British Child-Abuse Survivors Are Threatening Direct Action if They Don't Get Justice from the Government
They say the government's inquiry is shaping up to be a whitewash.
This post originally appeared on VICE UK.
In January I reported as survivors of child abuse were invited into Parliament for the first time. The historic visit seemed to show that the voices of victims would finally be heard in the corridors of power. At the time, Phil Frampton, former victim of abuse and Founding Chair of the Care Leavers Association, told me, "My childhood and working with child abuse survivors has taught me to be realistic, but right now, I don't believe this can all be swept under the carpet anymore." He had just led one of the largest Public Parliamentary meetings the House of Commons had ever seen.
But today Phil's view, and that of other survivors, is far less optimistic. As the UK gears up for a general election, accusations of negligence and cover-ups over pedophilia operating in the heart of government is an issue barely being discussed amid the endless photo ops of politicians in different workplaces, schools, and hospitals. As far as some survivors are concerned, that cover up is still going on.
This weekend, demonstrators will take to the streets outside Parliament and around the UK to ask why, three months after John Mann MP handed police and parliament a dossier of 22 politicians named by victims and informants as child abusers, nothing appears to have moved on. Mann's Labour colleague Simon Danczuk MP, who is compiling complaints of alleged pedophile rings, recently warned that if survivors who have come forward are denied justice, they would resort to direct action.
This was echoed by Nigel O'Mara, founder of The Survivors' Helpline. "Some groups are already considering that direct action may be the only way forward if there is no movement on local inquiries which would offer closure and justice, as well as the national inquiry into systemic failures," he told me. "People feel that they are being stymied by officials and police services all over the country."
On Tuesday, Phil, Nigel, and other survivors, traveled to London to present a letter to Home Secretary Theresa May, calling on her to reverse the decision to exclude survivors from the national inquiry into child sex abuse.
The survivors' letter, also signed by prominent human rights lawyers such as Michael Mansfield QC, and child protection experts, warns that the inquiry into historical child abuse in England and Wales lacks credibility amongst those it is supposed to be representing.
It says: "If the inquiry panel cannot be trusted by those who have been abused then its findings will never be accepted... survivors will once more feel abused by government and the establishment and paedophiles left to threaten our children."
Phil Frampton spent his childhood in care homes, and at age 14, blew the whistle on the sexual and physical abuse he and others were subjected to in a Barnardo's children's home. "I wrote a letter on behalf of the children to Barnardo's," recalled Phil. "The abuse continued until the children staged a revolt like civil rights activist Rosa Parks, refusing to get off a bus until police were summoned. We told them what was going on. Barnardo's had to sack the abusers. The kids had won!"
Forty-six years later, Phil's fight for justice continues, and he thinks it should be a bigger part of the election debate. "Whoever gets elected in May they will have to deal with the fact that there has been an attempt to cover up the role of establishment figures that is still going on," said Phil. "We should ask election candidates what they and their parties' leaders have done to root out child abusers and those who cover for them."
New Zealand judge Justice Lowell Goddard and four permanent panel members have been appointed to run the Home Secretary's abuse inquiry after two previous chairs resigned, tainted by establishment ties.
Phil told me that he thinks in its new form, the long-awaited inquiry could still be a whitewash. A Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel is to be appointed, to which Phil hopes to be elected, but he doesn't think that's enough. "We are arguing that at least one survivor on the consultative panel should be elected as a permanent inquiry member. Otherwise it will remain an inquiry of those with no experience of child abuse sitting in judgement on victims and survivors." Today it was announced that the victims' panel would need to be available to work on the inquiry for only two days per month, including for a meeting of half a day. This is because Justice Goddard, heading up the inquiry, thinks victims of abuse are not "impartial."
Phil warned that the current permanent panel is not trusted by survivors to do the extensive investigating needed to uncover high-level failings and cover-ups that allowed children all over the UK to fall prey to organized pedophile rings. "There are no panel members with expertise of crime investigation, forensics, or working with child sex abuse," explained Phil. "It's in danger of becoming an academic exercise which will report in five years time what everybody already knows."
The government recently voted against a Labour-supported amendment to protect child abuse whistleblowers from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, legislation many say has been used to silence allegations against high-powered pedophiles. "There are many examples of police saying they were not able to speak out about abuse because they were threatened by the Official Secrets Act," said Phil. "It raises serious questions about whether the Conservative and Lib-Dems are serious."
The PM's office told me, "Anyone worried about whether people will be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act for coming forward should be reassured by the assurances given by the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary. It is in everybody's interest that we get to the bottom of what happened."
Phil argues that these assurances do not cover whistleblowers and officials talking to investigative journalists. "People are beginning to realize that this is not about 'conspiracy theorists' as David Cameron called us. This is about real cover-up and real politicians involved in the worst sort of crimes," added Phil. "It's now become quite clear the Cabinet Office—David Cameron and Nick Clegg attempted to suppress evidence about Margaret Thatcher's role in covering up what Cyril Smith got up to. The Cabinet Office tried to block Freedom of Information requests on the subject on four occasions."
A Cabinet Office Spokesperson told me that, "There is no cover up, nor was the Cabinet Office forced to release information by the Information Commissioner. This is a sensitive and complex case. It is right that we considered advice from a range of officials. After considering the advice, the Cabinet Office decided to disclose information."
An Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation has now been launched into why police child sex abuse operations into figures of power including Brittan were stalled.
"We've heard many stories alleging huge pressure on MP's not to speak up about child abuse and there is concern that parties themselves have been corrupted over these issues," said Phil. "The government is now in the habit, like cat with mice, of presenting us with dead scapegoats—Jimmy Savile, Cyril Smith, Leon Brittan. If they were brought to justice while alive they might squeal about other pedophiles. Dead men can't squeal."
Ultimately, said Phil, if survivors fear that the inquiry is a "whitewash" as he puts it, people will go through less orthodox channels to get the justice that they demand. "There's danger that if people lose faith in the inquiry they'll express their anger in other ways and that will be the responsibility of Theresa May," he said.
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