The epidemic in our midst that went unnoticed (2.6.98)

The Guardian, 2nd June 1998

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IN NOVEMBER last year, every newspaper in Britain carried the story of how Scotland Yard had worked with police forces around the country to raid the rooms of teachers at private schools in search of evidence of their involvement in a paedophile ring. The more interesting story, however, was one raid which never happened.

In the weeks before the operation, specialist detectives from the Paedophile Unit at Scotland Yard had discussed with Thames Valley the possibility of raiding a teacher at the most prestigious private school in the country – Eton College.

The move started after a teacher who had recently left Eton went to Thames Valley police and claimed that one of his colleagues had been indecently assaulting boys at the school. Detectives discovered that the suspect had been the target of similar allegations in the past; and that police in Yorkshire had seized a collection of child pornography and found letters from the teacher in which he referred to “sending the happy items”.

Clearly, this did not amount to proof that the teacher was guilty. His former colleague may have had a grudge against him; the letters in Yorkshire may have had some innocent explanation; other witnesses, who also suspected him, may simply have been mistaken. But the other raids in the series were being planned on the basis of similar intelligence, which Scotland Yard believed was strong enough to demand that suspects be interviewed and their property searched. Yet when the raids took place Thames Valley held back in the Eton case, arguing that the evidence was too weak to justify action. The result: the truth about the suspected abuser was never found.

Earlier last year, the Guardian revealed the international police hunt for two unidentified men who had made the “Bjorn tape”, a chilling video which recorded their relentless sexual assault on an adolescent Dutch boy who was carried in front of the camera, limp and hooded, before being strapped into a chair where he was defenceless against the indulgence of his two attackers.

Following the story, which was linked to an ITV documentary, Dutch police traced Bjorn’s accent to an area in the north of Holland, where they combed through files of reported child abuse – and found him. It turned out that he had contacted the authorities a year earlier to complain that a Dutch man, whom he named, had been drugging and raping him since he was only three years old, most recently with the assistance of an English man. The Dutch man had been tried and – in the absence of the video – he had been acquitted.

Now, the tape not only proved that the boy had been telling the truth in all its grim detail, but it also con-firmed the identity of the English man who had taken part. He is John Peters, a former soldier who went AWOL in the early 1970s after being charged with having sex with a 14-year-old boy in public toilets near his base in Sutton Coldfield. Since then, Peters has been convicted in Denmark of a separate offence of child abuse.

Although Bjorn’s Dutch abuser has now been tried again in Holland and convicted, Peters remains at liberty. Just as he evaded the police in Sutton Coldfield in the 1970s, so now he has evaded them again in Holland, simply by crossing a border. The result: the abuser has escaped.

That same story in the Guardian also disclosed the activities of Warwick Spinks, a British paedophile then serving a sentence of five years for abducting and raping two homeless boys from the streets of London. He had sold one of them into a brothel in Amsterdam.

Spinks is a paedophile of grandiose ambition who ran an agency in Britain which sold boys to like-minded punters, and then he moved to Amsterdam where, as the Guardian disclosed, he worked in brothels and joined a group of British men who produced videos in which five boys were alleged to have been raped and murdered for the pleasure of viewers.

As he approached the end of his five-year sentence, Spinks was transferred from prison to a probation hostel in south London where, last September, he was asked to fill in a form so that the police could enter his details on the new register of sex offenders. Spinks, however, refused to fill in the form. He simply walked away from the hostel and sent his probation officer a postcard with an invitation to come and see him in Amsterdam. The result: another abuser has escaped.

The sexual abuse of children is a special crime, not simply because of the damage it does to victims, nor even because of the anger and fear it provokes in communities, but more particularly because it is so easy – easy to commit, easy to get away with.

It is physically easier for a rapist to overpower a child than an adult. In February of this year, police reported that a paedophile had boarded a train outside Brighton one evening and abducted not one, but three young boys, aged between eight and eleven. Police said that the man forced the three boys to get off in the village of Glynde, where he marched them into the public toilets and indecently assaulted all three of them before threatening to kill them, raping one of them and putting them all back on the train.

Equally, it is easier to confuse a child than an adult. A woman who spent four years from the age of seven being raped regularly by her stepfather, told the Guardian she had never thought to complain: “I thought it was normal, I thought everyone was going home from school and being hurt by their dad.” Children have emerged from abuse to report variously that there was no point in telling because no one would believe them and they would be put into care; or, commonly, that the abusive parent would be sent to prison, thus destroying the family and bringing hardship and misery to the other parent.

