Westminster child sex abuse probe hears how parties and police covered up abuse

The Westminster stage of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has heard shocking allegations of cover ups by political parties, police and the prosecution service.

Today an investigation opened into “whether Westminster institutions have failed and whether indeed they are still failing to protect children from child sex abuse.”

It is set to hear “whether political parties turned a blind eye to allegations of child sex abuse against their members of parliament and leaders.”

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) was set up by Theresa May as Home Secretary in 2014 to respond to mounting concerns over public bodies failing to protect children from sexual abuse.

The next three weeks of the hearings in central London will focus on how allegations of child sexual abuse by Westminster figures including politicians were dealt with.

Former government ministers are among those who will be called to testify before an inquiry into Westminster child sexual abuse, as well as former and current members of the security services and police.

Today explosive claims to be examined by the inquiry were heard. 

These include:

  • A dossier of establishment figures implicated in child sex abuse that since appears to have gone missing.
  • Whether the Home Office funded the Paedophile Information Exchange – paedophiles who lobbied to lower the age of consent to allow Special Branch to keep tabs on members.
  • Whether political parties ignored or covered up allegations of paedophilia by politicians, allowing Cyril Smith to become an MP despite police warnings of the Liberal MP using his position to abuse children and also ignoring allegations against Conservative MP Sir Peter Morrison as he became PM Margaret Thatcher’s Private Parliamentary Secretary.
  • Party Whips’ “dirt books” and whether they contained such allegations to blackmail MPs with.
  • Police and prosecution services prioritizing establishment figures’ positions in Westminster over their victims’ allegations.

Four former senior police officers are set to testify about how their investigations into child sex crimes by establishment figures were frustrated by higher powers.

Two of the former high-ranking detectives will tell the investigation set to run over the next three weeks how they were stopped from investigating allegations into Sir Cyril Smith.

Cyril Smith
Rochdale MP Cyril Smith

Other officers will give evidence about a surveillance operation on a flat in Cricklewood, West London used by Roddam Twiss – whose father Sir Frank was parliament’s Black Rod in the 1970s – as Roddam acted as a pimp of male prostitutes to Westminster figures.

One former detective is set to name Liberal politicians Sir Cyril Smith and Jeremy Thorpe, as well as Thatcher’s Home Secretary Leon Brittan and Tory leader Sir Edward Heath spotted as visitors before an investigation was blocked by a more senior police officer.

Sir David Steel, the then leader of the Liberal Party – which later became the Liberal Democrats – will be called to the investigation to be quizzed about what he knew about allegations against Cyril Smith when he became the party’s candidate for Rochdale.

Cyril Smith was a Liberal MP for Rochdale in the 1970’s after Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe – who later resigned amid sexual scandal – insisted the local party have Smith as a candidate even though police had investigated serious allegations of sexual abuse of young boys in care homes in Rochdale where he had been Mayor.

The police investigation was dropped in 1970. Smith died in 2010 and two years later the Crown Prosecution Service admitted that he would have faced prosecution for allegations of child abuse where he still alive with allegations that had surfaced since.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has heard how Smith was a governor at several schools in Rochdale, including Knowl View, where one abuse survivor attended as a boy when Smith was governor. He gave horrific testimony of a rape by Smith in the Rochdale unit of the inquiry.

The inquiry was provided evidence by MI5 that the security service had been aware at the time that the Director of Public Prosecutions had lied to journalists about not charging the MP, saying a case hadn’t been referred to them.  MI5 appear to have not pursued this serious allegation as their role was “to defend the realm”, the inquiry heard.

A police report into Smith when he stood for election in 1970 read: “he has used his unique position to indulge in a sordid series of indecent episodes with young boys towards whom he had a special responsibility.”

Yet the Liberal Party headed by David Steel allowed Smith to be their candidate in Rochdale that year.

Des Wilson, another prominent figure in the Liberal party at the time will also give evidence. He has said that Cyril Smith “was protected as much by the culture within the parliamentary party as Saville was by the culture within the BBC.”

