Criminal investigation – Operation Fernbridge
A full criminal investigation, Operation Fernbridge, was launched as a result of allegations that arose from Operation Fairbank. Two men, a Catholic priest from Norwich, and a man understood to be connected to the Grafton Close children’s home in Richmond, were arrested on suspicion of sexual offences and questioned by child investigation officers from Operation Fernbridge in February 2013 A third arrest, of a 69-year-old man, took place in July 2013. A trial against Tony McSweeney, the Catholic priest, started at Southwark Crown Court in February 2015. However John Stingemore, who formerly worked for Richmond Council, was found dead at his homWestminster paedophile dossiere in January 2015 whilst still awaiting trial.The two men have always denied the charges against them.
Operation Fernbridge is being supported by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and Richmond Social Services. In June 2013 it was reported that seven police officers were working on the case and were following more than 300 leads. In July 2014, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that they had more than tripled the number of officers working on the case, announcing that 22 officers were working on the operation.In 1983, Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens compiled a dossier, telling his family it was “explosive” and would “blow the lid” on powerful and famous child abusers. The dossier was handed over to the then Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, who acknowledged receipt in a letter and suggested the police had been informed. The dossier was subsequently lost. The Observer revealed on 5 July 2014 that the Dickens dossier was just one of 114 potentially relevant files found to be missing by officials when they did their initial search. The chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz said that files had been lost “on an industrial scale”. In July 2014, Prime Minister David Cameron ordered an enquiry into the missing Dickens dossier, and a subsequent inquiry by Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC failed to find the dossier or missing files.
Allegations of impropriety by police officers
The Independent on Sunday reported early in 2014 that the police’s Professional Standards Directorate was examining potential criminal offences by undercover officers at the time of a police raid on Elm Guest House in June 1982. The raid took place while two officers were at the premises posing as guests. A former masseur, Lee Towsey, then aged 16 (under the homosexual age of consent at the time), alleged he had sex with two undercover officers at the guest house.
In March 2013, The Independent on Sunday reported that Colin Peters, a Foreign Office barrister, was a regular visitor to Elm Guest House, where he allegedly abused boys. In 1989, Peters was jailed for being part of a network of paedophiles who abused over a hundred children. Peters’ conviction followed an investigation known as Operation Hedgerow, which recorded 650 offences against 150 boys. The Independent on Sunday described Peters as being “a key figure behind one of the UK’s most extensive paedophile rings”. He was jailed in 1989 for eight years for sexual offences, conspiracy to commit a sexual offence and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
The paedophile ring lured young boys into prostitution. Reports at the time said the ring “was used by highly placed civil servants and well-known public figures”, but police did not have “the evidence or manpower to pursue them in court”. In 1989, The Glasgow Herald reported that the paedophile ring resembled the Mafia in its organisation and strength and included “well-placed and influential professional people linked to Westminster and Whitehall”.
One of the boys allegedly abused by Colin Peters at Elm Guest House was a Grafton Close care-home resident, Peter Hatton-Bornshin, who later killed himself. One alleged Elm Guest House victim said that he was also trafficked to an Amsterdam brothel – where he was allegedly abused by a prominent politician.
A spin-off inquiry, Operation Cayacos, is an investigation into historical claims of child abuse by a paedophile ring linked to Peter Righton. The investigation is being conducted by the Metropolitan Police.
In April 2014, Simon Danczuk MP said he was convinced there had been a “network of paedophiles” operating in the House of Commons who helped to protect Liberal MP Cyril Smith. Claims were made that a 16-year-old boy had been abused by Smith at Elm Guest House. Allegations had earlier been reported in The Independent that Smith had used rent boys under the age of 16 and in local authority care at Elm Guest House. After it emerged that a dossier of claims made by former MP Geoffrey Dickens had apparently disappeared, Danczuk referred to the police investigation into events at the guest house, when he called for former Home Secretary Leon Brittan to clarify what he knew about allegations made in the 1980s of paedophiles operating in Westminster.It was reported by The Guardian that events at the guest house were at “the heart” of the “long-simmering sex scandal”.
