When I did get home, I found that Anne had done a casserole for the evening meal, and there was still some warm in the oven for me, for which I was grateful. I had intended to grab a takeaway on my way home, but a downpour had discouraged me from stopping.
After I had finished eating the casserole, I went to check my emails. There was one from Ben asking me to contact him. I sent him a text. He replied that he was off set and could I Skype him? I did. It turned out he wanted to fill me in about the News of the World story. I informed him I had already heard from Bernard, whom I had lunch with. I also mentioned that Bernard thought the information in the story had come via Beryl.
"Sounds about par for the Bitch," Ben replied. There was a certain anger in his voice.
"What else has she done?" I asked.
"Nothing," Ben stammered.
"Come off it; I know you too well. Something has upset you, and it concerns your sister-in-law."
"Look, we can't prove it, but somebody has leaked the story about Phil's conviction to the News of the World. We are fairly certain it was Beryl. She was one of the few people who knew about it. They are publishing the story this Sunday. They were onto Phil's press agents for comment."
"Can't you stop it?" I enquired.
"No, it is a matter of public record, so there is nothing we can do about it. The thing is that they are now out to make Phil look like a paedophile. Nothing could be further from the truth. He's on the phone now speaking with Bernard."
"When did this come up?" I asked.
"About four hours ago. Why?"
"Just after Bernard got the injunction hearing," I commented.
"Fuck! I had not realised that, but it all fits."
I had to agree that it did. We chatted a bit more before I finished the call. It was then that I noticed Johnny standing in the study door.
"Sorry, I could not help but overhear," he stated.
"Well there was nothing that's not going to be on the front page come Sunday," I replied, indicating that he should take a seat.
"It's just like Mother," he snapped. "She's done this before. Used confidential information that she has leaked to the press to embarrass witnesses before a case."
"You know this?"
"Yes, she's boasted about it," Johnny replied. "A couple of years ago she leaked some compromising information about some financial deals that a witness for the claimant had been involved in. It got so bad for him that the fraud squad was investigating him, and he shot off to Spain. As a result, he was not around to act as a witness, and the case collapsed. When everything was finally settled, it turned out that he had done nothing illegal, though he had been a bit stupid. Worse still, he had actually put his own money in to help pay those people who had lost money. She was laughing about how she had really screwed things up for the claimant by leaking that information to the press."
"Who did she leak it to?" I asked.
"One of her lovers; she's a reporter with the News of the World," Johnny replied.
I thought I’d better let Bernard know this piece of information, so sent him an email.
Given current developments, I was a bit too angry to do any writing, so I went into the lounge to sit with Anne for a while.
"Not a good day?" she asked as I sat down.
"No," I replied. "It seems my ex is messing things up by leaking stories to the press. The News of the World is going to have a field day with Phil on Sunday."
"Why, what has he done?"
I explained to Anne about his conviction for a sex offence when he was a teenager. She just sat there for a bit saying nothing. Then it came out. "She's his sister for God's sake. How can she do this to him?"
"The only thing that Beryl is interested in is her reputation as a winner, which has not been so good recently. For some reason, the Mayers case is important to her; she is out to win it at all costs."
"I can see why her brother and son both call her the Bitch," Anne stated. "Phil's right, it is an insult to female dogs."
* * * * *
The next couple of days were surprisingly quiet, all told. I heard nothing from Ben or Phil — or from Bernard, for that matter. James asked my advice on getting a quick house survey done, so I put him in touch with Matt. I also suggested that he might use Matt's firm for any work he needed doing on the house. He informed me he was going to put an offer in on it.
It was on Friday morning that all hell broke loose. Bernard phoned me just after eight to ask if I had seen the Sun. I pointed out to him that we were out in the sticks and did not get early-morning newspaper deliveries. In any case, the Sun was not on my list of reading material.
"Well, you’d better get a copy," he informed me.
"Why?" I asked.
"Frontpage headline, 'Paedo Film Star's Dirty Secret'. There's a half-page photo of Phil and a very misleading article."
"I thought the News of the World had it," I stated.
"They did, but it seems they have given it to the Sun," Bernard replied. "Also, we were preparing to apply for an injunction on the story this afternoon. I think someone tipped off the News of the World, so they passed the story over."
"So, what happens now?" I asked.
"To be honest, I don't know," Bernard informed me. "I've got my people going over the article in fine detail to see if there is anything that could give rise to libel, though I doubt they will find anything. I expect Phil's going to have a fairly rough ride publicity-wise when he gets back from filming."
After I had finished speaking with Bernard, I went and got in the car and drove down to Dunford to get a copy of the Sun. As Bernard had said, it was all over the front page. I sent Phil a text expressing my support. There was not much I could do.
When I got back to the Priory, James was in the kitchen having some breakfast. I started to make myself some tea, and while doing so, asked how things were going, not really having much interest but needing to be polite.
