7 Jul 2014

‘Child abuse’ dossier: the key questions

Home Secretary Theresa May is under pressure to set up a public inquiry into allegations of organised child sex abuse at Westminster in the 1980s after a dossier of evidence was lost – but why now?

What is inside the dossier?

The dossier contains allegations about paedophile activity at Westminster. It was passed to the then home secretary, Leon (now Lord) Brittan, by the Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens in 1983.

What happened to it?

The dossier is one of 114 potentially relevant files from the period 1979 to 1999, which could not be located and were “presumed destroyed, missing or not found”.

Was there a cover-up at Westminster?

Lord Tebbit on Sunday said there “may well” have been a political cover-up over child abuse taking place at Westminster in the 1980s. Lord Tebbit, who served in a series of senior ministerial posts under Margaret Thatcher, said the instinct at the time was to protect “the system” and not to delve too deeply into uncomfortable allegations.

Who is implicated?

We just don’t know. The extraordinary comments by Lord Tebbit intensified demands for an over-arching public inquiry into allegations of child abuse from that era. They include claims of abuse by the late Liberal MP Sir Cyril Smith and allegations of paedophile activity at parties attended by politicians and other prominent figures at the Elm Guest House in Barnes, south-west London.

Will there be a public inquiry?

Not exactly. The chief executive of the NSPCC Peter Wanless is to head a review into allegations of historical child sex abuse, Home Secretary Theresa May told MPs on Monday. The review by Peter Wanless, which will take eight to 10 weeks, will look at the Home Office’s investigation in the allegations, but also how the police and prosecutors handled information passed to them.

The government will also establish an independent inquiry under an expert panel into handling of child abuse by public bodies, which could be upgraded to a full public inquiry if the panel decides it is needed.

What has Lord Brittan said?

Former home secretary Lord Brittan has welcomed the expected announcement of a broad independent inquiry, but rejected as “completely without foundation” claims that he failed to deal adequately with them when they were first made in the 1980s.