Northern Ireland’s Epstein: Power, Privilege and the PR ‘guru’ determined to protect his pervert son.

The story of Jeffrey Epstein, an international business mogul and sexual predator, who carried out horrific and violent sexual crimes against young women, his ability to escape the law by hiding behind his fortune — which offered him protection through hiring the best, most corrupt lawyers available — and his eventual suicide prior to facing sentencing may appear at first an abstract, distant, improbable tale. The grim truths of his power and privilege are the makings of Netflix documentaries involving private islands, celebrities and international court cases.

You may then be alarmed to discover that Northern Ireland has it’s very own answer to Jeffrey Epstein and like his (now deceased) predator contemporary, after his conviction, he remains free to walk the streets.

Jeffrey (Jeff) Anderson pleaded guilty on 27th May 2020 to 10 separate charges of voyeurism against 10 women, recording a female doing a private act for his own sexual gratification, knowing she did not consent to being recorded, sexually assaulting one woman, and assaulting one woman, occasioning her actual bodily harm. Prior to this, two charges of child sex abuse and possession of indecent images of a child were dropped, at that time, Jeff Anderson’s lawyer asked for “a presumption of innocence” — he pleaded guilty four years later.

Jeff Anderson is the son of Northern Irish PR and marketing leader Colin Anderson, OBE*. The self proclaimed ‘Godfather of Advertising in Northern Ireland’, Colin Anderson is the Director of ASG & Partners, a PR and marketing firm with clients that include The Electoral Commission, Queen’s University, Department for Education, M&S, Linwoods Foods, Department for Social Development and many more national businesses and government bodies. He is a former Chairman of Northern Ireland Screen and owns tech firm B-Secur.

Colin Anderson owns a number of other large companies, as well as Anderson House, where ASG & Partners is based on the Holywood Road, Belfast. He is a former director, now a member, of the NI Chamber of Commerce and according to he currently owns liabilities worth £1.7m. Colin is a PR genius. And it’s exactly his PR mindset that has allowed any link to his son’s heinous crimes, the employment of his son within his company (even after prosecution) and his careful procuring of a reporting restriction on Jeff Anderson’s court case to be a difficult connection to make. Until now.

I have a personal connection to this case, not only because I went to school with Jeff and can easily recall the fact that his parents paid for the school rugby team to go on tour so that Jeff could secure a place in 6th year and other blatant displays of his family wealth — like his brand new black 4×4 SUV that he drove to school at age 18 — but also because if it wasn’t for circumstance, there’s every chance I could be one of his victims.

When I was 15 or 16 Jeff messaged me and told me he was going to a party with my then best friend Laura. I believed him. Laura’s boyfriend was on his rugby team so I assumed she was meeting him there. I had never had a boyfriend, or kissed a boy — I was a complete theatre nerd with two best friends and zero romantic prospects — but Jeff, 3 years my senior, had added me on MSN messenger as I had been in the senior school play with him. He never spoke to me in school, only on messenger.

I was flattered, even though I didn’t find him attractive and thought his insistence on singing all the time was pretty obnoxious and irritating. I knew he was popular and as a teenager, popularity is a currency you can’t buy into unless you’ve invested early. So I agreed to have him collect me from my house and take me to the party. He told me he knew where I lived because I lived next door to one of our teachers. I went out to his car, the black 4×4 SUV, and got in. On the seat was a Dominos pizza and he was wearing Canterbury tracksuit bottoms and his school rugby top — ‘weird choice of clothing for a party’ I thought, but didn’t vocalise.

We drove past Laura’s house and when I asked why we weren’t stopping to collect her, he said something about getting her later and stopping off at his first. We went to a house near our school. The house was very sparsely decorated and there were bottles of beers on the counter. He asked if I wanted one, or some pizza, and I declined.

When I’m feeling awkward or embarassed I shut down. I sat on the sofa, my face no doubt infantilised by my thick, robustly applied teenage make up, wearing leather leggings and a top, waiting to head to the party I was told my friend would be at. He started drinking a beer and my stomach sunk as I realised that would mean he couldn’t drive. He then started playing guitar and singing at me — something I’ve always found so cringeworthy to the point I can remember my arms feeling warm and tingly with uncomfortability. He asked me to join in and I said no. He started singing a song by the Kings of Leon and then asked me if I wanted a beer again. Again, I said no. He said he had lots of drinks; vodka, gin etc and he was right, the kitchen looked like a fully stocked bar.

By this point I was feeling incredibly awkward. I think he could sense it and he was clearly annoyed I wasn’t drinking. He started making fun of me in what I assumed was meant to be a playful manner. Asking me who I fancied in school, if I was a virgin; embarrassing, intrusive questions no teenage girl wants to answer to themselves, never mind to one of the most popular boys in school.

I honestly don’t remember how I left, I assume I made some sort of excuse. I can remember feeling overwhelmed with embarrassment and awkwardness walking home through the town centre late at night. I thought about how everyone would think I was a complete idiot if I told them I had gone to his house and walked away. He was popular, rich, powerful, in the rugby team and in favourable standing amongst everyone in the school. I never spoke about it again.

Fast forward to 2015 and I had a message from one of the only friends I told about that night asking if I lied about what happened and had actually slept with him — “NO! I honestly didn’t. Why?” — ‘Because he’s been arrested. For sexual assault, voyeurism, child sex abuse and loads more.’

I shouldn’t have to have a personal connection to this case for my anger at his three year suspended sentence to be valid, but the only thing separating me and many of my close friends from the women who have fought for justice for six years, to protect other women from him, is chance. Had he bought ciders instead of beers, perhaps I’d have had one. Had he bought a vegetarian pizza then maybe I’d have had a slice and got to chatting, drinking. Had I not been so uncomfortable in my own skin as a teenager then I might have felt more confident around this small town celebrity. Enough to allow me to share the sofa with him, relax into the evening a bit.

Jeffrey Anderson should not be able to hide behind his dad’s wealth. There should never be reporting restrictions issued on a case that involves 11 women and child sex offences. Jeffrey Anderson, like Jeffrey Epstein, Brock Turner and other wealthy sexual predators who have escaped the prison sentences they deserved shouldn’t be able to buy justice at the price of ruining the lives of women they’ve attacked and assaulted.

Anderson House, owned by Colin Anderson, home to ASG and Partners.

During the sentencing, which took place on 3rd July 2020, it was confirmed that Jeffrey Anderson now works for his dad’s advertising company, ASG & Partners ‘writing jingles and musical pieces’ and that ‘this work remains open to him.’ ASG & Partners clients include some of the biggest organisations and companies in Northern Ireland. Jeff Anderson should not be allowed to have access to any space in which he may come into contact with women who may fall victim to his predatory ways. The power that comes with the nepotism of being the son of a PR guru, whose company you now work for, is exactly the kind of situation in which someone as predatory as Jeff Anderson could abuse his power.

A three year suspended sentence for crimes as barbaric as videoing women whilst they urinated and assaulting and sexually abusing them, is an insult to the courage, strength and determination of his victims who spent six years of their lives under the cloud of trauma his abuse has caused them. Whilst Jeffrey Anderson was free to work on a cruise ship and travel the world.

Please share this article with #JeffAndersonIsAPredator, #ASGandpartners and #SuspendedIsNotEnough

We can’t put him behind bars and give these women their lives back, nor can we give them the justice they deserve. But we can make life uncomfortable for him and for his dad, who has insisted on protecting him at any cost. Let’s not let that cost be the freedom, dignity, courage and safety of women everywhere.

Writer, feminist, big tall hippy Irish person. I write about gender, rights, culture and society. LLM Human Rights Law - University of York