'I do not doubt men in smart cars preyed on boys – but justice requires detective work not hearsay '
PUBLISHED November 9, 2012
It did not involve Lord McAlpine, the former Tory treasurer, who was subjected to false rumours that linked him to the North Wales care home scandal. They were, Lord McAlpine said yesterday, ''wholly false and seriously defamatory''. It was, in fact, another aide to Margaret Thatcher. But I don't believe there is sufficient evidence for it to be legally safe or morally right to point the finger at this person either. Nor was it legally safe or morally right for the TV presenter Phillip Schofield to ambush the Prime Minister with a list of alleged Tory paedophiles pulled off the internet.
I have investigated child protection scandals in councils of all political hues, and I have learnt that child abuse is a cross-party crime. Liberals and socialists, not just Tories, must search their hearts and history if Britain's child abuse nightmare is to be solved.
So this week I was dismayed to see child abuse turn into a party political football, and subjected to a "trial by Twitter". Our newspapers, too, appear to be dividing along such lines. Yet the scandal that led me to this suppressed inquiry, raised by Mr Watson, the Labour MP for West Bromwich East, during Prime Minister's Questions last month, stemmed not from a Tory cover-up but from the emerging New Labour establishment.
It was in the early 1990s I heard about the inquiry and met some of the police and social workers investigating it. At the time I was researching a paedophile ring that had infiltrated all 12 of the children's homes run by Islington council - then under the leadership of Margaret Hodge - and that appeared to be linked to it.
Mr Watson was contacted in October by one of the inquiry's child protection experts, now retired. The coverage of the Savile scandal had awoken painful memories of how his evidence about Peter Righton, then a child care expert and children's homes consultant, was destroyed. He told Mr Watson: "My unit was closed down almost overnight and a manager took my files and burned them."
The paedophile ring investigation that Mr Watson described to a hushed Commons centred on Righton. And the inquiry did involve names from the so-called establishment (though the Thatcher aide was linked by circumstances and hearsay). But what this inquiry also uncovered was the shocking attitude to child abuse of some on the liberal left and their involvement in it.
Peter Righton was the former director of education at the National Institute for Social Work, and a consultant for the National Children's Bureau. Yet he was also a founding member of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), which wanted the age of consent reduced to four. Righton published essays justifying paedophilia, which he called no more mysterious than "a penchant for redheads".
PIE did not present themselves as child abusers but "child lovers", keen to "liberate" children from sexual "repression". Their literature hijacked the language of liberation and sought to persuade gay men and women, feminists and radicals that they had common interests in challenging "the patriarchy". Their propaganda was skilful and it still reverberates.
Some of Righton's colleagues fell for this and later admitted that they were scared to challenge his enthusiasm for sex with children lest they seem "anti gay". Many youngsters made serious allegations against Righton, yet his career flourished. It wasn't until Customs and Excise intercepted a package of child pornography posted to him from Holland, in 1992, that police raided his home and found hundreds of letters between him and other paedophiles, revealing that he had abused, prostituted and shared numerous boys.
Righton's correspondents included an assistant bishop, artists, aristocrats and public school teachers. It then emerged that Righton's lover ran a school for emotionally disturbed children, and Righton was vice-chairman of governors. New Barns School in Gloucestershire, which was attended by many children from London care homes, including at least one Islington child, was investigated and closed down. But it could have been shut years before, if only a far-Left council in London had acted as it should have.
This week I thought of Liam, a boy in one of the Islington care homes central to the paedophile ring's production of pornography. Liam attended New Barns School: the home's deputy superintendent, Nick Rabet (who committed suicide in 2006 after being arrested for abuse), used to drive him there.
Liam suffered such trauma in care that he had a breakdown at 16, and his memories today are fragmented. He began telling people of the abuse in 1989, three years before the school was closed. His social worker was deeply concerned, and promised action. But on Christmas Eve 1989, he disappeared and Liam's files disappeared with him.
I don't imagine that he was buried in concrete. Many Islington social workers "just" burned out, or were threatened or victimised and gave up. But the social worker's disappearance meant Islington council could tell police investigating New Barns it had never sent children there.
And so to renewed allegations about the North Wales care homes. I do not doubt claims that men in smart cars took young boys from these homes in order to abuse them. But exactly who they were is another question, given the unreliable memories and limited knowledge of traumatised and ill-educated victims.
The Daily Telegraph this week rightly expressed weariness with endless inquiries, which achieve little. Old-fashioned detective work is what is needed. The inquiry into Peter Righton's alleged ring was closed in 1994. Watson's whistleblower was told by a detective that it was closed "from on high". Righton was given a £900 fine for his child porn imports, and a caution for a 30-year-old indecent assault. Many similar investigations into paedophile rings have also mysteriously hit the buffers. Cover-ups have taken place; events and individuals demanding investigation were ignored.
Yet let us not lose perspective. Talking of paedophile rings that lead to Number 10, without definitive proof, could jeopardise the momentum for reform as claims and counter-claims are made and libel actions are threatened or actioned.
Following the closure of the Righton investigation, former Det Ch Supt Mike Hames, head of Scotland Yard's Obscene Publications Squad wrote: "We have only touched the tip of a huge national and international problem." Like most child protection experts, he wanted national teams to investigate such allegations. We still do not have them.
But trial by media is not the answer. We need cool heads and a non-partisan approach if the hundreds of victims, whose childhoods were corrupted and destroyed, are to receive justice.
Eileen Fairweather is an award-winning journalist whose investigations over 20 years have helped expose several paedophile rings.