Child abuse inquiry: survivors urge Theresa May to scrap panel
New dossier of evidence handed to police allegedly implicates 22 politicians, including three serving MPs
A group of child abuse survivors have welcomed reports that Home Secretary Theresa May wants to replace the government's child abuse inquiry panel with a more powerful body.
More than 60 victims and representatives wrote to May calling for a new panel with the legal powers to compel witnesses to give evidence under oath.
Six months after the inquiry was announced, the panel still has no chairman. May's first two choices, Fiona Woolf and Baroness Butler-Sloss, stood down because of their links to 1980s establishment figures.
In their letter to May, seen by Sky News, survivors said it was "essential that those conducting the inquiry have appropriate experience, are free from strong links to prominent establishment figures or any other potential conflict of interest and have a proven track record of promoting survivors' rights".
They called for a "dedicated police team to take evidence alongside the inquiry and investigate and prosecute offenders" and said they would welcome the inquiry being given "statutory powers", as well as the "replacement of the current panel".
Their request comes after the Home Secretary wrote to the current panel members, warning that she was considering three options to give the inquiry more powers. Two out of three of the options required the panel to be disbanded.
Labour has criticised May for her "utter failure" to get the inquiry "off the ground", says the BBC.
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph says police are investigating claims that up to five paedophile rings operated at "the heart of Westminster", each involving at least one MP.
John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, has been gathering evidence from members of the public and has handed a dossier to Scotland Yard that reportedly implicates 22 politicians, including three serving MPs and three members of the House of Lords.
He also raised concerns that there are too many different police investigations into the historic abuses and called for an overarching police inquiry.
Home Office under fire over missing child abuse files review
The Home Office is facing criticism over a review into the department's handling of the 1980s Dickens dossier of paedophilia allegations.
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, was brought in to investigate in July after an internal Home Office review found no evidence of a dossier of suspected child abusers compiled by Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens in the 1980s.
The internal review also found that between 1979 and 1999 the department had "lost or destroyed" 114 files relating to child abuse.
Wanless has also reportedly failed to uncover the files or the dossier and is expected to criticise the Home Office's record-keeping and archiving when he publishes his report later today.
He is expected to agree with the department's findings that there is no evidence to suggest the missing files had been removed or destroyed inappropriately.
The Home Office says the department did consider the allegations contained in the Dickens dossier at the time and passed on 13 "items of information" to the police and prosecutors.
However, Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who raised the issue of the missing dossier earlier this year, has complained that the timescale for the Wanless review has not allowed for more sophisticated digital tracing techniques to be used.
"That raises serious questions about the scope of the investigations and, frankly, leaves a question mark over any of its findings," he told the Daily Telegraph.
Mark Sedwill, the department's permanent secretary, said the review had analysed a central database containing 746,000 files from the period 1979 to 1999.
Labour has also been critical of Home Secretary Theresa May's decision to publish the Wanless report in a written ministerial statement rather than face questions from MPs in the Commons.
"The failure by Wanless to throw any new light on the fate of the allegations by Dickens is likely to fuel the continuing row over the establishment of a national overarching inquiry into historical allegations of child sex abuse," says The Guardian.
The Home Secretary has already apologised for the delays to the overarching inquiry after Fiona Woolf, the second chair appointed to lead the inquiry stood down over her links to Lord Brittan.
Review fails to find 'explosive' dossier of alleged paedophiles
A review led by NSPCC chief Peter Wanless has failed to locate a 40-page dossier from the 1980s that accused several public figures of paedophilia.
Wanless was commissioned by Home Secretary Theresa May in July to review an internal Home Office inquiry into its handling of child sex abuse claims in the 1980s.
The internal inquiry found that the Home Office had "lost or destroyed" 114 files and found no evidence of a dossier of suspected child abusers compiled by Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens in the 1980s.
Dickens, who died in 1995, had told his family the details were "explosive". He is said to have handed the file to the then Home Secretary Leon Brittan in 1983, but it later disappeared.
A source close to the Wanless review, due to be published next week, told BBC Newsnight that the documents from the dossier have still not been found. "They have looked inside and behind every single cupboard in the department, and they have been round them twice, and they have not been able to find any of them," said the source.
Former child protection manager Peter McKelvie said that even without the file there are enough officials still around who would be aware of its contents. "The information is out there and anyone who tries to deny that is misleading people," he said.
The Independent says the file is rumoured to be in the Barbara Castle archives within the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library.