Children are conned by their abusers in a way that no adult would be. Bruce McLean, for example, who is serving nine years for indecent assaults in Cheshire, was using Manchester United tickets to entrap boys. A man who is now awaiting trial for producing a small orgy of child pornography videos in the north of England bought adolescent girls with Kentucky Fried Chicken and toffees, according to one who has spoken to the Guardian.

The ease of the crime is reflected in its scale. No one knows the exact numbers, but to construct a picture is to watch an arithmetical explosion. Start with a hard fact. At the last count, there were 2,100 child sex abusers behind the bars of British jails. Now think of all those who have previously been convicted but who have been released back into the community. You have to multiply by 50: according to the Home Office Research Department, there are 108,000 convicted paedophiles in the community.

Now, think of all the child victims who are conned and confused and never report their abuse in the first place; and all those cases which are reported but which fall short of the demands of the courts; and all those cases of rape and indecent assault which are convicted but which are not statistically recorded as crimes against children. At the most conservative estimate, the NSPCC and specialist police agree with studies here and in the US, that the official figures for convictions record no more than 10 per cent of the paedophile population. Which means that today in Britain, there are probably 1.1 million paedophiles at large. Other studies suggest that the figure is very much higher.

This vast scale appears to be confirmed by “prevalence studies” which take samples of the population and establish how many were childhood victims of sexual abuse. In the UK, the US, Germany, Switzerland and Australia, studies consistently find that around 20 per cent of women and around 8 per cent of men suffered sexual abuse as children. In the current population of UK children, that would cover 1.5 million girls and 520,000 boys, a figure that is consistent with the projection of 1.1 million offenders.

Child sex abuse is not only easy to commit, it is also easy to get away with. It is the least reported crime on the planet. Numerous victims say that they were silenced by their own emotions – the same emotions which gag the adult victims of rape, but which are magnified in a child’s mind. Some children simply cannot report it: social workers in East Sussex four years ago found paedophiles deliberately targeting children who were too disabled to give evidence. Others had picked children who were terminally ill and who died before the system could catch up with them.

Those children who do report what has happened to them are uniquely likely to find their stories rejected. Often, like the adult victims of indecent assault, they will have nothing but their own word as evidence. And the word of a child is viewed with suspicion from one end of the criminal justice system to the other. It is for that reason that the tribunal of inquiry into abuse in children’s homes in North Wales is only now attempting to get to the truth of hundreds of complaints which were first made by children up to 20 years ago – to council officials, doctors, social workers and parents who, almost without exception, believed not a word of it.

North Wales is only the beginning. It is now clear that during the last 30 years, children’s homes in Britain suffered an epidemic of rape and violent assault. It was an epidemic that went unnoticed. There are now thousands of men and women, in North Wales, South Wales, Manchester, Liverpool, Sunderland, Northumbria, Edinburgh – in 17 different police areas – who have come forward to make detailed, credible allegations about their childhoods of abuse in care. And yet, at the time, just about all of them were overlooked by just about every agency that was supposed to protect them – the police, social workers, the Social Services Inspectorate, health visitors, doctors.

The passage of time, itself, often allows abusers to escape. In Cardiff, Paul Conibeer, who is now aged 28, is trying to persuade the police to prosecute three men for buggering him and passing him around their friends when he was a 13-year-old in care. The three men have since been convicted of paedophile offences and have become involved in the abuse of children in Portugal and Amsterdam, where they shared their pleasures with Warwick Spinks. Police in Cardiff, however, say Conibeer’s story is too old to be proved.

The fact that the sexual abuse of children is so hidden is not entirely the result of the age its victims. This is also a crime of conspiracy, of the abuse of power and, from time to time, of incidents which suggest that a paedophile with prestige may be more likely to escape justice than a more humble offender.

Fleet Street routinely nurtures a crop of untold stories about powerful abusers who have evaded justice. One such is Peter Morrison, formerly the MP for Chester and the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. Ten years ago, Chris House, the veteran crime reporter for the Sunday Mirror, twice received tip-offs from police officers who said that Morrison had been caught cottaging in public toilets with under-aged boys and had been released with a caution. A less powerful man, the officers complained, would have been charged with gross indecency or an offence against children.

