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Wanless Review and the Dickens File

Volume 601: debated on Wednesday 4 November 2015

[Valerie Vaz in the Chair]

Before the hon. Gentleman begins, I advise him and other hon. Members that, in line with the House’s sub judice resolution, no direct reference should be made to the substance of criminal or civil legal proceedings that are current—that is, those on which a judgment has not yet been issued or on which appellate proceedings are active. Clearly there are still police investigations current that relate to the matters that he intends to raise and I am sure that he is aware that the House would not want him to prejudice those investigations by anything he might say here today.

Thank you, Ms Vaz. I assure you that I have no intention of prejudicing any investigations. I am keen to challenge those commentators who say that there is some big conspiracy to hunt out and name people who are innocent, and that everything has been overstated when it comes to historic child abuse. Some have got quite a track record in saying that. I would say to them: Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall, Max Clifford and the former Bishop of Lewes; 1,400 children in Rotherham, children in Derby, in Northampton, in Halifax, in Newcastle, in Oxford, in Telford, in Peterborough, in North Yorkshire and in Wrexham; bishops in Belgium, Norway and Austria—all over the world, there has been a spate of arrests and huge numbers of convictions of people involved in child abuse from the past, so those who say that this has somehow been dreamt up are factually wrong.

My involvement began in 1988 when, looking at corruption in the London Borough of Lambeth, I was told that when boys left children’s homes—boys over 16, therefore—they were being cajoled into prostitution. That was being done through various bars in the borough. There were suggestions about how and where, and that was all given to the police. I was told of a place that I had never heard of called Dolphin Square, which was one of the places where those boys were going to parties that involved Members of Parliament. I will refrain from giving the detail I was given. It was given to the police at the time and it has been given many times since. The police told me about a year into that investigation that somebody on high had curtailed the investigation—stopped it. I know; I was there. That is what happened.

Then, several years later, in 1994, Inspector Clive Driscoll, who was looking at a different, possibly related sex abuse scandal in the same borough came to see me. He was taken off his investigations and told to stop investigating. It now transpires that at Coronation Buildings in Lambeth in 1980 another police investigation was curtailed. In that case, special branch moved in to stop it. Therefore, we know that three separate investigations mysteriously disappeared and, in one case, I was there when that happened.

I have no intention of naming names, not because of the advice given, but because that is not appropriate. I do not know who is guilty. That is not my job. It is not the job of any MP and I have never done that. Let me therefore correct the record. One newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, suggested that I had named a Member of Parliament. That is factually inaccurate; it is not true. The story was fabricated. It was taken—I think as a spoiler—from a newspaper called The Sun, which said that two MPs had made various allegations. Not true. There are not two MPs and I am not an MP involved in doing that. If I was, I would not have named anyone; I would have given the evidence to the police and kept my mouth shut. It is fair to say that I have given information—evidence in some cases—to various police forces and some of that involved prominent people. I am not naming those people, I have not done that and I will not, because it is for the police to investigate and make a case for prosecution in the courts if they feel that is appropriate. My criticism and complaint is about where that does not happen. It is important that those matters are clarified immediately.

Look at the scale of what is going on. I believe there was a further arrest just this afternoon, but so far in north Wales a whole series of people have been arrested and jailed. That is also the case in other parts of the country. According to Simon Bailey, the chief constable of Norfolk constabulary, there are at the moment 89 national or local politicians, 145 radio, TV and film persons, 38 music industry persons and 15 people from the world of sport under investigation, as well as 2,016 others, including people from religious institutions, teachers and careworkers. That is what the police said to the Society of Editors on 19 October this year. Operation Pallial in north Wales has made over 40 arrests. In Lambeth, people have been jailed—in other words, they were successfully prosecuted. The idea that this stuff is in some way fanciful or made up is again not proven by the facts. The commentators who suggest that are wrong—very sadly wrong.

Let me talk about Nottinghamshire. A gentleman came to see me; he flew in from Canada for a 20-minute meeting—he had not been in this country for 30 years—about an allegation in relation to the Ashley House children’s home in my constituency, which he and I knew could not be prosecuted. It was not possible. For a 20-minute meeting—he flew in and flew out just to tell me that. He was not making it up.

The woman who claims to have been abused at Skegby Hall near my constituency and at various other locations is not making it up. The dozens of children at Beechwood in Nottingham who made detailed allegations are not making it up. Those who have come to me in relation to schools and churches or family abuse, including rape as young children, are not making it up. People do not go to their own MP and make this kind of thing up.

