A story of child porn, drugs and rock'n'roll

WHEN the world’s first rock opera Tommy premiered in 1969 it appeared an amazing work of imagination by its creator, Pete Townshend.

The story of a boy who lost his senses, falls victim to sexual abuse by Uncle Ernie and is then saved from despair by his extraordinary prowess at pinball, was seen as a dark fairytale.

Now Townshend, the legendary Who guitarist, is claiming that he was abused as a child. Was Uncle Ernie, who ‘fiddled about’ with children, based on someone from the 57-year-old musician’s own past?

What is certain is that yet another chapter has been opened in the life of Townshend, whose past as a hellraiser has seen him struggle with addiction to drink and drugs and dabble with homosexual sex.

Now Townshend is at the centre of a police investigation into British users of US-based pay-to-view child pornography sites. The millionaire rock star has admitted paying to access one of the websites but has claimed he did so "purely to see what was there".

After issuing his denial, he drove off in a Mercedes from his mansion in Richmond, south-west London, saying: "I’ve not been charged with anything. I’ve always been warned about campaigning about this."

In a statement, Townshend said: "Some of the things I have seen on the internet have informed my book which I hope will be published later this year, and which will make clear to the public that if I have any compulsions in this area, they are to face what is happening to young children in the world today and to try to deal openly with my anger and vengeance towards the mentally ill people who find paedophilic pornography attractive."

However, he added that he was interested in adult porn: "I’ve always been into pornography and I have used it all my life."

Townshend claimed he had accessed the child pornography website while researching for his autobiography.

He said: "I believe I was sexually abused between the age of five and six-and-a-half when in the care of my maternal grandmother, who was mentally ill at the time. I cannot remember clearly what happened, but my creative work tends to throw up nasty shadows - particularly in Tommy."

Yesterday one leading expert on sexual abuse said it was unusual for victims to try to deal with what happened to them by looking at porno-graphy.

Margaret Kennedy, a London-based sexual abuse therapist, said: "Victims of child sexual abuse find the experiences stay with them for the rest of their lives and people find various means of dealing with what has happened to them. It will mark the rest of their life.

"It is very unusual for a victim of abuse to deal with it by looking at pornography. I have been working with male and female survivors for 15 years and I have never encountered anyone doing that."

Townshend’s decision to speak frankly about the allegations against him is in stark contrast with television presenter John Leslie who, when faced with allegations about his sexual conduct, went to ground.

Niall Scott, a public relations expert, said: "In any situation, even one involving such a sensitive subject as internet child pornography, it is always best to be as open as you can be and get your side of the story across as quickly as you can.

"Given the high-profile nature of being a celebrity like Pete Townshend, it would have emerged somewhere at some point that he was the person involved in this situation.

"In the John Leslie situation, there was widespread speculation about the identity of the person facing the allegations.

"By the time his name eventually came out, the speculation had been building to such a pitch that it was absolutely huge news when it came out."

Townshend, the father of three children, has had an extraordinary career marked by episodes of severe drug use and alcoholism.

His official website describes him as "a spokesman for his generation".

But Roger Daltrey, The Who’s singer, described Townshend as "a nose on a stick" when the guitarist joined his band, the Detours, in the early 1960s.

The group was later renamed The Who and in 1965 released the album My Generation with eight Townshend songs.

The Who became one of the biggest rock bands of the 1970s, but with the success came tragedy. Townshend became depressed after drummer Keith Moon’s death in 1978 and became a heroin addict in 1981, nearly dying of an overdose.

Townshend wrote about his recovery from heroin addiction in his solo project All the Best Cowboys have Chinese Eyes in 1982.

Last year Townshend told an interviewer from Rolling Stone magazine that he had had homosexual experiences during the 1960s.

Townshend said he wasn’t gay but admitted that he had experimented and had consensual sex with two men. He claimed to have been drugged by a third man before "unconsciously" having sex with him.

The guitarist is a frequent visitor to the US, where a revival of his rock opera Tommy on Broadway won the rock star a prestigious Tony award in 1993.

The huge investigation into paedophile websites was prompted by the activities of a couple from Fort Worth in Texas.

Thomas and Janice Reedy, who were convicted in August 2001 of the sexual exploitation of minors, were responsible for the world’s biggest commercial child pornography operation.

Dan Mihalko, a postal inspector for the US Postal Service, said: "The Reedys made about $1m a month from charging people from all over the world to access around 300 sites."

Investigators were alerted to unusually busy mail boxes belonging to the couple, who were receiving cheques from customers. The couple had up to 300,000 credit card subscribers - including many from Britain - who were paying 21 a month to view images of degraded and abused babies and children.

Mihalko said: "We then began to circulate the information to the world’s law enforcement agencies, and, to date, we believe there have been over 4,000 arrests. There were people from all over the world using these sites."