LONDON: The British government faced growing calls on Sunday for a national inquiry into allegations of child abuse by politicians in the 1970s and 1980s, after it emerged that 114 files relating to the accusations were missing.
The claims have resurfaced after revelations of child abuse by prominent celebrities, fuelling calls for an over-arching inquiry into past sex violations and questions over whether allegations were ignored.
Home Secretary Theresa May is to address the lower house of parliament on Monday on allegations of an organised ring of child abusers in Westminster, which centre on a dossier given to the interior ministry in 1983 by Geoffrey Dickens, a Conservative MP and campaigner against child abuse.
But that file is missing – and on Sunday, Britain’s Home Office revealed that in total, 114 files relating to child abuse allegations were “presumed destroyed, missing or not found” – described as a “loss of files on an industrial scale” by the head of the ministry’s oversight committee.
The Home Secretary of the time Leon Brittan, forced to defend his handling of the Dickens dossier, said he had handed all relevant information on to officials for investigation.
The interior ministry said a fresh review of how it dealt with the Dickens dossier would be carried out. Its most senior official has been summoned to be questioned by a committee of MPs to explain how the department lost the 114 files.
Norman Tebbit, a prominent Conservative who held a series of senior posts in government in the 1980s told the BBC there “may well” have been a cover-up.
“At that time I think most people would have thought that the establishment, the system, was to be protected and if a few things had gone wrong here and there that it was more important to protect the system than to delve too far into it,” Tebbit said.
The comments by one of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s closet allies fuelled demands for a wide-ranging inquiry into child abuse allegations in the era.
“We need an overarching review led by child protection experts,” the opposition Labour party’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said in an open letter to the current administration.
“Any stones left unturned will leave concerns of institutional malaise, or worse a cover-up, unaddressed.”
The issue comes at a sensitive time for David Cameron’s coalition government as the prime minister prepares to contest an election next year.
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A public petition demanding an independent national inquiry into the matter launched on Sunday attracted 50,000 signatures.
But some have warned against digging up past abuse claims, with Conservative MP David Mellor, who served under Brittan in the Home Office in the 1980s, saying there was a risk of a “witch hunt”.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said police investigations could suffice without the need for a new inquiry.
“I assume any additional inquiries wouldn’t be able to second guess or even look into the matters which the police are looking into already,” the Liberal Democrat leader told the BBC.
The allegations of a powerful paedophile network reaching the upper echelons of government were first made in the 1980s. They re-emerged in 2012 in the wake of a scandal over the late TV personality Jimmy Savile, who police said had been a prolific child abuser who used his fame to abuse victims.
The revelations resulted in the set-up of Operation Yewtree, an investigation into sexual abuse by prominent celebrities, which led to the convictions of TV star Rolf Harris last week and publicist Max Clifford in May.
A separate investigation, Operation Fernbridge, was set up in 2013 following allegations by an MP that an aide of a former prime minister belonged to a powerful paedophile network. It has resulted in several arrests.
But some campaigners believe an overarching national inquiry should be set up into child abuse in the era, encompassing allegations about the world of media and politics.
Brittan has not commented on a report by the Independent on Sunday newspaper that he was questioned by police last month in relation to an allegation of rape in London in 1967.
Newspaper the Mail on Sunday reported that police are investigating an unnamed Labour member of the House of Lords accused of historical child abuse, while The Telegraph said police had tracked down a former victim now in his 40s.
A police spokesman said that no comment could be made on the detail of the investigation, but that a large amount of information had been gathered and that it was being assessed.