though, a rather different impression was given. The Sunday Express headline (15 September 2002) was "Scandal of pervert on top legal panel". O'Carroll had never been a member of the panel. Reporter Luisa Metcalfe wrote: "The panel was set up by former Home Secretary Jack Straw in 1999 to encourage consistency in sentencing. Its softer sentencing advice to the Court of Appeal caused controversy last month." The implication is that O'Carroll's paper had influenced the judges, which had of course been his intention. In reality, though, the "softer" advice was very limited.

2002 Review of Harmful to Minors by Judith Levine (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis)

2003 Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Super Ped! Review of The Moralist by Rod Downey (Great Mirror Press, Ormond Beach, Florida, 2001)

2006 A wasted opportunity. Review of Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case by Diane Dimond

2006 Around Jackson, not ‘on’ him; Review of On Michael Jackson by Margo Jefferson

2009 An epic voyage of non-discovery Review of The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation, by Schmuley Boteach

2009 Aphrodite's new angle is just as slanted as her old one: Review of Michael Jackson Conspiracy by Aphrodite Jones.

2009 Brüno meets Jacko Review of Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson by Ian Halperin.

2010 Michael Jackson's Dangerous Liaisons. At seventeen years in the making and a hefty 624 pages, this has been O'Carroll's most ambition work, in which, under the pen name Carl Toms, he essays a comprehensive review of the late entertainer’s controversially intimate relationships with young boys. Described by historian William A. Percy as "a work of genius", Michael Jackson's Dangerous Liaisons received enthusiastic pre-publication endorsements from five eminent professors, including Percy. After publication another renowned scholar, J. Michael Bailey begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, also gave high praise in a four-page review for the academic journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. Bailey, a family man, wrote, “The idea that pedophilic relationships can be harmless or even beneficial to children is disturbing to many people, including me.” But, he continued, “The lack of scientific evidence supporting my largely visceral reactions against pedophilic relationships has been one of the most surprising discoveries of my hopefully ongoing scientific education...O’Carroll argues against my intuitions and he argues well.” More details, and online ordering:

2010 Sabotaged "work of genius" to be relaunched. A mere press release, which this is, would not normally count as a "publication" for a listing such as this. This one is different, though, because it marked O'Carroll's forced transition from writer to publisher when disaster struck the launch of Michael Jackson's Dangerous Liaisons. Jackson fans, outraged over O'Carroll's revival of "child molesting" allegations against their idol, exposed pseudonymous author "Carl Toms" online as none other than "convicted paedophile" Tom O'Carroll, as a result of which the publisher panicked and withdrew from the book's marketing operation. Once he had recovered from the shock, O'Carroll launched Dangerous Books Ltd, with himself as sole director, in order to promote and distribute the title. Original press release with editor's note: Book saboteurs try to sink the re-launch as well, by libelling O'Carroll's academic supporters as paedophiles:

2011 Comment on The Role of Androphilia in the Psychosexual Development of Boys by David L. Riegel. International Journal of Sexual Health, 23:3,157-157

2011 Love is confoundedly complicated! Review of Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir, by Margaux Fragoso. O'Carroll brought this review in draft form to the attention of leading academics on a specialist online forum in December 2011, together with his views on a journal article by feminist philosopher Claudia Card. The forum, with access by invitation only, comprises nearly 400 scholars, mainly specialist academic researchers and clinicians in sex-related fields. A day of so later one of those academics, Michael Seto, author of the most authoritative recent book on paedophilia (Pedophilia and Sexual Offending Against Children: Theory, Assessment, and Intervention, published in 2007 by the American Psychological Association) posted to express his appreciation of O'Carroll's "informative and thoughtful posts" over a sustained period. This could be seen as significant given that Seto is a leading world expert in, effectively, combating child sexual abuse. Unsurprisingly, Seto added that he and O'Carroll "may not agree on any number of points, but ..." The review is to be submitted for publication in Culture and Sexuality.


Alan Turing's biographer, the Oxford mathematician and gay liberation pioneer Andrew Hodges, once described O'Carroll as "like a character out of Dostoevsky". The depraved, hard-drinking, presumptively paedophilic Svidrigaïlov, perhaps? Whoever Hodges had in mind, O'Carroll has certainly had his fill of crime (or alleged crime) and punishment.

