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.
Be very sceptical about online communications laws which protect the powerful – social media and the right to offendPosted: October 20, 2014
Today the UK Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, clarified that what he called ‘a baying cyber-mob’ could face up to two years in jail under new laws. This refers to proposed amendments to the 1988 Malicious Communications Act, to quadruple the maximum sentence. Already, as modified in 2001 (modifications indicated), the law defines the following offence:
1. Offence of sending letters etc. with intent to cause distress or anxiety
Any person who sends to another person—
(a)a [F1 letter, electronic communication or article of any description] which conveys—
(i)a message which is indecent or grossly offensive;
(ii)a threat; or
(iii)information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender; or
(b)any [F2 article or electronic communication] which is, in whole or part, of an indecent or grossly offensive nature,
is guilty of an offence if his purpose, or one of his purposes, in sending it is that it should, so far as falling within paragraph (a) or (b) above, cause distress or anxiety to the recipient or to any other person to whom he intends that it or its contents or nature should be communicated.
(2)A person is not guilty of an offence by virtue of subsection (1)(a)(ii) above if he shows—
(a)that the threat was used to reinforce a demand [F3 made by him on reasonable grounds]; and
(b)that he believed [F4, and had reasonable grounds for believing,] that the use of the threat was a proper means of reinforcing the demand.
[F5 (2A)In this section “electronic communication” includes—
(a)any oral or other communication by means of a telecommunication system (within the meaning of the Telecommunications Act 1984 (c. 12)); and
(b)any communication (however sent) that is in electronic form.]
(3)In this section references to sending include references to delivering [F6 or transmitting] and to causing to be sent [F7, delivered or transmitted] and “sender” shall be construed accordingly.
(4)A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to [F8 imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both].
Under the new amendments, the maximum sentence would be two years.
Direct physical or other threats are indeed a worrying phenomenon of social media, as are any threats to politicians or others in public life, and I have no problem with these being criminalised. But it is clear that this law goes much further than that. In particular, the terms ‘indecent’ and ‘grossly offensive’ are very nebulous, and could be used in highly censorious ways, as I will attempt to demonstrate presently.
Amongst those cited in support of Grayling’s laws are former Conservative MP Edwina Currie and Labour MP Stella Creasy. A 33-year old man, Peter Nunn, received an 18-month sentence for abusive Twitter messages against Creasy. Yet Creasy’s rank hypocrisy was amply demonstrated when challenged by myself and various others some weeks ago to condemn a case where violence was not merely threatened but actually carried out, in a frenzied attack against Respect MP George Galloway by Neil Masterson, who appears to be a neo-fascist supporter of the Israeli government. The 60-year old Galloway was leaped on in a frenzied manner by the attacker, and suffered a broken jaw, suspected broken rib and severe bruising to the head and face through the attack. There were a shocking number of people posting online in many places to say Galloway deserved it.
Just a few prominent commentators made an issue of this. Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, drew attention to the fact that no political party leader, nor the Speaker of the House of Commons, had condemned this attack on Galloway, which Oborne called ‘beyond doubt an attack on British democracy itself’. He added:
Had an MP been attacked by some pro-Palestinian fanatic for his support of Israel, I guess there would have been a national outcry and rightly so. Why then the silence from the mainstream establishment following this latest outrageous assault on a British politician?
Times journalist Hugo Rifkind, no political supporter of Galloway, tweeted on 31/8 ‘What happened to @georgegalloway shouldn’t happen to any politician in this country. Horrifying. Hope he’s okay.’
Amongst the responses were one by @77annfield, who said ‘any physical attack is wrong but it was his personality that brought it on’ (i.e. he basically deserved it), a few days later by an @ElectroPig who said ‘It shouldn’t happen to an HONEST politician who actually gives a damn. The rest of the bastards? #FineByMe’.
No UK party leader nor prominent politician condemned this attack on a fellow MP. Can we presume that Creasy thinks physical assault is OK, or at least not much of an issue, when it is against a political opponent or someone she doesn’t like? I am quite sure that if Creasy had suffered such an attack, and had her jaw and ribs broken, Galloway would have wholeheartedly condemned it.
Edwina Currie is currently the subject of various scrutiny for her role in appointing Jimmy Savile to a taskforce to run Broadmoor prison,, where he was involved in widespread sexual abuse, and also for the fact that she knew about the paedophile activities of late Conservative MP Peter Morrison, but appeared to do nothing about it until she could use it in diaries she had to sell. She said on the subject of Grayling’s proposals:
Most people know the difference between saying something nice and saying something nasty, saying something to support, which is wonderful when you get that on Twitter, and saying something to wound which is very cruel and very offensive.
it should not be surprising if Currie only wants ‘nice’ things said about her, considering her record. But the freedom to say things which are cruel, very offensive, and may be designed to wound, is fundamental in a democracy, I would say, however much Currie may not wish it to be. I worry about the implications of this law more widely to be possibilities of political dissent and satire in an age in which electronic communications and social media play a more prominent role than ever.
With this in mind, I would strongly recommend watching the two part 1994 BBC series written and presented by Kenneth Baker (now Lord Baker), From Walpole’s Bottom to Major’s Underpants, tracing the history of the political cartoon.
The image below, produced anonymously in 1740, refers to Robert Walpole, Prime Minister from 1721 to 1742.
This dates from 1797, and is by Richard Newton, showing Pope Pius VI kissing the bare bottom of Napoléon Bonaparte.
More recently, this image from 1967, drawn by Gerald Scarfe for Private Eye, shows Harold Wilson pulling down the back of Lindon Baines Johnson’s trousers and pants, as a comment on the Vietnam War; the original image actually had Wilson’s tongue up Johnson’s bottom, but then-editor Richard Ingrams thought this was too much.
This 1988 image, Mirth and Girth by then School or Art Institute of Chicago student David K. Nelson Jr, is of former Chicago major Harold Washington. This picture was confiscated by Chicago police, though Nelson later won a federal lawsuit against the city on the grounds of the confiscation and damage to his picture.
This from 2006, by cartoonist Latuff, shows fundamentalist pro-Israel zealot Alan Dershowitz masturbating over the sight of carnage in Lebanon brought about through Israeli military action.
This cartoon from Martin Rowson from 2007 at the time of Tony Blair’s resignation as Prime Minister, hardly hides its ‘fuck off and die’ message.
And here, from 2012, is a Steve Bell cartoon portraying Angela Merkel as a dominatrix of Europe.
Other example would include a bare-breasted Margaret Thatcher on Spitting Image (which I have been unable to find to post here), and countless other images from that programme (look at the treatment of Cecil Parkinson, David Mellor or Sarah Ferguson, for example, after all were embroiled in sex scandals).
All of these could be more than plausibly described as ‘indecent’ (except perhaps the Rowson cartoon) and ‘grossly offensive’. They all appeared in mainstream publications, but what would happen if a cartoonist posted them online, and tweeted them, perhaps with the hashtag of their subjects included? If they would be liable for prosecution and possibly a two-year prison sentence, this would be an extremely worrying development indeed.
I have seen and experienced intimidation online by other pro-Israeli neo-fascists, who spread messages of sometimes violent hatred. Some students have been revealed to have been paid by the Israeli government to act as propagandists, and I would imagine some of the people I have encountered are amongst these. I cannot imagine these laws being used against them (and certainly have not heard of such a case), though in the future I could certainly imagined them being used to intimidate pro-Palestinian campaigners, by branding various views they might express (such as, for example, that the foundation of the state of Israel involved the dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and cannot be accepted as legitimate) as ‘anti-semitic’, and as such constituting quasi-hate crimes against those to whom they are addressed. In neither of these cases is criminalisation appropriate.
In the UK, there is no written constitution as such, and thus no equivalent of the First Amendment to protect free speech. Many on both the left and the right would like to restrict the range of opinions capable of being expressed, at least through media they do not control (such as parts of the internet, as opposed to broadcast media over which the state has a monopoly or a press with whose owners successive Prime Ministers have an unhealthy relationship). But I believe very fundamentally in the right to the widest type of free speech when there is not a direct threat or incitement to something which is already a criminal act. And this would include views or statements which some will interpret as sexist, racist, anti-semitic, etc., or even a belief that terrible things should happen to someone, so long as this is not a direct incitement.
I generally block anyone on Twitter who says that anyone deserves to be hanged, to be raped in prison, or otherwise to be beaten up or mutilated – as often wished upon in the case of child abusers – or those who express approval for vigilantes or gangs thereof (including, for example, the female vigilante gangs in India). To my mind, those who do or wish such things are become little better than the abusers themselves. But I still do not believe at all that they should be criminalised for what they say.
In June, together with a group of others, I was involved in a Twitter campaign to get various MPs to add their names to those calling for a public inquiry into organised child abuse. As I discussed in a post I published on the eve of Simon Danczuk’s appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee (which moved the campaign into another gear), I did not feel the persistent hectoring approach taken by some (and encouraged in that respect by Exaro News) was necessarily very productive. However, the campaign as a whole did undoubtedly result in many more MPs adding their names than would have otherwise been the case, and this played a fundamental part in Home Secretary Theresa May’s agreeing to the inquiry. A few people, including Labour MP Eric Joyce, and for a while former Conservative MP Mark Reckless, complained that this amounted to ‘online bullying’ (a refrain also taken up by some journalistic opponents of an inquiry, and doubtless privately by many other politicians). I would be very worried that in the future such politicians could threaten Twitter activists with this law to dissuade them from running such a campaign. The same would apply to Edwina Currie and her condescending and arrogant approach to questions which are put to her concerning abuse, or to numerous other politicians. Examples of these might be Harriet Harman MP, who is naturally not going to be happy with numerous tweeters reminding her of her earlier activities which served to help the Paedophile Information Exchange and their ideologies, or Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf, proposed chair of the inquiry, who has recently deleted her Twitter account after a period which has seen many tweets asking her questions about the nature of her personal and professional connections to various people themselves likely to come under scrutiny as part of the inquiry.
