When does a wanted man cease to be a wanted man? In 1992, Brian Ratcliffe Eley was featured on Crimewatch and appeared on the Interpol wanted list. These days he is no longer there. I would like to know why. But nobody is willing to answer that question.
An accused person is innocent until proven guilty, of course. But there is a case to be answered and someone wanted by the police should not be allowed to slip through the net in this way. Does Interpol have any private evidence that he has died? I think we should be told. That is a question I have asked Interpol more than once, but they have failed to give me an answer. In view of their lack of a reply, I got in touch with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), to see if they could prise an answer out of them. While they did reply, they were not much use.
My husband, James Plaskett, is a chess grandmaster and knows some of Eley’s accusers, which is chiefly why I got interested in the story.
I got a long and rather strange reply from IICSA. They assumed that my husband had been abused though this was not stated at any point in my letter. They also referred me back to Interpol, which still chose not to answer. A further letter to IICSA got a kind of apology for assuming my husband was a victim but made clear that it was not their job to get answers from Interpol.
Is this a cover-up or just one of the bumbling, vicious circles of bureaucracy?
The chess world is predominately male. At the tournaments I have visited women have been no more than 5 per cent of the players. There seems to be no logical reason for this. The success of The Queen’s Gambit may draw in a few more women players. In the real rather than the fictional world of chess some women have suffered harassment but more often they are put off by the sexist statements of some titled players. There are also other problems in the chess world that have not been acknowledged widely. Some parents of chess kids are fiercely ambitious for their sons and spend a lot of time and money on getting them the best coaching. Some of these parents are perhaps prepared to turn a blind eye to things that might be wrong in the situation. And those running the chess scene do not want scandals. Teenagers often play few-day tournaments staying in cheap hotels or boarding houses. Sometimes they are accompanied by parents, sometimes an older team member or chess friend might be looking after them. At the end of official games much analysis takes place, and this might, quite innocently, happen in hotel bedrooms. It’s a slightly old-fashioned world that could easily be misused by paedophiles, a perfect place for grooming.
Here, in my husband’s words is his first encounter with Eley:
“I first met Brian Eley at the British Championships in Clacton, 1974. I was 14. I was familiar only with his name. I had heard nothing suspicious concerning his reputation.
He invited me to play some friendly games at a rate of 5 minutes each.
Later he invited me back to his boarding house.
People in such boarding houses tended to spend much time in their bedrooms, e.g. I was then sharing a room at such a boarding house with two other people, one of whom was the late Candidate Grandmaster, Dr Colin Crouch.
As I lay on his bed, Eley started to stroke my hair.
But he could see that I was not happy and remarked, "Don’t like me doing that, do you?".
No, I did not.
And that, pretty much, was it.”
Was what Eley did illegal? I would assume not. It was undesirable though, and in moderner times would be considered “grooming”. At the time, Eley had a prominent position attached to Yorkshire Junior Chess.
On a subsequent occasion a chess-playing friend of my husband kicked Eley in the balls. Again, this was triggered by something that was not specifically an actual assault but some over-familiarity that was perceived as making a pass. Together with James, this chess-player decided to talk to two important figures in British chess in 1986. They were listened to, but Eley was allowed to continue coaching on the junior chess scene.
In 1991, James got an unexpected phone call from an Inspector Moon asking about his experiences with Eley and mentioning that more than seventy affidavits had been sworn against him. My husband has never found out who supplied his name to Moon and is not part of the case per se. He simply told Inspector Moon the facts stated above. Like the IICSA Inspector Moon had made a similar assumption that James was a victim.
In 1992, Eley featured on Crimewatch as a fugitive from justice. As he was a person of previously good character it was not thought necessary that he should be put on remand.
Chess is an international scene and Eley soon found another country for tournaments. In the mid-1990s, a British grandmaster friend told James that Eley was still very active on the Dutch chess scene. Together with a Dutch grandmaster this friend went to the Amsterdam police to notify his whereabouts. The police tried to get through to Scotland Yard, but the line was “engaged”. A Dutch friend also confirmed that Eley sometimes played league games there at the time. There was a further sighting of him in Norway in 1997. It was reported to police there. This was probably the last moment at which he could easily have been picked up by the authorities. But does that mean he should be taken off Interpol’s Wanted list? I think not. The presence of a picture alone has successfully helped to round up some suspects in other cases.
Brian Eley sold his house, vehicles and chess business at the time of his disappearance from England. Shouldn’t the police have been able to follow the money and secure him then? You would think so. A jokey chess magazine article speculated that he might be MI6 and that might have been why he was allowed to disappear.
Is this all the stuff of conspiracy theory? Is it incompetence? Or something more sinister? Was there also a failure of the British chess scene to protect the young? Was this followed by a police failure to keep their suspect under surveillance? How easy is it for people to disappear completely in this day and age? Can anyone do it? Or do they need a lot of help? Nearly three years after my initial enquiries to Interpol I am still waiting for an answer. I also contacted the National Crime Agency and South Yorkshire Police, the latter to check the case was still open and whether Inspector Moon had retired. I got the briefest of answers from them which might have come to something later but didn’t. The accusations against Eley were all a very long time ago. But is that any reason it should be dropped completely?
In the autumn of 2021, I sent a Freedom of Information request to South Yorkshire Police. Nearly three weeks later their reply to me came and most of it was as clear as mud. Close to the start of the letter they said:
South Yorkshire Police can neither confirm nor deny that it holds the information you requested as the duty in s1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply, by virtue of the following exemptions.
The substance of their reply on the next seemed to be that giving me information might impede the enquiry, that is if there was an enquiry… That was something they did not admit to specifically.
I hazard a guess that Mr. Eley will never be re-arrested and is completely safe, wherever he is. The pictures available of him are few and far between. You can find a couple on the internet. If you see him somewhere, tell the police. They may or may not do something about it. Is this incompetence or part of a cover-up? That is probably something we will never know.
There have been multiple failures of the system. The chess world failed to protect children at a time when the first complaints were made. More should have been done. The police failed to follow up leads after the first escape. Others in the chess world chose to shelter him while knowing about the allegations made against him. More recently someone somewhere chose to take this man off Interpol’s lists. It is all disgraceful and if I were one of the seventy plus people who filed accusations against him, I would be very very angry.