[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.
Righton was born in June 1926 as Paul Pelham Righton, in Kensington . He grew up in Kent , and attended Ardingly College, West Sussex from 1940 to 1944, where he was a ‘favourite’ for history master and A dormitory housemaster, Denis Henry d’Abedhil Williams. From 1944 to 1948, Righton served in the Royal Artillery, based initially for his six week’s primary training at barracks in Lincoln from April 1944 (Righton, ‘Working with the ‘misfits”, Social Work Today, May 6th, 1985); no further details are known at present other than that his rank upon demobilisation was Lieutenant. By 1948, aged 22, Righton was living in 19 Garway Road, in the Paddington area of London (my thanks to Martin Walkerdine for this information). That year, Righton went to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics, graduating in 1951 (with a second class degree), and receiving his MA in 1955 .
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).
After leaving Redhill Righton worked for two years (1963-65) as a tutor and organiser for the Workers’ Educational Association in Wiltshire; his address was given as North Flat, Marden Grange, Marden, Devizes, Wiltshire.
From 1965 onwards, Righton established his influence within the world of social work and child care. He became a tutor in charge of a two-year course for child care officers at Keele University from 1965-68 (see Inside Story below); how and when exactly he had become qualified in this field, are who were his referees, are questions the answer to which remains unclear.
then as. From 1968 to 1971 he was a Senior Lecturer at the National Institute of Social Work, a government-funded educational and research centre. On October 11th 1968, as Paul Pelham Righton, he gave a talk at Shotton Hall, Peterlee, entitled ‘A New Deal for Children: Thoughts on the White Paper ‘Children in Trouble” (Paul Pelham Righton, A new deal for children Reflections on the White Paper ‘Children in trouble’ a paper given at Shotton Hall on 11th October 1968 (Shrewsbury: Shotton Hall Publications, 1968); he also published an article entitled ‘The Need for Training’, F.G. Lennhoff and J.C. Lampen (eds), Learning to Live: A Sketchbook of Residential Work with Children (Shrewsbury: Shotton Hall, 1968), pp. 13-16, which is reproduced on the Online Journal of the International Child and Youth Care Network, Issue 95 (December 2006). In 1969, Righton published an article entitled ‘Social work and scientific concepts’ in Social Work, Vol. 26, p. 3. . He also at some point in the late 1960s started working at North London Polytechnic (now London Metropolitan University), based at Ladbroke House, Highbury Grove, leaving the institution in 1970 (source Liz Davies).
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.
Between 1971 and 1974, Righton was a development officer at National Children’s Bureau and head of two-person Children’s Centre (‘The National Children’s Bureau’, Evening Standard, May 12th, 1993).
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 1972, Righton took part in a published debate with Antony Grey (of the Sexual Law Reform Society and Albany Trust, who would later fund PIE – see articles here and here), and Kevin O’Dowd over the role of therapy. At another time during this year, Righton shared a platform (New Society, Vol. 21 (1972), p. 60) with Keith Joseph, then Secretary of State for Social Services, and who has himself been named as an abuser according to at least one source (Matthew Drake, ‘Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet bigwigs named in Leon Brittan paedo files’, Sunday Mirror, July 24th, 2014)
In January 1973, together with Ronald Bennett, QC, Righton was called to conduct an independent inquiry into allegations of violence by staff against boys in Larchgrove Assessment Centre on the outskirts of Glasgow; the report found that 13 out of 30 allegations were proved and was highly critical of the corporation for allowing conditions inducive to violence to occur; later reports found that John Porteus, a houseparent, had sexually abused boys at Larchgrove in the late 1960s, and others testified to sexual abuse during this time. Righton and Bennett’s report did not deal with sexual abuse, and it was possible for a convicted abuser, Robert William Henderson, to gain a position towards the end of 1973, where he formed ‘an indecent association with a 13-year-old boy’. Glasgow City Council are currently looking for any documentation connected with the case, whilst the council and Scottish government have called upon anyone who suffered abuse there to contact the police; it has been revealed that there are claims that staff of both genders were involved in the abuse of boys at the home (see ‘Notorious paedophile headed Scottish care home inquiry’, Sunday Herald, August 24th, 2014).
