Cameron orders investigation into abuse allegations

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  By a Newsnet reporter

The Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered an inquiry into the allegations that senior members of the Conservative party were involved in a paedophile ring abusing boys in care homes in North Wales between the 1970s and the early 1990s.  The PM pledged that the government would take swift action to investigate any wrong-doing after it was claimed that a previous inquiry had too narrow a remit.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi, where he is currently on an official visit, the Prime Minister said:

“I am taking action today, first of all to make sure that Mr Messham can meet urgently with the Secretary of State for Wales so he can hear his allegations and his points.

“Secondly, I am going to be asking a senior independent figure to lead an urgent investigation into whether the original inquiry was properly constituted and properly did its job and to report urgently to the Government.”

He added:

“These allegations are truly dreadful and they mustn’t be left hanging in the air. I would also urge anyone who knows anything to go to the police.  That is where evidence should be taken so that we can deal with this dreadful, dreadful issue.”

Mr Cameron also announced that a separate inquiry would be set up to find out why police did not do more to bring the perpetrators of abuse to justice.

The investigation announced today will be the third official investigation into allegations of organised child abuse centred on the Bryn Estyn children’s home near Wrexham in North Wales.  The first inquiry was set up by Clwyd County Council in the early 1990s, however the findings of this inquiry were never published, and all copies of its report were pulped, allegedly so that the council could maintain its insurance cover.

Public disquiet forced the then Secretary of State for Wales, William Hague, to order a second public inquiry in 1997.  The inquiry, headed by judge Sir Ronald Waterhouse, took evidence from more than 650 people, and took three years to produce its official report.  

However this inquiry has been widely criticised as a “cover up” as Sir Ronald, who died in 2011, insisted that it would deal solely with cases of abuse alleged to have taken place on care homes’ premises.  However victims allege that they were taken by staff to local hotels where they claim they were abused by men who included a number of leading Conservatives.  These claims were not investigated by the inquiry.

Sir Ronald plainly did not believe the evidence given by several of the victims, despite the fact that their accounts apparently corroborated one another.  In his report he wrote that claims that a leading Conservative politician was involved were “embarking on the realm of fantasy”, and added: “It is obvious on this evidence that we cannot be satisfied that any member of [the politician’s] family was involved in paedophile activity.”

Critics were also concerned that Sir Ronald issued an order forbidding the identification of the 28 people who were named as abusers during the inquiry.

Mr Cameron’s announcement came three days after the BBC Newsnight programme broadcast an interview with Steve Messham, a former resident of the children’s home.  Mr Messham told reporters that he had been taken from the home to a nearby hotel where he was raped by several men, including the leading Conservative politician.  

Mr Messham said that when he attempted to report the abuse to the police in the 1970s he was not believed, and was threatened by police officers for making the claim.   Mr Messham is due to meet with David Jones, the Welsh Secretary, on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the allegations in detail.

However Labour MP Tom Watson, who called on the House of Commons to investigate claims of an organised ring of child abusers with connections to the office of a previous prime minister, says that Mr Cameron’s new inquiry does not go far enough.  In an open letter to the Prime Minister published on his blog site, Mr Watson said:

“… my experience of uncovering massive establishment conspiracies leaves me in no doubt that what you have suggested does not go anything like far enough. Its limited scope may even slow things down, muddy waters, damage trails. What is needed is a much wider, but equally immediate, investigation.”

The MP said that since he made his original statement to the House of Commons, a large number of other victims of child abuse had come forward and made detailed allegations to him, one of which involves a former Conservative cabinet minister.  Mr Watson said that this latest allegation was “specific, informed and appeared well corroborated”.

Mr Watson called on the Prime Minister to order a special police investigation, properly resourced, and able to review all the relevant police files and information held by the intelligence services.  The MP stressed that this investigation must be independent of the police forces which have been accused of failing to investigate the allegations previously, or which conducted investigations which were shut down.  

Mr Watson added:

“If what you really want – and I believe that it is – is the truth, then you must draw the terms of reference such that the police inquiry has licence to follow any lead it finds in what will be, after all, a serious criminal investigation.  There should be no historic sexual abuse of children which is off limits to this investigation. 

“The police should be supported by a dedicated team of child protection specialists, many of whom have been raising their concerns for years. Your advisers will tell you to be wary of ‘opening the floodgates’.  They are wrong.  Their decorous caution is the friend of the paedophile.  Narrowing the inquiry equals hiding the truth.  That is the reality and it is not what you want.”