Chris Steyn responds to Jacques Pauw on 'Lost Boys': 'he should've read more carefully'

As a fellow investigative journalist I have always had the utmost respect for Jacques Pauw and the work he has done. 

Therefore, I was surprised by the factual inaccuracies in his review of The Lost Boys of Bird Island, the book I co-wrote.

Pauw calls the late Mark Minnie a "sloppy" cop. Yet, he himself makes crucial mistakes in his comments on the book. If he was still alive, Minnie would have returned the compliment and charged Pauw with "sloppy" journalism.

Pauw says Minnie went drinking after visiting the coloured boy allegedly shot in the rear. Mark never met or interviewed that boy. Pauw makes the crucial mistake of confusing one injured boy with another who also ended up in hospital with an anal injury, but was not coloured, just dark-skinned. Mark was still in the process of locating the boy who was shot when he was forced to abandon his investigation.

Pauw says Minnie told the boy he would not get anti-retrovirals if he did not co-operate with the investigation. What Mark actually wrote was that he told the boy that the State would give it to him for free if he signed a sworn statement.

Pauw says Minnie botched his own investigation. That is an odd assertion in view of the fact that the docket was removed, according to recent newspaper reports on the direct order of PW Botha himself, and that Minnie was pulled off the case.

Pauw criticises Minnie for failing to get help for the victims from social services and accuses him of doing nothing to help these boys. This is not true. 

Minnie did not mention in the book that one of the victims did get counselling. Last year, Minnie even tried to get the psychologist to talk. I also happen to know that, until shortly before Minnie died, he was still getting food to one of the victims who today is a broken man whom Minnie shielded from public exposure at the cost of his own credibility. 

As for the other boys, Minnie was painfully aware of and honest about his own failings. That was why, at the end of the book, he asked their forgiveness.

Pauw says two Air Force pilots poured cold water on the claim that boys were flown to the island in "army" helicopters. In fact, Minnie wrote that the boy he interviewed had said that boys were picked up in "a helicopter". He did not say it was an "army" helicopter. 

In my part of the book, I point out that apart from the SAAF choppers, others hired by Sea Fisheries and private choppers were also used to fly people to the island. But I also quoted a former SAAF pilot who confirmed flying three Cabinet ministers – unaccompanied by bodyguards – to the island and picking them up again five days later. 

Pauw comments on Minnie going to see Brigadier Ernie Schnetler, but it is unlikely that Minnie was referring to Schnetler, and he did not write that either. The only time he referred to Schnetler by name was when he recounted how he was told the brigadier had come for the docket.

Pauw even got wrong the name and surname of the central figure Dave Allen, whom he referred to as John Allan (the name was later rectified by News24).

And he said the Human Rights Commission (HRC) was investigating the case. Actually, it is the Foundation for Human Rights. 

Pauw says I am "protecting" the identity of the surgeon who had performed the life-saving operation on the boy allegedly injured on the island. In fact, the publisher recently shared my correspondence with the surgeon with Rapport newspaper when their reporters were fact-checking the book. They were thus able to call the surgeon and ask him for comment. I urge Pauw to read Rapport's fact-checking article, done by two journalists, one being Erika Gibson, who is a veteran writer on military matters.

Pauw says the Civil Co-Operation Bureau (CCB) could not have been involved in the death of Allen because they had "no more than six or seven hours" and, according to him, all their assassins were based in Johannesburg or Pretoria. Also inaccurate. In fact, they had the whole night. He was arrested in the early evening and was still alive early the next morning. Not that I stated their involvement as a fact. As I wrote, it was also possible that members of the Security Branch were involved.

Pauw calls it "inexplicable" that I did not declare in the book my link to Eeben Barlow, who was once in charge of the CCB in Europe. I did, in fact, disclose this to my publishers and have confirmed it to members of the media who have asked me about it. My link to Barlow was not disclosed in the book as such as it was not relevant because I was accusing the CCB of possible wrongdoing – not covering it up, as Pauw seems to imply.

Pauw has slated the book on the basis of having spoken to only a handful of people, some of whom called him to help refute allegations in the book. I stand by the book on the basis of having personally spoken to dozens of people prior to – and following – its publication. Since the book hit the shelves I have received leads and emails daily from people with personal knowledge of the events described. These people have provided important information which I am following up in corroboration of the book. 

That said, I do appreciate the fact that Pauw actually read the book before commenting on it. But perhaps he should have read it a little bit more carefully.

Still, I regard Pauw as one of our finest investigative journalists. When he speaks, people take him seriously. That is why I am responding seriously to Pauw now. But nor is there room for ad hominem attacks on a matter as serious as this – as used to this sort of thing as I, and he, and others, have become in the course of our work.

One thing I know for sure: this book is just the beginning of the story. Mark and I never claimed to have all the answers. In fact, we made it very clear in the book that the story we are telling is about two prematurely squashed investigations. What we do provide, as Pauw rightfully states in his review, is prima facie evidence of a paedophile ring in the '80s in PE, and that Minnie spoke to child victims, and opened a docket.  

I challenge anybody to dispute that we have – and are still dealing with – a cover-up at the highest level. That is why there is so much more to expose. And that is why I will continue to pursue the truth.

Believe me, for the sake of those boys, I have always wished it were not true.