"Good. All set up for tomorrow," he stated. "Peter is driving me to the airport. He will be picking me up just after ten."
"What time is your flight?" I asked.
"Fifteen thirty," James replied. "By the way, thanks for putting me in touch with Matt. He got the survey done yesterday and sent me the results. I've put a conditional offer in on the house. Offered quite a bit below what they are asking, but Matt has highlighted several issues. The work required is work I would have had done anyway, but it gives us a good reason to try and knock them down somewhat."
My tea was ready, so I poured myself a mug and made my excuses to James and went through to the lounge. Switching on the television, I sat down intending to read the article in the Sun. I had just about got past the headlines when the talk-show host on the TV got my attention.
"Today's headlines in the Sun have created a furore around the film star and director Matthew Lewis with details of his conviction at age sixteen for sexual offences with an underage boy. The question is: how accurate is the description of the events in the Sun article? Here to give us an insight into the background of Matthew Lewis' conviction is the victim, Leni Taylor."
I put the Sun down and pulled out my phone to text Bernard and let him know what was happening. On the TV, the camera pulled back to show Leni sitting across from the presenter.
"Leni, you say you were the named victim in the conviction of Matthew Lewis; how did you know Matthew?" the presenter asked.
"We met at secondary school," Leni stated. "Matthew was the oldest boy in the class; I was the youngest. I was also the biggest and strongest. Been doing weights since I was ten and was into Judo. I was also something of a bully. Despite being one of the smallest boys in the class, even though he was the oldest, Matthew stood up to me.
"Not many people stood up to me in those days, but Matthew did. We ended up being friends. He helped me with my schoolwork; I made sure nobody tried to bully him."
"What happened that resulted in this conviction for him?" the presenter asked.
"It was the weekend of our birthdays. Mine was on the Friday, while Matt's was on the Monday. He was sixteen on the Monday, I was fifteen on the Friday. Our parents arranged a joint party for us at the Social. By this time, Matthew had started to gain some height and fill out. He had started doing weights with me and had quite a body. All the girls had a crush on him as did quite a lot of the boys, me included.
"At the party, I managed to get my hands on some rum and made Matt a couple of rum and cokes. Got him quite tipsy, then persuaded him to come back with me to my house. After that, I had a bit of a job to get him into bed as he was a bit too far gone to undress himself. I knew, though, he liked boys because he had already told me, and I intended to take advantage of that fact."
"How did he end up getting charged?" the presenter asked.
"My mother came back and found us in bed," Leni replied. "She called the police, and they took it from there. As Matthew was the oldest, he was deemed to be the perpetrator. I tried to tell them that I had started it and got him drunk, but they would not listen. Matthew was the older, so they charged him."
"So, the Sun's story that Matthew Lewis seduced a younger boy and sexually assaulted him is incorrect?"
"It's about as wrong as it could be; it was I who seduced Matt, and if there was any sexual assault taking place, it was I who was assaulting him."
"The Sun article contains an interview with your mother, who presents a very different story," the talk-show host stated.
"I am sure she said whatever they wanted for the money they paid her," Leni replied. "She would say black is white if there was enough in it for her."
Just then, my phone rang. It was Bernard. I muted the TV and answered the phone.
"Have you seen what's on?" I asked.
"Yes," Bernard replied. "Don't know whose idea it was, but it is making the Sun look foolish. I would not like to be whoever fed them the story. It might also give Phil grounds to appeal his conviction."
"Could he do that?" I asked.
"Don't know, but from the sounds of things, procedures were not followed correctly," Bernard stated. "I'm going to get Martin digging this afternoon. If what I suspect is correct, we can probably get it overturned.
"Look, any chance of you getting into Town?" he asked.
"Why, what do you need me for?"
"You hold Phil’s and Ben's powers of attorney," Bernard replied. "I need to get some papers signed so I can start things moving. If you can't get in, I'll get Martin to come over to you this evening, but the earlier we can get moving on things the better."
"It'll take me a couple of hours at least," I commented, looking at the clock and seeing it was just gone ten.
"Fine, I'll see you at one." With that, he rang off.
The only problem with going in at this time of day would be parking at Southminster. I went through to the kitchen. Fortunately, James was still there.
"Are you busy this morning?" I asked.
"Not till twelve," he replied. "Why?"
"I need to get into Town urgently; I wondered if you could run me to the station as I don't want to be searching for a parking space. There is a train at ten fifty-six which we should just be able to make."
"No problem," James said. "Go and grab what you need, and I'll get the car started."
I went through to the study, got my passport in case I needed identification and grabbed some spare cash; I would need a taxi home. Getting my coat from the rack as I went past, I set the alarm before exiting by the back door, and I was in the yard locking the door about three minutes later. Then I realised that I was locking James out; he did not have a key. As I was climbing into the car, I was removing my key from the keyring. I passed it to him.
"You'll need this, I've locked the house and set the alarm. The alarm disarm code for guest is 1974; I'll text it to you once I am on the train."
