The news that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is to investigate events surrounding Elm Guest House in the London borough of Richmond is to be welcomed. But I have serious doubts whether the inquiry will have the time and space to properly investigate.
The item is one of a number sandwiched into three weeks of hearings under the Westminster strand of the inquiry and Alexis Jay, the chair made it clear ,last month there is no intention to make any of the investigations exhaustive.
As she said:”It is important that everyone, including the public, understands that this is not, and has never intended to be, an exhaustive examination of all Westminster-related child sexual abuse issues. Even focusing on institutional issues, a comprehensive
examination of all the allegations that have been made, and all the questions that have been raised, particular on the internet, would involve hearings lasting months, if not years.”
So what will this brief cover. Again according to her statement it will be limited:
“Another category of these investigations concerns allegations relating to Elm Guest House. Those allegations include possible misconduct on the part of the Metropolitan Police in the way in which investigations into goings on at Elm Guest House were conducted, and also allegations that the fruits of those investigations were covered up.
“The latter allegations include the well-known allegation that evidence relating to Leon Brittan’s presence at and/or involvement with Elm Guest House was suppressed. We propose to call some more detailed evidence relating to these cases at the hearings next year.”
So even the remit looking at Elm Guest House will be confined.
I got involved in reporting this after a source who was neither a child sex abuse survivor nor a politician, stumbled across it during an unrelated dispute. The source had also discovered – and I have never had time to investigate this – allegations of elder abuse at a home in Richmond. Until then as a journalist I had never investigated any cases of alleged child sexual abuse.
What followed was a whirlwind of allegations, some involving national politicians, others pointing to a lack of duty of care for children by Richmond Council at Grafton Close children’s home, a muddled police investigation, and a series of very disturbing stories from people who were children at the home at the time.
It ended with the successful prosecution of a well connected Roman Catholic priest, Father Tony McSweeney and charges against the former deputy manager of the children’s home., John Stingemore. McSweeney was sentenced to three years in gaol, Stingemore died a fortnight before he was due to appear before Southwark Crown Court.
Unlike Operation Midland the Met Police investigation did produce results. In McSweeney’s case it forced the Roman Catholic Church to commission a report into what went wrong when it was revealed that the paedophile priest was caught some 30 years later with a file of indecent pictures on his computer while playing a major pastoral role with young boys and men in Norwich scouts, boxing clubs and with the Norwich City Football youth team.
While the evidence about any connection between Elm Guest House and Grafton Close was never tested in court because of Stingemore’s death the trial did reveal that both McSweeney accompanied by Stingemore took boys away from the home without permission for weekends at a flat in Bexhill. They were present where various alleged sexual assaults took place. If Stingemore had been convicted, the jury would have found out that soon after leaving Richmond, and working for another authority he was arrested and convicted of child sexual abuse.
All this suggested that Richmond Council was seriously amiss in looking after children in its care and that both elected councillors and officials should have known what was going on. But it looks that the inquiry would not look at this aspect, allowing the council to be let off the hook.
As serious as this is when Elm Guest House was raided by the police, Grafton Close was designated as a place of safety for any children that might be found there. Effectively the police unwittingly were sending children to an establishment run by a paedophile with a paedophile friend who regularly visited it.And by alerting Grafton Close in advance if there was a connection with Elm Guest House, the establishment would have got a tip off about the raid.
As for the place itself it seems like many hotels that welcomed gay guests in late 1970s and early 1980s, tolerated both consenting gay adults staying overnight and possibly paedophiles. The fact is unlike today homosexuality was viewed as a closet activity, driving both adults and paedophiles to the same venues. The situation is reflected in hotels used as gay haunts in North Wales at the same time.
As for VIPs and a police cover up at Elm Guest House the inquiry will have its work cut out. Perhaps they can throw light on the Metropolitan Police’s reply to Channel Four Dispatches that Sir Cyril Smith visited the venue. As for Leon Brittan, the identification that he is alleged to have visited the venue come not from survivors or any list compiled by anybody but from enraged residents of this posh Barnes road. They say they spotted both him and at other times boys getting out of cars late at night and were fed up with this sort of traffic in a respectable neighbourhood.