Unanswered Questions: Comment by Liz Davies on why she wants a national inquiry

Originally posted on spotlight:

Following his presentation to the Home Office of two dossiers about sexual crimes against children, Geoffrey Dickens raised concerns about ‘child brothels’ being run on an Islington Council Estate. In 1986, he spoke of tenants providing him with tape recordings of children screaming during ‘sex sessions’ and mentioned 40 child victims some as young as 6. He also identified three premises and reported matters to Scotland Yard and Douglas Hurd the Home Secretary. These allegations were denied at the time by the Director of Social Services. Yet, in the very area where Dickens was highlighting his concerns, the decomposed body of a girl of 17 was found in a cupboard in a block of council flats. She was said to have been strangled during oral sex after being at a ‘sex party’. This was in 1988 when, as a social work manager in the area, I was hearing rumours of…

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Why Hilary Benn MP voted for the Emergency Surveillance Bill

Hilary Benn MP

Hilary Benn MP

Hilary Benn MP responds below to concerns about the Emergency Surveillance Bill and how quickly it was rushed through Parliament. Hilary, who voted for the Bill, said:

  • Labour ensured that the legislation is temporary and will expire in 2016.
  • The Interception of Communications Commissioner is to report on the workings of this new Act within six months of commencement and every six months thereafter.
  • A new Privacy and Civil Liberties Board will be created.
  • There will be a major independent review of the legal framework governing data access and interception.
  • Labour has narrowed the reasons to apply for warrants to intercept emails or phone calls to cases explicitly about national security and serious crime instead of the previous wider ‘economic well-being’ test.

Hilary Benn’s response in full:

As I am sure you are aware, the European Court of Justice has struck down regulations enabling internet providers to retain communications data for law enforcement purposes for up to 12 months. Unless they have a business reason to hold this data, internet and phone companies will delete it, and this would have serious consequences for ongoing criminal investigations. It means that the police and intelligence agencies are in danger of losing access to vital information which is used in 95% of serious and organised crime investigations, as well as in counter-terrorism cases and in dealing with online child abuse.

To give you an idea of what we are talking about in practice, without this data  being kept the police would not be able to: locate missing children; catch paedophiles sharing child abuse images through online networks; the mobile phone records that helped police find out about the attempted terrorist attack at Glasgow airport in 2007 would no longer be available; and the security services wouldn’t have been able to check who the Woolwich attackers had contacted previously to make sure there were no further attacks planned. And it was retention of such data that helped to identify where Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were before their phone was switched off, and this was information that helped lead to the conviction of Ian Huntley for their murder.

The data in question – for which the police need a warrant – is not the content of emails, texts or internet use, but information about who texted/called whom and when, or where a phone was at a particular time This clearly helps in investigations, but it also can help clear innocent people of any involvement. For the content of these communications to be accessed, a warrant also needs to be obtained.

In order to prevent the loss of access to this data, UK legislation needs to change to ensure that it both complies with EU law and retains the ability to access this data for the protection of the public. The main purpose of this emergency legislation is therefore to put the law back where it was before the ECJ judgement; i.e. it does not extend any existing powers. It also offers important new safeguards (see below).

The second part of the legislation covers circumstances where a warrant has been issued to intercept communication. Some companies have been calling for a clearer legal framework to underpin their cooperation with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to intercept what terrorists and serious criminals are saying to each other. This is the ability to access content with a warrant which the law provides for. Where a warrant has been issued, it is clearly important that companies co-operate with UK law enforcement and intelligence agencies, whether they are based in the UK or overseas. The Bill therefore proposes to make this clear, which should be the position currently anyway.

On the important issue of principle, there is of course a balance to be struck here between the protection of our privacy and preventing serious crime and threats to life. For example, if the police and security services are investigating a plot to cause explosions and they become aware of an individual whom they think is planning such activity, they will naturally want to find out whether that individual has been communicating with anyone else who may also be involved. They will not be able to do this if the communications data for those people has already been deleted. And because, before an investigation starts, no-one knows where it may lead, it is evidently not possible to require telephone providers and internet firms only to retain data on certain suspect individuals. And that is why all the information has to be retained so that the relevant data can be found. That is why I support its retention.

