This afternoon (Wednesday October 21st, 2015), the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) will be taking evidence relating to allegations and investigations into the abuse of children committed by VIPs (and in at least one case, alleged rape of an adult woman) from five important people: Detective Chief Inspector Paul Settle, formerly of Operation Fernbridge, Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan and Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse of the Metropolitan Police, Tom Watson MP, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and a prominent campaigner on child abuse, and Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions. A report this morning makes clear that the committee have decided not to interview Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park and Conservative candidate for London Mayor.
Over the last two weeks, ever since the broadcast on October 5th of the BBC Panorama programme on the alleged VIP Paedophile Ring, there has been a concerted media campaign targeting Tom Watson above all, who has been labelled a ‘witchfinder general’, as responsible for supposedly unfounded claims of high level abuse. I do know Tom personally, vouched for the importance of his work on abuse as part of his deputy leadership campaign materials, and so obviously am far from impartial, but can see in absolute honesty that I do not recognise the figure portrayed by much of the press, and also have very strong reason to believe Tom has acted with integrity and in good faith. I suspect that his conciliatory position as deputy to new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, despised by the right-wing media and many Blairite elements in the party, is fuelling this campaign. Furthermore, there are complicated reasons which may become apparent this afternoon why some conflicts have arisen between various parties all devoted to uncovering and preventing child abuse by prominent persons. Last week I posted a detailed timeline of events relating to Leon Brittan, which I believe show clearly that the decision to pursue further the rape investigation into him, after it had been dropped, came from the Met, not from Tom.
The following are issues I implore all members of HASC to consider before questioning this afternoon.
Allegations of a statement taken by an ex-customs officer about the late Lord Brittan
The distinguished journalist Tim Tate has written what to my mind is the most important piece on the allegations surrounding Leon Brittan (later Lord Brittan). Tate does not accept the claims, printed in Exaro and elsewhere, that a video seized in 1982 from Russell Tricker featured the Home Secretary themselves, but crucially claims that a statement was taken from the customs official in question, Maganlal Solanki, attesting to having seized video tapes from Brittan upon entering the country at some point in the 1980s. If a written statement exists attesting to this, it is of crucial importance in establishing whether there might be any truth in the allegations against Brittan. HASC should ask Settle to explain whether this exists or not. Furthermore, at the time of the 1982 siege of Elm Guest House, a then-eight-year-old boy was found and questioned, later (now an adult living in the US) questioned by detectives from Operation Fernbridge. On at least one occasion, this boy identified an ‘Uncle Leon’ from the ‘big house’ as being involved. It is equally vital that Settle is questioned about this. Furthermore, Solanki should also be summoned to speak to HASC.
Tate sent the following questions to the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse (to the best of my knowledge he has not yet received an answer) – I suggest these are equally relevant for HASC:
1. Has the Inquiry yet established direct contact with Operation Fernbridge ?
2. Will the Inquiry be examining documentary evidence held by Operation Fernbridge concerning its investigations into the late Baron Brittan ?
3. Specifically, will the Inquiry secure from Operation Fernbridge copies of all such documents including, but not limited to, formal statements made under caution, officers’ notebooks, internal memoranda and historical documents acquired during its investigation into the late Baron Brittan ?
4. Does the Inquiry plan to require public testimony from the current head of Operation Fernbridge, AND its former senior investigating officer, [NAME REDACTED HERE] concerning the late Baron Brittan?
5. Does the Inquiry plan to require public testimony from the former Customs and Excise officer Maganlal Solanki who gave evidence to Operation Fernbridge concerning the alleged seizure of child pornography from the late Baron Brittan ?
6. Does the Inquiry plan to take evidence from the US Marshall formerly attached to Operation Fernbridge in connection with a visit he made at the request of Operation Fernbridge to a suspected victim of Baron Brittan ?
7. Does the Inquiry plan to publish the documents acquired and/or generated by Operation Fernbridge during the course of its investigation into Baron Brittan ?