"Thanks, but it won't be a problem. I'm picking up Jenny at one; we're going to lunch, then I am spending the afternoon at her place. She has a council housing inspector due round at three, and I think she could do with some support. Doubt I will be back at the Priory before Anne or Johnny."
James dropped me off at Southminster station with about ten minutes to spare. I got my ticket and then got on the train. Then I texted Anne and Johnny to let them know I was going into Town. After that, I texted the alarm code to James in case he did need it. I also texted Bernard to let him know I was on my way in and when I should arrive.
Martin was in reception when I got to Bernard's office.
"He's not got you waiting for me?" I asked.
"No, just passing through, though he has left instructions you are to be shown straight in when you arrive, so you’d better come through." He took me to one of the conference rooms. One of the clerks whom I recognised was at the table with a pile of papers in front of her. Next to her was a chap I did not know with a legal pad in front of him. There was no sign of Bernard.
The clerk I knew looked up as we entered.
"He's just gone to the loo," she informed us. "Steve, can you go and ask them to send lunch through." The chap with the legal pad, who I presumed was Steve, got up and left the room.
"That was Steve," Martin informed me, "one of the legal secretaries. This is Susan; she is one of the law clerks with the practice."
"We've met before, Mr. Clayton," Susan said. I confirmed we had.
As we were chatting, Bernard entered. "Good, you're here, Mike. I've got a conference call arranged with Phil for two-thirty but need to go over things first. Where's Steve?"
"I sent him to ask for lunch to be sent in," Susan replied.
"Good," Bernard stated. Just then Steve returned, followed by a couple of guys pushing trolleys. Following them was an elderly woman I recognised as Phil’s and Ben's press agent.
"Ah, you're here, Elle," Bernard said, standing to greet her. "You know Mike, don't you? This is Martin Clay, who is my legal assistant. It's him you will probably be dealing with most of the time over this matter. This is Susan Mitchell, who is one of the best law clerks in the country, and this young man is Steven Jones, one of the few people around these days who can take decent shorthand. He's my legal secretary. For those of you who do not know her, this is Elle Martin, one of the best publicity agents in the business and Phil's press agent. Right, Elle grab a seat."
She took the seat next to me, said hello and then opened her case and pulled out a notebook. I felt a bit out of place being the only person without something to write on in front of me. Bernard indicated that the sandwiches and drinks should be put on the table and we should help ourselves as we went through things.
"Right," Bernard started, "just to give some background information. I've known about Phil's conviction for over fifteen years. He was one of my first clients when I started with this firm, and he told me about his conviction from the start. We always assumed that it would surface at some time or another, and we would have to deal with it. For that reason, I made sure I had copies of all the relevant papers at hand so there would be no delay in getting what we needed when it came up.
"The details of the case are that Phil Smith was sixteen when he was convicted of indecency with Lennard Taylor, a fifteen year-old at the time of the offence. The incident for which he was convicted took place at the address of Lennard Taylor. It was Vera Taylor, the mother of Lennard Taylor who reported the offence to the police. In actual fact, she reported it to her brother Sergeant Lennard Brown, and it was Sergeant Brown who charged Phil. The only evidence presented in the case was the witness statement of Vera Taylor; Lennard Taylor refused to make a statement.
"I won't go into detail about the proceedings before the juvenile bench other than to say there are several failures in the procedure to warrant the conviction being challenged."
"Why hasn't it?" I asked.
"Because, until now, there was no benefit in challenging it," Bernard replied. "To challenge it meant going public on it. Now it is in the public domain; there is no benefit in not challenging it."
I nodded; I could see the sense in that. Bernard continued. "In today's edition of the Sun, details of the conviction were published. Martin, could you let us have your view on the article?"
"Yes," Martin said, then he looked at the notepad in front of him as if to refresh his memory. "The article is the lead piece on the front page and is spread across two inside pages, as well. I submit that the article is highly misleading. For a start, it implies that there was a major age difference between our client and the victim. Although the actual age difference between the parties was just under a year, the article makes no mention of it. It always refers to the victim as 'a young boy', while when it refers to Phil, under his stage name of Matthew Lewis, it refers to his current age.
"Secondly, it is written in a way that implies that force was used by our client, though there is no evidence to support that view. It also implies that the offence for which our client was convicted was one of rape, though that is not the case. Specifically, it states that 'Matthew Lewis was convicted of a serious sexual offence against an underage boy'. Later it states, 'Lewis, known for his size and fine physique, forced himself onto the schoolboy'. We contend that these imply that force was used and that this was an act of rape. This is further supported by the quotes from the victim's mother, 'I opened the door, and there was Matt Lewis f***ing my young son'. This is totally false as we have a statement from Lennard Taylor that confirms that the only sexual contact that took place was some mutual masturbation and kissing. Subject to counsel's opinion, I would suggest that there are clear grounds for an action of defamation."
