The U.K. will “leave no stone unturned” as it investigates historical child sex-abuse claims, Prime Minister David Cameron said.
Home Secretary Theresa May told lawmakers that a panel of legal and child-protection experts will investigate whether bodies including churches, the British Broadcasting Corp., children’s homes and hospitals “have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children.” It won’t issue a report until after the 2015 election.
The inquiry, announced at such speed that May has yet to find someone to lead it, follows both revelations about sex abuse in past decades by celebrities and questions last week about how her department handled pedophilia allegations passed to it by a lawmaker in the 1980s. The Home Office said July 5 that after a review last year it passed four pieces of evidence to the police about claims involving its staff.
“We’re going to leave no stone unturned to find out the truth about what happened -- that is vital,” Cameron told reporters in the West Midlands before May’s announcement today. “Three things need to happen -- robust inquiries that get to the truth, police investigations that pursue the guilty and find out what has happened, and proper lessons learned so we make sure these things will not happen again.”
The probe underscores how an appetite for historic scrutiny of sex offenses that has already rocked the U.K.’s entertainment industry is now gripping the political establishment. A series of legal cases involving celebrities culminated most recently in the jailing last week of Rolf Harris, the 84-year-old Australian-born ex-host of BBC television shows.
“The prime minister is taking very close personal and detailed interest in this and has extensive discussions with his team,” Cameron’s spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray, told reporters in London today. “There’s an emphasis on thoroughness, speed and effectiveness.”
A separate review by Peter Wanless, chief executive officer of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, will assess an investigation ordered last year by the chief civil servant at the Home Office, Mark Sedwill, into how the department handled allegations of pedophilia made to it in the 1980s.
In a July 5 letter to Keith Vaz, the chairman of Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee, Sedwill said 114 potentially relevant files had been deemed “presumed destroyed, missing or not found.”
Sedwill commissioned an investigation in February last year after a query from Labour lawmaker Tom Watson, appointing an “experienced investigator” from Britain’s tax authority, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs.
“I asked the investigator to review all relevant papers received by the department concerning organized child sex abuse and whether the appropriate action was taken throughout the period 1979-99,” he wrote in his letter to Vaz. Sedwill commissioned that review “to be reassured that the conclusions of the investigation remain valid.”
Vaz told the BBC yesterday it was “a huge surprise” that files which may be linked to historic abuse claims had been lost “on an industrial scale.”
Part of the investigation last year centered on a dossier presented in 1983 by now-deceased Conservative lawmaker Geoffrey Dickens to Leon Brittan, who was then the home secretary. While the probe couldn’t locate that file, it did find correspondence from Brittan to Dickens saying that his allegations had been considered and some had been referred to “the proper authorities,” Sedwill said.
Aside from making a tally of 114 unavailable files, the investigation also identified 13 “items of information” about alleged child abuse, Sedwill said. Nine had been reported to police, including four cases involving Home Office staff. Four previously unknown items have now been passed to police, he added.
Asked on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” whether there could have been a cover-up by the political establishment in the 1980s, Norman Tebbit, a cabinet minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government, said “there may well have been.”