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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster Investigation Report


D.3: The Clubs Office

The Clubs Office and the ‘meat rack’

11. The Clubs and Vice Unit, known as the ‘Clubs Office’, was a specialist unit within the Metropolitan Police Service. It was based throughout the 1970s at West End Central Police Station on Savile Row, and then from Charing Cross Police Station.[1]

12. Three retired police officers – Robert Glen, Paul Holmes and Malcolm Sinclair – raised concerns about a possible cover-up of child sexual abuse by prominent individuals associated with Westminster.

  • Mr Glen had a 30-year career in the Metropolitan Police, retiring at the rank of superintendent in 1994. Between 1977 and 1978, he spent nine months to one year posted to the Clubs Office. At that time he held the rank of inspector.[2]
  • Mr Holmes was in the Metropolitan Police between 1971 and 2002, and he spent the majority of his policing career at the Clubs Office, with an initial posting from 1975 to 1980 as a constable, followed by a second stint as a sergeant from 1987 to 1992 and then a final posting from the mid-1990s until he retired at the rank of inspector.[3]
  • Mr Sinclair started in the Metropolitan Police in 1966 and retired as an inspector in 1994. He was posted to the Clubs Office as a constable from around 1977 to 1979.[4]

13. The Clubs Office handled a range of policing matters that uniformed officers did not usually deal with. It had three main areas of responsibility, covered by separate sections: the licensing and supervision of nightclubs (including casinos), vice and obscene publications.[5] Vice covered a range of activities such as living on immoral earnings (commonly referred to as pimping, or more often in the 1970s as being a ‘ponce’) and prostitution. The vice team was primarily concerned with heterosexual, rather than homosexual, vice offences, and focussed on cases of exploitation and vulnerable victims, whether due to age or other factors.[6] There was no specialist unit dealing with child sexual abuse or exploitation.[7]

14. The unit was staffed by uniformed officers operating in plain clothes, who would spend around 90 days at a time at the Clubs Office before returning to their base station to resume normal uniformed duties.[8] It had a team structure that was unusual within the Metropolitan Police, in that it was led by a chief superintendent but then the next rank down were two inspectors, who had a team of five or six sergeants and a number of police constables. There were no superintendent or chief inspector posts.[9] It is not clear why the hierarchy of the unit had this unusual form, but it may have heightened the sense of deference towards the chief superintendent and contributed to the inability or unwillingness of more junior officers within the unit to challenge his decisions.

15. All three retired officers told us that an ongoing issue the Clubs Office had to deal with was the presence of boys and young men engaged in prostitution in the Piccadilly Circus area. This was known as the ‘meat rack’ and the boys were referred to as ‘rent boys’.[10] The boys could be between 11 and 22 years old,[11] but were mainly in their mid-to-late teens. The police would regularly bring in younger boys who had run away from home and would try to contact their parents or occasionally social services to keep them off the streets.[12] However, Mr Holmes said that the procedures that existed at the time for looking after children found on the street were “rudimentary”.[13]

16. Mr Sinclair explained the approach was to have an active police presence around Piccadilly to scare the boys off but, when the uniformed officers were not there, the boys would all come back. Police officers would stop them and speak to them, and if they were vulnerable younger children there would be an attempt to contact their parents. However, there were “no hard and fast rules” about what age was a cut-off where the police would no longer do this.[14] He agreed that the Clubs Office could really only “firefight” the problem of exploitative sexual activity around Piccadilly Circus, and the underlying factors were never really tackled.[15]

17. Mr Holmes told us the nature of homosexual vice-related offences changed following the high-profile ‘Playland’ trials in the mid-1970s. He explained that some of the organised abuse of rent boys in the 1970s was perpetrated by “upper echelons of society”, by which he meant mainly wealthy men and members of the aristocracy rather than politicians. After the ‘Playland’ trials, wealthy or aristocratic men looking to buy sex avoided kerb crawling directly in and around Piccadilly Circus (which had previously been the most common practice[16]) and shifted to using middle men as procurers to reduce the risk of detection.[17]

