‘Independent’ child abuse inquiries: A question of trust?
Last Updated on September 4, 2019 by RetiredAndAngry
A Guest Blog by Chris Hobbs
The issue in relation to possible, systematic child abuse by establishment figures, has, over the last forty years, been like a bad penny which has appeared time and time again only to be buried on each occasion by a surfeit of loose change before making another unwelcome appearance.
When I was a young Met officer in the 80’s, every policeman and woman in London knew of rumours surrounding Cyril Smith and we all waited for something to happen but it never did. As is becoming apparent, Cyril Smith may well be the very large tip of a very large iceberg. The question is whether enquiries announced by the Government will succeed in their objectives or indeed whether establishment figures in the Government actually want every skeleton to be laid bare given the fact that obtaining the decision to hold any form of meaningful enquiry was very much akin to pulling teeth.
What is becoming apparent is that the keys which may help unlocking the truth of any establishment cover up could well be in possession of retired police officers together with those employed by MI5 and indeed other government employees including customs officers and Home Office civil servants.
Already there are clear signs of cracks appearing in the establishment dam: Lancashire Special Branch officer Tony Robinson stated that in 1977 he was compelled to hand over a file containing allegations against Cyril Smith to MI5 referred to by all Special Branch officers as Box 500.
Paul Foulston, a detective with the Thames Valley force, claims that an attempt was made by Special Branch officers to prevent him from interviewing a young man in relation to a murder enquiry. Foulston and a colleague interviewed him anyway and were told of Smith’s sexual activities with young men.
In the 1980’s Don Hale, described as a young campaigning editor in Bury, was handed a file compiled by MEP and well known Labour party figure, Barbara Castle. It allegedly contained the names of 16 “high profile” politicians who supported the aims of the Paedophile Information Exchange. Hale stated that his office was raided by Special Branch officers who confiscated the file and threatened him with ‘jail’ if he printed anything in relation to Barbara Castle’s dossier. Hale also stated that Cyril Smith visited his office the day before informing him that the allegations were ‘poppycock.’
Recently retired former Detective Chief Inspector Clive Driscoll gained legendary status when he led the enquiry which saw two of Stephen Lawrence’s killers, David Norris and Gary Dobson, imprisoned. DCI Driscoll’s reward for ensuring there was some justice for Stephen and Stephen’s family was to be forcibly retired from the Metropolitan Police. Doubtless those who made this decision, which infuriated Doreen Lawrence, would have poured over his personnel file which may well have contained details of his ‘falling out’ with senior officers in the 1990’s
Clive Driscoll’s investigations into possible child abuse within children’s homes in Lambeth during this time revealed the names of suspects who were politicians. Sharing these allegations with senior officers was enough to get him moved off the case. He had little choice but to hand over the relevant file upon his departure which has contributed to the current speculation that this was yet another cover up to protect establishment figures.
Most recently Barry Strevens, Margaret Thatcher’s Special Branch bodyguard for many years, revealed that he privately warned Mrs Thatcher of rumours concerning Sir Peter Morrison, Mrs Thatcher’s trusted aide, and his predilection for young boys. Those rumours originally emanated from a senior Cheshire police officer.
Theresa May and her advisers will be as aware of the above facts as anyone else and these facts, when added to the missing files in the Home Office, can only pour petrol on the bonfire of cover up allegations.
It seems obvious that many of these allegations would have found their way into the domain of the police. Within the Met, Special Branch was regarded as the safe pair of hands, albeit a reluctant one, for sensitive issues; even those which did not strictly fall within their remit. Files, such as those ‘lost’ by the Home office’ could well have come into the possession of Special Branch either as originals or as copies either directly or via MI5. In addition further reports may well have been placed on Special Branch or other police files in relation to relevant allegations, intelligence or even just rumours.
The reputation the Metropolitan Police Special Branch (MPBB) had for ‘not leaking’ was probably behind Margaret Thatcher’s firm assertion that the MPSB’s ‘A’ Squad, which protected leading politicians and other VIP’s, would not be merged with other police units including royalty protection. Barry Strevens was then a popular, highly regarded senior officer within ‘A’ squad.
It may well be that amongst other former ‘A’ squad officers there could well be held details of the indiscretions of politicians they were protecting. It extremely likely that where such indiscretions bordered on legality or which could have resulted in a public scandal they would have been reported by the officers themselves in which case details would have been placed on secret files.
The question is whether police files belonging to any force and containing potentially damaging allegations can be readily detected if indeed they haven’t been destroyed. Derbyshire’s Chief Constable Mick Creedon was able to secure access to a number of sensitive files in relation to his enquiry in respect of MPSB’s undercover policing operations.
