The Murder of Charlene Downes
A (slightly) more sympathetic look at Karen Downes
Although this is about the Downes family it is inevitably mostly about Karen. Many see Karen as Satan’s younger sister. But I want to explore the view that Karen is a victim of circumstances.
Karen is a marmite person. And she is a formidable personality. For the public with only a passing knowledge of the Charlene Downes case Karen has created the narrative. Karen is a storyteller. She is an intriguing and contradictory character. The story of Charlene Downes, aside from the sadness of Charlene’s fate, confronts us with people who are larger than life. Three characters in the Charlene Downes case are stunning are Karen Downes, Mohammed Raveshi and Liam Wood. Their lives intertwine… Liam Wood was once close to Karen Downes.
Karen Downes and Mohammed Raveshi are unusual characters, but they are contrary to one another. Karen revels in attention and Mohammed shuns it, Karen is loud, and Mohammed is not, Karen speaks before she thinks, and Mohammed does not. And yet they are both in their own way effective. Karen Downes is effective at creating the story of Moslem Grooming Gangs and the Girl in the Kebab and these are the stories that stick. Although Karen’s tale is unsupported by evidence and implausible it is the story people have to refute and they enforce its power.
The case against Karen: liar. To say that Karen lies is almost unnecessary. You might invent a new word: “telling a Karen.” It would be boring to reiterate every lie that Karen tells. You may at this point say I am not doing a decent job of defending Karen or at least humanising her. I will come to that.
To give a brief sample of how fragile the relationship is between Karen says, and the truth is look at the piece in Sold in Secret when Karen tells us about the central event in the work: Charlene Downes fails to return home on Saturday 1st November 2003. According to the book:
- Karen gives Charlene pocket money and tells her to be home by 9.30
- The time is 7.30pm
- When Charlene does not return Karen rings the police.
- The police tell her to wait.
- Bob Downes is so worried that he rides round on his bicycle looking for Charlene.
1 is unlikely knowing Karen as we do, she would be unlikely to give any money to Charlene who had plenty of money. Bob would be displeased.
2 is untrue. The probability is that the encounter was much later and was angry. It may well be that Karen and Charlene’s last words involved Karen saying that she would tell Bob about the money that Charlene had and Charlene replying that if she did that Charlene was not coming home.
3 Karen did not ring the police.
4 Therefore the police did not tell her to wait.
5 According to his statement to the police Bob was so drunk he did not know where he was, and he did not return home until 2.30 am on the Sunday.
This is the crucial event of Sold in Secret.
Karen is racist, friendly to paedophiles, tolerant of the sexual abuse of her children. In her social media she describes a “minging ugly baby,” the baby who is charming is black. She says that Moslems should all be burned and destroyed with explosives.
Karen has friends on social media who are paedophiles. She and Bob welcomed child sex-offender Ray Munro into their home against his bail conditions. While at 109. Buchanan Street he was involved in an incident with one of Charlene’s friends and later admitted an incident involving Charlene. Ray’s offences were well known, he was threatened in the local pub. He had committed sexual offences involving a young boy and a young girl. He was babysitting the children at the time. He had been convicted for this offence and was awaiting sentence.
Karen tells two different versions of this tale. Version A is that she and Bob thought he had merely raped his girlfriend and Version B is that they knew of the offences but believed Ray had been fitted up by the police and he was going to sue them for “deformation of character” (sic)!
Taffy, one of the close circle around Bob and Karen admitted paying Charlene for a sex act and told Karen that he had “feelings” for Charlene. He remained a friend of Karen.16 men with various sexual offences visited 109, Buchanan Street.
109, Buchanan Street is the most paedophile friendly location in Blackpool. Karen does not hesitate to call people she does not like a “paedophile.”
Take John McNally. He had a long affair with Karen although he was living with Becki and so Karen was John’s common law mother-in-law. Becki had gone to live with John when she was fourteen and John was in his late forties or fifties. You can imagine her reasons.
In the Facebook spat that followed John says that Bob Downes used to bounce Becki off every wall in 109, Buchanan Street.
Karen is referring to Becki when she calls John a paedophile which leaves a question over why she was having an affair with him and why Bob remained a close friend of John. Neither Karen nor Bob gives a toss who is a paedophile and Karen is only using it as a term of abuse when it suits her.
It is difficult to describe 109, Buchanan Street and the visitors who frequented it without using the term “grooming.” Stretching language to breaking point the kindest conceivable way of describing Bob and Karen is “grooming enablers.”
