Home Office files concerning allegations of child abuse at the heart of Westminster were destroyed in the last few years, according to a report into the Government’s handling of the claims.
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said a sophisticated cover-up was “unlikely” to have taken place after searching records at the Home Office and beyond. He also said he had not uncovered any attempts by the department to conceal child abuse.
Mr Wanless was asked to investigate after an internal review found the Home Office had “lost or destroyed” 114 files between 1979 and 1999. They included a dossier presented by the late Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens to the then-Home Secretary Lord Brittan in 1983.
The peer has denied failing to act on the file, which is said to have named prominent politicians and other senior figures alleged to be involved in a paedophile network.
Mr Wanless said upon publication of his report today that it appeared the missing files were not destroyed by anyone who could be directly affected by the allegations. He said that the missing files were last seen “in this century”.
However, he said he had “major concerns” about both the police’s and the department’s record-keeping.
Mr Wanless said that at the time, police forces only kept paper records on file for up to two years unless a charge was brought. He called it an “imperfect system”, pointing out that it may take longer to substantiate allegations and that often their significance emerges only when a pattern emerges.
Mr Wanless also said there was no evidence to suggest the Home Office had funded the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), the pro-paedophile activist group established in 1974 which lasted 10 years until it was disbanded.
He said he had been unable to determine whether or Special Branch funded the group, via the Home Office budget in order to keep track of members. Mr Wanless said that would be “odd but not impossible”.
He endorsed all the recommendations from the original civil service report into the missing documents from 2013, including the directive that where there is an allegation of child abuse it should be recorded and marked “significant”.
He added that there should be a system in place at the Home Office of recording what information is sent to the police and a formal procedure of confirming what the result of the reference should be.
Responding to the report, Home Secretary Theresa May said she was determined that cases of child abuse should be exposed so the perpetrators may face justice. She welcomed the detailed investigation and has written to Mr Wanless to find out what the security services did with any material his investigation said had been passed to MI5.
Mr Wanless is due to speak to the Home Affairs Select Committee about the report’s findings. Geoffrey Dickens’ son Barry said he was “not surprised” by the findings and questioned whether six weeks was long enough for Mr Wanless to conduct an appropriate investigation.
The findings are due to be used by the upcoming, wider Hillsborough-style inquiry into paedophile activity linked to public bodies and institutions. The Home Office has begun the search for a third chair after Fiona Woolf became the second candidate to step aside from the job. It emerged she lives a few doors away from Lord and Lady Brittan and has dined with them on several occasions. Mrs May has apologised to victims for the delay in finding someone to head the probe.