While the latest horrors over Jimmy Savile dominated the headlines,a Roman Catholic priest became the first person to be convicted as a paedophile under the Met Police’s Operation Fernbridge. The investigation into both the notorious Elm Guest House and a Richmond Council children’s home, Grafton Close, saw Father Tony McSweeney convicted on a specimen charge of indecent assault and three charges of making indecent images of children on his computer. He was cleared of three other charges of indecent assault. The trial would have been much bigger if not for the death of his co-accused John Stingemore had not died just before facing prosecution. Stingemore,as my colleague Tim Wood who reported the trial for Exaro shows, was portrayed by McSweeney as a paedophile. and it emerged in court that Stingemore had already been convicted as paedophile for the sexual assault of Peter Bornshin, a resident of Grafton Close home. The trial reveals two shocking facts. First it shows that yet another paedophile Roman Catholic priest – McSweeney will be sentenced on March 27 – has escaped justice for some 35 years and been able to work as a pillar of the community across the East of England. He has even gathered a bit of celebrity stardust- marrying the boxer Frank Bruno – and when caught with child sex abuse images he made on his computer he was a member of the scouting movement and worked with the Norwich City youth football team. Second is the shame it has heaped on Richmond Council which failed to act at the time to halt these crimes and has been in denial ever since this investigation began. It is quite clear from the court proceedings that Stingemore when in charge of Grafton Close was able unchecked to take boys out of the children’s home to his Bexhill flat where they were abused and employ his paedophile friend McSweeney – who also accompanied boys to his flat – without anyone taking much notice. One might be tempted not to heap blame on the authority if it was not for the attitudes of leading political figures and officials to recent events. Sir David Williams, the former Liberal Dem leader in the wake of this scandal told me he did not believe there was any child sexual abuse in Richmond and it had all been got up by the press. Tell that to the jury at Southwark Crown Court. Two other prominent Liberal Democrats councillors at the time now peers Tim Razzall and Jenny Tonge appeared to be in denial or did not want to talk about it. And Louis Minister, then Richmond’s director of social services, now retired in Malta, denied he had ever heard of Elm Guest House and said he knew nothing of what happened at Grafton Close. Only with a trial imminent did he recover his memory loss. And there are leading Richmond Tories who knew at the time- an issue I am still investigating. Contrast the last 35 years. These ambitious councillors, a number of whom I have met as a lobby journalist in Parliament, have led comfortable, prosperous lives heaped with honours and public recognition. While the survivors – the people unfortunate to be sent to be protected at Grafton Close – whom I have met as an investigative reporter at Exaro, have in the main led fractured, impoverished lives. Many have difficulty coping, relying often on benefits only to be hounded by the DWP. One,Peter Borshin, the worst case scenario, sadly committed suicide after his experiences which went on to him being committed to Broadmoor. No peerages or honours for them. I would hope after this tragic saga Richmond will have the grace to review its procedures to ensure that there is not a current repetition of those events 35 years ago. Perhaps the judge who in this case has indicated that ,McSweeney will get a custodial sentence will instruct them to do so.
Detective Chief Inspector Paul Settle, the head of the paedophile unit, has been taken off Operation Fernbridge, the historic sex abuse investigation centred on Elm Guest House in Barnes and the London borough of Richmond’s children’s services.
A report by my colleagues on Exaro news reveals that this appears to be part of a shake up of police operations in the badly staffed paedophile unit which has now seen the number of officers investigating cases rise from seven to twenty two.
Reports suggest he is on sick leave as the operation has come under pressure after two MPs complained about the way it had handled one case and also how much information it gave to the Crown prosecution Service over another case. These two disclosures on Exaro led in the latter case to the reinstatement of charges against one of the people facing a trial next February on alleged sexual abuse in Richmond.
A detective sergeant in the paedophile unit, which is based in the Empress State Building in Earl’s Court, west London, has taken over the Met’s investigations into historical allegations against MPs and other VIPs. These include ‘Operation Fernbridge’, which was sparked by Exaro and began nearly two years ago – amid strict secrecy – with an investigation into activities at Elm Guest House in Barnes, south-west London.
The investigations also cover ‘Operation Cayacos’, which is looking into claims of a paedophile ring linked to politicians after Tom Watson, Labour MP, raised the issue in Parliament.
All these changes suggest the Met is facing a tough time handling these cases at the moment.
Before Settle was appointed to the paedophile unit, he had been a staff officer to John Yates, who oversaw one of the operations revisiting the murder of private investigator, Daniel Morgan and headed the “cash for honours” investigation into the Labour administration under Tony Blair.
Settle, then a detective sergeant, was also an investigating officer on Operation Abelard II, which probed the axe murder of Daniel Morgan. The handling of the murder case by the police and press is now being investigated by an independent panel set up by the Home Office.
The Met are declining to comment about the move of Settle from the paedophile unit investigation.
A very important decision has been taken by the Crown Prosecution Service to reinstate charges against John Stingemore,the former deputy manager, of Grafton Close children’s home in Richmond.
Stingemore and Father Tony McSweeney,already face a trial next February on a series of child sex abuse charges and have pleaded not guilty to all the charges against them.
The full story by my colleague Mark Conrad is on the Exaro website.but in essence it involved the CPS reviewing the charges after a complaint from Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, who revealed the scale of the scandal against Sir Cyril Smith, and planned action by Tom Watson MP to help the witness involved.
Exaro revealed last December that the CPS had withdrawn four charges based on accusations by one witness, but had made a serious mistake about the evidence gathered by the Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit under Operation Fernbridge. It led to an adverse view of the witness’s credibility.
While it would be wrong to reveal the full details of the circumstances of the case in order not to prejudice the trial, the decision is important for two reasons.
