A major inquiry into allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster will consider whether political parties “turned a blind eye”.
The latest phase of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is reviewing how institutions responded to claims made against prominent people.
Brian Altman, lead counsel to the inquiry, said it would examine whether there were any attempted cover-ups.
He pointed out some allegations had already been shown to be false.
Giving his opening statement on Monday, Mr Altman said that, despite this, it was “both necessary and appropriate for this inquiry to investigate, albeit in a limited and proportionate manner” during the three-week hearing.
As part of its investigation, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) will examine the role of party whips – who help organise party business and have the role of persuading MPs and peers to vote along party lines.
It will investigate whether any whips became aware of allegations and “tried to turn such allegations to their advantage” to keep party colleagues in line.
Mr Altman said they will look at “whether it is true that the Whips’ offices of any party failed to report or, worse, assisted in suppressing allegations or evidence of child sexual abuse”.
It will also look at whether the “Westminster establishment sought to influence policing or prosecutors’ decisions”. There will be evidence on “whether there was a culture whereby people of public prominence were shielded from investigation and their wrongdoing tolerated at the expense of their victims”, added Mr Altman.
The way political parties, “in particular the leadership of these parties”, reacted to allegations of abuse made against their members will also be looked at.
There will be three case studies – including how the Liberal Party (now known as the Liberal Democrats) responded to allegations made against late MP Cyril Smith. Another case study will look at allegations against the late Conservative MP for Chester, Peter Morrison.
The third, most recent, case study will look at Green Party member David Challenor. He was jailed for 22 years last year after being convicted of sexual assault against a 10-year-old girl, the hearing was told. He was allowed to remain an active member of the party while he awaited trial, Mr Altman said.
They are “extremely serious issues”, he added, telling the inquiry in central London: “The gravity of these issues in this investigation, we suggest, lies in the fact that they related directly to the alleged conduct of elected representatives.”
While there have been critics opposed to the work of the inquiry, Mr Altman said it aims to address “outstanding issues of public concern”.
The most serious allegations, from a man called Carl Beech – known by the pseudonym Nick at the time he made the claims to protect his identity – are not being considered by the inquiry. A former senior judge reviewed the claims in 2016 and concluded that they were false.
Mr Beech is due to go on trial later this year, accused of fraud and perverting the course of justice. He denies the charges.
The Westminster part of the inquiry is set to last for three weeks. It is one of 13 strands being considered by the IICSA, which was set up in 2015 amid allegations a paedophile ring once operated in Westminster. Professor Alexis Jay is chairing the inquiry, which covers England and Wales.
As part of his opening statement, Mr Altman listed a string of allegations against MPs – without concluding whether they were true or false.
‘Waste of money’
Before the hearing began, the son of the late Greville Janner – who died before allegations of child sexual abuse made against him could be tried – accused the inquiry of being a “witch hunt against dead politicians”.
Daniel Janner, speaking outside the inquiry’s headquarters, said it would “unjustly trash” the reputations of people like his father as well as Sir Edward Heath and Lord Brittan, adding they “cannot answer back from the grave”.
He described it as a “massive, out-of-control waste of money” which was “contrary to the basic principles of British justice”.
The inquiry says its Westminster investigation will cover:
- allegations of child sexual abuse committed by persons of public prominence associated with Westminster and how these came to light
- the findings of relevant investigations
- whether there is evidence of conspiracy, cover-up, interference or tolerance in relation to child sexual abuse committed by persons of public prominence associated with Westminster
- whether governmental, political and law enforcement institutions were aware and took appropriate steps
- whether there are adequate safeguarding and child protection policies in place within political parties, government departments and agencies
One area of inquiry will be the activities of the Paedophile Information Exchange, a campaign group which pushed for sex with children to be legal. There are allegations it had access to Home Office funding.