From the editor's desk
From the editor's desk > Child abusers in high places

10 July 2014

Child abusers in high places

The purpose of official inquiries into cover-ups is to uncover them. The clear risk that the Government is running with the inquiry to be headed by Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss arises from the fact that the subject matter is an alleged cover-up of child sex abuse at the heart of the British Establishment. She herself, a former Tory parliamentary candidate, retired senior judge and daughter of a judge, is virtually the Establishment personified. Her impeccable rectitude and vast experience in these matters made her an ideal choice to head the inquiry – except for one thing, which has put her in an almost impossible position. It was her brother, Sir Michael Havers QC who later became Lord Chancellor, who was Attorney General at the time of events which have given rise to a strong suspicion that a paedophilia cover-up happened at the heart of Margaret Thatcher’s Government.

A dossier of allegations of systematic child abuse against prominent figures in Whitehall and Westminster was apparently “lost”. The allegations, collected by the late Geoffrey Dickens MP, were submitted to then Home Secretary Lord (Leon) Brittan, who promised they would be investigated. Nothing further appears to have happened, and a Home Office inquiry, separate from that to be led by Lady Butler-Sloss, is investigating why not.

At about that period, Dickens accused Havers of perpetrating “the cover-up of the century” by refusing to prosecute the late Sir Peter Hayman, a senior Foreign Office and MI6 official who was one of a group of men found to be in possession of images of sadistic child abuse. Havers gave as one of his reasons that Hayman was “a gentleman with a very distinguished career” with many honours, which almost sounds like an admission that the Establishment was protecting its own. So Lady Butler-Sloss may have to sit in judgement on her late brother’s conduct. Lord Tebbit, a member of the Thatcher Cabinet, said this week that he thought there may well have been an Establishment cover-up. It is not impossible Havers had been part of it.

Child-abuse cover-ups often lead to more children being abused, for which, as Pope Francis declared this week in relation to abusive clergy, those in authority who failed to act are morally to blame and must face the consequences. Lady Butler-Sloss’s terms of reference refer to historic allegations of abuse and how they were dealt with, and religious institutions are apparently included as well as bodies like the BBC and various NHS hospitals. The Jimmy Savile case is rife with cover-ups, with people in authority frequently turning a blind eye.

Cover-ups can cause almost irreparable damage to public confidence in key institutions. The Catholic Church in Ireland may take generations to recover from the way various bishops hushed up child abuse by priests, and despite what the Pope has said, no Irish bishop has been disciplined. Justice has not been done. And if the British Establishment closed ranks in the 1980s to protect its members, how can anyone be sure it is not doing so again?

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