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Westminster ‘turned a blind eye’ to child sexual abuse, damning report says | UK News

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“Cover up” and “protecting high-profile offenders” – the words of a damning report which has found there was a significant failure within political institutions to respond to allegations of child sexual abuse.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) says MPs including Sir Cyril Smith and Sir Peter Morrison were “protected from prosecution”.

The report says there was a culture of “failing to recognise abuse, turning a blind eye to it, covering up allegations and actively protecting high-profile offenders including politicians” within Westminster.

Cyril Smith in the House of Commons in 1982
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Police believe Cyril Smith, MP for Rochdale from 1972 to 1992, was a serial sex abuser of boys

It concludes that politicians valued reputation “far higher than the fate of the children involved”.

Particular criticism is levelled at former leader of the Liberal Party, Lord Steel, who is accused of an “abdication of responsibility” when he learned about allegations of child abuse against his fellow MP, Cyril Smith.

Lord Steel arriving for the annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey
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The report said Lord Steel’s ‘personal inaction’ over Cyril Smith was ‘inexplicable’

In evidence to the inquiry on 13 March 2019, Lord Steel said he asked Smith in 1979 about claims he abused boys at a Rochdale hostel in the 1960s.

He said he came away from the conversation “assuming” that Smith had committed the offences but claimed it was “nothing to do with me”.

Steel was briefly suspended from the party after giving evidence – and today’s report will add pressure for him to be excluded.

The inquiry found that Lord Steel “looked at Cyril Smith not through the lens of child protection but through the lens of political expediency.” It said his “personal inaction” was “inexplicable”.

Lord Steel went on to recommend Smith for a knighthood in 1988.

Police believe Smith, who was MP for Rochdale between 1972 and 1992, was a serial sex abuser of boys.

In 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service admitted that the politician should have been charged with the crimes more than 40 years ago.

The IICSA heard evidence that senior police officers thwarted the investigation into Smith because the case was “too political”.

It added that the Liberal Party members, who were likely to be aware of the allegations against Smith, “did nothing to inhibit his political progress”.

The IICSA also roundly criticised the Conservative Party’s handling of allegations of child abuse against Peter Morrison, the MP for Chester, which emerged in the late 1980s.

It says: “The evidence shows his party made efforts to suppress these rumours rather than conduct a formal investigation.”

According to the report, the focus of attention remained “unswervingly on political consequences rather than the welfare of the child”.

It adds: “Senior officials within the Conservative Party knew about allegations concerning Morrison for years but did not pass them on to the police.

“Instead, he became Margaret Thatcher’s parliamentary private secretary in 1990 and was knighted a year later.”

It concludes: “Peter Morrison was protected as a member of the establishment.”

The report’s authors say there has clearly been a problem with “deference towards people of public prominence,” from the whips’ offices to the police and prosecutors.

The inquiry explored the case of Sir Peter Hayman, who held significant roles in the diplomatic service between 1964 and 1974. He was also involved in the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) which, in the 1970s, campaigned to lower the age of consent.

Hayman was charged with sending obscene material through the post but escaped a caution after his solicitor held a private meeting with the director of public prosecutions.

The report concludes that “his prominent position gave rise to special pleading for which he received special treatment.”

The chair of the inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay, said: “It is clear to see that Westminster institutions have repeatedly failed to deal with allegations of child sexual abuse, from turning a blind eye to actively shielding abusers.

“A consistent pattern emerged of failures to put the welfare of children above political status although we found no evidence of an organised network of paedophiles within government.”

The report finds many British political parties are still struggling to address safeguarding – citing the case of a Green Party candidate who appointed her father as election agent despite his 22 offences, including rape and sexual assault of a child.

It adds that the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and the Co-operative Party do not have proper safeguarding policies in place and no party meets all of the procedures considered necessary.

Ministers established the IICSA in 2014 in the wake of allegations of abuse by Jimmy Savile.

The IICSA has examined many different areas of historic sexual abuse from children’s homes, grooming gangs, to cases within the clergy.

But the aspect of the investigation published on Tuesday is purely focused the actions of those at the heart of power.

The inquiry does not include discredited allegations about a Westminster “VIP paedophile ring” by Carl Beech, who was known as “Nick” and has been charged with fraud and perverting the course of justice.

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