I do, however, share the real concerns that have been expressed about the nature of surveillance, not least after recent revelations by Edward Snowden. And given the limited Parliamentary time being made available to discuss this Bill, Labour has ensured that the Government’s legislation is temporary and will expire in 2016. This will require the Government and Parliament to properly consult on and consider longer term proposals next year.

The Government has agreed to a new Privacy and Civil Liberties Board. Labour has narrowed the reasons to apply for warrants to intercept emails or phone calls to cases explicitly about national security and serious crime – instead of the previous wider ‘economic well-being’ test. Labour also tabled an amendment, now accepted by the government, requiring the Interception of Communications Commissioner to report on the workings of this new Act within six months of commencement and every six months thereafter. This will be a significant improvement in oversight and accountability.

We have also secured agreement to our proposal for a major independent review of the legal framework governing data access and interception (the RIPA review that we called for earlier this year). This is a major reform and it will start straight away. It will look at everything in this area, including data retention and access. We are also seeking to amend the Bill to make this review part of the law.

In the wake of the Snowden revelations, and the concerns raised about whether the legal framework has failed to keep up with new technology, there is a clear need for wider public debate about the right balance between security and privacy online, and for a review of powers and stronger oversight. The review we have secured will enable longer term questions and concerns to be properly dealt with and debated in time for new legislation. The review is actually a better outcome than the call for the current legislation to lapse in 5 months’ time, because this would be insufficient time for there to be a serious, thorough and sustained public debate and consultation which will be needed to get this right.

Finally, I do share your concerns about the rushed way in which these proposals have been presented to Parliament, but the timetable does not, however, detract from having to consider the fundamental issue of whether we as a society need these powers to protect ourselves. I respect the views of those who say that privacy should take precedence over protection of the public, but I take a different view. And it is for all these reasons, and with these safeguards, that I voted for the Bill.

Shifting beliefs: The need to listen to child protection experts

Liz Davies, Matthew Parris

Liz Davies, Matthew Parris

A fascinating discussion between Matthew Parris (columnist and former Conservative politician) and Liz Davies (front-line child protection social worker from London Metropolitan University) about the forthcoming national inquiry into child sexual abuse was broadcast yesterday on the Spectator blog (transcript below). It was fascinating partly because of Liz Davies’ recounting of how her investigations into child abuse and murders of children were stopped by unknown senior people, and partly because of Matthew Parris’ refusal to accept that what Liz Davies was saying might be true. Although as Matthew Parris had just published a Spectator article called ‘What kind of idiot tries to stand in the way of a national child abuse panic? I do’ and subtitled ‘I know the rumours. I think they’re mostly nonsense. I don’t expect a fair hearing’ (pay-walled) he perhaps found it impossible to allow himself to be convinced by the evidence Liz Davies was setting out.

Putting Matthew Parris’s individual views aside, what I generally took from the discussion was a reminder that many people don’t yet accept that the organised sexual abuse of children has happened and is still happening, and that when the abuse is carried out by powerful and influential people it tends to get covered up, even after the abusers are dead.

We can’t expect the new CSA inquiry to solve this alone, but if it delivers what it is being set up to achieve then it should help push forward the further cultural change we need. We need to acknowledge the issue of organised CSA and find better ways to prevent it and tackle it when it does happen. Victims and survivors shouldn’t have to wait 20 years for a national inquiry – a National Police Investigation Team should be dealing swiftly with these cases and securing prosecutions. We really need to start listening to child protection experts like Liz Davies and Peter McKelvie.

Discussion on 10 July 2014:

Matthew Parris: It seems to me to very likely be an overheated conspiracy theory. There’s certainly a rush to judgement. It may or may not concern senior politicians 30 years ago. All we know is that Geoffrey Dickens, who was a delightful man – we all liked Geoffrey very much – but he was pretty nuts. He had lots of conspiracy theories. And he did believe Britain was in the grip of a huge paedophile ring involving very senior people in government. I think it highly unlikely that the Home Office would have willfully destroyed the documents that he gave to the Home Secretary. I don’t say we shouldn’t look into it. I just think everybody needs to calm down a little.

