New Claim of Organised Abuse at Dolphin Square in the 1980s – General Synod Mentioned

From BuzzFeed:

David was groggy when he woke up, he says. As he looked around, he knew where he was, because he had been there before: an apartment in Dolphin Square, central London…

He was 15. His eyes flicker up to the right, reliving those moments in 1982 as if he were back there.

…Memories from the night before would intrude in flashes – being taken to a restaurant, to a table of men, and being told who they were: politicians, businessmen, senior members of the Church of England. Sometimes other boys his age were there too.

…The blood would be his, but the semen was not. He did not know then that it would take more than 30 years to try to find out whose it was.

Thus begins a lengthy article by Patrick Strudwick about the case of David, the latest person to say he was sexually abused by VIPs at Dolphin Square in Pimlico in the 1980s. According to Strudwick:

When BuzzFeed News began investigating this story, the details, which pointed to a clutch of paedophiles operating across some of our most powerful institutions, seemed at first too grim and too outrageous to hold up. That was until we started examining the evidence, until the files began to surface, forced into the open through the Data Protection Act and the coroner’s court. These files not only corroborated David’s story, but expanded on it.

In the wake of the Operation Midland fiasco, can it be that, at last, we have a story about Dolphin Square that might hold up?

Alas, there’s some sleight of hand here – the documents do not “corroborate” what David says happened to him at Dolphin Square in 1982. Instead, they are mostly concerned with police complaints made by David in 2007 and 2015 concerning Gordon Dawson, a landowner who lived at Dalby Hall in Lincolnshire, and the inquest into Dawson’s death in 2007. David maintains that these documents show how his complaints were mishandled – perhaps to the extent of a cover-up – but that’s a different kind of “corroboration” than Strudwick’s intro leads us to expect.

According to David’s account (the first name is his own, although no surname is provided), Dawson befriended his family, and then began regularly raping David. He also convinced the family to allow him to take David to London at weekends to “go to the theatre” – instead, he was taken to General Synod meetings, to a restaurant, and then to Dolphin Square.

(1) Gordon Dawson

In December 2006, according to Strudwick, Dawson was arrested after five individuals made complaints against him; David made his own complaint two months later, after hearing about this. Police told David that Dawson would be re-arrested, but after police made contact with Dawson to arrange a date for an interview, he killed himself with a shotgun. The article includes photos of David as he is now and as a teenager at Dalby House.

Some of this can be confirmed by a news report that appeared in the Skegness Standard in 2007, along with the detail that Dawson had reportedly admitted to something:

At an inquest into the death of Gordon Harry Dawson, it emerged that, since October [2006], no fewer than six individuals had made complaints to police about past.

…Evidence was heard from Pc Geoff Harrison, an officer with the police’s Skegness-based public protection unit who had interviewed Dawson, of Dalby House, Dalby, about the claims.

“He accepted some of what was being said but made a full denial of the specific allegations,” said the officer.

Pc Harrison said that in a subsequent telephone conversation, Dawson told him: “Oh dear, I can’t think who would make these things up.”

Strudwick suggests that the complaint was mishandled by the police in several respects: first, that Dawson was told in advance he would be re-arrested; second, that the police ignored warnings from David about Dawson’s firearms collection; and third, that David’s name was disclosed to Dawson.

On the first point, the article includes an image of an extract from a formal statement made by Harrison in relation to the earlier complainants:

I explained that there had been a number of allegations made against him and we needed to formally interview him about them. I arranged for him to attend Skegness Police Station on Tuesday 19th December 2006 and explained that we could arrange legal representation for him…

Unfortunately, this extract does not feature the word “arrest” anywhere. It proves that the police wanted to interview Dawson under caution, but not that they intended to arrest to him. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t in fact arrested – but to present this extract as evidence when it’s not raises the concern that “arrested” and “interviewed under caution” have been conflated, especially given that “arrest” doesn’t appear in the Skegness Standard article either. This is not nit-picking: Strudwick has a narrative that is critical of the police, but there is nothing untoward about arranging a so-called “voluntary” interview in advance by mutual agreement.

On the second point, the article says that Chief Inspector Tom Bell told David that he may have “had a case” about the firearms – but it is difficult to see what difference it would have made, given that Dawson could just have easily killed himself without access to firearms.

Police documents acquired by David also include details of other complaints against Dawson:

Some of the allegations against Dawson, which stretch back to 1964, included the sexual abuse of boys as young as 5.

The few lines in the files that are still discernible – the odd quote from the police interview with Dawson in December 2006, for example – are all familiar: boys in his car, country lanes, shooting rabbits, trousers undone. Two capitalised words jump out in the police notes: MODUS OPERANDI.

All very disturbing – but not the promised corroboration of organised abuse by VIPs at Dolphin Square.

(2) Dolphin Square

According to Strudwick’s article, Harrison

…came to David’s house to conduct a full interview. The interview would form the basis of David’s police statement, seen by BuzzFeed News, in which he describes, among other things, being raped by Dawson in Dolphin Square. At the time the flats were not publicly linked with sexual abuse, and Harrison, says David, was more concerned with the events in Lincolnshire.

