THEY will never forget his name — the paedophile Tom Humphries
All you’ve got is your name, the lost man said in a lost voice. Things for which his name had once stood would never entirely be the same things again — that is what he told himself, that is what he wished not to believe while believing it nonetheless. The weight of penance hung about him and he wore it calmly, if uncomfortably. He was still the same man he had been before he fell — he looked the same, his feelings and beliefs were still his own, he possessed the same talents — but now he was a fallen man and he had never fallen before and everything was different because he fell. The Confessions of Bob Greene Bill Zehme F OR three days, questions: my brother, my son, my editor, my mother. Questions about him, questions about work; questions laced with fear.
“What’s the angle?”
“Are you sure about this?” “What are you going to say?” They’ve seen the mob with their pitchforks and their outrage: a judge vilified for expressing sympathy; a writer scorched for feeling compassion; a journalist pilloried for writing a profile. And now they’re worried.
“Keep your head down.”
“Sit it out.”
“Write a golf column.”
“This is toxic.” No good can come from relating to the paedophile Tom Humphries. 1 IT’S a Monday morning in April, 2011. I’m on an early flight to London reading the Irish Independent and a front page story by Tom Brady.
‘Sports journalist faces rape probe.’ “Gardai are investigating a complaint of statutory rape against a prominent sports journalist. He is alleged to have had sex with an under-age girl which by law amounts to statutory rape. The victim is in her mid-teens and has been interviewed by gardai. The incident is alleged to have taken place in Dublin.
“Relatives of the girl are understood to have lodged the complaint with the gardai in recent weeks. Detectives have not yet interviewed the journalist about the allegations. However, it is understood they are expected to meet him for talks in the near future. A garda investigation was launched two weeks ago.
“This came after the writer’s child allegedly discovered text messages he had sent to the girl on an old mobile phone. It is understood the child found the old texts while putting a new SIM card into the phone. The journalist had given the phone to the child, who was collecting mobiles to donate to charity.
“It is understood she showed the messages to other family members. They then handed the phone over to gardai. It is understood that the man is now receiving medical care in the Dublin area.”
I’m thinking: ‘Christ! That’s shocking! Who can it be?’
I check the paper’s sports section and all of the ‘prominent’ writers are there. I scan a copy of The Irish Times and the story is not mentioned, but there’s a glaring absence in the sports pages: ‘No Locker Room column!’ ‘Fuck!’
‘It couldn’t be.’
I get to London and spend the morning talking about Usain Bolt with Ricky Simms, his Donegal-born agent. Four hours later, I’m sitting on a train at Clapham Junction when my phone rings. A colleague.
“It’s Tom,” he says. 2 He had, in his triumphant career, frequently observed fallen men, had often written stories about them, stories full of curiosity and compassion. Compassion, by the way, had been one of the many things for which his name had stood. Once, he found a line of poetry to include in such a story. He has not forgotten that line of poetry. “In my moments of hope, I keep returning to that quote from Yeats,” he wrote me in an email note from the new prison of his life. “I had always thought that he was writing about a man who has lost everything — who has tumbled suddenly from the heights and who finds himself back where he began, when he had nothing but himself and belief in who he is: ‘Now that my ladders gone, / I must lie down where all the ladders start, / In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.’ Take everything away from me, the poem seems to be saying — take everything I ever had. And let me find out, once more, who I really am.” The Confessions of Bob Greene Bill Zehme 3 IN the same way that Sonia has always been Sonia, and Roy has always been Roy, and Rory will always be Rory, the paedophile Tom Humphries has always been Tom to me.
Who did Tom interview this week? Where’s Tom’s interview?
What does Tom say?
I first noticed his byline in the spring of 1990, a few months after Vincent Browne had invited me to join the staff of the Sunday Tribune. Tom had also joined the paper but was a long way down the order, writing obscure match reports of 150 words for pay that would hardly have covered his expenses.
A couple of months later, as myself and David Walsh were packing our bags for Italia 90, Tom was the varsity rowing correspondent: “The occasional straw boater and the odd plate of watercress sandwiches were the only concessions to gentility in a competitive day’s rowing at the annual Trinity Regatta at Islandbridge yesterday. Fittingly the day’s 93 races yielded some fine results for the abundance of student teams whose minds were perhaps keened by the imminence of more academic challenges.”
But you were never going to keep talent like that under wraps.
He didn’t stay long at the Sunday
Tribune. There was more opportunity at the dailies, and over the next two years he began to establish himself at
The Irish Times. He was still a fringe player, still playing second fiddle to the Dermot Gilleeces and the Paddy Downeys and the Peter Byrnes but was writing some really fine pieces.
