Peter McKelvie and Liz Davies met, on Tuesday 13th May at 11.30 am, with Norman Baker, MP for Lewes and Minister of State at the Home Office, in the presence of Adrian Sanders MP for Torbay. Adrian Sanders had requested that the meeting take place and it was tabled for half an hour. The meeting began 15 minutes late.
Report of the meeting
The Minister advised that he would be available for ten minutes as he had another important appointment. He listed a number of items that he could not discuss as these were not the direct responsibility of the Home Office – such as any current police investigations and individual cases. He also stated that the National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People had been set up as a national response to child sexual exploitation. PM assured him that as former child protection managers neither he nor LD would have expected to discuss anything related to current police investigations.
PM then outlined his reasons for requesting the meeting.
1. He had written to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Edward Miliband asking them to work together and to honour a commitment that David Cameron had made immediately after the Savile scandal. Cameron had said, ‘The Government will do all it can, other institutions must do what they can, to make sure that we learn the lesson of this and it can never happen again. Collusion should never happen again’.
PM explained that there was no evidence that the Government or Parliament to date were showing any sign of including themselves amongst those institutions who should be investigating their role in either child abuse or its cover-up.
2. PM referred to the replies to his letters from David Cameron and Nick Clegg, and also a reply from ” L.Smart ” Home Office, in which all used exactly the same phrase, ‘Child abuse is an abhorrent crime, no matter when, or where, it occurs. We are committed to tackling it, in whatever form it takes.’
PM asked who L. Smart was who had signed the letter to him from the Home Office but the Minister and his associate did not know. The Minister said that he had read PM’s email correspondence.
Again, PM stated that no evidence had emerged in the last 2 years that, when it came to the suggestion that a Member of Parliament might be the abuser or his colleagues might be involved in covering up such abuse, the public could take such promises seriously. The Minister suggested that attitudes and practice had changed in the post-Savile era. He believed that police forces would now charge anyone, no matter who they were, if the evidence was available.
LD stated that she and PM were just two of many professionals who had over many years built up a solid body of evidence which had never been investigated. She made particular reference to the extensive abuse carried out in Islington which LD attempted to expose with others in the 1990′s. She said that both had contributed to Operation Fairbank and Operation Fernbridge and had much respect for the hard work of the few police officers working on those investigations since Tom Watson’s Prime Minister’s Question began the process in October 2012.
PM added that, putting aside the very positive changes in attitude inspired by Keir Starmer at CPS level towards witnesses, a great deal could have been achieved in the last 2 years, without prompting, by each political party to investigate their internal cover ups on such prominent politicians as Cyril Smith and Peter Morrison. The public view is that this would not happen of the Government/Parliament’s own volition.
PM wished to be reassured that action would be taken against all perpetrators and alleged perpetrators – including those in government. Norman Baker emphasised a number of times that anyone who has committed crimes against children or who is alleged to have committed such crimes must be subject to due legal processes whoever they are. PM stated that there was sufficient grounds to merit police investigation into at least 27 members of the Commons and Lords, some deceased and some alive. Norman Baker asked if any of the MPs were currently sitting in Parliament and PM confirmed that some of them were.
PM then referred to the role of the Home Office in relation to the Paedophile Information Exchange in the 70s and suggested that the role of MI5, MI6 and government in relation to the safety of children should be a matter for public disclosure because, although he acknowledged that some aspects of government needed to remain secret for reasons of national security, this criteria did not, in his view, apply to the protection of children which is of central importance to every concerned citizen in the country.
Norman Baker mentioned that a number of current investigations were in progress and LD commented that these were fragmented and that a national investigation was required to ensure co-ordination. She mentioned, as an example, Michael Gove’s recent request for 22 authorities to investigate children’s homes where Operation Yewtree, the investigation into crimes against children perpetrated by Jimmy Savile, had indicated a possible connection. The Minister said a national inquiry would demand major resources but LD clarified that she had spoken of a national police investigation not an inquiry. Norman Baker said that a national investigation would not always be helpful because, for example, where the issues are within the NHS then the NHS is best placed to be a focus of investigation. LD asked if he was open to considering the need for increased police and social work resources in view of the enormity of the national task. She explained that some survivors who contact her wait a considerable time to be interviewed by the police. He responded that what was needed was a change in attitude rather than increased resources.
There followed a brief discussion about the need for more support for survivors when they were considering speaking with or providing evidence to police or social workers and about how they can have better trust in the systems. The Minister commented that an increase in reporting of child abuse by victims was a positive development signifying a change in attitude. PM stated that, for all the known reasons, survivors were not coming forward and therefore the Police were limited in what they could achieve. PM suggested that much greater efforts were needed to convince survivors that they would be believed and supported even if their allegations were against powerful politicians or members of the Establishment.
The meeting was then brought to a sudden end when the Minister was informed of an urgent phone call and he left the room.
PM and LD thanked Adrian Sanders, MP for Torbay, who had facilitated today’s meeting, but informed him that his efforts had been in vain because the brevity of the meeting had ensured that it had served no real purpose and had left both PM and LD feeling quite strongly that their views and opinions were never going to be taken seriously or answered. PM considered that his long held view that most politicians see themselves as our political masters rather than our elected representatives was definitely reinforced by the experience of this meeting
Comment on the meeting
Whilst we recognise that we were very privileged to have met with the Minister, overall the meeting was a disappointment It was certainly important to gain reassurance that everyone, of whatever status and background, would be subjected to the same due legal processes when suspected or known to have committed crimes against children. However, in our view, current police operations are poorly resourced and the officers are struggling to meet the increased level of reporting that the Minister referred to. It was therefore disconcerting to hear that an increase in police and social work resources for the proper investigation of crimes against children was not to be considered. It was also disappointing to learn that the Minister did not support the concept of a national police and social work investigation team. We know that senior police officers have been asking for such a team for over twenty years and that the proactive collation of intelligence and coordinated analysis of victims’ accounts and corroborative evidence is essential to the targeting of child sex offenders. The offenders themselves are of course well networked at a national and international level. They continue to evade justice and to offend against children because of a statutory response situated at local level.