As we have seen Karen’s antagonism to Moslems is not confined to Moslem groomers but Moslems in general. Her objection to grooming does not include white groomers. When Karen addresses Far Right rallies about Moslem grooming, words fail…
Karen’s attitude to Moslems has a comic side. When Robert Junior is involved in a fight when he is drunk, she blames the doormen. When the doormen produce CCTV evidence, she says that they are friends of Moslems and that they “distrote” things.
When explaining that the jury did not reach a decision in the trial of Iyad and Mohammed she says that friends of Iyad and Mohammed followed the jury members round and stared at them. And that the jury had a friend of Iyad or Mohammed amongst them.
This technique of just making things up to explain an inconvenient situation comes easily to Karen. When little Jack Renshaw is convicted for plotting to kill an MP and a police officer and for crimes involving using his phone to store pictures of naked under-age boys Karen blithely explains that the Far-Left have planted the images on Jack Renshaw’s phone. One reason that Karen is something of a Jack Renshaw fan is that Jack was supportive of Justice for Charlene Downes. This points to a quality of Karen: she is loyal to friends.
An aspect of Karen’s hypocrisy is that she complains when people behave towards her in the way that she behaves. After the documentary, The Murder of Charlene Downes Karen complains that she is “trolled.” Karen has no compunction about trolling others: take this: the infatuated New Zealander Mark Bailey has committed an act of vandalism directed at somebody Karen has taken a dislike towards. She messages him: “HOW DARE U SLAG ME OFF AS FOR BREAKING GROTBAGS WINDOW THE BITCH DESERVED IT ANY DECENT GUY WOULDN’T NEED TELLING.”
A “decent guy” is one who breaks windows without needing telling.
Karen underlines her message by encouraging Far Right followers to beat Mark up and grassing him up to the authorities for working in a restaurant against the terms of his UK visitor status. Nice.
It is only fair to acknowledge that when Mark is tried for assaulting Karen she appeals for leniency. Karen is loyal to friends and family.
The status of victim is also claimed by Bob. Bob complains about abuse which followed his appearance on the Jeremy Kyle Show. Bob and Karen have appeared on the Jeremy Kyle show and Karen turns the show into a discussion of Bob’s cross-dressing (I do not know if Bob realises this: he puts the blame on Jeremy Kyle). Bob says he has suffered abuse which has left him “at breaking point.” This is the same Bob who beats his fourteen-year-old daughters. Bob is against abuse when he is the victim…
Violence is endemic in the Downes household and Bob is stabbed by Karen with a potato knife, Karen is assaulted by Becki and Karen is assaulted by Robert Junior. Charlene complains to the Social Services that she is beaten by Bob and Karen.
A former teacher at Charlene’s primary school told me that Karen was a sex worker, and that Charlene was aware of this. This is hearsay. If true it is enlightening. It explains why Bob was able to regard his children as property to be traded. He had already been there. If Bob ever had a moral compass the tooth-fairy stole it.
Karen is interested in sex. She has affairs and Bob knows about them. She suggests an event to raise money for a memorial to Charlene should include male strippers and sex toys. Her welcoming attitude to groomers may be because she is excited by all kinds of sexual activity. She is not as stunned by Bob’s cross-dressing as one would expect. When Karen talks about Charlene giving a blowjob for a bag of chips… well TMI. It is in this area that Karen sometimes misjudges her audience…
Karen does not have many female friends. We hear about Bob bringing home more than a dozen friends but Karen… Is it that she is just not interested in female friends. When Karen meets Bob at a disco she is with her mother. Did many girls go to discos with their mother? Are we missing something?
The lack of female visitors to 109, Buchanan Street may relate to the goings-on there.
After Charlene’s murder Karen became a micro-celebrity and she does manage her public appearances with skill. She addresses the EDL and then the BNP. She has regular “exclusives” in national newspapers always the grieving mother, the grooming gangs of which she was unaware and the kebabs.
She accompanies Nick Griffin, “a great guy,” on his trail round his constituency. She appears on BNP television. Karen Downes from Buchanan Street is the companion of a British Party leader… admit its the BNP but still…
Nick Griffin is right to see her as powerful propaganda… her appearances sets the tone he is aiming at: poor working-class woman grieving for her lost daughter whilst the establishment ignores Moslem grooming.
It may be that speaking at Far-Right demonstrations, appearing on BNP television, accompanying Nick Griffin on tours of his constituency, appearing in popular newspapers gave Karen a taste for celebrity. Contrast how Karen is treated by the investigators (contempt and disdain) and by Nick Griffin and the Far Right who idolise Karen and see her as a symbol of injustice at the hands of Moslems and their allies.
“Sold in Secret” and the lamentable appearance on the Jeremy Kyle Show were amongst other things attempts to keep the celebrity going.
An episode in Karen’s life (and whatever else it is a life full of incident) coincided closely with the 10th anniversary of Charlene’s disappearance and the article in the Times which said that the grooming of Charlene had begun at home.
