Why One of the World's Biggest Rockstars Got Away with Child Abuse
Ian Watkins' crimes were a new type of appalling, yet he managed to keep offending for four years after complaints were made to police.
Left: Ian Watkins before his arrest, in 2010. Photo: John Phillips/EMPICS Entertainment. Right: Mugshot via South Wales Police
When Ian Watkins was sentenced for his child sex crimes in December of 2013, they were described by the presiding judge as having "plumbed new depths of depravity".
Among other offences, the former Lostprophets singer admitted he had attempted to rape an 11-month-old baby boy with the help of the child's mother, and conspired with a second mother to rape her infant daughter. Watkins had also slept with and urinated on a 16-year-old fan of his band, among a string of other similar offences. The judge specifically commented on "the delight that Watkins evidently has when engaging in the most terrible offences involving tiny children".
When GCHQ was called in to help the police access encrypted files on Watkins' computer, they found that one of the passwords he'd used was: "I FUK KIDZ".
Earlier this month, it was reported that a 21-year-old woman's two year-old daughter has been taken into care after the young mother began a relationship with Watkins, who is currently inside HMP Wakefield serving a 35-year sentence. Given the nature of his crimes, it seems staggering that Watkins – who is now 40 – was able to begin grooming another young mother while in prison. According to reports in The Sun on Sunday, the woman – who has not been named – first wrote to Watkins in July of 2016, saying that she remained a fan of his. He wrote back saying that he loved her. She began visiting him and, although she believed him to be innocent, he eventually began asking her leading questions, such as what she would do if her young daughter "came into the room during sex".
Her daughter was taken into care last December, but the woman has continued to see Watkins, and in March bought an engagement ring for herself at his suggestion.
A spokesperson for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) told VICE: "That one of the country's most notorious paedophiles could just carry on grooming someone and send sexualised messages about her daughter from behind prison walls is utterly bewildering. It shows sheer contempt for the children he abused and raises serious questions about the prison's supervision of this dangerous child abuser. This must be investigated as a matter of urgency to ensure children are not being put at risk."
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Apparently still remorseless, it's not the first time Watkins has made headlines from inside prison. On the 21st of November last year, his Twitter account – which is still active, but had been dormant since a few weeks before his arrest – sent out three tweets in a day, apparently all linked to his Soundcloud account. The first "liked" a track uploaded by a fan of his, Laim McKenzie, whose Soundcloud account is @MEGALELZ. "Mega Lolz" was a catchphrase of Watkins', used on Lostprophets merchandise and then, most chillingly, by him to describe his own crimes. The next two tweets were linked to a solo remix project of his, "L'Amour La Morgue", with one even seeming to suggest he may be working on new music by announcing: "New! SEQUENCE INITIATED".
When news first broke of the reason for Watkins' arrest in 2012, it brought to an end one of Britain's most successful rock bands of the previous decade. Lostprophets had formed in 1997 in Pontypridd, Wales, and their debut album The Fake Sound of Progress, released in November of 2000, had spawned two singles "Shinobi vs. Dragon Ninja" and "The Fake Sound of Progress" that soon became ubiquitous at rock and indie nights. In 2006 their third album, Liberation Transmission, entered the chart at number one. During their 15-year career they sold some 3.5 million albums, which meant there were an awful lot of fans around to be left reeling by the news.
While some rumours about Watkins' sexual proclivities had circulated on Lostprophets message boards, most fans had no warning that a band they loved would become toxic overnight. The band's official website and social media disappeared. Shops pulled their records from their shelves. Even paving stones engraved with their lyrics in their hometown of Pontypridd were pulled up and destroyed. The tattoos that many fans had inked in to their skin proved much harder to remove.
Speaking to VICE just after Watkins plead guilty, fans reported feeling "disgusted", but also conflicted. "It's hard not to think that whatever he does is cool, because I used to think that," said one 27-year-old male fan. A 15-year-old female fan added: "I don't still like him as a person, but I doubt many people do… but that doesn't change how their music sounds – it's still good."
Many fans expressed sympathy for the remaining five members of Lostprophets, who released a statement after Watkins confessed, saying: "Many of you understandably want to know if we knew what Ian was doing. To be clear: we did not. We are heartbroken, angry and disgusted at what has been revealed. Our hearts go out to Ian's family, the fans and friends he betrayed, and most importantly, the victims of his crimes and others like them."