“I said, ‘Am I the only one?’ He [Harrison] almost laughed. He said, ‘No, this is huge. It’ll be the biggest case this country has ever seen.” David says the sergeant informed him the police had been investigating Dawson for nine years; that “over 20 people had come forward”.

Strudwick acknowledges that David mistakenly described the London location as a “hotel”, but explains that this was because he was “unused to such a venue”. It’s a shame that BuzzFeed doesn’t include an image of the the police statement – to see the words “Dolphin Square” on a 2007 statement would have some evidential value, although it’s not quite true that the location had not been linked to abuse allegations at this time; articles on the subject had been published in Scallywag magazine in the 1990s, and from there had eventually made their way online. BuzzFeed also saw a police statement from a neighbour who said that David had disclosed to her in 1996, although it’s not made absolutely clear whether this statement specifically mentions Dolphin Square.

In 2015, David made contact with Operation Fairbank (blogged here), the Metropolitan Police investigation into allegations of sex abuse by politicians:

David attended an interview with two officers… Many questions remained for David: Why was Dawson forewarned of his arrest? Why were firearms not removed from his house first? Why did the case close immediately after Dawson’s death? And why was he not shown the report from the internal investigation [into his warning about the firearms*]?

But there were other questions, too: Why was the information about Dolphin Square David had given to Lincolnshire police in 2007 seemingly not investigated nor passed to the Metropolitan police? Why were many of Dawson’s friends, including two men who, David had been told, co-owned the flat with Dawson in Dolphin Square, not interviewed? Why has there never been any attempt to find out who sat with him at those restaurants?

[*UPDATE: Bandini notes in the comments that the routine destruction of this report after a period of time is being reported on social media as “documents relating to child abuse inquiries going missing”. This is sensationalising: (a) there is no reason to suppose that a review into whether Dawson should have been deprived of his firearms would have revealed anything about the allegations against him; (b) the fact that David was able to get hold of police statements etc. via the Data Protection Act shows that the relevant documents in fact remain available.]

It was a “family friend” who told David that Dawson co-owned the property at Dolphin Square. Again, it’s unfortunate that Strudwick did not apparently seek to verify that Dawson had indeed been the co-owner of a Dolphin Square flat; paperwork to this effect would be strong corroboration, it seems to me.

It should be stressed that David’s claims are not like those of “Nick” – he does not claim to have witnessed parties where others were abused, or to have seen murders or bizarre forms of torture. Indeed, he was unconscious during the abuse, perhaps after being drugged in the restaurant, and it was the after-effects that showed he had been abused by someone other than Dawson.

The results of the renewed contact with police in 2015 were not satisfactory:

…on 25 March 2015, Detective Sergeant James Townly, a senior officer from Operation Fairbank, responded to David’s questions. We read the email together in the hotel room.

Because David does not know exactly who the men at the restaurants were, “this is not sufficient for a crime report”, writes Townly.

(3) The General Synod and the VIPs

David’s story also includes the claim that

“We would go to church meetings at the [General] Synod.” David would sit in, bored and unaware of Dawson’s precise role there. But as they walked round Dolphin Square, says David, Dawson would tell him that people from the Synod also had flats there.

While at the restaurant:

“He would tell me there were people there [at the table] who had big military careers, people from the church ­– he would say that some are from the Synod – and then [also] MPs. There always seemed to be a parliament connection. They’d always be talking about something that had come up that day in the House [of Commons].” David would be introduced to them but, still only 15, would never be told their names.

The article adds that David “rarely” watched television or read newspapers, so that he didn’t recognise anyone.

Once more, Strudwick could have looked for some corroborating evidence here. The General Synod only meets for a few days in London each year (and mostly on week days rather than weekends), and it could perhaps have been possible to firm up some dates – and to clarify Dawson’s involvement – by asking the Church of England or consulting sources such as the Church of England Year Book. It is difficult to envisage some sort of “abuse network” developing within the General Synod, given its occasional nature.

Concluding note

The above is not meant to pour cold water on David’s claims about what happened to him in London. Just because “Nick” was a fantasist, it does not mean that the inside of Dolphin Square has never seen child abuse, or that abusers have never worked in concert there. Each allegation should be examined on its own merits.

David’s story about Dolphin Square may have merit – but it is not yet substantiated. Strudwick  has chased up some leads, but it seems to me that a number of assertions in the article could have been looked into in more detail. Also, given the decision to include scanned excerpts from police statements, it would be helpful to have seen more about what exactly was said to the neighbour in 1996 and to police in 2007.  Perhaps Strudwick’s view is that the main point is to galvanize the police into renewed evidence gathering activity themselves; at the moment, all we have is a frustrating mix of sensational disclosures and vagueness.

UPDATE: David has now given an articulate and at times emotional account of his story to Victoria Derbyshire on BBC 2. The interview lasts for about 20 minutes, and covers the same ground as the BuzzFeed article; he specifically recalls sitting in the gallery at General Synod meetings (this is consistent with the layout of the Assembly Hall in Church House). The BBC also approached Lincolnshire Police and Dawson’s surviving family, but they declined to comment.