Decision not to arrest Greville Janner in 1991 – then Attorney General and DPP need to answer questionsPosted: August 8, 2014
[PLEASE NOTE: In no sense does this post imply any guilt or innocence on the part of those against who abuse allegations have been made. It is simply about questions needing to be answered so that public can have confidence that allegations of abuse involving politicians and other VIPs are treated just like those involving less prominent persons]
A report by Sean O’Neill in today’s Times alleges that in 1991 a last minute decision was made not to arrest then Labour MP Greville Janner, now Lord Janner of Braunstone, over allegations of child abuse:
Greville Janner, now Lord Janner of Braunstone, was interviewed by appointment in the company of his solicitor as part of a major investigation into the abuse of boys at homes in Leicestershire in 1991.
A number of sources with knowledge of the case have confirmed that officers had wanted to arrest the Leicester West MP, which would have given them the power to search his home and offices. Legal advice was sought on taking the rare step of arresting an MP and it is understood that the advice from senior counsel was that it was an appropriate course of action. At the last minute the planned arrest was blocked.
Arrangements were made instead for Lord Janner to attend a police station by appointment with his solicitor, Sir David Napley.
The decision-making process is being re-examined by Leicestershire police as part of Operation Enamel, which is looking into allegations against Lord Janner and others.
Kelvyn Ashby, the retired officer who was senior investigator on the original case, confirmed that he was in contact with the Operation Enamel team but declined to comment further. (Sean O’Neill, ‘Police ‘told not to arrest MP over abuse claims”, The Times, August 8th, 2014).
In May and July I blogged an extensive series of reports from the Frank Beck Trial and its aftermath. In that trial, a woman, herself alleging abuse by Beck, reported hearing an argument between a boy and Beck about visiting ‘a man called Greville Janner’ (Craig Seton, ‘Woman and two men accuse care officer of sex abuse’, The Times, September 27th, 1991). The boy apparently boasted that that he was a rent boy (Ian Katz, ”Abuse victims’ tell of their childhood torment’, The Guardian, September 27th, 1991). Beck then alleged that Janner had ‘buggered and abused’ one boy ‘for two solid years’ (‘MP Janner abuse child, says sex case man’, Press Association, October 30th, 1991; ‘Home boss says MP abused boy’, The Times, October 31st, 1991; ‘Man in sex trial accuses Greville Janner of abuse’, The Independent, October 31st, 1991). Beck said ‘I had spent two years putting right the damage that man had done to that boy and he (Janner) had the bloody audacity to complain to me because the boy had been down to London and met him accidentally. I was incensed’, that Janner had written to Beck, and the letter had been put on the boy’s social services file (”I wrote to MP over abused boy’ – children’s home chief’, Press Association, October 31st, 1991; ‘Sex trial man ‘wrote to MP over abused boy’, The Independent, November 1st, 1991; Ian Katz, ‘Home chief says he wrote to MP about abused boy’, The Guardian, November 1st, 1991).
Beck then denied in court attempting to blackmail Janner over the relationship, and that he had tried to bring Janner and the boy together in 1989, claiming instead that Janner had sent the boy £50 (‘Children’s home head denies trying to blackmail MP’, The Guardian, November 2nd, 1991). A few days later, Beck claimed that the police were hiding an affair between the boy (identified as aged 15 at the end of the affair) and Janner, about who the police had told him they knew, that the boy had stayed with Janner in the Holiday Inn in Leicester, that Beck wrote to Janner after the boy had married and become a father, thinking that Janner might feel guilty enough to help the boy find employment. Throughout, Janner’s lawyers made clear that they had advised him not to comment during the trial (‘Police covered up MP’s sex with boy, ex-children’s worker alleges’, The Guardian, November 5th, 1991). Mr A (aged 30 at the time of the trial), who was the boy at the time, appeared in court and alleged that Janner had indeed abused him from when he was 13, saying he had been fondled when he slept at Janner’s home after meeting him at the House of Commons, and had been buggered in a double bed in a hotel in Janner’s constituency and twice