Involvement of other MPs
By far the majority of the focus has been on Tom Watson, but other MPs have been equally involved with campaigning on abuse, and some have made more extravagant claims or threats. Specifically:
1. The Labour MP John Mann has handed police a list of 22 politicians alleged to have been involved with the abuse of children. Furthermore, in July last year, Mann indicated the possibility of using Parliamentary privilege to name abusers.
2. The Labour MP Simon Danczuk also threatened to use Parliamentary privilege to name a politician alleged to have visited Elm Guest House; whilst Danczuk did not ultimately do so, it is widely believed to have been Brittan.
3. On October 28th, 2014, the Labour MP Jim Hood did indeed name Brittan in Parliament. The following day, Danczuk backed Hood for having done so.
4. On November 27th, 2014, Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith said the following:
We need only consider the Elm guest house in Barnes, which was run by Haroon and Carole Kasir. It was raided more than 30 years ago, back in 1982. The couple were fined and given suspended sentences for running a disorderly house, but at the time there were already questions and allegations around the abuse of young children at the house. Allegedly—we are reliably told this—12 boys gave evidence in 1982 that they had been abused, yet all these allegations simply evaporated at the time, some 30 years ago. They are only resurfacing now.
When Mrs Kasir died a few years after the house was raided, in very odd circumstances, a child protection campaigner from the National Association Of Young People In Care called for a criminal investigation into events at Elm guest house. He said he had been told by Mrs Kasir that boys had been brought in from a local children’s home—Grafton Close, also in Richmond—for sex, and that she had photographs of establishment figures at her hotel. One of them apparently showed a former Cabinet Minister in a sauna with a naked boy. She had logbooks, names, times, dates, pictures of her customers and so on. All that evidence simply disappeared after the raids and no longer exists. That is astonishing.
The Met has since confirmed that Cyril Smith visited the place—the hon. Member for Rochdale has made this point—and at least three other men named in documents as visitors to the Elm guest house were later convicted of multiple sexual offences against children. It is impossible to believe there was not a cover up. This is not sloppiness; there has to be more to it than that.
I was quite surprised when I watched the broadcast of this debate in November to hear these claims, which are thought to be tenuous by many campaigners, presented in Parliament. Questions have been rightly asked about Goldsmith’s source for the claims – the Mail journalist Guy Adams suggests it was like to be either Chris Fay or Mike Broad (Fay has e-mailed me to indicate that he has never met nor had any contact with Goldsmith). Furthermore, Goldsmith participated in an Australian documentary Spies, Lords and Predators, broadcast in July this year and heavily influenced by the reporting of Exaro, which has come under severe criticism.
5. The Conservative MP and HASC member Tim Loughton, who has in the last few days started charging Watson with setting himself up as ‘judge, jury, and executioner’ over individual cases, himself threatened in July 2014 to use what he called the ‘nuclear option’ to name suspected paedophiles in Parliament. He also called for action from the inquiry in November 2014 following allegations from Exaro about MPs throwing sex parties involving the abuse of children, murder, and more.
Many of these are stronger claims or threats than anything by Tom Watson, who in a November 2014 interview with Guardian journalist Decca Aitkenhead said just that at least one politician had abused children.
HASC needs to speak to Mann, Danczuk, Hood, Goldsmith, and Loughton.
Allegations of a Westminster paedophile ring
It is often claimed that Tom Watson has alleged the existence of a Westminster paedophile ring. This would be truer of Danczuk (I am not absolutely sure if he has specifically used the term, but will check); Watson’s question to the Prime Minister on October 24th, 2012 contained the following words:
The evidence file used to convict paedophile Peter Righton, if it still exists, contains clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring. One of its members boasts of his links to a senior aide of a former Prime Minister, who says he could smuggle indecent images of children from abroad. The leads were not followed up, but if the file still exists I want to ensure that the Metropolitan police secure the evidence, re-examine it and investigate clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No. 10.
A network which is linked to Parliament and No. 10 is not the same thing as a Westminster paedophile ring. There is no doubt that a network existed around Righton, at the very least featuring other committee members of the Paedophile Information Exchange, such as Charles Napier, convicted and sentenced last December to 13 years for hundreds of sexual assaults upon young boys, or Righton’s partner Richard Alston, jailed in September for 21 months for child abuse charges, in a trial at which claims emerged of sessions involving Alston, Righton and Napier together.