Allegations of cover-up

18. Mr Glen told us that during his short time at the Clubs Office in 1977 to 1978 the Chief Superintendent who was in command, Tom Parry, went to Hong Kong for a few weeks. Chief Superintendent Neil Diver (now deceased) temporarily took over responsibility, while also remaining in charge of Vine Street Police Station.[18]

19. At this time some officers in Mr Glen’s team informed him that they had gathered evidence through covert observations that Cyril Smith (an MP at this time) was involved in sexual activity with young boys.[19] Mr Glen did not recall any other names of prominent individuals being mentioned in that investigation.[20] Mr Glen was of the firm view that there was sufficient evidence to arrest Smith, but given the sensitive nature of making such a high-profile arrest he consulted Chief Superintendent Diver.[21] Chief Superintendent Diver was “incredibly annoyed” and angry. He told Mr Glen that his team should never have got involved, that it was far too political and that they were to stop. Mr Glen was very upset by this reaction, as was his team, because a “tremendous amount of police time had gone into this”.[22] Indeed, Mr Glen was so upset that he complained about the shutting down of the investigation to a higher ranking officer, a commander outside the Clubs Office. However, that officer declined to get involved and so the investigation into Cyril Smith ended.[23]

20. Mr Glen said he had several reasons to suspect that Chief Superintendent Diver had some ulterior motive for shutting down the Smith investigation.

20.1. Around the same time, there was another investigation being undertaken by the Clubs Office into the manager of the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane, which had been prompted by a tip-off that he was facilitating prostitution at the rooftop bar.[24] In the same week that he ordered the Cyril Smith investigation be shut down, Chief Superintendent Diver told the team to close the Hilton Hotel investigation, without giving Mr Glen any reason that would satisfy him.[25] When Mr Glen relayed this order to the team, he allowed them to finish the planned two or three days of provisional observation before ending the investigation. In the early hours of the morning on one of those days, the team observed Chief Superintendent Diver come into the rooftop bar and engage in a lengthy conversation with the manager who was the prime suspect.[26]

20.2. Mr Glen also considered that Chief Superintendent Diver was alcohol dependent. He said he often disappeared from night shifts in plain clothes and came back to the police station drunk.[27]

20.3. In July 1979, when Mr Glen transferred back to Vine Street, he was told by another senior police officer that Chief Superintendent Diver had been detained at the Regent Palace Hotel for trying to pass a forged cheque. When detained he was in the company of a boy whom the police officer thought had come from the ‘meat rack’. Mr Glen was told that Chief Superintendent Diver was transferred to Battersea, but did not have any disciplinary action or criminal charges brought against him, despite Mr Glen contacting the Metropolitan Police Complaints Investigation Bureau (the precursor to the Directorate of Professional Standards).[28] We received evidence that the hotel receptionist was interviewed around a year afterwards by officers from the Bureau. The eventual outcome of these enquiries is unclear.[29]

21. At the time, Mr Glen felt that he had done all he could about his concerns relating to Mr Diver and the Smith investigation. He told us that the culture in the police in those days was such that:

we did as we were told and you were not encouraged to question operational decisions made by senior officers … If one rocked the boat too much, it would be very much viewed upon that you were there to cause trouble”.[30]

He did not think to say anything once he retired, because he thought no one would be interested. However, in November 2012, following press reports about Cyril Smith, Mr Glen reported his concerns to Operation Yewtree.[31] This led to the IOPC investigating his allegations.[32]

22. Mr Glen was a straightforward and honest witness.[33] Yet none of the other officers contacted by the IOPC in the course of their investigation could confirm Mr Glen’s account. He did not recall either Mr Sinclair or Mr Holmes, so was unable to provide the IOPC with their names.[34] The commander with whom Mr Glen says he raised the shutting down of the Smith investigation was spoken to by the IOPC, but he could not recall any such conversation.[35] As a result, the IOPC concluded in 2017 that Mr Glen’s allegations “are not corroborated to any degree”.[36]

