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Mark Sedwill, the top civil servant at Britain's Home Office, leaves the Houses of Parliament in London after giving evidence at a Commons committee hearing on July 8, 2014. He was questioned by lawmakers on Tuesday over how his department lost or destroyed files that could shed light on allegations that well-known politicians abused children in the 1980s. (LUKE MACGREGOR/REUTERS)
Mark Sedwill, the top civil servant at Britain's Home Office, leaves the Houses of Parliament in London after giving evidence at a Commons committee hearing on July 8, 2014. He was questioned by lawmakers on Tuesday over how his department lost or destroyed files that could shed light on allegations that well-known politicians abused children in the 1980s. (LUKE MACGREGOR/REUTERS)

How Britain's child sex-abuse probe puts political elite in its sights Add to ...

Britain has ordered an inquiry into claims that politicians may have sexually abused children in the 1970s and 1980s in a conspiracy by members of the establishment who then used their power to cover up the crimes.

Here are details of the allegations, how they came to light and the government reaction.

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ALLEGATIONS: ‘REALLY IMPORTANT NAMES’ INVOLVED

In a newspaper interview in August, 1983, the late lawmaker Geoffrey Dickens said he had a dossier that implicated senior public figures in a child abuse ring. “I’ve got eight names of big people, really important names, public figures,” he said.

He threatened to use parliamentary privilege, which provides immunity from legal action, to name the figures but in the end only disclosed that a former diplomat was a member of the Paedophile Information Exchange, a group which campaigned from the 1970s to the 1980s to abolish the age of consent for sex.

Dickens did pass a dossier of allegations to the Home Office to investigate and said the police also had compiled a report with the names of top people in public life and show business.

WHY HAVE THE CLAIMS EMERGED AGAIN?

The 2012 national scandal over revelations that the late BBC TV presenter Jimmy Savile had been one of Britain’s most prolific sex offenders led to a major police operation, named Operation Yewtree, and a series of inquiries into how he was able to abuse his position.

It also led lawmaker Tom Watson to tell parliament that a senior aide to an unnamed former prime minister might have been involved in a suspected paedophile ring.

“I want to ensure that the Metropolitan Police secure the evidence, re-examine it, and investigate clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and Number 10,” referring to the British Prime Minister’s Downing Street address, Watson said on Oct. 24, 2012.

No evidence has yet been published to support claims that there was a pedophile conspiracy among Britain’s elite.

THE POLICE OPERATION

After Watson’s intervention, London Police set up an inquiry named Operation Fernbridge in January, 2013, to examine allegations of child abuse at the Elm House Guest House in Barnes, southwest London. According to a Freedom of Information request in April, 2013, seven officers were working on the investigation.

FRESH CALL FOR INQUIRY

The issue became prominent again on July 1, 2014, when lawmaker Simon Danczuk called for an inquiry, saying the authorities had failed to investigate high profile cases.

His call came the day after Rolf Harris, a mainstay of family entertainment in Britain for more than 50 years, was found guilty of indecently assaulting young girls as part of the Operation Yewtree investigations.

Danczuk has played a leading role in trying to expose the activities of the late Cyril Smith, his predecessor as member of parliament for Rochdale in northern England, who has been accused of abusing children.

Danczuk told a parliamentary committee Smith had been investigated by police for four decades but no action ever taken against him.

LOST FILES?

Danczuk also questioned what Leon Brittan, the Home Secretary when Dickens passed over his file of allegations, did about the dossier.

On July 2, Brittan issued a statement saying he asked officials at the time to look at the material provided by Dickens but did not recall being contacted again either by Dickens or his officials.

A few hours later, Brittan issued a second statement saying he sent a letter to Dickens in March 1984 saying two letters he provided had been forwarded to police. He also pointed out that a Home Office review of organised child sex abuse between 1979 and 1999 concluded the information had been dealt with properly.

On July 5, the most senior civil servant at the Home Office Mark Sedwill disclosed that 114 files out of 573 potentially relevant files relating to the Dickens’ allegations had been lost, “presumed destroyed, missing or not found.”

INQUIRY ANNOUNCED

Prime Minister David Cameron promised the government will leave “no stone unturned” to find the truth and Home Secretary Theresa May said there would be an independent inquiry into child sex abuse and a separate review of the Home Office’s handling of the allegations.

Called before a parliamentary committee on July 8, Sedwill said he did not know who if anyone had authorised the removal of the 114 missing government files. May appointed former High Court judge Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss a inquiry chair.

An interim report is due before the May, 2015, general election.

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