The government faced fresh calls for an overarching inquiry into historical cases of paedophilia as it was revealed that a total of 114 Home Office files relevant to allegations of a child abuse network have disappeared from government records.
David Cameron has already ordered the Home Office permanent secretary to look into what happened to a lost dossier given earlier in the 1980s to Leon Brittan, then home secretary, by the campaigning Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens.
The revelation that further relevant documents have disappeared will raise fresh fears of an establishment cover-up.
Simon Danczuk, the MP for Rochdale, who is calling for an overarching national inquiry into historical child abuse, said: “I had absolutely no idea these other files were also missing. The public view will be that there is something fishy going on. The public will understandably think these documents have gone missing because it helps protect the names of those identified in them. That is the conclusion that many will come to, and who could blame them”
Sir Leon Brittan
Tom Watson, the Labour MP central to the uncovering of the phone-hacking scandal, said it was increasingly clear than only a Hillsborough-style inquiry would reassure the public. He said: “Only an overarching inquiry will get to the facts, everything else the government says or does on this is a diversion.”
Dickens, who died in 1995, had told his family that the information he handed to the home secretary in 1983 and 1984 would “blow the lid off” the lives of powerful and famous child abusers, including eight well-known figures.
In a letter to Dickens at the time, Brittan suggested his information would be passed to the police, but Scotland Yard says it has no record of any investigation into the allegations. On Saturday the Home Office made public a letter to Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs select committee, in which the department confirmed that correspondence from Dickens had not been retained and it had found “no record of specific allegations by Mr Dickens of child sex abuse by prominent public figures”.
The Home Office’s permanent secretary, Mark Sedwill, admitted, however, that a further 114 documents relevant to allegations of child abuse were missing from the department’s records. That discovery was made last year by an independent review into information received about organised child sex abuse but was not published in its report.
Sedwill told Vaz the missing documents were some of the 36,000 records which officials presumed were lost, destroyed or missing. They were not part of the 278,000 documents the Home Office destroyed as part of its “retention and destruction” policy. However, Sedwill told Vaz in a letter published on Saturday that the department had found “no evidence of the inappropriate removal or destruction of material”.
He also wrote to the prime minister to tell him he would engage a senior independent legal figure to assess whether last year’s conclusions “remain sound”.
Sedwill told Vaz: “Like any other citizen, I am horrified by what we have learnt in the past couple of years about the systematic abuse of children and vulnerable adults by prominent public figures, and the state’s failure to protect them. Some have been brought to justice, and I hope that the police investigations now under way across the country are equally successful. The Home Office has and will co-operate fully with any police inquiry.”
David Mellor, a Home Office minister under Brittan, spoke out, claiming his former boss was being unfairly “pilloried” over his handling of the dossier. Mellor said the file was spoken of at the time as “not very substantive”. Speaking on his LBC radio show, Mellor said he remembered “sort of chat around the department” that it “wasn’t a very substantive thing at all”.
He added: “People are talking about this document as if it’s a carefully worked-through exposé of people. There’s no reason to think it was. It is so unfair that, on the basis of what is becoming a witchhunt, he’s being pilloried for handling a document … that he did pass on.”