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 1974 to 1982, Righton was Director of Education for the National Council of Social Work (‘In Residence’, Social Work Today, February 4th, 1985)
In 1974, Righton visited Algeria in April, and published ‘Child Care in Algeria’, International Social Work, Vol. 17, No. 4 (October 1974), pp. 51-53. (Peter Righton – Child Care in Algeria). He also gave the David Willis Lecture for the Planned Environment Therapy Trust, at New Barns School, Toddington, Gloucestershire (where he would later become a governor, and which was closed down following a police raid in 1992), published as ‘Planned environment therapy: a reappraisal’, in Association of Workers with Maladjusted Children Journal (1975) (see James S. Atherton, Review of Perspectives on Training for Residential Work, British Journal of Social Work, Vol. 8, No. 2 (1988), pp. 227-229). From 1974 to 1982, his address was listed as 48 Barbican Road, Greenford (near Ealing, West London) (source Ealing Local History through Martin Walkerdine). This also became in 1975 the address of the organisation London Friend, which had been founded in 1971 (one of the co-founders was Mike Launder, a social worker activist; another was the well-known writer Jack Babuscio (1937-90), though it is not clear whether Babuscio did not resign before Righton’s involvement) as the counselling wing of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (Rosemary Auchmuty, ‘London’, in George E. Haggerty, John Beynon and Douglas Eisner (eds), Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia, Vol. 1 (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000) , p. 477), but split from CHE that year 1975 (London Friend, ‘LGB&T milestones – a timeline’)
In October of that year, the Paedophile Information Exchange was founded in Edinburgh by Ian Campbell Dunn and Michael Hanson (Marcello Mega, ‘Paedophile list set up by gay rights leader’, Sunday Times, July 6th, 1997); the group would soon afterwards relocate from Edinburgh to London, and Keith Hose would take over as chair. Righton was part of the group (member number 51, and a member of the Executive Committee, by mid-1976 at the latest (‘It’s the Magnificent Six’, Understanding Paedophilia, Vol. 1, No. 2 (June-July 1976), p. 7), serving as ‘Organiser of prison-hospital visits/general correspondence/PIE befriending’; in May 1977, he stepped down from the committee (at the same time as Hose stepped down), by which time his position was listed as ‘Community Liaison Officer’ (‘Stop Press – Stop Press’, Understanding Paedophilia, Vol. 1, No. 4 (1977), p. 12).
In October 1975, Righton became chair of a working group for the mental health association MIND, with the assistance of the King’s Fund Centre; this led to the publication of Assessment of Children and Their Families: A Report Produced by a MIND Working Party Under the Chairmanship of P. Righton (London; MIND, 1975). MIND also organised for Keith Hose to speak at an event called Mind Out in 1975 (Annette Rawstrone, ‘Paul Farmer of Mind apologises after report that pro-paedophile leader spoke at 1975 event’, Third Sector, July 23rd, 2014). In 1977, London Friend’s sister organisation Cardiff Friend, and the MIND Office in Wales, organised a day seminar entitled ‘New approaches to homosexuality’; speakers were Righton, Michael Launder, and Rachel Beck, co-founder of the then recently established service Lesbian Line (‘Seminar on homosexuality’, Social Work Today, Vol. 9, No. 11 (November 1st, 1977)).
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 1979, he would further co-edit a volume with Margaret Richards entitled Social Work Education in Conflict (London: National Institute for Social Work, 1979), in which he published articles ‘Knowledge About Teaching and Learning in Social Work Education’, pp. 1-18 (Peter Righton – Knowledge about Teaching and Learning in Social Work Education), and ‘Four Approaches to Curriculum Design’, pp. 62-80 (Peter Righton – Four Approaches to Curriculum Design), and edited a further book on Studies in Environment Therapy (London: Planned Environment Therapy Trust, 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’.
And then in 1981, Righton published his most blatant article to date, ‘The adult’, in Brian Taylor (ed), Perspectives on Paedophilia (London: Batsford, 1981), pp. 24-40. Drawing upon an unholy canon of paedophile writers, Righton made the case for sex with children being unharmful, in his characteristically elegant manner. No-one who read this could have been in any doubt about Righton’s inclinations (or the nature of the volume in general).