The inquiry also heard that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would have been likely to be aware of the allegations against Cyril Smith when she awarded him a knighthood in 1988.

The investigation will look into the awarding of honours to politicians such as Sir Cyril Smith and Thatcher’s Private Parliamentary Secretary Sir Peter Morrison despite police investigations of serious child sex abuse.

Peter Morrison, Tory MP for Chester became Private Parliamentary Secretary to Margaret Thatcher in 1990 and was knighted in 1991. The inquiry will examine how the Conservative Party dealt with allegations of child sex abuse made against him before he died in 1995. 

Brian Altman QC today read an extract from former Tory MP Edwina Currie’s diary for July 24 1990 (published in 2002). 

Junior Health Minister Currie, who in 1988 appointed Jimmy Savile to head up a task force at Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, where he was given keys to mingle with vulnerable girls, wrote in her diary about Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet reshuffle:

“One appointment in the recent reshuffle has attracted a lot of gossip and could be very dangerous: Peter Morrison has become the PM’s PPS. Now he’s what they call ‘a noted pederast’, with a liking for young boys; he admitted as much to Norman Tebbit when he became deputy chairman of the party, but added, ‘However, I’m very discreet’ – and he must be! She either knows and is taking a chance, or doesn’t; either way it is a really dumb move. Teresa Gorman told me this evening (in a taxi coming back from a drinks party at the BBC) that she inherited Morrison’s (woman) agent, who claimed to have been offered money to keep quiet about his activities. It scares me, as all the press know, and as we get closer to the election someone is going to make trouble, very close to her indeed.” 

Asked to explain the entry by the inquiry, the former MP said that what scared was the reputational damage consorting with underage boys by her Parliamentary Private Secretary would cause to Thatcher. 

She added that she could not explain whether and how Morrison was protected from prosecution, and hat it would have been wrong. 

The London Economic

Chairman of the Conservative Party and another member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet Lord Tebbit has also been asked by the inquiry what he knew about Sir Peter Morrison, after reports emerged that an investigating police officer visited Norman Tebbit to warn him about allegations involving boys.

Lord Tebbit’s statement to the investigations said that he thought the police officer was referring to boys of “Sixth Form age.”

He has also been asked what he meant when he told the BBC’s Marr show when asked if there was a “big political cover up” at the time, that “you didn’t talk about those things.”

A statement read out by Lord Tebbit said that he was aware of “several decades of allegations of Westminster child abuse and cover ups.”

Brian Altman QC, Lead Counsel to the Inquiry, also told today in his opening statements how the Westminster investigation will examine decisions not to prosecute Victor Montagu, a land owner and Conservative MP also known as Viscount Hinchingbrooke and the Earl of Sandwich.

The IICSA has found CPS letters showing how when reported to police for indecently assaulting a young boy in the 1970s the then Director of Public Prosectution recommended no more than a caution for the Tory politician.

Victor Montagu’s son Robert is set to give evidence to the inquiry. He says he was abused by his father and aware of at least ten other boys who were abused.

Investigations into child sex abuse claims against the late Lord Janner, the former Labour peer who died in 2015 shortly after being found unfit to stand trial over historical sex offences, will be heard later in the inquiry in a separate investigation. 

As will inquiries related to the Westminster investigation into the failure to protect children in the care of Lambeth council, which will be heard later this year too.

On the eve of the Westminster investigation, Lord Janner’s son Daniel Janner QC hit out in a Telegraph article with the headline This unjust inquiry into historical child abuse allegations is gutless and weak, calling this unit of the IICSA “a totally unnecessary month-long trashing of the reputations of public figures, the vast majority  of whom are dead.”

Former Tory MP Harvey Proctor, investigated by Operation Midland, an operation into allegations of historical child sexual abuse and related homicides that produced no prosecutions has asked at a late stage asked to be a core participant status for the Westminster strand.

He also hit out in another recent Telegraph article, according to the newspaper, accusing the independent investigation of being a “platform for further lies to be spread about those who cannot protect their reputation.”