Retired child protection team manager Peter McKelvie, whose claims formed part of the Operation Fernbridge investigation, said in July 2014 that more than ten current and former politicians were on a list of alleged child abusers held by police investigating claims of a Westminster paedophile ring. Several, including Cyril Smith and Peter Morrison, were no longer alive, but other alleged abusers were reportedly still active in Parliament.McKelvie believes there are sufficient grounds to arrest at least one senior politician.McKelvie said that evidence of a powerful paedophile ring had been covered up in 1992. He told Labour MP Tom Watson that the police had discovered letters implicating powerful individuals in a paedophile network.
The Daily Telegraph reported in July 2014 that a senior Conservative politician being investigated as part of Operation Fernbridge had allegedly been stopped by a customs officer with child pornography in the 1980s. A border guard, who is now retired, told detectives that when he searched the MP’s car he found videotapes of children “clearly under the age of 12” taking part in sex acts. He passed the material on to his superiors, but the MP was never arrested or charged over the alleged child pornography seizure. A senior Conservative politician has been accused of abusing a young boy at Elm Guest House, but it was reported that police were understood to have insufficient evidence to take any action. The same newspaper reported a few days later that a statement had been given by a child in 1982 alleging that he was abused at Elm Guest House by a senior political figure. It was reported that Operation Fernbridge detectives had closely examined the case of the eight-year-old alleged victim. Detectives also interviewed a retired police officer who had been involved in the original Elm Guest House investigation and who had interviewed the alleged victim at the time. The eight-year-old boy had reportedly been rescued from Elm Guest House after allegedly suffering what was described as a “horrific sexual assault” by the leading political figure.
Also in July 2014, there were calls for the late Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, a former Solicitor General for Scotland, to be posthumously investigated after being linked to child abuse allegations at Elm Guest House. It was alleged that Fairbairn, who died in 1995 aged 61, was one of a number of politicians who visited the guest house in June 1982. Photographs were allegedly taken of Fairbairn – as well as Cyril Smith – at the guest house. Fairbairn was linked to alleged abuse of boys in a sauna at Elm Guest House.In 2000, the daughter of a prominent Scottish lawyer alleged that Fairbairn, a former legal adviser to Margaret Thatcher, was part of a paedophile ring. Pete Wishart, an SNP MP, who represents Fairbairn’s former constituency of Perth, called for the allegations to be fully examined. He said: “If there is any evidence that Sir Nicholas Fairbairn was involved in the abuse of children it should be looked at and properly investigated.”
Barry Strevens, an ex-detective chief inspector for Cheshire police and former bodyguard to Margaret Thatcher, claimed he warned her that one of her aides, Peter Morrison, allegedly held sex parties with under-age boys. Strevens said that despite passing on the allegations to Thatcher she later promoted Morrison to the position of deputy chairman of the Conservative party. Morrison died in 1995 aged 51, and has since been linked to alleged sex abuse at children’s homes in north Wales, and the alleged rape of a 14-year-old boy at Elm Guest House.Three years after Morrison died it was first reported in 1998 that he had been arrested for molesting underage boys during his career. He received a police caution and was never charged with any crime during his lifetime. In 2002, former Conservative minister Edwina Currie described Morrison as a “notable pederast”.
Former cabinet minister Norman Tebbit said in July 2014 that there “may well have been” a political cover-up of child sex abuse in the 1980s. Tebbit, who served in various ministerial roles under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, said that the culture at the time was to protect “the establishment”. He said that it was seen as “more important to protect the system than to delve too far into claims”. Tebbit stated that he felt this view was “wrong”. Former Labour health minister Lord Warner said that powerful people in the 1980s targeted children’s homes that served as a “supply line” for paedophiles. He described the sexual abuse of children as a “power drive”. Warner said that insufficient action was taken to deal with child abuse in the 1980s because there was “disbelief in the public mind”.
In an interview with The Guardian in November 2014, Labour MP Tom Watson said: “There is no doubt in my mind that sexual abuse by powerful figures took place.” Watson said that he was aware of the name of the senior aide of a former Prime Minister who allegedly smuggled indecent images of children from abroad, but that it would be wrong for him to name the individual. Watson said: “In one particular case of one person, there have been multiple allegations from unrelated people, some more credible than others, about severe cases of abuse. And in my mind I’m pretty certain that the person has broken the law and abused kids.”