And then, in May 1994, a month before the World Cup finals, he wrote a major feature on Jack Charlton. I remember picking it up that morning with my usual jaundiced eye, ready to pick holes and discard it. But from the opening paragraph it was spellbinding.
Jack was telling a story about an afternoon he had spent with his ageing mother, Sissy, and her friend, Nora, by the sea. Except it didn’t read like he was telling a story; it read like we were there with them, smelling the salt air, feeling the stiff breeze. And the affection between mother and son was a side of the manager we had never seen:
“So he drives onwards to a pub he knows. Nice lunches. Homely. He’s taking Sissy out of the car and has her by the wrist as he leans to shut the door. Suddenly, a jet flies overhead. ‘Whoooshaw,’ he says, conveying the surprise, his flattened hand describing the arc of its flight. Sissy looks skyward and, still being held by the wrist, her body takes off in a perfect circle, swivelling out of her son like an acrobat in an old lady’s coat. ‘Oooooheee,’ she cries, pointing skywards, ‘oooooheeeeee.’”
The writing was astonishing. I put the paper down and felt like throwing up. How could I compete with that? How could anyone compete with that? This wasn’t just talent, it was genius.
Atlanta 96 was his first Olympics. We were staying in one of those cheap, soulless hotels out by the airport and had become friends. Atlanta was the Michelle Smith Games and Tom soon established himself as the stand-out writer on the controversy that had enveloped the triple-gold medallist.
It would have been easy for him to coast on his phenomenal writing ability, but he rolled up his sleeves and tackled the questions being raised about Smith with forensic zeal.
Because questions mattered.
“If we are to become journalists and not cheerleaders with typewriters,” he wrote, “we must pause to listen to the questions. If we are to be lovers of sport and not mere worshippers of success, we must ask for answers. If we are to cherish Michelle Smith as a true hero, we mustn’t do her the injustice of demeaning her by means of whispered innuendo.
“Her achievements have been of such magnitude these past seven days that they almost defy comprehension. The further you delve into the science of swimming, the more unusual all that gold seems. It was right that the questions should have been amplified and not whispered.”
I got closer to him in the years that followed but I’m not sure that I really knew him. He rarely spoke about his family or upbringing. He had been to college and spent some colourful years on building sites in London but joked that he could never write about it. He had formed a loving partnership with Mary and had two lovely daughters but seemed totally opposed to religion or marriage: “I don’t need God or the State to put a stamp on my relationship.” But I felt — and would have sworn — he was a good man.
What’s the measure? Kindness, I suppose. He was always first to put his hand in his pocket when we’d cross a poor man in the street. He tipped better in hotels and was always courteous and decent. He was compassionate and good-natured and never lecherous around women. He liked sport and coveted his job but wasn’t mean or overly ambitious.
Our friendship cooled in Saipan. It had been an eventful five days at Ireland’s World Cup training base and I had booked a room at the team hotel to interview Roy Keane on the rest day, a Wednesday afternoon. Tom was also on good terms with Roy and had arranged an interview for the same afternoon and it seemed fair, given he worked for a ‘daily’ and would be first into print, that he should meet Roy first.
But Tom pulled some strings and I was handed the driver, teeing up the most famous interview in the history of Irish sport, and triggering an unfortunate series of events that would lead to my exit from the Sunday Independent for a job in London.
In the decade that followed, we might have spoken twice. He was writing award-winning books and appeared to be thriving; my first sense of turbulence was a chance meeting with his editor, Malachy Logan, at a book launch in 2009. “He hasn’t been well,” he said. “Give him a call.” He didn’t explain what “hasn’t been well” meant — Tom’s relationship with Mary had broken down and he’d been hospitalised for pneumonia — and I didn’t ask or call.
In fact, the next I heard was the call at Clapham Junction: “It’s Tom.” 4 We are, each one of us, the sum of many conflicting truths. In our most secret souls, we know — although we’d rather not — that certain of our personal truths might well be seen as dark and shameful truths. When a man falls, without exception, it is only these dark truths that emerge and resonate and expand, eclipsing all other truths that should matter as well but no longer do. We feast on the disgrace of the fallen, feel better about ourselves while doing so, and then await the next fallen one to turn up so as to feast once more. It is, alas, the blood sport of human nature. I will tell you, though, that it is a grim spectacle to privately encounter a shamed man, freshly pummelled in public view. It is heartbreaking as hell, really. And so it was that two weeks into his disgrace — at the first blush of which he had vanished behind a thunderous silence maintained ever since — this particular fallen man began sharing his shattered voice with me over the telephone. The Confessions of Bob Greene Bill Zehme 5 I’D heard a lot about St Patrick’s in Dublin but had never seen it before, and thought long and hard — ‘What’s the right thing to do?’ — before deciding to visit. He had been outed by the Sunday World a month before and a couple of the tabloids had tried to gain access and he had been given a different name. I was escorted to a small meeting room on the ward and instructed to wait.
