Former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Tebbit has said there "may well" have been a political cover-up over child abuse taking place at Westminster in the 1980s.
Lord Tebbit, who served in a series of senior ministerial posts under Margaret Thatcher, said the instinct at the time was to protect “the system” and not to delve too deeply into uncomfortable allegations.
His incendiary claim followed the admission by the Home Office that more than 100 files relating to historic organised child abuse over a period of 20 years had gone missing.
Appearing on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show, Lord Tebbit said: “At that time I think most people would have thought that the establishment, the system, was to be protected and if a few things had gone wrong here and there that it was more important to protect the system than to delve too far into it.
“That view, I think, was wrong then and it is spectacularly shown to be wrong because the abuses have grown.”
Asked if he thought there had been a “big political cover-up” at the time, he said: “I think there may well have been.”
He added: “It was almost unconscious. It was the thing that people did at that time.”
The extraordinary comments by one of Baroness Thatcher’s closest political allies fuelled demands from MPs and lawyers for an over-arching public inquiry into all the disparate allegations of child abuse from that era.
They include claims of abuse by the late Liberal MP Cyril Smith and allegations of paedophile activity at parties attended by politicians and other prominent figures at the Elm Guest House in Barnes, south-west London.
The permanent secretary at the Home Office, Mark Sedwill, said he will be appointing a senior legal figure to conduct a fresh review into what happened to a dossier relating to alleged paedophile activity at Westminster which was passed to the then home secretary, Leon (now Lord) Brittan by the Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens in 1983.
But critics said public confidence could only be restored by a fully transparent and independent inquiry.
In a letter to the chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, Keith Vaz MP, Mr Sedwill disclosed that a previous review — carried out only last year — had identified 114 potentially relevant files from the period 1979 to 1999, which could not be located and were “presumed destroyed, missing or not found”.
He said the investigation had also identified 13 “items of information” about alleged child abuse, nine of which were known or reported to the police at the time — including four involving Home Office staff. Police had since been informed of the other four cases.
Mr Vaz, who has summoned Mr Sedwill to appear before the committee tomorrow, said the Home Office appeared to have been losing files on an “industrial scale”.
Mr Sedwill said he had ordered the new investigation, following the intervention of Prime Minister David Cameron, in order to establish whether the findings of the previous review remained “sound”. The earlier review, conducted by an HM Revenue and Customs investigator, concluded the relevant information in the Dickens file had been passed to the police and the rest of the material destroyed in line with departmental policy at the time.
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