However damaging reports in relation to establishment figures could well have been placed in files which themselves were given innocuous titles that would make them difficult to locate. The Met originally seemed to indicate that they are in possession of some files before such admissions disappeared behind a wall of obfuscation.
If we look at the number of officers who were just involved in the events mentioned above which are now in the public domain, and then add on others ‘with knowledge’ such as supervisors, the senior officers probably up to Commissioner/Chief Constable level and indeed those who actually handled and minuted the relevant documents and files together with police staff (civilians) responsible for indexing and filing then we already have a significant number of individuals who could provide valuable assistance to any enquiry.
Of course there are probably other relevant documents, files, intelligence reports and even crime book entries that have not come into the public domain all of which will have passed through the hands of police officers and possibly police staff at all levels in a variety of police forces.
The statement by such an esteemed former retired officer as Barry Strevens may well put other present and former officer’s minds at rest, at least to some extent. Barry could hardly have gone any higher in the chain of command with his concerns than to the Prime Minister herself.
‘Officers with knowledge’ however would be indulging in a form of whistleblowing and, those officers whether serving or retired, will be only too well aware that whistleblowing in the police service can be most kindly described as a lottery.
They would have seen former colleagues treated appallingly after they had reported wrongdoing or poor operational decision making and been aware of the dubious elements operating within the Professional Standards Departments of many forces. It is those ‘PSD’s who are the police who investigate the police.
Past and present officers would be considering the worst case scenario if they came forward with information. There would be an appointment with investigating officers probably of DC or DS rank who would have been allocated the task as an action. The resultant statement or report would be passed to a middle ranking or senior officer for consideration. In most cases this would be expedited in the usual way, however there is a not insignificant chance that an ambitious officer looking to enhance his or her CV and climb up the police career ladder, could well closely scrutinise the statement/report in order to see whether the officer, by failing to come forward earlier, may have committed an offence.
This could be one of “conspiracy to pervert the course of justice” or, the once rarely used but now extremely popular “misconduct in public office.” The matter may be pursued by the squad itself or passed to the force PSD. There then could be a ‘career enhancing’ early morning raid where laptops, desk tops, tablets, mobile phones, documents and even a moribund ancient Kodak instamatic lying dormant in the attic would be seized.
Further enquiries including the examination of seized articles would go on for months before the file is passed to the ‘independent’ Crown Prosecution Service where again the file would sit for months. Even if it were considered that the case would have not a snowballs chance in hell of surviving an examination by a jury, that individuals life and indeed that of his family, would be in shreds.
Those outside the police service and other public service employees such as the NHS may well find the above scenario implausible but police whistleblowers such as James Patrick, Dave Mckelvey, Brian Casson and Howard Shaw would beg to differ. Those in any doubt can simply Google the above names in conjunction with ‘police.’
Even the arrest of one serving or retired officer would be hugely advantageous to those in the establishment who have no desire to see any form of enquiry. Those in the process of considering whether to come forward would then see any such action as a pointless and dangerous exercise.
This, of course, leads us into the argument as whether there should be some form of amnesty for those officers ‘with knowledge’ of events, documents or any other form of information which could be relevant. Peter Garsden, president of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, said, quite rightly that any amnesty would need to be carefully put together. He pointed out that this couldn’t apply to any police officer who was actually part of a paedophile ring and of course he is absolutely correct.
There would have to be a line in the sand drawn and it can be argued that any amnesty consideration should be applied to those who were ‘with knowledge’ of a cover up rather than those who actually instigated or ordered that cover up or were actively involved in abuse activities themselves. It could well be that few, if indeed any, police officers from either Chief Constable/Commissioner rank down to a ‘lowly’ constable would thus be accountable if those who actually instigated the cover up were at the highest levels of government, the civil service or from elsewhere within the establishment.
Any such instructions would have been passed to Chief Officers either directly or perhaps via MI5 and thence down the ladder to those officers, such as those carrying out the raid on the Bury newspaper, as described above. It is surely by working their way back up that ladder that investigators will establish from where these instructions came, whether from the highest levels of government or perhaps from within the police service itself.
Rank and file police officers back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s had a deep, unconcealed, loathing of paedophiles and any instructions to cover up such activity would have been deeply resented. Those arguing against an amnesty will argue that those officers and other officials should have spoken out or ‘whistleblown’; they will also state that the argument, ‘we were only obeying orders,’ can never be sustainable.
My own analogy would be to liken the plight of the concerned officer to that of a lone, non-swimming’ passenger on the deserted deck of a fast moving ocean liner who suddenly sees another passenger falling overboard.
It would be an utterly pointless exercise for that individual to respond by diving over the side himself in what would be a fruitless attempt to effect a rescue.
