May Urges Restraint as U.K. Begins Child Abuse Investigation

Home Secretary Theresa May urged U.K. lawmakers not to use parliamentary privilege to identify people accused of involvement in child abuse, saying doing so could put any future trials at risk.

May issued the plea as she outlined plans to examine whether allegations of sexual abuse at a children’s home in north Wales were properly handled after a victim said a senior Conservative Party figure was involved. That person has not been named publicly, though speculation has appeared on the Internet.

“I would like to warn honorable members that if they plan to use parliamentary privilege to name any suspects, they risk jeopardizing any future trial and therefore the possibility of justice for the victims that I believe the whole house wants to see,” May said in a House of Commons statement in London today.

Steve Messham, a victim of abuse at the Bryn Estyn home in the 1970s and 1980s, alleged involvement by a senior figure in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Tory Party in an interview with BBC television’s “Newsnight” program last week. He said he was “sold” to men for sexual abuse at a nearby hotel. The BBC didn’t name the political figure.

A report into the abuse, for which 650 people were questioned, was published in 2000 by Ronald Waterhouse, a retired High Court judge, after a three-year inquiry. Messham said that inquiry did not fully uncover all the harm at the care home, prompting the current Welsh children’s commissioner, Keith Towler, to call for a fresh investigation.

Waterhouse Inquiry

The Waterhouse inquiry was set up by the then Secretary of State for Wales, William Hague, who now serves as Foreign Secretary. Its findings will now be investigated by judge Julia Wendy Macur, the government said.

“The Waterhouse Inquiry sat for 203 days and heard evidence from more than 650 people,” May said today. “Statements made to the inquiry named more than 80 people as child abusers, many of whom were care workers or teachers. But the report found no evidence of a pedophile ring beyond the care system, which was the basis of the rumors that followed the original police investigation, and indeed one of the allegations that has been made in the last week.”

In a separate probe, Keith Bristow, the director general of the National Crime Agency, will review the way the police handled the original complaints of abuse and investigate any fresh allegations, May said.

Privilege Law

Parliamentary privilege allows lawmakers to speak out in Parliament without fear of prosecution. In May of last year, it was used to identity married soccer player Ryan Giggs, named on Twitter Inc. as having an injunction over an alleged affair with a reality television star.

“There should be no historical sexual abuse of children that is off limits,” Labour lawmaker Tom Watson told Parliament today. “Whether you were raped and tortured as a child in Wales or in Whitehall you are entitled to be heard. The media may be transfixed by the specter of a pedophile Cabinet minister abusing children but what actually matters is the thousands and thousands of children whose lives have been ground into nothing.”

Cameron’s spokesman Steve Field told reporters in London that the government has not ruled out setting up a wider inquiry into child abuse, adding that the premier was awaiting the outcome of current investigations.

Britain is examining its recent history of child protection after allegations surfaced of child-sex abuse by one of the BBC’s most iconic stars, the late Jimmy Savile.

‘Dreadful Allegations’

Cameron interrupted a trade visit to the Middle East to announce the government will ask an independent figure to lead an urgent investigation into whether the Waterhouse Inquiry did its properly job. He is seeking to prevent the scandal that has engulfed the BBC from spreading to his government.

“These are very, very concerning allegations, they’re dreadful allegations, we must get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible on behalf of the victims,” Cameron told reporters in Abu Dhabi today.

-- With assistance from Thomas Penny and Robert Hutton in London. Andrew Atkinson, Tony Aarons

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