Be very distrustful of any laws, or any expansion of sentences linked to a law, which receive support first and foremost from politicians or others in power looking to criminalise ordinary people who attack them (when not in a manner actually constituting obviously criminal attack, as with Galloway). With more and more revelations coming to light about politicians, abuse and the corruption of power, there will be many angry people, some of whose statements to politicians on social media may unsurprisingly be intemperate. Do not let those politicians get away with criminalising their critics. So long as there are no direct threats involved, members of the public in a democracy should be free to be as harsh and offensive to politicians as they choose.
But I would ask whether the following hypothetical tweets would lead to two-year jail sentences against those who sent them?
@JimmySavile You are a vile abuser of children and necrophiliac protected at high levels of government
@PeterRighton Your proposed childcare reforms will make it easier for you to rape boys in homes
@PatriciaHewitt You submitted document to government saying child abuse does no harm, paedo defender
@PeterMorrison Did you miss the division bell because you were too busy seeking out adolescents in public toilets?
@CyrilSmith You are a hideous, obese and arrogant ass whose jokey exterior masks boy-raping scum
1. Scotland made the right decision.
2. Labour under Ed Miliband is looking considerably weaker than before the referendum. Cameron probably ended up being a more persuasive advocate for the union than Miliband. Miliband has neither a ‘heartland’, a community who would identify with him, as did Wilson, Callaghan, Smith and Brown, nor the personality to build a wider English following, as did Blair. I do believe Sadiq Khan or Tom Watson (who has written an interesting response to the referendum) would make stronger leaders (if they would want the position).
3. Never have the Liberal Democrats looked more insignificant, despite the fact that they are the second largest party at Westminster representing Scottish seats.
4. Two people to have come out reasonably well from the campaign, and who have been underestimated, are Gordon Brown and George Galloway. Brown should attempt a come-back as First Minister of Scotland, and more widely his legacy should be re-assessed.
5. ‘Scottish workers have more in common with London dockers, Durham miners & Sheffield engineers than they have with Scottish barons & landlords’ – Scottish miners’ leader Mick McGahey in 1968 on Scottish separatism vs working class solidarity (as quoted = by Ken Livingstone).
6. I don’t see why the unemployed and those on low pay in devastated communities in the North of England – or in inner city London – are any less worthy of special treatment than the Scots. Trying to divide these communities on grounds of ‘nation’, as Salmond + co do, is cynical and pathetic.
7. The whole devo max package was a last minute panicked reaction to one poll showing the ‘Yes’ camp in the lead. Major legislation like this should not be rushed through without all the consequences being considered. This will now utterly dominate the legislative agenda up until the election, and will have a major effect upon the election itself.
8. The West Lothian question will not go away, nor should it. Labour are burying their heads in the sand over this, retreating to their comfort zone when they need more English votes to win an election. They could trump Cameron by giving a firm commitment to a German-style federal system, which would utterly transform British politics.
9. A new variety of the West Lothian question: why should those in Glasgow be able to be exempt from various aspects of policies determined in Westminster, but those in Newcastle not?
10. The borders between England, Scotland and Wales are pretty meaningless anyhow, as are most nation states. There is however some logic in the whole of Great Britain being a unified entity because of its geographical nature.
11. One of the worst elements of the campaign was the presenting of a Manichean struggle between ‘Scotland’ and ‘London’. London is simply the capital city, where MPs meet. Many Londoners are just as much the victim of successive governments’ policies as those in Scotland. In an independent Scotland, would it be any more fair to attack the people of Edinburgh, because Hollyrood is there? The article linked to earlier by Tom Watson makes much of the chasm between the City of London and Scotland – and the rest of the UK, and how that chasm was allowed to increase during the Thatcher years. But this is about capital and its concentration, not about Londoners in general. Hating people because they happen to come from or live in the most international city in Europe, London (I don’t come from the city originally, but have lived here for 21 years), is the worst type of politics.
A few good politicians – Becky Milligan at the office of Simon Danczuk, with Matt Baker, and the personal impact of abuse campaigningPosted: July 18, 2014
The link above details a visit made by BBC Radio 4 reporter Becky Milligan to the office of Labour MP Simon Danczuk, together with his parliamentary aide Matt Baker. Here she encounters much correspondence concerning allegations of abuse by politicians, several about that at Elm Guest House. A solicitor got in touch, to mention a visit in the early 1980s to Barnes Police Station, representing a young boy who had been at EGH; had been interviewed, police got aggressive and pushy, she stepped in to say this was unpleasant for her client. The police took the solicitor to one side and showed her a statement from another boy, saying he had been raped at the house by politicians and judges, which left the solicitor utterly shocked. Danczuk and Baker are hoping to encourage the solicitor to go to the police about this now. Baker is sure there are police officers themselves in possession of dynamite information on this (one reason why an amnesty is needed to ensure they can come forward with details). If true, the alleged activities at Elm Guest House, and the cover-up entailed, beggar belief – I would recommend those not yet aware of this to read this account by an alleged survivor of the house, this terrible article from the Daily Star in 1982 alleging that ten-year old boys were made to act as sex slaves for 13 hours per day for adult men and women, and this series of articles reproduced on the Spotlight blog.
Baker speaks of an occasion recounted by a former police officer, in which a floor of a hotel was raided where a range of paedophiles were found, all with boys in their beds. Amongst those pulled in by the police was a very prominent individual; the officers were told not to say anything about this – if they did they would lose their pension and would never be promoted. Baker said that this former police officer was cynical about possibility of an amnesty, saying no Home Secretary would allow that. It is incumbent upon Theresa May to make provisions for this as soon as possible, and for Yvette Cooper, shadow Home Secretary, to make a pledge to make such an arrangement if Labour are returned to power next year.
Clearly since Danczuk’s Select Com appearance, his office has been inundated by phone calls with terrible stories of abuse, many involving very prominent figures. Milligan sits in on an interview with a former pupil of Knowl View Residential School, subject of a major investigation into sustained abuse and its cover-up. Upsetting interview in which the man intimates how he is seen as someone no-one wants to go near, because he was abused. And conveys the terror of the place, and how every detail stays with him on a daily basis, saying that ‘Knowl View School will stick in my mind like it’s happening now in this room’.
Danczuk and Baker talk about how personally upsetting all of this is, and their coping strategies. Whilst nothing like on the scale of that they have known, I have some experience of how this feels, from a time at the beginning of 2013 when in the space of a couple of weeks I received hundreds of e-mails, phone calls and messages on social media from survivors of widespread abuse in music schools and conservatoires, often with horrific detail, combined with information about callous or malicious cover-up and bullying on the part of others in a position to do something about it, but not prepared to do so, preferring to protect the reputation of their places. The effect of all of this is depressing and disspiriting beyond belief. It can fill you with a mixture of feelings of hopelessness, paranoia, massive anger, and a sense that most else in the world seems pretty trivial in comparison – also it can be very hard for your partner if they see you so preoccupied by all of this. Naturally I can only speak with any certainty about my own experience, though communicating with others has suggested this is far from atypical. Happily I see an excellent therapist on a weekly basis, who has helped a lot with dealing with everything that this involvement brings. Doing so has changed my life and I am quite sure it has changed that of Danczuk and Baker – and those other politicians and campaigners who are exposed to this sort of material on a daily basis.
Some of the blasé members of the Labour Party have been very aloof and stand-offish towards Danczuk (and Tom Watson, and I would guess others who have been very active campaigners such as John Mann), not least because he serialised his book on Cyril Smith in the Daily Mail (the North London Labourite paper of choice, The Guardian, probably wouldn’t have touched it, and has a somewhat murky history of its own in terms of giving a platform to paedophile Tom O’Carroll, and also presenting lesbian child abuse in a positive light, in an article I will post after this), and his investigations might implicate some senior Labour politicians as well. This is unfortunately a typical attitude of those who would put the reputations of their parties (or leading figures in their parties) before the interests of children, and exactly how cover-ups work. Danczuk and Watson and Mann (and equally Tories such as Zac Goldsmith and Tim Loughton, Liberal Democrats John Hemming and Tessa Munt, who has bravely spoken out about her own experiences of sexual abuse, Green politician Caroline Lucas, and various others, not least the over 140 MPs who signed the call for a full national inquiry well before the Home Secretary agreed to one) have on the contrary worked relentlessly on bringing these issues to public attention, for sure at no small personal cost to themselves, and my admiration for them could not be greater. All of them are a model for politicians of the future, in order to restore some confidence in the possibility of meaningful political action at Westminster.
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.