Corroboration and further questions

23. However, there was corroborating evidence. In late 2017, following the publication of their summary closure report in Operation Conifer (the investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse made against Sir Edward Heath), Wiltshire Police were contacted by a journalist, Paul Cahalan, who put them in touch with Mr Sinclair and Mr Holmes.[37] Wiltshire Police took statements from Mr Cahalan and Mr Sinclair, interviewed Mr Holmes over the telephone,[38] and sent a report to the Metropolitan Police for the attention of Operation Winter Key, the overarching response of the Metropolitan Police to this Inquiry.[39]

24. By the time Mr Holmes and Mr Sinclair gave evidence to the Inquiry in March 2019, their accounts had not yet been investigated by the Metropolitan Police or the IOPC. This was despite the Wiltshire Police report having been sent on 6 February 2018 and the allegations having been reported in the Mail on Sunday on 12 May 2018.[40]

25. Mr Holmes confirmed that he was aware of the closing of the investigation into Cyril Smith, as described by Mr Glen, and that Dick Griffin and Peter Lamb, two of his fellow Clubs Office team members with whom he worked closely, were frustrated about it.[41]

26. Mr Holmes went further. He gave us a candid explanation of the situation facing the Clubs Office in 1978:

The proposal that  whether you call it higher-echelon people, establishment, Westminster  were involved in exploiting vulnerable prostitutes, as far as we were concerned was a given. It wasn’t whether it existed; it was a given. The issue was the extent to which it was networked, how high it went, and how on earth you could prove it. That was the issue; it was not the issue of whether it existed.[42]

He explained how in the 1970s sex workers were treated by the vast majority of police officers and the whole of the criminal justice system as “second-class citizens”. As a result, it was difficult for him or his fellow officers to say to victims ‘make a statement and this will be okay’, “knowing full well that when they got to court, it was going to be anything but okay and they would be traumatised by giving evidence as much probably as by the assault itself”.[43] Mr Holmes and his team aimed to get sufficient evidence through surveillance to make arrests, and in the aftermath of the arrests convince enough victims to become witnesses. This strategy had worked in the ‘Playland’ trials.[44]

27. Mr Holmes and Mr Sinclair told us that in summer 1978 they took part in an investigation into Roddam Twiss, the son of the then Black Rod, Admiral Frank Twiss. Roddam Twiss was a convicted fraudster, active in the underground homosexual scene, and suspected of being a procurer of rent boys from the ‘meat rack’ for wealthy or prominent men. The investigation involved the surveillance-first strategy used in the ‘Playland’ operation, with observation of Twiss’ flat in Cricklewood Broadway for a number of weeks.[45]

28. Mr Sinclair recalled that during these observations he and Mr Holmes saw Cyril Smith, Jeremy Thorpe, Edward Heath and Leon Brittan.[46] He personally saw Smith enter the flat with “little boys”.[47] Mr Holmes confirmed that Cyril Smith’s name came up during the Twiss investigation.

Cyril Smith was allegedly all over it. The name Cyril Smith wasn’t news … It was expected. We anticipated that he may be seen.[48]

However, he had no recollection of Leon Brittan, Edward Heath or Jeremy Thorpe being seen on observations or mentioned in the investigation report; the most that happened was that their names were discussed by officers.[49] Mr Sinclair described Mr Holmes as having a photographic memory and was unable to offer any explanation for why Mr Holmes could not remember seeing these four MPs entering the Cricklewood Broadway flat.[50] It is likely that seeing that group of men together and in those circumstances would stick in anyone’s mind.

29. Mr Holmes suspected that Twiss may have been protected in some way because he was aware Twiss had previous convictions but a search for any reference to these in the Criminal Records Office and the divisional police intelligence offices’ records came back negative. The only record on Twiss that he could find was a card in the Rochester Row Police Station, which covered the Palace of Westminster. It had a red margin (a feature Mr Holmes had never seen before) and said Twiss’ father had issued instructions that he was to be prohibited from entering the Parliamentary estate and detained on sight if seen. The lack of any other record suggested to Mr Holmes that Twiss had been “cleansed from the system”, something which he said could only have been done by a very senior police officer.[51]

30. Mr Holmes and Mr Sinclair reported the findings of the Twiss observations, which they both thought warranted further investigation, to the Chief Superintendent of the Clubs Office. They were told to shut the operation down.[52] After so many years, neither officer could be sure which Chief Superintendent gave the order. Mr Sinclair believed it was Mr Diver, but Mr Holmes thought it more likely that it was Brian Sparkes. In any event, both officers were clear that the investigation was stopped without any reasonable explanation and that they were angry about it.[53] Mr Holmes’ memory was that there was a heated conversation:

I remember that we had a very, very Anglo-Saxon row over it, at the conclusion of which he quite rightly told me that, if I continued, then I was history, basically. And I couldn’t afford to be history because I had a young family and a mortgage.

