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The Westminster Child Abuse Inquiry: Blood on Their Hands

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Between 1981 and 1985, Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Geoffrey Dickens campaigned to uncover a pedophile ring at the heart of Westminster. In 1984, Dickens presented a 40-page dossier of evidence to Margaret Thatcher’s then Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, implicating numerous prominent figures “in positions of power, influence and responsibility”, including the name of the late MP Cyril Smith. On receiving the dossier, Leon Brittan sent a letter to Dickens, informing him that his file would be given to police and passed on to the Home Office for investigation.

After the Jimmy Savile scandal broke in Britain in 2011, Peter McKelvie, a former Child Protection manager, contacted Labour MP Tom Watson with claims that at least 20 prominent figures, including former MPs and government ministers, had abused children for “decades”. McKelvie had discovered links between paedophiles and the government while assisting police in investigating convicted paedophile Peter Righton who had made his career as a child protection expert. Amongst evidence seized from Righton’s home in 1992 were a vast number of documents that pointed to a “very well organized pedophile network.”

As more information emerged, different investigations were launched by the police, under Operation Fairbank, including inquiries into activities of child abuse at Elm Guest House in London and Operation Midland, which is specifically looking at information about three possible murders linked to child abuse.

HORRIFIC ABUSE

The allegations that are surfacing from victims of the pedophile ring, push the boundaries of human depravity.  Amongst the allegations, is the claim that Liberal MP Cyril Smith, who died in 2010, abused boys at Knowl View residential school in Rochdale and at Elm Guest House, in Barnes in south west London, during the 1970s and 1980s. In one incident, Smith is accused of molesting an 11 year old boy at the National Liberal Club in London in 1978, insisting that the boy remove his underpants before attempting to fondle him.

At least three other MPs are reported to have been questioned in 1982 after a police raid on Elm Guest House. It was reported at the time that it was being used as a brothel where children as young as 10 were being abused. Whips, chains and ropes were discovered at the Guest House by police officers.

A particularly chilling statement was given by an alleged victim, known as ‘Nick’, who stated that, as a child, he and other boys, aged between 10 and 14 were repeatedly raped by government ministers. He recalled that chauffeur-driven cars were sent to pick up young boys and drive them to locations where they were to be abused. Nick states that he was present in the room when a 12 year old boy was raped and strangled to death by a Tory MP.

Nick also claims that another 11 year old boy was deliberately hit down and killed by a car in broad daylight on a London street as a warning to other boys not to speak out about their abuse. Worryingly, Home Secretary Theresa May has hinted that this only touches the surface of the horrors committed by the Westminster paedophile ring.

Whilst, it was clear that evidence had been collected at the time of the abuse, what makes this heartbreaking reality more sickening, is that there appears to be a widespread and deep-rooted cover up of what happened.

The details of the 40 page dossier, passed from Dickens to Brittan in 1984, still remain unknown, as the police later stated they had no record of any investigation into the allegations and a Home Office review revealed that the dossier “has since been destroyed or lost.”

On 1 July 2014, Labour MP Simon Danczuk publicly called on Leon Brittan to say what he knew about paedophile allegations passed to him when he was Home Secretary in the 1980s. Brittan has always denied any wrong-doing, however his death on the 22nd January 2015 has meant that a full investigation in to his actions can never be undertaken.

MEDIA SILENCING

The scale of the cover up reaches much further than a select group of politicians. Two newspaper executives have stated that when they attempted to report on allegations of a powerful group of men engaging in child sex abuse at Elm Guest House, their publications were issued with D-notices. D-notices (Defence Advisory Notice) are issued by government as warnings not to publish intelligence that might damage national security.

Don Hale, the former editor of the Bury Messenger between 1980 and 1988, recalls being given a file by MEP Barbara Castle, which contained details of a Home Office investigation into allegations made by the Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens of the existence of a Westminster pedophile ring. Hale said that he asked the Home Office for guidance on the dossier and the progress of the investigation but was repeatedly stonewalled.

“Then shortly after Cyril Smith bullied his way into my office. I thought he was going to punch me. He was sweating and aggressive and wanted to take the files away, saying it was a load of nonsense and that Barbara Castle just had a bee in her bonnet about homosexuals. I refused to give him the files,” said Hale.

“The very next day two non-uniformed officers, about 15 uniformed officers and another non-uniformed person, who didn’t introduce himself, came to the office waving a D-notice and said that I would be damaging national security if I reported on the file.”

