Sketch: Child abuse? Either there wasn’t a cover-up… or it was a very good one

Peter Wanless of the NSPCC tells MPs that he found no evidence that the Home Office deliberately destroyed evidence of child abuse – but he can’t be sure that it didn’t

The inquiry centred on claims that the Home Office failed to act on allegations made by Geoffrey Dickens MP in the Eighties

Geoffrey Dickens, a Conservative MP who died in 1995, believed Parliament treated accusations of child sex abuse lightly because influential people were involved Photo: REX
To recap: the Wanless review was commissioned to investigate whether the Home Office deliberately destroyed evidence of organised child abuse. However, the review was unable to find evidence that the Home Office did destroy evidence, or indeed find evidence that it didn’t destroy evidence, partly because the only way to find evidence that it didn’t destroy evidence would be to find the evidence. As the review was unable to find the evidence, it was unable to find evidence that the evidence wasn’t destroyed. Any evidence that the evidence was destroyed may itself have been destroyed, assuming that evidence of that evidence ever existed, although there is no evidence to suggest that it did. Critics, of course, may believe that the lack of evidence of the evidence is evidence that the evidence was destroyed. Either way, there is no evidence that the evidence still exists, although equally there’s no evidence that it doesn’t.
Yes, that all seems to make sense.
Today, after his review was published, Peter Wanless – head of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children – appeared before the MPs of the Home Affairs select committee. Also present was his review’s co-author, Richard Whittam QC. The two confirmed that they’d found no cover-up, although they conceded that this may only be because the cover-up was successful.
This was an unusual hearing. Normally the committee’s MPs are all too eager to get stuck into their interviewees, ranting and hooting and dishing out blame, but here they were models of courtesy. “There’s no doubt that you’ve carried out your work in a very conscientious manner,” said David Winnick (Labour, Walsall North). Perhaps no one on the committee was aware that Simon Danczuk (Labour, Rochdale), a vocal campaigner against child abuse, had earlier dismissed the review as “a whitewash”, because Mr Wanless had been “set up to fail”. If they were aware he’d said this, they didn’t mention it.
Keith Vaz, the committee’s chairman, asked Mr Wanless whether the Government had sought his views on its overarching child abuse inquiry. “I’m not saying they’ve asked you to head it!” he added.
“No!” grinned Mr Wanless, pretending to wipe sweat from his brow in a gesture of mock-relief.
Straight after the hearing, Theresa May was called to the Commons to answer an Urgent Question about the report. “I cannot stand here and say that during the 1980s the Home Office was not involved in a cover-up,” said the Home Secretary. Then again, she couldn’t stand there and say that during the 1980s the Home Office was involved in a cover-up, either. Yvette Cooper, shadow Home Secretary, thanked Mr Wanless and Mr Whittam for “their detailed work”, which is an odd way to put it, given that the details everyone’s interested in are the details their work doesn’t contain.
In summary: Peter Wanless has looked in the haystack. He found no needle. But he doesn’t know whether that’s because someone else found the needle first.

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