Presenter: Other inquiries, like Hillsborough have ended up being totally vindicated.

Matthew Parris: But the Hillsborough Inquiry was an inquiry by the police into themselves [sic]. If this new Home Office inquiry, which is an inquiry into two separate early inquiries, fails to find a conspiracy then I don’t think the people who think these conspiracies exist will be satisfied. They’ll then want another inquiry. But you can’t win discussions like this – with respect to Liz – anyone who says ‘calm down we don’t need another inquiry’ is always going to lose the discussion. And anyone who says ‘let’s at least try to get the truth of the matter and lay this to rest’ is always going to win the argument, and so you’ll get inquiry upon inquiry upon inquiry.

Presenter: I suppose Matthew is saying ‘let’s pause, reflect, and come back to this once the media storm has died down and see if we really need an overarching inquiry’?

Liz Davies: It doesn’t feel like a rush to me. I’ve waited 20 years since I became aware of major cover-ups and people interfering with my investigations when I was trying to protect children. And where instructions came from for those interferences I don’t know – I want some answers.

Presenter: You knew about these particular allegations?

Liz Davies: I was investigating many, many allegations of sexual assaults of children and murders of children. I was working with the police and then suddenly the police were taken off the investigations into the most serious crimes you can imagine against multiple numbers of children. I had to then go to the civil courts to try and protect them as best I could, but there were no prosecutions against the perpetrators. Thanks to social media I’ve recently been able to contact those police officers who were removed from the investigations and they’ve told me their instructions came from very senior police officers. Who’s going to investigate that? I’ve no means to do it. Why did senior police shut down my investigations into the abuse and murders of children? I want to know that – I’ve waited 20 years. I’m not going to stop – these are incredibly serious matters.

Presenter: Why do you think it is we have to wait 30 years before we have an inquiry into these things?

Liz Davies: More information’s come to light now. Partly through social media a lot more victims and survivors have come forward. My inbox is full every day of people contacting me with stories to tell. But our biggest problem now is having enough police to investigate reports. Operation Fernbridge has only got 7 officers.

Presenter: So what you’d like is a truly overarching inquiry looking not just into politicians but every single child abuse case where justice has not been achieved.

Liz Davies: People like me who’ve had investigations shut down want answers to those cases. I’ve tried for 20 years; I’ve raised the issues through the media. I’ve tried everything and got nowhere. I want to know who’s behind it all. It’s not all about politicians – it’s about abuse of power at the highest level and I want to know who those people are.

Matthew Parris: Well, the highest level is Ministers and you seem to be suggesting they are involved. I personally doubt it but these things have happened. But when you say these investigations were shut down that’s not a very neutral phrase – investigations are ‘not proceeded with’ by the police every day. You say they were shut down at the highest level but the senior police officer responsible will have taken a decision not to proceed. There may be a sinister explanation but it may just be that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to proceed.

Liz Davies: I’d been working on cases for months. I’m a very experienced investigator, and I’ve worked with the police for many years – I know when my investigation into very serious crimes has been closed down; when I go to work one day and I’m told by my senior manager “you will no longer have any police with you on these investigations from this day on”.

Presenter: Could that be because of a lack of evidence?

Liz Davies: Absolutely not. We were in the middle of collating a mass of evidence. I had to get some children right out of London to secret venues to protect them. The level of investigation was very high and complex and I knew exactly what I was dealing with. Children were being taken all over the country to be abused in different locations by different people.

Presenter: Do you have any confidence that the new inquiry will put these matters to rest?

Liz Davies: No, but I might be able to ask some questions – there’s nowhere else for me to go. In Islington, 2 or 3 years before I was working there and raising serious issues, Geoffrey Dickens was also raising serious issues – that’s another dossier which no one is currently looking for. That one went to Douglas Hurd who was Home Secretary at that time.

