Accusations of child sexual abuse against some prominent figures of Britain’s recent past have proved true. Allegations of similar wrongdoing by others, dating back decades, surface regularly now in the hothouse British press, as does talk of cover-ups by some of the nation’s most powerful institutions. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/08/world/europe/in-britain-edward-heath-case-intensifies-debate-over-validity-of-sex-abuse-claims.html?_r=0
Yet, none of those disclosures, disturbing as they were, had nearly the impact of reports this week that a former prime minister, Edward Heath, had been accused of molesting children.
No fewer than five police forces in Britain have opened investigations related to the allegations against Mr. Heath, who died at 89 in 2005, looking into both his conduct and whether the authorities had handled the accusations properly. Any victims have been asked to come forward.
Lurid reports of long-running sexual abuse by the famous entertainer Jimmy Savile were confirmed only a year after his death.
After that, as well as some other convictions of well-known personalities for child sex abuse, Britain is now taking each new case seriously and engaging in a systematic review of individual culpability and societal and governmental responsibility.
There are investigations into police corruption and complicity and into suggestions of at least two major pedophile rings involving senior British politicians and police and military officials. There are inquiries into whether orphanages peddled young boys and girls for sex. There are continuing efforts to discover and punish sexual crimes by well-known entertainers like Mr. Savile and Rolf Harris, many of whom worked for the BBC.
Last month, an independent, government-funded panel, which was granted increased powers earlier this year to compel sworn testimony and examine classified information, began investigating how all public bodies handled claims of child sexual abuse.
For Steven Fielding, a professor of political history at the University of Nottingham, the revelations are part of a broader cultural shift that has political elements.
Those elements include, he said, a gradual mistrust of the elite; a move by the British news media to detach itself from complicity with political authority; a new openness to discuss sexual habits, aberrations, experiences and abuses; a greater intolerance of sexual abuse of both women and children; the impact of social media; and a new generation of the police and politicians anxious not to be tarred by deals done in the past.
In the desire to protect government and the elite, Mr. Fielding said, the police and sometimes the secret services worked in the past with each party to handle cases of criminal behavior by legislators, often without publicity.
But since the 1990s, Mr. Fielding said, Britain has seen the emergence of a more populist view about the institutions of power. That narrative, he said, is “a sexual political populist story about how the elite in general are betraying us, which is the whole basis of populism — an immoral elite exploiting the pure people.”
Peter York, a well-known social critic here since the 1980s, said that the series of revelations had been “jaw-dropping for a lot of Britons, that this was happening in our time and we didn’t know about it.” In the 1980s, he said, “I knew them all, and I didn’t know about it.”
In the past, the usual assumption was that scandals involving Tories were about sex and those involving Labourites were about money. But recent inquiries and allegations touch all parties.
The furor began in 2012 with revelations about Mr. Savile, who died the year before, and who was identified by the police as a prolific child sexual abuser for decades. Mr. Savile, who was friendly with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Prince Charles, had used his celebrity to gain access to and abuse young women and men and children in hospitals, schools and other institutions.
But his crimes were either covered up or his victims were ignored.
In the ensuing investigations, a number of prominent household names in media and politics — including the singer Rolf Harris, the rock star Gary Glitter, the disc jockey Dave Lee Travis and the publicist Max Clifford — were convicted of sex offenses.
The Savile case brought forward many other complaints to the police from victims who said they had either been ignored in the past or had kept silent, thinking that their stories would be dismissed.
The allegations soon involved politicians, too, and a new generation of leaders, like Prime Minister David Cameron, were eager not to be seen to be covering up any sins of the past. The same now appears to be true for the police.
James Naughtie, a senior BBC journalist who covered Parliament in the 1980s, said that “there is a sense of hysteria that’s kind of troubling,” and that after the Savile revelations, there were “a lot of old, slow burning fires that fanned into flames and became unstoppable in the Internet age.”
