IICSA Rejects “Westminster Paedophile Network” Claims

Journalist Don Hale’s account “implausible”

“No evidence… PIE had any members who were MPs or peers”

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published a its conclusions on “allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster”, two years after its first hearings on the subject (discussed here). According to the report:

There is ample evidence that individual perpetrators of child sexual abuse have been linked to Westminster. However, there was no evidence of any kind of organised ‘Westminster paedophile network’ in which persons of prominence conspired to pass children amongst themselves for the purpose of sexual abuse. The source of some of the most lurid claims about a sinister network of abusers in Westminster has now been discredited with the conviction of Carl Beech.

This is in striking contrast to the impression given by newspaper reports that dominated the British mediascape between 2014 and 2016, at which time it seemed that any allegation that placed politicians from the 1970s or 1980s at child abuse parties or at meetings of the Paedophile Information Exchange would receive uncritical and sensational coverage, no matter how unsubstantiated or implausible.

Beech’s allegations – promoted in particular by the Sunday People, in cooperation with the Exaro news website – were only some of the most lurid. The Sunday Mirror presented as fact the allegation that Edward Heath had “attended Paedophile Information Exchange meetings”, and named Rhodes Boyson and Keith Joseph as paedophile orgiasts; The Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday credulously reported claims that Enoch Powell and William Whitelaw may have been involved in Satanic Ritual Abuse; and the Daily Mail‘s hatchet man Guy Adams wrote up a “special report into the growing stench of a cover-up by the Establishment” in relation to Dolphin Square. Chancers such as Anthony Gilberthorpe and the convicted fraudster Chris Fay were given national platforms, while the buffoonish right-wing MP Geoffrey Dickens was posthumously lionised as someone who had supposedly compiled a devastating “dossier” that had been suppressed by Leon Brittan (not true, as discussed here).

Don Hale

In the midst of all this, a journalist named Don Hale came forward with a story about how the Labour MP Barbara Castle had entrusted him with documents that would have exposed a Westminster network, but that this had been seized from him before he had a chance to act on it. For some reason, there is no record of Castle ever mentioning this to anyone else, and Hale only began mentioning it in 2014. Hale gave evidence to the IICSA, but they were not impressed:

There are several implausible elements to Mr Hale’s account. In certain key respects Mr Hale’s story simply does not add up. It is extremely unlikely that, if Mrs Castle had evidence of child sexual abuse and support for PIE at Westminster and wished to expose it, she would have sought to do so by giving the documents to the editor of a free newspaper in the North West with a small, local circulation. Even if, as Mr Hale said, the large national newspapers had refused to take the story, there were obvious and better alternatives, such as publication in Private Eye, or Mrs Castle simply making a speech to publicise what she had discovered.

…Finally, if the documents did say what Mr Hale claimed and if the visit by Cyril Smith and the Special Branch raid did take place, it is inconceivable that neither Mr Hale nor Mrs Castle sought to bring these matters to public attention. Mrs Castle was a veteran politician with great experience of challenging the establishment. Mr Hale was an established journalist who went on to lead press campaigns including one that came to national attention and won him industry awards. The raid, if it happened, was itself evidence that there was substance in the concerns about Westminster child sexual abuse and a cover-up that was the subject of public debate led by Geoffrey Dickens MP and others in the mid-1980s. If it all happened in the way that Mr Hale described, it is likely that he and probably also Mrs Castle would have been very vocal about it. One way or another, they would have made certain that their story was told publicly. We do not consider that either of them would have been deterred by what the simplest of enquiries could have established was a false D-Notice. The fact that Mrs Castle appears to have said nothing about these events before her death in 2002 and Mr Hale said nothing for some 30 years, and then only once other allegations had been made in the wake of Jimmy Savile’s death, leads us to doubt whether the events did in fact take place as Mr Hale described them.

…Mr Hale has told his story many times over recent years – to the police and IOPC investigators on a number of occasions, to journalists and to this Inquiry. The various accounts have become more detailed over time. Even when giving oral evidence to us, some of the detail that he gave did not appear in any of his previous statements.

The Paedophile Information Exchange

The report also addresses some other aspects of the “Westminster network” mythology. On the Paedophile Information Exchange:

At its height in around 1978, it seems that PIE had some 300 members in total. The Inquiry has seen no evidence to suggest that PIE had any members who were MPs or peers, or who could be described more broadly as senior Westminster figures, with the exception of Sir Peter Hayman. There were two members of the PIE executive committee – Charles Napier and Peter Righton – who had significant establishment connections of a more general kind, such as holding prominent positions in schools and academia or (in Mr Righton’s case) in public advisory roles, but we have seen no evidence of any other prominent persons.