"Have we sought counsel's opinion?" Bernard asked.
"Yes," Martin replied. "I've sent an outline brief over to Harold Gleeson QC. It's not his particular speciality, but he has handled a couple of big defamation cases quite successfully. Harold said he would have a look at it and let us have an opinion as soon as we could. He did say he would not take the case on but recommended one of the other members of his chambers. Said he was sure you would understand, Bernard."
"Yes, I do," Bernard stated. "Anything else?"
"Well, they have also broken the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act," Martin informed us. "They might try to claim justification on the grounds of public interest, but I can't see that working. Especially given they got the facts of the case wrong."
"Right. Thank you, Martin, for that summary," Bernard said. "It looks like we can go after then from two directions. Do you have any views on it, Elle? A defamation case could raise a lot of publicity."
"Normally, I would advise against taking a libel action, where possible," Elle said. "They tend to result in more bad publicity than good for the client. In this case, though the bad publicity is already out there. Leni's intervention has had some impact on lessening things, and there are going to be a couple of hard-hitting articles attacking the Sun article in the morning. I believe the Standard is running something today."
"What about Leni's intervention? Has it caused problems?" Martin asked.
"No," Elle replied. "Leni spoke to me before he went live with it. He said he wanted to put the issue straight. He was just going to go to the Standard, but I put him in contact with the TV. A lot of Sun readers watch that show."
At that moment, the phone on the table rang. Bernard answered it. There was a short conversation; then Bernard put the phone down.
"That was Harold," he announced. "He's read the initial brief and also shown it to the colleague he recommended. Their opinion is that there are grounds for defamation. He recommends that we should file. Mike, I will need your signature on behalf of Phil to instigate things."
I looked at Bernard. Now I knew why he needed me here. The thing was, I was not sure if I should sign or not. Before I could say anything, Bernard continued. "I know you are probably unsure if you should act for Phil, which is why I have the conference call arranged. We have some twenty minutes before that is due, so why not take a break now? We will reconvene here at two-twenty-five."
With that, he stood up and made his way to the door. As he did so, he indicated to me that I should follow him. I did. We went to his office.
"Sorry for pulling you in on this," Bernard said. "The thing is, we need to act with a certain ruthless efficiency. They published today, probably in the belief that we could not act till the middle of next week at the earliest. They could expect us to have to apply to get the case papers and everything. What they can't have known is that I had everything ready, just in case. Also, they know that Phil is out of the country and they would expect that to slow things down. I want to file before the courts close today and file for big damages. That way, it will be in all their competitor papers in the morning. There is one thing the Murdoch press do not like, and that is being made to look like fools."
"Right," I replied. "There is one thing I don't understand, why isn't Harold taking on the case?"
Bernard was quiet for a moment, thinking things over. "Mike, you need to keep this quiet, though it will be common knowledge on Monday when the announcement is made. Harold is being appointed to the Court of Appeal bench. I'll have to tell Martin, I suspect; otherwise he will be asking the same question. He knows Harold usually acts for us."
That made sense.
"Right, I need the loo," Bernard said, standing up and leaving the office. I followed him to the staff toilets.
We all reassembled in the meeting room at two-twenty-five. The remains of our lunch had been cleared away, and there were fresh flasks of tea and coffee on the table together with bottles of water and juice. I helped myself to a bottle of water.
Just after two-thirty, the phone rang. Bernard answered it and put it on speaker. The reception announced that they had Mr. Phillip Smith on the line. Bernard told them to put him through.
"Hi, Bernard," Phil said after he was connected.
"Hi, Phil, I have you on speaker here; we are in the conference room. With me are my legal assistant, Martin Clay, whom you have not met, my legal clerk, Susan, whom you know and Steve, my legal secretary. Elle and Mike are here, also."
"You've got a crowd then," Phil replied. "So, what do you recommend?"
"We recommend you initiate a civil action for defamation and that we instigate a complaint to the police under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act," Bernard stated. "We also recommend an application for leave to appeal against conviction be made to the Court of Appeal."
"You've always advised against that in the past on the grounds of the publicity it would cause," Phil pointed out.
"Well, the publicity has already happened; the story is out there now," replied Bernard. "We also have proof of police corruption in the case against you. That is new evidence that we did not have till today."
"Where'd that come from?" enquired Phil.
"Leni," Bernard replied. "After his appearance on TV this morning, he came into the office and made a formal statement about events to us. In it, he states that he made a statement to the police in which Leni said that he had instigated things and that he had got you drunk. The court records specifically state that the police said that Leni had refused to make a statement. At the very least, it is a failure to disclose; in practice, it is probably attempting to pervert the course of justice. I think Leni's uncle suppressed the statement."
"Why should he do that?" Phil asked.
"You were both under eighteen, so technically any homosexual acts between you were illegal back then."
"OK, what’s next, Bernard?"