Castle, a Labour MP from 1945 to 1979, is said to have drawn up a similar dossier of her own in the 1980s. Don Hale, the editor of Castle’s local newspaper, the Bury Messenger, says she handed it to him in 1984 but a "heavy mob" of Special Branch officers raided his office and took away the file, threatening him with prison if he resisted.
Meanwhile, the Home Secretary has apologised for the delays to the government’s overarching inquiry into historical sex abuse. She has vowed to get the next chairman appointment right, after Fiona Woolf finally stood down over her links to Lord Brittan.
How did the claims emerge?
In October 2012, Labour MP Tom Watson claimed in the House of Commons that there is "clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No 10". Scotland Yard subsequently began examining allegations surrounding Elm Guest House in Barnes, southwest London, where it was claimed prominent men, including politicians, abused boys in the 1970s and 1980s.
Why is the story back in the news?
In July this year, Labour MP Simon Danczuk told MPs on the Home Affairs Committee that a 40-page dossier accusing eight public figures of being paedophiles had disappeared. The dossier was handed to the then Home Secretary Leon Brittan in 1983 by Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens, who died in 1995. David Cameron asked Mark Sedwill, Home Office permanent secretary, to investigate the claims. Days later, Sedwill revealed that an investigation had already taken place last year within the Home Office and found that 114 files relating to historic allegations of child sex abuse, from between 1979 and 1999, had disappeared from the department.
What was in the missing documents?
The file compiled by Dickens named eight leading figures from public life, including senior politicians, who were said to be paedophiles "operating and networking within and around" the Westminster elite, reports The Sunday Times. It was believed to have named Sir Cyril Smith, the late Rochdale MP, Jimmy Savile and Sir Peter Morrison, Margaret Thatcher's former parliamentary private secretary. Police have reportedly compiled a list of more than ten politicians, including past and present MPs or peers from the three main parties. One former child protection manager, Peter McKelvie, believes there were "upwards of 20" top figures involved, with a "much larger number of people who have known about it and done nothing about it".
Was there a cover-up?
Lord Tebbit, a colleague of Brittan's in Thatcher's Cabinet, has admitted there "may well have been" a big political cover-up at the time. He told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show the instinct of people at the time was to protect "the system" and not to delve too deeply into uncomfortable allegations. Since Danczuk made the fresh allegations in July, dozens of new informants have apparently come forward. One former detective told the MP he had been forced to sign a gagging order about his role investigating alleged paedophiles in the government, and was frightened of the legal consequences of speaking out.
What did the 2013 Home Office review find?
Last year's review found 13 previously undisclosed "items of information about child abuse", four of which implicated Home Office officials. However, it found "no record of specific allegations... of child sex abuse by prominent public figures". It said that the "credible" elements of the Dickens dossier that had "realistic potential" for further investigation were sent to police and prosecutors, while other elements were either not retained, or were destroyed. The review found that Brittan had acted appropriately in dealing with allegations.
What has Lord Brittan said?
Lord Brittan issued a statement in which he confirmed that he had received a "substantial bundle of papers" from Dickens and had asked officials to report back to him if "action needed to be taken". He said he "did not recall" being "contacted further about these matters". A week after this initially statement, it emerged that Lord Brittan had been questioned by the police in June over an alleged sexual offence in London in 1967. He released another statement through his solicitors strenuously denying the allegation and describing it as "wholly without foundation".
What happened next?
The Home Office appointed Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC, to ensure that the conclusions of its internal investigation "remain sound" and "valid". Wanless was also asked to look at how the police and prosecutors handled any related information that was handed to them. The Home Office also announced a much wider independent inquiry to consider whether public bodies and other non-state institutions had "taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse". Baroness Butler Sloss was appointed to lead the inquiry, but she was forced to resign before proceedings had got underway after it emerged that her brother, Michael Havers, was attorney general at the time some of the alleged abuse took place in the 1980s. Fiona Woolf, the Lord Mayor of London and former president of the Law Society, was also appointed and resigned after her links with Lord Brittan emerged.
Child abuse inquiry: Woolf urged to quit over letter fiasco
Fiona Woolf is under renewed pressure to resign as head of the government's child sex abuse inquiry after it emerged that the Home Office helped play down her links with the Tory politician at the centre of the scandal.
Woolf had already been urged to stand down after she revealed that she had attended dinner parties with Lord Brittan, the former 1980s home secretary. He was allegedly handed a file in 1983 accusing eight public figures of paedophilia, but the file later went missing.
Yesterday it emerged that a letter sent from Woolf to Home Secretary Theresa May, in which Woolf detailed her personal connections with Lord Brittan and his wife, had been re-written seven times, with help from Home Office officials, to play down the relationship.
