Child Abuse Inquiry to Cover ‘Concealment of Evidence
Inquiry to examine whether whips’ offices failed to report allegations against politicians
A ‘GUARDIAN’ Article by Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent
Allegations that the parliamentary whips’ offices suppressed evidence of MPs’ involvement in abuse are to be examined by the child abuse inquiry. Unveiling priorities for the Westminster strand of its investigation, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said it would also look into whether police and prosecutors were prevented from pursuing sensitive cases involving politicians.
Substantive hearings into the claims – some of the most extraordinary to come before IICSA – are scheduled to be heard over a three-week period in March 2019.
Andrew O’Connor QC, counsel to inquiry, acknowledged that public concern over reports of a Westminster paedophile ring centred on Dolphin Square in London had “diminished” following a police investigation that decided not to bring any charges.But there remain many issues that need to be examined in terms of how public institutions and bodies responded to allegations, he said. O’Connor listed six main areas on which the Westminster investigation will focus. On the role of parliamentary whips, he suggested: “Is it possible that on occasions in the past [they] may have received allegations of child sexual abuse made against politicians in their own party, and then failed to report those allegations, or to take any other appropriate steps? “Is it possible, indeed, that the whips may have taken active steps to conceal such allegations – in part to avoid embarrassing publicity and in part to gain a hold over the politician in question?”
Two other strands, O’Connor explained, would involve examining whether police or prosecutors were prevented from pursuing cases. “A number of retired police officers have claimed that they were indeed ‘warned off’ investigating possible cases of child sexual abuse committed by senior politicians in the 1960s, 70s and 80s,” he said. “Several of these cases are linked to the Elm Guest House affair, which was itself the subject of investigation by the Metropolitan police in its Operations Fairbank and Fernbridge.” Other areas will include how political parties responded to allegations, for example the way the Liberal party dealt with claims against its MP Cyril Smith in Rochdale.
The two other focuses for the investigation will be how the honours system dealt with individuals alleged to have been involved in child sex abuse and official contacts with the Paedophile Information Exchange and its membership in the 1970s and 1980s. O’Connor said that the three main intelligence agencies – MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – have been asked to search for relevant material. IICSA will not investigate whether the former prime minister Edward Heath was a paedophile, O’Connor said. “It will not be appropriate for the inquiry,” he cautioned, “… to make findings as to whether any individual allegations of child sexual abuse are true or false.”
Seven anonymous complainants have been given core participant status as well as the Home Office, the Met, the Labour party and other organisations. There were three submissions on Wednesday from others seeking core participant status in this strand of the investigation. Daniel Janner QC, the son of the former Labour MP and peer Greville Janner, argued that he should be allowed to question “fantasists” making accusations of abuse against his father. “This strand risks turning into a witch-hunt of dead politicians,” he declared. David Greenwood, a solicitor representing a former “rent boy” identified only as WM-A1, said his client alleged that he had been raped by Heath. The claim has already been considered by Wiltshire police. Sam Stein QC, who represents an anonymous man referred to as WM-A4, said his experience of systematic past abuse was relevant to the inquiry.The chair of the inquiry, Prof Alexis Jay, will decide at a later date whether to make them core participants. Daniel Janner has already been accorded that status in a separate section of the inquiry looking at Lord Janner’s alleged activities in Leicestershire.