"I need you to orally instruct me to proceed as I have outlined and tell Mike to sign a letter of instruction on your behalf under his power of attorney."
"OK, Bernard, you are so instructed. Mike, sign the letter for me, and Elle, make sure Leni does not get himself into a mess, will you?"
"OK, Phil," Elle said.
"Will do," I said.
Bernard closed the call down. The printer in the corner of the room whirred into life. Martin went over to it and then returned with three copies of a letter of instruction which he put in front of me. He then handed me a pen to sign them with. I signed.
It was just after three when I left Bernard's office. I reckoned that I should get back to Southminster about five-thirty. Anne had classes till five; I sent her a text asking her to pick me up at the station.
When I got to the car, Johnny was in the back seat; he was not looking happy. Before I could say anything, Anne informed me that there had been some trouble at the college and that Johnny was suspended for a week.
"What happened?" I asked.
"Some of the boys know that Matthew Lewis is my uncle, and they started on at me about having a paedo uncle. One of them came up and grabbed my shoulder and asked if my uncle fucked me. I put him on the floor."
"The police were called," Anne informed me. "So was I, as I am down as family contact. It was in the refectory, so on CCTV. They looked at the recording and decided it was probably self-defence as the boy had grabbed Johnny. However, the principal has suspended both boys for a week. I think he is hoping that it will all die down in that time."
"I don't think it will," I stated.
"Why not?" Anne asked.
"Put the news on."
She switched on the car radio and changed it from Classic FM to Radio 4, just in time to catch the chimes of Big Ben. As they were dying away, the newsreader announced. "In a surprise move, actor and director Matthew Lewis has launched a multi-million-pound libel action against the Sun newspaper and the mother of his victim. In a statement from his solicitors, it was stated that the actor was looking for substantial damages based on a total misrepresentation of the facts. The solicitors also confirmed that Matthew Lewis is applying for leave to appeal against the prior conviction." The announcer went on to give details of other news stories.
"What's going on?" Johnny asked from the back of the car. I told them what I could, though some of what I had learnt today had to be kept confidential.
"How can Uncle Phil appeal so many years later?" Johnny asked.
"It seems that there is new evidence," I stated. "Something Leni said during the interview indicated that there had not been full disclosure originally."
"I am surprised that the papers are still around for the case," Anne said as we made our way through Southmead and got onto the Dunford road.
"That's down to good planning by Bernard. Phil became a client of Bernard's not long after he got his first TV part. That was only five years after the events. He told Bernard the full story, and Bernard got hold of all the papers then. The solicitors that handled the case still had the papers; they usually store them for at least seven years. Bernard was reasonably sure that if Phil made it to the big time, the story would come out sooner or later, so he hung onto the papers.
"The thing is that Leni has confirmed that he made a statement to the police about what happened. It was a written statement, and he signed it. However, it was not listed in any of the documents in the disclosure listing to the defence. There is, however, a police note stating that the victim refused to make a statement."
"They'll have to quash the conviction; it's nondisclosure," Johnny stated.
It was just gone half six when we got back to the Priory. None of us was in the mood to cook, so Johnny suggested we call out for one of the pizza places that delivered. I was somewhat doubtful that there would be one that delivered out here, but he managed to find one, though there was a ten-pound delivery charge. While we were waiting, I checked my emails. There was one from Elle telling me that Leni would be on Channel 4 news tonight. I informed Anne and Johnny, and we agreed to have our pizzas in front of the television.
The interview with Leni was not on till the second half of the evening news. For the first part of the interview, he was basically repeating what he had said on the programme this morning. This, of course, was all new for Anne and Johnny as they had been at college when it broke. It was some way into the interview when the interviewer asked the vital question.
"But why didn't you tell this to the police?" she asked.
"I did. I signed a written statement about what had happened. I told them everything — about me getting Matt drunk and taking him home," Leni stated.
"And you told the court this?" the interviewer asked.
"No, I was never called to court. I was told that I was not needed. In fact, I thought the case had been dropped," Leni stated. "It wasn't till afterwards that I learnt that the case had gone ahead and that Matthew had been convicted. By then, he had moved to London, and it seemed that there was nothing I could do."
"There are some who are questioning your motives for coming forth now with this story. They point out that you work for Matthew Lewis and have done so for some years. Is this not a case of Matthew Lewis buying your silence?"
"No way!" Leni exclaimed. "Do you think I would be working for him if he had done any of what they allege. Look, after Matt left Stoke, I felt bad about things. I knew it was all my fault; I started drinking and got into trouble. I was not a nice person and was always fighting. Ended up doing two terms inside. Matthew learnt I was inside during my second term and wrote to me; then he came and visited me.
"My family did not want to know me, my so-called mates had dropped me, but Matthew was there. When I got out, he found me a job, not with him but with a production company as a driver. He even found me a place to live, paying the deposit and first month's rent for me. Then he kept in touch with me. He did not need to. If anything, he had the best excuse to tell me to get lost — it was my fault he got into trouble — but he didn't. He had been my best mate at school, and he stayed my best mate, despite all my problems. Matthew gave me a chance and helped me get on my feet.