The man who came to me alleging that he, aged 11, was forced to work in a foundry full time, and before that, from the age of eight, was forced to work in a field, gave precise locations and precise names. He has a full file of precise records. He is not making it up; he is telling the truth about what happened. The whole issue of children being sold on to farms as slave labour is a scandal yet to emerge in this country. It is a part of this big, historic problem and more will emerge from that.

That is not the conspiracy. The conspiracy was the conspiracy of silence at the time—the conspiracy of connivance, the conspiracy of cover-up. That is the conspiracy. Do you know what the man who was enslaved wants more than anything? Strangely, because he never went to school, he cannot read and write, so he wants literacy lessons. This is my battle at the moment. I have a letter on it that arrived in the last hour from a county council that has given him five literacy lessons, questioning whether he needs more, when he was not allowed to go to school because he was enslaved. That is the cost of child abuse in this country.

This debate is about people like that man, who are living with this stuff today. There are people whose lives have been diverted, with many going abroad. Some have channelled it into great success, by being single-minded about their goals in life, but others are very damaged, and many lives have been totally destroyed. These campaigners are not going to go away, because they know what happened. I am fortunate. I was never beaten as a kid; I was not sold or raped as a child, but I have met lots of people who were. Some of the names are jaw-dropping. They are not going to go public, for lots of good reasons, and that is their choice, but the numbers coming forward and who have confided in me are extraordinary. They are not asking for anything to be done; they are supporting the campaign. They do not want to relive their trauma. The scale of the problem is absolutely phenomenal. I know there will be some sceptics about what I am going to say, and all I can say to them is, “Open your eyes and ears. See and hear what is going on.” What is under the surface will always be far bigger than what has emerged.

My approach is to give absolutely everything to the police. Material I have seen recently relating to the Dickens dossier incorporates stuff relevant to North Wales police and to other forces. I will not go into details, because that would prejudice those investigations, but there are dozens of documents that are hugely important.

There were two Dickens files. I have met someone who has not come forward because of the Official Secrets Act but who saw the first Dickens file. There were approximately 16 names in it; they were cross-party and not all were well known, but some of them were. That was the result of research done by Geoffrey Dickens. I do not know whether it is true or not, but I do not know that he gave the file to Leon Brittan in November 1983.

On 18 January 1984, a second person gave a second file to Geoffrey Dickens. I have a copy of that file, which I call the second Dickens dossier, and so do the police. The information in it was provided by two former Conservative MPs, Sir Victor Raikes, the former Member for Liverpool Garston, and Commander Anthony Courtney, a former British Navy intelligence officer and former Member for Harrow East. There was an internal battle going on within the Conservative party, specifically within the Monday club—they were both key figures in that—with a new organisation, the Young Monday club. They were part of that factional battle, and the second file emerged because of it. I do not think that they thought that what they described in the file as paedophilia was of particular importance other than for doing the other side in.

What is significant is the details, the allegations that were made and the fact that those allegations were not investigated. The file is unambiguous. I have an original. I have met, spoken to and got a copy from the person who personally handed it to Geoffrey Dickens, who in turn then personally gave it to Leon Brittan. In the first line, it says, “GK Young heads up a Powellite faction known as Tory Action.” George Kennedy Young, now long dead, was deputy director of MI6. The allegation is that he manipulated a group of people, and that, within that, there were paedophile rings. The file goes into detail about who it is alleged was involved and where. I will not give all the locations because I think some would be sensitive and might identify people, but London is one, Greater Manchester another, and North Yorkshire is a third. I should stress to any journalists listening, that Mr Leon Brittan is obviously not in that file, or indeed the other Dickens file. Geoffrey Dickens was not stupid. He did not give Leon Brittan a file that named Leon Brittan, but there are lots of other names in there.

The file is intriguing, to say the least. Information and allegations in it include allegations of sex with children, names of people alleged to be involved, and suggestions both of locations, including one precise location, and of a third-party organisation that was directly involved. I will not name that organisation. It will all come out—there is no reason why it should not—but it would not help the police if it came out today. It would be a pretty straightforward investigation for the police to look into the precise location that is in the file, but there was no investigation. The question is, why not?