One might have thought that one so flagrantly brandishing their sexual interest in children, speaking about it shamelessly to various others, publishing two articles making this clear, and also having been publicly identified as on the Executive Committee of the Paedophile Information Exchange, would have had difficulty being accepted as an expert on child care and child sexuality. But not at all; in 1984, he was one of the major speakers at a conference on Child Sexual Abuse (alongside fellow PIE member and academic Ken Plummer). Righton’s career continued to flourish through the 1980s, and in 1991 he was invited to give evidence to the Pindown inquiry into sexual and physical abuse in Staffordshire (‘Britain’s top kiddies home expert is evil child-sex perv’, The Sun, September 17th, 1992). He helped with translation and editing of some writings on music produced by Donald Mitchell, a major figure involved with the estate of Benjamin Britten and the Britten-Pears Foundation (having been Britten’s publisher); later he would be a co-translator of the volume Truus de Leur and Henriette Straub (ed) Keep these Letters, Please! A Written portrait of the Concertgebouw Orchestra 1904-1921, translated Ian Borthwick, Nicholas Pretzel and Peter Righton (Amsterdam: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, c. 1998).
At the time of his arrest for importation of child abuse images in 1992, Righton was also a senior tutor with the Open University (previously the employer of PIE chair Tom O’Carroll, and who had published Righton’s volume Working with Children and Young People in 1990), working on a project to do with residential children (Peter Burden and Peter Rose, .’Porn Squad quiz Child Care Expert’, Daily Mail, May 28th, 1992); James Golden, ‘Hoard of filth in childcare expert’s home’, Daily Mail, September 17th, 1992). Chris Andrews, of BASW, described Righton at the time of his arrest as follows: He [Righton] is a highly respected figure within the residential field, particularly working with highly disturbed children. He is very much concerned with therapeutic work in child care’ (cited in Burden and Rose, ‘Porn Squad quiz Child Care Expert’).
The Department of Health and then-Health-Secretary Virginia Bottomley were told in 1993 about an influential network involving Righton. but appear to have done nothing. Nor does there appear to have been much action following the disturbing Inside Story documentary on Righton broadcast the following year, with various testimonies of Righton’s victims . After Righton was convicted, receiving a £900 fine, in September 1992, he was able to relocate on the estate of Lord Henniker in 1993, and continue to have contact with children in care, many of who (not least from Islington) were regularly brought to the estate (Stewart Payne and Eileen Fairweather, ‘Country house hideaway of disgraced care chief’, Evening Standard, May 6th, 1993).
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.
Politicians, social workers, civil servants and many others have huge questions to answer about how a figure like Righton could manage to operate with apparent impunity for such a long period of time when his real nature was far from hidden, preying upon the most disturbed and vulnerable boys, and manipulating child care policy towards his own exploitative ends. Righton has been linked to major scandals in Islington, Calderdale, Suffolk, Rochdale (also said by one survivor to have been friendly with Cyril Smith – Keir Mudie, ‘New victim links notorious paedophile Peter Righton to VIP child abuse network’, Sunday People, April 6th, 2013), North Wales (where MP Peter Morrison, Margaret Thatcher’s PPS, has alleged to have abused boys), Haute de la Garenne (Jersey), a series of public schools, networks in Sweden, Malta, Denmark and Holland, and more, and may be one of the worst offenders ever known in the UK, certainly one of the most influential in facilitating others. The existence of diaries kept by Righton on his ‘conquests’, as seen by Peter McKelvie at the time of his earlier investigation, was the impetus for Tom Watson’s October 2012 intervention in Parliament, which more than anything else set in motion the process which has led to the inquiry which has now been announced.
Police collected a whole seven boxes of evidence during the raid on Righton’s home. It is imperative that the full extent of his activities (and also those of the equally sinister and highly-connected Morris Fraser), and the many lessons to be learned, are central to the inquiry.
Below is a letter published in the Guardian from March 23rd, 1963, from a Peter Righton, here described as ‘Tutor, Organiser for Wiltshire The Workers’ Educational Association’, address in Devizes, Wiltshire. It is not entirely clear if this is the same Righton, but it seems likely [Edit: since publishing this article, it has been confirmed to me from sources close to the early 1990s investigation that this is definitely the same Righton, and the correct address for him from that time]. Righton had taught at Redhill School, Maidstone, from 1957 to 1962 (see the name gallery at a site for the school), apparently not leaving in 1964 as earlier reported (Stewart Payne and Eileen Fairweather, ‘Country house hideaway of disgraced care chief’, Evening Standard, May 6th, 1993), so it is perfectly possible that he had relocated in Wiltshire and taken up a position with the WEA at this time. Not a great deal is known about Righton’s activities around this time, before he became established in the world of social work and child care by the late 1960s at the latest, so this may help fill in some gaps.
The tone of the letter and the subject matter is entirely characteristic of Righton’s writings elsewhere.