"A couple of years later, I heard he needed a driver, so I applied for the post; been with him ever since. The way Matthew was treated at the time was totally wrong; the way he is being treated by the Sun today is also wrong. What they wrote were lies."
The interview finished there, with the interviewer reading out the statement that Bernard had issued.
Anne switched off the television and announced she was going to make some drinks. Once she had left the room, Johnny turned to me.
"The Bitch is behind this, isn't she?"
"Johnny, we don't know," I replied.
"But you suspect?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied. "There were only a few people who knew about Phil's conviction. She is one of them."
"She must have realised that Leni would tell the truth of what happened," Johnny stated.
"That's a point. I wonder if she knew that Leni was working for Phil." I said. It was something I needed to look into.
"Incidentally, how come Joseph's not here?" I asked. "Wasn't he due over this weekend? You were there last weekend."
"He would have been, but he felt he should be with his dad. They're telling the family about Uncle Bernard's cancer this weekend. So, he is going down there. Says he will come over next weekend."
"What's OK?" Anne asked as she came in with a tray of drinks.
"Johnny was telling me why Joseph's not here this weekend," I replied. "Says he is down in Kent. They're telling the family."
"Oh, yes," Anne responded. "Debs told me yesterday. Micah is home for the weekend, so they have invited the whole family around on Saturday evening to give them the news about Bernard. They felt it was easier to do it all in one go than telling everybody individually."
"I hope they are going to warn Micah first," I said.
"Of course, they are," Anne replied. "They are going to tell him and Bethany tonight. They've already told him that Bernard is ill and said they would give him the details when he got down for the weekend."
"It's not often they get back during term time," I commented. "Especially with end-of-term exams on."
"I don't think they normally do," Anne commented. "Debs told me that this weekend was arranged ages ago. It’s Bethany's brother's eighteenth on Sunday, so she had to be back for that."
Once I had finished the tea that Anne had made for me, I collected the plates, cutlery and pizza boxes and took them through to the kitchen. Johnny followed me through and said he would clean up, so I left him to it and went to my study.
I was reading an article online when Johnny came through from the kitchen. He said he was going to get caught up on some of his course work, then would have an early night.
"How's the course going?" I asked.
"Good, though being suspended for a week is going to be a bummer. I'll have to work hard to keep up."
"Well, if you need help, just ask. I'm not bad on maths or physics," I told him.
"Thanks, Dad," he replied and started to leave, then he stopped and turned back towards me. "Dad, something has got to be done to stop that woman."
"I presume you mean your mother."
"Yes, Dad, she's behind this attack on Uncle Phil. Why is she doing it?" That had been the question I had been asking myself.
"I suspect it has something to do with the Mayers trial, though how it can help the defence, I don't know." Then suddenly I did; it made sense; everything fitted into place.
"You know something, don't you?" Johnny stated. "Don't deny it, Dad, I saw the look on your face just then."
"I've just thought of something," I told him. "I need to run it past Bernard. It's complicated, it's devious, but it is your mother we're talking about.
"You’d better take a seat and stay a bit; I don't want to explain this twice. You can listen to what I say to Bernard." Johnny sat down in the armchair next to my desk. I phoned Bernard. It rang out, and after about six rings, the answerphone clicked in. Then I remembered that they were down in Kent this weekend. I phoned the Kent house. Joseph answered. I asked to speak to his father.
Bernard came on the line. "Mike, what's got you phoning me at this time on a Friday?"
"A rather mad idea but one which I think might just make sense," I replied.
"What's that?" he asked.
"Before I tell you, let me say I have you on speaker and Johnny is here. I don't want to have to repeat this."
"OK, thanks for letting me know," he replied. "So, what is this idea?"
"Well, what if Phil is not the target for this attack on him?"
"If he is not, who the hell is?" Bernard asked.
"Ben," I stated.
"What? Why? How?" Bernard responded.
"Think about it. Beryl leaks the story of Phil's conviction to the Murdoch press. They run with it, branding Phil as a paedophile. Ben's Phil's husband. Guilt by association."
"Shit! It makes sense, especially with having Kilpatrick as an expert witness. It would fit right in with some of her theories."
"What can we do?" I asked.
"Not much, other than debunk the Sun story as much as possible," Bernard stated.
"There is one thing that might help you there, and that is the definition of paedophilia," I informed him.
"How is that going to help?"
"I've just been reading an article about it," I stated. "Technically to be classed as paedophilia there are two requirements that have to be met. First, the perpetrator has to be over sixteen."
"Which Phil was," interrupted Bernard.
"No, he was sixteen when charged, but he was fifteen at the time of the offence. Second, there must be at least a five-year age gap between the perpetrator and the victim. Even if he did rape Leni, which does not seem to be the case, it would still not be paedophilia," I stated.
