Why did the Guardian take down an online obituary to the sociologist Brian Taylor, without telling readers?
In November 2016, the Guardian published a celebratory obituary, online, of the Sussex University sociologist Brian Taylor, who had died aged 66. In May 2017 the newspaper took it down, but did not explain the decision to readers. They were left in the dark.
My intervention in February 2017 led to the decision to delete the obituary. I did not ask for deletion. I asked the paper to add important information that was missing. Censorship was not a satisfactory response to the problem with the obituary.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Brian Taylor played a major part in the attempt to decriminalise sexual relations between adults and minors, in other words legalising child sexual abuse. He published academic research on the subject of paedophilia, but did not disclose his membership of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) lobbying group. In articles such as ‘Motives for a guilt free pederasty’ (1977), plus in his editorship, and lengthy introduction to, Perspectives on Paedophilia (1982), Taylor attempted to ‘normalise’ child-adult sexual contact.
Three more contributors to Perspectives on Paedophilia were also undeclared PIE members. They were Dr Morris Fraser (previously and subsequently convicted of child abuse), Peter Righton (subsequently convicted), and Professor Ken Plummer of Essex University. The latter said in 2014 that he joined PIE for purposes of ethnographic research. He appeared to regret his former interest in the subject. This saga is discussed in detail in Professor David Pilgrim’s excellent book Child sexual abuse: Moral panic or state of denial? (Routledge, 2018). Spinwatch published two reports on Morris Fraser, in 2016 and 2017.
To return to Brian Taylor, his paedophile interest went beyond academic writing. As ‘Humphrey Barton’, he was PIE’s research director, in which capacity he contributed to its first magazine, Understanding Paedophilia. Taylor/‘Barton’ then edited the new PIE publication, Magpie, in 1977. It published sexualised images of children and also contact-advertisements for men who wished to meet children for an illegal purpose, sexual abuse.
A passage in a 1976 article by ‘Barton’ for a paedophile journal, Kalos (Vol. 1, No. 1) was almost identical to one in Taylor’s Perspectives on Paedophilia introduction. ‘Barton’ and Taylor lived simultaneously in Belfast in 1976, where Taylor lectured in Queen’s University’s Social Studies department. Understanding Paedophilia (June-July 1976) informed readers that ‘Barton’ was a sociology lecturer in a British university. Later in 1976 (Aug-Sept) it congratulated ‘Barton’ for giving ‘a highly successful paper on paedophilia’ at a sociology conference in Manchester, at which a ‘B. Taylor’ spoke on ‘Aspects of sexual deviance: Paedophilia’.
The evidence appears irrefutable, that ‘Barton’ and Taylor were the same person (for more detail, see this PDF).
The Guardian obituary contained none of this information. Writing and agitating on paedophilia constituted for many years a major part of Brian Taylor’s research output, of his political and also (presumably) of his personal life.
It was not possible for readers to discern Taylor’s research interest from the following obituary passage,
[Taylor’s] teaching career began with a year at Queen’s University, Belfast, before his move to Sussex in 1977. There he initially focused on aspects of deviance and religion but his main interest was literature, especially Ulster novelists of the early 20th century.
As Perspectives on Paedophilia was published in 1982, Taylor’s interest in ‘deviance’ was not left behind in Belfast. Furthermore, his literary research linked in with Taylor’s pre-existing concerns. The obituary mentioned that Taylor ‘wrote the definitive biography of the Irish author Forrest Reid’, but not that Reid was a paedophile whose fiction was devoted to paedophile themes. The obituary appreciation presented instead Taylor’s ‘criticism of British compromises with the IRA in Northern Ireland’.
An obituary appreciation that made no reference to important aspects of Taylor’s life was misleading.
Taylor vacated his academic post in the mid-1990s, aged 45 or so, for as yet unexplained reasons. The obituary mentioned Taylor departing Sussex in 2001 for retirement in France, but not precisely when he ceased full-time teaching at the University of Sussex.
During the mid-1990s media focus on criminal aspects of paedophilia increased. In June 1994 the BBC broadcast an Inside Story exposé of the paedophile criminal and retired director of the National Children’s Bureau, Peter Righton. The programme featured also the recently imprisoned (in 2014) teacher and one-time PIE treasurer Charles Napier, and the child psychiatrist Dr Morris Fraser, who finally vacated the medical register in 1995. In 1981, as supposed professional childcare experts, Righton conspired with Fraser to have Napier’s teaching ban rescinded. Fraser and Napier, who were first convicted of child sexual abuse in 1972, later conspired together to abuse boys.
Perspectives on Paedophilia featured on the BBC programme. It was mentioned also in a Guardian article on Righton the same day, 1 June 1994. It is not known what media or official contact, if any, was made with Taylor and/or his employer at that time. At the very least, perhaps it was anticipated that attention on Taylor was about to increase. That is speculation.
I put it to the Guardian that I was in a position to supply the missing information. The newspaper decided to do nothing and to leave the obituary as was. The author of the piece, David Harrison, a colleague and friend of Taylor’s since 1977, responded to the Guardian after it notified him of my concerns. He kindly allowed the paper to share his response with me. Harrison said he was not aware of Taylor’s membership of PIE. He added that the obituary did not mention Taylor’s editorship of Perspectives on Paedophilia, because the book received ‘so much hostility’. That seemed to me a reason to mention the work.
After some further correspondence, I wrote to the Guardian Readers’ Editor, Paul Chadwick. He responded as follows on 1 May 2017:
'As requested, I have looked into this matter.
In all the circumstances, I believe the appropriate course is for the article to be taken down from the Guardian website and I will make arrangements accordingly.'
I responded that an addendum would have been preferable. I asked if it was Chadwick’s intention to tell the readers he represented what had happened to the obituary. Had that information been published it would have been acceptable, if not preferable. I received no reply.
Readers are served by information, rather than by its secret withdrawal. Successful censorship was possible because the obituary was published online. Had it been in the newspaper, it could not have been deleted as though it never existed. Paul Chadwick’s solution, censoring the obituary, seemed a tad unethical, which brings us here.
To set the record accurately on the removal of Brian Taylor’s obituary, Spinwatch is publishing this explanation and also correspondence with Paul Chadwick that contains a copy of my suggested short addendum (download pdf attachment). It contains also the Brian Taylor obituary the Guardian subsequently deleted and the I June 1994 Guardian article on Peter Righton.
- Brian Taylor sociologist
- Guardian obituary
- Perspectives on Paedophilia
- Peter Righton
- Morris Fraser