Ensuring victims of child abuse have a voice is just as important as uncovering any evidence of a mass cover-up over historic cases, writes Dani Garavelli
WHEN IAN McFadyen saw the former headteacher of Caldicott Prep School in Slough jailed for child abuse in February, he expected to feel a sense of closure. After all, Peter Wright had been at the centre of a paedophile ring that had preyed on prepubescent boys at the school for almost a quarter of a century – a ring that McFadyen had dedicated several years of his life to exposing.
McFadyen had not been abused by Wright, now 83, but by several other teachers, one of whom, John Addrison, is also in prison. His principal abuser, George Hill, who assaulted him repeatedly, committed suicide without being charged, while another teacher, Hugh Henry, threw himself in front of a train hours before he was due to be sentenced.
“I thought I would be punching the air, but I felt empty,” says McFadyen, who now lives in the Scottish Borders. “It gives me no joy watching old men going to prison, although I realise they have to pay for what they’ve done. All I really want is for the general public to understand that children who are abused are given a life sentence.”
McFadyen was speaking at the end of an extraordinary week that has, arguably, seen more progress on historic child abuse than the past ten years put together. On Monday, Home Secretary Theresa May announced two fresh inquiries. One is headed by NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless into concerns the Home Office failed to act on a dossier on suspected paedophiles passed by the late MP Geoffrey Dickens to the then home secretary, Leon Brittan, in 1983. The other, headed by Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, is into how public bodies such as Westminster, the BBC, children’s homes and schools have handled allegations of institutional child abuse.
In addition, Greater Manchester Police has widened its inquiry into the alleged cover-up of sexual abuse at Knowl View, a residential school in Rochdale linked to the former Liberal Democrat MP Cyril Smith, while the number of officers serving on Operation Fernbank – the investigation into the Elm Guest House in London, where boys from Grafton Close children’s home in Hounslow are said to have been abused – has been trebled.
The confusing tangle of scandals at the heart of the new inquiries has been on the radar for several decades, but, it is alleged, covered up to protect the reputations of those involved. The allegations against Smith were first investigated by Lancashire Police in the 1960s, until, according to retired detective Jack Tasker, those involved were told to back off by Special Branch. Allegations about child abuse at Elm Guest House, a gay brothel shut down after a raid in 1982, surfaced eight years later during the inquest of co-owner Carole Kasir. And in 1992, officers investigating paedophile Peter Righton, a consultant to the National Children’s Bureau convicted of importing images of child abuse, are said to have gathered box-loads of evidence pointing to the existence of a nationwide paedophile ring.
The catalyst for their re-investigation was, of course, the death of Jimmy Savile. As the scale of his offending emerged, those involved in other scandals began to raise their heads above the parapet. Most significantly, former child protection officer Peter McKelvie, who helped convict Righton and had spent 20 years wondering why important leads had not been followed up, took his concerns to MP Tom Watson, who has been questioning the government ever since.
Other campaigners have come to the fore, too. Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk has conducted his own investigation into Smith and has repeatedly challenged the establishment over its failure to pursue him. As Danczuk last week called for an amnesty on potential whistle-blowers, a former civil servant claimed Special Branch had infiltrated the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) to identify and possibly blackmail famous people, while former West Mercia police officer Terry Shutt, who was involved in Righton’s arrest, came forward to back up McKelvie.
It is as if – after decades of casting victims as mentally unhinged fantasists and conspiracy theorists – a dam had burst and people were finally ready to think the unthinkable: that in the 60s, 70s and 80s, child sexual abuse spread throughout the UK’s public institutions like a contagion.
Those looking to last week’s announcements as a watershed, however, might not want to get too carried away. Though the Hillsborough inquiry proved that even long-standing cover-ups can be exposed, there are those – including Nick Clegg, a former head boy at Caldicott – who are less enthusiastic. Some question the wisdom of appointing Elizabeth Butler-Sloss – the sister of the former Attorney General Michael Havers – as chair of the broader inquiry, while others fear the focus on the past will divert resources away from protecting the current generation of vulnerable children.
Whatever the challenge of tackling historic allegations in the UK, the scale of it should not be underestimated, as the Caldicott case demonstrates. Initial charges brought against Wright in 2003 were dropped after the judge, Roger Connor, ruled that Wright was too frail. Connor, it was pointed out, lived in Buckinghamshire not far from Lord Justice Baker, who was the chairman of Caldicott’s board of governors.
When, after years of depression which saw him take drugs and live on the street, McFadyen decided to go to Thames Valley Police, they told him the case had been stayed. Eventually he was able to give a statement, but it took the appointment of an ambitious young officer before the case gained any traction.