"You're right!" Bernard exclaimed. "I'd forgotten about the age-difference thing. It does not come up often. In fact, I don't think it has come up once in any case I've been connected with."
"Have you been connected with many paedophile cases?"
"You'd be surprised," Bernard replied. "Rock stars seem to have a fatal attraction for underaged girls." Johnny laughed at that comment.
"What impact does this have on things?" I asked.
"Well, it makes our case against the Sun even stronger. They used the term paedo implying paedophile in connection with Phil's professional name. That is clearly incorrect. Their defence of public interest and justification just got a lot weaker.
"Unfortunately, if your idea is right, and it sounds right, that will not help Ben. For a start, there is no way we can get this settled with the Sun before the Mayers’ trial."
"What do we do, then?" I asked.
"For a start, can you do a search for papers by the Kilpatrick woman?" Bernard asked. "I suspect you have better access to online scientific and medical periodicals than a law office does. Just download anything you find and send it through to me. I've got a clerk who's got a psychology degree; he can read them. It might give us some idea into the line of attack Beryl is going to take. Once I know that, I can brief Ben to be ready for it."
"I'll be interested to hear how he handles her," I stated.
"You won't be able to," Bernard stated.
"Why not?" I asked.
"It will be a closed court," Bernard explained. "The public will not be admitted to the court when it's hearing a sexual-offence charge."
We finished the call. Johnny remained seated in the chair, apparently deep in thought. After a few minutes, he gave a deep sigh and stood up.
"I'm going to fix her, Dad. I'm going to destroy the Bitch."
I looked at him for a moment. There was something about his expression — a hardness, a determination — that told me that there was no point in arguing with him about this.
"Be careful. Don't let her get to you, Johnny. Don't let her hurt you, and don't get yourself into trouble."
"Don't worry, Dad, I won't." He came across to me and gave me a hug. I hugged him back. When I let go, he pulled himself upright, turned and marched out of the room. For a moment, I felt a pang of pity for Beryl. I doubted she even realised what her actions had unleashed.
I got up early Saturday morning and made a coffee for Anne, which I took up to her. When I got back down, James was just passing through the kitchen. He informed me that he was having breakfast with Marcia and the boys before Peter picked him up. James thanked me for the hospitality. I told him he was welcome, and we were expecting him to stay at Christmas.
That cleared up, I left a note on the table for Johnny, telling him I had gone into Dunford and that Anne was sleeping in this morning. He had to sort his own breakfast. That done, I drove down into Dunford and bought all the daily papers. When I got back, I put them on the kitchen table, made myself a mug of tea and sat down to read them. At least, to read the articles about Phil. The Sun was strangely quiet on the matter, which was surprising. When there was a sex scandal involving a celebrity, they normally milked it for a few days. The Guardian, Express and Mail all had interviews with Leni, which repeated what he had said on television. The articles included scathing attacks on the Sun for not checking its facts and for breaking the rules about publicising juvenile offences. The Daily Mirror, Independent and the I all had articles which attacked the Sun for breaching the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. Each of them also quoted Leni's defence of Phil.
I was about halfway through reading the article in the Independent when Anne came into the kitchen.
"How bad is it?" she asked.
"Depends which side you are on," I replied. "If I were the Sun reporter who ran with the story, I would be feeling somewhat uncomfortable now. They are getting pretty slated for running with the story.
"I thought you were going to have a late morning in bed?"
"I intended to," she replied, "but it did not feel right," she replied. "Too many years of being a barmaid — always had to be in for nine on a Saturday. Breakfast?"
"Thanks, just some toast," I replied.
Anne set about making some tea and coffee and putting some slices of bread in the toaster. About five minutes later, we were both tucking into toast and marmalade along with a hot drink. We sat at the table consuming our breakfasts and chatting away about things in general and the Jenny and James thing, in particular.
I had presumed that Johnny was probably having a lie in. There was no mention on the calendar of him being at the yard today, so there was no reason why he should not. It was, therefore, something of a surprise when he came in through the back door.
"You're up early," Anne commented.
"Couldn't sleep," Johnny replied. "Got up at half-six. Saw the lights on over in the Stable House, so went and chatted with Arthur. Can one of you drive me to the station?"
"Yes, why?" I answered.
"Neal's having a small party; he's invited me," Johnny stated. "Said I can crash at his place tonight, and he'll bring me home tomorrow. He's got a meeting with Arthur, anyway."
I knew about Neal's meeting with Arthur as Arthur had mentioned it to me. They were going to go over the load-balancing strategies. Arthur was not happy which the current setup, which Neal had put in place while Arthur was in hospital.
"Fine," I replied. "I've got to go to Office World; I can run you in about eleven."
"Thanks, Dad, that's perfect. I'll go and change."
"Don't you want some breakfast?" Anne asked.