during a lecture tour in Scotland. Janner was also claimed to have ‘simulated sex’ five or six times during the period he knew the boy, who said in general, when asked if he liked what happend, ‘No, I did not, and I tried to stop it’. He said Janner had given him money, toys, clothing and concert tickets, and taken him to expensive restaurants. One Christmas present of a 10-speed racing bicycle had been returned by Beck after Janner had allegedly sent it to Mr A. Mr A claimed to have first met Janner when staying at a children’s home in Wigston, Leicester, when he was a volunteer for a community project that Janner had launched. He also affirmed Beck’s allegation about having met Janner often at the Holiday Inn, and that they would use the hotel swimming pool, with the agreement of the management, when it was supposed to be closed, sharing naked showers, washing each other down. Mr A said he had stolen money from Janner’s wallet as revenge, after which Janner had warned that he would stop seeing him if he did it again; there were said to have been no more sexual incidents after this. Beck claimed to have reported the relationship between the boy and Janner to Dorothy Edwards, the then Director of Social Services for Leicestershire. Mr A claimed that weekly trips had been arranged for him to the MP’s London home and to the Holiday Inn by Barbara Fitt, then Officer-in-Charge of Station Road children’s home, Wigston, Leicester, though conceded that this would have been impossible with the first visits, as Fitt had only taken over the home four months before he left it. Mr A also said that his own behaviour had deteriorated, and he had sex with both boys and girls there, and often ran away, before moving to Ratcliffe Road home (which was run by Beck). Beck had claimed that he had rescued the boy from abuse by Janner and prevented further contact; Mr A himself said that Beck had put him on the right path as a teenager, counselled him over his relationship with Janner, and stopped him seeing him. (Craig Seton, ‘Former boy in care says Labour MP sexually abused him’, The Times, November 9th, 1991; Jack O’Sullivan, ‘Man tells of sex sessions with MP while in care’, The Independent, November 9th, 1991; ‘Abuse care witness tells of sex with MP: Beck ‘rescued boy from affair with Greville Janner’, The Guardian, November 9th, 1991).
A letter was produced in court by Mr A, signed ‘Safe journey, Love Greville’, dated July 7th, 1975, when the boy was aged 13, allegedly after they had slept together; he said that he had kept other letters during their relationship. Mr A said that he had written to Janner after Beck’s arrest, affirming ‘I believe Mr Beck to be innocent and should not be treated in the way he is being treated, and Mr Janner may have been able to help him in some way.’ There was however some confusion over whether he recalled staying at Janner’s house one or two times (‘Witness in abuse trial ‘kept letters from MP”, The Independent, November 12th, 1991; ”Janner letter’ in court’, The Guardian, November 12th, 1991).
Peter Joyce QC, for the prosecution, told the jury that the claims of abuse by Janner, which he referred to as the ‘great Janner diversion’, were meaningless, and an attempt to ‘divert attention’ from Beck (‘Abuse claims against MP ‘a red herring”, The Independent, November 16th, 1991; ‘Abuse claim against MP ‘red herring’, The Guardian, November 16th, 1991). John Black, for the defence, asked the jury to decide whether Mr A knew Janner, visited Janner’s house, and so on, emphasising the importance of the letter, and asking them to consider whether Beck had really put a stop to the relationship (‘MP’s letter to boy ‘extraordinary’, The Guardian, November 19th, 1991).
Beck was found guilty of multiple charges of sexually and physically abusing boys and a girl in his care during a 13-year period (Craig Seton, ‘Children’s home head guilty of sexual abuse’, The Times, November 27th, 1991; Jack O’Sullivan, ‘Beck found guilty of sexual abuse of children in care’, The Independent, November 27th, 1991; Ian Katz, ‘Head of home guilty of abuse’, The Guardian, November 27th, 1991; Craig Seton, ‘Social worker raped teenager’, The Times, November 28th, 1991; Jack O’Sullivan, ‘Children’s homes head convicted of raping girl in care’, The Independent, November 28th, 1991; Ian Katz, ‘Head of children’s homes guilty of rape: Abuse case jury’s third night in hotel to ponder charges’, The Guardian, November 28th, 1991; ‘Five more verdicts on Beck’, The Times, November 29th, 1991).