Two journalists – the former news editor of the Surrey Comet, Hilton Tims, and the former editor of the Bury Messenger, Don Hale – both stated in November 2014 that they had been served with D-notices, or warnings not to publish material that might damage national security, during the 1980s. Tims stated that the notice was issued directly after the newspaper began investigating rumours of activities at the guest house. Hale said that he was threatened with a D-notice after starting to investigate a file given to him by Barbara Castle, which contained details of a Home Office investigation into Geoffrey Dickens’ allegations of a paedophile ring. According to Hale, the threat of a D-notice was given by police who came into his office the day after he had received a visit from Cyril Smith, whom Hale described as “aggressive”.
The Scottish Sunday Express published a claim in November 2014 that in 1985 a Scottish solicitor and former vice-chairman of the Scottish National Party, Willie MacRae, had evidence about paedophiles in the Scottish and English establishments. On 5 April 1985, MacRae’s car crashed on a remote stretch of the A87 road in Inverness-shire, he was shot in the head with a revolver and left to die. The evidence was supposedly in a briefcase in McRae’s car at the time but disappeared. The gun was recovered some distance from the car, but there were no fingerprints. In 2006, a former policeman, Iain Fraser, who worked as a private investigator after leaving the police, said he was asked by a mystery client to spy on McRae three weeks before he died. Fraser added to calls for a public inquiry into the death. Repeated requests for an official inquiry into MacRae’s death have been turned down.
In December 2014, a survivor of alleged “VIP abuse parties” said that he and other children were taken for weekend trips to Pimlico in the early 1980s. He said that he was abused growing up in care in north Wales and was taken to central London aged 11 or 12, where he was raped. He has been interviewed by police officers investigating the claims. The alleged victim said that children were plied with alcohol, taken into bedrooms and forced into sexual acts with various older men including MPs and government ministers. He said that other survivors have since died or in some cases have taken their own lives. The survivor of the alleged abuse said that he did not have faith in the Home Office or the Government to protect the victims.
Labour MP John Mann gave Scotland Yard detectives evidence in December 2014, relating to 22 political figures suspected of involvement in Westminster paedophile rings, including three serving MPs and three members of the House of Lords. The list of those alleged to have been involved in child sex abuse included fourteen Conservative politicians, five Labour politicians and three from other parties. Thirteen former ministers were among the list, of whom at least two were alleged to have assaulted young boys at “abuse parties” held at the Dolphin Squareapartment block in central London. Mann said that some of his sources were highly placed officials within institutions, and that he believed the complexity of child abuse networks at the heart of government in the 1970s and 1980s had been seriously underestimated.
In January 2015, an academic researcher found in The National Archives a reference to a file regarding allegations of “unnatural” sexual behaviour taking place at Westminster that probably went to the Prime Minister in the early 1980s. The file was entitled “Allegations against former public [missing word] of unnatural sexual proclivities; security aspects 1980 Oct 27 – 1981 Mar 20.” The file remains classified as it contained information from the security services and Law Officers. The Cabinet Office stated that any pertinent files would be made available to the forthcoming Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.[
After the former Home Secretary Leon Brittan died in January 2015, he was accused of “multiple child rape”. Labour MP Tom Watson said he had spoken to two people who claimed they were abused by Brittan, including a man who alleged he had been attacked more than a dozen times as a boy. The alleged victim also said he had seen Brittan assault others. Watson said that he – along with others, including media organisations – had known of the accusations but had decided not to speak out for fear of prejudicing any jury trial that Brittan might have one day faced. Watson said he believed the alleged victims he had spoken to were “sincere”.
The Independent on Sunday reported allegations that Leon Brittan had abused a pre-pubescent boy at Elm Guest House in summer 1982. The boy had been taken to a safe venue by police after being abused by several people, one of whom was allegedly Brittan. In 1990, Chris Fay, a campaigner for the National Association of Young People in Care, claimed on oath that Brittan had been involved in abuse and that in March 1990 he had seen a photograph of Brittan in a French maid’s uniform, with a young boy. The picture had been shown to him by Carole Kasir, co-owner of the Elm Guest House, who died weeks later.