It is worth saying one other thing about George Kennedy Young. He was involved in many dubious activities; he tried to get some kind of private army called “Unison” going. I have seen a range of background documents that would be of interest to anyone campaigning on the Shrewsbury pickets and on infiltration of the miners’ strike, with names that correlate. There are a lot of allegations about him attempting to undermine both the Heath and the Wilson Governments. He was clearly a manipulator, and is key to what was going on. I do not know why he is so prominent or why the Society for Individual Freedom, which he set up, is named in this, but he is a significant figure and that may give some sort of reason for why things then disappeared.

After the review by Mr Wanless and Mr Whittam, the Prime Minister said that their report meant that

“people who’ve been looking for conspiracy theories will have to look elsewhere.”

I am not looking for a conspiracy theory. To me, this stuff is fairly simple. There are always simple explanations. But we do not need to look elsewhere any more. I have here a copy of part of what I call Dickens dossier No. 2. It went to Leon Brittan at the time. We need to know why it then disappeared, what happened to it and where the Home Office investigation into it went. Why did the file disappear when such serious allegations are made within it? It is incongruous that there could be no investigation, given the information in here. It is not possible that this dossier would not raise all sorts of issues.

I could reveal more from other documents I have seen, from the same person, that suggest that quite a lot of people were aware of the issues, but it would be inappropriate. I am certain that some people who are named in the file were on the periphery—not involved in anything that could be described as child abuse, but a bit too close for comfort in terms of embarrassment—and they knew some of the sorts of things that might have been going on and had suspicions. I think those people are guilty of nothing other than a loose connection—being at various events or venues—but they know things. It is clear from correspondence I have seen that some of them must know things.

Part of the problem is that when we talk about paedophilia, most people think we mean under-16s. But at the time the term could be used in relation to 16 to 21-year-old men. With Dolphin Square and Lambeth, the issue is the allegations about Members of Parliament paying for sex with boys over 16 who had been procured from Lambeth children’s homes after they had left them. I would call that major sleaze, but at the time, it was illegal. The file also alleges things involving children younger than that. I do not know—I have not got a clue —whether any of it is true, or what bits are true, but there is sufficient information for a major police investigation.

That is why it is absolutely critical that the lid is lifted. We need to know where the file went, why it disappeared and what is going to happen now. The original is with the police. Why did the Home Office and the whole of Government fail to come up with that document, when it had been given to Leon Brittan in 1984? I think the answer to that question will unlock part of the cover-up of the time, explain it and help the police. It is imperative that the Government now reopen the Wanless and Whittam investigation to see why they were not given the file at the time by someone in the Home Office, and why civil servants at the time did not co-operate.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Vaz. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) on securing the debate and on the points he raised. He has been a tenacious and very determined campaigner on this matter.

Before dealing with the specifics of the Wanless review and the Dickens file, it is important to highlight that tackling child sexual abuse is a top priority for this Government. Victims should, and increasingly do, feel able to come forward to report abuse to the police and get the support they need. We have been consistently clear that when an allegation of child sexual abuse is made, whether it occurred now or in the past, it must be thoroughly investigated by the police, so that the facts can be established. Let me be clear: the Government are determined that forces should do everything they can to bring perpetrators of child sexual abuse to justice. Child sexual abuse now has the status of a national threat in the strategic policing requirement, meaning that forces are able to maximise specialist skills and expertise in both preventing and investigating allegations of offending. Police forces and police and crime commissioners must have the capabilities they need to protect children from sexual abuse.

It is sadly only too true that in the past, these horrific crimes were not always given the priority they should have had. We are appalled that abuse was allowed to proliferate in the very institutions where children should have been most protected: schools, hospitals and care homes. Child sexual abuse is now rightly centre stage as an issue that we must confront. I want to be clear—the hon. Gentleman alluded to this—that it is incredibly important that victims feel they can come forward, and will be listened to and believed.

Tackling this issue is a shared effort. The “Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation” report, published in March, sets out the national policy response to the failures seen in towns such as Rotherham, Manchester and Oxford. Collectively, the actions in that report will: strengthen accountability and leadership in professions and local government; address the culture of inaction and denial that led to victims being dismissed and ignored; improve joint working and information sharing, so that agencies intervene early; strengthen the protection of children who are at risk; reinforce law enforcement efforts to stop offenders; and provide greater support for victims and survivors. It is a wide-reaching and ambitious programme of work, driven forward at pace by an inter-ministerial group chaired by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who shares my deep personal commitment to this important work. I am sure that that broad range of activity will confirm to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw that this Government are absolutely committed to learning from the failures of the past and ensuring they do not recur.

