Dear home secretary, we need a meeting to discuss this issue more fully, Zac Goldsmith
Home secretary Theresa May took a month to decide how to answer a politically explosive question from a cross-party group of seven MPs.
Would you, they asked, kindly set up a national inquiry into historical cases of child sex abuse in the UK over many decades, addressing repeated failures by police and other authorities in a wide variety of cases?
And, they added, would you model it on the inquiry into the Hillsborough football disaster of 1989?
Not only did the letter have the potential to set off a ticking timebomb that could shake Westminster, but then May saw the MP signatories on the bottom of the letter. May had only just endured a bruising clash with a Conservative colleague in the coalition government’s cabinet, Michael Gove, education secretary, over allegations of Islamic extremism in schools in Birmingham.
“We therefore feel that the next step is for us to meet you, along with other interested Members of Parliament”
– Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP, on behalf of seven MPs
The signatories included Simon Danczuk, co-author of a book, ‘Smile for the Camera,’ exposing the paedophile life of Sir Cyril Smith, who died in 2010.
Then there was Zac Goldsmith, well known as a campaigner, associated especially with environmental issues and a strong belief in a full right of the public to recall bad MPs.
And, of course, Tom Watson, who sparked a wide-ranging scoping operation by the Metropolitan Police Service in the wake of the exposure of Jimmy Savile, the late BBC star, as a paedophile after raising claims in Parliament of sexual abuse by leading political figures.
Troubling enough for May, but that was before she saw another name among the signatories. Tim Loughton, fellow Conservative, children’s minister in the Department for Education in David Cameron’s government from 2010 to 2012, a post that he shadowed in opposition for seven years.
The other signatories were John Hemming, who has long raised concerns about authorities in Jersey of having a “long track-record” of “covering up the abuse of children”, Tessa Munt, who has become alarmed about a culture of child sex abuse in certain private schools, and Caroline Lucas, another notable campaigner particularly as former leader of the Green Party.
Only by then, the group of MPs who backed the inquiry call had swelled to 40, thanks mainly to a campaign that sprang up from Exaro’s Twitter followers (@ExaroNews).
A key source at the Home Office indicated that May wanted to dispatch her junior minister from her party’s coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats. Norman Baker would write a letter to head off the MPs, May thought.
But May soon realised that this would enrage the seven MPs. She would have to reply to the MPs’ call herself:
Thank you for your letter dated 2 June in which you raise the issue of an independent inquiry to look into historical child abuse.
Child abuse is a reprehensible crime no matter when or where it occurs and this coalition government is determined to stamp it out. I have been very clear that if anyone has been a victim of abuse or has any evidence of historical child abuse they should report it to the police, who have a duty to investigate these allegations. In the past, all too often, these crimes were largely hidden but now child sexual abuse is rightly centre stage as an issue we must tackle. Whether happening now, or in the past, we will continue to work to ensure victims are not left to suffer in silence and those who exploit them are brought to justice.
You have mentioned in your letter a number of cases that relate to police investigations currently taking place. As these investigations are ongoing it would be inappropriate for me to comment on them at this time.
You have made a request for an independent panel to be established to look into historical cases and uncover the facts. As we have been clear throughout, nothing has been ruled out. It is understandable that people want answers. But it is important that these inquiries, reviews and investigations that are currently underway progress as quickly as possible, and I do not want anything to get in the way of that vital work. In the case of the murder of Daniel Morgan, and the recent allegations relating to undercover policing, I have shown that I am ready to introduce independent scrutiny of matters of grave public interest. However, as I have set out above, in this instance the police need to be allowed to conclude their investigations, to establish the facts and, of course, see whether there are any criminal charges that need to be brought. Once the criminal investigations have concluded, I will thoroughly examine the case for an inquiry into the matters you have raised with me.
I would like to assure you that child protection is an absolute priority for this coalition government. Children deserve every protection that we can give them. Nationally, we have strengthened our response through the inclusion of child sexual exploitation within our strategy to combat organised crime. The Home Office is also leading the National Group to tackle Sexual Violence Against Children and Vulnerable People to learn the lessons of past failures, and ensure children and vulnerable people are protected from sexual abuse.
I hope this letter assures you of the Government’s commitment in addressing this terrible form of criminal activity. I am copying this to the co-signatories of your letter, Simon Danczuk MP, Tessa Munt MP, Tim Loughton MP, John Hemming MP, Tom Watson MP and Caroline Lucas MP.
Goldsmith replied on behalf of the seven MPs:
Dear home secretary,
Thank you for your response to our letter of 2nd June. You will be aware that since we first wrote to you, some 130 MPs from all parties have endorsed our call for an all-encompassing inquiry. This has happened without any active co-ordination on our part, and is testament to the strength of feeling both among the general public, and in Parliament.
Although you have made clear that you are not currently inclined to launch the inquiry we have asked for, we note your statement that “nothing has been ruled out.”
Events have moved on considerably since our letter to you, and even since you penned your response to us. We therefore feel that the next step is for us to meet you, along with other interested Members of Parliament, to discuss the issue more fully. It would make sense for this meeting to happen sooner rather than later, and we would therefore appreciate it if you could let us have a date as soon as possible.
Related Stories : Child sex abuse, ‘Fernbridge’ and ‘Fairbank’: Exaro story thread