Woolf revealed the extent of the edits in a letter to the Home Affairs Committee. Chairman of the committee Keith Vaz said it was "extraordinary that she did not even write the first draft of her letter, which was supposed to detail her own experiences".
Simon Danczuk, a Labour backbencher who raised the issue of the missing 1983 file earlier this year, told the Daily Telegraph that the rewritten letter made Woolf's position "untenable".
Victims' groups are expected to tell inquiry officials that Woolf should step down at a meeting taking place later today. One victims' representative told the BBC he had "zero confidence" in the inquiry as it stands.
A Home Office spokesman said Woolf's letter to the Home Affairs Committee showed her "commitment to openness and transparency" and that the department "remain confident" that she can carry out her duties to "the highest standards of impartiality and integrity".
Earlier this week, Labour MP Jim Hood was accused of misusing parliamentary privilege, which protects Commons comments from libel action, after he claimed Lord Brittan had been accused of "improper conduct with children".
Lord Brittan insisted the claim was "totally inappropriate" and "completely without foundation".
A 2013 internal Home Office review found Brittan had acted appropriately in dealing with the allegations made in 1983.
Child abuse inquiry: Fiona Woolf under pressure to resign
Fiona Woolf, the head of the official inquiry into historic sex abuse, is under pressure to resign after revealing that she attended dinner parties with Lord Brittan, the former 1980s home secretary at the centre of the scandal.
Lord Brittan was reportedly handed a 40-page dossier in 1983 accusing eight public figures of paedophilia. However, the dossier subsequently disappeared.
Woolf, the Lord Mayor of London and former president of the Law Society, has published a letter to Home Secretary Theresa May, detailing her personal connections with Lord Brittan and his wife.
She said she had lived in the same road as them since 2004 and had entertained them three times at dinner parties at her house and had twice gone to his home for dinner.
Woolf also met Lady Brittan for coffee several times, sat on a prize-giving panel with her and sponsored her for a charity run, reports The Guardian.
However, she insisted she did not have a "close association" with the peer.
Woolf's personal connections have come under "intense scrutiny" because of what some commentators have alleged is an "establishment cover up", says the Daily Telegraph.
Simon Danczuk, a Labour backbencher who raised the issue of the missing dossier earlier this year, said Woolf should stand down.
"I have serious concerns about the relationship between Fiona Woolf and Leon Brittan," he said. "I don't buy into this idea that the Home Office could not find someone who was not connected to Leon Brittan."
It comes just three months after the first person appointed to head the inquiry, Baroness Butler Sloss, was forced to resign because of her brother Michael Havers' role as attorney general in the 1980s.
A 2013 internal Home Office review found that the "credible" elements of the dossier had been sent to police and prosecutors, while other elements were either not retained or were destroyed. The review found that Brittan had acted appropriately in dealing with the allegations.
Westminster paedophile ring claims: '20 top figures involved'
At least 20 prominent figures are believed to be among a "powerful elite" of paedophiles who abused children for "decades", according to a former child protection manager.
Police were said to be investigating more than ten current and former politicians over alleged child abuse, but Peter McKelvie told BBC Newsnight: "I would say we are looking at upwards of 20 and a much larger number of people who have known about it and done nothing about it."
McKelvie, whose allegations led to the 2012 police inquiry, said he had spoken to many male victims who had been subjected to the "worst form of abuse", including rape, when they were children.
His comments came just hours after Home Secretary Theresa May announced a wide-ranging inquiry into historical sex abuse claims. Parliament, the police, schools, churches and the BBC will be among those subjected to the investigation, which will have the same legal status as the Hillsborough inquiry and will not report until after next year's general election.
Several MPs have complained that the inquiry will not be led by a judge with the power to summon witnesses and seize papers. Conservative MP Mark Reckless told the Daily Mirror he would therefore be surprised if suspected paedophiles facing criminal prosecutions would co-operate without a judge at its helm.
According to The Guardian, the inquiry will be able to examine files from the security services and the Tory whips' office, which is rumoured to have suppressed allegations of child abuse in the 1970s.
Labour MPs pointed to footage from a 1995 BBC documentary in which Tim Fortescue, a senior whip in Sir Edward Heath's government from 1970-73, boasted he could cover up a scandal "involving small boys".
Meanwhile, Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC, will also carry out a smaller inquiry into whether there was a cover-up of abuses within the Home Office. He will examine an internal review carried out last year into the department's files relating to organised child sex abuse from 1979 to 1999.
He will also study another Home Office investigation, released last night, which concluded that the department gave six-figure grants to two organisations linked to the Paedophile Information Exchange. ·