At the time, Chris House confronted Morrison, who used libel laws to block publication of the story. Now, Morrison is dead and cannot sue. Police last week confirmed that he had been picked up twice and never brought to trial. They added that there appeared to be no trace of either incident in any of the official records.

A lot of paedophiles are loners. The NSPCC found that 70 per cent of them were closely related to their victim – and, contrary to popular belief, they were not always men. Michelle Elliott from Kidscape says she has dealt with more than 700 cases of women sexually abusing children and that she takes on one or two new such cases each week.
Academics who have analysed the history of sexually abused children on the At Risk register have found that one in three were assaulted by adolescent or pre-adolescent children. The Young Abusers Project in London, has dealt with one abuser who was only seven years old.

Even though most abusers – whatever their age or sex – work alone, there is clear evidence of some con-spiracy, of the existence of paedophile rings, sometimes deliberately infiltrating parts of the child protection system, often taking advantage of each other’s political or social power to conceal their activities.

Researchers at Manchester University trawled the records of eight police areas in search of cases of or-ganised abuse and they concluded that nationally they would expect to find 242 cases every year where children were the victims of adults who had colluded together to use them for sex. They noted, in line with other specialist researchers, that these official records probably captured only one tenth of the truth. It is these cases of organised abuse which present some of the most frightening incidents.

Some are never brought to trial – like the group of men who were believed by police to be abducting home-less girls from the streets of London in the early 1990s and holding them in a converted garage with padded walls, where they were being abused and finally killed. The closest they came to being caught was when the man who was said to be disposing of the girls’ bodies, for £2,000 a time, was identified by Number Eight Regional Crime Squad, in Wales, as an ex-convict, a man with a history of spectacular violence who was living in Cardiff. Police investigated him but were unable to identify those who had hired him or to find evidence to charge him.

Others come to trial only partially – like Robert Oliver and Sidney Cooke and their friends who together abducted, drugged, raped and killed Jason Swift, Barry Lewis and Mark Tildesley. They were convicted of manslaughter.

Investigating officers were frustrated, first because there was insufficient evidence to convict them of murder and, second, because they were never able to bring any charges at all in relation to six other boys who, they believed, had also died at the hands of the same ring.

Often the links between abusers lie beneath the surface of less horrific conspiracies. Take, for example, the case of Greystone Heath, an approved school for boys in Warrington, which for years enjoyed an unsullied reputation until police finally discovered that it had become a hot spot for paedophiles.

It appears to have started in 1965 when a 21-year-old student teacher named Keith Laverack went to work there. Over the ensuing four years, he raped at least 16 boys, three of whom he shared with his colleague, Brian Percival, the clerk and storeman at the home. Once these two men had established sexual rights over the boys at Greystone, other abusers joined the staff: Alan Langshaw, who raped at least 24 boys; Dennis Grain who raped at least 18; Roy Shuttleworth who raped at least 10; Jack Bennett who indecently assaulted two; and Steve Norris who assaulted an unknown number.

The Greystone abusers then fanned out. Keith Laverack went to childrens’ homes in Cambridgeshire; Alan Langshaw became Principal of St Vincent’s Catholic boys’ home in Formby; Grain and Shuttleworth were both promoted to other homes in the Warrington area; Steve Norris went to North Wales. At their new homes, all of them continued to rape boys who were in their care and wherever they went, they crossed the paths of other paedophiles.

In Cambridgeshire, Keith Laverack worked with numerous colleagues, four of whom are now also suspected of abusing children. Dennis Grain worked in Doncaster for the same group of private schools as Terence Hoskins who went on to become headteacher of St Aiden’s Community Home in Widnes, where he liked to thrash naked boys with a cane, which he then pushed into their backsides, while his housemaster, Colin Dick, indecently assaulted those who caught his eye. Dennis Grain had previously attacked boys in Danesford childrens’ home in Congleton, opening the door to three others, John Clarke, Joseph Smith and Brian Hudson, who set about the boys with relish. Dennis Grain, in the meantime, went off to work at Eton, where he became a housemaster. The web is almost endless.

While he was Principal of St Vincent’s, Alan Langshaw recruited a care worker named Edward Stanton, who joined in Langshaw’s orgy. Stanton appears to have got the job through the good offices of Roy Shuttleworth, who was continuing to abuse the boys at Greystone and who is believed to have known Stanton from their time in Birmingham when they took the same course in residential child care.