On November 30th, 1991, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (who was then David Gandy***), announced that they were to take no action against Janner, but also that Janner had been interviewed by Leicestershire police at his own request over the allegations made by Mr A, a file had been sent to the DPP, and that other sources had also indicated that no evidence had been found by police that would substantiate the allegations (Craig Seton, ‘DPP has no case against Janner’, The Times, November 30th, 1991). However, another report indicated that the Crown Prosecution Service were then still deciding whether launch proceedings, and would make a decision the following week (Jack O’Sullivan and Judy Jones, ‘Head of children’s homes jailed for life, five times; Inquiries ordered into Britain’s biggest sexual abuse scandal ‘involving 200 victims”, The Independent, November 30th, 1991). But no charges were brought, and Janner affirmed his innocence in the House of Commons on December 3rd, 1991:
As the House knows, Frank Beck of Leicester was convicted of a series of filthy and most serious crimes and received what must be a near record sentence—five life terms and a total of 24 years’ imprisonment. He called Paul Winston as a witness. Long ago, when Winston was a deprived youngster living in a Leicestershire children’s home, my family and I tried, unsuccessfully, to help him. Soon after, he was placed in a home run by Beck. After 15 years of Beck’s influence—including a period when Winston lodged in Beck’s private home—and after I had refused to provide Beck with references and shortly before Beck’s trial was due to begin, they combined to make disgraceful, contemptible and totally untrue allegations of criminal conduct against me.
Their motive was made blazingly clear by a letter that I received only yesterday from a former cellmate of Beck’s. I do not know the man, but he took it on himself to communicate with me. He writes that Beck told him that he—Beck —was going to frame me. According to Beck, that would take the light off him. To that end, Beck had enlisted the help of Winston. The former cellmate also wrote that the police knew that he was willing to give evidence to that effect if the Crown thought it necessary to call him. In the event, it did not, but the allegations against me were precisely as the prosecution alleged in Beck’s trial —an attempted diversion from the reality of Beck’s guilt. Both verdict and sentence showed—happily—that the attempt failed totally.
226 However, is it not horrendous that Beck and Winston were able to make such terrible and lying accusations against me in court and that the media could, and with honourable exceptions did, report these falsehoods, all under the cloak of absolute privilege? I had effectively no legal rights in the matter, and I was not allowed even to nail the lies. No wonder many people were mystified by my uncharacteristic silence —it was imposed by the cruel operation of the rules on contempt. (see the transcript from the proceedings in Hansard)
Janner was roundly defended by Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East (neighbouring Janner’s constituency of Leicester West), Gwyneth Dunwoody, then Labour MP for Crewe and Natwich, Merlyn Rees, then Labour MP for Morley and Leeds South, Patrick Cormack, then Conservative MP for Staffordshire South, Alex Carlile, then Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomery, Ivan Lawrence, then Conservative MP for Burton, and various others, as well as the then Solicitor-General, Sir Nicholas Lyell, in a debate on contempt of court. Whilst no change to the contempt laws occurred as a result, the house appeared united in accepting that the allegations against Janner were entirely false and that he had been unjustly smeared in court; there were cheers in the Commons in support of him (Alan Travis, ‘Janner cheered in Commons’, The Guardian, December 3rd, 1991). On December 7th, it was definitely confirmed that police were to take no action against Janner (‘Janner: Police confirm no action’, Press Association, December 7th, 1991).
Beck, who had received five life sentences and a further twenty-four years in prison, protested his innocence to the last, and died in prison, apparently of a heart attack, in 1994; there were some who claim that he was murdered by other prisoners, though at present I have not had chance to check the sources of these claims.
More recently, as part of Operation Enamel, Janner’s house was searched in December 2013 (Paul Peachey, ‘Police investigating child abuse search peer Greville Janner’s home’, The Independent, December 20th, 2013) and also his offices at the House of Lords (Ben Endley, ‘Child abuse detectives raid Labour peer’s office in House of Lords’, Daily Mirror, June 21st, 2014).
In order for there to be confidence that proper procedure was followed in 1991, the then Attorney General Sir Patrick Mayhew (now Baron Mayhew of Twysden) and former Acting Director of Public Prosecutions David Gandy (and his predecessor Sir Allan Green), need to answer the allegations raised in O’Neill’s piece today. The suggestion that pressure was placed not to arrest a prominent MP (as in the case of the late Cyril Smith) is most disturbing, and should not be left unanswered, whether or not new charges are brought.
