News / Europe

Britain's Political Elite Rattled by Sexual Conspiracy Claims

FILE - Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May said a panel of legal and child-protection experts would investigate how public agencies handle child-abuse allegations July 7, 2014.
FILE - Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May said a panel of legal and child-protection experts would investigate how public agencies handle child-abuse allegations July 7, 2014.
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Britain pledged on Monday to investigate claims that politicians may have sexually abused children in the 1980s in a conspiracy by members of the establishment who used their power to cover up the crimes.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced a review of how officials, police and prosecutors handled accusations made against public figures in the 1980s, amid claims their failure to act was part of an establishment cover-up.

"I am absolutely determined that we are going to get to the bottom of these allegations and we're going to leave no stone unturned to find out the truth about what happened -- that is vital," Cameron said.

“Three things need to happen: Robust inquiries that get to truth; police investigations that pursue the guilty and find out what has happened; and proper lessons learned so we make sure these things cannot happen again,” he added.

New inquiry

Home Secretary Theresa May said a panel of legal and child-protection experts would investigate how public agencies, including governments and hospitals, handled child-abuse allegations.

She said she set up the inquiry after "appalling cases of organized and persistent" sexual abuse, including decades of assaults by the late TV host Jimmy Savile.

That inquiry, which she said was unlikely to report back before a national election in May 2015, would look at organizations including the BBC, the health service, religious authorities and political parties.

“Some of these cases have exposed a failure by public bodies to take their responsibilities seriously,” May told the House of Commons.

May said a related investigation, led by National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children chief executive Peter Wanless, would examine whether abuse claims handed to authorities in the 1980s were lost or destroyed to protect wrongdoers.

Fuelling fears of a cover-up, the ministry revealed this weekend that it had lost 114 files relating to complaints it received about child abuse between 1979 and 1999, saying that they were "presumed destroyed, missing or not found."

No evidence has yet been published to support claims that there was a pedophile conspiracy inside the political elite.

Prolific sex offender

But the unmasking of late BBC television presenter Savile as one of Britain's most prolific sex offenders has forced a wider questioning about how pedophiles in positions of power could sow such damage while evading detection for so long.

Once feted as a national treasure, Savile is now known to have used his fame to get unsupervised access to his victims, raping and abusing girls, boys, men, women and even dead bodies.

Veteran TV entertainer Rolf Harris was sentenced last week to almost six years in prison after being convicted of 12 counts of abusing girls, some as young as 7 or 8, between 1968 and 1986.

Fears that claims of abuse by politicians were not properly investigated in the 1980s were stoked when one of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's most trusted advisers admitted there may well have been a cover-up of child abuse at the time.

“At that time I think most people would have thought that the establishment, the system, was to be protected,” Norman Tebbit, a former Conservative minister, said on Sunday.

“And if a few things had gone wrong here and there, that it was more important to protect the system than to delve too far,” he said. “That view was wrong.

Such a blunt assessment of the priorities of an earlier Britain was explosive, prompting front-page headlines about “V.I.P. Paedos” in local print media and leading national television news bulletins.

Abuse claims have sullied the reputations of some of the world's most venerated institutions: Pope Francis on Monday told victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clerics that the church should “weep and make reparation” for crimes.

Abuse allegations

In Britain, local media have alleged that a group of British politicians and others in positions of authority may have used their position to abuse children in state care during the 1980s. It was not possible to independently evaluate those claims.

British police in 2013 began an investigation known as Operation Fernbridge into allegations of child abuse in the early 1980s at the Elm Guest House in London.

For campaigners working with the victims of child abuse, the domestic political storm shows Britain may be finally preparing to face some of the demons from its past.

“People just didn't want to talk about it in the past,” said Jon Bird, a 56-year-old who works for the National Association of People Abused in Childhood charity.

“You hope they are going to take it seriously and give it the resources and powers to actually get to the bottom of it,” said Bird, who was raped when he was 4 years old. “So far it is just words.”

Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.

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