Lesley Riddoch: Lost faith in justice system

The Establishment should be made to face up to corruption allegations that threaten democracy, writes Lesley Riddoch

Former MP Cyril Smith, who died in 2010, is implicated in allegations about a paedophile ring. Picture: Getty
Former MP Cyril Smith, who died in 2010, is implicated in allegations about a paedophile ring. Picture: Getty
Former MP Cyril Smith, who died in 2010, is implicated in allegations about a paedophile ring. Picture: Getty

Today the Westminster government will rush through emergency laws making companies store details of public calls and emails to counter various threats, including the activities of paedophile networks.

Meanwhile, the internet and newspapers are alive with allegations that past and serving members of governments have conspired to conceal a paedophile ring active within Westminster itself.

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And yet, there has been no emergency action to counter this far greater threat to security, national cohesion and British democracy. As the evidence mounts, the public is entitled to ask: what on earth is going on?

Firstly, Geoffrey Dickens MP handed a dossier in 1983 to Leon Brittan, then Home Secretary, who said it was handed to the police. Nothing happened.

Secondly, Tim Fortescue, a Tory whip in the early 80s, was recorded in 1995 explaining how the whips’ office hushed up scandals with small boys in return for MPs toeing the party line. The allegations were not investigated.

Thirdly, Tom Watson MP raised the issue in 2012 and spoke of “clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and Number 10”.

Fourthly, Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP who outed Cyril Smith, says he received a dozen new allegations naming the same politician last week – some from police officers breaking gagging orders.

Fifthly, Peter McKelvie, a retired child protection team manager who has spent 20 years compiling evidence of alleged abuse, says up to 40 MPs and peers knew about, or took part in, child abuse and there is enough evidence to arrest at least one senior politician today.

Sixthly, Leon Brittan has been interviewed by police over a rape allegation and more than ten politicians are apparently on a list held by police investigating “paedophile ring” allegations.

Finally, this weekend, Anthony Gilberthorpe, a former Tory activist, told a Sunday newspaper he sent Margaret Thatcher a 40-page dossier in 1989 accusing Cabinet members of abusing underage boys at drug-fuelled conference parties.

Once again, nothing happened.

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All these allegations – and more – are flying around the public domain and yet all that has happened is the appointment of Lady Butler-Sloss to lead a public inquiry despite a potential conflict of interest over her extensive Establishment connections.

But if there is enough evidence to justify a public inquiry, why on earth haven’t the police laid charges against anyone?

Criminal prosecutions would achieve conviction or acquittal, leaving the inquiry free to interview all witnesses and – slightly – restore the public’s faith in British justice.

And it’s no wonder that faith is declining after the Leveson inquiry into phone hacking omitted to say anything meaningful about police collusion or the Met’s failure to investigate allegations.

Furthermore, the Hillsborough inquiry recently announced that 13 retired and serving police officers had been questioned over offences – including manslaughter, misconduct in a public office and perverting the course of justice – 25 years after the disaster, cover-up and attempt to blame Liverpool fans.

Without open acknowledgement of the shortcomings of these past inquiries, the public is entitled to be suspicious about the undue haste to have another.

Inquiries should follow criminal prosecutions. They did in the last three big cases of child abuse involving children’s homes in Scotland, so why not in Westminster?

Of course the police need hard proof. Everyone is aware allegations can be plain wrong. Yet we also know prolific sex abusers like Jimmy Savile smiled their way through decades of abuse. We don’t want to jump to conclusions, nor do we want a generation of Establishment figures to get off the hook if they are guilty. This is precisely why prosecutions are needed – to convert a generalised frenzy into specific cases against named individuals.

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And yet, last Friday the Metropolitan Police press office couldn’t tell me if there is an active investigation involving any individuals over the Elm Guest House scandal [following historic claims of abuse of children in the 1970s and 1980s at parties at a guest house in London attended by politicians].

It’s an extraordinary situation, or at least it should be. Yet the general public is relatively mute, punch-drunk with a welter of corruption cases involving bankers’ bonuses, MPs expenses, journalists’ phone hacking and energy companies misselling electricity plans.

It seems the public now expects little in the way of transparency or genuine justice from the British Establishment. And yet, we must.

There may be speculation that some of those receiving their jotters in the imminent Cabinet reshuffle are facing more tangible accusations. That could be wildly unfair.

Many people already believe the British Establishment is trying to contain the threat of further exposure by handing the inquiry to “one of its own”– Baroness Butler-Sloss.

By now everyone knows her brother – the late Sir Michael Havers – was Attorney General at the time the allegations of abuse first surfaced. Yet the government is sticking by her appointment on the grounds that she doesn’t see a conflict of interest.

In what other walk of life would an important decision about bias be left to the potentially biased person? The suggestion seems to be that a person of Baroness Butler-Sloss’ reputation would automatically know if she could deal objectively with her brother’s possible involvement in the cover-up of a paedophile ring – and that she would automatically shop herself if she did. Only a demi-god could be so trusted.

That is the unimpeachable and unhealthy height of the pedestal upon which members of the Establishment currently stand.

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Baroness Butler-Sloss has already said a conflict of loyalties can’t occur because her late brother wasn’t involved.

Doesn’t that prejudge the evidence? And she’s accused of keeping allegations about a bishop out of a previous review because she “cared about the church”.

Can victims of child abuse believe she will be utterly rigorous this time?

It seems clear those in the Establishment view themselves as a cut above – able to exercise complete neutrality by dint of upbringing, and class.

Not for them the notion of checks and balances. Not for them the concern about justice being seen to be done. Not for them worries about nepotism, favouritism or elitism.

Not for them, even, the sensitivity to know Britain is riven with hurt and disbelief after countless investigations that have failed to resolve issues or properly ascribe blame.

The Baroness is the wrong person for the job and the public inquiry is the wrong first step.

The criminal law must act first. Britain is waiting.