Matthew Parris: All these children who have, as you say, been taken to different locations to be abused by senior people, you’ll presumably be able to find some of them to testify?

Liz Davies: Yes, they will of course come and testify, but we need to have a lot of things in place – support systems, witness protection. An inquiry won’t solve this – it’ll get us a bit further. What I’ve argued for 20 years is that we need a National Police Investigation Team because we need somewhere that people can go where the connections are made across the country. When I went to Scotland Yard with my evidence for Islington I was used by Scotland Yard to go all over the country to liaise with other investigations like North Wales and so on – nobody in the police was connecting it all up. I was hearing many names – I won’t say any of the names here, but many names – I was hearing them in the different places I was visiting. Nobody has ever joined those dots up.

Matthew Parris: I won’t ask you for names but I will ask you – you do have names, and these are very senior people in the world of politics and you are reasonably confident that they have been involved in some of these activities?

Liz Davies: Yes. Some of the names that have come out recently, like Cyril Smith, were no surprise to me. When he died I wondered if anything would come out then. I heard his name for many, many years.

Matthew Parris: So had I. Although I hadn’t entirely believed – I’d thought perhaps whatever he had done hadn’t been that serious or had been exaggerated. So you are right – it is possible to be wrong about people, but that doesn’t mean there is great national conspiracy involving top people all over the country transporting children to secret locations. I would need a lot of convincing.

Liz Davies: What we need is a proper police investigation into the allegations we know about that haven’t been properly investigated or have been shut down over the years. My experience was you could so much, get to a certain level and it all got shut down, and I’ve had that time and again. We need more police resources, more social workers. And can I just say that what we’re talking about is organised abuse of children – and last year this government got rid of all the statutory guidance on this. They got rid of the definition of ‘organised child abuse’ and the means of investigating it. We’re losing our tools for dealing with this.

Matthew Parris: I’m not here to defend Ministers but I don’t think it’s fair to say we got rid of all the means of investigating organised abuse.

Liz Davies: They’ve got rid of the policy that stated how police and other agencies should investigate organised child abuse.

Matthew Parris: Who are these senior police who you say are consistently shutting down every investigation the moment you get somewhere? It seems unfeasible in this day and age that a chief constable in a case where there is evidence of appalling abuse to young children would stop the investigations because they were under pressure from some national network.

Liz Davies: Well, you’d have to ask them wouldn’t you? I wasn’t operating at that level. I don’t know who these people are. All I can tell you is what I know absolutely happened in my role, being paid to protect children, and not being able to protect them in the way I was expected to.

The devil is in the detail.

Theresa May announcing the child abuse inquiryA national inquiry into the failings of state and non-state bodies to protect children from abuse was announced by the Home Secretary this afternoon. Over 140 MPs demanded the inquiry (following on from Yvette Cooper MP’s initial call 18 months ago) and an online petition reached over 70,000 signatures in its first couple of days. The inquiry was called for because institutions have consistently put their own reputations and survival before the protection of children, particularly children within the care system who are the most vulnerable to organised child abuse and trafficking. While there have been a growing number of investigations of late, such as the NHS reports into Jimmy Savile, these are all narrow in scope and do not look at why there were persistent failures to intervene, stop the abuse and prosecute the offenders.

Home Secretary Theresa May set out three principles for the review: that it should not get in the way of making successful prosecutions; that there should be maximum transparency; and that wherever there were failures they should be exposed and lessons learned. The Home Secretary said the latter should include looking widely at child protection issues including the proposal of legally mandated reporting of suspected abuse.

In addition to the main inquiry, Peter Wanless from the NSPCC and a senior legal figure will look again at the handling of the dossier of evidence and allegations handed to then Home Secretary Sir Leon Brittan by Geoffrey Dickens MP – a dossier which Dickens told friends would “blow the lid off” the lives of powerful and famous child abusers. It came as a surprise to many MPs and observers that the disappearance of 114 Home Office files – something which appeared to be a very recent revelation – had actually been made ‘public’ in a previous Parliamentary Question. Wanless will also look again at the allegations that the Home Office funded activity by the Paedophile Information Exchange.