First it shows that survivors accounts should not be brushed aside and second it suggests that the pressure the police and the CPS are under to handle so many child sexual abuse cases at the moment that they may not have had the time to examine all the details.
If it was not for active MPs like Simon and Tom who are prepared to take up cases like this, we would still be facing the danger of further cover ups and evidence not being tested by the courts.
The last thing we want is anything else not properly investigated when people have waited so long for justice.
The latest disclosure revealed in Exaro’s investigation into the rape of a young woman by a man who went on to become a Tory Cabinet minister raises even more disturbing questions.
It is now accepted as part of normal police procedures that if a person accuses another person of rape, the allegations are put to the alleged perpetrator.
It is becoming increasingly clear according to the account from the victim ” Jane” that the police have told her that they have not done it in this case.
She told Exaro :“I could not understand why,” she said. “There were only two people present during the incident. But they refused to question the man who I identified.” She believes that this breaches guidance entitled, ‘Investigating and Prosecuting Rape,’ and compiled by the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).
This is one of the key points in the letter of complaint sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions by Labour MP Tom Watson on the need for a review of the case.
To me it seems this amounts to double standards. Under Operation Yewtree into the Savile investigations celebs and entertainers are told about the allegations and in many cases charged.
Under Operation Fernbridge politicians are not told about the allegations and so far no one is charged.
This can only add to the public anxiety that Establishment figures with power are above the law and play into the agenda that politicians can often get away with anything.
More damaging revelations are published today on the Exaro website about the Met Police’s handling of a victim who came forward saying she was raped in her youth by a man who went on to become a prominent Tory Cabinet minister.
My colleague Mark Conrad reports that ” Jane” who brought the allegations to the Met Police is extremely upset that not only did they not put the allegations to the ex-minister but told other people about her medical record which could cast doubt on the validity of her claims.
She told Exaro:“I am very angry. My medical history has nothing to do with the statements that I gave to the police about the rape. I volunteered information on my background and medical history to the police, and expected that it would be treated in confidence.”
This suggests that this particular case has not been well handled. I have met ” Jane” and she is remarkably clear about the events that happened to her so long ago.
Again this raises the issue which Tom Watson, the Labour MP, has taken up with the Director of Public Prosecutions, that the case should be reviewed. And so it should soon.
Action is urgently needed to press the Met Police to continue their investigation into the claims that a former Tory cabinet minister raped a 19-year-old woman when he was at the beginning of his career.
The allegations came to light in the Operation Fernbridge investigation – which is mainly centred around the abuse of boys at a Richmond children’s home and at the Elm Guest House. It only emerged because of the alleged figures involved in child sexual abuse was also said to have raped a young woman.
So Tom Watson is right to draw attention to the way the case has been handled by the Met Police to Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The full report is on the Exaro website but it raises deep questions about the way the police treated an allegation of rape in 2013. To give you a flavour Tom Watson’s letter says :“The elements of lack of freedom and capacity to consent make the decision highly irregular. This is shocking in itself.
“It further troubles me that the senior police officer who dropped the case revealed to the victim that he apparently took a series of worthless stereotypes and other irrelevant points into consideration.”
“Most of these stereotypes have been blown out of the water in recent months. Or so I thought.
“There has been a sea change in the climate surrounding rape, historic cases in particular. Why is it that the tide has not reached this case?”
Those who may doubt the woman’s description of the case can listen and see her account on the Exaro website here.
What you will know is that the police never put it to the alleged perpetrator. There are too many unanswered questions in the Met Police’s handling of this for no action to be taken. So Tom Watson is right to demand it.
Before Operation Fernbridge was launched I received a high level promise from the police that whoever participated in the Richmond child sex abuse scandal – however high and mighty – would be prosecuted if the police could get the evidence.
This ” no holds barred” approach gave me confidence that despite three failed attempts to get to the bottom of the scandal at Richmond’s Grafton Close children’s home and the notorious Elm Guest House that we would get a result.
My belief is now being severely tested following a series of events – including the fresh disclosures from the Labour MP for Rochdale Simon Danzcuk about how the police never took any action against Sir Cyril Smith, despite ample examples of his connections to paedophile activity..
What has particularly shaken me are the revelations meticulously put together by my colleague Mark Conrad and disclosed in a series of articles in Exaro News this week and in the Sunday People about the principal suspect in more than one historic paedophile scandal- A former Tory Cabinet minister.
The detailed allegations this time from a woman about events when she was just 19 and the man was at the beginning of his career make chilling and dramatic reading – and under today’s standards very few people would doubt she was sexually assaulted without her consent. I need not repeat the full circumstances – you can read them in a series of articles in Exaro News if you want a blow-by-blow account.
The good news is that Tom Watson – the MP who first raised the issue of leading political figures being involved in historic paedophile rings – has written to Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, demanding a review of the police’s handling of the case and he is very critical of the way the police have handled it. I hope she takes notice.
The Met Police have of course said little about this. However the nearest explanation for their non action is on The Needleblog .
My concern about this is three-fold. First of all it appears that there has been a serious failure by the Met police to take seriously a claim from a credible witness at a time when people are being encouraged to report historic rape and sexual abuse cases. This provides little confidence for others to come forward.
Second it appears that the allegations are far stronger than many of allegations being put to celebrities facing trial at the moment.
Third it is not clear that Crown Prosecution Service was presented with a full file by the Met Police who never even put such strong allegations to the perpetrator.
All this is worrying. The most worrying aspect of it all is that the police appear to be losing their appetite to pursue this high profile figure – suggesting there is one rule for celebrities and another for anybody with real power like a politician. The failure to pursue this is not an isolated incident in Operation Fernbridge. On the contrary other allegations when they refer to the notorious Elm Guest House appear to be dropped or ignored as well.