The Blog of Ian Pace, pianist, musicologist, political animal. A place for thoughts, reflections, links, both trivial and not so trivial. Main website is at http://www.ianpace.com . Contact e-mail email@example.com.
Today I attended a meeting at the Home Office, the sixth meeting to date with child abuse survivors and their representatives and organisations, to solicit their views on the appointment of the new chair and other matters relating to the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. I was there in my capacity as convenor of the petition calling for an inquiry into abuse in music education, in the process of which I became privy to a very large range of survivor testimony, and remain in regular contact with a wide range of survivors from the classical music world.
The meeting was with Home Office Director of Safeguarding John O’Brien, and Helen Griffith and Cheryl Mendes from inquiry secretariat. It would not be appropriate for me to list the survivors and others who attended; suffice to say that it was a relatively small group, but representing a wide range of different fields of experience. The meeting was scheduled from 13:30 to 14:30; I had to leave promptly at 14:30 to attend to university business, so cannot at present report on the later part of a meeting which overran a little. However, we were promised minutes giving the essentials of the meeting, about which I will post further when they are received.
The three principal issues raised from the outset concerned the appointment of a new chair of the inquiry, whether the inquiry was to be instituted on a statutory basis, and would be judge-led, and about the period covered by the inquiry (currently set with a cut-off point of 1970). It was clear that previous meetings have produced overwhelming support for a statutory inquiry and an earlier date.
My impression was that it looks extremely likely now that the recommendation on the basis of consultation will be for the statutory inquiry, but it is less clear whether this should be judge-led or not. A statutory inquiry would have the power to compel individuals to give evidence, and demand to see documents. The advantages of the latter lie primarily in terms of experience in handling classified documents and the legal processes involved in gathering evidence and testimony through compulsion. On the other hand, a non-judge might have a deeper experience and understanding of the specifics of engaging with survivors of child abuse. It was acknowledged that no chair could realistically be expected to be all things to all people, so whatever form the inquiry ultimately takes, there is likely to be a wider panel involved. The issue of the suitability or otherwise of the current panel did not arise in this meeting. One other issue concerned the granting of developed vetting powers to the chair and panel, enabling access to intelligence documents and the like. As far as I could ascertain, there was no reason why the inquiry’s being statutory would dilute or compromise this. The case for a statutory inquiry now seems unanswerable.
O’Brien outlined some of the issues involved in making the new appointment. If this is to be a judge-led inquiry, then it is not simply a case of the Home Office’s being able to select whichever judge they like, as the judge concerned must be released from their duties by the Supreme Court. This could pose problems in the case, for example, of the one female member of this body, as their release would upset an already deeply unbalanced Supreme Court in terms of gender. In terms of finding an appropriate individual for a non-judge-led inquiry, not much was discussed, though all are aware that the Home Office have received a large number of nominations currently being considered.
Obviously the last two chairs appointed resigned on grounds (at least in part) of severe conflicts of interests based upon others who they knew or were related to, whose actions or testimony are likely to play a significant role in the inquiry. O’Brien made the reasonable point that whoever else is chosen as chair, whether a judge or non-judge, are unlikely to have no connections whatsoever to anyone or any organisation falling under the scope of the inquiry, if the individual concerned is to be someone with the required degree of expertise and experience. To which I raised the question of whether the possibility of appointing a chair from outside of the UK (in particular from a Commonwealth country, with a similar legal system) was being considered. The major argument presented against this option had to do with the significantly increased difficulties involved in the vetting process – police files and other relevant documentation are much less easily available when these are held under a different jurisdiction. With this in mind, it was argued that were a chair from outside the UK to be considered, the whole process would take quite significantly longer, and the dangers of overlooking some major conflicts of interest would be increased. From this, it looks unlikely that the new chair will be sought from abroad.
The issue of schedule for appointing the new chair is highly important. O’Brien clarified in response to a question that in the event of a new government and new Home Secretary, the latter could certainly cancel or change the nature of the inquiry – that is in their powers. If, however, the inquiry is already underway and has statutory powers, this would be much harder (though not impossible) for them to do. With this in mind, he was prepared to give an assurance that the Home Office are treating as a matter of urgency the appointment of a new chair before Parliament goes into recess at the end of March.
In terms of the scope of the inquiry, it was made clear that this is focused upon abuse occurring in institutions, not familial abuse. This is in no sense to imply that the latter is any less important or prevalent, just that it takes different forms and requires different types of investigations. Some attendees raised some complicated cases which blur the boundaries between familial/private and institutional abuse, especially in religious contexts. Whilst the basic position was restated, my recollection is that these types of cases might be able to be considered, some of which might be considered institutional abuse anyhow.
