UNITED KINGDOM

UK to probe claims that political network abused children

AFP | Theresa May and David Cameron inspect a police unit in 2013.
3 min

Britain pledged on Monday to investigate allegations that several politicians may have sexually abused children that were in the care of the state in the 1970s and 1980s and then used their positions to block attempts to expose them.

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UNITED KINGDOM

Claims of a high-level conspiracy to abuse children in state care have roiled the political establishment after the unmasking of once-fêted celebrities, such as late television presenter Jimmy Savile, as prolific child abusers.

Interior Minister Theresa May told parliament on Monday that an independent review would be conducted into a 2013 investigation carried out by her ministry into the handling of abuse allegations.

The government will also establish an independent panel of experts to look more broadly at whether public agencies have upheld their duty to protect children from sexual abuse, May said.

May was addressing the lower house of parliament about allegations of an organised ring of child abusers in Westminster, which centre on a missing dossier given to the interior ministry in 1983 by Geoffrey Dickens, a Conservative MP and campaigner against child abuse.

On Sunday Britain's Home Office revealed that, in total, 114 files relating to child abuse allegations were "presumed destroyed, missing or not found". The head of the ministry's oversight committee called it a "loss of files on an industrial scale".

The Home Secretary at the time, Leon Brittan, forced to defend his handling of the Dickens dossier, said he had handed all relevant information on to officials for investigation.

The British government faced growing calls on Sunday for a national inquiry into allegations of child abuse by politicians in the 1970s and 1980s, after it emerged that more than 100 files relating to the accusations were missing.

"We need to get to the truth," Finance Minister George Osborne told BBC radio from India. "We want to get to the truth and nothing but the truth, and we will do it in an independent and authoritative way.

"We need to get to the bottom of what happened in many of our institutions including, potentially, at Westminster. And I think the best approach to this is to find an independent and authoritative way to investigate it."

Fresh review of 1983 dossier

The interior ministry said a fresh review of its management of the Dickens dossier would be carried out. Its most senior official has been summoned to be questioned by a committee of MPs to explain how the department lost the 114 files.

Norman Tebbit, a prominent Conservative who held a series of senior posts in government in the 1980s, told the BBC there "may well" have been a cover-up.

"At that time I think most people would have thought that the establishment, the system, was to be protected, 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 into it," Tebbit said.

The comments by one of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher's closet allies fuelled demands for a wide-ranging inquiry into child abuse allegations in the era.

"We need an overarching review led by child-protection experts," said the opposition Labour party's shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, in an open letter to the current administration.

"Any stones left unturned will leave concerns of institutional malaise - or worse, a cover-up - unaddressed."

The issue comes at a sensitive time for David Cameron's coalition government as the prime minister prepares to contest an election next year.

A public petition demanding an independent national inquiry into the matter launched on Sunday attracted 50,000 signatures.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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