Such was the situation faced by police officers in during this period. Any attempt at whistleblowing would possibly have resulted in that individual being prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act and even then there would be no guarantee of the issue in question being exposed. ‘D’ notices could have been employed to thwart any publication or, more likely a discreet phone call to the editor in question. Attempts to raise concerns internally would have been slapped down with dire warnings of disciplinary proceedings and instructions to ‘obey orders.’ That officer’s career would then be permanently tainted or totally ruined.
For those who may well pour scorn on the above, they should be reminded that even in the enlightened era of the 21st century to this very day, police, NHS and civil service whistleblowers have a torrid time if they attempt to raise concerns either internally or externally. Promises in relation to NHS whistleblowers have proved worthless and it would be a foolish officer indeed who places his faith in new whistleblowing protocols laid down by the College Of Policing. Even if official sanctions are not viable every rank and file police officer is familiar with the term, “doing his (or her) legs.”
The next question those ‘with knowledge’ will be asking themselves is in relation to the veracity of the relevant enquiry which has not got off to a great start with the appointment and then resignation of Baroness Butler-Sloss. They will remember the fate of David Kelly, arguably the most famous whistleblower who allegedly committed suicide after his identity was revealed as the individual who articulated concerns about the Government’s Iraq policy to journalist Andrew Gilligan. They will also remember dubious machinations around the subsequent Hutton enquiry.
The fact that the Chilcott Iraq Enquiry Report is still unpublished due, it would seem, to the joint efforts of both major parties, will again hardly boost the confidence of those ‘with knowledge.’ Even when the final report is it revealed, it is likely to contain omissions which, had Sir John Chilcott had his way, would be published in full. With tragic events unfolding in Iraq, most would view the reports publication in its original entirety as desirable, yet it could be that what is now a humanitarian disaster approaching biblical proportions makes this possibility even more remote.
Even the Leveson enquiry was tainted by claims that the Met had claimed a ‘public interest immunity certificate’ which prevented the disclosure of a report which allegedly contained details of improper behaviour by a very senior officer.
We have already seen that recent child abuse disclosures in relation to political figures have damaged all three parties. All parties will realise however that major political damage will be sustained by whoever is perceived to have actually instigated and orchestrated any cover up. Little wonder that efforts will be made to ensure that a few details as possible will emerge before the next general election.
Concerns of those ‘with knowledge’ will hardly have been allayed by the treatment of John Vine, the governments ‘Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’ who may now never obtain his deserved knighthood.
John Vine’s role could be described as a permanent enquiry into the shortcomings of the UK Border Agency and UK Border Force. Let’s remember the word independent here, as with the forthcoming enquiry into child abuse.
John Vine’s reports were frequently both thorough and damning and articulated the concerns of front line officers. There seems little doubt that this irritated the Home Office who began manipulating and then actually redacting sections of reports on spurious national security grounds; John Vine of course, would need no lessons from the Home Office on factors that presented a threat national security.
That John Vine’s independent status was undermined and Sir John Chilcott’s report will not be presented as he would have wanted it, can only lead to the conclusion that the announced and already troubled ‘independent’ enquiries could also be interfered with and manipulated especially when it comes to presenting the final report if that report was found to be damaging to political and establishment interests.
What is clear is that the terms of references of any enquiry need to include some form of guarantees for police officers, police staff, MI5 personnel and civil servants whether serving or retired who ‘have knowledge.’
Those individuals, mistrustful of contacting the police or the enquiry direct should also be able to approach an impartial gateway which will secure their interests before contact with police or the enquiry is made. This, as stated above, will not protect those who have been involved directly in paedophile rings and indeed it is regrettable that the shameful way police forces have treated ‘whistleblowers’ and the discreditable conduct of elements within force PSD’s including the Met’s Department of Professional Standards, makes this necessary.
Those ‘with knowledge’ may regard whistlebowing to the media as the preferred option. The clumsy and failed attempt by the Met to use the Official Secrets Act in 2011 to get the Guardian to reveal sources plus the fallout from the Leveson enquiry may inhibit potential whistleblowers from contacting the mainstream media.
Another option could be the online Exaro investigative news website which has fought a relentless campaign against child abuse cover up with the result that many obstacles placed in its way by officialdom have been overcome. It even managed to secure the support of more than 100 MP’s from all parties which has played no small part in forcing the governments hand in relation to inquiries.
It is clearly prepared to ‘die in a ditch’ over the issue and it is hard to see them ‘giving up’ a bona fide whistleblower in any circumstances.
Even with all suggested safeguards in place however together with the persistent watchfulness of Exaro, there will still be doubts as to the whether the political will exists for such inquiries given the potential damage the results may cause. This in turn will result in there being constant public suspicion that establishment interests will attempt to manipulate both the enquiry and the final report.
Courtesy of Chris Hobbs (retired ex-Met)