***On October 3rd, 1991, Sir Allan Green resigned as DPP after having been found kerb crawling. (Francis Gibb, ‘Green’s fall from grace shocks legal profession’, The Times, October 4th, 1991). His successor, Barbara Mills, was not appointed until February 1992 (Claire Dyer, ‘Top woman to replace Sir Allan Green as DPP’, The Guardian, February 7th, 1992); in the interim period, David Gandy, Green’s deputy, served as acting DPP (‘DPP Post advertised for first time’, Press Association, November 10th, 1991).
At the time of writing this (evening on Monday June 30th, 2014), it is the day before an important event in the House of Commons. Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk, co-author (with Matt Baker) of Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith (London: Biteback, 2014), is due (at 4:15 pm on Tuesday July 1st) to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee. Whilst the ostensible subject of this meeting is to do specifically with historical child abuse in Rochdale (Cyril Smith’s old constituency, now Danczuk’s), Danczuk has also written of how Smith was connected to the sinister figure of Peter Righton and a wider paedophile ring including prominent politicians (see this article by Watson in praise of Danczuk). In particular, this ring is thought to have frequented the notorious Elm Guest House in Barnes, South-West London, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and one name in particular of a very senior former cabinet minister from the Thatcher era (a name which I do not intend to share here) has been widely circulated around social media and the internet. This ex-minister has also been linked to a separate story concerning the rape of a woman known just as ‘Jane’ in 1967, but the police apparently have dropped any plans to prosecute (or even arrest or interview) the minister.
Back in April, Danczuk indicated to the Daily Mail that he might use Parliamentary Privilege to name the MP in question; in an interview given to The Independent a little over a week ago, he affirmed his intention to do so if asked, and may also name a further Labour politician involved in a separate abuse scandal (this is likely to be the former Blair-era cabinet minister alleged to have abused boys in a children’s home in Lambeth, run by paedophile Michael John Carroll, in which case experienced detective Clive Driscoll was taken off the case as he allegedly came to investigate the minister.
The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) has eleven members; five Conservatives (Nicola Blackwood, James Clappison, Michael Ellis, Lorraine Fullbrook and Mark Reckless), one Liberal Democrat (Julian Huppert) and five Labour (Chair Keith Vaz, Ian Austin, Paul Flynn, Yasmin Qureshi and David Winnick). Vaz has a particular connection as he was Solicitor for Richmond Council, and a parliamentary candidate for Richmond & Barnes around the time when the alleged events at Elm Guest House occurred (see the account of his career with primary sources, ‘Keith Vaz and the Mystery of Barnes Common’ at Spotlight). Three members of the HASC – Huppert, Flynn and Qureshi – have declared their support for a national inquiry into organised abuse; one member of the HASC has confirmed that Danczuk will be asked about visitors to Elm Guest House (Leftly, ‘MP will name politician ‘involved in child abuse”). This will be an important occasion at the HASC which may change the whole climate of opinion concerning abuse and the urgent need for an inquiry.
Yet at the eleventh hour, the Exaro news website, who have attempted to claim control and credit for all matters relating to the call for an inquiry (with the help of a few people never described more specifically than ‘Exaro’s twitter followers’), are calling upon Danczuk not to name the minister(s) in question, as well as claiming on Twitter that they have now got some special information which changes things (which of course they are not prepared to share). I will return to this in a moment.
