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Significant failures by Westminster institutions responding to child abuse allegations

There have been significant failures by Westminster institutions in their responses to allegations of child sexual abuse, an inquiry has concluded.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s inquiry into allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster found that Westminster institutions failed to recognise child sexual abuse, turned a blind eye to it, actively shielded and protected child sexual abusers and covered up allegations.

“Several highly placed people in the 1970s and 1980s, including Sir Peter Morrison MP and Sir Cyril Smith MP, were known or rumoured to be active in their sexual interest in children and were protected from prosecution in a number of ways, including by the police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and political parties,” said the report. “At that time, nobody seemed to care about the fate of the children involved, with status and political concerns overriding all else.”

“Even though we did not find evidence of a Westminster network, the lasting effect on those who suffered as children from being sexually abused by individuals linked to Westminster has been just as profound. It has been compounded by institutional complacency and indifference to the plight of child victims,” the report added.

While there was no evidence of any kind of organised ‘Westminster paedophile network’ in which persons of prominence conspired to pass children amongst themselves for the purpose of sexual abuse, there was “ample evidence” that individual perpetrators of child sexual abuse have been linked to Westminster.

The report highlighted that several cross-cutting themes recurred throughout the investigation:

- One is the theme of ‘deference’ by police, prosecutors and political parties towards politicians and others believed to have some importance in public life.

- Another concerns differences in treatment accorded to wealthy or well-connected people as opposed to those who were poorer, more deprived, and who had no access to networks of influence.

- A third relates to the failure by almost every institution to put the needs and safety of children first.

The report outlined that the police paid little regard to the welfare of sexually exploited children. Political parties showed themselves, even very recently, to be more concerned about political fallout than safeguarding; and in some cases the honours system prioritised reputation and discretion in making awards, with little or no regard for victims of nominated persons.

The inquiry found evidence of overt and direct deference by police towards powerful people, such as a conscious decision not to arrest or investigate someone because of their profile or position. One example of this kind of deference comes from Lord Taverne, who told the inquiry about Sir Joe Simpson’s remark to the Home Secretary that police did not investigate certain Westminster lavatories to avoid the embarrassment of apprehending MPs and celebrities who frequented them. The best example of such deference is the case of Sir Peter Hayman, who was cautioned but avoided prosecution for sending obscene material in the post.

There was also an internal deference within institutions themselves, such as where junior police officers did not challenge senior officers’ questionable decisions during investigations of the powerful for fear of harming their own career prospects.

The inquiry also heard evidence of the dangers of deference to ideas, rather than people. The profound social changes of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in relation to socially acceptable sexual behaviour, meant that people in positions of political and cultural influence at that time deliberately sought to challenge the boundaries of sexual activity. Language was often used in ambiguous ways. For example, the term ‘boys’ was used to describe 18 to 21-year-old young men.

During the investigation, there was striking evidence of how wealth and social status insulated perpetrators of child sexual abuse from being brought to justice to the detriment of the victims of their alleged abuse. While Sir Peter Hayman avoided prosecution, Robert Wardell, a bus inspector, was prosecuted for sending Hayman through the post “serious and extreme” material. This led the investigating officer to say there was “one law for Wardell and another for Hayman”.

The poverty and disadvantaged position of victims led to their allegations of child sexual abuse not being taken seriously, the inquiry said.

“A consistent pattern that has emerged from the evidence we have heard is a failure by almost every institution to put the needs and safety of children who have survived sexual abuse first,” said the inquiry’s report.

The panel and chair make the following recommendations:

1) The criteria for forfeiture of all honours must be formally extended to include convictions, cautions and cases decided by trial of the facts involving offences of child sexual abuse. This must be set out in a published policy and procedure, which must include a clear policy on how forfeiture decisions are made public.

2) The Cabinet Office should re-examine the policy on posthumous forfeiture, in order to consider the perspectives of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.

3) Government, political parties and other Westminster institutions must have whistle-blowing policies and procedures which cover child sexual abuse and exploitation.

4) The Cabinet Office must ensure that each government department reviews its child safeguarding policy or policies in light of the expert witness report of Professor Thoburn. There must also be published procedures to accompany their policies, in order that staff know how to enact their department’s policy.

5) All political parties registered with the Electoral Commission in England and Wales must ensure that they have a comprehensive safeguarding policy.

Westminster is defined in this report as the centre of the United Kingdom’s government, government ministers and officials, as well as Parliament, its members and the political parties represented there.

Allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster

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