31. Like Mr Holmes, Mr Sinclair felt he could not take matters any further without harming his career, and he confirmed that at that time there was a culture within the Metropolitan Police of ‘knowing your place’.[54]

32. Mr Holmes’ memory may not have been ‘photographic’ but it was impressive. Taking his evidence together with that of Mr Glen, it is likely that at least some form of investigation into Cyril Smith was ended by a senior police officer inappropriately. The IOPC’s conclusion that Mr Glen’s allegations are uncorroborated now appears to be wrong, and it should have been reconsidered upon receipt of the report from Wiltshire Police in February 2018.

33. There remain outstanding questions about these matters which we have not found it possible to resolve.

33.1. It is not clear whether the two Clubs Office investigations involving Cyril Smith described by these officers were in fact one and the same, or separate incidents within a few months of each other, or two operations which took place at roughly the same time.[55]

33.2. Mr Sinclair’s recollection of the general operation of the Clubs Office and the basic facts of the Twiss investigation tallied with Mr Holmes’ account. However, it is not likely that his memory of seeing Jeremy Thorpe, Leon Brittan, Edward Heath and Cyril Smith visiting the property on Cricklewood Broadway was accurate. In particular, Mr Holmes’ evidence did not corroborate him on this point, but rather tended to undermine it.

34. Despite these difficulties, Mr Holmes’ summary of the situation was as follows:

too many people were saying the same thing for there not to be at least some truth in the assertion that establishment figures were engaged in the sexual abuse of young males and that this activity was being covered up … The question was not whether it was occurring, but why it was not being exposed … In my view, there were two main reasons for this absence of probative evidence: the victims of the abuse were either too fearful and distrustful to make formal complaints concerning their abuse and/or the capacity of independent police operations to fully expose the criminality was thwarted by some senior police officers in order to cover it up.[56]

35. Mr Holmes’ description of the problems faced by victims of sexual exploitation within the criminal justice system was compelling. This was a significant reason why more robust action was not taken to deal with the ‘meat rack’. However, we have also heard convincing evidence that senior police officers stopped operations that could have exposed child sexual abuse by prominent figures, notably Cyril Smith. The question is why. Mr Holmes suggested three possible motives:[57]

  • very senior police officers were criminally involved themselves in the homosexual vice scene (Mr Glen’s evidence about Chief Superintendent Diver might suggest this was part of the reason, at least so far as he was concerned);
  • corruption, in the sense of police officers receiving money or some other benefit to terminate the enquiries (Mr Holmes did not consider this likely); or
  • an investigation which could expose a person of prominence would be an unwelcome one for an ambitious senior officer with aspirations to rise further.

The last option was considered the most likely explanation by Mr Sinclair.[58]

36. Although the Metropolitan Police noted that “there are … any number of other possible innocent explanations to which Mr Holmes may not have been privy”,[59] the officers involved at the time had the strong impression that this was not the case. We agree with Mr Holmes that outright bribery and corruption does not seem to have been a significant factor but consider it likely that the third motive – deference towards prominent suspects because investigating them might adversely affect a senior police officer’s career – played at least some role in the shutting down of the ‘meat rack’ investigations in the 1970s. The first motive – of personal involvement in vice activities – may also have played a part.

37. The Inquiry makes no criticism of the Metropolitan Police and IOPC for not identifying the link between Mr Glen’s allegations and Mr Holmes’ evidence themselves; the original IOPC investigation appears to have been a thorough one and Mr Glen did not mention Mr Holmes’ name. However, further questions should have been asked by the Metropolitan Police following its receipt of the Wiltshire Police report in February 2018.


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