In 1981 he was convicted for "conspiracy to corrupt public morals" over the contact ads section of the PIE magazine and was sentenced to a prison term of two years. He served his time, 16 months behind bars, with the then standard remission for good conduct of one third of the sentence, in three prisons: Wormwood Scrubs, Wandsworth and Lewes. He had been eligible to apply for release at the 12-month stage but parole was refused. He was physically attacked three times in prison, including once when he was punched in the face while carrying a meal tray at the top of an iron staircase, sending him crashing head over heels in spectacular fashion right to the bottom. He was unhurt.

A barrister in the conspiracy case, Peter Thornton, later a QC and senior circuit judge, wrote about it the following year in Rights, the journal of the National Council for Civil Liberties (later Liberty). Thornton was critical of the charges, which he said had been “too remote from any tangible misdemeanour” and he suggested that O'Carroll had been convicted on little evidence. Also, Dan Franklin, who had edited Paedophilia: The Radical Case, wrote an afterword for the book’s American edition about O’Carroll’s two Old Bailey trials (the second followed a hung jury in the first) and imprisonment. Franklin, who later rose to become, in the words of a Guardian profile, “the publishing colossus behind Britain's superstar authors”, said the authorities had “shown themselves determined to punish this intelligent, articulate man to the limits of their power”. Franklin cited commentators of the time, including Alan Watkins in The Observer, who declared that O’Carroll had been penalised effectively for nothing more than campaigning to change the law.

Nor was this to be the end of O’Carroll’s legal travails. In 2002 he was again in trouble with the law, this time on charges of evading a prohibition on the importation of indecent photographs of children from Qatar. He was given a nine-month sentence on the basis of just three images, a sentence later quashed by the Court of Appeal which held that the trial judge had been overly influenced by O’Carroll’s campaigning. The photos were described in the ruling as having "the quality of indecency in the context in which they were taken, but were of the kind that parents might take of their children entirely innocently".

In a further hearing, this time to launch an appeal against conviction, not sentence, O'Carroll was refused leave to appeal by a single judge. This did not prevent him from appealing to a three-judge panel but it meant the state would not fund his legal representation through Legal Aid. Convinced that he had not broken the law (he had always thought the photos in question were not indecent; also the law required that he knew the imported photos were illicit), he decided to prepare his own appeal, and represent himself at the Royal Courts of Justice before Lord Justice Scott Baker, Mr Justice Henriques and His Honour Judge Crowther QC, the Recorder of Bristol.

Giving judgement, the Recorder of Bristol said O'Carroll, " a dedicated, enthusiastic and well-researched apologist for what he sees as innocent and non-exploitative pleasure in viewing photographs of juvenile nakedness. He raises many philosophical, social and artistic arguments about that which we regard as irrelevant to the two legal questions for us: (1) Was the conduct of the trial and the summing-up correct? (2) Are the convictions safe?” On the basis of those questions the appeal was rejected.

Still not satisfied, O'Carroll appealed once more, again representing himself, this time to the European Court of Human Rights, where the issue was decided by a seven-judge panel in 2005. O'Carroll argued that the common law definition of "indecent" was too vague and thus contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. In a nine-page judgement, the court disagreed, so the conviction stood.

In January the following year, 2006, O'Carroll was arrested once more, this time on suspicion of conspiring to distribute indecent photographs of children, after supplying an undercover Metropolitan Police officer with a cache of child pornography obtained from his co-defendant, Michael John De Clare Studdert's vault of 50,000 pornographic images. He was arraigned in June 2006 on child porn charges. In September he admitted distributing indecent images of children. In December, he was jailed for 2½ years at London’s Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court.

As is all too typical, news reports of the case said nothing whatever about the defence side of the story; nor did the media hear much in open court how the case had come about.

It is a complex and colourful story. Like a number of others involving post-millennium British police undercover work, the motives and methods behind the operation, codenamed Operation Glenlivet, were highly dubious.

It all began with the origins of the 2002 Customs case in 2001, when the authorities had been thwarted in an attempted search of O'Carroll's property, which had been warehoused for years in the northern English city of Leeds, while he had been working in Qatar. Clearly, they suspected they might find more serious pornography than the small number of very tame photos eventually used as evidence in that case; but O'Carroll's lawyer noticed an irregularity in the Customs officers’ procedure, and on this basis prevented them going ahead with the search. The Customs people were not to know that all they would have found in Leeds would be personal property such as ordinary books, plus household furniture and utensils and a collection of photo albums and slide sets that would not have added to O'Carroll's legal difficulties but which did include a great many cherished photos of children.

