In recent years, UK institutions have been beset by lurid claims about VIP paedophile rings. This mythology of powerful perverts preying on children has gained extraordinary traction. Once an idea put about by conspiracy crackpots like David Icke (who claims that human sacrifice and ritual abuse are rampant), it has been taken up, uncritically, by some politicians and investigative journalists, presumably because it suits their ideological needs. They want to believe, and this helps to foment a mood of public concern, bordering on hysteria, about alleged ‘cover-ups’.
But as the historian Professor Philip Jenkins has pointed out, ‘elite paedophilia’ charges had circulated very widely in tabloid media in the 1980s, usually in the context of lunatic theories of Satanism and supposed ‘ritual child abuse’.
On 3 June 2014, seven members of parliament, who were evidently not fully briefed on this period of British social history, wrote to the then home secretary Theresa May. They protested that police were ‘failing to follow the evidence’ in a number of cases of alleged historical child sex abuse. They then went on – seemingly without irony – to complain about the absence of evidence, and demanded an inquiry into:
‘i) Why detailed dossiers – such as the documents submitted to the Home Office by the late Geoffrey Dickens – have disappeared;
ii) Why police surveillance videos – said to be of prominent people who have been involved in paedophile rings – have gone missing;
iii) Why child pornography videos seized by HM Customs and Excise have been lost or destroyed;
iv) Why investigations appear repeatedly to have been stalled or abandoned over the past 30 years.’
On 31 October this year, the retired High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques published a damning review of the Metropolitan Police’s efforts to follow the evidence – or, rather, lack of evidence – about alleged paedophile rings involving prominent people. He focused particularly on Operation Hydrant, which coordinates and advises the plethora of other Met inquiries set up in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Operation Hydrant sits above Operation Fairbank, a scoping inquiry started in 2012 that went on to establish a number of criminal investigations: Operations Fernbridge, Midland, Cayacos, and then later, Athabasca.
Henriques focuses on Operation Midland, an inquiry into alleged sexual abuse of children at an exclusive apartment block in Westminster named Dolphin Square – which, incidentally, features in Icke’s dystopian fantasy The Biggest Secret. He also considered Operation Vincente, which looked into accusations of rape against Lord Brittan, a former Conservative home secretary.
The full report runs to some 493 pages, of which only 68 are publicly available by way of a summary. Almost half of this is devoted to challenging the official police instruction that complainants are ‘victims’ who must be believed. Henriques patiently explains that this assumption reverses the presumption of innocence: ‘Requiring an investigator to believe a complaint which may or may not be true is a recipe for injustice.’ He calls this ‘ludicrous’, ‘false’, and says it perverts our system of justice. As one barrister wrote, it ‘involves an artificial and imposed suspension of forensic analysis’.