In that context, I turn to the so-called Dickens dossier and the Wanless and Whittam review, which the hon. Gentleman spoke about. It may be helpful if I set out the circumstances and findings of that review. In July 2014, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Home Office permanent secretary approached Peter Wanless, chief executive officer of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and Richard Whittam, QC, to ask them to conduct a review of two independent investigations in respect of information the Home Office received about child sexual abuse between 1979 and 1999. Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam, QC, were chosen as esteemed, highly experienced and knowledgeable individuals in the field. Their review and findings were published last November.

The Wanless and Whittam review focused in part on how the Home Office responded to information relating to the Dickens file, as well as how the police acted on any information passed to them at the time. As referenced in their report, Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam, QC, were given free access to the Home Office’s filing system. They also undertook wider searches in other Departments and agencies, and their requests were complied with. Among their conclusions was the following statement:

“It is very difficult to prove anything definitive based on imperfectly operated paper records system at 30 years remove.

Whilst a sophisticated cover up would be unlikely to leave papers in the general registry system of a major Government Department, extensive searches of paper records for the period, well beyond the Home Office itself, have not uncovered any evidence of organised attempts by the Home Office to conceal child abuse, either in specific documents retained by them or others, or through an obvious pattern of destroyed files.”

Their work shows that the original reviews did not cover anything up, and it neither proves nor disproves that the Home Office acted inappropriately. Likewise, they do not prove or disprove that public money ever found its way to the Paedophile Information Exchange, but they make clear that they saw

“no evidence to suggest PIE was ever funded by the Home Office because of sympathy for its aims.”

Wanless and Whittam made three sets of recommendations for the Home Office, all of which related to how the Department dealt with sensitive allegations, how officials passed such information on to the police, and how the details of those allegations were properly recorded. The permanent secretary accepted all three sets of recommendations, and the Home Office has undertaken considerable work to implement them in the year since the report was published.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bassetlaw on locating material that he believes constitutes the so-called Dickens dossier. I am unable to offer an explanation as to why he has apparently been able to locate those documents when the Home Office has not. I can only refer to the outcome of the diligent work by Mr Wanless and Mr Whittam, who met with the hon. Gentleman during their review. I reiterate that neither they nor the previous independent reviewer were able to identify a Dickens dossier within the Department’s holdings.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for passing whatever information he has to the Metropolitan Police Service. It is not for the Home Office, or for me in my role as Minister with responsibility for preventing abuse and exploitation, to comment on or intervene in individual ongoing investigations. As such, I will not comment or speculate on what might be in those papers. It is right and proper that any material relevant to the matter or any allegation of child sexual abuse be passed to the police so that it can be properly investigated. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on doing just that. I understand the police are reviewing the documents passed to them, and I look forward to hearing the outcome.

As I said, it is vital that victims and survivors report the abuse they have suffered so that it can be investigated and the truth can be established. The Government are determined that no stone shall be left unturned in pursuit of that aim. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has established an independent statutory inquiry on child sexual abuse. The inquiry will challenge institutions and individuals without fear or favour, and will get to the truth. Justice Goddard is leading the inquiry’s important work, and is grasping this once-in-a-generation opportunity to expose what has gone wrong in the past and learn lessons for the future. The right place for further consideration of the Home Office’s or other institutions’ handling of the so-called Dickens dossier and other non-recent abuse allegations is the inquiry, which is free to consider evidence from any point in the past without restrictions and has the power to compel witnesses and call for evidence.

We are committed to the inquiry having the full co-operation of Government and access to all relevant information, including secret information where appropriate. Although it would not be appropriate to give a blanket undertaking that people who have signed the Official Secrets Act will not be prosecuted for reporting information relating to possible child sex abuse offences, the Attorney General gave an undertaking on 15 June that no document or evidence provided to the inquiry would result in, or be used in, any prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, or any prosecution for unlawful possession of the evidence in question.

Finally—I cannot emphasise this point enough—the Home Secretary has been clear that it is vital that the whole Government fully co-operate with the inquiry on its important work. All Departments must and will ensure that they have the systems and processes in place to do so. I assure the hon. Member for Bassetlaw that the Government are determined to uncover the truth. We must all work together to ensure that the inquiry is able to do so.

Question put and agreed to.