Of great important to all is the issue of support provided by the inquiry to survivors who opt to talk about their own experiences. The Home Office are currently consulting with the Department of Health as to the best way to provide this, and are aware that at present this appears to be the exclusive responsibility of survivor organisations; they are prepared to take advice from these organisations on the best form such support will take. To set up the support system does however require the chair to be in place.
It is envisaged that the inquiry will look into thousands of institutions and speak to maybe tens of thousands of individuals. Whilst the issue of whether the cut-off date should be extended was not discussed further in any detail during the period I was able to remain, O’Brien mentioned that for some people, the scope of the inquiry was too broad; for others it was too narrow. No firm decision in respect to this appears to have been made yet.
Where those giving evidence to the inquiry make allegations against individuals connected to institutions, these will generally be taken to the police afterwards, but this does not mean that the names of those who make the allegations will also be given to the police (in some cases the police may simply be instructed that they should investigate a particular institution). It is understood that some individuals may not wish to take their allegations to the police, and this would naturally be respected. It was implied if not completely clearly stated that where allegations involve an individual who remains a danger to others that it may be necessary to take these to the police regardless. Further clarification is required on this subject.
We were told that in July, when this inquiry was first announced, the Scottish Government pledged full co-operation, and there is no reason to think this position has changed (one should note the formation of a new Scottish Government with the resignation of former First Minister Alex Salmond following the September referendum). This co-operation would apparently extend to making available any information and documentation required. This may cover some matters for public institutions, but in the event of a statutory inquiry in England and Wales, the statutory powers would not extend to Scotland. This could mean that, for example, some Scottish legal institutions would not be bound to participate even where their activities have implications outside of Scotland (consider, for example, the case of former Scottish Solicitor General, the late Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, whose name has been linked to abuse allegations both north and south of the border).
The regularly touted suggestion of a Royal Commission to cover all parts of the United Kingdom and associated territories is, we were told, only possible if the different regions with devolved legislation agree. Scotland could be included in the over-arching inquiry, but only with the agreement of the Scottish Government. The Royal Commission in Australia, which covered the whole of the country, was apparently only possible because each of the states agreed.
With this in mind, it is time for survivors, representatives, campaigners, journalists and politicians all to put pressure upon Nicola Sturgeon to announce either a separate inquiry or that Scotland will be included in the large inquiry. It is not entirely clear which member of the Scottish cabinet would take direct responsibility for a Scottish child abuse inquiry, but it be likely to be either Cabinet Secretary for Education & Lifelong Learning Angela Constance, or Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing & Sport Shona Robison MSP. These politicians should also be repeatedly questioned on whether they will support such an inquiry.
These are all the principal points I recall being discussed. It was a productive meeting, as it would appear have been earlier meetings with others. I continue to urge all survivors and others with a direct interest in the process to engage with the Home Office and the Inquiry Secretariat. It is by engaging that we can hopefully work to ensure the best type of inquiry, and above all for this to be instituted prior to the General Election in May 2015.
[Updated: I am immensely grateful to Peter McKelvie, Liz Davies, Martin Walkerdine and @Snowfaked (on Twitter) for providing extra information which has helped to fill in gaps in my earlier account]
I do intend at some point to publish a comprehensive account of all that can be ascertained about the life and activities of the sinister figure of Peter Righton, perhaps the most important of all figures in terms of the abuse scandals soon to be investigated by the national inquiry, and believed to have been a serial abuser himself with a great many victims. Both demands of time and also legal constraints do not permit this at present, but for now I wanted to publish some information and sources on Righton’s activities up until the early 1980s.
Following graduation, Righton undertook training in the probation service from 1951 to 1952, and served as a Probation Officer in Gray’s, Essex from 1952 to 1955, where he also ran a project to develop reading skills for children with learning difficulties. In January 1956 he began teaching at Gaveston Hall, near Horsham in West Sussex, but was only in this position until July of that year. In Righton’s diaries, he lists boys he abused whilst at Gaveston Hall. The circumstances of his departure are unclear; after leaving he retreated for six months to the Society of Saint Francis, a closed order (all information courtesy of Peter McKelvie).