That course in Birmingham, in turn, is believed to have been lectured by Peter Righton, a notorious paedophile who attempted to legitimise his obsession in a series of academic studies. Righton, for his part, belonged to the Paedophile Information Exchange, along with Jack Bennett who joined in the abuse at Greystone. Righton had earlier worked in the same childrens’ home in Maidstone, Kent as Peter Howarth, who went on to become a legendary abuser in the homes of North Wales where he shared his indulgence with Steve Norris, formerly of Greystone.

Each of these men claims to have abused alone. Even though their paths connected so frequently, even though the Greystone abusers were assaulting boys in buildings within yards of each other, even though several of them were raping the same boys, they claim never to have colluded with each other. No one who has been involved with investigating Greystone believes them. The evidence suggests that such abusers not only collude to give each other work and access to children, but also to infiltrate the child protection system. Peter Righton lectured not only in Birmingham but in numerous other colleges.

Before he was finally taken to court and convicted, he became a highly regarded consultant in child care and, eventually, the Director of Education at the prestigious National Institute of Social Work in London, a position from which he was able to have some influence on government policy.

With similar cynicism, Keith Laverack, who opened the catalogue of abuse at Greystone Heath, went on to run the Guardian Ad Litem panel for Cambridgeshire county council, with the job of representing the interests of children in court cases. This job not only introduced him to the most vulnerable children in the area but also gave him access to files on abused children all over the country. Terence Hoskins, who worked with some of the Greystone abusers, used connections with South Yorkshire police to get access to his own file, from the supposedly secret National Criminal Intelligence Service, NCIS.

Roger Saint, who spent years assaulting his foster children in Clwyd secured himself a job on the local adoption panel from which he could referee complaints about people like himself.

But this is only the beginning. Beyond the inherent difficulty of detecting and preventing this most secret crime, beyond the obstacle course of concealment erected by the collusion of clever paedophiles, the child victims of sexual abuse are betrayed by organisations who repeatedly prefer to avoid embarrassment by concealing awkward allegations and by a system of protection which simply does not work.

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13 comments
  1. I apologise for remaining anonymous for the time being .I am the source of Tom Watson's PMQ on 24th Oct said:

    The depth of Righton’s depravity and complete lack of remorse, alongside Tom O’ Carroll and Charles Napier, can be witnessed by the totally cold clinical recordings in his diaries where he listed each child at each institution he either worked at or had easy access to through other paedophiles and awarded them scores which signified how far the abuse went with each victim.
    20 years on those diaries still make my blood run cold, as he should have spent most of his adult life in prison
    As well as Redhill he abused boys at Ardingley College where Jon Snow was abused
    The list is very long
    These diaries are in the hands of Operation Fernbridge

    • SJ said:

      Prison? Sorry, as this goes on and on, I’m revising my opinion vis a vis the death penalty. I’ve never been in favour of capital punishment, and I have deep reservations about it now, but I think what we need is to reinstate hanging for five years. The courts, police, social services, probation, school, etc (not to mention the government) are clearly too corrupt for any of the established measures to be effective, and the crimes too sickening for mere imprisonment to “see justice done”. What’s called for is an old-fashioned Purge: Hang ’em all, from the highest to lowest. We can remember it to our children as the proud day in English history when we cleansed the gene pool.

      • The trouble is that members of the police, judiciary, parliament etc. are often the ones being accused and these are the ones who appear to be far too well protected in the first place. These are the high up perps that need not only catching but need publicly hanging.

  2. tom watson's source said:

    It has just been brought to my attention that Tom O’Carroll has launched a pathetic and infant like attack on the remarkable Liz Davies on his website.

    I won’t waste time on responding to that utterly depraved and deluded individual other than to comment that it does say a great deal about our society, laws, judiciary, parliament and policing priorities that individuals like O’Carroll and Napier have spent less than 6 years in prison and Righton no time at all, despite being responsible either directly or indirectly between them for the sexual and emotional abuse of hundreds of children.

    In O’Carroll’s case he has a conviction for ” corrupting public morals ” in the 80’s – he’s been doing it every day since so why isn’t he treated as a repeat offender and constantly returned to prison on that charge alone.

    Many of your followers like me despair at the almost complete lack of coverage by the main stream media on events since last October. Why are the wonderful Nick Davies and his like so silent given their outspoken and expert views on the subject of organised child abuse in the past ?

    With the exception of Exaro, Jon Snow and The Sunday People/Mirror the silence beggars belief.

