Theresa May avoids questions over Wanless review on missing files

Review published via written ministerial statement expected to confirm that files relating to abuse allegations still missing
Theresa May
Theresa May. the home secretary. Photograph: Oli Scarff/PA
The home secretary, Theresa May, is expected to face criticism on Tuesday over the publication of an independent review of the handling of the 1980s Dickens dossier of allegations of child abuse.
The review by Peter Wanless, chief executive of the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, is expected to confirm that crucial Home Office files relating to a dossier submitted by the former Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens are still missing.
Wanless will face questions from MPs when he gives evidence to the Commons home affairs select committee on Tuesday but the home secretary has avoided facing direct questions by publishing the report via a written ministerial statement.
The dossier – a series of letters to several home secretaries over several years containing allegations of child sex abuse – are among 114 Home Office files that have gone missing since the 1980s.
The Wanless inquiry is expected to confirm the findings of an earlier Home Office investigation which concluded that there was no evidence to suggest the missing files had been removed or destroyed inappropriately. The earlier investigation found no records of any specific child sex abuse allegations having been made by Dickens against prominent public figures.
A Cabinet Office review of archives published last week appear to confirm that Wanless found no trace of the files. It said: “The difficulty in accounting for these files highlights the need for keeping good records of files that have been destroyed or otherwise disposed of.”
The failure by Wanless to throw any new light on the fate of the allegations by Dickens is likely to fuel the continuing row over the establishment of a national overarching inquiry into historical allegations of child sex abuse. May is due to meet campaign groups on Thursday to discuss their concerns about the membership and leadership of the inquiry panel.
The Wanless inquiry is expected to confirm that the Home Office did consider the allegations contained in the Dickens dossier at the time and passed on 13 “items of information” to the police and prosecutors. He is to report on their handling of these allegations.
The Wanless report will review whether the earlier investigation was right to conclude that there was no evidence of the Home Office directly or indirectly financing the Paedophile Information Exchange.
Labour was critical on Monday of the home secretary’s decision to publish the Wanless report on a written ministerial statement and so avoid being questioned directly by MPs. A Labour source said: “For the home secretary to not come to the house to answer questions on a matter of this level of public concern but instead to sneak this report out quietly just ahead of a parliamentary recess is shameful.”
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said May needed to explain whether the Wanless investigation was just a review of a review, or whether he had been able to look at and look for the original files and pursue further lines of inquiry.
“After all the problems with the Home Office handling of the child abuse inquiry, it is vital that there is complete transparency over this review to rebuild confidence in the process,” she said.

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