Theresa May launches major new inquiry into UK Political child sex abuse allegations

A few knew it was coming:

Political parties and the Security Service, MI5, will have their internal files combed by an independent inquiry to establish what they knew about allegations of child sex abuse by politicians and other members of paedophile rings, the Government has announced. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said the BBC and religious organisations will also fall under the remit of a major new inquiry into abuse allegations, in the wake of widespread concern about the activities of priests and celebrities including Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris. But the Home Secretary warned the work is unlikely to be complete before the next General Election, meaning any emerging findings about government failures will be less likely to damage the Coalition before the poll in May. She confirmed the inquiry will be able to call witnesses from a wider than expected range of organisations, including the civil service, the private sector, political bodies and other organisations such as the Church and broadcasters.

Mrs May also disclosed that if necessary it could be upgraded to a full public inquiry, with powers to take evidence taken on oath. Ministers will take unprecedented steps to ensure witnesses can speak freely even if they were serving or former public servants who were subject to the Official Secrets Act or other types of legal restrictions, Mrs May pledged. “It is my intention that people should be able to speak openly in relation to the evidence that they give if they are called as witnesses and if they wish to give written evidence,” she told the House of Commons.

“I will have to look at the legal issues around the Official Secrets Act but it is my intention that everybody should be able to speak openly. It is only if people can speak openly that we will be able to get to the bottom of these matters.” She added: “We need to learn what was going on. The inquiry is going to have to look quite widely and look at the documentary reviews that have taken place. “I don’t want to dictate to the inquiry how they are going to undertake their work but I’m sure the chairman and the panel will need to be alive to the fact that they will have to hear from those who have not felt able to speak out in the past.” She added that some victims and other witnesses will have been “fearful of the consequences”.

Mrs May said: “The inquiry panel will have access to all the government papers, reviews and reports it needs. Subject to the constraints imposed by any criminal investigations, it will be free to call witnesses from organisations in the public sector, private sector and wider civil society. “And I want to make clear that – if the inquiry panel chairman deems it necessary – the Government is prepared to convert it into a full public inquiry. “Given the scope of its work it is not likely to report before the General Election but I will make sure it provides an update before May next year.” During a Commons debate, Mrs May was asked by Tom Watson, a Labour MP who has played a leading role in exposing child sex abuse allegations, if the inquiry would be able to examine any files held by either the security services or Special Branch. She said: “My intention is that the fullest possible access should be made to Government papers in relation to these matters.

“Where there are files where there are certain issues around who can have access to those files we will need to ensure that we have an appropriate means of ensuring that the information is available to the inquiry panel.” She told another MP, the Conservatives’ Michael Ellis, it was important that the databases can be “interrogated and looked into”, adding: “There are issues obviously around certain matters that relate to secret and intelligence material, and access to that, but I am sure there are ways we can ensure that all appropriate material is going to be looked into whether that is appropriate for the review or for the inquiry panel.” In a separate step Mrs May announced Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), will lead a review into the Home Office’s handling of historic allegations of child abuse after it emerged that an internal review staged last year had been unable to trace 114 files on the subject in the Home Office archives.

Mr Wanless’ review is expected to take eight to 10 weeks. Both review were ordered by David Cameron, the Prime Minister, after it was disclosed last week that a dossier of papers allegedly naming high-profile child abusers in Westminster had been handed to the Home Office in the 1980s, leading to the department being accused of sitting on evidence of child abuse involving political figures for 35 years. Lisa Nandy, a Labour MP, asked Mrs May for a “full commitment that this inquiry will consider not just police and social services but also what happens at the heart of power”.

She added: “If those systems are found to exist today they will be overturned, whether that makes life uncomfortable for political parties, whether it makes life uncomfortable for Parliament or whether it makes life uncomfortable for the Government itself.” Mrs May replied: “It is not my intention that political parties should be outside the scope of the inquiry. “It think this has to be wide-ranging, it has to look at every area where it is possible, that people have been guilty of abuse and we need to learn lessons to ensure that the systems that we have in place are able to identify that and deal with it appropriately.”