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Inquiry finds Westminster failed significantly in responses to child sexual abuse

25 February 2020

The Inquiry has today published its Westminster report, which finds political institutions have significantly failed in their responses to allegations of child sexual abuse for decades.

This includes failing to recognise abuse, turning a blind eye to it, covering up allegations and actively protecting high-profile offenders, including politicians.

During three weeks of public hearings last year, the Inquiry heard from survivors, whistleblowers, cabinet ministers, MPs and police officers among others.

There has clearly been a significant problem with deference towards people of public prominence, from the Whips’ offices to the police and prosecutors, although the investigation found no evidence of an organised paedophile network at the heart of government. 

For example, in the 1970s and 1980s, MPs including Sir Cyril Smith and Sir Peter Morrison were known to be active in their sexual interest in children, but were protected from prosecution.

Giving evidence, former Liberal Party leader Lord Steel said that because allegations against Smith had arisen before he joined the party, he saw “no reason, or no locus to go back to [it]”. This failure to recognise the risks was an abdication of responsibility, and the fact the offences were non-recent was irrelevant.

Meanwhile, senior officials within the Conservative party knew about allegations concerning Morrison for years but did not pass them on to police. Instead, he became Margaret Thatcher’s Parliamentary Private Secretary in 1990 and was knighted a year later.

Victor Montagu, the former MP for South Dorset and 10th Earl of Sandwich, was let off with a caution after a 10-year-old boy alleged he had indecently assaulted him. Montagu’s son Robert, who he also sexually abused for over five years, said the decision not to prosecute was “entirely wrong and very indicative of the attitude towards people in public positions”.

The report concludes that these are examples of a political culture which values its reputation far higher than the fate of the children involved.

As recently as 2017, Green Party election candidate Aimee Challenor was able to appoint her father as election agent, despite the fact that he had been charged with sexually assaulting a child and was later convicted.

The Inquiry also investigated the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), which campaigned in the 1970s to lower the age of consent, as well as public acceptance of paedophilia. 

A number of its members sexually abused children, including Sir Peter Hayman, a former High Commissioner to Canada. The report concludes that PIE was given foolish and misguided support for several years by organisations who should have known better, such as the National Council for Civil Liberties and the Albany Trust.

The report makes five recommendations, including ensuring all political parties have comprehensive safeguarding policies and procedures. It also calls on the Cabinet Office to re-examine its policy on the posthumous forfeiture of honours.

Chair of the Inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay OBE, said: 

“It is clear to see that Westminster institutions have repeatedly failed to deal with allegations of child sexual abuse, from turning a blind eye to actively shielding abusers.

“A consistent pattern emerged of failures to put the welfare of children above political status although we found no evidence of an organised network of paedophiles within government. 

“We hope this report and its recommendations will lead political institutions to prioritise the needs and safety of vulnerable children.”

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