The paedophile Tom Humphries was wearing a hospital gown and was bandaged where he had cut himself. I had brought him a manuscript of a book I had just completed about Matt Hampson, a young rugby player who was paralysed from the neck down and ventilator-dependent. “You’re a good man Tom. You can come back from this,” I said. He looked shattered and remorseful but not broken.
I didn’t ask about the girl.
I saw him several times in the months that followed. He was out of hospital and I helped move his belongings — mostly books — from an apartment he was renting in Balgriffin to another in Sutton. His finances were in chaos. The Irish Times were still pay-
ing him but he’d never been good with money and the scandal had cost him a book contract. But he still insisted on paying whenever we ate at a local restaurant.
The girl had a name. They had met when his relationship crashed and his spirits were low. She was almost 17. He had made a terrible mistake and inflicted unbearable pain on their families but the girl was fine. She hadn’t wanted to speak to the guards. She didn’t want to see him jailed. It was a consensual act. This is how the abuse by the paedophile Tom Humphries was framed.
He wasn’t the first great journalist to fall from grace.
In September 2002, as the dust was settling on our spat in Saipan, Ann Marie Lipinski, the editor of the Chicago
Tribune, was preparing a four-paragraph note that would shock newspaper readers all over America: “Chicago
Tribune columnist Bob Greene has resigned and will no longer appear in the pages of the newspaper. The resignation is effective immediately.”
Fourteen years earlier, in April 1988, Greene — one of the nation’s most admired writers — had written a humorous column about a local high-school girl who had asked him some innocent but dumb questions (“If you could be any food in the world, what would it be?”) for a paper she was writing on journalism. She graduated a month later, found a summer job in the city and became so infatuated with Greene they started meeting for dinner.
One night, after a pleasant soiree, they adjourned to an hotel. The girl was of consenting age and they stopped short of intercourse but Greene, who was more than twice her age and married with two children, had crossed a line. And from the moment his employers were informed, he knew he was a dead man walking.
“Greene’s behaviour was a serious violation of Tribune ethics and standards for its journalists,” Lipinski explained. “We deeply regret the conduct, its effects on the young woman and the impact the disclosure has on the trust our readers placed in Greene and this newspaper.”
It was during Greene’s first weeks of exile when Bill Zehme, another supremely gifted writer, decided to get in touch. They exchanged emails and began to meet for furtive dinners — driving out of the city to escape prying eyes — that Zehme would chronicle brilliantly in an award-winning profile, The Confessions of Bob Greene for Esquire. In those first two weeks, he had quietly withstood torrents of derision and crushing waves of despair. Friends and admirers, some of them very famous, reached out to him and he deflected their support. He busied himself with self-laceration while his critics gleefully piled on top. He took his beatings, sometimes hideous in spirit, thinking they would never stop yet also incredulous that they hadn’t, two weeks hence. “Let them kick,” he said, and this was one of the first things he said to me. “It’s like I’m a body in the street, and they keep coming by and kicking until they get tired. They wander away and then they come back and kick it some more and then pour a little gasoline on and set it on fire. But, you know, the body is already dead.” This was pure revelation to him, the existential wonderment of a newly fallen man. “Anyway, let them kick,” he said, pretending that he meant it.
The parallels with Tom were astonishing. Chicago was his favourite city. He had lived there for a year with Mary and the kids in ’99, and his last column for The Irish Times had been about Jordan and the Bulls.
As with Greene, many friends and admirers — some of them household names — had been in touch. Like Greene, he had taken a relentless kicking and was living the life of a fugitive. A life of fear. A life of shame. A life on the margins. And it was hard not to feel for him.
We’re not thinking about the girl. We don’t know about the texts. 6 THE month is November, 2013. I’ve an interview to write on Seán Óg
Ó hAilpín, and decide to open with the most brilliant thing I’ve read about the Fijian-born Corkman. It was written by Tom Humphries in The Irish Times.
The interview runs to almost 5,000 words but there are murmurings on the desk.
“Are you sure about this, Paul?” “Sure about what?” “Praising Humphries? Citing his work?”
“For fuck’s sake! It was 132 words!” “He’s being investigated for rape.” “He has not been charged!”
But the criticism stings and I am forced to reflect.