The inquiry will also hear from former and current party whips from all parties to examine explosive claims that parliamentary whips’ offices withheld information about criminal offences and kept “dirty books” on MPs to blackmail them with when it came to towing the party line.

Conservative Tim Fortescue was a whip in Sir Edward Heath’s government and in a TV documentary clip played to the inquiry admitted:

“For anyone with any sense, who was in trouble, would come to the whips and tell them the truth, and say now, I’m in a jam, can you help? It might be debt, it might be… a scandal involving small boys, or any kind of scandal in which, erm er, a member seemed likely to be mixed up in, they’d come and ask if we could help and if we could, we did. And we would do everything we can because we would store up brownie points… and if I mean, that sounds a pretty, pretty nasty reason, but it’s one of the reasons because if we could get a chap out of trouble then, he will do as we ask forever more.”

Former Conservative MP and TV personality Giles Brandreth worked in the whips office and referred to the practice of keeping dirty books on colleagues in his memoirs, as did fellow Tory MP Ken Clarke. Both have been called to testify.

Today the inquiry chaired by Professor Alexis jay also heard shocking testimony from a former civil servant that the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) – which lobbied for the age of consent to be lowered – was funded by the Home Office.

The inquiry heard that Tim Holbert, a consultant at the Home Office Voluntary Service Unit from October 1977 before he became Deputy Director of Hereford and Worcester social services in 1981 says that he discovered a disguised payment by the Home Office unit to PIE and was told by his superior that PIE “was funded at the request of Special Branch which found it useful to identify people with paedophile inclinations.”

– Though no supporting evidence has been found for this claim among Home Office files.

The inquiry is also set to examine how PIE was permitted to be an affiliate organization to National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) from the late 1970s to early 1980s, at a time when  Patricia Hewitt, Harriet Harman and Jack Dromey worked at the NCCL – all later senior Labour MPs.

They have all since  expressed regret for its affiliation and claimed no support for PIE’s members. 

Yet in march 1976 the NCCL proposed the reduction of age of consent to 14 and in some cases ten and the NCCL also advertised in PIE’s publications. 

The inquiry will also look into explosive claims around the “Dickens dossiers” of Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens. 

The campaigning MP used parliamentary priviledge to out Peter Hayman as a member of PIE in the House of Commons and alleged a cover up by attorney general not to prosecute Hayman.

Today’s hearing heard how Dickens had a series of meetings with Margaret Thatcher’s Home Secretary Leon Brittan in 1983 and 1984 in which he gave Brittan information purporting to identify other high profile paedophiles in government as well as the royal household.

Brian Altman QC explained: “evidence suggests there may have been several files or documents which became known as the ‘Dickens Dossier’”.

And he said the inquiry will be looking at claims by journalist Don Hale, editor of the Bury Messenger that he was given substantial parts of the dossier by Barbara Castle then an MP, before the Special Branch burst into his office, “seized the documents and handed him a D notice preventing publication of any material in seized documents.”

Altman added: “The first Home Office review into missing abuse files concluded that it did receive information from Dickens in 1983 and 1984 about alleged child abuse and that copies of those materials had not been retained. 

However a letter dated the 20th march 1984 from Home Secretary Leon Brittan to Mr Dickens confirmed that the information was considered at the time and any matters requiring investigation were passed to the police.”

The review did not find evidence of a deliberate destruction of documents to cover up child abuse, but the subsequent Wanless inquiry looking at missing Home Office files “found that those conclusions were reasonably open to the reviewer on the available information.”

The inquiry will also be calling members of the Green Party over the recent case of David Challoner. In November 2016, Challoner was charged several counts of serious sexual assaults of a ten year old girl, the sentenced to ten years in prison in August last year. 

Yet he was allowed to be an active member of the Green Party and election agent for both his daughter and wife in local elections as he awaited trial.

Though Altman said, “to their credit the Green Party commissioned an independent consultation as to what went wrong” – which will be examined by the inquiry too. 

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@BenGelblum

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