Righton re-emerged in January 1957 to teach at Cuddesdon College near Oxford. Soon afterwards (in the same year), however he moved to teach English at Redhill, a school for disturbed boys in Maidstone, Kent. Righton had taken a range of vulnerable pupils under his wing, and Mark Thewliss claims he was abused by Righton there from the age of 12. Righton’s diaries list boys he abused at both Cuddesdon and Redhill (source Peter McKelvie; see the Inside Story documentary below for more accounts of Righton’s activities at Redhill). He left Redhill discreetly on April 8th, 1963, resigning his position (source Peter McKelvie) (not 1964 as mistakenly mentioned before). In July 1963, a police investigation began into complaints against Righton of abuse; around time he wrote several potential suicide notes admitting having done harm to boys. However, Righton was able to get the investigation dropped after having lunch with a police inspector (Source McKelvie).
The report by Tom Bateman for the BBC Radio 4 Today earlier this week made clear that as early as 1970, Righton was already credited as giving ‘considerable assistance’ to a Home Office report (Advisory Council on Child Care: Research and Development Committee; Community Homes Project, Second Report (London: Home Office Children’s Department, April 1970). The relevant chapter is printed below.
In October 1971, here listed as a ‘lecturer in residential care’ for the National Institute for Social Work, and ‘director-designate of the centre to be established by the National Children’s Bureau later this year’, Righton addressed a social services conference organized by the County Councils Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations, arguing for integration of social workers with residential home staff, and against too-frequent placing of those with social, physical and mental handicaps in residential homes. He also thought children ‘could be greatly helped in a residential unit’.
In 1972, Righton published ‘Parental and other roles in residential care’, in The Parental Role: Conference Papers (London: National Children’s Bureau, 1972), pp. 13-17 (Peter Righton – Parental and Other Roles in Residential Care). Here he wrote about the shift during last 25 years away from ‘total substitute care’ towards ‘planned alternative provision’, with child placed in open community with frequent access to their own parents. Righton argued that many still believed that substitute parenting is central role of residential worker, and that the family is good model for a residential unit. He questioned this – saying that it is impossible to provide ‘a relationship of the desirable uniqueness, continuity and intensity in a residential setting’, mentioning that the majority of children in care still have their own parents and maintain some sort of relationship with them. Righton argued that it would cause conflict by having ‘two competing sets of adults’ trying to outdo each other. He preferred to see residential care as ‘alternative caring ‘sui generis’ rather than as substitute family care’. It has been suggested to me by some experts in child care that the substitute parent model helped children feel safe from abuse and mistreatment in care; Righton’s concern to move away from this model may well have been another strategy to facilitate the ability of himself and others to sexually exploit children in residential care.
This same year, Righton also had a letter published in The Listener (June 29th, 1972), in which he expressed his fierce objection to Lord Hailsham’s views on homosexuality (my profound thanks to Daniel de Simone for locating this); Righton would use claims of homophobia more widely to silence critics of his relatively overt exploitation of young boys.
Also in 1973, Righton gave the Barnardo’s Annual Lecture (Edward Pilkington, ‘Shadow of the Attic’, The Guardian, June 1st, 1994); the title was ‘A Continuum of Care’, which was published the following year (Peter Righton, A Continuum of Care: The Link between Field and Residential Work (London: Barnardo’s, 1974)). This year, he also published Counselling Homosexuals: A Study (London: Bedford Square Press, 1973).
On March 8th, 1973, Righton gave a talk on ‘Co-operation in child care’, for the British Association of Social Workers Conference at St. Williams’ College, York (Residential Social Work, Vol. 13 (1973), p. 63). In September 1973, he argued that children’s homes were like ‘ghettos’ which ‘stigmatize’, because they are deprived of being part of a normal family. As a remedy of this, Righton believed such homes ‘should be made as open as possible to people in the immediate neighbourhood, and to the families and friends of the children living there’; and ‘Staff and children should be encouraged to go out to meet people and residential schools should take both children needing special substitute care and those needing boarding education’, all of which (not, of course, said by Righton) would ease the access of paedophile predators to them.
From 1976 to 1985, and especially from 1976 to 1979, Righton published regular articles in Social Work Today, which are all collected here. Of particular note is his article ‘Sex and the residential social worker’, Social Work Today, February 15th, 1977, thus written during Righton’s period on the PIE Executive Committee. Citing a 1975 article by then Lecturer in Social Work at Brunel University Leonard F. Davis seeking to legitimise sexualised touching of children in care (Leonard F. Davis – Touch, Sexuality and Power in Residential Settings, British Journal of Social Work, Vol. 5, No. 4 (1975), pp. 397-411 – Davis himself acknowledged Righton’s advice in the preparation of the paper; he is listed as having ‘recently completed the Course in Educational Studies at the National Institute for Social Work’, so may have been one of Righton’s students), Righton argued ‘‘Provided there is no question of exploitation, sexual relationships freely entered into by residents – including adolescents – should not be a matter for automatic inquiry’. Amazingly, several responses to this were essentially sympathetic to Righton’s position (see letters from March 15th and 22nd, 1977; another by an A. Whitaker, published on April 12th, 1977, was sharply critical, but the editor added a note at the end disputing whether this letter accurately represented Righton’s views).
