Sunday, 4 February 2018

History repeating itself IICSA

The one thing not piling up in Professor Jay’s VIP paedophile inquiry is evidence
The child sex abuse inquiry has begun hearing claims of a VIP paedophile ring but I have followed the ‘clues’ for years and found nothing
James Gillespie
February 4 2018, 12:01am,
The Sunday Times

Last week in a narrow south London side street close to Southwark Tube station, a group of lawyers, journalists and members of the public took a step back in time.
In the nondescript building that is hosting the hearings for Professor Alexis Jay’s independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA), they gathered for a preliminary session on the so-called “Westminster investigation”. To watch this inquiry — which has so far cost almost £60m since being set up three years ago by Theresa May, then home secretary — you pass through airport-style security, then an untidy media room and into the hearing chamber.
There a four-person panel sits gazing down on the massed ranks of lawyers before it and — at the back — some of the people claiming to have personal knowledge of what went on more than 30 years ago. There are 13 different investigations in IICSA but this one is box office. It has VIPs, politicians, members of the Establishment, allegations of high-ranking cover-ups, suggestions of No 10 involvement and, overshadowing it all, the idea that there was a Westminster paedophile ring active for many years and involving some of the most powerful people in the land.

It is pure theatre — if rendered a bit dull by the verbosity of the lawyers — but there is one thing no one dares mention: it simply isn’t true. All attempts to prove there was any such paedophile network have foundered as soon as anyone has sought evidence to back up the claims.
For the past four years I have investigated many of the Westminster sex abuse claims, found them to be lacking and hoped they had been put to rest.

Daniel Janner, son of the late Lord Janner, told the inquiry: ‘There were no paedophile rings in Westminster, save in warped imaginations’. To the despair of those who have watched this saga unfold and collapse, here were most of the same specious claims again. Of course, the whole process is a payday for the lawyers, who numbered about 30, and almost half of them are likely to be paid from public funds. Last year the inquiry spent more than £5m on lawyers’ fees. Earning hourly fees of £300-£400, three of the QCs attending on Wednesday uttered a total of six words between them. Nonetheless, they sat there listening dutifully as Andrew O’Connor QC, a counsel to the inquiry, laid out the priorities for the investigation.That is where the time slip occurred. Suddenly and sadly we went back five years to the moral panic that gripped Britain after Tom Watson, the Labour MP, made unsubstantiated claims in the Commons of a paedophile ring linked to No 10. 

The problem for Jay and her inquiry is that if there is no evidence to support the Westminster claim, why are they investigating it at all? As O’Connor read out his speech, it came across as little more than a desperate search for a straw to clutch. He said that the evidence given to police by a witness known only as “Nick” that led to the Metropolitan police’s disastrous Operation Midland would now play a diminished role in proceedings. Almost half of the lawyers are likely to be paid from public funds.

In fact, Nick’s claims of murder and VIP abusers were so fraudulent and mendacious that he now faces the possibility of prosecution for attempting to pervert the course of justice.
If Nick seemed a distant figure on Wednesday, others did not. In a corner of the hearing chamber sat Esther Baker, 35, who had made unsubstantiated child sex allegations against the former MP John Hemming, who describes her as a “fantasist”, which she denies.
No prosecution has emerged from a two-year police investigation and Hemming has submitted evidence to the police, calling for Baker — like Nick — to be prosecuted for attempting to pervert the course of justice.
She has been granted “core participant” (CP) status by Jay, which will allow her to suggest questions, see confidential documents and maybe even claim costs.
Just along from Baker sat Tim Hulbert, who used to work for the Home Office. He claims that the Paedophile Information Exchange (Pie), which existed from 1974-84 and campaigned to abolish the age of consent, was given government money. It wasn’t.
A Home Office investigation looked at Hulbert’s claims but found no evidence to support them. I checked with a former leader of Pie, who simply laughed at the suggestion.
Nonetheless, Hulbert has also been granted special CP status by Jay.
An anonymous claimant in his sixties, who is a convicted paedophile, had accused Ted Heath, the former prime minister, of rape but even his own family denounced him as a liar and said the incident had never occurred. He too is applying for CP status.
Not content with this line-up, O’Connor then resorted to the phrases that are the key to all allegations of a Westminster paedophile ring: “Dickens’s dossier” and “Elm Guest House”.
Tom Watson, the Labour MP, made unsubstantiated claims in the Commons of a paedophile ring linked to No 10

The first is a reference to papers prepared by Geoffrey Dickens, the backbench MP, who presented them to the then home secretary Leon Brittan in November 1983, and further documents given to Brittan in January 1984.
The myth is that it was a “massive dossier” of evidence about a VIP paedophile ring in Westminster. The Sunday Times revealed three years ago it was nothing of the sort.
In the first meeting with Brittan, Dickens produced only two letters making direct allegations unconnected with parliament — and nothing about a paedophile ring.
The second batch of documents related to abuse in a children’s home. Since then the conspiracy theorists have claimed Brittan deliberately covered up the revelations because he, too, according to their fevered imaginations, was an abuser.
He was not — and the one person who didn’t claim that there had been a cover-up was Dickens himself.
The MP, who died in 1995, praised Brittan for “splendid support” and thanked the Home Office for its work in combating paedophilia.
The Elm Guest House was a gay brothel in Barnes, southwest London, which during the great panic became a byword for supposed VIP abusers, who would allegedly visit for underage sex.
A “membership list” was posted on the internet naming politicians, royals, police officers and celebrities, but was found to be a forgery.
O’Connor didn’t stop there. There may be little evidence of a Westminster paedophile ring but it is not short of mythical “dossiers”. The QC suggested that the inquiry would also look at the claim by the journalist Don Hale that his office was raided in 1984 by Special Branch and a dossier prepared by the late Barbara Castle “containing names of MPs said to be sympathetic to the Paedophile Information Exchange” was seized.
Again The Sunday Times revealed three years ago that there is no evidence that a “Castle dossier” existed. The Bodleian Library in Oxford holds her archive but no such document has been found.
Hale claimed Castle had been in contact with the former Labour home secretary Jack Straw about a Westminster paedophile ring, but Straw checked his own archive and found nothing on the subject from Castle. Nor did he have any recollection of her speaking to him on the matter.
The reason Hale had never mentioned the incident before 2014 was, he claimed because he had been served with a D-notice — an official request to newspapers not to publish a story in the interests of national security. A spokesman for the D-notice system said no such warning had been issued.
Amid all the words and the legalese, there is a very real danger here. 

When the evidence hearings take place over three weeks in March next year, Jay and her lawyers risk providing a platform for discredited claimants and conspiracy theorists to repeat their false allegations. Those claims will blacken the names of the living and undermine the reputations of the dead.

A former police officer told me at the time of the panic: “There were individual offenders, but a Westminster sex abuse conspiracy? No.”
Daniel Janner, a leading QC and son of the late Lord Janner, who was accused of sex abuse during his lifetime, echoed this view when he told the inquiry: “There were no paedophile rings in Westminster, save in warped imaginations.”
Jay needs to sit up and take notice.