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Wednesday, November 12, 2014 

There isn't a whitewash at the Home Office.

Not provenSuch was the verdict given by Theresa May yesterday on the allegation there was a Home Office cover-up after Geoffrey Dickens MP sent his now famed dossier on establishment paedophiles to then home secretary Leon Brittan for his perusal.  She couldn't say categorically there hadn't been a conspiracy, as the review she commissioned by NSPCC head Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC also couldn't be certain there wasn't, as all but one of the 114 documents found to be missing, presumed destroyed remain unaccounted for.  They also however found nothing to suggest there had been an concerted effort to remove evidence; the majority were likely shredded in line with the 2 year retention policy the Home Office had at the time.

Had this been a report into nearly any other aspect of policy or alleged wrongdoing by government, the minister would have ignored its inconclusive findings and claimed it proved nothing untoward had gone on.  Nor could you particularly blame them for doing so: for a report that decides to hedge its bets in its conclusions, the evidence fairly speaks for itself.  Wanless and Whittam, despite what critics have suggested since, did not feel constrained by the somewhat restrictive terms of reference they were given (paragraph 12, page 5 of the report), and so went beyond the Home Office to see if they could find anything related, including asking MI5 to delve into their archives.  They failed to discover anything either.

The report makes clear this wasn't a half-arsed quick look behind filing cabinets and inside previously locked cupboards.  777 storage units were checked (para 2, page 13), and nothing that shouldn't have been in them was found, with all the physical holdings of various branches of the Home Office searched.  In addition, the CPS, Department of Health, Department of Education, Department for Communities and Local Government, the Attorney General's office, HMRC and the Cabinet Office were all asked to see if they had anything that could be related to the missing files or of relevance to the inquiry, and none did.  One new discovery was the Ministry of Justice, split off from the Home Office by the last government, found it had destroyed one of the lost files as late as two years ago (para 38, page 24).

One other highly significant document that was found by the Home Office following the publication of the first inquiry poses as many questions as it answers.  Not located initially due to its title failing to suggest it contained anything relating to child sexual exploitation (para 3, page 13), it records details of a meeting between Dickens and Brittan in November 1983, a couple of months after an attack on a child in Brighton made front page news.  Dickens gave Brittan two letters containing allegations, and sent a further letter in January 1984, thanking Brittan for his "splendid support" along with more cases for investigation.  Brittan sent a reply in March the same year outlining the progress made, with the DPP having decided two of the cases should be the subject of further inquiries by the police.  Wanless and Whittam note that contrary to contemporary media coverage of these meetings, there is no mention of "prominent politicians or celebrities" in the cases under discussion (para 9, page 14).

Could it possibly be that Dickens' dossier, which might in fact be nothing more than a slab of letters if it has any relation to the attachments sent to Brittan in January 1984, didn't in fact name the establishment figures it was claimed in the media?  We know Dickens was one of the first MPs to go out of his way in courting the press, and it wouldn't surprise if there was some mutual exaggeration going on for additional effect.  It would explain why Dickens didn't so much as mention or ask whether progress was being made on these high profile individuals, and also why contrary to the media coverage of their meetings no further cases involving VIPs were presented.  That Brittan was also more than cooperative rather casts doubt on the point of hounding two successive heads from the overarching inquiry into child abuse due to their links to him; Brittan may well have been treated unfairly.

Indeed, as Wanless and Whittam note, of the missing files not assumed destroyed at the end of the standard 2 year retention period, most seem to have vanished this century (para 2, page 34), well after the point at which most of those employed at the Home Office will have moved on.  Why someone at this remove would feel the need to "protect" the Home Office isn't clear.  Nor are these 114 files a trove of exposes.  Annex I of the report (PDF) details what is known about them, and 67 are letters from MPs, while the rest are mostly on paedophiles or paedophilia in general.  Some do relate to the Paedophile Information Exchange and discussions on whether it should be outlawed, with the report in its second part considering whether PIE was funded either directly or indirectly by the Home Office.  With no files again being found to support the evidence of Tim Hulbert, who believes £30,000 was paid to PIE via the Voluntary Services Unit, possibly to assist Special Branch with infiltrating or monitoring the group, Wanless and Whittam can only conclude there is nothing else to back the claim up.

It is, as the report concludes, "very difficult to prove anything definitive based on imperfectly operated paper records system at 30 years remove".  This suits those who are convinced something has to be there just fine, as they can point to omissions in the search process and carry on regarding 30-year-old media reports and the works of not taken seriously by almost anyone for good reason MPs as gospel.  It also means those like me who are sceptical at best about the idea of an establishment cover-up when the establishment is terrible at cover-ups can say there's better things those worried could be doing than looking for something that probably isn't there.  Like how the raids on Tor last week targeted not the real source of depravity on the dark net, the paedophile forums, but instead some of the drug markets and Doxbin (which is already back online).  The most sexually exploitative site seized was the Pink Meth, a "revenge porn" onion.  We also have vigilantes targeting those of very little brain, prompting Jim Gamble to suggest we should have police officers sitting in stations entrapping potential abusers on social media, something guaranteed not to result in injustice or abuses of power.

Obvious is that the child abuse inquiry needs a new chairman, and quickly.  When the likes of Simon Danczuk refuse to accept the findings of a report by the head of the NSPCC though, it's difficult to know just who will be acceptable.

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