In the mid-1970s, fellow social worker Ann Goldie was present at a dinner party with Righton, who confided to her that he had engaged in sexual relations with eight or nine boys in residential care homes. Knowing that Goldie was a lesbian, Righton (rightly) trusted a group loyalty when giving this information. Daphne Statham had first encountered Righton in 1966 and frequently thereafter, and admitted that she had had suspicions (especially when Righton mentioned about a ‘motorbike club’), but didn’t enquire further, something she later came to bitterly regret (Pilkington, ‘Shadow of the Attic‘). A similar story was related by Stewart Payne and Eileen Fairweather, of Righton’s being able to be quite blatant about his activities in the knowledge that some other fellow lesbians or gays, or feminists, would not break ranks (Payne and Fairweather, ‘Silence that cloaked child sex conspiracy’, Evening Standard, May 27th, 1994).
As well as the Social Work Today pieces, Righton would in 1976 co-edit a volume with Sonia Morgan, Child Care; Concerns and Conflicts (London: Hodder Education, 1976), and publish an article ‘Sexual minorities and social work’, Health and Social Services Journal, February 28th, 1976, pp. 392-393. At some point prior to 1977, Righton also sat on the Central Council for Education in Training and Social Work (Peter Righton, ‘Positive and Negative Aspects in Residential Care’, Social Work Today Vol. 8, No. 37 (June 28th, 1977), cited in Lucy Robinson, Gay Men and the Left in Post-War Britain: How the Personal got Political (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011)); he also spoke at a conference in Doncaster in June 1977 jointly organised by Doncaster metropolitan borough and Yorkshire region of the Residential Care Association, called ‘Residential care – resource or last resort?’, where anotehr speaker was Janie Thomas (‘Residental care – resource or last resort?’, Social Work Today, Vol. 8, No. 37 (June 28th, 1977), p. 8). On October 16th, 1978, Righton gave a talk to the Camden and Islington branch of the British Association of Social Workers on ‘Links, conflict and relationships between residential and fieldwork’, in the Royal Free Hospital in London (Social Work Today, October 10th, 1978); on 20th March, 1979, he spoke to the Croydon and East Surrey branch of BASW on whether ‘The farmer and the cowboy can be friends?’ at Rees House, Croydon (Social Work Today, March 20th, 1979)
In 1977, Righton also participated in the London Medical Group’s annual conference, on this occasion the subject being ‘Human Sexuality’, speaking alongside agony aunt Claire Rayner amongst others (M. Papouchado, ‘Annual Conference of the LMG: Human Sexuality’, Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 3 (1977), pp. 153-154).
In 1979, Righton sat on a steering committee to establish a course for training staff to work with disturbed young people, together with John Rea Price, director of Islington Social Services, 1972-92, subsequently the Director of the National Children’s Bureau. Other’s on the committee included G Godfrey Isaacs, chairman of Peper Harow, Mary Joynsons, director of child care for Barnardos, Janet Mattinson, Tavistock Centre, and Nick Stacey (see Social Work Today, April 3rd, 1979 (see links above), and the advert below, from The Guardian, March 28th, 1979).
The ‘Barclay Report’ of 1980, Social Workers : Their Role & Tasks : the report of a working party set up in October 1980 at the request of the Secretary of State for Social Services by the National Institute for Social Work ; under the chairmanship of Peter M. Barclay (London : National Institute by Bedford Square Press, 1981/1982 [printing]), included the following text: ‘We pay tribute to the work of our Secretary, Mr Bob King, of Mr Peter Righton, formerly Director of Education at the National Institute, who has shouldered a considerable drafting burden and of Miss Carol Whitwill, their personal secretary and helper’.
From 1996 to 2002, he had an address of 1 Wheatfields, Rickinghall, Diss IP22 1EN, but also in 1998, he appears to have lived at an 8 Badsey Road, together with another person called Wendy C. Hall-Barnes (source Martin Walkerdine). He would move to Hamworthy, Poole, Dorset, in 2003, where he would die on October 12th, 2007.