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Why we should worry about the link between politicians and abuse

Legislators can misuse their power in writing rules to determine how children are protected, and from whom, writes Paul Gosling

Published 16/08/2016

Kincora Boys’ Home
Kincora Boys’ Home

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse, or IICSA, is in crisis. Its third chair, New Zealand judge Dame Lowell Goddard, has just resigned and a replacement, Professor Alexis Jay, appointed. Dame Lowell and her predecessors were appointed by Theresa May in her previous role as Home Secretary to chair the inquiry examining the institutional abuse of children in England and Wales.

The two previous appointees had to step down because of their closeness to the very Establishment that they were supposed to be examining. More than a year on from its formation the inquiry has barely got into its stride.

One of the central roles of IICSA is to look at allegations against senior politicians who have been accused of abusing children. It is hoped the inquiry will consider whether Establishment abusers had been protected, and to determine what changes to the child protection system should be made in light of allegations against prominent people.

Two now-deceased politicians - Lord Greville Janner and Sir Cyril Smith - faced extremely serious allegations of serial sexual child abuse which are central to the inquiry and which were to be examined in detail. Both were accused during their lifetime, but the allegations were rejected as unfounded. But there is now uncertainty over the Janner strand of the inquiry. His family have stated that they intend to take legal action to prevent the allegations made against him from being considered by the inquiry. Meanwhile, the police are continuing to investigate people alleged to have abused children alongside Janner.

In a separate development the Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating 11 people - assumed to be former and current police officers - over their handling of allegations against Janner in years gone by. Consequently, the sessions on Janner have had to be postponed until at least next spring - if they ever take place.

There is a consensus among prosecutors, the police and the judiciary that Janner should have been prosecuted, with a trial determining if the allegations against him were true. Some 33 individuals made statements to the police, claiming to have been abused by Janner between 1963 and 1988. The police believe those allegations are credible, including that Janner misused his role as a politician to gain access to children to abuse them.

In some respects the Janner case is not unique. Janner was a senior MP, a powerful international figure and one of Tony Blair's appointed members of the House of Lords. Sir Cyril Smith was also a politician of considerable influence. He was one of the best-known Liberal MPs and the party's chief whip. He was also alleged to be a serial abuser of children, manipulating his position of authority within Rochdale to have almost open access to a children's home there.

Then we have the case of Peter Righton, a founder of the Paedophile Information Exchange and former director of education at the National Institute of Social Work. Righton helped write Government policy on child protection. Tom Watson, the Labour Party's deputy leader, claimed in the House of Commons that Righton was linked to "a widespread paedophile ring" - one of whose members "boasts of his links to a senior aide of a former Prime Minister... suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and Number 10".

These allegations have a resonance with what took place at the Kincora Boys' Home in Belfast. It is alleged that the Kincora abuse involved senior figures in the British Establishment, including some who have been accused of abuse in England. That abuse was, it is claimed, known about by the RUC and security services in order to obtain information useful for security reasons and also to protect powerful political figures.

These examples illustrate two concerns about the relationship of politics with the abuse of children. Politicians are often given open access to children and, in the past, these might have been both unrestricted and unmonitored.

Smith came and went from a children's home as he pleased, while Janner was a regular visitor to various children's homes in Leicestershire. Janner's access was assisted by being an accomplished magician and member of the Magic Circle.

But the other concern is how politicians can misuse their power in writing the rules that determine how children are protected and from whom.

Our book, Abuse Of Trust, was initially published in 1998 and looked at the case of institutional abuse in children's homes in Leicestershire, which was possibly the most serious example of its kind in England. It has just been republished with additional material that considers the allegations against Janner.

The principal abuser in Leicestershire was Frank Beck, who was given five life sentences for his crimes (he died in jail in 1994). It was at Beck's trial that the first public allegations were made against Janner.

Beck was a children's care home manager and senior social worker. He was also himself a local politician for the Liberal Party, who was influential in determining local child care and child protection policy. As such, he was able to protect his interests and prevent proper inspection of the homes he managed.

Beck oversaw the worst kinds of institutional abuse. He sexually and physically abused children in his care, while also abusing his co-workers, who, in some instances, were co-opted into the abuse of children.

One of his co-workers, Colin Fiddaman, was perhaps even more sadistic and evil than Beck - and was another local politician for the Liberal Party. It has even been alleged that the two of them killed one of the children in their care, when a session of physical abuse went too far.

It seems likely that Beck and Fiddaman became obsessed with exercising almost unlimited power over those around them. Their roles in local politics assisted them with this. For Beck, it meant that he had apparently limitless capacity to abuse children for 13 years in Leicestershire.

There are strong reasons to be worried about the relationship between politics and child abuse. In the past child protection has tended to focus on who has access to children - teachers, youth workers, social workers and scout leaders, for example.

But we need to give more consideration to the status of individuals that has shielded them from proper scrutiny.

To quote the final paragraph from the new edition of our book: "We know from the cases of Jimmy Savile, Cyril Smith, Rolf Harris and Stuart Hall that status protects abusers. This is probably especially so with politicians who abuse children.

"If one beneficial lesson can be taken from the Janner case it is that the voices of vulnerable children should be heard - and that the words of politicians should be treated with greater scepticism."

Abuse Of Trust by Mark D'Arcy and Paul Gosling has just been republished by Canbury Press as an ebook and in hardback

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