9 Nov 2012

Lord McAlpine denies ‘false’ abuse claims

Ex-Tory treasurer Lord McAlpine releases a statement saying allegations linking him to child abuse are “wholly false”. Former care home resident Steve Messham apologises, citing mistaken identity.

After days of frenzied speculation, the Conservative peer released a statement vehemently denying that he abused Steve Messham or any other residents of a children’s home in Wrexham, north Wales.

He said he had visited Wrexham “only once” and that was in the company of an agent from Conservative central office.

“I have never been to the children’s home in Wrexham, nor have I ever visited any children’s home, reform school or any other institution of a similar nature,” he said.

“I have never stayed in a hotel in or near Wrexham, I did not own a Rolls Royce, have never had a “Gold card” or “Harrods card” and never wear aftershave, all of which have been alleged.

“I did not sexually abuse Mr Messham or any other residents of the children’s home in Wrexham.”

Lord McAlpine said that “ill or uninformed commentators” had used the internet to accuse him of being “the senior Conservative party figure from the days of Margaret Thatcher‘s leadership who is guilty of sexually abusing young residents of a children’s home in Wrexham, North Wales in the 1970s and 1980s”.

Former Tory peer McAlpine denies 'false' abuse claims (G)

Who is Lord McAlpine?
Alistair McAlpine first rose to political prominence as an advisor and close friend to Margaret Thatcher. She appointed him as Conservative party treasurer in 1975 and he held that position until 1990, raising huge sums for the party. He also worked as deputy chairman of the party and was made a life peer in 1984, making him Baron McAlpine of West Green. His 1992 book, The Servant – Lord McAlpine’s own take on Machiavelli’s The Prince – details his relationship with Mrs Thatcher through the premise of Thatcher as his “prince” and he as her servant.

Born in Scotland in 1942, his grandfather was the legendary “Concrete Bob” who founded the successful McAlpine construction. As well as his political career, Lord McAlpine established himself as a commentator on commerce and the arts, and has frequently contributed to a number of national newspapers.

He currently lives in Italy – in poor health, he said in his statement on Friday – and, according to the Luxury Travel Bible, has been a keen traveller throughout his life. He and his Greek wife recently opened a private holiday home, Il Convento di Santa Maria di Costantinopoli in Puglia, to “select paying guests”, said the magazine.

When asked about his most memorable luxury travel experience, Lord McAlpine said: As a teenager, travelling on the original Queen Elizabeth from Southampton to New York. It was caviar and crepe suzette all the way!”

He said that a “substantial number of people” may have “reasonably inferred” that broadcast and newspaper reports of allegations against unnamed individuals referred to him.

“Even though these allegations made of me by implication in the broadcast and print media, and made directly about me on the internet, are wholly false and seriously defamatory I can no longer expect the broadcast and print media to maintain their policy of defaming me only by innuendo,” he said.

“There is a media frenzy and I have to expect that an editor will soon come under pressure to risk naming me. My name and the allegations are for all practical purposes linked and in the public domain and I cannot rewind the clock.

“I therefore have decided that in order to mitigate, if only to some small extent, the damage to my reputation I must publicly tackle these slurs and set the record straight. In doing so, I am by no means giving up my right to sue those who have defamed me in the recent past or who may do so in the future and I expressly reserve my rights to take all such steps as I and my solicitors consider necessary to protect my interests.”

His statement follows David Cameron’s warning that the child abuse allegations risked turning into a “witch-hunt” as internet speculation has gone into overdrive. On Thursday during a live interview on ITV1’s This Morning, presenter Phillip Schofield gave Mr Cameron a list of names taken from the internet, and invited him to comment.

VIDEO: Former senior political figure accused of sex assault

On Friday evening, Steve Messham, a former resident of a north Wales care home, apologised for what he said was a case of mistaken identity. Mr Messham said he had led to the peer being linked to the historical claims, and offered “sincere and humble apologies to him and his family.”

In a statement on Friday evening, he said: “After seeing a picture in the past hour of the individual concerned, this (is) not the person I identified by photograph presented to me by the police in the early 1990s, who told me the man in the photograph was Lord McAlpine.”

Mistaken identity

The former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party said he had become “well known” among journalists and readers of the internet as one of the individuals implicated by Mr Messham’s allegations about abuse that was not covered by the Waterhouse Inquiry which originally investigated the scandal.

Lord McAlpine, who was named in today’s Guardian as part of a story suggesting that he was in fact a victim of mistaken identity, said he was not accusing Mr Messham of acting maliciously. But he insisted Mr Messham was “mistaken and that he has identified the wrong person”.

“I have every sympathy for Mr Messham and for the many other young people who were sexually abused when they were residents of the children’s home in Wrexham,” he said.

I can no longer expect the broadcast and print media to maintain their policy of defaming me only by innuendo. Lord McAlpine

“Any abuse of children is abhorrent but the sexual abuse to which these vulnerable children were subjected in the 1970s and 1980s is particularly abhorrent. They had every right to expect to be protected and cared for by those who were responsible for them and it is abundantly clear that they were horribly violated.

“I have absolutely no sympathy for the adults who committed these crimes. Those who have been convicted were deservedly punished and those who have not yet been brought to justice should be as soon as possible.

“The facts are, however, that I have been to Wrexham only once. I visited the local constituency Conservative association in my capacity as deputy chairman. I was accompanied on this trip, at all times, by Stuart Newman, a central office agent.”

He said they had visited Mary Bell, a distant relative of his and a close friend of Mr Newman, and they did not stay the night in Wrexham.

Mr Newman is now dead, but Lord McAlpine’s solicitors are trying to contact a senior secretary from Conservative central office at the time “to see if she can remember the precise date I visited that association”.