This was the appearance of Mark Bailey from New Zealand who was besotted with Karen. Mark was much younger than Karen. Not only that but he worshipped Karen which was pleasantly reflective of how Karen felt about herself. With these advantages Karen was able to overlook the obvious…
It all came to a sticky end when after three assaults Mark was sent down.
Demonstrations and regular ceremonies to remember Charlene maintain this celebrity and the culminating ritual/ farce is the remembrance service of November 1st, 2013, which not coincidentally happens on the same day that the Times publishes an article based on the files made available by Liam Wood. The article says that Charlene was groomed at home long before her murder.
Sold in Secret is partly an attempt to rehabilitate Karen after the revelations of the files. It confirms that Karen is an unreliable narrator. It is interesting for what it leaves out: for example, that Ray Munro child sex offender is staying at 109 Buchanan Street.
The article in the Times prompts a characteristic Karen reaction. The paper is posh. Not a normal paper that normal people read. Karen attributes the intensity of the Madeleine McCann investigation to the fact that Madeleine is posh. Sadly, Bob agrees. There is competition… a reward of £30,000 is offered for information regarding Paige Chivers. Why not a reward for information about Charlene Downes. But when a reward of £100, 000 is offered it is too late.
Karen as a working-class hero has boundaries. No section of the population is more working class than the Asians who work in take-aways, but they do not excite her working-class sympathies. She does want Moslems to be burned with petrol and explosives. Karen is sympathetic to the section of the working-class represented by Karen.
Karen is hostile to the police. For Karen, the early investigation must have been excruciating. Karen hates criticism and has a dislike for all institutions: school, the social services, the police. She is hostile because these institutions impose standards on the family. The questioning focusses on Karen’s shortcomings. Investigators believe that Bob pimps his children and that Karen is complicit. There are accusations of neglect and violence. Karen does not cooperate. The investigators are often on the point of charging Karen for withholding information. Rage at this treatment is behind many of Karen’s subsequent actions.
When the CCTV of Becki and Charlene turns up Karen threatens to sue the police. Karen has not cooperated with investigators regarding Charlene’s disappearance. In 2013 the police say that they are launching a new investigation into Charlene’s disappearance. The BNP take this as a victory for the Justice for Charlene campaign, Karen says she will not cooperate with the new investigation which leaves the question: What was the Justice for Charlene Campaign for? When Nigel Lloyd is arrested in 2017 Karen attributes this arrest to her threat to sue the police which has nudged them into action.
There are aspects to Karen and Bob Downes which are mysterious. Take the relationship with Becki. Becki has had much the same kind of upbringing as Charlene: violence and abuse. Becki has left home at 14 to live with the much older John McNally.
And yet in 2013 Becki assaults Karen. The reason? According to Becki it is because she suspects her mother of having an affair (presumably with Mark Bailey). What is going on here? Becki is loyal to her father and to the Downes family. Reminiscing about Charlene Becki says how much Charlene loved her dad. What outsiders fail to understand is the steely solidarity of the Downes family.
Karen had the opportunity to dissociate herself from Bob and to distance herself from the abuse of her children. But she does not. Bob was violent towards Karen. And there is the cross-dressing. Karen does not budge in her loyalty to Bob even as she is having an affair with her common-law son in law.
In Sold in Secret we have a presentation of Saint Karen and Bad Bob. But Bob is presented as ridiculous (throwing potatoes at a social worker) but also with a degree of sadness and tenderness.
Bob has a new male partner and Karen has a new partner, but they all live together in the same house. Becki remains close to Karen. Bob defends Karen on social media.
What is difficult to understand is that they do love one another in some way. Bob and Karen probably did love Charlene. The family include Lena, Karen’s mother who makes the journey to join them in Blackpool. This is a close family. They leave Coventry to avoid the children being taken into care.
Bob and Karen are rubbish parents. They do not mean to be, but they are. They come close to being the worst conceivable parents. They have no role-models: they look back to and reproduce their own childhood.
This is not an unfamiliar situation to social services. Some women, addicts or women with partners who are child abusers, have child after child only for the children to be taken into care.
Bob and Karen neglect and abuse and beat their children. None of this excludes the possibility that they also love their children.
That they are an unusual family with unusual secrets binds them closer.
It is the Downes against the world.
Karen’s bust up with the New Zealander Mark Bailey comes about because Mark wants Karen exclusively to himself and Karen is unable to detach herself from her family.
