Simon Danczuk has led the front pages this week with his explosive account of how an MP could hide a lifetime of abusing children.
The Westminster reaction to his Cyril Smith allegations? Embarrassed coughs.
Good on Simon for having the courage to speak his mind. Since his 2010 election, itself a feat of endurance, he’s demonstrated a forensic mind and a canny eye for a story. He represents a diminishing Westminster breed, a ‘character’ who speaks with an authentic voice and with conviction. In the bland world of party slogans and ‘lines to take,’ he stands out. I admire him.
And despite these qualities, maybe even because of them, I hope our colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party are rallying round to support Simon. Because he’s about to realise what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the liberal establishment at its most savage.
Our central concern should always be the survivors of sexual abuse.
Yet the daggers are already being sharpened in the salons of North London. ‘How can he serialise in the Mail?,’ ‘Why is he criticising Labour people?,’ and ‘He’s not a proper journalist’ are just three of the attacks I’ve heard whispered in the last few days.
This is an attempt to undermine the substance of his argument: that career child abuser Cyril Smith covered up his activities with the collaboration of colleagues in Westminster and beyond. Since then the fog of collective amnesia has enveloped his party and anyone ever associated Smith.
I’ve not yet read Simon’s book but I saw the report of television journalist Liz MacKean, who was one of the first to highlight that Special Branch intervened so that Cyril Smith died avoiding the justice which his victims deserved.
As Simon pointed out on Radio 4 yesterday, Smith is not the first MP to be named as a child abuser. Two former ministers have named Sir Peter Morrison as a ‘well-known pedarast’.
There are three things that need to happen in relation to these serious allegations.
First, all the child abuse inquires in local authorities, the NHS and other public institutions such as the BBC must be wrapped into one national independent review of historic abuse cases. In Australia, they’re having a Royal Commission. We could adopt the same practice. MPs of all parties have written to the PM urging him to make a decisive move in the right direction.
Secondly, let’s acknowledge what the police privately admit: investigating child abuse is hopelessly under-resourced. Worse, whistle-blowers in the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre tell me their work is being diluted as the National Crime Agency (NCA) absorbs them into the new organisation. Recent parliamentary questions have yielded obfuscated answers on how many dedicated specialist investigators with arrest powers are working full-time on abuse inquiries. One whistle-blower told me that a very senior director at the NCA said child abuse is ‘not their priority.’
What also needs to happen is for political parties to unite on child abuse. They need to work with campaign groups who wish to see the law changed so we have mandatory reporting of suspected abuse in regulated settings such as private boarding schools. There’s a remarkable man called Tom Perry who runs the organisation Mandate Now- he needs our support.
I’ve already documented my reasons for asking the Prime Minister about an historic case of child abuse in October 2012.
Since then, there have been numerous arrests and people are facing charges, so I have to be careful what I write.
But I can say there have been some shocking claims made, many of which police are investigating.
The source of my original question is a retired child protection officer who was working with the Met police on a major child abuse inquiry in the 1990s. Their inquiries began to focus on a theory that an MP was involved with a group of known child abusers. At this point, the investigation was, according to my source, shut down after “orders from on high.”
Others were given the courage to contact me after the press picked up my parliamentary question and police launched an investigation into the alleged crimes.
The former civil servant who told me how he raised concerns that taxpayers may have been asked to fund the Paedophile Information Exchange has co-operated with the police but we await the results of the internal inquiry at the Home Office, set up last November.
The official also shared an interesting anecdote. The civil servant at the Home Office in charge of the budget that may have funded PIE was called to a crisis meeting at the Reform Club on the day the scandal involving Jeremy Thorpe broke in the newspapers.
In an interview at the time, Cyril Smith showed how he had some decision over the fate of his leader saying “Mr Thorpe had advised me that if I went to him and said that in my view he should resign then he would resign. I’ve not been to him and said that and I have no intention of going to him and saying that and so Mr Thorpe has not offered his resignation.”
Thorpe did eventually resign and was replaced by David Steel in July 1976, who made Smith the party’s Social Services spokesman, despite their relationship according to Smith being “not frigid but not at a high temperature”.
Even accounting for the times, Smith’s approach to his brief was distinctly illiberal. In a letter of complaint to the editor of Social Work Today in May 1977 he said “You describe myself as a ‘political buffoon’. All this is apparently because…in my view on occasions a juvenile offender was a case for a good hiding rather than a child psychiatrist”
Then there’s the matter of child abuser Peter Righton. I’m working with a number of courageous and dedicated former child protection workers who are concerned that Righton, after his conviction, retired to a cottage on the estate of Lord Henniker.
Henniker continued to allow his estate to be used by the Islington Suffolk project that gave holidays to vulnerable children from Islington. Many of the children were in the care system at a time when Islington was thought to have had a major problem with child abuse in its care homes. The retired social workers tell me that even despite the Chief Constable of Suffolk visiting personally to warn Henniker that Righton was a career paedophile, and would put the dozens of young boys who visited Thornham Magna at risk, he ignored this advice and Righton lived there until his death in 2008
My team have had two meetings with the woman who alleges rape by a man who went on to be a senior minister. It’s being investigated.
The child of a former MP came to see me alleging his father was an abuser. He claimed a teacher had told him his father had acted inappropriately with a child at a school and that it was covered up.
In a meeting in North Wales I met councillor who told me of police intimidation when he first raised concerns about child abuse in Bryn Alyn all those years ago.
All these people who’ve had misgivings are credible, honourable and decent. They believe that child abuse was covered up because powerful people wanted it to be so.
Yet there have also been a number of time-consuming false leads. The photograph of the cabinet minister at a ‘kings and queens’ party, as far as I can tell, does not exist. The story of the MP who abused his agent’s son is a myth. There are two vulnerable survivors who are undoubtedly the victims of abuse but it’s unlikely to have been carried out by a former minister as they claim, or at least their recollection of events is not good enough to stand up to detailed scrutiny.