The link to Parliament and No. 10 rests upon claims made in a document about which I am not at liberty to write now. Tom Watson’s source for his original PMQ was retired child protection worker Peter McKelvie, who last week resigned from the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel to the inquiry.
Scapegoats are being made of McKelvie and Watson in a bid to stop further investigation of a wide range of claims about politicians of which both are aware. It is vital that HASC also summon McKelvie and ask him about this specific claim mentioned by Watson in 2012.
If HASC will deal seriously with these claims, they will be carrying out their proper role, and not serving simply as a front for political point-scoring. The issue of high-level child abuse is far too serious for this, and it would be a tragedy if the cross-party consensus which was previously built on this were now to be abandoned.
Timeline of the Metropolitan Police Investigation of Leon Brittan in context – Tom Watson exoneratedPosted: October 16, 2015
[Since the evidence given to the Home Affairs Select Committee on October 21st, 2015, this timeline needs updating. I will do so as soon as time permits]
Following the various claims and counter-claims about the Metropolitan Police investigation into the allegations of rape against Leon (Lord) Brittan, the Met have released their key findings today, which clarify a great deal. I have combined this with other information to clarify context to produce a timeline. All information for which a link is not provided comes from the Met report.
Brittan had been named in the press in 1984 as being the Cabinet Minister about whom rumours of sexual acts with boys had been circulating, but most of the press declared these to be false, as did Paul Foot in his 1989 book Who Framed Colin Wallace?. Furthermore, the scandals concerning Elm Guest House (about which a comprehensive series of links can be found here) date back to the police raid in 1982, at which time reports referred to MPs and other VIPs being present, as well as drawing links to the disappearance/murder of eight-year old Vishal Mehrotra and fifteen-year old Martin Allen. It has been claimed by the Times journalist David Aaronovitch (in an article behind a paywall) that most information to do with Elm Guest House comes from Chris Fay, whose reliability has been attacked recently in the press. Documents published online by Fay’s colleague Mary Moss named Brittan as an attendee at the guest house; this was not in the 1982 reports, but certainly claims of high-level MP involvement was.
For wider consideration of the remaining questions about Leon Brittan, there is nowhere better to look than this excellent post by Tim Tate.
Timeline: The Investigations into Leon Brittan
October 24th, 2012: Labour MP Tom Watson asks a question of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, about evidence of a high-level paedophile ring linked to Parliament and No. 10, relating to the evidence files used to convict Peter Righton (see this documentary).
November 2012: Initial allegation of rape against Leon Brittan made by ‘Jane’ to South Yorkshire Police. Passed to Met as alleged incident occurred in London.
September 2013: Investigating officer decides no further action to be taken.
February 17th, 2014: ‘Jane’ has a meeting with the Metropolitan Police which causes her some discontent (this appears to be the case from a redacted letter from Alison Saunders to Tom Watson)
April 2014: Commander Graham McNulty requests an update into this investigation
April 28th, 2014: Upon receiving the update, McNulty orders a review
April 28th, 2014: Tom Watson writes to Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders about the case
May 17th, 2014: Exaro and the Sunday People report on the case of ‘Jane’ claiming she was raped in 1967 by a former cabinet minister. Both news agencies also report Tom Watson saying he finds Jane ‘a very credible witness’ and has written to Saunders requesting the case be reviewed.
May 19th, 2014: Review concludes that Brittan should be interviewed under caution.
May 20th, 2014: Most details of Watson letter now made public by Exaro.
May 30th, 2014: Brittan interviewed under caution.
June 2nd, 2014: Met receives Tom Watson’s letter to Saunders.
June 3rd, 2014: Seven MPs: Tim Loughton, Zac Goldsmith (Conservative); John Hemming, Tessa Munt (Liberal Democrat); Tom Watson, Simon Danczuk (Labour); Caroline Lucas (Green); call for a full national inquiry into child abuse, citing various particular cases.
June 5th, 2014: A lobbying campaign of MPs begins to garner wider support for an inquiry.