Today twenty-eight reports were released following NHS and Department of Health investigations into the activities of Jimmy Savile at a range of hospitals and other institutions. These make for grim reading, detailing victims of both sexes aged from 5 to 75, abuse reported but with no action taken, encounters taking place in a whole host of locations on and off premises, and even an unhealthy interest in the mortuary of Leeds General Infirmary by Savile, where he is claimed by some witnesses to have made rings out of glass eyes taken from bodies (see Caroline Davies, ‘Jimmy Savile’s victims were aged five to 75 at Leeds hospital, inquiry finds’, The Guardian, June 26th, 2014, for a summary, also ‘Jimmy Savile hospital reports: At a glance’, BBC News UK, June 26th, 2014).
In the House of Commons today, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP gave a long statement in response to the publication of the reports, followed by a short series of parliamentary questions; the full text, taken from Hansard, is given below. Hunt summarised the findings and apologised on behalf of the government and NHS, whilst arguing that today’s safeguarding processes make it harder for such a thing to happen again. Otherwise, he simply mentioned that the Department of Education is overseeing investigations of Savile’s activity in care settings, that there are other investigations into child sexual abuse, and that the Department will work with the NSPCC and NAPAC to ensure information is passed on.
One might recall, however, that in 2011 the very same Jeremy Hunt, then Culture Secretary, had the following to say upon the news of the death of Savile:
“Sir Jimmy Savile was one of broadcasting’s most unique and colourful characters,” said Mr Hunt.
“From Top of the Pops to making children’s dreams come true on Jim’ll Fix It, a generation of people will remember his catchphrases and sense of fun.
“But his lasting legacy will be the millions he raised for charity, tirelessly giving up his time and energy to help those causes he was passionate about.”
Some knowledge or at least strong rumours of Savile’s activities have been well-known for a long time; was Hunt really never aware of any of them in 2011?
There are lots of important points raised in this debate; here I will concentrate on those relating to wider issues to do with widespread abuse and the need for an inquiry. Five of the original seven MPs to write to the Home Secretary calling for a national inquiry into organised abuse – Conservative Tim Loughton, Liberal Democrats John Hemming and Tessa Munt, and Labour Simon Danczuk and Tom Watson – all made statements calling for an inquiry
The Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, who made clear yesterday in a letter to Tim Loughton his willingness to be added to the list of MPs supporting a national inquiry into organised abuse, stopped short of advocating this in his own statement on behalf of the Labour Party as a whole, saying instead:
That paints a picture of chaos in the Department and a complete absence of due process for a serious appointment of this kind. This is an extraordinary revelation. While there is no suggestion that any Minister knew of any sexual misconduct, it does point to the need for a further process of independent inquiry so that we all, as Ministers and former Ministers, can learn the lessons of what happened, but also so that we can draw together the threads of the multiple inquiries that are ongoing. It simply cannot be left for Savile’s victims to try to pull together the details of these investigations.
As the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), has said, there is now a clear case for a proper, overarching, independent review led by child protection experts into why there was such large-scale institutional failure to stop these abhorrent crimes. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State gave this proposal careful consideration.
It is not clear (perhaps intentionally) whether this refers just to all cases involving Savile or the much wider issues of all types of organised child abuse – certainly this falls short of the call in the original letter from seven MPs.
Furthermore, Hunt said the following key passage:
On the specific point about the behaviour of one Minister and what it suggested about the motivation for Savile’s approval for his job at Broadmoor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who was Secretary of State at the time, has said that that behaviour would be indefensible now and that it would have been indefensible at the time. I agree with him. Everyone must be held accountable for the actions they took.
The minister in question was Edwina Currie, who was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health from September 1986 to December 1988 (when she was forced to resign over an ill-judged statement about salmonella in eggs). Currie appointed Savile to run a taskforce in charge of Broadmoor Hospital, which included temporary powers to oversee the running of the hospital after a series of industrial disputes, despite a lack of any professional qualifications (a classic piece of union-busting), and then a friend of Savile’s was given the most senior job at Broadmoor (see Robert Mendick and Laura Donnelly,’Jimmy Savile: Questions for Edwina Currie and the BBC’, Daily Telegraph , October 20th, 2012) (see also Stephen Cook, ‘Savile’s travails’, The Guardian, November 1st, 1989). The Health Secretary under which Currie worked was then Kenneth Clark. The new report details ten cases of sexual assault directly related to Broadmoor, and one allegation of indecent exposure to a minor, also of Savile being able to watch female patients stripping completely (see Bill Kirkup and Paul Marshall, ‘Jimmy Savile Investigation: Broadmoor Hospital’, Department of Health, June 2nd, 2014). It also says:
Savile met Mrs Currie, at his request, when she visited another hospital. He reported having discovered widespread false overtime claims, occupation of staff residences by people not entitled to them, and financial irregularities concerning the capital building project. He said he intended to use his knowledge of these to control the POA’s activities by threatening to expose them to the press if the union would not cooperate with him. Mrs Currie did not discourage him in this, although it would have meant tolerating alleged fraud in return for union co-operation. (p. 5)
Gisela Stuart asked if Kenneth Clarke would apologise for his stewardship of the department then and also whether Hunt would look into the behaviour of Currie, but Hunt did not give any clear assent to either thing, on the grounds that the reports say that there was no evidence that Ministers or others were aware of sexual abuse. As I have blogged about elsewhere, Edwina Currie also recounted in her Diaries knowledge that former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and PPS to Margaret Thatcher Peter Morrison was a ‘noted pederast’ with a liking for young boys, that this was known by other senior figures in the party, and even that a constituency agent was offered money to keep quiet about it. A statement on this and on Savile is now needed urgently from Currie.
Furthermore, John Hemming referred to the case of Leah McGrath Goodman, an American journalist who was investigating abuse at Haut de la Garenne, Jersey (see the range of articles at Spotlight and in particular Josh Halliday, Katharine Viner and Lisa O’Carroll, ‘Jimmy Savile linked with Haut de la Garenne children’s home scandal’, The Guardian, October 9th, 2012), who was banned from entering the UK, and arrested back on June 5th when coming to give evidence to an inquiry. Hunt simply said that he was unaware of this and would look into it. More on McGrath Goodman’s work can be read on her website, in particular her story commissioned by The Guardian after being banned from entry. See also Hemmings’ Early Day Motion (EDM) from September 11th, 2012 objecting to the banning of McGrath Goodman and a further EDM from July 2nd, 2013, after McGrath Goodman was re-allowed entry.
Tessa Munt drew most direct attention to the call for an inquiry (mentioning the 104 further MPs who had joined the original 7 – now 105 thanks to the addition of Chi Onwurah, who also mentioned the need for an inquiry and has since indicated her willingness to be added to the list), and in particular loss of vital evidence, and cases being stalled or abandoned. Hunt’s response just referred to a Home Office committee chaired by Norman Baker (who lent just 10 minutes of his time to seasoned abuse researchers and campaigners Peter McKelvie and Liz Davies recently). Other supporters of an inquiry who spoke in the debate included Conservative Bob Blackman, Labour’s Diana Johnson, Barbara Keeley and Grahame Morris and Democratic Unionist Ian Paisley Jr.
Simon Danczuk first raised the question of Savile’s wider political connections, not least with Cyril Smith, and pointed out that Savile appeared in a Liberal Party Political Broadcast. Smith himself, in his autobiography, refers to meeting Savile at a medieval banquet at Worsley, Lancashire, after which he was invited by Savile to sing ‘She’s a Lassie from Lancashire’ on his programme Clunk-Click, and also a comedy routine with Les Dawson; Smith admired the model of Savile as a ‘personality’, but wrote that Savile ‘admits openly that his work as a disc jockey is a joke, but his record of public service and charity must be unequalled’ (Big Cyril: The Autobiography of Cyril Smith (London: W.H. Allen, 1977), pp. 225-226; see also Danczuk and Matthew Baker, Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith (London: Biteback Publishing, 2014), pp. 100-104, on Smith’s cultivation of Savile and other comedians and TV personalities). Danczuk said that an ‘overarching inquiry’ would enable one to ‘understand the political networks to which Savile belonged’. Hunt’s answer essentially side-steps this question.
Tom Watson followed up on this issue asking if Hunt had any suspicion that ‘victims of Savile were frightened to come forward because he enjoyed powerful political protection?’ Hunt side-stepped this again, saying there was no evidence of that in the reports, and suggesting that victims of Savile were simply afraid to come forward because of his ‘celebrity status’ and consequent ‘connections in high place’ (not quite the same thing as Danczuk or Watson are asking).
In an interview from last weekend, Danczuk made clear that when he appears before the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) on Tuesday July 1st, he will if asked be prepared to use Parliamentary Privilege to name a further living parliamentarian who visited Elm Guest House at Barnes, where boys are claimed to have been abused by a paedophile ring (Mark Leftly, ‘MP will name politician ‘involved in child abuse”, The Independent, June 22nd, 2014), and may also name a further 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, as investigated in Tom Pettifor, ‘Pressure mounts on Tony Blair to answer questions over minister child sex abuse cover-up claims’, Daily Mirror, April 29th, 2014). Three members of the HASC – Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert, and Labour MPs Paul Flynn and Yasmin Qureshi – are supporters of a national inquiry; 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.
NHS Investigations (Jimmy Savile)
The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Jeremy Hunt):
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Jimmy Savile investigations.