One thing Authority cannot abide is to be outmanoeuvred in this way. Unable to get their hands on O'Carroll's photo collection, not only would their suspicions have been intensified, they would also have been determined to fight another day. And they had another reason for doing so, or thought they did: it emerged in court in 2002 that the Customs authorities suspected O'Carroll was part of an organisation called GWAIN, which they presented as a shadowy, conspiratorial revival of the long-defunct PIE, now stripped of its campaigning goals and focused solely on illicit activities. GWAIN, they claimed, stood for Group (or Gentlemen) Without An Interesting Name, a deliberately low-key moniker designed to fly under any police radar for London meetings in the late 1990s and around the turn of the millennium.

There was indeed a small group of aging ex-PIE members who met from time to time, but their purpose was serious: to amass a major archive (which still exists at the time of this writing in 2012) of newspaper cuttings documenting for the historical record the ongoing political, media and judicial assaults against paedophilia and child sexuality. It was hoped that future scholars would find it useful, as well they yet may, because the print sources in question largely predated the ubiquity of the internet.

Unsurprisingly, given the earnest mission of “GWAIN”, no evidence was ever found against this group; but that did not mean the end of the surveillance against them or O'Carroll. Several people, including O'Carroll, were also connected to IPCE, which was a rather more interesting name: it stood for International Child and Paedophile Emancipation. When O'Carroll was arrested in 2006 a police press release made it clear their target had been a perceived "international conspiracy" centred on IPCE. But this, too, turned out to be a damp squib: IPCE still exists in 2012, performing a very valuable role mainly as a website devoted to scholarly information. It has long since dropped the full name and the "emancipation" objectives in favour of a more academic remit.

In 2001-2, however, the Customs, followed in turn by the Metropolitan Police, were coming to be deeply interested in IPCE and its British members, including O'Carroll. The first clear sign (in retrospect) that the importation case was not the end of their focus on O'Carroll was during the trial itself, but not in the courtroom.

The real action in the Southwark Crown Court was to be found in its cafe. Two young guys there got chatting to O'Carroll's friends in the lunch breaks. They said they were currently out of work and had come along to the courts out of interest. They sounded sympathetic, especially as the pictures in question were obviously so mild: they could not see why O'Carroll was on trial at all. Indeed, Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC had said the same thing at the outset of the trial, before the prosecution had alerted him to the PIE and GWAIN background.

One of these men, who called himself Matt, would later visit O'Carroll in Wandsworth Prison. Matt said he had now managed to get a job as a water quality inspector on the River Thames in London. Asked, just as a matter of conversation, what this entailed, he explained it meant taking samples working from a boat. Didn't he need technical qualifications for the analysis side? No, it was just a matter of taking simple readings from instruments, he said, and he went on to describe some of the details.

O'Carroll was pleased Matt had landed what seemed a congenial job. He found the young man's company agreeable, not least as he offered practical help, such as mailing a radio and books to him in the prison. Matt also talked about another friend, not just his fellow jobless pal at Southwark Crown Court but another guy, called Derek. He must have told O’Carroll how he had come to know Derek, and it must have sounded plausible, because if that were not the case it would have been memorably suspicious. But when disaster struck years later, and O’Carroll finally had reason to ponder how he had come to trust first Matt, and then his friend Derek, the details were all totally lost to memory.

Derek, it turned out, would be central to the story for fully three years. He turned up in the public gallery at O'Carroll's appeal against sentence. The only other people in the gallery were a couple of O'Carroll's friends, so it was entirely natural they and Derek would chat together about the case. By this time Matt and his other pal had disappeared from the scene but Derek mentioned Matt, and said he had found out about the case from him.

Derek explained that he had been in a bit of trouble himself, having been cautioned (and hence on the sex offenders’ register) for taking photos in a park up girls’ skirts. He said Matt did not know about this offence, though, or that Derek was attracted to young girls, and boys too; so would my friends please keep this under their hats?

Once O'Carroll had been released, after his successful appeal, he would soon join his friends in the lobby of the court building, where he would also meet Derek. He turned out to be a witty, amusing guy of the fat, jolly, self-deprecating variety. Very fat, actually. Huge. Probably around 300lbs or more (over 20 stones in British terms). And rich. He would later say he had been a manager with British Rail's property division before privatisation. When the big rail sell-off began in the 1980s with the disposal of real estate such as railway-owned hotels, Derek had taken advantage of stock options he had been offered as a manager. He had done very well out of this, enabling him to set up as a property developer in his own right.

Derek Longden, as he was known to O'Carroll, would meet the former PIE leader quite frequently between 2002-5, whenever O'Carroll was in London or when his own travels in connection with property development business took him near the former PIE Chair's homes in the English Midlands and, later, North.