“Let me tell you about the power of Caldicott,” McFadyen says now. “When you look at the celebrities [caught up in Operation Yewtree], none of them have been afforded anonymity, yet when I came forward in 2008, there was a press blackout until 2014. And the reason for that is that the people who have been through the hands of Peter Wright are the movers and shakers of this country.”
Leading members of the establishment, including George Osborne and Dominic Grieve, attended St Paul’s School and its prep school Colet Court, which are the subject of Operation Winthorpe into alleged abuse from the 60s to the 80s. While the boys at the Grafton Close children’s home linked to the Elm Guest House were from a very different background (allowing them to be easily dismissed), those suspected of abusing them were not. It is alleged that in the late 70s, early 80s, some of them were passed round for sex at influential paedophile parties at the venue. After it was raided, 12 boys claimed they had been abused, but Carole and her husband Haroon were charged only with “running a disorderly house.”
Allegations of paedophilia resurfaced in 1990 when members of the now defunct National Association for Young People in Care (Naypic) who had been in contact with Kasir gave evidence at her inquest.
Kasir was the source of the notorious Elm House “guest list” said to include the names of several Tory MPs, a Labour MP, a prominent businessman, a member of Sinn Fein and a pop star (not all of whom are suspected of child abuse).
Given that the question of elites is at the heart of the scandals, the choice of Butler-Sloss to lead the broader inquiry was bound to be controversial, particularly since Havers is said to have supported the DPP’s decision not to prosecute Sir Peter Hayman, a diplomat and subscriber to PIE caught sending paedophile literature through the post. “I am sure she’s a woman of high integrity, but if there is the slightest tarnish over any relation she has, then she’s maybe not the appropriate person,” says McFadyen.
He supports the inquiry in principle, but there are others who have less faith in its power to deliver. Eileen Fairweather, a journalist who exposed abuse scandals at Islington and other children’s homes, has said the only thing that would convince her the government was serious about tackling Britain’s “VIP paedophile ring” was if it set up “a nationally co-ordinated police and social services task force with the power, money and numbers to follow up the mountain of evidence that has been ignored for decades”.
Alison Todd, chief executive of Children 1st, believes a public inquiry is necessary given the gravity of the allegations. “It is important for the people who were victims and whose concerns weren’t heard that we find out what went wrong,” she says. “But we should remember we already know from many of the cases what we need to do to put things right. We need to make it easier for victims to speak out, make sure they get the support when they do and that their allegations are taken seriously and handled sensitively.
“We also need to make it easier for those [who suspect abuse] to speak out. While a public inquiry matters, we don’t want it to distract [those involved] from putting these things into place now.”
There are questions, too, over the possible introduction of mandatory reporting, which would make it a criminal offence not to report abuse. While Mandate Now, an organisation run by Caldicott survivor Tom Perry, has been calling for the move for some time, it has traditionally been opposed by the NSPCC, which said a blanket law would lead to the system becoming overloaded.
Last week, the NSPCC changed its position, saying it now believed those who covered up abuse should be prosecuted. McFadyen believes the NSPCC proposal falls short of what is required, while Todd says care would have to be taken to ensure children weren’t discouraged from disclosing for fear the information would be passed on.
Despite – or perhaps because of – the mounting allegations, there are those who dismiss the recent developments as another moral panic. On the BBC’s Newsnight, sociologist Frank Furedi called the clamour for public inquiries a “ritualistic impulse” and claimed that, far from bringing closure, they merely spawn further allegations and further inquiries in a never-ending cycle. You can see where he is coming from. The litany of reports on child abuse produced in the past decade could give the impression of a cottage industry designed to keep judges in paid employment.
Yet as more damning allegations surface almost daily, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that in the second half of the 20th century abuse was endemic in boarding schools and children’s homes and that the latter were used as a supply line for paedophiles who offended with impunity.
All child abuse campaigners are asking is that those whose voices have been ignored are listened to and their claims rigorously investigated. Silent for so long himself, Ian McFadyen knows how important it is for victims to make themselves heard. Though he is a thoughtful and measured man, his words spill out in a torrent as if, having had his gag removed, he fears it might be replaced at any second.
“I am strong and passionate and that was perceived in court in quite a negative light,” he says. “But what the jury didn’t get is that when I was putting in the allegations, it wasn’t a strong and eloquent, 45-year-old man, but a little ten-year-old boy, who didn’t have that voice, that strength, that ability.
“This is not about party politics, it’s not about scoring points against each other through the media. I have no agenda other than if I am able to speak for people who aren’t able to speak, maybe I can help ensure children are a little bit safer than I was when I was their age.”