London mayor writes to Exaro reader about progress of Met’s paedophile investigation
The Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit is running ‘Operation Fernbridge’ to investigate allegations that a paedophile ring – including MPs and other VIPs – sexually abused boys in the care of the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames at a children’s home and at Elm Guest House nearby in Barnes, south-west London.
An Exaro reader bumped into Johnson at Ciao Bella, an Italian restaurant in Bloomsbury, central London, and took the opportunity to ask him about progress in Operation Fernbridge.
The reader was concerned about the departure of the commander who oversaw the Met’s paedophile unit, Peter Spindler, but said that Johnson seemed unaware of the investigation. Johnson promised that he would look into it.
Spindler’s replacement, Hamish Campbell, retired two weeks ago and the role has been taken over by Michael Duthie.
The mayor of London has some oversight, together with the home secretary, of the police in London, although politicians have no say in operational matters.
After receiving a reminder letter to ask what he had “found out”, Johnson replied just over a week ago: “Whilst I understand that Operation Fernbridge is going well, this is an operational policing matter. It is my role to hold the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service to account. He has total discretion on operation matters, including the management of investigations.
“I am prevented by law from interfering in ongoing cases, so I cannot pursue your enquiry.”
A spokeswoman for Johnson told Exaro: “There is nothing more we can add on the investigation.”
Two people have so far been arrested. The Crown Prosecution Service is considering whether to bring charges.
Detectives are talking to several people who say they were sexually abused while in care in Richmond, and are investigating the activities of various former council staff, according to well-informed sources.
Exaro has also established that police officers have based themselves at Richmond council’s offices as part of their trawl of the local authority’s files.
Detectives’ efforts have been redoubled after Exaro uncovered Richmond files that showed how police and council staff decided to take “no further action” after a boy in care alleged child sex abuse in the borough 30 years ago.
The Richmond files also show that the council’s then director of social services, Louis Minster, twice called up the file on the boy interviewed by police. On the second occasion, the boy had left care two months before.
Meanwhile, as Exaro revealed just over a week ago, the Met’s paedophile unit has launched a separate investigation, ‘Operation Torva’, into allegations of child sex abuse at schools of a Catholic order, the Salesians, in Great Britain.
Graham Wilmer, who was sexually abused while he was a pupil at a Salesian school, and director of the Lantern Project, a charity that supports victims of child sex exploitation, said that he was “staggered” by the response to the report.
He said that it prompted 11 new allegations to police of child sex abuse at Salesian schools, from seven victims, naming eight suspects who have since died, and a further unknown alleged perpetrator.
He said: “Following years of my trying to raise people’s awareness, including the government and people such as Michael Gove, the education secretary, and other secretaries of state, progress is being made.”
The investigation has expanded to examine historical allegations of physical and sexual abuse in other Roman Catholic schools.
This is understood to include a Catholic boarder in the Scottish highlands, Fort Augustus Abbey, which was already under investigation by Police Scotland. Benedictine monks ran the school, which closed in 1993.
The Met believes that paedophile priests and teachers were transferred from school to school after allegations about child sex abuse were made against them.
Andrew Lavery, who says that he was physically and sexually abused at Fort Augustus Abbey school while he was there in the 1980’s, told Exaro that police from Scotland and Northumbria, where he lives, took a statement from him last week.
They were taking the case “very seriously”, he said. “The police were appropriate, sensitive and very caring. It was harrowing, but the police took their time and were very careful.”