"No, thanks. Arthur made some bacon sarnies." With that, he left.
I started to clear up the breakfast stuff just as James came back with JayDee. The boy looked a bit upset.
"Everything OK?" I asked.
"No," replied James. "He's upset with me because he can't come to the airport to see me off."
"Why's that?" I enquired.
"Peter's going on to Oxford after he's dropped me off. It is the wedding of one of their friends. Steve went over on Thursday for the stag do; he's one of the best men."
I remembered that was why the yard was closed today. It made sense now why JayDee could not go to the airport, though I thought it was a bit hard on the boy.
James commented that he has his last-minute packing to do, and he and JayDee went off to his room. He had not been gone up long when Steve's Land Rover Defender pulled into the yard. I opened the back door as Peter got out.
"OK if I leave this here overnight?" Peter asked. "Will pick it up sometime tomorrow on the way back from Oxford."
"Fine, there is plenty of room in the yard," I stated. "James is just finishing his packing. Want a coffee?"
"I'd prefer tea," he stated as he came into the kitchen. "Coffee is too much of a diuretic for me, especially if I am driving any distance."
I laughed and put the kettle on. Anne informed me that she would have a coffee. I was fairly sure that James would probably want a coffee, so I made a pot of tea and a pot of coffee. As I was putting the teapot to one side to brew, James returned to the kitchen with a shoulder bag over his shoulder and carrying his case. JayDee followed him carrying a large bag. Peter looked at the bag.
"It's OK, Peter; it's full of winter clothing for here. I'm leaving it with JayDee for the time being. Will need it when I come back at Christmas," James informed him. He then opened his shoulder bag and pulled out two wrapped packages. One he handed to Anne, the other to me. "Just something to thank you for putting me up and for the support you gave when we were looking for this fellow." He put his arm around JayDee, who smiled. "Don't open them until I have left."
We sat around the table and chatted for a bit. James, as I had guessed, had a coffee. JayDee had a coke. Then Peter said it was time they were off. JayDee hugged his father and then helped him get his stuff to the Jag. Peter got the keys off James, and the two of them got in. James rolled down the window and talked with JayDee for a moment, then gave him a pat. The car moved off, leaving JayDee standing there, crying. Anne went up and put her arms around him.
"He'll be back at Christmas," she stated. JayDee just nodded.
Marcia and Tariq came down from the apartment. Tariq saw JayDee sobbing, went up to him and took his hand. The two of them then walked back to the apartment, hand in hand.
Marcia turned to Anne. "I told Tariq to give JayDee some time on his own with his dad this morning. Hope I did right."
"You did," Anne assured her.
"Well, I’d better go and get the kids ready to go out," Marcia stated.
"Anywhere special?" Anne asked.
"I'm dropping them off at my parents. Mother's taking Jasmin shopping; Dad's taking the boys fishing. I'm meeting up with Martin for lunch; it seems he has got a new job."
"I know," I stated.
"You do?" Marcia asked, surprised.
"Yes, I saw him yesterday. He is working with a friend of mine." I left it at that. For a start, I needed to get a move on if I was going to give my son a lift to the station.
In the end, it did not take me as long as I expected to deal with my emails, get changed and get ready to go out. As a result, it was not quite a quarter to eleven when we set off. I dropped Johnny off at the station sometime just before half past the hour, then went on to Office World. While there, in addition to the stationery and printer supplies, I needed to buy, I also decided to get a new printer. I had been thinking of getting a duplex printer for some time, mostly to cut down on the volume of paper I was sending through. Seeing that they had some top-end HP OfficeJet Pros on sale at a highly discounted price settled it for me. I got one.
It was getting on for two when I got back to the Priory. Anne had left me a note to say that she had gone over to Jenny's. The light on the answerphone was flashing, so I checked the messages. It was from Dr. Portage, informing me that an initial paper on the tide mill and Priory complex was being published next month. I made a note to let Joseph know about it, then went through to the study to store my stationery supplies and set up my printer.
Two hours later, I was just about to tear my hair out. No matter what I tried, the computer was failing to see the printer on the network. It then occurred to me that I was part owner of a computer company and had a computer expert on site. I phoned Arthur. He informed me that he was in the process of loading a server but would be over in about an hour.
It was less than forty minutes before he was over. It then took him less than ten minutes to fix the problem. I had plugged it into the wrong network. Arthur then spent the next thirty minutes explaining the network configuration to me. He had done it once before when it was installed, but I had forgotten.
"Everything ready for your meeting with Neal tomorrow?" I asked.
"We've put it off till Monday," Arthur announced. "Maddie got tickets for some do at the university, so Neal’s spending the weekend with her. He'll call in here on his way home on Monday, as he does not have a lecture till late afternoon."
If Neal was in Cambridge, where was Johnny and what was he up to in London? I pulled out my phone and called it. 'The number you are calling is currently unavailable, please leave a message,' the system announced. I suddenly became a very unhappy father.