How did it happen? In an interview with Joe Cusack, Daily Mirror October 27, web edition, Karen comes as close as she gets to speaking the truth and she also reveals something:
“I was abused by my father. “
Anybody who is a Karen watcher knows that Karen is not one to minimise her victimhood. Why does Karen only mention this in one interview? Is it because readers might make a connection with Charlene. We are talking about abuse through generations.
What if Karen is abused as a child by her father and her mother Lena is complicit.
Bob and Karen reproduce the conditions of Karen’s childhood. Karen goes from Bob who is violent and abusive to Mark Bailey who is violent and abusive. We are at a cycle of abuse and violence.
Karen grieves over Charlene, but this grief becomes a source of celebrity which she enjoys. The public demonstration of grief and accusation become an emotional performance which relieves Karen’s feelings.
Adulation by the Far-Right confirms her view of herself and that the murder of Charlene Downes was the work of a Moslem grooming gang who put her into kebabs. Karen continues to peddle this line after the arrest of Nigel Lloyd who the police think of as the prime suspect and who is white and known to the Downes family.
Karen wants to separate the murder of Charlene from the goings on at 109 Buchanan Street. Even if we accept that nobody in the Downes family is responsible directly for the death of Charlene, it is impossible to separate Charlene’s fate from her way of life which was initiated in the home. If Charlene had other parents, she would be alive.
In Sold in Secret Karen seeks to portray family life as normal in the Downes household but Karen cannot do so without lying.
One element in Karen’s book might be magical thinking, by reimagining Charlene’s life as Karen would like it to have been she is compensating for what Charlene’s life was. Karen has a vivid imagination and if she recalls what she imagines she may think she is recalling what happened.
There is a thing called “honour culture.” In the Far East it is the belief
that dishonour arises not from doing wrong but because it is known that you have done something wrong. If lots of people believe that Charlene was groomed by Iyad and Mohammed and put into kebabs… well that makes it true.
The ritualistic ceremonies around Charlene are a counter to neglect when Charlene was alive.
Behind Karen’s activities, her bluster, her violent and lurid imagination, her inability to tell the truth, there lurks a monster. Karen knows that Charlene died because of the family.
If it were not for the tragedy of Charlene, that is in another context, Karen would be a comic creation and often she is funny such as when she claims credit for nudging the police to arrest Nigel Lloyd by threatening to sue them. There is the mind-boggling lack of insight where Karen wants to open a youth centre (what would the social services thing about that?), or when Karen writes of Charlene being groomed,” I should have seen the signs.” Well, yes…
At the heart of Karen’s rage is Karen’s attempt to deny a cloud of doubt: the way of life is connected to Charlene’s death.
Without the tragedy we could see Karen a character like Falstaff who always lies and is self-aggrandizing.
Imagine a character by Dickens… Mrs Grubscuttle. Mrs Grubscuttle always wants to be the centre of attention. She wants to be adored. Mrs Grubscuttle can do know wrong. People who criticise or offend Mrs Grubscuttle must be dealt with severely. Perhaps a decent chap could break their windows? Mrs Grubscuttle is very, very wise. Not only that but she has the gift of clairvoyance. She can see what others cannot see such as when the Far Left try to drag the name of that nice Jack Renshaw into the mud by putting porn on his four mobile phones. Mrs Grubscuttle can go from friendly chatter to earsplitting rage, Mrs Grubscuttle has an abiding interest in all things seedy. She is incapable of doubt or nuance. People are either friends or enemies who must be destroyed. Mrs Grubscuttle believes she is a very good person.
The comedy is that what we see and what Mrs Grubscuttle sees are two different things.
Karen Downes is widely disliked but would you swop lives with her? She has suffered violence and abuse. She has led a very difficult life. She has a vitality. Paige Chivers’ father died in a fight over money to feed his heroin addiction. Guilt and shame seeking oblivion. That’s another option for dealing with loss.
Have you had a happy childhood? Have you been abused as a child by your father?
Karen has a following. For people on her wavelength Karen is a martyr, a grieving mother, a victim of an establishment that is unconcerned about poor whites. Many of these followers might share some of Karen’s background and for them rage is a drug.
Karen had a limited education and does not do critical thinking. It is alarming that she can find followers. Karen may be right about one thing: the establishment is unconcerned about poor whites. In another context… education and a supportive family Karen could have been brilliant… you can imagine her as a barrister. The death of Charlene enabled her to find her voice.
What Nick Griffin spotted was that Karen is a highly effective communicator and that she can project feelings that her audience share: outrage, suffering, a sense of being rejected and ignored. Karen has that elusive charisma quality.
And she has provided endless entertainment and outrage. Karen is a soap opera. Larger than life, ludicrous, chilling, funny, frightening… Karen Downes like her or not is a giant of a character. The Jeremy Kyle Show… Karen is the Jeremy Kyle Show.