June 5th, 2014: Met submits evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service, including Brittan statement and recording of interview. CPS requested other things be completed, including formal identification process from complainant
June 13th, 2014: Saunders replies to Tom Watson.
June 16th, 2014: The specific letter from the seven MPs is published drawing attention to cases including Elm Guest House and that of Jane.
July 1st, 2014: Labour MP Simon Danczuk gives evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, in which he raises the issue of the dossier given by Geoffrey Dickens to Leon Brittan, when the latter was Home Secretary. Danczuk had earlier hinted that he might name a former MP involved in abuse at Elm Guest House if asked – this was sure to be Brittan – and a Labour MP as well. In the event he did not do so, but this select committee appearance is the major trigger for widespread media coverage of claims of a Westminster paedophile ring, and especially on Brittan and the question of what happened to the Dickens dossier.
July 6th, 2014: Brittan named in press as having been interviewed by police over a historic rape allegation.
July 7th, 2014: Home Secretary Theresa May announces the setting up of an Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), in light of the lobbying campaign and widespread allegations of new cases in the press following Danczuk’s Select Committee appearance.
July 7th, 2014: Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse takes over as Gold Commander of the investigation.
July 8th, 2014: Baroness Butler-Sloss, formerly chair of the Cleveland Child Abuse Inquiry, is announced as Chair of the IICSA.
July 14th, 2014: Butler-Sloss steps down from chair of inquiry.because of family and other connections.
September 5th, 2014: Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf is appointed by Home Secretary as the new Chair of the IICSA.
September 7th, 2014: After chatter from the outset, a report in the Mail on Sunday reveals close links between Woolf and Lord and Lady Brittan. The pressure on Woolf grows from this point onwards, with further revelations during the course of the next week.
October 7th, 2014: Formal identification process for ‘Jane’ re Brittan takes place
October 21st, 2014: Woolf appears before Home Affairs Select Committee about her role as inquiry chair, and gives an unconvincing performance.
October 28th, 2014: Labour MP Jim Hood names Leon Brittan in Parliament, saying that ‘the current exposé of Sir Leon Brittan, the then Home Secretary, with accusations of improper conduct with children, will not come as a surprise to the striking miners of 1984’ and referring to ‘The rumours that Sir Leon Brittan was involved in misconduct with children’
October 29th, 2014: Simon Danczuk backs Jim Hood’s naming of Brittan.
October 31st, 2014: Following a heated meeting with survivors and campaigners by the Inquiry Secretariat, Woolf stands down as chair of the inquiry.
November 2014: New file submitted to CPS by Met
November 22nd, 2014: CPS wrote back saying it would not consider the file because it did not meet the appropriate criteria.
November 25th, 2014: DAC Rodhouse decides to appeal the decision.
November 27th, 2014: Major (but poorly attended) debate in House of Commons on child abuse. Zac Goldsmith speaks at length about allegations concerning Elm Guest House and a cabinet minister said to have been photographed in a sauna with a naked boy.
January 15th, 2015: Matter raised with Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for London
January 21st, 2015: Brittan dies.
January 22nd, 2015: Met confirm that investigation into rape allegation in which a man in his 70s had been questioned was ongoing. CPS say: ‘A charging decision has not been made in this case and the matter remains with the police.
January 24th, 2015: Tom Watson publishes article in the Mirror, detailing the various allegations he had heard about Brittan, and indicating his belief they should still be investigated.
February 12th, 2015: DAC Rodhouse meets Chief Prosecutor for London, requests file of evidence be reviewed and a decision reached on whether prosecution would have followed had Brittan been alive.
March 5th, 2015: Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan writes to Saunders to request change of CPS policy to allow files to be considered where there was ‘significant public interest’.
April 1st, 2015: A further letter sent repeating the request, referring to the case of Lord Brittan. Accepted that as Brittan is dead, the CPS may not wish to review the file, but still sought a change of approach.
April 2015: Investigating officers meet with ‘Jane’, in line with the ‘Victim’s Code’, and inform her that there would not have been a prosecution had Brittan been alive.
June 24th, 2015: Final response received from Chief Crown Prosecutor for London, confirming that the CPS will not review the request.
