A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday July 9 2014.
Last week, I mentioned that I had observed a certain degree of masochism in some Sri Lankans who seemed to find a pride in what they perceived as the sheer bloody awfulness of their native land. One aspect of this is the firm belief that Sri Lankan politicians are the most corrupt in the world. I have repeatedly pointed out that, anywhere in the world, the kind of people who go in to the politics game are the type who are after personal gain and are often not very nice people. One response I get to this is that in other countries, corruption is properly investigated and punished. It is sometimes claimed that in the UK, for example, politicians who are caught out do the honourable thing and resign.
I have just heard the news that David Cameron’s former press secretary, Andy Coulson, has been jailed for 18 months for conspiracy to hack phones. Asked about the jailing of his former communications chief, the prime minister, who has apologised for hiring him, said: “What it says is that it’s right that justice should be done and that no one is above the law – as I’ve always said.” That’s OK then. The fact remains that Cameron employed the editor of a sleazy newspaper against all good judgement. Coulson did not own up to allowing his minions to hack the phone of a murdered teenager.
Labour MP Tom Watson was the scourge of Coulson and Murdoch. He is now campaigning for an investigation into long-running allegations that a senior Conservative cabinet minister and well-known celebrities were involved in a paedophile ring. Watson raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions on 24 October 2012. A journalist from the investigative news website Exaro passed the information to Watson. Rumours have been flying around the blogosphere for a long time and some of the blogs making allegations are somewhat flaky. There are allegations against many famous people including members of the Royal Family. These bloggers often follow the logic of Beatrix Campbell – stranger things have happened so why not believe this? However, journalists of repute, such as David Hencke, formerly of the Guardian, contribute to Exaro.
Peter McKelvie, a retired child protection officer, has spent more than 20 years compiling evidence of alleged abuse by authority figures. He helped bring the notorious paedophile Peter Righton to justice in 1992 when he worked in Hereford and Worcester child protection team. In a letter to his local MP Sir Tony Baldry last month, Mr McKelvie suggested that a further 20 MPs and Lords were implicated in the “cover-up” of abuse of children. It was as a result of information provided by Mr McKelvie that Tom Watson raised the issue of child abuse at Prime Minister’s Questions in October 2012. He spoke of “clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and Number 10” that arose from the Righton case.
Following Mr Watson’s intervention, the Metropolitan Police began Operation Fernbridge, an ongoing investigation into allegations of sex abuse at the Elm Guest House in Barnes, south London. At least one witness is understood to have told police in the 1980s that he was abused by a Tory MP at the guest house when he was aged under ten, but the alleged victim has so far refused to give a sworn a witness statement to the police.
When I lived in Putney in the early 1980s, I used to enjoy long walks on light summer evenings down across Barnes Common to the Bull’s Head pub to listen to jazz. Little did I know that Barnes Common was a popular gay cruising site after dark. In the late 1970s, the Elm Guest House on Rocks Lane was a safe, unthreatening meeting place for homosexual men free from the stigma of a sexual orientation legalised barely a decade earlier.
However, “It became a convenient place for rent boys to take their clients,” says one person familiar with the place. In 1982, the Met’s notorious Special Patrol Group raided the property on suspicion that it was a brothel. As many as 12 boys gave evidence to the police to the effect that they had been abused by men at the house. The police only seemed interested in pressing charges against Carole Kasir, who owned the place. Child-protection campaigners alleged that boys had been taken from a local council-run home and abused by politicians and showbiz entertainers. The real unlawful activity was underage sex, but the police only interviewed the boys a view to them being witnesses against Kasir, not as minors who were abused themselves. In 1990, at the age of 47, Kasir, a diabetic, died of an insulin overdose. Two Naypic (National Association for Young People in Care) employees told the coroner they believed she had been murdered, the victim of powerful people who feared she knew too much.
Chris Fay, a social worker at Naypic, has alleged that a terrified Kasir had shown him about 20 photographs of middle-aged men with young boys, taken at what he said were kings and queens fancy-dress parties, attended by a number of powerful and well-known people.
In the early 1990s, I worked in the child protection field myself. I often attended meetings at the Home Office and came to know a young lawyer named Alison Saunders. She is now Director of Public Prosecutions and has often been in the news relating to the fallout from the Jimmy Savile saga and the subsequent investigation under Operation Yewtree. She is the first lawyer from within the Crown Prosecution Service and the second woman to hold the appointment. Tom Watson said he was writing to Ms Saunders to ask her to examine the evidence relating to an unnamed Tory politician.
A police investigation, Operation Fairbank, started in late 2012. This was a “scoping exercise” aimed at a “preliminary assessment of the evidence rather than a formal inquiry”. The existence of the operation was confirmed on 12 December 2012, after beginning in secret. The secrecy was such that nothing was even put on computers. Cynics say this was because so many of the culprits were police officers. A full criminal investigation, Operation Fernbridge, was launched in February 2013.
