No cover-up found’ in abuse review by Peter Wanless
Ministers asked the head of the NSPCC to examine how the Home Office dealt with files alleging abuse from 1979-99.
Peter Wanless’s report said it was impossible to say whether files were removed to cover up abuse – but found nothing to support such a claim.
Home Secretary Theresa May has written to its authors for further reassurance.
The government said it had accepted the report’s three recommendations.
The report’s authors, Mr Wanless and Richard Whittam QC, said they had “found nothing to support a concern that files had been deliberately or systematically removed or destroyed to cover up organised child abuse”.
The report also found no evidence that the Home Office ever funded the Paedophile Information Exchange, a pro-paedophile campaign group which disbanded in 1984.
It said the “records management convention” across police forces was that records relating to allegations that did not lead to a charge were destroyed after two years.
And it stated that Home Office procedures placed “significant limitations” on the ability to establish a perfect record of what was known at the time.
“It is, therefore, not possible to say whether files were ever removed or destroyed to cover up or hide allegations of organised or systematic child abuse by particular individuals because of the systems then in place,” the report said.
“It follows that we cannot say that no file was removed or destroyed for that reason. By making those observations they should not be misinterpreted.
“We do not conclude that there is any basis for thinking that anything happened to files that should not have happened to them, but identify that limitation in our review.
“Further, and with the same caveat, our review cannot be taken to have concluded one way or the other whether there was organised child abuse that has yet to be fully uncovered – indeed it is public knowledge that active police investigations examining allegations of historic child abuse are under way.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said the report meant people “looking for conspiracy theories” would “have to look elsewhere”.
But Richard Scorer, a lawyer who specialises in child abuse cases, called the review “very unsatisfactory”.
“I don’t blame Peter Wanless for that,” he said.
“I think he would have been determined to get to the bottom of this if he could.
“He hasn’t been given the time, and more importantly the resources, to do this properly.”
Responding to the report, Theresa May said she wanted “their consideration of how the police and prosecution authorities” handled any files they received, and whether any material was passed to MI5 – and if so what action was taken.
“Publication of this review today is an important step in ensuring institutions take seriously their duty to protect children from abuse and to learn lessons from any failures,” Mrs May added.
The report recommends that allegations of child abuse received by the Home Office must be recorded and the file marked as “significant”, and there should be a system of recording what information is sent to the police and a formal procedure of confirming what the result is.
Also under “recommendations”, the report endorses the findings of an initial review, published last year, regarding a “dossier” presented to a senior cabinet minister by former Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens in 1983.
Mr Dickens, who died in 1995, gave the dossier – naming MPs and police officers he suspected of child abuse – to the then Home Secretary Leon Brittan in 1983.
The review by the Home Office’s top civil servant, Mark Sedwill, found that copies of Mr Dickens’s material had “not been retained” but that Lord Brittan had acted appropriately in dealing with the allegations.
Government ‘not acting’
Mr Wanless’s findings will be used by a wider inquiry into paedophile activity linked to public bodies and institutions.
The NSPCC said Mr Wanless’s review was handed to the Home Office on 15 October, but last week Mrs May said publication was being delayed because she wanted to keep it separate from the wider inquiry.
That inquiry has been delayed by the resignations of Baroness Butler-Sloss and Fiona Woolf, the government’s first two choices to chair it. Both stepped down after criticism over their personal links to senior figures from the 1980s.
Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who criticised the 2013 review of how the Home Office handled the “Dickens dossier”, said: “The message that’s continually being conveyed by government to survivors of child abuse is that ‘we hear you, but we’re not acting’.
“Theresa May has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address child abuse failings of the past.
But so far all we’ve seen are whitewash reports and hopeless attempts to manage and contain an historic child abuse inquiry.”