Over the past week, Theresa May’s tenure and competence as Home Secretary has come under increased scrutiny, particularly in regards to the issue of police cuts and national security.
However, in the week that Britons go to the polls, we consider another aspect of her past record which calls into question her competency, or perhaps lack of.
Investigation into historic child abuse claims
In February 2013, then Home Office permanent secretary, Mark Sedwill, commissioned an investigation into a collection of documents relating to historic child abuse cases dating from 1979–1999.
Sedwill quickly discovered that 114 potentially relevant files were missing, presumed lost or destroyed.
Among these documents there is believed to have been a dossier which was passed to Lord Brittan by the late Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens.
Whilst Home Secretary, Theresa May tasked NSPCC head, Peter Wanless, to review the Sedwill investigation, and look into the Home Office failings.
Theresa May has since admitted that there “might have been” a cover-up at the Home Office in the 1980s concerning allegations that politicians were involved in child sex abuse. However, she stated that an official review found that the claim was “not proven”.
Nevertheless, The Wanless report concluded that “shambolic” record keeping at the Home Office meant a definite answer could not be given either way. Though the files remained missing, it claimed that no one person could be directly connected to the allegations.
Former child protection manager Peter McKelvie claimed that at least 20 prominent people in Westminster had abused children. There was the suggestion that they used children’s homes as a “supply line” but this is yet to be substantiated.
Mr McKelvie discovered potential links between paedophiles and the government when he was assisting police in investigating convicted paedophile and founding member of twisted organisation PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange), Peter Righton.
According to McKelvie, amongst evidence seized from Righton’s home in 1992 there was a haul of documents pointing to a “very well organised paedophile network”, dating as far back as the 1950s and 1960s.
Several police operations into child sex abuse are still ongoing, including Operation Fairbank and Operation Fernbridge—a probe into up to 40 MPs involved or complicit in child abuse—and others investigating particular children’s homes and authorities.
Allegations of child murders and sinister orgies in the Dolphin Square flats complex in Westminster have also surfaced during the course of these investigations.
A paedophile ring is said to have been run by a “powerful elite” including not only MPs, but also ministers and an even larger number of people aware of its existence; people that could have stopped it, yet did nothing.
Jackie Malton, the former detective chief inspector with the Metropolitan Police, said: “There is clear evidence that something was happening […] Either the police disbelieved it, or they covered it up one way or another.”
Vishambar Mehrotra, a retired magistrate, believes his son was murdered 33 years ago and fell prey to one of these rings. The skull and several rib bones of Vishal, 8, were discovered in 1982 by pigeon shooters in remote marshland at Durford Abbey Farm, at Rogate, close to the Hampshire-West Sussex border.
Just why police and prosecutors failed to tackle these claims, many of which emerged years ago, remains an enduring question.
In July 2014, Clive Driscoll, a former senior Metropolitan police officer, claimed he was moved from his post after revealing plans to investigate politicians over claims of child abuse alleged to have taken place in children’s homes in the ’80s.
In an internal meeting in 1998, he revealed the names of suspects he intended to investigate. Soon after, he was taken off the case. He told the BBC his inquiry was “all too uncomfortable to a lot of people”.
Investigative journalist Don Hale also referenced an incident in which former Employment Secretary Barbara Castle handed him a dossier containing sexual abuse allegations in the 1980s. He claimed that his home was later raided by Special Branch, the file confiscated, and threats of imprisonment followed.
At this stage, it may be worth bearing in mind the words of Conservative Whip, Tim Fortescue, when discussing ‘Dirt books’ in 1995: “It might be a scandal involving small boys… they’d come and ask if we could help”.
The current whereabouts of the dossier remains unknown.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission have since launched an inquiry into 14 different claims of police and establishment cover-ups. One deals with dropped criminal allegations against a politician during a child abuse investigation in south London, another into the suspected Dolphin Square ring and the dissolution of the case due to officers being “too near prominent people”.
For two Home Secretaries to have ‘lost’ material of such a serious and consequential nature is, of course, alarming. However, when one of those Home Secretaries goes on to become our Prime Minister, any chance of ever winning justice for children, like 8 year-old Vishal Mehrotra, tragically appears more distant than ever.