    I feel obliged to share with you my correspondence with Alan Rusbridger on the matter and let your followers come to their own conclusions

    On January 3rd Jon Healey wrote an article in the Guardian entitled ” Paedophilia : bringing dark desires to light ”

    I wrote to the Editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, the following :-

    I was a Guardian reader for over 40 years until you made the decision to publish an article described by Tom O’Carroll on his website as ” the first I have ever seen in a mainstream media outlet giving significant coverage to research suggesting that paedophilia is not intrinsically harmful.That was superb, confirming my long held view that Alan Rusbridger is the best ever editor of the world’s greatest English – language newspaper. ”

    O’Carroll goes in to great detail on his website about the actual process by which you and Jon Henley made contact with him – what a disgrace you are, allowing this man to view it as a great triumph for him because that is exactly how I viewed it despite your pathetic attempt to justify publishing the article and Henley’s response to Tom Watson MP. ( see Tom Watson’s blog )

    Tom O’Carroll is a clever but very dangerous and evil man.

    I am as qualified as anyone after 37 years working in child protection and specialising for many years in the investigation of child sexual abuse and the investigation of highly organised rings to know the full extent of the harm done to children and young people by predatory paedophiles like O’Carroll

    I am the person who contacted Tom Watson which led to his PMQ on October 24th last year. Before Christmas I agreed to be interviewed by one of your most senior journalists – that now feels like a big mistake given your coverage of O’Carroll’s views and what came across to me as an attempt to find positives in what is one of the most heinious crimes in any society.

    ( I provided the Guardian with all the information I passed to Tom Watson but not one word of it has appeared in print by them to date )

    You should be heading a campaign to close down sites like O’Carroll’s and I strongly believe he should be arrested for the content alone. The almost total lack of coverage by the British media of the events leading up to the setting up of Operation Fernbridge, despite the availability of numerous potential stories that are not sub judice linked to high level historic abuse, is exceptionally worrying.

    Paedophiles like Savile, Peter Morrison, Cyril Smith, Sir Peter Hayman were so confident of establishment support they didn’t need to operate in secret they could be as indiscreet as they wished knowing that even if they came to the attention of the Police nothing would come of it and the full weight of the Attorney General and The Director of Public Prosecutions and their underlings would be brought in to play ” in the public interest ”

    In what way was ” our ” collective national security protected by the security services when they covered up Cyril Smith’s systematic abuse of children ? ”

    The vast majority of the population of this country know that national security when used in these circumstances has absolutely nothing to do with ” our ” collective security but everything to do with being a cover for sustaining the power of the wealthy and privileged.

    Your newspaper and you and Jon Henley in particular have very badly let that vast majority down – after Savile we had the opportunity for this to be a watershed moment but the backlash started by the allegedly mistaken identity of a certain individual has gathered momentum and if I had been told that the Guardian would be in the vanguard of that backlash I would never have believed it ”

    This is the reply I received from Alan Rusbridger :-

    ” Thanks for your letter.

    I thought Jon Henley wrote an intelligent piece about the mixed academic and medical opinion on paedophilia.

    I did not take it to be in any way a defence of child sexual abuse or paedophilia.

    I think it desirable, not irresponsible, to write seriously about in-depth research into this disturbing area of life.

    I was interested to read about how thinking had changed over time and to hear from a range of experts who deal with offenders

    It was,to my mind, a calm and informative piece.

    Tom O’Carroll’s speculation as to the genesis of the piece is wide of the mark. We did briefly meet at the Guardian’s readers’ week-end earlier last year. But this had no connection with Jon Henley’s piece.

    You will be aware that the Guardian was responsible for exposing the case of mistaken identity to which you refer in your final paragraph. I don’t accept that the paper is in the ” vanguard” of any ” backlash ” after the unmasking of Savile. Our article about Lord McAlpine was of a peice with the intelligent approach that Henley showed in his own article.This is, I accept, a difficult subject and the Gurdian will continue to cover it thoroughly and calmly ”

    I contacted Alan Rusbridger a week ago to advise him that I intended to post our respective views on your website
    I have not received a response so must assume he has no objection

  3. O’Carroll’s time is coming. If the police fail this time then it all needs to be put online. The whole lot.

    • murunbuch said:

      Good to hear from you – are you planning on coming back on twitter?

    • Good to see you back in the fray

  4. zoompad said:

    Eton is a registered charity. Why is such a prestigious school registered as a charity?

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