Yesterday Theresa May, the home secretary was rightly called before Parliament by her shadow Yvette Cooper, to answer questions about the findings of the Wanless and Whittam Review into the missing dossier naming VIP paedophiles given to her predecessor, Leon Brittan by the late Geoffrey Dickens MP. If Yvette hadn’t done it, Tessa Munt, one of the” magnificent seven” MPs who called for an overarching inquiry was already planning to do so.
The report with its 12 annexes was rushed out at 11.30 am leaving MPs of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee precious little time to digest it before questioning both authors in a session truncated because of the timing of May’s statement. No wonder Keith Vaz, its chairman, might have been a bit tetchy during May’s statement.
In conducting a meticulous search inside the Home Office both Wanless and Whittam did a thorough job – as far as they could – to try and find any references to what appears to be a long destroyed document. They also exposed the chaotic state of the Home Office’s record keeping and if you look at the annexes to the report shed a little more light on other cases.
So far so good. They then seem to have asked other Whitehall organisations to conduct a search on their behalf but as Zac Goldsmith, the MP for Richmond, quizzed her over the failure to find anything at the old Director of Public Prosecutions, where the dossier was sent, still left a question in this area whether the work had been thorough.
They also seem to have spent some time chasing officials who held documents at the time they have been destroyed in the hope that they might get them. This is important – even though their report is sceptical about it – because in one of my investigations for Exaro official documents have turned up because someone kept them in their attic.
They also questioned the Home Office whistleblower who came forward to Tom Watson MP with his fears that a senior civil servant,Clifford Hindley, may have been involved in the funding of the notorious Paedophile Information Exchange.
But where they failed – and this was taken up by Steve McCabe, Labour’s shadow social services minister, – was in pursuing civil servants who were around at the time. The lame response from Theresa to appeal to people to come forward was not good enough.
Wanless and Whittam would have seen a lot of documents with civil servants’ names on them because of the way Whitehall has a distribution list for almost every document.Some may be dead, most will have retired.
But they missed an opportunity to be proactive and chase them up. For they must be accessible. They will all be on final salary pensions paid out by Whitehall. It would not be too difficult, to contact the semi privatised agency and get their names and addresses and ring them up. They might be a little outraged about their personal data being accessed – but this is an official inquiry to get to the facts. People do talk to each other – and also someone at the DPP at the time also got that dossier who may not want to disturb a pleasant retirement going on cruises and playing golf.
The result is that we have unsatisfactory verdict of ” not proven ” from this investigation which takes us little further than the Home Office’s original findings.
To get to the truth over child sexual abuse we are going to need a lot of lateral thinking and a sceptical investigative state of mind to prise out information. I hope the overarching child abuse inquiry takes this on board and treats the Wanless review with some forensic scepticism.