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'No evidence' of abuse cover-up

A review of the Home Office's handling of paedophile ring allegations in the 1970s, 80s and 90s has found no evidence of a cover-up - but warned it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions.

The report - by NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless and barrister Richard Whittam QC - looked at how the Government department dealt with information handed over by the late Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens, as well as other allegations in 114 missing, lost or destroyed files.

The 10-week probe had not uncovered "any evidence of organised attempts by the Home Office to conceal child abuse", the report said.

However, it said: "It is very difficult to prove anything definitive based on imperfectly operated paper records system at 30 years remove."

And added: "It is, therefore, not possible to say whether files were ever removed or destroyed to cover up or hide allegations of organised or systematic child abuse by particular individuals because of the systems then in place. It follows that we cannot say that no file was removed or destroyed for that reason."

Home Secretary Theresa May said she has asked Mr Wanless and Mr Whittam QC to examine what was done with any material passed on to the Security Service, MI5, as well as to take a further look at the role of police and prosecutors.

Reacting to the findings of the Wanless report, Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk said: " Theresa May has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address child abuse failings of the past. But so far all we've seen are whitewash reports and hopeless attempts to manage and contain an historic child abuse inquiry."

Mr Wanless and Mr Whittam QC submitted the report to the Home Office on October 15.

A new Home Office file had come to light as a result of "heightened awareness" of the subject in the department, it said.

"Crime Particular Offences. Common Assault and Violence Against the Person: The Brighton Assaults" contained correspondence between Home Office officials and ministers related to meetings between Mr Dickens MP and the-then Home Secretary.

The file contains briefing notes for a subsequent meeting between the two men, in which Mr Dickens is recorded as having handed over two letters containing specific allegations.

However, it adds there is no mention of "prominent politicians or celebrities".

Mrs May ordered the investigation as part of her commitment to uncover the truth about long-standing claims of child sex abuse by powerful figures.

Mr Wanless's findings will be used by the wider Hillsborough-style inquiry into paedophile activity linked to public bodies and institutions.

But the hunt is still on for a chairman for that inquiry after Fiona Woolf became the second candidate to step aside from the job.

The Home Secretary said: "I am determined that appalling cases of child abuse should be exposed so that perpetrators face justice and the vulnerable are protected."

After publication of the report, Mrs May told the House of Commons she was not able to say the Home Office had not been involved in a cover-up during the 1980s on the basis of the report.

She said: "There might have been a cover-up, that is why we have set up the inquiry into child abuse and we are determined to get to the truth."

Mr Wanless and Mr Whittam QC also found nothing to support claims that controversial group the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), which campaigned for the age of consent to be lowered, was funded by the Home Office.

On a visit to Rochester and Strood ahead of the by-election, Mr Cameron said it showed "conspiracy theorists" would have to "look elsewhere".

"There will be lessons to learn from this report and people should study it closely," he said. "But I think it is important that it says there was not a cover-up. So some of the people who have been looking for conspiracy theories I think will have to look elsewhere."

Mr Wanless said the Prime Minister was "wrong" to say the report found there was not a cover-up.

"He can only say that in relation to the registered filing system of the Home Office and we made very clear that we can't make a wider conclusion than that based on the task we were given and the information available to us," he told BBC radio 4's PM programme.

Asked if that meant Mr Cameron was wrong, he said: "He is wrong."

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