Further:

Mr Heath’s private secretary of the time, Peter Batey, recalled informing Mr Heath he had received a letter from PIE and him replying “We don’t want anything to do with them” with a strength of reaction that was notable.

I wrote more about Heath and PIE here. The IICSA further notes that there is no evidence that PIE ever received Home Office funding.

Elm Guest House

The report cites the police review into the Elm Guest House investigation:

Elm Guest House was a tawdry establishment which had come to the attention of police on several occasions. Child sexual abuse had almost certainly occurred there. However, Commander Neil Jerome from the Metropolitan Police Service stated that “no individuals of prominence or (individuals) that could be described as being well-known” were either observed by the police during surveillance operations or found there when the property was raided [in 1982].

Further:

There has been a detailed investigation into an allegation that when interviewed on the night of the raid the 10-year-old boy referred to one of his abusers as “Uncle Leon” who may have been a politician and came from “the big house”. This allegation was made by Andrew Keir, a social worker who was present at the interview with the boy on the night of the raid, his suggestion apparently being either that this detail was deliberately omitted from the contemporaneous manuscript notes of the interview or that it was removed when the typed version was subsequently prepared. The IOPC investigation into this allegation was Operation Helena. In summary, Commander Jerome informed us, having regard to some of the contemporaneous documentation, the records of an earlier inquiry, and the evidence of the officers involved, the investigation concluded that “there was no substance … at all” to the allegation that Mr Keir had made.

I discussed this story here.

Attitudes

The above does not mean, of course, that there are no credible allegations against individual MPs or other figures associated with Westminster – several cases are discussed in detail in the report, and much of the press coverage has focused on this angle. The report makes several references to police “undue deference”, and it is reasonable to suppose that such failures have played a role in why false and implausible allegations came to have a presumption of truth in the public mind.

The report also notes other problematic attitudes – child protection did not have “precedence” when it came to the sex industry and indecent images, and there was confused thinking in the wake of the sexual revolution:

The profound social changes of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in relation to socially acceptable sexual behaviour, meant that people in positions of political and cultural influence at that time deliberately sought to challenge the boundaries of sexual activity. Language was often used in ambiguous ways. For example, the term ‘boys’ was used to describe 18 to 21-year-old young men. Although homosexual acts were decriminalised in 1967, the age of consent was still higher than for heterosexual relations until 2000 and being openly homosexual in Parliament was still unusual and the subject of disapproval. The effect of this was that in some circles there was an unwillingness to challenge efforts to make ‘paedophilia’ acceptable or to ask difficult questions about proposals to reduce the age of consent which seemed to be borne of inappropriate attitudes, for fear of being seen as old-fashioned, buttoned-up or out of touch with the times. Child welfare and protection yielded to self-serving ideas of sexual liberation.

Clearly, there was a failure of justice, with the result that risks to children were needlessly amplified. But if we want to understand why this was the case, we should look to social history and sociology rather than conspiracy theories.

UPDATE: David Aaronovitch has written about the IICSA conclusions in a Times column, under the heading “VIP abuse farce shows danger of moral panic”. His conclusion:

…in this instance the true scandal is that there was a mostly posthumous witch-hunt fuelled by fantasists and liars and exploited by careless journalists and feckless police forces. It’s a panic that has cost millions, taken resources away from policing (conceivably at the expense of genuine and continuing child protection cases) and absorbed part of the nation in a false debate. It has been catnip for conspiracy theorists, besmirched our democracy and distorted our perception of our own recent history. And it needs to be called out.

Aaronovitch is particularly scathing of Don Hale, noting:

Whatever IICSA’s deficiencies in presentation, the lawyers who questioned Hale did an excellent job. The transcript of his cross-examination makes painful reading. The report itself is couched in the most careful possible terms, in which the words “odd”, “implausible” and “inconceivable” are used, but amounts to this: we didn’t believe a word of it. The report does say that there’s no evidence any of it happened, the key elements of the story just don’t make sense and Mr Hale’s account of his 30-year delay in coming forward is incredible.

Hale has not responded directly to the IICSA’s assessment, beyond suggesting  generally that the inquiry is engaged in a “cover up”. His only acknowledgement of the IICSA’s criticisms has been to RT an endorsement by someone else, who writes:

Having now read most of your statements to the Inquiry it’s plainly obvious this whole exercise is a sham. As a former employee of the Bury Times it appalls me that they sought bring into question your integrity. I’ve always believed that the establishment leaned on you re [Cyril] Smith.

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