As he was wealthy, Derek would always pay for a meal and a few beers. He even helped O'Carroll move house, supplying a removal truck free of charge, driving it himself. These acts of kindness and camaraderie added up over time to quite a substantial debt of gratitude in O'Carroll's mind. He began to feel a sense of loyalty and obligation.

O'Carroll liked him, and felt sorry for him too. No young boys were ever going to hero-worship fat Derek as they might a fit young sports coach, say; nor would girls see him as a glamorous friend. So he was sympathetic when Derek asked him, quite early in their friendship, if he knew any safer way to get hold of child pornography than over the internet. Truthfully, O'Carroll told him he did not have any such pornography of his own.

After three whole years of Derek's nagging, almost pleading, requests, though, O'Carroll finally agreed to contact an old friend he knew, who had an aging collection of magazines and video tapes, mostly acquired in the Netherlands in the 1980s at a time when the government there allowed such material to be sold quite openly.

The owner of this collection was Michael John De Clare Studdert, a Cambridge-educated aristocrat with an historic estate in Ireland, including its own castle. He was also an ordained minister of the Church of England. The Rev. Michael Studdert, to give him his clerical title, had once been a chaplain at a private school.

One fine summer's day in 2005, O'Carroll would set off by car from his northern home towards Studdert's multi-million pound (dollar) country residence in southern England to collect the illicit goods by prior arrangement. Little did he know his every movement was being monitored by police, using the signal from his mobile phone. After the pick-up from Studdert, he continued his journey southwards, now heading towards another expensive property – a stately home in a huge country estate with electronic security gates and a gravel drive half a mile long. This was where he would meet Derek in his luxury apartment and hand over the tapes, etc.

It all went very smoothly. Derek received the illicit tapes and magazines graciously, with effusive thanks; the two later went out for a meal together at a local village pub. Then they went back to Derek's place, where O'Carroll stayed overnight as his guest. Crucially, no money changed hands: Studdert had given the contraband free of charge as a favour to his friend O'Carroll, and O'Carroll did not charge Derek either.

A few days afterwards Derek treated O'Carroll to a present for his 60th birthday: a night out for the two of them at a London theatre to see Billy Elliot, The Musical. Derek knew O'Carroll was crazy about Liam Mower, one of the three title-role boy actors in the original production. They in fact saw another of the three, George Maguire, and he was great too, so it was a magical occasion.

What O'Carroll did not know at this stage was that he had already been caught in a sting operation: the handover of the porn materials in the presumably police-owned flat had been audio- and video-recorded. An undercover police officer (none other than supposed property developer "Derek Longden", whose real name was never disclosed) had also secretly audio-recorded every word O'Carroll had uttered in his company over the previous three years on a recorder strapped to his back.

It was not until months later, though, in January 2006, that O'Carroll was arrested in a dawn raid at his home, simultaneously with raids on five other addresses. The police would allege in a press statement that all six targeted men had been involved in an IPCE-based conspiracy.

In the end the conspiracy theory evaporated. IPCE was in the clear, despite police investigations in several countries. Three of the six men arrested in the UK turned out to be completely innocent; another was jailed in connection with an offence that had nothing to do with IPCE or O'Carroll. So that left just O'Carroll and Studdert, who appeared as co-defendents at their sentencing hearing.

In Studdert's defence it was pointed out that he was merely a hoarder, not a professional porn dealer. The court also heard he had done a great deal of good work in his community, including donating around £35,000 ($55,000) a year of his own money to children's charities, mainly in educational grants. In the public's eyes this would have done nothing to excuse his offence, but it did at least show another, more positive, side to the man's character. There was not a word about that in the news reports. He was jailed for four years.

As for O'Carroll, he had not been a mercenary porn dealer either, which should have gone in his favour. Curiously, though, had he been in it just for the money the police might never have been able to mount a successful prosecution.

That is because the police might not have been able to tempt the average possessor of child pornography into parting with his riskily acquired collection without first offering an "improper inducement" in the form of a large sum of money. If any form of inducement was used beyond what a friend might offer in the ordinary course of a friendship (an occasional pub meal would not be thought excessive, nor would helping a friend move house), or beyond what a dealer might ordinarily expect to be paid for particular goods, then the prosecution case could be discredited on the grounds of "entrapment".

