Louis Minster ‘never heard’ of allegations despite high-profile police raid in borough

By Mark Conrad and Alison Winward | 9 February 2013

Richmond’s ex-head of social services ‘unaware’ of ‘paedo ring’Richmond’s former head of social services says that he was unaware of allegations of a paedophile ring in his borough during his term of office.

Louis Minster was director of social services at the south-west London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames during the time that boys in care were allegedly sexually abused at Grafton Close children’s home, which was run by the council, and at the nearby Elm Guest House in Barnes.

He spoke after the Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit made two initial arrests on Wednesday under ‘Operation Fernbridge’, which is investigating the allegations. The Met has confirmed that both suspects were bailed until April.

Exaro traced Minster to the Mediterranean island of Malta where he has retired to live in an idyllic hill-top village.

He told Exaro that, during his nine years as Richmond’s director of social services until 1984, he never heard of any allegations of sexual abuse at the guest house despite a police raid in 1982 and the prosecution of its owners the following year. This was despite the huge headlines in national newspapers that followed at the time.

The Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit is investigating allegations of child sex abuse from 1977 to 1983 initially at Grafton Close, then at Elm Guest House.

Detectives have received evidence suggesting that boys from Grafton Close and two other children’s homes run by Richmond council – Rodney Road and Teddington Park – were supplied to the guest house for sexual abuse by MPs and other VIPs.

But 81-year-old Minster, who said that he suffers from long-term memory problems, said that the allegations were news to him. “I have never heard of them,” he said. “I read it on Google the other evening.”

“There was never any… There were a couple of child-abuse cases – violence in the families, and what have you.”

“But the answer would be no. There were no inquiries at all.”

Minster, who read about the case on Exaro, also said that no member of his staff approached him with concerns over sexual abuse of children in Richmond’s care while he led the department in London’s affluent suburb.

“This is totally new,” he said. “One hundred per cent – never, never discussed [at the council]. The whole issue of the guest house was alien until I saw it on the internet last night.”

He continued: “I was quite surprised as to the issues involved, the history of, or what is going on in good old, quiet Richmond.”

After speaking to Exaro, Minster asked Brad Roynon, former director of the chief executive’s office at Richmond council, to call Exaro to corroborate his account. Roynon worked closely with Minster at Richmond on management reviews for social services.

Roynon, who later become the chief executive of Southampton City Council, told Exaro: “If the allegations were that widely known, then it would have been more obvious [to the chief executive’s office]. There were no rumours around the authority.

“I do not remember any ‘did you knows?’ or ‘have you heards?’ That is odd because sometimes you do get these grapevine things.”

‘Operation Fernbridge’ is examining the role of Richmond council in the affair, and has obtained archived files containing harrowing evidence from the authority.

Exaro revealed last week how the borough secretly paid compensation to at least one person who was sexually abused at Elm Guest House. He had been a boy in care at Grafton Close. The pay-out is understood to have post-dated Minster’s and Roynon’s time at the borough.

Sources involved in the investigation have expressed fears to Exaro that the police operation will be closed down, as has happened in the past.

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