THEY will never for­get his name — the paedophile Tom Humphries

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - Paul Kim­mage

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!’

‘No!’

‘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.

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