This morning, 28 investigations into Savile were published, including two larger reports on Leeds infirmary and Broadmoor hospital and 26 smaller reports on other institutions. I know that this House and, indeed, the whole country will share a deep sense of revulsion at what they reveal: a litany of disturbing accounts of rape and sexual abuse committed by Savile on vulnerable children and adults over a period of decades.
At the time, the victims who spoke up were not believed, and it is important today that we all publicly recognise the truth of what they have said, but it is a profoundly uncomfortable truth. As a nation at that time, we held Savile in our affection as a somewhat eccentric national treasure with a strong commitment to charitable causes. Today’s reports show that, in reality, he was a sickening and prolific sexual abuser who repeatedly exploited the trust of a nation for his own vile purposes.
The report published by Leeds infirmary today reveals that Savile was a predatory porter who abused and raped patients without scruple. Sixty people reported abuse to the investigation. One of his teenage victims believed that she was pregnant as a result of his abuse. Two witnesses told the investigation Savile claimed to have had jewellery made from glass eyes taken from bodies in the mortuary. Other reported behaviour is too horrific to recount in detail to this House, but is set out in full in the reports published today.
Savile was also an opportunistic sexual predator at Broadmoor. The investigation concludes that at least five individuals, and possibly more, were sexually abused by Savile. Inexplicably, Savile was allowed to watch female patients as they stripped naked for bathing.
There were fewer incidents reported in the other 26 investigations, but there are strong indications that they were consistent with a wider pattern of offending. I have placed the reports of all the investigations in the House of Commons Library. Five investigations are ongoing and will report later this year.
Today’s reports will shake this House and our country to the core. Savile was a callous, opportunistic, wicked predator who abused and raped individuals, many of them patients and young people, who expected and had a right to expect to be safe. His actions span five decades, from the 1960s to 2010. The family favourite loved by millions courted popularity and used it to perpetrate and cover up his own evil acts.
I and, I am sure, the whole House will want to pay tribute to all the victims who came forward to talk about their experiences. It took great courage for them to relive their often extremely distressing and disturbing experiences.
The reports paint a terrible picture, as time and again victims were ignored or, if they were not, little or no action was taken. The systems in place to protect people were either too weak or were ignored. People and institutions turned a blind eye.
Today, I want to apologise on behalf of the Government and the NHS to all the victims who were abused by Savile in NHS-run institutions. We let them down badly and however long ago it may have been, many of them are still reliving the pain they went through. If we cannot undo the past, I hope that honesty and transparency about what happened can at least alleviate some of the suffering. It is the least we owe them.
Today, changes to the way that we guard against abuse would make it much harder for someone such as Savile to perpetrate these crimes for so long. The safeguarding system, as the Leeds report makes clear, has been much improved over the past 30 years. The landmark Children Act 1989 enshrined a child’s right to protection from abuse. The first child sex offenders register was established in 1997, and 1999 saw legislation to prevent sex offenders from working with children. Criminal Records Bureau checks and the Disclosure and Barring Service have provided further protection. The Children Act 2004 requires NHS bodies to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and to sit on the local safeguarding children board. NHS England published its safeguarding framework in 2013.
Savile was, however, never convicted of any offence, so this safeguarding system depends on much better awareness by professionals and the public and a much heightened vigilance against such abuse than there was in the past. Although that is reassuring to an extent, we cannot be complacent. Today, I am writing to all the system leaders in the NHS—NHS England, the NHS Trust Development Authority, Monitor and the Care Quality Commission—to ask them to ensure that they and all trusts review safeguarding arrangements in the light of the reports, and to ensure that they are confident about patient safety. For its part, the Department of Health has accepted all the specific recommendations assigned to it in the Broadmoor report.
There are some painfully obvious lessons for the system as a whole. First, we must never give people the kind of access that Savile enjoyed to wards and patients without proper checks, whoever that person may be. Secondly, if people are abusive, staff should feel supported to challenge them, whoever that person may be, and take swift action. Thirdly, where patients report abuse, they need to be listened to, whatever their age, whatever their condition, and there needs to be proper investigation of what they report. It is deeply shocking that so few people felt that they could speak up and even more shocking that no one listened to those who did speak up. That is now changing in the NHS, but we have a long way to go.
In ensuring appropriate measures, we must not hinder the extraordinary contribution of thousands of volunteers and fundraisers working in the NHS every day. They are the opposite of Savile and we need to ensure that their remarkable contribution is sustained.
In parallel with this NHS work, the Department for Education is overseeing investigations into Savile’s activity in care settings, based on the same tranche of information that led to the smaller NHS investigations. There are other ongoing investigations by the police into allegations of historic child sexual exploitation. I hope this reassures the House of the seriousness of this issue and our response to it. The Department will also work with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the National Association for People Abused in Childhood to ensure that information is swiftly passed on.
I conclude by paying tribute to Kate Lampard and her team. When patient safety is the issue, speed is vital. These investigations have swiftly and effectively brought to light vital issues that must be addressed. She will be publishing her conclusions and recommendations on this scandal later this year, as will the national group on sexual violence against children and vulnerable people. This report will bring together the Government’s wider work to eradicate violence against children and vulnerable people.
But today, above all, we should remember the victims of Savile. They were brave. They have been vindicated. He was a coward. He has been disgraced. The system failed to prevent him from abusing. It failed to act when people spoke up. We must not allow history to repeat itself. I commend this statement to the House.
Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab):
I thank the Secretary of State for notice and sight of his statement. I commend him for the way he introduced it to the House and welcome everything he said. The reports published today are truly disturbing, and as sickening as any ever presented to the House. How a celebrity DJ and predatory sex offender came to have unfettered access to vulnerable patients across the NHS, and gold-plated keys to its highest security hospital, surely ranks as one of the worst failures of patient and public protection our country has ever seen. It raises questions of the most profound kind about how victims of abuse are treated, how systems for protecting vulnerable children and adults work and the nature of celebrity and society’s relationship with it.
The Secretary of State was right to begin with an apology—I support him in making it—to the hundreds of people who were appallingly failed and whose lives have been haunted ever since. Our first thought must be with them today. They had a right to look to the NHS as a place of safety and sanctuary, but they were cruelly let down by the very institutions that were meant to offer protection. As one of Savile’s victims put it:
“It was like another insult. I’m in a top security hospital and someone has got to me again. When does it stop?”
Today’s statement will have evoked memories of the most painful kind for them, so will the Secretary of State ensure that all Savile’s victims have full and direct access to all the counselling and other support they will need?
One of the main purposes of this process of inquiry should have been to give all the victims the opportunity to be heard, but the Secretary of State might know that there are reports today in the Yorkshire Post that one person who tried to come forward was at first ignored in October 2012. Will he assure us that all reasonable steps have been taken by those preparing these reports to help victims come forward and tell their story, including those who might have been ignored when they first tried?
Many of Savile’s victims have suffered severe financial loss as a result of the challenges they have faced. I understand that claims for compensation will in the first instance draw on Jimmy Savile’s estate. Has there been an assessment of whether the estate’s funds will be sufficient to meet all claims? Given what has been revealed today and the abject failures of public bodies, should not the Government now consider allocating public funds to ensure that all the people damaged by Savile are properly compensated and supported?
Reading the report, it is not at all clear to me that a proper process has yet been put in place to hold people who failed in their public duties to account. If evidence is revealed in any of these reports that shows that any person still working in the NHS or the Department of Health knowingly facilitated these crimes, will the Secretary of State assure us that they will now face the full weight of the law and that those who were negligent in respect of their public duties will also be held fully to account?
It is incomprehensible how this could have been allowed to happen over 55 years. Although it relates to a different era, there are serious lessons that we can learn, given that abuse continues in our health and care system today. Let me turn to those. The first area of concern relates to how victims of abuse are treated, particularly young people or people in the mental health care system. Sadly, there are still far too many instances of abuse in our care system and in mental health settings, and the real figure is likely to be higher because of under-reporting. Will the Secretary of State consider what more needs to be done to give people the confidence to come forward and the reassurance that they will be listened to? Is there a case for more training for staff in dealing with allegations of abuse?
The second area of concern relates to how public bodies carry out vetting and barring arrangements, make public appointments and manage their relationship with celebrity. Hospitals across the country have increasingly sophisticated fundraising operations and links with celebrity endorsers. Will the Secretary of State accept the Broadmoor report’s recommendation that no celebrity should be appointed to an executive position or given privileged access to a hospital or its patients and that they should be fully vetted if appointed to a non-executive position? More broadly, is there now a case for a code of conduct setting out the appropriate relationship that the NHS should have with celebrity or business backers?
On vetting and barring, figures obtained by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) show that the number of people barred from working with children as a result of committing a sexual offence against a child has dropped by 10,000, or 75%, in the past three years. These extremely worrying figures have come about as a result of changes to the vetting and barring arrangements. This raises the concern that there are people working in our health and care system now who may pose a risk to children. Will the Secretary of State look again at this issue, consult the Home Secretary, and urgently report back to the House on why these figures have dropped by so much in such a short space of time, and on whether they believe that the current child protection regime is strong enough?
The question arises of whether this process of inquiry is a sufficient response to the scale of these atrocious crimes. It is hard to draw a clear picture and consistent recommendations from 28 separate reports and all the other inquiries that are still ongoing in schools, care homes, the BBC and the police. I, too, pay tribute to the work of Kate Lampard in assuring the quality of the reports published today, and we wait for her second phase of work, but questions remain about their independence given that each hospital has, in effect, investigated itself. There is also a question of whether this needs to be more independent of Government.
