May relents in face of probe call

Home Secretary Theresa May
Home Secretary Theresa May
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Theresa May announced twin inquiries into the handling of child abuse allegations today in response to a growing clamour for action.

The Home Secretary said Peter Wanless, chief executive of the children’s charity NSPCC would examine whether a previous inquiry into the way the Home Office handled allegations made in the 1980s and 1990s by then MP Geoffrey Dickens was conducted properly.

Mr Wanless will also review a Home Office investigation which concluded the department did not fund the Paedophile Information Exchange in the 1970s and 1980s.

Separately, an independent inquiry panel, similar to the one that considered the Hillsborough disaster, will be asked to look at whether public and other important bodies have done enough to protect children from abuse.

Mrs May said she was prepared to turn it into a full public inquiry if necessary.

The Home Secretary told MPs she was confident the previous Home Office review into the way the Dickens allegations had been handled was “carried out in good faith”.

She added: “I know that with allegations as serious as these the public need to have complete confidence in the integrity of the investigation’s findings.”

Last year’s investigation found 13 items of information in Home Office files about alleged child abuse dating back to the period 1979-99, and passed police details of four of the items about which they were not already aware. But Mrs May told MPs that, while records of a number of letters from Mr Dickens were found, there was no sign of a “Dickens dossier”.

The investigation found that 114 potentially relevant files were not available, and were presumed “destroyed, missing or not found”, although the independent investigator made clear that he found no evidence to suggest that the files had been removed or destroyed “inappropriately”.

Calls for a fresh investigation into the matter were fuelled at the weekend when Lord Tebbit, a member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet in the 1980s, said there “may well” have been a political cover-up at the time in order to protect “the system”.

Mrs May said the wider panel inquiry into the way public bodies protect children would be able to start work quicker than a full public inquiry and would be less likely to affect ongoing criminal investigations.

The Home Secretary told MPs that nothing should interfere with efforts to secure criminal convictions.

Responding in the Commons, her Labour Shadow, Yvette Cooper, welcomed the announcement but accused the Home Secretary of changing her position on an inquiry.

The Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford MP drew attention to numerous investigations into child abuse taking place among the BBC, the NHS and care homes, telling Mrs May the existing child protection system needed to be examined to ensure future issues do not emerge.

She said: “All at their heart have a similar problem - child victims weren’t listened to, weren’t heard, weren’t protected and too many institutions let children down.

“Reforms to those individual institutions must not be delayed but isolated reforms are not enough and it needs to draw together the full picture, to look at the institutional failures of the past but also to examine the child protection systems we have in place that may continue to fail children today.”