- Hundreds of documents on famous suspects marked ‘secret’ or ‘restricted’
- Experts believe that celebrities like Savile protected above children abused
- Police claim tight circle was to prevent any leaks to the media
Hundreds of files on celebrities, politicians and other VIPs accused of sex attacks and abuse were so heavily protected by senior police that investigating officers could not access them, it emerged today.
Information on high profile suspects was marked as ‘secret’ or ‘restricted’ and only available to a small number of officers – a system which may have helped prolific offenders like Jimmy Savile and MP Cyril Smith escape prosecution.
The approach to sensitive files was designed to stop officers from leaking information to the media, experts say.
The issue of detectives being unable to access relevant intelligence was highlighted in a report on the effectiveness of the Police National Database (PND) in the wake of the Savile scandal.
It came after complaints about Savile made to different police forces across the country while the TV presenter was still alive were not able to be shared by detectives.
Metropolitan Police Commander Peter Spindler confirmed that famous people were protected by high levels of confidentiality built into intelligence systems.
‘Any high-profile or sensitive case will be restricted on our systems because we are not going to let 50,000 people (Met officers and staff) across London read sensitive material about celebrities, politicians or other high-profile people,’ he told The Times.
‘We have had some officers and staff who were prepared to leak information to the media for payment and the mechanism to prevent that was to restrict access to that information.’
But police believe their new PND, launched in 2011, will help prevent similar errors in the future.
The system allows sensitive material to be located but accessed only with the right clearance.
Speaking after the report was published last week Chief Constable Mike Barton, the Association of Chief Police Officer’s lead on intelligence, said the current system is capable of being interrogated by any trained officer across the UK to ‘identify suspects, offenders and patterns of behaviour’.
The National Association of People Abused in Childhood said that police had put the protection of celebrities before children.
But spokesman John Bird added that he believes police are striving to ‘get it right in future’.
The first national shared database for police in England and Wales was set up in 2003, while a later system in 2006 allowed officers to search for intelligence but restricted access to sensitive records.
by Martin Robinson