The Broadmoor report raises serious questions about the conduct of civil servants and Ministers in the Department of Health in how Savile came to be appointed to the Broadmoor taskforce. In evidence to the inquiry, the then Minister describes the main objective of Savile’s appointment as follows:
“The principal question was can Government break this hold that the Prison Officers Association has on the hospital.”
She went on to say:
“This task force was dreamed up and seemed like a very good idea and step forward Jimmy Savile who knew the place backwards and was more than happy to volunteer his time to do this. And we were happy to do it.”
That paints a picture of chaos in the Department and a complete absence of due process for a serious appointment of this kind. This is an extraordinary revelation. While there is no suggestion that any Minister knew of any sexual misconduct, it does point to the need for a further process of independent inquiry so that we all, as Ministers and former Ministers, can learn the lessons of what happened, but also so that we can draw together the threads of the multiple inquiries that are ongoing. It simply cannot be left for Savile’s victims to try to pull together the details of these investigations.
As the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), has said, there is now a clear case for a proper, overarching, independent review led by child protection experts into why there was such large-scale institutional failure to stop these abhorrent crimes. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State gave this proposal careful consideration. I finish by assuring him of our full support in helping him to establish the full truth of why abuse on this scale was allowed to happen for so long.
I thank the shadow Health Secretary for the constructive tone of his comments. Many of the suggestions he has made are very sensible. We will take them away and look at them, but I will go through a number of them now. First, we will indeed make sure that all Savile’s victims get the counselling they need. I think that it has been made available to them, but it is absolutely right to double-check that they are getting every bit of help they need and that we are taking all reasonable steps.
I hope that what has happened today will be, in its own way, another landmark for all victims of sexual abuse in giving them the confidence that we are changing, not just as an NHS but as a society, into being much better at listening when people come forward with these very serious allegations. It hits you time and again when you read these reports how many people did not speak up at the time because they thought that no one would believe them. We are not going to change that culture overnight, but we have to be a society that listens to the small person—the person who might get forgotten and does not feel they are important in the system.
On the claims for compensation, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the first draw for those claims will come from the Savile estate. I hope I can reassure him, however, that, as we have said, the Government will underwrite this so that if there are any claims that are not able to be met by the estate we finance them from the public purse. We think it is important that we should do that, although his estate is the first place to start, for obvious reasons.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that if there is evidence that people have criminally neglected claims that were made at the time or behaved inappropriately—even if it is not a matter for the law and they behaved in a way that could make them subject to disciplinary procedures in NHS organisations—that should be addressed. We will urge all NHS organisations to look carefully at anyone who is mentioned in the reports. Of course, the police will, naturally, look at the evidence against any individuals, who of course have the right to due process, which everyone in the House would accept.
On the specific point about the behaviour of one Minister and what it suggested about the motivation for Savile’s approval for his job at Broadmoor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who was Secretary of State at the time, has said that that behaviour would be indefensible now and that it would have been indefensible at the time. I agree with him. Everyone must be held accountable for the actions they took.
We are doing a great deal to make sure that all NHS staff are trained to feel more confident about speaking out. The Mid Staffs whistleblower Helene Donnelly is now working with Health Education England to see what needs to change in the training of NHS staff in order to change that culture.
On the new disclosure and barring scheme, we are already doing work to examine the reason for the drop in the number of people who are being barred from working with children. The Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) is looking into that. I have given this a lot of thought and it is important to say that in the current environment, were we to have another Savile, it is likely that the disclosure and barring scheme would bar him from working with children and in trusts, but that is not certain because he was never convicted of a crime. The Criminal Records Bureau checks would not have stopped that, but it is possible for the disclosure and barring scheme to prevent people from working with children and vulnerable adults even if they have not committed a crime. For example, their employment track record may show that they were dismissed for doing things that raised suspicions. It is also important to make the point—I think everyone in the House will understand this—that it is not possible to legislate to stop all criminal vile activity. What we depend on for the disclosure and barring scheme to work is a culture in which the public and patients feel able to speak out and staff listen when they do so, in order that these things surface much more quickly.
Finally, the question of whether any further inquiries are necessary will, of course, be considered. The first step is to let Kate Lampard do her full report. At this stage, she has not drawn together all the different inquiries and tried to draw lessons from the system as a whole. I asked her to do two things. The first was to verify independently that the reports of NHS organisations were of the necessary quality, and I think she has done that superbly. The second stage of her work is to see what lessons can be drawn from the system as a whole. We need to hear what she has to say about that and, indeed, what the Department for Education and the BBC learn from their reports, and then we will come to a conclusion about whether any further investigations are needed.
Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con):
May I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the victims? They were not silent. What today’s reports show is that very many people witnessed—even directly condoned—some deeply inappropriate behaviour. How could it ever be acceptable for a celebrity to be able to watch female patients showering? Will the Secretary of State join me in sending a message to NHS staff that they should always raise concerns if they witness such behaviour and that they will be protected if they do so?
I am absolutely happy to do that. I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend’s comments. The NHS needs to move to a system where it is the norm rather than the exception to report, and where NHS staff feel comfortable that reporting any concerns is an absolutely normal part of their job. She is right to say that one of the most disturbing things in the reports is the clear evidence that some people helped Savile in what he did—for example, that people were escorted to his private room in Broadmoor—which is very shocking. That is why it is very important that everyone is vigilant. I totally agree with what she said.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab):
The only people who emerge with any credit are the victims, and we need to support them. However, I was slightly stung by the Secretary of State’s comment about the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). If the right hon. and learned Gentleman thought that the actions of the Minister—it was Edwina Currie, if I remember rightly—were inappropriate then, as they would be now, will he apologise for his stewardship of the Department at the time, or will the Secretary of State look at the Minister’s conduct and come back to the House to explain how it was possible?
I hope that I have gone some way to meet the hon. Lady’s concerns because, on behalf of the Government and the NHS, I have offered a full apology to all the victims for what happened, and I have accepted that there were failures at many levels. It is very important to say that the reports show that there was no evidence that Ministers or officials were aware of any sexual abuse by Savile. I pointed to the comments by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe because I wanted to make it clear that this Government are not defending actions which, as he has said, were indefensible then and would be indefensible now.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con):
I commend my right hon. Friend for his measured statement. Indeed, I welcome the shadow Secretary of State’s comments about joining our call for an overarching inquiry, because this is the tip of the iceberg. There are still ongoing inquiries to do with Savile in the NHS, 11 local authorities, care homes and others.
Specifically on the subject of victims, there is something that the Secretary of State can do to help immediately. So many victims have very bravely come forward after suffering trauma over many decades and many are still calling the ChildLine and NAPAC—the National Association for People Abused in Childhood—helplines. However, for too many, the therapeutic support that they need to help them through such a particularly difficult time is absolutely not there. Police and health professionals have come to me to say that they know such people, but cannot do anything for them. With the resources in the NHS, the Secretary of State can help now.
I commend my hon. Friend for his campaigning for vulnerable children over many years. The letter I sent to NHS England this morning asks it to make sure that all the lessons are learned from the reports, and it includes the very clear suggestion—I want the NHS to interpret my letter in this way—that it should ensure that it commissions the support needed for children in these circumstances so that they get the very support that is necessary. This is not just about encouraging people to speak out; it is about making sure that when they do, they feel listened to and supported.
Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab):
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for his considered response. In relation to the scale of the abuse—with ages ranging from five to 75, and involving 28 hospitals—lessons need to be learned about the systematic failure not just within the NHS, but within other institutions. Will the Health Secretary have discussions with the Cabinet Office and others to make sure that appropriate lessons are learned?
Absolutely. I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are taking a cross-Government approach—across a range of Departments, but particularly the Department for Education and the Home Office—and that the Government as a whole will draw the lessons from this whole horrific series of episodes to make sure that we have a joined-up approach.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD):
I agree with the Secretary of State that our first thought has to be for the victims, and that in future we must listen to the powerless and not block inquiries. If we go back to 2011—before Savile died—an American journalist, Leah McGrath Goodman, was banned from coming to the UK to investigate child abuse, including by Jimmy Savile. Even more recently, she was arrested at the airport on 5 June, while coming to an inquiry. Will the Secretary of State speak to his colleague the Minister for Security and Immigration to ask why somebody in the UK Border Agency seems to be aiming to inhibit one of the inquiries?
I am afraid that I do not know the details of that particular case, but I will look into it and write to the hon. Gentleman.
Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab):
Is not one of the wider problems our perceptions of how a sexual predator looks and acts? When men like Savile are arrested, the usual reaction is shock that such a nice man could abuse children, but sex predators are not men in dirty raincoats; they come from all walks of life and all professions. That perception means that children are not being heard. Will the Secretary of State make preventing as well as detecting child sexual abuse a public health priority? It is only through a better informed public, more aware of how predators such as Savile behave, that we will be able to protect children from abuse.
I completely agree, and that is one of the big lessons. The shadow Home Secretary was absolutely right to say that this issue raises serious questions about the nature of celebrity in our society. One of the reasons that totally inexcusable things happened—such as being given the keys to Broadmoor—was that somehow on the basis of Savile’s image people made wrong assumptions about him. The hon. Lady is absolutely right. One of the things that will change as a result of this investigation is that people will be more willing to challenge those who previously were not challenged. But there is a long way to go.
