MP’s attack on the man who helped expose Hackney abuser (04.02.98)

Evening Standard, 4th February 1998

by Stewart Payne & Eileen Fairweather

One of the most intriguing aspects of the appalling Mark Trotter scandal – the Hackney social worker who abused children in his care – is the story of the MP who didn’t speak.

Hackney Labour MP Brian Sedgemore made a formal complaint against the town hall employee whose leaked memo helped the Evening Standard expose the scandal of paedophile social worker Mark Trotter.

 Instead of joining in the public condemnation of the way Hackney council mismanaged the affair, Mr Sedgemore accused “whistleblower” Demitrious Panton of “careless and, maybe, malicious actions”.

 Trotter, who died of an Aids-related illness, was an activist in Mr Sedgemore’s constituency party.

 Mr Panton was policy adviser to the chairman of social services and wrote in August 1996 to Hackney chief executive Tony Elliston giving a highly critical account of the way the council had mishandled its investigation of Trotter.

 He wrote: “If at any stage it is proven that Mr Trotter continued to sexually abuse children in the care of this authority … then we have failed terribly in protecting vulnerable children from abuse.”

 His words were prophetic. An NSPCC inquiry subsequently discovered that Trotter had abused at least six Hackney children.

 The Standard obtained a copy of the Panton memo as part of its investigation. When the Standard approached Mr Sedgemore to comment on the affair he put his solicitor on to us.

 The Standard has now discovered that Mr Sedgemore wrote to Mr Elliston, requesting his letter be treated as a “formal complaint against Mr Panton and against the council for allowing a libellous document to be leaked to the Press”.

 Mr Sedgemore was rebuffed by Mr Elliston who wrote back: “All staff who work for the council have a responsibility to report matters of concern and it was perfectly proper for Demitrious Panton to write to me.” Mr Sedgemore was anxious to ensure that the “untrue rumour” that Trotter had worked in his constituency office was not repeated.

 But his letter does not give a complete picture. Trotter was actively involved in Mr Sedgemore’s Hackney South and Shoreditch Constituency Labour Party.

 He was, at various times, its education officer, a member of its Wick Ward executive and general management committee, its agent, and organiser for the MP’s postal vote in the 1992 general election.

 Our picture shows the pair sharing the same platform during a protest against food surpluses in 1987.

 Last month the Standard asked why Mr Sedgemore had consistently refused to comment on a serious matter which not only affected his constituents but involved an officer and activist in his own constituency party.

 Again his response was to put his lawyers on to us.

 Last month the independent inquiry led by John Barratt, set up to examine the newspaper allegations, confirmed that widespread incompetence and managerial weakness had allowed Trotter to escape detection for almost 12 years. He should have been suspended on at least two occasions but continued to work with vulnerable children.

 In his report Mr Barratt was scathing of Hackney’s politics, describing them as “vicious, poisonous and personality-based”, adding there was a tradition of “scurrilous and abusive references to the motives and practices of opponents”.

 The Standard has been shown copies of letters Mr Sedgemore has sent to political opponents. He recently wrote that Hackney Liberal Democrats “have the propensity to become the most dishonest and deplorable political party in western Europe”, and accused leader Kevin Daws of “stupidity”. In a letter to leading local Tory councillor Joe Lobenstein he accused him of entering “into the sewers” over the Trotter affair adding: “I suggest you pick yourself up out of the slime”.

 In his regular column in the Hackney Gazette he has made repeated attacks on Mr Elliston and has used the parliamentary privilege of Early Day Motions to criticise him and rebel Labour councillors who quit over the Trotter affair.

 After initially threatening to sue the Evening Standard over questions put to him by fax, Mr Sedgemore instructed his solicitors to respond.

 Pointing out that he had twice given written evidence to the Barratt inquiry, he confirmed that he had made a complaint against Mr Panton for suggesting that Trotter had worked in his office.

 He also stated that the Barratt inquiry had found no evidence of cover-up by the Labour Party in the Trotter affair.

 Mr Sedgemore was, at all times, in favour of an independent inquiry and in his evidence he had raised the issue of the culture of Hackney politics.

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