First I want to respond to a blog post by Eric Joyce, MP for Falkirk . In response to a lobbying campaign of MPs to support a national inquiry into organised abuse, started by seven MPs (Conservative Zac Goldsmith and Tim Loughton, Liberal Democrat John Hemming and Tessa Munt, Labour Tom Watson and Danczuk, and Green Caroline Lucas), which was indeed reported by David Hencke for Exaro (David Hencke, MPs call on Teresa May to set up inquiry into child sex abuse’), a relatively organic campaign was started around the same time (beginning with a draft letter from earlier by another campaigner on another forum) which came to be initially about encouraging all those who agree to write to their own MPs and ask them to join the original seven. Some took the decision instead to send Tweets to all MPs on Twitter, which has certainly led to positive responses from some. In most cases, it is likely that a combination of the reminders on Twitter, together with letters sent to all MPs from Tim Loughton, information about the campaign e-mailed by various of us to MPs requesting it, and private discussions between MPs (not least between Tory MPs and Loughton, and Labour MPs and Watson) has led many to support the campaign, which some have announced on Twitter; at the time of writing the number stands at 123, though there has been only minimal coverage in the mainstream media, even in the wake of the latest Savile reports (such as this article by Robert Mendick and Eileen Fairweather in the Telegraph). Mark Watts, Editor-in-Chief at Exaro, who tweets as @exaronews as well as under his personal handle, has certainly been urging people to simply keep asking MPs Yes or No. Sometimes the Twitter campaign has got rather hysterical, with tweets which appear to scream at both politicians and journalists, sometimes accusing them of being supporters of child rape if they don’t reply, or don’t support this precise campaign. This mode of argument allows for no discussion, no reasonable and intelligent debate about the exact nature, remit and purpose of an inquiry, nothing more than screaming emotional blackmail, and serves no good purpose other than to try and bully politicians into agreeing. It is certainly not something with which I want to be associated, and shows Twitter at its worst. But this is what appears to have provoked Eric Joyce’s blog post.
Joyce’s primary objections to the demands of the original seven campaigners can be summarised as follows:
(a) they would undermine the Crown Prosecution Service’s consideration of an important police report presently before it (he does not make clear exactly which report this refers to).
(b) the campaign does not mention Savile of the issues implied by this case, and would thus miss these.
(c) it is focused entirely on historical rumours about ‘senior politicians’.
(d) it would exclude adult victims of Savile.
Then he also lays out wider objections to the actions of other campaigners (i.e. beyond the original seven MPs):
(i) they routinely use abusive bullying tactics, which are hardly persuasive.
(ii) it all has a ‘really sickening “get the pedos/cops/politicians” feel about it’ and ‘looks like a campaign designed to catch public attention for its own sake rather than a genuine effort to get at important truths’.
(iii) names of politicians have routinely been published online, which could wreck the lives of innocent people and destroy the case put by the police to the CPS.
(iv) the whole campaign is really a self-aggrandising exercise by Exaro, who have recently found that they cannot pay their one way, and have become a ‘schlock merchant’ who only really have one story, cynically waiting until the names of alleged ‘politician paedophiles’ were all over the internet before asking campaigners not to post or tweet them.
(v) there is some confusion between calls for other types of wide inquiry and this specific one, differences between which are papered over by Exaro.
I cannot deny that (i) is true of some campaigners, though this is definitely not a style I want anything to do with – nor with campaigners associated with the BNP, those who are homophobes, man-haters, paranoid conspiracy theorists, unconcerned about the difference between truth and fiction, and so on. One reason for becoming involved in abuse campaigning (over and above knowing a good deal of survivors sometimes very close to me, and becoming convinced that this was an issue bigger than simply individual perpetrators, in classical music and elsewhere), was the hope that it might be possible to avoid and go beyond tabloid-style hysteria over this inevitably highly emotive subject. As far as I am concerned, though, those who support vigilante action, capital punishment or other forms of cruel and unusual punishment, are no better than abusers themselves. However, the medium of Twitter, allowing only for 140 characters per tweet, can hardly do justice to this nuanced and complex subject, nor do I imagine (whatever some might think) that many MPs’ minds were changed purely by receiving a tweet from someone using a pseudonym; rather used this prompt to announce something they had already decided. I disdain (ii) for the same reasons, but realise that only by identifying prominent names is it likely that the whole campaign will gain wider attention with a public otherwise seeing celebrity names such as Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, Max Clifford and others. As things stand the campaign can resemble a cult, with various people frequenting small sub-sections of social media and Exaro, but unfortunately sometimes not realising how invisible this is to much of the wider public. Social media are certainly not the place to name names (coming to (iii)), but in light of the fact of many claims of failure of police to interview prominent figures, intelligence services sitting in on interviews, witnesses being threatened, important evidence going missing (including dossiers going to the Home Office), I do believe some more decisive action is needed now (more to follow on this in a moment).
