Empress State Building – base for ‘Operation Fairbank’ – is tipped to be Met’s new HQ
By David Hencke | 15 December 2012
The paedophile unit of the Metropolitan Police Service is running ‘Operation Fairbank’ out of the 16th floor of the east wing of the Empress State Building in Earl’s Court, west London.
Police sources tell me that the Met is tipped to use the building as its new headquarters when it sells New Scotland Yard in Victoria, as part of plans to cut spending. Four of the detectives work from a single row of desks in a large open-plan office.
Detective Chief Inspector Paul Settle, head of the Met’s paedophile unit, runs the operation, and his office is hidden behind a partition with windows near the ceiling. So, no one can see into the office from the open-plan area.
At the core of Operation Fairbank, as Exaro revealed yesterday, is a guest house in Barnes, south-west London, where senior Tory figures and other prominent people allegedly sexually abused boys in the early 1980’s.
Detectives are carrying out what they describe as a “scoping exercise” ahead of a formal investigation, and it is separate from ‘Operation Yewtree’, which is looking into claims against Jimmy Savile, the BBC television and radio presenter who died last year aged 84, and other celebrities.
Elm Guest House, when it operated in Barnes, was notorious among residents in the neighbouring row of Edwardian Houses in a leafy residential road, overlooking expansive playing fields.
Settle has decided to pursue only cases where children – mainly boys – aged under 16 were sexually abused, even though the age of consent for sex between males at the time was 21.
From his desk in Empress State Building, Settle has fantastic views of north and west London, over the two exhibition venues nearby of Earl’s Court and Olympia, with the capital’s suburbs stretching into the Hertfordshire borders. The officers on the team are going to need astute political foresight as they peer into the tawdry world of child sexual abuse linked to rich and powerful men.
A former council official first reported allegations to police about the guest house in 2003, but he accuses the Met of failing to tackle the case properly.
In the wake of disclosures about Savile, Settle and a colleague asked me and the official, together with Tom Watson, Labour MP, for a meeting at the House of Commons at the start of the “scoping exercise”. The Met hoped that my presence would provide some assurance for the official.
I attended another meeting at the operation’s base in the rather tatty, glass-fronted office block in Lillie Road, a short walk from the underground station at West Brompton.
The 30-floor block, with its unusual Y-shaped design, was completed in 1961, and was the tallest building in London when it was built. The Ministry of Defence and GCHQ, the signals-intelligence agency, used it for many years.
GCHQ occupied several floors at the top of the building, using it as a listening centre, but vacated the block in 1994.
The public body, Transport for London, shared the building with the Met until it left in 2010.
The block is entirely occupied by specialist squads of the Met, and is known by police officers by its initials, ESB, which does not quite have the ring to it of New Scotland Yard.
Settle and his team were operating in strict secrecy, and had asked Exaro to delay reporting on developments.
We agreed, until Scotland Yard publicly confirmed on Wednesday that Operation Fairbank was investigating Watson’s allegations of a paedophile ring linked to senior political figures.
Given the claims of a past police cover-up, the team wanted to ensure that no one would order the case to be closed prematurely. They were also worried about being overwhelmed by child-abuse claims.
The confirmation on Wednesday caught Settle’s team by surprise.
It is deciding whether to hold a press conference to appeal for very specific possible witnesses, including boys in care who attended the guest house in the early 1980’s.