Whereas an undercover police officer would know the ordinary street value of illegal drugs, and be able to get the dealer to make a criminal sale by offering no more than the regular price, he might find it much harder to effect a child porn sting without offering an amount of money that would later be judged as an excessive inducement, thereby creating the impression of a police-generated crime that would not otherwise have taken place.

Contrary to what might be popular belief, there is no evidence of a regular black market in child porn in the UK on a face-to-face basis. Friends might swap material or pay (foolishly) with a credit card over the internet, but there is no established street price.

So the fact that O'Carroll simply gifted the material to the undercover officer meant there could be no defence of "improper inducement", a fact that made it hard for him to plead not guilty on the basis of entrapment. In English law, in any case, "entrapment" may look bad for the police but it does not necessarily get the defendant off the hook. That is why O'Carroll, on the advice of his lawyers, pled guilty.

As in Studdert's case, there was mitigation that went unreported in the news media. On O'Carroll's behalf, it was pointed out not only that it had taken three years of Derek's nagging and cajoling before he could be induced to commit an illegal act, but that dozens of hours of taped conversations with the defendant contained no evidence whatever of any other illegal activity. At the insistence of the defence, all the tapes were transcribed, over a thousand pages in all.

What did they reveal? Nothing the prosecution could make use of in court. But the defence was able to point to things O'Carroll had told "Derek" which in effect proved his innocence of further crimes. For instance, he said he had sold all his own cameras following his previous trial and no longer took any photos of children. Kids were still attractive to him as "eye candy", he admitted, but he was careful not to get sexually involved with them.

Dangerously for O'Carroll, he told Derek about annual summer holidays he had spent in 2002-5 in the company of an Austrian family with three young boys at a Mediterranean naturist resort, including details of an affectionate but non-sexual friendship with those boys. Derek had tried to distort and misrepresent O'Carroll's words and intentions in his witness report, putting a sinister spin on things. But that report was downplayed by the prosecution once the tape transcripts became available, because the defence was able demonstrate the truth in black and white – and embarrassingly able to expose police lies.

Astonishingly, the defence was even able to show Derek's true feelings when he inadvertently left the tape recorder running for a moment after he and a "business associate" (yet another undercover officer, called "Jerry") left O'Carroll's company following a convivial evening spent by the three of them at a restaurant. After getting into his car with Jerry, Derek's final words on the tape were these: "He's a nice guy."

He could only have been talking about O'Carroll.

Nice guy or not, O'Carroll would spend 15 months behind bars thanks to "Derek Longden" and Operation Glenlivet, and a further 15 months on licence.

He was lucky, though, not to find himself facing an indeterminate sentence. That was what the prosecution had called for, and at that time they were being dished out to "sex offenders" as casually as parking tickets by many judges. A sort of life sentence, an "indeterminate sentence for public protection" (IPP) would have meant staying in prison until such time as the authorities felt he was no longer "dangerous". And as long as he kept expressing views as radical as those in his two books, his release would have been extremely unlikely. In effect, then, such a sentence could have been used as a rather drastic form of censorship more often associated with oppressive dictatorships than with democracy.

It would be O'Carroll's third sojourn in an all-too-familiar Wandsworth Prison.

Times had changed though. His first sentence in 1981 had been really tough, under constant threat of physical attack and with little to do except the traditional prison labour task of sewing mailbags: while he found the fragrance of fresh hessian therapeutic, the task was not exactly exacting.

By 2006 there had been real advances. There were black officers and women officers now, which had brought with it a culture of respect for diversity. Gone were the macho, hard-nosed days, at least among the staff. Endemic overcrowding still left the regime struggling in its efforts to introduce and sustain rehabilitative programmes, but O'Carroll found himself able to benefit from serious work and educational opportunities.

This time he managed to secure a job in the prison's Media Centre, writing, designing and producing leaflets and brochures, and also reporting and writing for the prison magazine. Among those he interviewed were the prison's top governor, two would-be transitioning male-to-female transsexuals who were celled-up together, and a couple of VIP outsiders when they visited: Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons and thriller writer Frederick Forsyth, author of The Day of the Jackal.

O'Carroll was able to talk privately to Irons about his role as Humbert Humbert, the paedophilic professor in Adrian Lyne's screen adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita. Sadly, Irons's quotes on that occasion proved too interestingly controversial for inclusion in a prison journal – especially one with a large unit housing mainly sex-offenders. In a nutshell, his theme was, "There but for the grace of God go many".

While O'Carroll, unlike a lot of inmates, had not been lacking in previous educational opportunities, he leapt at the chance of enrolling in an Open University one-year undergraduate-level course called Philosophy and the Human Situation, a module within the BA degree programme. He passed at First Class Honours level.