The main inquiry will look at failures by state and non-state bodies to deliver their duty of care of protecting children and will begin as soon as possible. Although it cannot feasibly conclude before the 2015 general election it will provide an update to Parliament before May 2015.

However, while the announcement of an inquiry is momentous, there is no guarantee that it will fully address the questions the MPs and the public want answered. The Hillsborough-style inquiry will have far more scope than all the individual investigations that have taken place to date, but the scope is not limitless. And it is these limits which will ultimately determine the success or failure of the inquiry.

The Hillsborough Inquiry’s terms of reference allowed it to look at:

…all documentation held by central government, local government and other public agencies (the police, ambulance service, fire service, coroner and Sheffield City Council) that relates directly to events surrounding the Hillsborough tragedy up to and including the Taylor report, the Lord Stuart-Smith review of Hillsborough papers in 1998-99 and the private prosecution in 2000.

The timeframe is one of the key constraints that may hamper the new inquiry. Will the review only look at the 1970’s and 80’s? If so, this would exclude criminal activity right up until the current day. But the constraint on what information can be released to the panel will surely be the most telling.

In relation to pre-1997 government information, the Hillsborough Inquiry Panel was not allowed to see information which indicated the views of ministers (such as Cabinet material or policy advice to ministers) without first consulting representatives of that administration. Tom Watson, Yvette Cooper and other MPs pressed the Home Secretary today on whether the inquiry would have access to all information, including police and secret service papers, and information covered by the Official Secrets Act. The Home Secretary said she wanted the “fullest possible access” but could not guarantee this at the present moment – the legality would have to be established. With MI5 heavily involved in the cover-up of Cyril Smith MP’s abuse for example, access to all evidence is fundamental to uncovering the truth. Will the customs officer who intercepted a video tape containing footage of child sexual abuse found on a senior Tory MP be allowed to give evidence even though he was made to sign the Official Secrets Act? If parties have a right to be consulted on pre-1997 government information then what chances are there of them disclosing anything that may implicate themselves or their colleagues? Remember the huge fight David Steel put up to prevent it being known that he was the person who nominated Cyril Smith for a knighthood even though he had been told of the MP’s abuse of children? David Steels actions were clearly very embarrassing for him – and indeed he should be deeply ashamed – but it was not a criminal act. If it was he would surely have fought even harder.

We will have to wait for the Inquiry’s terms of reference which will be drafted once the panel lead is in place to see if the devil is in the detail (or whether the detail allows the devil to escape). The endless delays of the Chilcot Inquiry may be a better indicator of what the new child sexual abuse inquiry will be like than the Hillsborough Inquiry which focused on the police and never threatened the establishment.

Hilary Benn MP announces his support for a national inquiry into child abuse

On Friday evening, Hilary Benn MP added his name to the growing list of MPs from across the political spectrum who want a national inquiry into historical cases of children sexual abuse.

The call for a national inquiry was first made by Yvette Cooper MP in November 2012 following Home Secretary, Theresa May’s reopening of the investigation into child sexual abuse at North Wales children’s homes. But it was a recent cross-party letter to the Home Secretary signed by 7 MPs (Tim Loughton, Zac Goldsmith, Tom Watson, Simon Danczuk, John Hemming, Tess Munt, and Caroline Lucas) which kick-started the current campaign which has so far led to well over 100 MPs stepping forward in support of the inquiry. Although it is for Members of Parliament to make the decision, members of the Lords have also come forward in support, and the British Association of Social Workers has asked its 15,000 members to lobby their MPs to support the inquiry.

The pressure continues to build on the Government to agree to the inquiry as members of the shadow cabinet, including Andy Burnham and now also Hilary Benn, join the call. Following Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s apology on Thursday to victims for government and NHS failures highlighted in the Savile reports, Andy Burnham challenged Jeremy Hunt that the reports were “effectively the hospitals investigating themselves”. Burnham called for an independent review, akin to the Hillsborough inquiry, into why there was “such large-scale, institutional failure to stop these abhorrent crimes.”