The band have since continued to make music as No Devotion, along with new singer Geoff Rickly, formerly of New Jersey post-hardcore band Thursday. In an interview with the Sunday Times in May of 2014, bassist Stuart Richardson said: "We just wrote music. I didn't know if anyone would ever want to hear it, I didn't know if anyone ever would hear it. We didn't know what else to do."
While bandmates and fans didn't know what Watkins was up to, South Wales Police had been told long before. Although he was not arrested until December of 2012, the police were first given information about Watkins a full four years earlier.
On the 29th of December, 2008, Watkins' ex-girlfriend, Joanne Mjadzelics, phoned Rhondda Cynon Taff children's services to report that he had told her he had given an infant cocaine as well as touching the child in a sexual way. Children's services passed this information to South Wales Police, who began an investigation, but by May of 2009 they decided there was insufficient evidence and no further action was taken.
Over the course of the next four years, multiple women, including Mjadzelics on several more occasions, made complaints to South Wales Police about Watkins' drug use, possession of indecent images of children and sexual interest in children. They were all dismissed.
Throughout this time, Mjadzelics was continuing to try to gather evidence against Watkins. In 2015 she stood trial for possessing and distributing the child sex abuse images that she used to try and trap him. She was cleared of all charges.
At her own trial, Mjadzelics described how the police had failed to act on the information she provided them with. At one point she took one of the mothers that Watkins was grooming to the police, telling them that the woman was "totally obsessed with Watkins and her baby will be raped by him". She said a police officer dismissed her claim by saying that she had clearly just been "really upset" by her ex-boyfriend.
Mjadzelics first learned of Watkins' sexual attraction to children in September of 2007, when she had been dating him for around a year. She told the trial that Watkins had described raping a 12-year-old girl in Los Angeles, and then, the following December, sent her a photograph of a five-year-old girl, who he described as "super flirty", posing with cocaine.
"He just said, 'You know what little girls are like,'" she said in court. "My heart sank because it made me ill. I was completely confused. I was totally in love with the man, yet he sent me this picture. How could I be in love with a man that sends that image?"
The investigation, or lack of it, into Ian Watkins because the subject of an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation which concluded this August. It found, in the words of Jan Williams, IPCC Commissioner for Wales, "disturbing concerns about the way in which reports of Ian Watkins' sickening child abuse were handled".
The big question that the investigation set out to answer was how Watkins had managed to get away with his crimes for so long. While it had been suggested that Watkins' fame had acted as a shield, in fact the IPCC investigation found that "there was no evidence to show that police inaction was a result of Watkins' celebrity".
What they found instead was that the "initial police assessment of [Mjadzelics'] credibility impacted negatively on the police response over a four year period". The report added: "All those involved in responding accepted the initial sceptical view of Ms Mjadzelics' reports, demonstrating a lack of open-mindedness and professional curiosity. This continued until 'the right type of complainant came along'."
In particular, the IPCC investigation highlighted the fact that when Mjadzelics first reported Watkins to the police she had a text message on her phone that Watkins had sent her in August of 2007, explicitly saying that he wanted to have sex with children. The police failed to look at her phone.
Speaking to VICE, an NSPCC spokesperson said: "This report's damning conclusions should be a wake-up call for all those involved. That a simple unchecked mobile phone could have helped to prevent further abuse by Watkins is unthinkable, and is just one cause for significant concern amongst this catalogue of basic failures.
"While Watkins is now thankfully behind bars where he belongs, and improvements have already been made by South Wales Police, it's clear that very serious mistakes were made in handling multiple early allegations and this report's recommendations must be adopted swiftly. It is an incredibly difficult step to report child abuse so it is imperative that when people do speak out, they have the utmost confidence that what they are reporting will be taken seriously and acted upon immediately."
In some ways, then, it is most damning the IPCC investigation found that Ian Watkins was not given special treatment by the police because he was a celebrity. That he didn't get away with it for so long because he was famous, but because the women who spoke up against him simply weren't believed.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, or 0800 1111 if you're under 18.
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