Self-preservation wins the day for the Establishment
The Wanless report on the Home Office handling of historic child abuse allegations fails to come up with convincing answers, writes Steven Walker
Survivors of child sexual abuse once again fear that the chances of ever finding the truth about allegations of an Establishment cover-up to hide the activities of paedophile MPs are receding fast.
The latest official report into what happened to hundreds of files naming MPs and other Establishment figures has delivered a classic Whitehall whitewash.
The files were handed over to Leon Brittan — while he was Margaret Thatcher’s home secretary — by Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens, a children’s rights campaigner.
Brittan has claimed that he passed the files on to his officials at the Home Office, where a prominent paedophile and organiser of the Paedophile Information Exchange worked as a security consultant.
The latest report, co-authored by Peter Wanless, a former senior civil servant and current head of children’s charity NSPCC, is a fudge of the highest order.
Wanless is every inch an Establishment figure, recruited by the inept Home Secretary Theresa May, whose two choices to lead the child sex abuse inquiry had to resign due to close connections with Establishment figures.
In the 2007 new years’ honours, Wanless was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath.
He held a variety of posts at the Treasury, including head of private finance policy and principal private secretary to three cabinet ministers, including Michael Portillo, who was chief secretary to the Treasury and later secretary of state for employment.
Wanless later held senior positions within the Department for Education and Skills and its successor the Department for Children Schools and Families, including as director of school performance and reform and director of strategy and communications.
He is also a non-executive director of The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT), which operates academy schools in south-east England.
He has been supported in his review by a leading barrister, Richard Whittam QC.
The NSPCC is itself part of the Establishment, with many well-connected patrons including the Queen, knights of the realm, various members of the House of Lords, the Duke of Westminster and the Bishop of London.
It is a very wealthy charity but in recent years it has closed down direct services to support children at risk. It has also come under criticism for spending donors’ money on maintaining a slick public image at the cost of front-line services that actually help prevent abuse.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, a moral panic emerged over alleged ritual satanic abuse.
The NSPCC produced a document known as Satanic Indicators which was given to social services staff around the country and was subsequently blamed for causing some social workers to panic and make false accusations.
In Rochdale, up to 20 children were removed from their parents for fear that they were being subject to satanic abuse. Good sense prevailed, however, as accusations were proved to be false and the NSPCC faced ridicule over its botched handling of the issue.
Fast forward to 2014, when the Home Secretary asked Wanless to examine how the Home Office dealt with files alleging abuse from 1979-99. His report concluded that it is impossible to say whether files were removed or destroyed to cover up abuse — and found nothing to support such a claim.
These are weasel words, a classic example of Civil Service obfuscation. In fact if judged by Scottish legal norms, the case for evidence of a cover-up is “not proven” — the very words now conceded by Home Secretary Theresa May.
Thus David Cameron is wrong to try to claim that the report found no evidence of a cover-up. And Wanless himself, in an interview with Radio 4 on Tuesday, flatly contradicted the Prime Minister’s conclusions.
Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who previously 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,” he added.
The report endorses the findings of an initial review, published last year, regarding the dossier presented to Leon Brittan by former Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens in 1983. That review by the Home Office’s top civil servant, Mark Sedwill, found that copies of Mr Dickens’s material had “not been retained.” In other words they were deliberately destroyed or removed from the Home Office archive.
Sedwill is the very same civil servant who helped put together the infamous “dodgy dossier” that enabled disgraced former prime minister Tony Blair to falsely claim that weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq and thus served as a pretext for what the UN called an illegal invasion of a sovereign state.
The Wanless report is yet another example of a quick reaction to a complex problem in order to enable the government to be seen to be doing something.
Wanless has admitted he was given a short time and a limited brief to work with and has conceded that a fuller, forensic examination of the Home Office and other state agencies such as the police and Secret Intelligence Services would have taken six months.
Such an investigation could have used sophisticated computer software to analyse databases and scanned paper files dating back to the early ’80s. Time and money could have revealed the truth.
It is worrying enough that the Wanless report is another botched attempt to respond to public unease about a potential cover-up of paedophile MPs, but it is now becoming part of a definite pattern.
Previous investigations into the matter have been interfered with by Special Branch detectives in London, while paedophile abuse at the Kincora Children’s Homes in Northern Ireland was covered up by MI5 officers.
Journalists have had their offices raided by the police and files seized and senior police officers have been removed from their roles just prior to arresting MPs after months of investigation.
The more inquiries that take place, the more obvious it becomes that the Establishment will do anything to cover-up the crimes of paedophile MPs.
Steven Walker is the co-author of Safeguarding Children And Young People — A Guide To Integrated Practice, Russell House Publishers.