Mr Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con):
I totally agree with the Secretary of State’s belief that there should be more openness, and an increased sense of need to report concerns, but is he satisfied that, particularly with regard to NHS staff who may report concerns or whistleblowers, there is enough protection within the system to encourage more people to be more open?
No, I am not. That is why earlier this week we asked Sir Robert Francis to do a follow-up review to his public inquiry to determine what else needs to be done to create a culture of openness and transparency in the NHS. We have come a very long way as a society in terms of our understanding, but there is more work to be done. It is also very important, as I said in my statement—I know everyone would agree with this—that we do not undermine the brilliant work done by volunteers in hospitals and that we do not create a kind of bureaucratic morass that makes it impossible for that really important work to be done. However, I know we can do better than we are at the moment and important lessons need to be learned.
Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab):
The Secretary of State has been very gracious in his apology given that he was not Secretary of State at the time. Might I make one further practical suggestion? Will he speak to the Prime Minister about perhaps appointing a Minister to co-ordinate all these reports across the public institutions?
I reassure the hon. Lady that that responsibility lies with the Home Secretary, and the Home Office has a cross-governmental committee that will bring together all the lessons from all the reports. My first priority is to ensure that we are doing everything we can to make NHS patients safe, but there are much broader lessons to be learned. That is being led by the Home Office.
David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con):
Does my right hon. Friend agree that what has happened is absolutely abhorrent and that it sends out a strong message to everyone in society that even a celebrity is not above the law of the land? May I also praise the work of Kate Lampard and her team in bringing this forward?
That is absolutely right. Celebrities have never been above the law of the land, but what is clear from the report is that even though that is the case legally, in practical terms they were above the law because they were able to get away with things for a very long time that ordinary people would not have been able to get away with. That is why this is such a big moment of reflection for us. I know that everyone in the House will want to think hard about what we need to do to change that culture.
Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab):
We know that Savile was well regarded by many politicians; by way of example, he was friends with Cyril Smith and appeared in a Liberal party political broadcast in the 1970s, and had friends in high places. Surely an overarching inquiry into child sex abuse would help us to understand the political networks to which Savile belonged.
I know that the hon. Gentleman has campaigned a lot on these issues. We have not ruled out anything, but we want first to draw together the lessons for the NHS and across Government as quickly as possible. One of the important benefits of the way in which we have proceeded so far is that, because it is an investigation and not a public inquiry, we can get to the truth relatively quickly. However, we will certainly look at the cross-governmental lessons.
Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con):
As a former member of the medical staff at Stoke Mandeville hospital and now as the Member representing Broadmoor hospital, I have many questions, but let me concentrate on one. In appendix 2A part V, there is a letter about Broadmoor from Jimmy Savile to the Department of Health. It is headed “National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville”, and it is signed “Dr Jimmy Savile”. Indeed, the content of the letter is deeply unprofessional and remarkable, and it was copied on to a series of people, including the then Secretary of State. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that each of these individuals has been investigated in respect of their response to this correspondence, as I cannot believe that people could have received it without being deeply concerned about this vile man’s involvement in a high-security hospital?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. We received the reports only this week, but I will certainly take this away with me and look into exactly the point he makes.
Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab):
I thank the Secretary of State for allowing me early advance notice of the report relating to St Catherine’s hospital in Birkenhead. Much more importantly, may I associate myself with the apology that the right hon. Gentleman gave to my constituent and others. He will know that that hospital has been bulldozed and that we now have a fine community hospital. To bulldoze these practices within the NHS, will the Secretary of State consider and come back to me later on these two issues? First, it took my constituent 48 years before she was believed and 50 years before she received an apology. What steps are we going to take to ensure that justice is provided much more quickly? Secondly, Jimmy Savile was escorted around St Cath’s Birkenhead by officials, who witnessed him jumping into bed with a young patient and thought it funny. All the rules in the world provide some defence, but how do we get people to exercise judgment—whatever the rules say, whatever the circumstances and whoever does it—and say that this behaviour is not acceptable?
I would like to associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman’s comments; I share his disbelief and shock that it has taken so long. In some ways justice will never be done, because Savile died before it could be served on him, which is one of the biggest tragedies of all. I agree: there was a major lack of judgment, some of it because of the different attitudes prevailing at those times. One of the big differences today is that we make links between what is disgusting but not illegal behaviour and potential abuse in a way that did not happen in those days. I want to share with the right hon. Gentleman what most shocked me personally in the reports, and it was the way in which Savile interfered and abused people who had just come out of operations and were recovering from them. The fact that Savile was able to do that, without being supervised, is shocking and when those people spoke up about what had happened, they were not believed. That is one of so many lessons that need to be learned; I know that everyone wants to learn them.
Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con):
It is clear from the Portsmouth report that there were incidents with no corroborative evidence of the abuse. In one local case, the complainant was unconscious at the time of the alleged incident and learned of it from a hospital cleaner who witnessed it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that “no proof” is not the same as “it did not happen”, that his welcome words of apology should apply to all those who think they may have been abused and that we need a clear process for how such unprovable complaints can be dealt with?
Absolutely right. The case that my hon. Friend mentions was a real tragedy because that person suffered very real psychological harm in subsequent years as a result of what they were told by the cleaner. There are two points. First, we cannot necessarily corroborate, but we can see a pattern. What is impressive about these investigations is the fact that the investigators say time after time that although it is not possible to prove that these things happened, they believe that they did because the evidence was credible. On one or two occasions, they say that they are not sure, but in the vast majority of cases, they thought that the evidence was credible. Secondly, there will continue to be times when offences are alleged, but it is not possible to prove them in a court of law. The big lesson to be learnt is that that does not mean no action should be taken. We must do what it takes to protect patients.
Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP):
I appreciated the right hon. Gentleman’s statement. Does he agree that the fear of litigation by NHS practitioners appears to be one of the reasons why the system does not lend itself to the provision of a good listening ear, and, indeed, one of the reasons why a compassionate response to that listening is not always forthcoming? What practical steps can be taken to ensure that, at an early stage, practitioners actually listen to complaints?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that we need to change the balance in the NHS, so that the safest thing for people to do if they want to avoid litigation is to report concerns rather than sitting on them. That is an interesting lesson that has been learnt in other industries, such as the airline industry, and I hope that the follow-up review by Sir Robert Francis will help us to understand it better.
Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con):
I thank the Secretary of State for what he has said about the reports. In his statement, he referred to the importance of the changes that have come about over the past few years, both under this Government—and there are more to come—and under the last Government. Many of those changes have derived from advice given by specialist police forces or by teams within police forces.
The Association of Chief Police Officers runs courses, and collects expertise for the purpose of those courses. Its aim is to catch the individuals concerned, to help those who have been attacked by them and to monitor those individuals after they have been put on the sex offenders list. Does the Secretary of State think that it would be useful to ask ACPO whether it could provide any more advice for the Government to consider? I know that the Metropolitan police’s Jigsaw team is currently considering changes that would help it to monitor and control sex offenders once they have been detected and put on the list.
My hon. Friend has made an important point. Of course we need to co-operate very closely with the police service, and the Home Secretary is doing a huge amount of work to establish what needs to be done to increase conviction rates for sexual offences. The point for the NHS to consider, however, is that the disclosure and barring scheme will only work properly if NHS organisers comply with it—as they are obliged to do—and report incidents, because that enables other NHS organisations to find out about them. I am not satisfied that the levels of compliance are as high as they should be.
Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab):
I feel that our concern for victims must lead us to ask whether the actions of Ministers, or managers in the NHS, caused the pain that they suffered. That is one of the things that we can still do. Beyond compensation, there is accountability, and there must be accountability.
I must tell the Secretary of State that I do not think it was enough for him to say that behaviour was indefensible. Colleagues of his were Ministers at the time of that behaviour, and they must be brought to book for their actions. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham): we should focus on the fact that that appointment of a disc jockey to a hospital position was not appropriate. In some respects, that individual would have carried more credibility because of his appointment, and that is why I think that accountability is important.
I also think that, in future, children and vulnerable patients must be protected from certain people who have access to wards. It is not good enough to talk about bureaucracy. Volunteers, celebrity fundraisers and business backers must be subject to checks before being given access to hospitals and to wards, and they must expect to be subject to those checks. The present arrangements must change.
We do need more robust checks. However, I can tell the hon. Lady that I have apologised to all the victims and have said that if some of the reasons given in the reports for Jimmy Savile’s appointment to one position were as the reports claim, that was indefensible. Moreover, the Secretary of State who was in office at the time has said that it was indefensible. I think that that is accountability.
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con):
The Secretary of State has been good enough to apologise on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government and the NHS. Given that Jimmy Savile’s celebrity status was largely due to his employment by the BBC, are we not owed a big apology by the BBC, now that the report has been published?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Today’s report is about the NHS and that the BBC report is ongoing, as is the report being done by the Department for Education and the work being done by other Departments. We have to wait for the BBC to make its own statement on the matter, but my priority now is for NHS patients, and the reason that I wanted to go at speed on this was to make sure that any changes we need to make now, we do so.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab):
The Secretary of State says, quite understandably, that we cannot undo the past, but there are several people culpable in this affair who are still drawing substantial NHS pensions. Why does he not consider docking their pensions, as a consequence for their behaviour and as a clear warning to others?
