LONDON — The extraordinary scale of sexual abuse perpetrated against children by British VIPs was laid bare on Wednesday when officials disclosed that they were investigating allegations against 76 politicians and almost 250 “persons of public prominence.”
Thousands of victims have come forward since police forces launched a series of investigations into child abuse that went unpunished for decades. In total, police are investigating 1,433 suspects as part of inquiries into abuse within institutions or committed by prominent men.
“These astonishing figures starkly underline how child sexual abuse has infiltrated every level of society, from politics to sport and show business,” said Peter Wanless, chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
The shocking figures are the latest blow to Britain’s reputation. The political, educational, and entertainment spheres have all been accused of allowing a culture of abuse and cover-up to persist despite the horrific human cost.
The public was stunned in 2011 when it was first revealed that Jimmy Savile—a top children’s TV star, DJ, and friend of Margaret Thatcher and the Royal Family—had been accused of hundreds of horrific crimes by boys and girls without ever facing justice in court. Similar stories of powerful men abusing children or young people without fear of prosecution continued to emerge until the government was forced to launch a national inquiry into historic cases of child sex abuse.
The publicity that surrounded the stunning Savile case and growing evidence that the Thatcher government covered up a Westminster pedophile ring has encouraged thousands more victims to come forward and tell the police that they were also abused by people in positions of authority.
“The referrals are increasing on an almost daily basis,” said Chief Constable Simon Bailey, who is overseeing the interconnected police investigations. “The numbers I refer to today are a snapshot in time.”
By the end of the year, Bailey, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, projects that the police forces will have received information on 113,291 cases of child abuse, which is almost double the number of accusations they were receiving just three years ago.
Of the 1,400 prominent suspects identified, some of whom are dead, 666 were linked to institutions including schools, children’s homes and religious establishments.
More than 250 of the accused men are classed as “persons of public prominence,” including TV stars, musicians, and politicians. Bailey gave no personal details of these men but it is believed that known investigations into named public figures like the politician Sir Cyril Smith, Savile, and pop star Gary Glitter are included on the list.
Child protection officials have told The Daily Beast in recent months that they were prevented from bringing high-profile men to account for decades. Savile is believed to have been one of the visitors to Islington care homes in North London where boys were regularly abused. Liz Davies, a senior social worker in Islington at the time, said she took bundles of evidence to the police only to be told: “I won’t be able to investigate here at Scotland Yard.”
The public outcry in recent years means detectives no longer have any option but to take all allegations seriously, even when the victims say the very same police forces ignored or shut down their claims in the past.
In the case of political figures, like Cyril Smith, there is evidence that senior politicians exerted their influence directly to silence investigations. In many other cases, young victims simply felt their claims would not be believed because their attackers were rich and famous. Of the suspects currently being investigated 135 were TV, film, or radio stars, 43 are from the music industry, and seven are from the world of sport.
Sheila Taylor, CEO of the National Working Group Network, which was set up to tackle child sex abuse, said the horrifying scale of the numbers released on Wednesday proved that there had been a revolution in the way victims had become emboldened to name their attackers.
“This investigation is massive and a testimony to how the attitude to victims is changing—how those who have been victims have previously felt unable to come forward or have done so but not been believed, but now have confidence that they will be believed and listened too,” she said.
As the investigations by 12 police forces continue and a formal inquiry into child abuse and cover-ups prepares to sit later in the year, the horror of Britain’s child abuse problem will be exposed like never before.