Officials running the D-notice system, which works closely with MI5 and MI6 and the Ministry of Defence, have said that the files which would contain the record of the D-notices have been destroyed.

THREATS AND INTIMIDATION

The threats and intimidation extended to more than just media reporters. On the 29th November 1985, Geoffrey Dickens said in a speech to the House of Commons that “the noose around my neck grew tighter after I named a former high-flying British diplomat (Peter Hayman) on the Floor of the House. Honourable Members will understand that where big money is involved and as important names came into my possession so the threats began. First, I received threatening telephone calls followed by two burglaries at my London home. Then, more seriously, my name appeared on a multi-killer’s hit list.”

The same week that Dickens handed the dossier over to Brittan, his flat in London and his constituency home were subsequently broken into and ransacked. Nothing was taken from either premises.

However, the level of intimidation becomes even more disconcerting. Last year, Scotland Yard confirmed that they are looking in to the suspicious murders of two men who were in the process of whistleblowing to reveal the Westminster paedophile ring. In 1993, Lambeth Social Services Manager, Bulic Forsyth told a witness that he suspected children were being assaulted by an organized group at a children’s home said to have been visited by a Labour politician. Days later Forsyth was beaten to death in his flat which was then set on fire. A caretaker who was in the process of giving evidence against the child abuse gang died in similar circumstances. Both cases remain unsolved.

More recently, Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk, who has called for a public inquiry into the child abuse, has alleged that before his appearance at the Home Affairs Select Committee where he was to answer questions on child abuse, he was urged by a Conservative minister not to challenge Leon Brittan over his knowledge of the alleged paedophile ring at Westminster.

Danczuk said of the warning that he’d “never spoken to (the man) before in my life but he blocked my way and ushered me to one side… He warned me to think very carefully about what I was going to say the next day.” The minister said to Danczuk, “I hear you’re about to challenge Lord Brittan about when he knew about child sex abuse…It wouldn’t be a wise move…It was all put to bed a long time ago.” The minister also warned Danczuk that he could be responsible for Brittan’s death.

FAILURES OF THE POLICE AND CROWN PROSECUTION SERVICE

Scotland Yard has also been implicated in the cover up after retired magistrate, Vishambar Mehrotra, revealed the poor police handling of his son’s abduction in 1981.

Mehrotra’s eight year old son, Vishal, was abducted as he walked home from Putney on 29 July 1981. Months later Mehrota recorded a telephone call from an anonymous male prostitute informing him that his son may have been kidnapped and taken to the Elm Guest House to be abused by “judges and politicians.” The recording was given to the police but they refused to investigate the allegation. “At that time I trusted the police. But when nothing happened I became confused and concerned. Now it is clear to me that there has been a huge cover-up. There is no doubt in my mind,” said Vishal’s Father.

Similarly, in May 1979, the Rochdale Alternative Press magazine alleged that MP Cyril Smith had spanked and sexually abused teenage boys in a hostel he co-founded. The matter was investigated by the police but Smith was not prosecuted. Smith never publicly denied the accusations of abuse, nor did he ever take legal action. The Press Office of the then leader of the Liberal Party, Sir David Steel publicly commented at the time: “All he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms.”

Tony Robinson, a former special branch officer with Lancashire Police in the 1970s, said that a dossier of sexual abuse allegations against Smith, which police claimed had been “lost” was actually seized by MI5. Robinson said that he was asked by MI5 to send to London a police dossier that had been kept in a safe in his office which he said was “thick” with allegations from boys claiming they had been abused by Smith. On 27th November 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service admitted that Smith should have been charged with crimes of abuse more than 40 years earlier.

In September 2013, a Channel 4 Dispatches programme “The Pedophile MP: How Cyril Smith Got Away With It” quoted the Crown Prosecution Service as claiming that they had not prosecuted Smith for crimes of abuse because he had been given an assurance in 1970 that he would not be prosecuted, and that prevented them from subsequently reopening the investigation under the law at the time.

In June 2014, Detective Chief Superintendent Russ Jackson of Greater Manchester Police admitted the force’s previous investigations into Cyril Smith’s abuse of children at Rochdale Knowl View residential school “fell well short” of what would be expected today.  Allegations had been made that a paedophile ring had been operating for decades in the town of Rochdale and that men would travel from all over Yorkshire to Rochdale to have sex with Knowl View boys aged between eight and thirteen years of age. Greater Manchester Police had the names of 14 of the 21 suspects, including Cyril Smith. In July 2014, Rochdale council’s inquiry into child abuse linked to Cyril Smith at Knowl View residential school was halted at the request of police. Greater Manchester Police asked the authority to suspend their inquiry while detectives investigated claims of an institutional cover up.