The NHS Leeds report into Jimmy Savile’s crimes is a valuable piece of the jigsaw but the scope of all of these individual reports cannot answer the critical question of why it was that time and time again the police and other authorities had evidence of organised sexual abuse of children but failed to stop the abuse and bring the perpetrators to justice.

In MP Simon Danczuk’s book, Smile for the Camera, he provides damning evidence of how the Westminster elite were able to work with the police and MI5 to ensure Cyril Smith MP was never brought to justice – “There was a network at the highest level that was out to protect him at every turn”. And there are many other cases, such as the disappearance of a dossier of evidence about powerful and politically connected paedophiles shared with a previous Home Secretary by the late Geoffrey Dickens MP, and the failure to properly investigate and bring abusers to justice in the Elm Guest House and Grafton Close Children’s Home cases.

Please write to your MP if they are yet to state their position on the call for a national inquiry into historical child abuse.

NOW OPEN: The Elland Road Walk & Ride Scheme (not open on match days)

The Elland Road Park & Ride Scheme, 10am on a Friday. There are some cars on the far side if you look closely.

The Elland Road Park & Ride Scheme, 10am on a Friday. There are some cars on the far side if you look closely.

I was kind of glad when Leeds City Council finally admitted that Beeston residents wouldn’t get anything out of the Elland Road Park & Ride scheme which has been thrust upon them. But it turns out they are wrong. There is something very tangible in this for local residents: cheaper travel into the city centre.

If you catch one of the First Bus services along Elland Road you’ll pay a standard £2.10 into the city centre. Day tickets are available but these are still more expensive than the standard £3 ticket on offer from the Park & Ride. And up to three children can travel free from the Park & Ride when accompanied by a fare-paying adult, whereas First Bus will charge over-5’s half-fare, which explains why the lady with the two kids who gets the bus at the same time as me always hands the driver a tenner for their collective fairs.

Before local residents get in their cars and drive over the road to the Park & Ride to take advantage of the cheaper travel they should note that Metro have confirmed that customers don’t need to drive a vehicle into the Park & Ride to use the bus service. Residents may want to think of the service as “Walk & Ride” instead.

Not only are the fares cheaper at the Park & Ride, but you’ll also get to travel on a new bus and have a seat because very few people are using the Park & Ride. The photo above was taken at 10am today (a Friday) when you’d expect it to be full of commuter cars. It is early days of course, but perhaps the poor location of the site – as repeatedly pointed out to the Council, including in an expert report they themselves commissioned – is proving to be an issue.

It might also be related to the Council’s insistence on linking the Park & Ride with Leeds United – their city centre adverts say “Park and Ride and Shoot into town” with a silhouette of a stadium in the background – even though the Park & Ride is closed on match days.

The Council also made the false link between Leeds United and the Park & Ride in their consultation response to residents in which they said, “The park and ride service at the Reading Madejski Stadium allegedly attracts supporters to arrive early and go into town before the match so park and ride here [Elland Road] could also make some contribution to reducing the match day congestion.” After some discussion they admitted that their Madejski Stadium point was entirely based on a comment from “Mark a Portsmouth Fan” on this football fan website.

I asked if the Council’s research showed what it was that Reading fans were heading into to town for before the game – a pre-match pint perhaps? There are plenty of pubs near Elland Road stadium so there is no need for people to travel away from the stadium for a drink. Leeds United fans will be pleased to know that the Council jumped to their defence by misinterpreting my point and saying, “We would be stereotyping all football supporters if we were to assume that all they did was to consume alcohol.” But what to think when the forum that the very influential “Mark a Portsmouth Fan” frequents says “Pubs near the Madejski stadium are rare, so most fans have recommended Reading town centre for a pre-match drink”? All of this is of course irrelevant because (drum roll, fanfare, fireworks)… the Elland Road Park & Ride is not open on match days.