October 6th, 2015: Met apologise in letter to Lady Brittan’s solicitors for not informing her at same time as complainant.
Thus it was the Met’s own review, started well before the publication of the interview with ‘Jane’ and Tom’s intervention, which decided to continue with the case. This exonerates Tom. There have been many malicious articles on this in the last two weeks – compared to only a few peeps from the Guardian and Mail on Zac Goldsmith’s intervention in Parliament – now more in the press should stop for thought and realise the vast importance of Tom’s work on a range of cases which are far from over.
Greville Janner and Margaret Moran – trial of facts more likely for expenses fiddling than child abuse?Posted: June 27, 2015
In 2012, the former Labour MP for Luton South Margaret Moran faced 21 charges of false accounting and forgery of parliamentary expenses involving sums of over £60 000. However, following a psychiatrist’s report, Moran was found to be suffering from a depressive illness, with extreme anxiety and agitation, and as such was unfit to stand trial. Nonetheless, a trial went ahead in her absence (a so-called ‘trial of the facts’) and it was found that she did indeed falsely claim more than £53 000. Moran received a two-year order placing her under the supervision of a council mental health social worker, as well as being treated for the improvement of her medical condition. At the time, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was Keir Starmer, now the Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras after being elected in May 2015.
Fast-forward to two-and-a-half years after the trial of the facts for Moran, and as is now well-known, the new DPP, Alison Saunders made the decision not to charge Labour peer Lord Janner, formerly Greville Janner, MP for Leicester West from 1970 to 1997, with 22 offences involving the sexual abuse of children, between 1969 and 1988, on the grounds of his suffering from dementia. Even the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, argued that Janner should face a ‘trial of the facts’, but Saunders dismissed this on the grounds that Janner was no longer an ongoing risk to the public (not something which Janner himself would have viewed as an obstacle to prosecuting Nazi war criminals with dementia, as witnessed by his statements here and here). Starmer defended his successor Saunders’ decision, saying that ‘we should inhibit our comments on the case’.
There have been major questions asked about the reliability of the diagnosis of dementia against Janner, in light of clear evidence of much significant activity at the House of Lords and elsewhere following the initial diagnosis (see for example this report – as Gojam has pointed out on The Needle Blog, there is a great irony in Janner being deemed too ill to face justice but well enough to legislate). But even if one accepts that Janner is not fit to appear in court, do the seriousness of the charges (not to mention the suggestion that Janner may have been part of a wider network, together with the former Speaker of the House of Commons George Thomas aka Lord Tonypandy) not make the case for a trial of the facts imperative? Janner may not be an ongoing risk to the public, but neither was Moran, who was no longer an MP at the time she faced charges.
I do not want to make light of the issue of MPs fiddling parliamentary expenses, though do think that as financial scandals go, this was quite small in terms of the sums involved, especially relative to government spending. Furthermore, I do not share public cynicism about the very profession of being a Member of Parliament, and think our MPs should be paid more, commensurate with the salaries they might receive in the private sector, and hopefully then few would want to fiddle expenses.
The spectacle of a clearly distraught and destroyed (and visibly aged) Moran, following the court ruling, was something I found upsetting at the time. This has nothing to do with her gender; the vilification and imprisonment of Denis McShane was no less pretty, nor was the SNP-driven hate campaign against the vulnerable Charles Kennedy, likely playing a part in his early death.
But I believe there are current and former MPs against whom far more serious charges exist. The fact that parliamentary expenses has been viewed as a more serious matter than the abuse of vulnerable children says a good deal about the distorted moral compass that exists in the circles of power.
Reports today in the Guardian, Independent, Times and Mail all suggest that Saunders decision could be overturned, as she herself intimated in an interview earlier this week. This is following a review by an independent QC, though @ExaroNews have tweeted today ‘Crisis at CPS: tonight CPS denies story in Daily Mail that DPP decision on Janner is to be reversed. Mail prob right then.’
The case for a trial of the facts against Janner is unanswerable. Anything less will smack of a high-level establishment cover-up. It is vital that in this case the truth is established whilst the alleged perpetrator is still alive. This is far more serious than any expenses scandals.