Westminster child abuse allegations: Theresa May to make Commons statement

The Home Secretary is likely to come under pressure to explain how files relating to the allegations became 'lost'

Antonia Molloy
Monday 07 July 2014 08:46
Theresa May will make her statement amid growing calls for a public inquiry
Theresa May will make her statement amid growing calls for a public inquiry

Home Secretary Theresa May will today make a statement in the House of Commons on allegations of organised child sex abuse at Westminster in the 1980s - amid growing calls for a full public inquiry.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Tebbit intensified demands over the weekend when he said there “may well” have been an establishment cover-up at the time in order to protect “the system”.

His claim came after the admission by the Home Office that more than 100 files relating to historic organised child abuse over a period of 20 years had gone missing. Ms May is likely to come under pressure to explain how the “explosive” dossier could have slipped the net.

It was reported today that police have traced an alleged victim who has “implicated a senior political figure”.

The man, who is now in his 40s, has given a detailed account of how he was assaulted by the politician, the Telegraph said, but has so far refused to make a formal statement to detectives.

Labour's shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper accused the Home Office of failing to respond to legitimate public concerns.

“The Government must take these concerns extremely seriously - to make sure justice is done for victims of abuse no matter how long ago, to make sure that any institutional failure is uncovered, and to make sure that lessons are learnt and the child protection is as effective as possible for the future,” she said.

“We need a wide ranging review that can look at how all the allegations put to the Home Office in the 80s and 90s were handled. Any stones left unturned will leave concerns of institutional malaise, or worse a cover-up, unaddressed.”

Appearing yesterday on The Andrew Marr Show, Lord Tebbit said the atmosphere at the time the allegations took place was very different to that prevailing today.

Lord Tebbit said there may have been an 'almost unconscious' cover-up (Getty)

“At that time I think most people would have thought that the establishment, the system, was to be protected and if a few things had gone wrong here and there that it was more important to protect the system than to delve too far into it,” he said.

Asked if he thought there had been a “big political cover-up” at the time, he said: “I think there may well have been.”

He added: “It was almost unconscious. It was the thing that people did at that time.”

The extraordinary comments by one of Baroness Thatcher's closest political allies intensified demands from MPs and lawyers for an over-arching public inquiry into all the disparate allegations of child abuse from that era.

They include claims of abuse by the late Liberal MP Sir Cyril Smith and allegations of paedophile activity at parties attended by politicians and other prominent figures at the Elm Guest House in Barnes, south-west London.

The Telegraph said the alleged victim, who is now based in the United States, claimed he was abused at Elm Guest House but for reasons unknown has now decided he does not want to talk to Scotland Yard detectives.

A spokesman for the force declined to comment.

The permanent secretary at the Home Office, Mark Sedwill, has said he will be appointing a senior legal figure to conduct a fresh review into what happened to a dossier relating to alleged paedophile activity at Westminster which was passed to the then home secretary, Leon (now Lord) Brittan, by the Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens in 1983.

Over the weekend, he disclosed that a previous review - carried out only last year - had identified 114 potentially relevant files from the period 1979 to 1999, which could not be located and were “presumed destroyed, missing or not found”.

He said the investigation had also identified 13 “items of information” about alleged child abuse, nine of which were known or reported to the police at the time - including four involving Home Office staff. Police had since been informed of the other four cases.

Mr Sedwill said he had ordered the new investigation - following the intervention of Prime Minister David Cameron - in order to establish whether the findings of the previous review remained “sound”.

The earlier review - conducted by an HM Revenue and Customs investigator - concluded the relevant information in the Dickens file had been passed to the police and the rest of the material destroyed in line with departmental policy at the time.

Alison Millar of the law firm Leigh Day, which is representing some of the alleged victims, said another internal Home Office review would not quell the growing public disquiet and that an independent inquiry is now an “absolute necessity”.

“This cannot be another internal review held by those who may well be at fault, it will only fuel a growing suspicion amongst the electorate that there is a conspiracy over the abuse of children by those with great power,” she said.

“To be relevant, and effective, any independent inquiry needs to create a safe environment for survivors of abuse to come forward so their voices can be heard. At the moment the allegations are so serious and go so far up in the Government, to make many survivors fear for their safety.”

While Downing Street has previously been resisting calls for a wider inquiry, ministers left the door open to the prospect - although they made clear ongoing police inquiries would take precedence.

Additional reporting by Press Association