Besides Mr. Heath, those politicians touched by scandal include the Labour peer Greville Janner, 87, who was a member of Parliament from 1970 to 1997, but who has been spared a trial for child abuse because of advanced dementia.
Allegations of child abuse surfaced against him in 2002 and 2006 but were dismissed for lack of evidence; now, after criticism of prosecutors, there will be a “trial of the facts” in his case that opened on Friday. After the local police in Leicestershire established Operation Enamel in 2013, more than a dozen allegations of abuse were registered against him.
The Greater Manchester Police are continuing to investigate allegations dating to the 1980s that Cyril Smith, a Liberal Party member of Parliament for 20 years who died in 2010, had attended sex parties with teenage boys.
There have also been allegations made about Leon Brittan, a former home secretary in the Thatcher government who denied all suggestions of impropriety before he died in January.
After Mr. Brittan’s death, a Labour Party member of Parliament, Tom Watson, accused Mr. Brittan of multiple child rapes as part of a group of child abusers in the 1980s, a so-called Westminster V.I.P. pedophile ring, at the Elm Guest House in Barnes, in southwest London.
While home secretary in 1983 or 1984, Mr. Brittan was passed a dossier by a former Tory lawmaker, Geoffrey Dickens, detailing allegations of pedophilia activity in Westminster at the time. Mr. Brittan said he passed it on to Home Office officials, but the whereabouts of this dossier and exactly what it might have contained is not known.
Peter Morrison, a Conservative legislator from 1974 to 1992 and a close aide to Mrs. Thatcher, was accused of raping a boy of 14 in 1982 at the Elm Guest House. He died in 1995, but in 2012, he was further accused by a former Conservative legislator, Rod Richards, of having been involved in a North Wales scandal in which more than 600 children from 40 children’s homes in the area were abused, sexually, emotionally and physically, from 1974 to 1990.
Dolphin Square, a large apartment complex built in the 1930s in the Pimlico district of London, close to Westminster and thus popular with legislators and officials, has also featured in allegations of sex and pedophile rings. There have been allegations from those who say they were victims of an active child-sex ring there in the 1980s involving senior politicians, military and police officers and others, including charges that three children were murdered, which the police have said they are treating as “credible.”
There are also reports that some of the children were supplied to these rings by orphanages.
During the 1980s at Westminster, Mr. Naughtie said, “there were a lot of gay men who could not be open due to the prevailing culture.” So there were groups of people privately and discreetly gay, he said. “People have conflated that with some very dark episodes it is alleged of serious abuse of very young people, but the idea that they were all abusing children is absurd.”
In response, police and government officials have established a dizzying number of inquiries and investigations.
In 2012, the police set up Operation Fairbank, an umbrella inquiry, to look into allegations of child sexual abuse by politicians, and last November, a related murder inquiry about Dolphin Square, Operation Midland. Operation Athabasca was set up to examine the Elm Guest House, and another operation, into a children’s home, has been closed after two people were charged, one of whom was found dead and the other, a priest, jailed. Operation Cayacos is looking into charges that the Paedophile Information Exchange, a self-help group, also ran a pedophile ring.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is examining charges of police corruption and cover-up, including around Mr. Heath.
The major inquiry, however, is an independent one announced by the government in July 2014 to investigate how all public bodies handled claims of child sexual abuse.
Two different heads of the inquiry chose to resign after victims’ families complained that they were too close to or familiar with some of the suspects. Only this February was a third director named to run the investigation — the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales — a senior New Zealand judge named Lowell Goddard.
The panel was reconstituted in February under laws giving it increased investigative powers, and it began its work last month.
Ms. Goddard’s basic annual salary of 360,000 pounds, about $560,000, makes her the highest-paid government employee in Britain.
Mr. York, the social critic, said there had always been rumors around prominent politicians. But as the inquiries continue, he said, “there will be amazing revelations, I’m sure.”