I do not rule that out at all. If someone has behaved in a way that is in breach of either the law or the regulations that were in place at the hospital in which they worked, and there is a way to have legal redress such that things like pensions can be docked, I think that they should face the full consequences of that.
Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD):
Child sexual abuse is always abhorrent. The victims are always innocent and nobody should be above the law. At the beginning of this month, six Members and I wrote to the Home Secretary—now we are supported by a further 104 MPs—requesting an investigation by an independent panel into at least eight cases of child sexual abuse going back over 30 years, where the evidence has been lost or destroyed by the police, by Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise and by other agencies, and where the cases have therefore been stalled or abandoned altogether. To date, we have had no reply, so can I ask the Secretary of State to encourage the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary, and anyone who else who might be moved to take the matter on, to do so, and accept that such an independent investigation is essential to search out the truth and to make sure that action is taken after that?
I would like to reassure the hon. Lady that we have a Home Office committee, chaired by the Home Office Minister from her own party—the Minister for Crime Prevention, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker)—that is drawing together all the lessons from Savile across all Departments. It is then going to take that view as to what needs to happen next to prevent child sexual abuse, and I would like to reassure her that the Home Office and the Government as a whole have no higher priority than that.
Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab):
Jimmy Savile visited the Royal Victoria infirmary in Newcastle on a number of occasions—generally, it appears, around the time of the great north run. The Newcastle hospital trust’s investigation concludes that nothing untoward happened and there was constant supervision, but it refers to an NSPCC investigation that had access to other witnesses, which suggests that unsupervised access did occur. That is obviously a matter of huge concern for everyone who put their trust in the RVI, whether as a patient or as a child. Is not my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) right? It is not up to them to try to draw what could be horrendous conclusions from these somewhat conflicting reports. Do we not need an overarching independent inquiry?
We are having an overarching independent inquiry—that is what Kate Lampard is doing—but on whether we need to have further inquiries, we need to wait until we get the response, which we are hoping for this autumn, because at the moment, we have published individual reports, but we have not drawn any wider lessons for the NHS system-wide. One of the things that I hope will be a consequence of today is that if there are any victims who were abused at the RVI, they will use today as some encouragement to come forward. I have given instructions and I am absolutely clear as Health Secretary that I want every single one of the concerns of anyone who comes forward to be investigated thoroughly—as thoroughly as all the ones that are tragically coming to light today.
Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con):
It is astonishing that this catalogue of abuse was allowed to happen and that no action was taken at the time. I commend my right hon. Friend for his statement, both for the way he has delivered it and for the content, but can he elucidate for the House what specific changes he foresees in legislation, although legislation has moved forward, and any specific changes to procedures that now need to be taken as a result of the publication today?
I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not try and predict what Kate Lampard’s recommendations are before she makes them, but I think the obvious question to ask is whether we have the procedures in place that ensure that someone like Savile would not be given the keys to an institution in the way that he was? I do not believe that would happen today. My understanding of the way that NHS organisations work is that it would be impossible for someone to be given the freedom of a trust in the way that he was at Broadmoor, but I do not want to take that as a fact. I want Kate Lampard to look at that, so that we can be absolutely sure that it would not happen. I think the other obvious area for her to consider is the functioning of the disclosure and barring scheme, and to make sure that it really is set up in a way that would make it more likely for us to catch someone like Savile. Again, I think it is likely that he would be caught by the DBS, but I would like Kate Lampard to look at that and give me her views.
Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab):
I am not sure that I share the Secretary of State’s view about Jimmy Savile being caught by the procedures now in place through the DBS, but I want to ask him this: under changes introduced by this coalition, a regular volunteer at a children’s hospital—acting, for example, as a reading volunteer on the ward—will not require a Criminal Records Bureau check, and given the harm done by the revelations about Jimmy Savile, I am sure that will cause concern to millions of parents around this country. Does the Secretary of State share that concern, especially in the light of the NSPCC’s comments this week that the pendulum has swung too far towards the abuser by the changes that his Government have introduced?
I do not agree with that. The CRB checks that were introduced by the last Labour Government were a very important step forward when they started in 2002 but what is also important, as I am sure Labour recognises, is that they have limitations, because they identify whether someone has a criminal record. Jimmy Savile was never convicted of a criminal offence, so CRB checks alone would not have stopped this abuse. That is why we need a broader system, which is what the disclosure and barring scheme is intended to be. It is deliberately set up as something that is risk-profiled, so the higher the risk, the higher the standard of investigation, but that is one of the things that Kate Lampard will look at and we need to listen to what she says when she gives us her final report.
John Glen (Salisbury) (Con):
I was grateful for the opportunity early this morning to look at the thorough report of Jimmy Savile’s visits to Odstock hospital. At Odstock, although it seemed that Mr Savile visited, the report concluded that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing. However, one recommendation was that the Department of Health issue national guidance on VIP policy and VIP visits. Can the Secretary of State confirm that he will look at that, so that all hospitals, including the successor to Odstock, Salisbury district hospital, can have a reliable policy in place?
I think that is a very sensible suggestion. I want to wait until Kate Lampard gives her final report in September, so I do not want to pre-empt what she says, but certainly, one of the blindingly obvious things that jumps out at us from these reports is that too generous treatment was given to someone on the basis of that celebrity status, and we definitely need to learn lessons. As I am sure my hon. Friend would appreciate from his own constituents’ point of view, the fact that there is no evidence of abuse sadly does not mean that there was no abuse, and that is why it is really important for us to remember that there may well be many people who are not mentioned today who have been quietly suffering for many years. I hope today will give them encouragement to come forward.
Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab):
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the report from Wythenshawe hospital this morning. For me, the shocking revelation that I noted was that it was an open secret among patients, as early as 1962, that this man was doing what he was doing—and I quote:
“a dirty old man up to no good”.
If there is one good thing that can come from this for the nation, it is that we implore all institutions, both governmental and in civil society, to keep their child protection, safeguarding and recruitment selection procedures up to date and under review.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and touches on a matter that we have not touched on so far this morning. Recruitment is a very important area that we must get right in this process, and I wholeheartedly agree with what he said.
Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab):
Today will be an emotional day for victims and their families as the report is published. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how victims have been supported and informed about the publication, particularly today and in the run-up to today, and how they will be kept informed as subsequent actions are carried forward? In particular, what efforts have been made to inform and support those who are most vulnerable, such as those with learning difficulties or who are severely mentally unwell, perhaps as a result of the abuse they suffered many years ago?
The hon. Lady is right to raise that issue, and the guidance that I have issued to NHS organisations today makes it clear that I want to give maximum protection not just to the victims identified in these reports, but to people going forward. That is the least we owe them.
Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab):
Has the Secretary of State received intelligence, or does he have a suspicion, that victims of Savile were frightened to come forward because he enjoyed powerful political protection?
I do not believe there is any evidence of that in the reports, but there is a lot of evidence that people felt that they would not be believed because of Savile’s celebrity status. Part of that celebrity status was his connections in high places, and that is part of the myth that we need to puncture as a result of today’s report.
Today (Thursday June 19th) the Conservative MP and former Children’s Commissioner Tim Loughton asked the Leader of the House of Commons, Andrew Lansley, about the growing movement amongst MPs calling for a national inquiry into organised child abuse. The exchange was as follows (taken from Hansard):
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con):
The Leader of the House may be aware that together with our hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and five other colleagues across the Chamber, I have written to the Home Secretary to ask for an independent inquiry into historic child abuse. That call has already been taken up by more than 70 hon. Members from across the House. Given that new stories emerge almost daily of grotesque abuse of children going back to the ’60s, does the Leader of the House agree that it is time that such an inquiry was held, and will he give time for a debate in the House to set the scene for it?
Mr Andrew Lansley (Leader of the House of Commons):
My hon. Friend has done important work on tackling those issues. He will be aware of the range of inquiries that have taken place, some of which, I hope, are approaching a conclusion. As the Prime Minister has said and recently reiterated to the House, we have not been persuaded of the case for an overarching inquiry; indeed, we feel that there is a significant risk that such an inquiry might impede and delay the resolution of some of the issues in the separate inquiries that are taking place. As the Prime Minister rightly said, however, he will continue actively to keep the question under review.
The following exchange also took place at the House of Commons on June 11th, 2014:
Mr Duncan Hames (Liberal Democrat, Chippenham)
Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister will have heard calls from Honourable Members on all sides of this House for an independent inquiry on the Hillsborough model into organised child sexual abuse in this country. Can he truly be satisfied that current police investigations are sufficient for the public to have confidence that we are both willing and able to get to the truth?
The Right Hon David Cameron (Prime Minister)
I think my Honourable Friend makes a very important point and I have looked at this carefully with Ministerial colleagues, because of course we have a series of inquiries taking place into what happened in various hospitals and care homes and indeed media organisations, and I think it’s very important that Government keeps a clear view about how these are being co-ordinated and how the lessons are being learned. If there is a need for any more over-arching process to be put in place, I’m very happy to look at that, but at the moment, I think led by the Home Secretary and her colleagues, we do have a proper view of what’s happening at all these organisations.
In amongst these mealy-mouthed evasive answers, I would remind people of the original letter sent to Home Secretary Teresa May by the original seven MPs (Zac Goldsmith, Loughton, John Hemming, Tessa Munt, Tom Watson, Simon Danczuk and Caroline Lucas):
Dear Home Secretary,
We are writing to ask you to set up a full, properly resourced investigation into the failure of the Police to follow the evidence in a number of historical cases of child sexual abuse.
