THE most senior civil servant in the Home Office has admitted 114 crucial files from the 1980s detailing alleged child abuse by leading members of the establishment were probably destroyed.
The Home Office’s permanent secretary Mark Sedwill told the Home Affairs select committee that the evidence produced in 1984 by the late Tory MP
Geoffrey Dickens was probably destroyed two years after he handed it over to the then Tory home secretary Leon, now Lord, Brittan.
The permanent secretary’s comments came after Home Secretary Theresa May revealed that former High Court judge Baroness Butler-Sloss is to lead a wider independent inquiry into how claims of child abuse were dealt with by public institutions, political parties, the Church and the BBC.
Rumours of decades of organised paedophile activity among the ruling class have moved centre-stage over the past week, amid questions over whether the Home Office failed to act on detailed allegations provided by Mr Dickens in 1984.
Lord Brittan has flatly denied failing to deal with the material properly, while a review carried out by an HMRC official last year found no evidence that anything relevant was not passed to other authorities.
A second inquiry headed by Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), and senior barrister Richard Whittam QC is to look at an investigation carried out in the Home Office into what happened to the evidence presented by Mr Dickens.
Yesterday, Mr Sedwill formally apologised on behalf of the department for failing the victims of child abuse, who he pointed out are his age and whose lives he said have been “blighted”.
But he was attacked by MPs over the investigation he launched, for failing to identify the investigator or even being able to confirm if the former Home Office civil servant who raised concerns had been interviewed.
He confirmed it took months to inform Home Secretary Mrs May that 114 files had gone missing and said she had not seen the full report because “it would not have been appropriate”.
Labour committee chairman Keith Vaz, himself a former Home Office minister, described the actions of being “like a John Le Carré novel”. Referring to the 114 missing documents, Mr Sedwill said: “Most correspondence from this period was destroyed after two years. Of course, serious material of the kind we were referring to was handed on to the appropriate authorities, so it was not retained by the Home Office.”
The mandarin fielded a succession of questions about his department’s filing system, and about how the initial review had been able to deduce that 114 files were missing.
He insisted he did not know the detail of how the referencing worked, whether the probe had uncovered titles of missing documents, or if checks had been carried out to ascertain whether adjacent documents had disappeared.
Mr Sedwill said the probe used various search terms to trawl the total database of around 750,000 files.
“That identified a total number of files that were relevant or potentially relevant; 573 were still available to be inspected. In that search 114 were identified as missing,” he said.
Mr Sedwill said he decided to draft in an expert investigator to look into the Home Office’s handling of paedophile allegations in February last year in response to questions from Labour MP Tom Watson.
He said he “shared” the executive summary and “broad conclusions” with Mrs May after the report was produced in June, but it was “not appropriate” for her or her advisers to see the full version.