LONDON — A senior British police chief was charged with the rape and sexual assault of three boys Thursday, just hours after a massive public inquiry into child sex abuse was officially opened.
Gordon Anglesea, 78, a senior policeman in Wales for 34 years, is accused of abusing three boys between the ages of 11 and 16 in the late 1970s and ’80s.
His arrest comes after decades of systemic cover-ups that left thousands of children victimized. Lowell Goddard, the judge presiding over the long-awaited Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, said she had reason to believe that more than 1 in 20 British children were sexually abused while police and the authorities systematically downplayed the number of crimes reported to them. Britain’s police forces have only begun to properly investigate hundreds of cases of alleged child abuse in recent years.
The charges against Anglesea, a man who was employed to protect the public from such criminals, reinforces the need for the far-reaching public inquiry into the way Britain’s powerful cadre of sex abusers have been insulated from the effects of the law.
Goddard has promised to name the individuals and institutions responsible for abusing children or for covering up their torment for decades. Thousands of survivors have been invited to give evidence in the largest public inquiry in British history, which will run alongside the concurrent police investigations.
As the judge’s words were broadcast via livestream, tears rolled down the faces of survivors who thought they would never see a day when Britain’s most powerful institutions and influential men were held accountable.
“Children’s lives were ruined. Adults’ childhoods stolen. So many broken people. So many failed them,” Susan Crocombe, an abuse survivor, told The Daily Beast. “My tears were good tears… The tables are turning at last.”
The inquiry has been given access to classified files held by MI5, MI6, and Scotland Yard’s Special Branch, while officials working for any institution have been granted full whistleblower’s immunity to come forward even if their evidence would breach the Official Secrets Act.
“No one, no matter how apparently powerful, will be allowed to obstruct our enquiries,” said Goddard. “No one will have immunity from scrutiny by virtue of their position.”
The inquiry was announced more than a year ago but disputes over the extent of its powers and the identity of the chair delayed the opening until now. The first judge, Baroness Butler-Sloss, was forced to resign when it emerged that her brother had been implicated in covering up a VIP pedophile ring operating at the heart of the government in the 1980s. The leading lawyer selected to replace her, Fiona Woolf, stood down last year when it was discovered that she was a friend and neighbor of suspected pedophile Leon Brittan, a protégé of Margaret Thatcher and former Home Secretary.
The government subsequently decided that the only credible way to probe the alleged establishment cover-up was by bringing in someone from the other side of the world. Goddard is a New Zealand high court judge with no links to the British institutions that she now promises to expose.
“We must travel from the corridors of power in Westminster to children’s homes in the poorest parts of the country, to hospitals, GP surgeries, schools, churches, and charities,” she said.
“Many victims and survivors have already waited far too long for recognition of the abuse they have suffered. Too many individuals and institutions have been sheltered from accountability through patterns of indifference or obstruction.”
The inquiry, which is expected to last five years, will include public hearings, although victims and survivors will be able to give evidence anonymously. New evidence of historic child sex abuse will by passed to the sprawling police operation, which is investigating allegations against 76 politicians and almost 250 “persons of public prominence.”
A “truth project” element of the Goddard inquiry will operate six regional centers, where victims will be able to go and testify in person, as well as a telephone hotline.
Carl, who was abused by a pedophile ring from the age of 7, told The Daily Beast he was likely to give evidence of his own ordeal to the inquiry. “I think it’s looking more positive that it has done so far,” he said. “Still trying to digest it all but so far I’m very encouraged by what she said.”
Some of those involved in the battle to expose Britain’s child abuse in the past were more cautious. Liz Davies, a social worker who told The Daily Beast that evidence she gathered of a pedophile ring in the 1990s was ignored by police, said she was disappointed by the lack of investigative experience on the panel.
“Where are the retired police officers, where are the investigators to look at the organized element of this child abuse?” she asked a Guardian correspondent. “I fear the perpetrators will be laughing today.”