His fellow inmates had much to teach him too, and not just in cliché "university of crime" terms. During this third "semester" behind bars O'Carroll would meet many people of a kind not usually associated with prison life: a BBC reporter; an astronomer who had recently designed and built one of the world's great mountain-top telescopes; a doctor; a museum curator who was also an adventurous historian of medieval Russia, researching its river fur-trading routes by rowing and sailing thousands of miles in a traditional boat through remote areas; a pioneer ethnic-minority politician; a famous radio disc jockey...

Learning from all these intelligent, knowledgeable, experienced, often witty, people, while strolling together with them around the prison yard in the daily exercise hour, felt like a university experience, or even, as in Classical Athens, a peripatetic school of philosophy.

Yet all of these people were paedophiles! Researchers studying sex offenders against children have tended to report a low average IQ, but clearly there are plenty of very bright such inmates as well.


1977 Audio of O'Carroll's radio interview with LBC at the British Psychological Society’s Love an Attraction conference

2002 Ice-Cream Hands. Short film by Australian director Gavin Youngs.

From early programme notes: "Mr. Sprinkles. Single, 35 years. He loves ice cream ... as well as little Jude, aged eight. An experimental narrative that relies heavily on the biographical work of Tom O'Carroll, a confessed ‘lover of children’ in the UK." This film has done the rounds of a number of festivals, in Argentina, the UK, Portugal and Germany. Rose Capp, writing for the St Kilda's Film Festival, said: "Gavin Youngs’ Ice-Cream Hands...interrogates the idea of childhood innocence, tackling the topic of pedophilia in a courageous and original fashion. Minimal dialogue and an intentionally whimsical visual style mixing naive animation with stylised live action offer an appropriately disturbing take on the subject."

2003 Child Protection: How Far Should We Go? Three-hour, late-night, live-broadcast panel discussion in BBC4 television's After Dark series. Chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC. Panellists: TV personality and campaigner against child sexual abuse Esther Rantzen; Tom O'Carroll; criminologist Dr Bill Thompson; child abuse "survivor" and former prostitute June Taylor; psychiatrist Prof. Jeremy Coid; solicitor Peter Garsden; Christian Wolmar, author of Forgotten Children: The Secret Abuse Scandal in Children's Homes. After hearing O'Carroll's contribution, Esther Rantzen said, apparently in all seriousness, that he should be committed to a secure mental hospital. In America, where post-sentence civil confinement is now well established, that might well have been his fate.


Often to be seen sitting in a quiet corner of a pub, absorbed in his Guardian newspaper with only a pint of good ale for company, O'Carroll could easily be taken for a "loner" – not of the dangerous nutcase variety, but looking more like some poor old bloke who lost his beloved wife a while back. It is an anonymous, low-key image he cherishes, for it gives him time and space to think.

These days this is his life, mostly: a life spent in thought, and intensively engaged with words in one way or another, in a newspaper, or a book, or on a computer screen. For respite and balance there would once have been plenty of worldwide travel, in the course of which he learned (but later largely forgot) a few languages to a reasonably good conversational level – French, Dutch, Norwegian and Spanish, but never Arabic, despite living in Qatar for seven years. That had always been a "temporary" posting, so somehow he never got around to learning the lingo. In any case, in that guest-labour country the first language of his colleagues at the Gulf Times, plus taxi drivers, shop keepers, barbers, waiters at his watering hole the Doha Club, and other friends, was generally Malayalam, Hindi, Urdu, Kannada, Marathi, Konkani, Telugu or, from further afield Tagalog, or one of many others.

He did, however, pay his respects to Islam by reading the Qur'an from end to end, which prompted him to do the same with the Bible. Although he had been an earnest believer as a child, and even briefly a proselytising one, O'Carroll had paid little attention to the scripture of his own early religion since losing his faith as a teenager. This return to the Bible led to two essays that began as a dialogue with an American Christian lady about President Bill Clinton's sexual transgressions. He is prouder of these essays than most of his published work. They can be seen here:

He is also, or used to be, a keen but untalented chess player – though he did once manage to survive with an honourable draw against former world champion Vasily Smyslov in a simultaneous display.

Squash and swimming once kept him reasonably fit. Nowadays, in 2012, at age 66, it's a twice weekly workout at the gym, and when the weather is half decent he has a passion for hiking in the beautiful mountain country near his Cumbrian home, sometimes with friends who drop by from around the world.

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