MISHANDLED INQUIRY

In 2013 the Home Office conducted a review on their handling of the missing dossier given by Geoffrey Dickens to Leon Brittan and claimed that parts of the dossier described as “credible” and which contained “realistic potential” for further investigation had been passed to prosecutors and the police.

The review, covering the years 1979 to 1999, found 527 potentially relevant files the Home Office had kept. However, a further 114 documents that also concerned child abuse allegations were missing from the Home Office’s records.

The government has declined to publish the 2013 review, with a spokesperson saying that “the executive summary reflects very fully the report…If there are allegations, evidence of wrongdoing that people have they should bring that to the attention of the relevant authorities including the police.”

Last year, Home Secretary Theresa May announced a wider expert-led, independent inquiry into whether public bodies, such as the police, NHS and BBC, have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse. Within days, the integrity of the inquiry was called in to question as Baroness Butler-Sloss, the retired high court judge, who was selected to chair the panel leading the inquiry was forced to step down when it was highlighted that her brother, Lord Havers, was attorney general for much of the 1980s and was the government’s senior legal officer at the time the Dickens dossier was considered.

Home Secretary Theresa May then chose corporate lawyer Dame Fiona Woolf as Butler-Sloss’s replacement, but she too was quickly forced to stand down after it was disclosed that she had lived in the same street as Lord Brittan and had dinner with him five times between 2008 and 2012. It was also revealed that the Home Office had helped her re-write a letter detailing her contacts with Lord Brittan seven times in a way that played down their relationship.

In April 2014, following the reports that there had been 144 complaints against Cyril Smith and that attempts to prosecute him had always been blocked, Tim Farron, President of the Liberal Democrats called for an inquiry in to his party to retrieve answers to “serious questions” about who knew that Smith had faced allegations of sexual assault. Nick Clegg, the Leader of the Liberal Democrat party has refused to allow this inquiry.

In July 2014, Norman Tebbit, who had held a variety of government ministerial posts in the 1980s, when asked if there had been a “big political cover up”, said that “there may well have been”, describing it as “…almost unconscious. It was the thing that people did at that time.” Tebbit also spoke of the political atmosphere of the 1980s, saying that “At that time I think most people would have thought that the establishment, the system, was to be protected and if a few things had gone wrong here and there that it was more important to protect the system than to delve too far into it.”

WITHOUT JUSTICE THE ABUSE CONTINUES

As the inquiry in to what happened stumbles along and Theresa May struggles to find a replacement Chair for the investigating panel, we must remember that at the heart of all of this, are many individuals who suffered unimaginable abuse when they were at their most vulnerable.

One victim, now in his 40s, has said that the abusers “controlled my life for… nine years. They created fear that penetrated every part of me. That was part of my life day in and day out. You didn’t question what they wanted; you didn’t hesitate to do what they asked you to do. You did what you were told without question or the punishments were very severe. They had no hesitation in doing what they wanted to do. Some of them were quite open about who they were. They had no fear at all of being caught, it didn’t even cross their mind. They could do anything they wanted without question and we were told that.”

It is clear that those who are part of, or who have links to the establishment, are the people who can be least trusted to secure justice for the victims. This week it was reported that Keith Vaz, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, has published four of the victim’s names online, leading to the victim’s receiving countless death threats. This demonstrates, yet another unforgivable mistake by those whom we should be able to trust the most. If those with the power to uncover the truth about this injustice choose not to, where do we turn to next?

This is a dark episode in British history and my heart is with all those, both victims and whistleblowers, who have fought hard to bring us back to the light. May we soon get there.

Rebecca Joy Novell is a Qualified Social Worker working with gangs in central London. She graduated from The University of Sheffield in 2012 with a Masters in Social Work. Rebecca has been involved with Youth Justice since 2008 in a variety of voluntary and paid roles and is currently undertaking a Professional Doctorate in Criminal Justice. She was elected to the Professional Assembly for The College of Social Work, is part of the Criminal Justice Reference Group for the British Association of Social Workers and regularly blogs for The Guardian’s Social Care Network. She is also the author of Starting Social Work: Reflections of a Newly Qualified Social Worker. Her blog can be found at www.charitynovelll.wordpress.com.

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