Between 1981 and 1985, Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens campaigned against a suspected paedophile ring he claimed to have uncovered. In 1981, Dickens named the former British High Commissioner to Canada, Sir Peter Hayman, as a paedophile in the House of Commons, using parliamentary privilege so he could not be sued for slander. Dickens was an admirable fellow in many ways but he did allow his willingness to believe take him to the wilder shores inhabited by Beatrix Campbell and Valerie Sinason – he took on trust their fantasies about satanic abuse.
In 1983, Dickens claimed there was a paedophile network involving “big, big names – people in positions of power, influence and responsibility” and threatened to name them in the Commons. The next year, he campaigned for the banning of Hayman’s Paedophile Information Exchange organisation. Dickens had a thirty-minute meeting with Leon Brittan, who was Home Secretary between 1983 and 1985, and gave him a dossier containing the child abuse allegations. Dickens said he was “encouraged” by the meeting.
On 29 November 1985, Dickens said in a speech to the Commons that paedophiles were “evil and dangerous” and that child pornography generated “vast sums”. He claimed that: “The noose around my neck grew tighter after I named a former high-flying British diplomat on the Floor of the House. Honourable Members will understand that where big money is involved and as important names came into my possession so the threats began. First, I received threatening telephone calls followed by two burglaries at my London home. Then, more seriously, my name appeared on a multi-killer’s hit list”. Barry Dickens, the MP’ son later said that about the time when the dossier was given to the Home Secretary, his father’s London flat and constituency home were both broken into but nothing was taken.
Tom Watson asked the Home Office in February 2013 for Dickens’s dossier. A Home Office review in 2013 concluded that any information requiring investigation was referred to the police. Mr Dickens’s dossier was “not retained”. A Downing Street spokesman rejected calls to publish in full the 2013 review of paperwork, saying: “My understanding is that the executive summary reflects very fully the report.” The opposition said the work was carried out by just two officials and took just four weeks.”This is not good enough,” said shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper.
Last year Brittan said he could not remember getting the dossier, but recently released a statement saying he could now recollect a meeting with Dickens. He said he had asked officials to look into the claims and could not remembering hearing any more about it. A Home Office review last year found Brittan had written to Dickens in 1984 saying the DPP assessed the material as worth pursuing and passed it “to the appropriate authorities”.
Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP who came to Sri Lanka to seek justice for a murdered constituent, said he had received a dozen new allegations naming the same politician. Danczuk is taking an interest because Sir Cyril Smith used to represent Danczuk’s Rochdale constituency. The late, “larger than life” Liberal MP has been the subject of rumours for decades that he was a paedophile. Liberal party leaders have consistently ignored Smith’s activities with boys in the care of the social services. Danczuk has been pressing Lord Brittan to reveal what he knew about the dossier’s contents.
Barry Dickens said: “My father thought that the dossier at the time was the most powerful thing that had ever been produced, with the names that were involved and the power that they had… “I would like Lord Brittan to name the very next person he handed it on to. And where did it end up? There must have been a person who was the last to handle it.” Former DPP, Lord Macdonald, said the circumstances in which the dossier had gone missing were alarming and recommended an inquiry.
The Prime Minister told Mark Sedwill, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, to “do everything he can” to clear up what happened to the file. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who worked for Lord Brittan in Brussels in the 1990s, said the police were in the “best position” to investigate the allegations and he did not want anything – such as a public inquiry – to “cut across that or disrupt that”.
Danczuk responded that another internal inquiry was merely trying to limit damage, and that a public inquiry was necessary to retain public confidence. “The Prime Minister knows that there is a growing sense of public anger about allegations of historic abuse involving senior politicians and his statement today represents little more than a damage limitation exercise. It doesn’t go far enough. The public has lost confidence in these kind of official reviews, which usually result in a whitewash. The only way to get to the bottom of this is a thorough public inquiry.” A public inquiry into historical child abuse in public life, has been demanded by 139 MPs.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism committed an embarrassing blunder when they named Lord McAlpine as the senior cabinet minister in the Thatcher government who had been abusing young boys. He received damages, which he donated to charity, for the false allegation. McAlpine said: “There is nothing as bad as this that you can do to people. Because they [paedophiles] are quite rightly figures of public hatred. And suddenly to find yourself a figure of public hatred, unjustifiably, is terrifying.”
The media are wary about naming names again. The Daily Mail is sending coded messages. I know who the alleged culprit is and have done for some time. The other day I received an e-mail from a friend who spent many years as a child protection social worker. He said, “At last, what to every 80s social worker was common rumour.”
Will the name be named or will the cover-up continue?