Call Bethel Podcast

The Telegraph/Sunday Telegraph

Call Bethel combines gripping storytelling with hard-hitting public interest journalism, to shine a light on the ways in which Jehovah’s Witnesses have let down victims of child sexual abuse.

Over the course of five episodes, it follows reporters in the Telegraph’s investigations team as they set about verifying a tip-off that comes into their inbox. The narrative deftly stitches together the tales of individual victims, and the reporters’ efforts to understand what has been going wrong in their pursuit for justice – so that the tale of abuse told in the first episode quickly mushrooms into a much bigger, darker story. One of the challenges was avoiding potential legal pitfalls without sacrificing suspense – a challenge which faces many podcasts, but which was made harder by the fact that Call Bethel is breaking stories and uncovering new material rather than relying on information that is already public. The team ultimately establishes that the Jehovah’s Witness organisation keeps a database of alleged paedophiles at its UK headquarters, which appears never to have been handed to the police. Individual cases are used to track down secret documents that appear to be fragments of the database itself. By approaching the subject in this way, Call Bethel tackles the inherently difficult subject of child sexual abuse, in a way that is suspenseful but never gratuitous. The drama of the podcast is propelled by the investigation itself. It gives listeners clear insight into what it entails – from the very first steps, to the reality of dead ends, to the lengths reporters go to in order to reach sources. The team-members feature as characters as they travel around the country knocking on doors, sifting through paperwork, and building a network of sources, so that listeners get a real sense of the ‘high’ that comes with a breakthrough. This idea of active investigation is so central to the podcast, that we decided to launch before the work was complete. It was a nail-biting decision, but meant the listener was with the team as they broke the story. It was an approach that worked - the resulting production has been extremely well-received, charting in the Apple’s Top 10 and gaining a 4.8 rating on the platform. It was praised by the Times as “admirably clear on how a journalistic investigation is built” and has been praised by former – and even some current - Jehovah’s Witnesses for the accuracy with which we explained this under-reported world. The podcast was narrated with authority by Katherine Rushton, one of the reporters, who also interviewed some of the victims with great sensitivity. This has been key. Some of the abuse victims had never publicly about their experiences before, and the podcast has given them a platform. It was extremely gratifying to be told afterwards by Daria that Call Bethel’s reporters had fully earned the enormous trust she had placed in them, and that the information they had unearthed – about her own abuser and the Jehovah’s Witness organisation - had “lessened any residual complicity [she] felt”.