Does the worst thing a man has ever done negate what he’s done best? Does his art become toxic? Are his books to be burned? Give me a steer. How does this work? What’s the right thing to do? 7 THE month is February, 2014. I am sitting in the apartment of the paedophile Tom Humphries. His eldest daughter is tidying the kitchen. I’ve brought some cake. He makes some tea. We have stopped going out for dinner — perhaps because he’s finding it harder in public; perhaps because I haven’t asked.
Almost three years have passed since I saw him at St Patricks and he’s expecting charges soon. It’s hard to talk about the charges. It’s hard to talk about the case. It’s hard talk about the girl. So we spend two hours talking shop and the untimely death of Richard Ben Cramer, one of his favourite writers.
As I’m about to leave he hands me a copy of Cramer’s masterpiece – his biography (A Hero’s Life) of Joe DiMaggio. “Bring it back,” he smiles.
“I will,” I promise.
But it’s my last time to visit.
A week later, he is summoned to the District Court and there is talk that he has abused another girl. A month after that he is served with a book of evidence. The pictures of him walking to the court are harrowing — he looks like he hasn’t slept for a month, and I suddenly feel guilty: ‘It’s now that he needs you but you’ve abandoned him!” The guilt lingers for the three years that follow until the evidence is heard and his text messages are read.
They are the ugliest words he had ever written. 8 The paedophile Tom Humphries, who has callously and casually wrecked the life of a vulnerable teenage girl, exploiting her for his own depraved sexual pleasures, has been sentenced to just two-and-a-half years in prison. He belatedly admitted his crimes against this young girl more than six years after they were first disclosed. Matt Cooper, Irish Daily Mail 9 COURT No 5. Another day. Business as usual. Barristers and lawyers and secretaries and guards, busying in and out with their clipboards and folders and mountains of paperwork. Conversing and laughing and whispering and farting before the pleading and the arraignment and the sentencing starts. It’s a bull ring. A cattle mart:
“Lot number 12, the arsonist.” “Lot number 10, the thief.”
“Lot number 17, the delinquent.” And soon, “Lot number 1.”
The paedophile Tom Humphries. The session begins. We rise for the judge. “Good morning ladies and gentlemen,” Karen O’Connor says. The court is packed. Standing room only. There are perhaps 20 reporters here and they know the nuts and bolts. Not me. I’ve only been in a courtroom once — the District Court in Dun Laoghaire in 1994. I sat with some victims watching the paedophile George Gibney. It was grim
The judge gets down to business. Robert Hedderman is produced. Robert Hedderman is a burglar. Robert Hedderman is in Mountjoy. Robert Hedderman has requested bail to attend a family funeral. The judge is studying Robert Hedderman. The judge is considering his request. The judge is showing him kindness and empathy: “I’d like to offer my condolences Mr Hedderman on your heartbreaking loss.”
I would like Karen O’Connor to be my judge.
Tom’s daughter is sitting a few feet away. I nod. She smiles. She’s a friend of my son. The girl is also in the courtroom and sitting towards the back. I do not turn around when her abuser is brought in. I do not turn around when his sentence is announced. I’ve known her name for six years but have never seen her face. Should I have looked? What was the right thing to do?
I’m spotted by a TV cameraman and a photographer as I leave the court. They’re moving towards me now and tracking me down the steps. It’s uncomfortable. I’m not immune to a spotlight but this feels different. Like I’m being judged. Like I’ve done something wrong.
Do I run? Duck for cover? Cover my face with a scarf ?
Tom Humphries was one of the alltime great sportswriters but he’ll never write about sport again.
He won’t be remembered for his talent. He will be remembered for sending images of his penis to a 14-year-old school girl.
He will be remembered for bombarding her with 16,000 sexually explicit text messages. He will be remembered for coaxing her to meet him for the first time, outside her school on a Sunday morning, a few months after she had turned 16. He will be remembered for bringing her to his apartment; for exploiting her; for defiling her.
He will be remembered for filling this girl with guilt. For making her feel ashamed that she had allowed him to manipulate her.
He will be remembered for making her hate and doubt herself; for being the cause of her panic attacks and flashbacks; for making her feel physically ill. He will be remembered as the reason why she had to go to counselling and why she had to drop out of school and college for a time. He will be remembered as the man who destroyed a young girl’s passion for camogie.
He will be remembered as the man who destroyed her trust.
Tom Humphries will be remembered as the man who stole this girl’s childhood.
Every time he walks down the street he will see it in someone’s face . . .
“There’s the paedophile Tom Humphries.”
“That’s the paedophile Tom Humphries.”
“There’s the paedophile Tom Humphries.”
They will never forget his name.