Scotland Yard is carrying out a search of the Barbara Castle archives at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library to try and locate a copy of the ‘Dickens Dossier’, the missing file containing allegations of organised child abuse by politicians and other prominent figures.
The Met is working in conjunction with archivists at the library to sift through more than 850 boxes of documents relating to the life and career of the former Labour cabinet minister and MP for Blackburn, ranging from the 1930s, when she was first elected as a London councillor, until her death in 2002.
A source close to the investigation told the Independent that “preliminary searches” had already been carried out but that it would take several weeks to complete the search of the archives. Among the material are the former Employment Secretary’s dairies, political correspondence and ministerial papers from her time both in Westminster and Brussels, where she represented Greater Manchester as MEP from 1979 until 1989.
The source said: “The archivists have been working in conjunction with Scotland Yard concerning the preliminary searches. The dossier is not in the obvious locations where one might expect to find it and there’s a doubt as to whether it is in there but the search continues. It should take quite a few weeks.”
At least three people have tried unsuccessfully to access the Castle files to see if they contain the dossier, having found a lot of the material closed. Papers with restricted access include diary entries and correspondence with family members. All of her correspondence with the former Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw between October 1981 and February 1999, as well as all correspondence between her and Neil and Glenys Kinnock between November 1981 and August 1996, is also marked “closed” on the library’s database, along with a letter she wrote to Neil Kinnock in December 1999.
Suzanne de la Rosa, head of communications at the Bodleian said: “The archives are very large in size, with around 860 boxes so the investigation may take many weeks.”
The whereabouts of the Dickens Dossier, named after the former Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens who compiled the information, is unknown. It went missing at some point after the politician handed it to the then Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, in 1983.
Investigative journalist Don Hale claimed this week that the late Baroness Castle of Blackburn personally handed him a copy of the dossier in the 1980s when he was editor of her local paper, the Bury Messenger. It allegedly contained the names of 16 MPs, senior policemen, head teachers and clergy.
Mr Hale said a group of Special Branch officers raided his office in 1984 and snatched the file away, threatening him with prison. He also said the day before the raid the then-Liberal Democrat MP Sir Cyril Smith, since exposed as a paedophile, visited his office to demand he kill the story.
An inquiry published on Tuesday by NSPCC Chief Executive Peter Wanless found that allegations of a cover-up at the Home Office into the child abuse allegations were “not proven”.
Home Secretary Theresa May told MPs: “[The Wanless] verdict is ‘case not proved’, rather than not guilty. I cannot stand here and say that the Home Office was not involved in a cover-up during the 1980s. There might have been a cover-up, and that is why we have set up the inquiry into child abuse. We are determined to get to the truth.”
A Met spokesman said: "We will continue to work with, and support the review."