I will come back to (iv) but will address (a)-(d) first. Objection (a) is unclearly specified and so cannot be responded to properly. There is no reason why the inquiry could not also look at Savile, certainly (there is plenty of reason to think there may be connections between his activities and those in other abuse scandals, not least his connections to senior politicians). And just because of the areas specified as requested to be included in the original letter from the seven MPs to Teresa May (which I have also posted below Joyce’s blog), such an inquiry could certainly be extended further. Re (c), The demands go well beyond historical cases involving politicians, dealing with a range of children’s homes, businessmen trafficking between countries, churches, public schools, and much more, so this criticism is wholly unfounded. The issue of adult victims is a serious one (also a big issue in the classical music world, abuse of all types in which is a particular area on which I have campaigned extensively), but I cannot believe an inquiry could not be adapted around this as well. I doubt many supporters have an absolutely clear idea of exactly the form the inquiry would take; rather it is the principle that this type of inquiry should happen which is being supported.
Returning to (iv); I do not really want to write too much about Exaro, as I certainly think some of their journalists – most notably David Hencke – do excellent work (see also Hencke’s blog), and do not share anything like as negative a view as does Joyce. I do have problems with the way in which Mark Watts, however, has attempted in a territorial fashion to claim complete control of the campaign as purely an Exaro initiative sustained through ‘Exaro’s twitter followers’, showing zero interest in a wider campaign involving e-mailing and constituents contacting their MPs (less ‘rapid-fire’ than anonymous tweets), whilst jealously guarding information for himself and trying to shore up a fledgling organisation, and tweeting with a rather boorish swagger which has unfortunate associations. Most posts or tweets by Watts try to steer the serious issues of organised abuse and urgent need for investigation into being self-promotion for Exaro, in a territorial manner which has perhaps dissuaded other media from taking an interest (most other journalists and broadcasters I have contacted have felt the story is not yet big enough to cover). When I first started being involved in abuse campaigning last year I was warned (not least by some senior journalists who I consulted) about two things in particular: (a) how some journalists will try and get you to do their work for them for free; and (b) how many people greatly exaggerate the importance of social media. Of both of these I am definitely convinced, but have known excellent journalists (including Hencke) with whom to work on stories and share information under fair conditions of confidence.
Sadly, with these lessons in mind, I do have reason for scepticism about Exaro on several fronts, which I would not bring up were it not for their eleventh-hour intervention. The Twitter campaign seems a typical example of their getting others to do their work for them (posing as campaigners rather than journalists) for free. Through the course of the last 18 months Exaro have promised major new developments, arrests, and built up to each new report in an extremely dramatic way. There have certainly been some important reports, for sure, not least those on ‘Jane’ (though this story does have its doubters) and also Mark Conrad’s earlier reports on links between Operations Fairbank and Fernbridge and the killings of Sydney Cooke, though much less coverage (or links to coverage by others) of issues involving Peter Righton and numerous networks involved in children’s homes, not to mention churches, schools and elsewhere, stories which are generally less spectacular. The sort of investigative journalism which grapples with the complexities of these other fields is done more successfully by a variety of other journalists at The Times (Andrew Norfolk’s work on Caldicott, Colet Court, St Paul’s and many other public schools, and Sean O’Neill on Robert Waddington and Manchester Cathedral), The Independent (Paul Gallagher on abuse in music schools and colleges), The Guardian (Helen Pidd’s important set of articles on Chetham’s and the RNCM), and sometimes at the Mail (Martin Beckford on PIE and their Labour links, and many earlier articles published here and in the Standard and Telegraph by Eileen Fairweather), Express (the latest work by Tim Tate and Ted Jeory on PIE and the Home Office), Mirror (Tom Pettifor on abuse in Lambeth and the Labour connection) and People (Keir Mudie and Nick Dorman on Operation Fernbridge and associated investigations, sometimes working together with Exaro). Exaro have certainly provided an important service, as one of various news organisations.
But now I fear that territorial attitudes could play a part in sabotaging an important opportunity. Watts has published a piece today aimed at dissuading Danczuk from naming, in which in a rather grandiose fashion he reports how ‘We have strongly advised him against naming the ex-minister tomorrow, and we are grateful that he has listened to us closely and is considering our points carefully’ and the same time as (almost comically) disparaging ‘Journalists on national newspapers, desperate for a splash story’, who allegedly have been arguing otherwise. Watts argues that ‘David Cameron is under intense pressure to agree to an overarching inquiry into child sex abuse in the UK’ which he doesn’t want. How big this pressure is is debatable; Cameron could brush off a question from Duncan Hames at Prime Minister’s Questions quite easily (see the bottom of here for the exchange), and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt did not seem particularly flustered at the debate in the Commons last week. The majority of MPs supporting an inquiry have been Labour – 73 at the current count, compared to 23 Conservatives. Many Conservatives have been copying and pasting stock replies which say nothing. Furthermore, most of the Labour MPs have been backbenchers without so many high profile figures; despite the support of Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham (who did not necessarily commit his party to support in the Commons, though, as I argued last week – this is a response to point (v) which I identify in Joyce’s blog), there has been only occasional support from other front bench figures. A proper inquiry would need to look at such matters as abuse which went on at children’s homes controlled by Islington Council when senior Labour figure Margaret Hodge was leader, of the role of the Paedophile Information Exchange, about whom I have written amply elsewhere, which embroils current Deputy Leader Harriet Harman and frontbench spokesman Jack Dromey; as argued earlier, Ed Miliband needs to take a lead on this, but it should not be so surprising that he has not yet done so. There are rumblings about Labour figures also visiting Elm Guest House, and of course the deeply serious issue of a senior Labour figure as a suspect for abuse in Lambeth, not to mention continuing investigations into Lord Janner, whose office at the House of Lords was raided earlier this year. Certainly any such inquiry would not be likely to be easy for Labour, nor for the Liberal Democrats, with the debacle of Cyril Smith still haunting them, and further rumbling about some other senior figures.
But at present mainstream media attention is very sporadic, and certainly in my experience (amongst generally educated people well-informed on news) very little of this has yet registered with a wider public. Cameron has in the last week had to deal with the conviction (and possible further retrial) of his former press secretary Andy Coulson, the charging of his former advisor on online pornography Patrick Rock for manufacturing images of child abuse, and now his failure to avoid Jean-Claude Juncker from being voted to be the next EU Commissioner. It is hard to see how a demand primarily from a group of Labour backbenchers would be obsessing him at such a time (though the campaign should definitely continue and hopefully grow). Watts claims that Danczuk’s naming of the ex-minister (he doesn’t mention the Labour minister) would serve as a ‘diversion from the inquiry call’, as front pages would be dominated by the ex-minister’s name. I think this is nonsense; such dissemination of the allegation that an extremely senior minister could themselves have been part of a ring-fenced VIP ring would cause outrage and anger, and the pressure for a proper inquiry would be irresistible. This very evening, Watts has also been tweeting that some new information has come to light which changes everything, but characteristically they will not even hint at what this is. Major developments have been promised before by the organisation, but these have rarely materialised. It is now looking more like a petty playground fight over who has the biggest amount of secret information.
Ultimately, as mentioned before, simple lists of MPs’ names are not that newsworthy, as various major journalists have had to point out to me. Only a major catalyst such as the revelation of a major name would be likely to get more attention. What this would also change is that the story would be taken up by all the major media, to such an extent that Exaro’s contributions would cease to be so central; I do wonder if this is what Watts is trying so hard to avoid. In the end, though, wider exposure for the many stories of abuse (which would follow upon the outrage caused by revelations that this extends to the very highest levels, and other figures were protected for this reason) is more important than the prestige of one website.
If Danczuk is certain that the ex-minister (and the ex Labour minister) are guilty, and the only reasons why they have not been brought to justice is through cover-ups, destruction of evidence, intimidation of witnesses, or simply stalling for convenience’s sake, then I hope very much he will name names tomorrow. If there is doubt about this, then it would only be wise not to do so – using Parliamentary Privilege in a way which would smear an innocent person would be reprehensible. I have faith in Danczuk to do the right thing, and hope the momentum which has been achieved will not be sacrificed for the short-term interests of any media organisation. If all of this is being covered in details in newspapers and on broadcast news programmes being read/watched by many of the country’s population (in some cases with stories written for these papers by Hencke, Conrad and others), it would be all for the better, even if many of the earlier campaigners (including myself) are quickly forgotten.