Elm Guest House: Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry to probe whether there was a conspiracy or cover up
Often it is the conspiracy and the cover up that is worse than the original scandal. I am not sure whether that will apply to the notorious Elm Guest House in Richmond, south west London if it really was a mecca for child sexual abuse as well as a bed and breakfast for consenting gay couples.
However the decision of the independent inquiry to focus on this as one of six major strands of the Westminster investigations into alleged paedophile activity next year is very welcome.
The inquiry is also being careful to avoid findings of fact on whether any of the survivors and complainants were sexually abused or not by concentrating on whether there were cover ups when people reported sexual abuse in the 1980s and 1990s.
That is why it is good that the inquiry has accepted Esther Baker as both a complainant and a campaigner against child sexual abuse to be a core participant in the inquiry.
It does not mean that the inquiry - as was made clear today -takes a view on whether she was sexually abused by prominent people but it does confer a status on her long standing and very outspoken campaign against sexual abusers.
It is worth quoting the six main strands. The first is improper influence of police investigations.
On Elm Guest House Mr Andrew O'Conner, counsel for the inquiry, said :
"A number of retired police officers have claimed that they# were indeed ‘warned off’ investigating possible cases of child sexual abuse committed by senior politicians in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Several of these cases are linked to the Elm Guest House affair, which was itself the subject of investigation by the Metropolitan Police in its Operations Fairbank and Fernbridge. The claims that have been made are claims of conspiracy and cover up, and we submit that they go to the heart of the Inquiry’s work in this investigation."
The second is improper influence by politicians.
"Have there been cases in which prosecutorial decisions in child sexual abuse cases have been the subject of improper influence from within the Westminster establishment? Questions of this nature relating to Cyril Smith were raised in the Rochdale investigation; we propose that you should pursue those questions in this investigation.
"Similar questions also arise in relation to prosecution decisions taken in at least two other cases – those of Peter Hayman and Victor Montague. We submit that those cases also should be investigated. And it is possible that the disclosure exercise that we are currently undertaking will raise similar questions in relation to other cases."
The third is whether political parties were involved in improper decisions or ignored allegations.
"What, for example, did the leadership of the Liberal Party know about the allegations against Cyril Smith? Did they take those allegations seriously, and did they react appropriately? Similar questions have been raised about the way in which allegations relating to Peter Morrison were dealt with within the Conservative Party. And how did the Westminster establishment generally react to efforts made to shine a light on child sexual abuse and associated institutional failings? I have already mentioned the well-known allegations relating to the Elm Guest House - they clearly touch on these issues."
Then there are the role of government and opposition whips - did they know about theses scandals and what did they do about it.
" Is it possible that on occasions in the past the Whips may have received
allegations of child sexual abuse made against politicians in their own party, and then failed to report those allegations, or to take any other appropriate steps? Is it possible,indeed, that the Whips may have taken active steps to conceal such allegations - in part to avoid embarrassing publicity and in part to gain a hold over the politician in question? "
And there is the role of the honours system.
"Concerns have been expressed publicly about honours granted to individuals who had been accused of child sexual abuse, or where allegations of this nature were made after the honour had been granted. Prominent amongst the cases that have raised concern are the knighthoods that were awarded to Cyril Smith and to Jimmy Savile.
We submit that the Inquiry should examine these matters. We propose to investigate what policies have been and are followed in cases where candidates for honours have been the subject of allegations of this nature. We will look at all relevant records, including those relating to Smith and Savile."
Finally the lawyers want to investigate the Paedophile Information Exchange.
Mr O'Connor said this :
"The key issues of public concern in relation to PIE are its membership, which appears to have included senior members of the Westminster Establishment, and the suggestion that the organisation may havebeen funded by the government.
"These matters have already been the subject of a review commissioned by the Home Office and by a further independent review of that work by Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC. The original review found no evidence that PIE was funded by the Home Office’s Voluntary Service Unit (VSU), and Wanless and Whittam subsequently found nothing in registered files or in testimony offered by contemporaries in and around the VSU that funding of PIE might have taken place with the knowledge of the police or security services as part of an effort to infiltrate PIE. But Wanless and Whittam were not able to dismiss the latter suggestion entirely, and we submit that this investigation should explore public concern about the alleged position and influence of PIE members within Westminster, while mindful of the reviews which have already taken place into these matters."
Interestingly only the Labour Party has applied for core participant status while these investigations take place. I am rather surprised that neither the Liberal Democrats nor the Conservative Party have applied - are they ignoring the implications of this inquiry or do they not want to be questioned about it?
Of course some people notably Daniel Janner, the QC son of the late Greville Janner, who faced allegations of child sexual abuse, believe everything that happened involving prominent people in Westminster is the product of fantasists. While I can understand his determination to protect the reputation of his father, his sweeping generalisation exonerating everyone in Westminster is absurd. Would he defend Sir Cyril Smith and say it is all lies?
He tried to get core participant status yesterday - but it seemed only aimed to brand everyone complainant or survivor as a fantasist.