Police 'protection' of celebrities 'allowed serial abusers Cyril Smith and Jimmy Savile to escape prosecution for decades'

Information on high profile suspects was reportedly marked as 'secret' or 'restricted' and only available to a small number of officers

Celebrities and politicians were protected from child sex investigations because hundreds of police intelligence files were kept so secret that investigating officers could not access them, it has been reported.

Information on famous suspects was marked “secret” or “restricted”, allowing only a small number of officers to access it, to offset the risk of police officers or staff leaking the information to the media, according to The Times.

However, the burying of information is understood to have helped serial offenders such as Jimmy Savile and Sir Cyril Smith MP escape prosecution for decades. Campaigners for the victims of child sex abuse said that police had “put protecting celebrities above child protection”.

The problem has emerged in a review of police information handling by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal. Since the exposure of the former TV presenter as Britain’s most prolific child sex offender, police have been inundated with reports from members of the public of “historical abuse”, often by prominent politicians, celebrities and VIPs.

Valuable intelligence on Savile was recorded in 1964, 1998 and 2003 by Scotland Yard, the inspectorate found, but other forces were unable to access it. The inspectorate said the restriction of access to intelligence files was “an area we are concerned about”.

Metropolitan Police Commander Peter Spindler told The Times that the force had in the past had “officers and staff who were prepared to leak information to the media for payment and the mechanism to prevent that was to restrict access to that information.”

“We are not going to let 50,000 people [police officers and staff] across London read sensitive material about celebrities, politicians, or other high profile people,” he told the newspaper.

The National Association of People Abused in Childhood said the practice had hampered investigations that could have prevented further abuse. John Bird, spokesman for the charity, said: “It is certainly the case that in the past the police put protecting celebrities above child protection. However we do think that now there is a clear drive to learn from these mistakes and get it right in the future.”

The new Police National Database, launched in 2011, will help stop information from being missed in the future, police believe. Before 2003, police forces had no national intelligence sharing facility. Within the new database, sensitive information can be found but not necessarily seen in full without higher clearance. The £20 million a year national database, reportedly designed to hold 250 million intelligence records, is also coming under strain with 1.8 billion items now uploaded.

Chief Constable Mike Barton, the Association of Chief Police Officer's lead on intelligence, said the current system is capable of being interrogated by any trained officer across the UK to “identify suspects, offenders and patterns of behaviour”.

News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible