The extent of paedophile activity across Britain is “absolutely horrific”, the Home Secretary told MPs as she set out fresh details of investigations into sex abuse in North Wales care homes and into Jimmy Savile’s activities.
No fewer than nine inquiries are underway following a stream of allegations against the late TV presenter and new accusations that a previous probe into the care home scandal failed to uncover the full truth, including the alleged involvement of a senior Tory linked to the Thatcher government.
In a statement to the Commons, Ms May refused to commit herself to a full, wide-ranging public inquiry into the array of claims about child abuse. MPs of all parties now support the move – and in angry exchanges a Labour frontbencher accused her of being part of a “cover-up” designed to stop the truth emerging.
Ms May urged the police to follow evidence of paedophile activity “without fear or favour” and insisted that no area should be “off-limits” to detectives investigating sex abuse.
She referred to the recent scandal of the abuse of teenage girls in Rochdale, as well as paedophiles preying on youngsters online, as she made clear the problem was as prevalent today as in the 1970s and 1980s.
She said: “We now see the online grooming of children, the street grooming of children, a number of variations of child abuse.
“I think what is absolutely horrific, frankly, is the extent to which this child abuse has been taking place over the years and across our communities over the years.”
Ms May announced that Keith Bristow, the head of the new National Crime Agency, would investigate new allegations of abuse in children’s homes in North Wales between 1974 and 1990 as well as the original police handling of the case.
He has been asked to report by next April.
She also confirmed the Waterhouse Inquiry, which reported in 2000 on the allegations, would be reviewed.
The police watchdog, the HMIC, will examine whether allegations received against Savile by forces across the country were properly examined.
The Labour deputy chairman Tom Watson, who last month claimed there was “clear intelligence” suggesting a historic paedophile ring was linked to Downing Street and a former prime minister, said her “narrowed-down” inquiries would mean “despicable paedophiles” remaining undetected.
To shouts of anger from Tory MPs, he said: “Does she sincerely want to start making amends or can she live with being what she has just announced: the next stage of a cover-up.”
In addition to the three inquiries, a further six have already been announced following the allegations over Savile’s activities.
The BBC is conducting three internal investigations, the Department of Health is examining how Savile gained access to hospitals and the Director of Public Prosecutions is reviewing the decision in 2009 not to prosecute him.
The Metropolitan Police has mounted a criminal inquiry – Operation Yewtree - into abuse allegations against Jimmy Savile and his associates at the BBC and elsewhere.
Steve Messham, one of the North Wales abuse victims who has come forward with new allegations, met David Jones, the Welsh Secretary, to detail his claims.
Mr Messham told Channel 4 News last night that he broke into a flat of one of his abusers to steal photographs of the abuse he endured, but that police failed to act on them.
He said: “I broke in knowing he was away, and I found all these photographs and I handed them to the police - and out of that two people got prosecuted, and one got a caution and that was it.”