Allegations were reported that Brittan had been photographed attending a rent boy orgy in 1986. It was alleged that young boys were picked up at Kings Cross, London and dropped off at a north London building to be repeatedly raped, but the day before the planned arrests of Brittan and other high-profile figures including the Liberal MP Cyril Smith, the 1986 investigation was inexplicably disbanded.
Operation Midland and homicide allegations[
On 14 November 2014, Scotland Yard said that it was setting up a related investigation, Operation Midland, withhomicide officers. This would examine claims made in November 2014 about a possible homicide over 30 years earlier. The Metropolitan Police later stated on 18 December 2014 that they were investigating three alleged homicides as part of the inquiry, and appealed for further information regarding activities at the Dolphin Squaredevelopment in Pimlico in the 1970s and 1980s. They also said that they were also looking at events elsewhere in London and at military establishments.
Operation Midland arose from claims by a man aged in his 40s who was a child at the time of the alleged incidents.The man claimed that he was given to a powerful group of paedophiles by his father and was taken to hotels and apartments, including the Dolphin Square development, where he was physically and sexually abused by “senior military and political” figures. He claimed to have witnessed three murders by members of the group: one 12-year old boy was strangled to death by a sitting Conservative MP; another boy was murdered at an orgy at which a Conservative MP was also present; and another abuser struck and killed a 10-year old boy with his car to intimidate other victims. The officer leading the investigation into the alleged murders, Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald, said in December 2014 that experienced officers had concluded that the allegations were “credible and true”.
The father of a murdered child said in November 2014 that he believed the child may have died at the hands of a paedophile ring involving high-profile individuals. Eight-year-old Vishal Mehrotra went missing in July 1981 in Putney, less than a mile from the Elm Guest House in Rocks Lane, Barnes. Seven months later the upper half of his torso was found buried in woodland in West Sussex. Vishambar Mehrotra, a retired magistrate, said that he fears the Metropolitan police covered up links between his son’s killing and activities at Elm Guest House. In May 1983 the inquiry into Vishal Mehrotra’s death was wound up by the police. Vishal Mehrotra’s murder was linked at the time by detectives to the activities of Sidney Cooke. Police investigated the paedophile ring involving Cooke in a major inquiry known as Operation Orchid, after they received intelligence that the ring could have abducted and killed up to 20 children. Vishambar Mehrotra said he was contacted by a man a few months after his son’s disappearance who suggested the boy’s abduction might be connected to the activities of a group of “powerful, high-profile” paedophiles who frequented Elm Guest House. He said that he taped the phone call and passed it onto detectives investigating his son’s abduction, but the information was never followed up. Mehrotra said: “It is clear to me that there has been a huge cover up. There is no doubt in my mind.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said in November 2014 that allegations Scotland Yard helped “cover up” the death of Vishal Mehrotra at the hands of a Westminster paedophile ring were “grotesque”. He called for an investigation to be launched into the claims. Clegg said: “We are in the early stages of a reckoning with our past of things happening on a scale and of a gravity which just a few months ago would have seemed unimaginable and almost too horrific to contemplate. The task is to peel back the layers of deception that appear to have happened in the past.” The chief executive of the child-abuse charity NAPAC, Peter Saunders, said that a full-scale investigation needed to be launched into the allegations. Saunders said: “It seems beyond doubt that dreadful things, including murder have been perpetrated and that much has been covered up.”
In December 2014, the brother of a 15-year-old who went missing in the late 1970s claimed that the teenager was among the victims abused by members of an alleged historic Westminster paedophile ring. Kevin Allen told ITV Newshe was “convinced” there had been “a massive cover-up” in relation to the disappearance of his brother Martin Allen from London in 1979.
The Daily Telegraph reported in January 2015 that police were investigating a possible link between former Conservative Party deputy chairman Peter Morrison and the unsolved murder of eight-year-old Vishal Mehrotra in 1981. A 46-year-old man alleged that Morrison raped him in Elm Guest House when he was aged 14, and claimed Scotland Yard covered it up. The alleged victim said he was walking in the village of Harting in 1982 when Morrison gave him some money and later lured him to London. Months earlier the torso of Vishal Mehrotra had been found buried in woodland less than two miles away from Harting in West Sussex.