UK pedophile ring needs to be probed
‘UK pedophile ring needs to be probed’
Tue Jul 8, 2014 9:14AM GMT
By Eileen Fairweather, The Telegraph
Theresa May has announced a new inquiry into child sexual abuse – taking in the Civil Service, the BBC, the Churches, political parties and the public sector. To those of us who have campaigned against child-abuse cover-ups, it should be welcome news. But over the years, I have experienced many false dawns and dashed hopes.
Only one thing will persuade me that the Government is serious about tackling Britain’s “VIP pedophile ring” – and that is when it sets up a nationally coordinated police and social services task force with the power, money and numbers to follow up the mountain of evidence that has been ignored for decades.
I have given evidence to several child-abuse inquiries, and always ended up wondering whether it was a wasted effort: all too many reports came out with platitudes about “drawing a line” under things, or claimed – wrongly – that the evidence had long since “gone cold”. After the scandal of systematic abuse in children’s homes in North Wales broke in the mid-Nineties, Sir Ronald Waterhouse spent three years taking evidence, and produced a 1,000-page report. Yet no one then was arrested. I have never forgotten ringing one of his officials and asking whether the inquiry would accept our evidence on the suspicious deaths – through alleged suicides and accidents – of some of the victims. No, he sighed, practically yawning.
Abused children, past and present, need justice and support, not talking-shops of over-paid lawyers and “experts”. Yet the investigators tasked with exposing the great and not-so-good are woefully – deliberately? – under-resourced, ill-coordinated, exhausted and demoralized.
Over the past two years, since the Labour MP Tom Watson asked an electrifying parliamentary question about a pedophile ring allegedly leading to No 10, just seven officers in the Metropolitan Police have been assigned to look into the allegations about these powerful rings. Incredibly, some of those in Operation Fernbridge are also still expected to keep their eye on “routine” child abuse and trafficking.
Those in the know speak highly of the officers’ dedication and skill. But some child-protection campaigners and professionals have given up referring evidence and newly emerged victims to them. They are sadly aware that the team is tiny, with some already on 16-hour days. The work is dark and grim, not least because victims are hard to interview and often deeply damaged by their abuse. False claims and libelous rumors have also proliferated on the internet and elsewhere. Obtaining useable evidence from credible sources is unbelievably tough.
Operation Fernbridge does not even have the power and resources to investigate allegations about areas outside London. Some victims describe corruption in local forces, so there is a terrible stalemate: understandably, they do not want their concerns relayed back to regional police, who might have the manpower to investigate.
But then, getting justice of any sort has always been agonizingly difficult. I first heard the allegations about Cyril Smith more than 20 years ago. But no police were allowed to act against him, or his similarly-minded, well-connected pals. Concerned cops were barred from investigating, witnesses were intimidated, editors feared libel suits (or simply couldn’t believe what they were told), and I – and the few other journalists in the field – lacked the resources or protection to follow up the accusations. So, like other powerful, repugnant men, Smith remained free.
Today, the Home Office is investigating how it came to lose the information on child abuse given to Leon (now Lord) Brittan in the Eighties. Yet the disappearance of crucial evidence has been a theme of every one of my investigations. I have exposed pedophile rings targeting children’s homes in Islington, Hackney, North Wales and Essex, as well as schools, charities and churches – including some targeting the already suffering children of Romania, India, Africa and the Far East. Whenever the authorities are asked to investigate themselves – as, bizarrely, they often are – almost all the relevant files are found to have vanished.
It was back in 1993 that the retired child-protection manager who blew the whistle to Mr Watson first proposed the idea of a nationwide task force. Peter McKelvie, who went public in the Telegraph on Saturday, wrote a briefing paper for Scotland Yard and the social services watchdog with Dr Liz Davies, the equally heroic social worker who exposed the children’s homes scandal in Islington. She eventually went public in protest after Tony Blair – incredibly – made Islington’s former council leader, Margaret Hodge, Britain’s first children’s minister. What became of their proposal? Nothing. McKelvie’s investigation unit was abruptly closed down and his files burned. Dr Davies’s dossiers were mysteriously lost.
Simon Danczuk, the Rochdale MP who has worked brilliantly to expose his predecessor, Cyril Smith, has suggested that an amnesty be offered to police, social workers and other officials who may, over the decades, have been pressured to conceal or destroy evidence. I can only agree. Numerous officials have confided in me over the years, and I have never forgotten the chill I felt when one officer said: “I am telling you this in case something happens to me.”
That “something” has indeed often happened to brave professionals who have tried to expose child-abuse cover-ups: many ended up being sacked or falsely accused of grave misconduct or crimes; and all were traumatized by learning of horrors that no one wanted ended. My most surreal experience was when a police officer who had uncovered a powerful ring, stretching from the Fens to North Wales and the Channel Islands, asked me to carry his intelligence to colleagues elsewhere in the country, because he had been barred from on high from doing so.
To properly tackle this problem, we need Danczuk’s amnesty. But we also need any other managers and police who carelessly lost evidence to be named, shamed and prosecuted – unless they shop whoever may have ordered them to do so. And we need that nationally coordinated inquiry team, which must involve both police and social workers – hand-picked, trusted specialists who, between them, can finally join the dots and expose the rings that have nurtured the likes of Cyril Smith and Jimmy Savile.
We must also think about the welfare of vulnerable witnesses. Places of safety may be needed for some, as well as counseling and other practical support. Even with the best intentions, police who go knocking on alleged victims’ doors, decades on, can end up ripping off protective scabs. Lawyers at inquiries can also have a devastating impact. And close cooperation with social services is needed, as while Operation Fernbridge has had to track down many children once in care it has few resources to help them after the questioning has ended. People think that child protection has been improved in recent years, but many in the field are aghast at the endless tinkering. The “at risk” register has been abolished – all children now are viewed as “at risk” from their families – so the truly endangered children disappear from view.
Abuse survivors deserve better than another cover-up. Endless witnesses, whistleblowers and survivors have given hard evidence to police over the years about specifics – the identities of abusers and pimps, the locations of child brothels, the names of other victims, the hiding places of child pornography, and the trafficking routes of prostituted children. Now, at last, it is time to act.