FILE – September 1986: A portrait of Cyril Smith, MP, at the Liberal Party Conference. Sir Cyril Smith has died, September 3, 2010 aged 82 (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images) (33160924)
Judith Duffy, Reporter
FOR Esther Baker, the idea of the existence of a paedophile ring involving some of the most rich and powerful in Britain, is not surprising. From the age of six she suffered years of sexual abuse, including rape, at the hands of a number of men – including two British politicians, she says.
Despite the horror she has suffered, she is shocked to learn that there were people in power who were aware of such abuse but failed to stop it.
“I knew it was happening, from my own experiences,” Baker told the Sunday Herald. “I was relieved to find out I wasn’t on my own, that I wasn’t the only person who was ready to come forward and speak about it.
“What struck me is when I found out how many people knew it was happening. It didn’t shock me it had happened – I was shocked that people were aware of it.”
Baker, from Merseyside, was one of the victims who spoke out on a documentary special by Australian current affairs programme 60 minutes aired last week, which reported sexual abuse allegedly carried out in Britain by past and current members of parliament, judges, diplomats, and some of the nation’s highest officials against hundreds of young victims over the past four decades.
The notion of a paedophile ring involving powerful and influential members of society preying on children is horrific. But increasingly evidence is coming to light which backs campaigners who have long tried to warn of an establishment cover-up as well.
Last week previously secret government files relating to child abuse allegations named a number of high-profile individuals, including former home secretary Leon Brittan.
The documents also revealed MI5 had known about an unnamed MP suspected of child abuse in the 1980s but dropped the inquiry when the politician said the claims were false. A note by then director of MI5 Sir Antony Duff concluded: “The risks of political embarrassment to the Government is rather greater than the security danger.”
Mark Watts, editor-in-chief of investigations website Exaro – which has broken a series of stories on historic child abuse allegations – said there was a “long and dreadful history” of authorities trying to ignore child abuse scandals or closing down police operations.
But he believes the catalyst for the issue finally coming to public attention was the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal – which came to light in 2012, almost a year after the TV presenter’s death.
He said: “In the immediate wake of that, the media was very focused on other celebrities who might have been part of this.
“We were starting to pick up evidence and we were getting tipped off about paedophilia amongst people in positions of power – what we have come to call the Westminster paedophile network.
“This isn’t just about MPs, it is people in other positions of power, such as intelligence services, or senior civil servants and so on.
“I think the Jimmy Savile exposure was the lighting of the fuse and it probably caused people to come forward to us to talk about people in positions of power and thereafter we simply followed the evidence.”
He added: “We published our first article on the subject just over two and half years ago. And we have made amazing amounts of progress in that time
“But it is also true that it is clear to us there is a long way to go in terms of exposing the full extent of this scandal and perhaps more critically, in raising awareness within Britain.”
John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw, who has long campaigned on the issue of child sex abuse, said the scale of what is now being uncovered is no surprise. In 1988 he raised allegations around the Dolphin Square apartment complex in London and other locations claimed to be at the centre of a VIP paedophile ring.
But he said: “The police investigation that I initiated was blocked – the police officers at the time told me.”
Mann believes that one key issue which has yet to come to light is why former MP Cyril Smith, who died in 2010, was not prosecuted despite numerous child abuse allegations.
“He was apprehended, but why was he never formally arrested, why was he never charged?” he said. “The answer to that question will reveal an awful lot. For many years Cyril Smith was never charged, but he could have been.”
Mann also said he expected there would be “significant arrests” in the near future, but added: “There is a deep reluctance to accept what was going on – the scale of it and the numbers involved.
However charities believe there are signs that the situation for victims is improving as more and more details of historic child abuse have been uncovered.
Peter Saunders, founder of charity the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), said: “Survivors have always found it difficult or near impossible to speak and when they have they have not been believed, or they have been threatened.
“I think the tide is slowly turning and that is mostly because of so many survivors coming forward and speaking – and also because the media are not letting this one go, as it is too important. It is about our children and our children’s children.”
He added: “When we see any of these MPs or former ministers walking out in handcuffs, that is going to be a massive turning point in this country – people who think they have got away with it because of their positions of power or authority., but haven’t got away with it.”
John Cameron, head of child protection operations with the NSPCC, said he believed there was a “quantifiable shift” happening in society where victims of abuse are now more likely to be listened to.
“There are a greater number of people coming forward to raise concerns about children who are currently being abused,” he said.
“It is putting people’s minds in a frame that says, ‘I have a responsibility to protect children now, because I am hearing about historical abuse and we are not going to tolerate this any longer’.”
He added: “In the past there has been a greater propensity to disbelieve someone when they come forward.
“If I was to say I was a victim of burglary or had my car stolen, I would be believed straight away.
“Whereas in the past, and to some extent now, when people say I am a victim of sexual abuse, there is a little bit of doubt. But I think that is shifting.”
As well as highlighting the stories of victims of abuse, the Australian 60 minutes documentary also provided a chilling insight into the mind of a paedophile, during an interview with Tom O’Carroll, former chair of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE).
The group PIE campaigned to legalise sex between adults and children for ten years before being disbanded in 1984.
O’Carroll and four other members of PIE were prosecuted in 1981. A sixth member of group identified escaped prosecution – who was later identified as Sir Peter Hayman, a British diplomat and deputy head of MI6.
O’Carroll told how he believes the majority of children at the age of 10 can consent to a sexual act – with consent being defined in his mind as the “willing involvement of a child”.
He also claimed victims were not traumatised by abuse and that it only happens because they are told they should be feeling that way. “They come to think I must be traumatised as people keep telling me so – that is how it happens,” he said.
Ester Baker, who is now 32, said she was initially against O’Carroll’s views being aired on the programme but now believes it will help people understand the depraved mindset of paedophiles.
“It makes it a lot easier for people to understand how it happens,” she said. “A little girl – which I was – is put in with six or seven of these men that have these beliefs, and that have power and wealth and certainty they going to get away with it.”