We would ask you to set up an independent panel, similar to the Inquiry you established into the Hillsborough tragedy, with powers to demand the release of all and any material from every agency involved.
We would like such a panel to work with the many victims of child sexual abuse from local authority care, the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches and schools, including public schools, to uncover the facts in cases including the following:
a. Operation Fernbridge – Richmond: Elm Guest House and Grafton Close Children’s Home, Norbiton, Weybridge & Petersham
b. Operation Orchid – Hackney and Islington
c. The Geoffrey Dickens’ dossiers – and Monkton Street home for Mentally Handicapped Children, Lambeth
d. Sir Cyril Smith – Rochdale, including Knowl View Special School
e. HM Customs & Excise – Russell Tricker videos
f. Trafficking involving British businessmen in Amsterdam
g. Warwick Spinks – Amsterdam & Prague
h. “Jane” alleged rape by a man who went on to become a Cabinet minister
We would ask that the panel examines:
i. why detailed dossiers – such as the documents submitted to the Home Office by the late Geoffrey Dickens – have disappeared
ii. why Police surveillance videos – said to be of prominent people who have been involved in paedophile rings – have gone missing
iii. why child pornography videos seized by HM Customs & Excise have been lost or destroyed
iv. why investigations appear repeatedly to have been stalled or abandoned over the last thirty years
We look forward to an early response
Amongst the most important issues they raise is to do with the unsatisfactory nature of existing police investigations.
The Prime Minister and the Government must not, and should not be allowed to, sweep this under the carpet – there are extremely serious questions to be answered.
[Since first publishing this article online a number of further MPs have indicated their support for a national inquiry in line with the express wishes of the original seven. For details of this, and how to write to your MP to ask them to support, please see this post]
The pioneering news organisation Exaro have published two important articles today by David Hencke relating to a cross-party group of seven MPs who have written jointly to Home Secretary Theresa May called for a proper inquiry into child abuse, citing the Hillsborough inquiry as a model (see Hencke, ‘Police keep failing ‘to follow evidence’ in abuse cases, say MPs: Call for wide inquiry into ‘schools, churches, children’s homes, politicians and celebrities’, 3/6/14, and ‘MPs call on Theresa May to set inquiry into child sex abuse: Tim Loughton and Zac Goldsmith in cross-party group that highlights failures by police’, 3/6/14; see also Jason Beattie, ‘MPs demand inquiry into historic claims of child sex abuse by Cabinet Ministers’, Daily Mirror, 4/6/14).
The seven MPs in question (who Hencke has elsewhere called the ‘Magnificent Seven’) are:
Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park, whose constituency contains Elm Guest House, Grafton Close Children’s Home, and Colet Court and St Paul’s Schools (Twitter @ZacGoldsmith ).
Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham and former Children’s Commissioner, who spoke powerfully in the House of Commons in September 2013 about many ongoing revelations of abuse (Website here; Twitter @timloughton ).
John Hemming, MP for Birmingham Yardley, who made representations on behalf of financial journalist Leah McGrath Goodman on the grounds of her being banned from the UK following investigation into child abuse at Haut de la Garenne, Jersey, but has also been critical of UK family courts when dealing with allegations of abuse against parents. (Website here; Twitter @johnhemmingmp )
Tessa Munt, MP for Wells, who as a member of the Education Select Committee has taken a special interest in child safeguarding, and whose constituency contains Wells Cathedral School, one of the five specialist music schools, all of which have been connected to abuse (Website here; Twitter @tessamunt )
Tom Watson, MP for West Bromwich East, who has been indefatigable in his commitment to this issue ever since raising in Westminster in October 2012 the issues of a high-level paedophile ring (see Watson’s blog and articles here and many other places online; Twitter @tom_watson ).
Simon Danczuk, MP for Rochdale, co-author with Matthew Baker of Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith (London: Biteback, 2014), who has written of how Smith was connected to Peter Righton and also a wider paedophile ring including prominent politicians (see this article by Watson in praise of Danczuk) (Website here, Twitter @simondanczuk )
These seven MPs are concerned about how important files, surveillance videos and other material have gone missing, lack of charges brought as a result of Operation Fernbridge, and in general an apparent reluctance on the part of the police and others to pursue cases of serious abuse. Watson has written to the Director of Public Prosecutions naming a former cabinet minister alleged to have raped a woman going by the name of ‘Jane’ (see also the detailed five-part account linked to at the bottom of this article and the video interview with ‘Jane’); this is the same senior cabinet minister who has been linked to the VIP paedophile ring related to Elm Guest House (as confirmed by Mark Watts on Twitter on 18/5/14). The Metropolitan Police have chosen not to pursue Jane’s allegations further, nor even interview the alleged perpetrator, raising serious questions about whether proper procedure has been followed; Exaro have also claimed that there was a shocking concerted police smear campaign aimed at discrediting ‘Jane’. Furthermore, there are serious questions about the whereabouts of a series of documents submitted to the Home Office by the late Geoffrey Dickens MP (see here, here and here), one of the few MPs who continued to pursue this issue in the 1980s. Loughton has spoken of his alarm at consistent ‘reluctance, or more worryingly, the seeming complicity of police and other agencies to investigate the allegations seriously, and pursue the perpetrators rigorously’, and how ‘Documents go missing and investigations are curtailed with a chilling frequency, and that now threatens a serious undermining of the public’s confidence in our current child-protection system despite all the progress that has undoubtedly been made in recent years’.
The range of areas of public life in which there have been major allegations of abuse is frighteningly large: these include children’s homes in Islington (see also here and this article by whistleblower Liz Davies), Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark, Haute de la Garenne in Jersey, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Suffolk, Staffordshire (the ‘Pindown’ scandal) Birmingham, Leicestershire, North Wales, South Wales, Cheshire, Leeds, Sunderland, Northumberland, Lothian, Renfrewshire, Isle of Lewis, the Kincora Boy’s Home in Belfast, Stockgrove Park School, Buckinghamshire, Stanbridge Earls School near Romsey, Hampshire, New Barns School, Gloucestershire, Castle Hill School, Shropshire, St George’s School, Suffolk, Knowl View School in Rochdale, in Cleveland, many of the leading public schools (see also the range of articles here), the Catholic Church, not least in Scottish abbeys, the Church of England, the entertainment industry (not least involving Jimmy Savile), grooming gangs in the North West and Oxford, music education, a ring around Piccadilly Circus, major networks trading images of child abuse, and more. Some of these cases have been investigated, with some prosecutions, but there is good reason to believe some of these investigations have been half-hearted, whilst other cases have simply been ignored. There are many individuals linked to multiple networks (not least the sinister figure of Peter Righton), continuing talk of the VIP paedophile ring connected to Elm Guest House and elsewhere, major information concerning late MPs Cyril Smith and Peter Morrison and serious allegations about others who are living (not least the severe claim that a Blair era cabinet minister was being investigated for abusing children in a home in Lambeth, leading to a detective being taken off the case, and even that a council official looking to expose a ring involving the minister was murdered). The activities of members of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), about whom I have blogged in detail, remain shady, and there are many suggestions that this organisation might be linked to a great number of cases of abuse. Furthermore, it is now clear that PIE had deep links to the Home Office, receiving large amounts of money from the organisation, with at least three members working on its premises (with a phone line there), its magazine printed there, and some civil servants receiving images of child abuse delivered to the building!
It is heartening to see such a diverse cross-party group of MPs coming together on this issue. Yet it is more than a little disappointing that there are not more, and that the most senior politicians in all the major parties do not appear to be taking seriously what can only be called an epidemic (if even less than half of the allegations were true). I would urge everyone reading this to write to their own MP and implore them to support the seven courageous figures above (any of whom I would gladly vote for). I have earlier blogged on the need for Ed Miliband, the leader of the party to which I belong (Labour), to put all of his weight behind calls for a proper inquiry, but also how there is near-silence from the upper echelons of Labour, perhaps related to the fact that senior Labour politicians are under investigation and also that the current Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman, has been linked to PIE during her time as Legal Officer at the NCCL, during which period NCCL took out an advert in PIE’s journal Magpie and also their policy on images of children reflects aspects of PIE thinking. But this should not be stopping Miliband, nor should worries about the former Thatcher era cabinet minister, and Peter Morrison and others, be stopping David Cameron (and in light of revelations about Cyril Smith, Nick Clegg should be firmly behind this).
Leading experts, researchers and campaigners on child abuse Peter McKelvie and Liz Davies met recently with Home Office minister Norman Baker. They were granted a mere ten minutes of time, despite having built up huge bodies of evidence about child abuse, but it was made clear that there was no intention to undertake either a national police investigation (absolutely necessary because so many complex cases are interlinked) nor a public inquiry. I would urge people to read the account above. Nonetheless, I have been informed that both individuals spoke very highly of Zac Goldsmith’s commitment to the issues in particular.
The media have reported much about the relatively small number of cases coming to court as a result of Operation Yewtree. But these are just a tiny fraction of the wider allegations of serious and sustained abuse (and non-sexual abuse should not be treated any less seriously). All credit to these seven MPs, but as for the others – if our MPs do not care about protecting children in the most vulnerable situations, what do they care about?