Listening to survivors: child abuse and the establishment

Contact details:
Liz Davies, Reader in Child Protection, London Metropolitan University
Or via website

On October 24th 2012, Tom Watson M.P. asked a Prime Minister’s Question. He asked the Prime Minster, to ensure that police investigate claims of a powerful paedophile ring linked to a previous prime minister’s senior adviser and parliament. The question referred to an evidence file collected by the police to convict paedophile Peter Righton in 1992. I was involved in the investigation of Peter Righton linked to the abuse of Islington children and  worked closely with a social work team in Hereford and Worcester which expertly investigated other aspects of this network.  Watson later wrote that a specialist unit at Scotland Yard had the material, seized in a raid on Righton’s home, which supplemented a wider investigation into organised paedophile rings in children’s homes and included letters from known and convicted paedophiles. The person who had informed Tom Watson has remained  anonymous for his own protection.  

Peter Righton was a social work academic and practitioner. He was also a member (number 51) of the UK Paedophile Information Exchange and co-author of a book which promoted the right of adults to have sex with children. After conviction for possession of abusive images of children, he lived in a house on a baronial estate in Suffolk which was a regularly used and valued holiday centre for disadvantaged children of Islington (Payne and Fairweather 1993). Despite requests by police and social services that Righton leave this house, it seemed that he continued to live there until he died in 2007.  

Investigations into Righton highlighted extensive worrying connections within the world of social work and academia including networks that went right to the top. An Inside Story documentary comprehensively traced his association with known child sex abusers (BBC 1993) and can now be viewed (alongside many other interesting dvds)  on the website or via this link
Some convictions were achieved but it was ever clear that the investigation could have gone much further. The social work team, which had conducted the investigation jointly with police, was closed down. This case is well documented by a senior police officer who led the investigation (Hames 2000).

Following Watson’s question, much new and historic information came forward and, in the aftermath of the work of Operation Yewtree, concerning allegations of sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile, two further police teams, Operation Fairbank and Operation Fernbridge, were established at Scotland Yard.  Specifically, a hostel, Elm Guest House, in South London, was exposed as a place where high profile people were alleged to have abused children from children’s homes across the UK during the 80s. This has been mainly exposed on by David Henke and colleagues.   Watson committed himself to following up the issues; ‘What I am going to do personally is to speak out on this extreme case of organised abuse in the highest places. At the core of all child abuse is the abuse of power. The fundamental power of the adult over the child. Wherever this occurs it is an abomination. But these extreme cases are abuse of power by some of the most powerful people. Abuse of trust by some of the most trusted. It is a sickening story, but one which – like the truth about Jimmy Savile – is now going to be told’.

The mainstream media have almost completely and consistently blanked all these issues. Some people have been raising these matters for twenty years and there have undoubtedly been many cover-ups. This is the first time – through the social media – that the national picture is being systematically collated. Police investigations have generally been limited to localities and though some police and social workers have long asked for a national child protection investigation team this has never been set up.  Even the Savile inquiries are being held separately and we are told there is no evidence of a network… but the evidence needs to be examined, collated and analysed across all the areas of the country and range of institutions.
The following people are among others on Twitter raising these issues;  
Liz Ramsay (NAPACNI)  

There are two blogs which are collating and presenting information.

This is murunbuch’s blog and it is highly professional – mainly a collation of press cuttings and dvds going back to the 80s which is informing survivors, journalists, politicians,  and the general public. As a result more information is coming forward and informs the police where appropriate. This site is attracting a lot of interest. I realised from this blog that Lambeth child abuse scandal was happening at exactly the same time as I was involved exposing Islington child abuse scandal. Yet the connections were not made. For instance, only through this website have I learnt of one residential worker who worked in both authorities children’s homes. There never was a police investigation to make such links. When I went around the country in the 90s and met the social workers in Hereford and Worcester, for instance, this was largely on my own initiative or in response to particular police officers requests who were trying their best to investigate across area boundaries.
This blog includes Operation Greenlight which is being complied by a historian to list all children’s homes and collate information across the UK. The comments added into these blogs of course also provide interesting information.
Exaronews website costs a small fee to access. Generally their breaking news articles are picked up by the few tabloids brave enough to run with some of the stories. These are probably newspapers none of you read but this is where the news is getting out. The Guardian, some of you may know, have been subject to criticism for their two articles recently which were on the subject of  child sex abuse (‘paedophilia’) ( see:  

BBC (1993) The Secret Life of a Paedophile. Inside Story documentary. Available from:

Hames M (2000) The Dirty Squad. The inside story of the obscene publications branch. London. Little Brown

Payne S and Fairweather E (1993) Country house hideaway of disgraced care chief. Central figure in Evening Standard news investigation. London. Evening Standard. 6th May.

Watson T (2012a) Prime Minister’s Question. Available from:

Watson T (2012 b) A little more background on today’s PMQs.

Watson T (2012c) Ten days that shook my world. Available from:

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