In Brief

NSPCC: make sex abuse cover-ups a criminal offence

Call follows claims that politicians, BBC and church have hushed-up decades of abuse

Covering-up child abuse should be made a criminal offence, says the head of the NSPCC Peter Wanless.

The child protection charity’s chief executive, who is leading a review into how the Home Office handled historical allegations of child abuse by MPs, says those who cover up such offences should face automatic prosecution.

He also argues that staff at institutions such as hospitals, children's homes and boarding schools should be contractually obliged to report abuse.

The charity boss tells the BBC: "If someone consciously knows that there is a crime committed against a child, and does nothing about it because they put the reputation of the organisation above the safety of that child, that should be a criminal offence."

This marks a significant shift in policy by the NSPCC, which has previously opposed all forms of mandatory reporting. As recently as March, it argued that "criminal sanction against those who hesitate is unfair".

Lawyer Liz Dux, who represents 176 victims of disgraced television personality Jimmy Savile, has welcomed the NSPCC's turnaround. She said: "The NSPCC's backing for mandatory reporting is a welcome and significant moment in our fight to protect future children from predators like Savile, Harris, Smith and Hall."

Wanless is heading an inquiry into concerns that the Home Office failed to act on allegations of child sex abuse by MPs in the past. The allegations were contained in a dossier handed over in the 1980s by former Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens.

A separate, independent inquiry, to examine historical sexual abuse and institutions' protection of children, will be led by retired senior judge Elizabeth Butler-Sloss.

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