Westminster 'turned a blind eye to child abuse' for decades, damning inquiry finds
Westminster’s political parties turned a “blind eye” to child abuse and instead sought to protect MPs from prosecution, a damning public inquiry has found.
The hard-hitting report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said major political institutions had “significantly failed in their responses to allegations of child sexual abuse for decades”.
And it singled out former Liberal leader Lord Steel for an “abdication of responsibility” in failing to confront MP and prolific sex offender Cyril Smith over his abuse of children.
The report follows a long-running inquiry set up in 2014 under then-Home Secretary Theresa May, amid allegations - raised in Parliament by Labour’s Tom Watson - that a high-profile abuse ring had been run out of Westminster.
While the report found “ample evidence that individual perpetrators of child sexual abuse have been linked to Westminster”, it said there was no evidence of an organised "Westminster paedophile network" in which "persons of prominence conspired to pass children amongst themselves for the purpose of sexual abuse".
But it said there had been "significant failures by Westminster institutions in their responses to allegations of child sexual abuse".
“This included failure to recognise it, turning a blind eye to it, actively shielding and protecting child sexual abusers and covering up allegations," the report said.
The report found that Sir Cyril and Conservative MP Sir Peter Morrison were “known to be active in their sexual interest in children, but were protected from prosecution” throughout the 1980s by their respective parties.
Parties, police and prosecutors had, it said, shown too much “deference towards people of public prominence” in ways that prevented institutions from challenging abuse.
“At that time, nobody seemed to care about the fate of the children involved, with status and political concerns overriding all else,” the report said.
It added: “Even though we did not find evidence of a Westminster network, the lasting effect on those who suffered as children from being sexually abused by individuals linked to Westminster has been just as profound. It has been compounded by institutional complacency and indifference to the plight of child victims.”
Lord Steel came under fire last year when he told the inquiry that he saw “no reason, or no locus to go back to” allegations against Smth because they related to the time before he joined the party.
But the inquiry was scathing about this response, saying: “This failure to recognise the risks was an abdication of responsibility, and the fact the offences were non-recent was irrelevant.”
The findings are likely to pile pressure on the Liberal Democrats to sever ties with the party grandee.
Turning its fire on the Tories, the report said senior officials in the party had known 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,” the inquiry team said.
Launching the report, inquiry chair Professor Alexis Jay 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.”
Among its recommendations, the inquiry calls on all political parties to put a “comprehensive” safeguarding policy in place, and says the Electoral Commission should be asked to “monitor and oversee” whether they are doing this.
The team said it was “unacceptable” that some political parties still do not have specific policies in place for protecting children - with Labour and the Greens coming in for particular criticism for “major gaps in the practical knowledge of even senior people about basic safeguarding”.
“Some of these people considered themselves sufficiently qualified to judge whether abuse is serious enough to be reported to the authorities, even in the Labour Party’s case, where it is publicly committed to the policy of mandatory reporting.”
They added: "These recommendations are made in order to ensure that government departments and political parties have clear, up-to-date, and transparent policies and procedures for the handling of allegations of child sexual abuse."