This weekend Channel4 news reported that the Home Office is appointing a senior legal figure to carry out a fresh review into how a dossier alleging paedophile activity at Westminster in the 1980s was handled by the department.
The prime minister had ordered a fresh review by the most senior official at the Home Office into what happened to the dossier handed to the then home secretary, Leon (now Lord) Brittan by the Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens in 1983.
Mark Sedwill, the Home Office permanent secretary, has written to Prime Minister David Cameron to say the new investigation would assess whether conclusions of an earlier review conducted last year “remain sound”.
The move comes amid fresh questions over what happened to the dossier handed to the then home secretary, Leon (now Lord) Brittan by the Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens in 1983.
The previous review concluded that all the relevant information in the file had been passed to the police and the remaining material had been destroyed in line with the policies of the time.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Sedwill wrote: “To provide the additional reassurance you are seeking, particularly in view of information now in the public domain since the investigation’s conclusion last year, I will engage a senior independent legal figure to assess whether the review’s conclusions remain sound. I aim to make the appointment within the next week.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband agreed that there should be an inquiry, adding that child protection experts and others “to draw together all the lessons we’ve learned in the last few years about child abuse.”
Speaking on Friday, Mr Cameron insisted that he understood the concerns which had been raised about the missing file. “That’s why I’ve asked the permanent secretary at the Home Office (Mark Sedwill) to do everything he can to find answers to all of these questions and to make sure we can reassure people about these events,” he said.
Mr Sedwill commissioned his original independent review into what happened to the Dickens’ dossier after concerns were raised last year in parliament. It concluded that the “credible” elements of the dossier which had “realistic potential” for further investigation were passed to prosecutors and the police while other elements were either “not retained or destroyed”.
Under the terms of reference released by the Home Office, the new review will consider all relevant Home Office files, records and other papers from the period 1979-1999 in order to establish a picture of what information the department received in relation to alleged organised child abuse, and what action was taken.
In particular it said the review should establish a “full picture” in relation to any papers from Mr Dickens, any material relating to the notorious Paedophile Information Exchange, and any material relating to any Home Office employee alleged to have been involved in organised child abuse.
Where papers cannot be found, the terms of reference said the review would need to establish why they cannot be located and, if they were destroyed, whether it was done in line with government guidance at the time on file retention.
The reviewer will be required to submit their report to the permanent secretary within four weeks – together with an executive summary suitable for publication.”The review should draw immediately to the attention of the permanent secretary (without waiting for the final report) any matters considered to merit police investigation,” the terms of reference state.
Mr Dickens, who died in 1995, had believed the dossier would “blow the lid off” the lives of powerful and famous child abusers, according to his son.
Meanwhile the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Fernbridge is continuing to investigate allegations of child sexual abuse in the late 1970s and 1980s at the former Elm Guest House in Barnes, south-west London – where parties involving MPs and other members of the establishment are alleged to have been held.
More than 120 MPs have now signed a letter calling for a national inquiry into what went on at the time, with hearings held in public.