Tom Watson accuses May of "a cover-up" over child abuse claims

Labour MP says inquiry into allegations involving a senior Conservative politician is "the next stage of a cover-up".

After criticising the BBC for failing to respond adequately to allegations of child abuse by Jimmy Savile, the government is determined not to be seen to make the same mistake in the case of the alleged north Wales paedophile ring.

In a Commons statement earlier today, Theresa May announced the details of two inquiries into allegations of sexual abuse involving a former senior Conservative politician. The Home Secretary told MPs that north Wales police chief Mark Polin had invited Keith Bristow, the director general of the National Crime Agency, to "assess the allegations recently received, to review the historic police investigations and investigate any fresh allegations". He will produce an initial report on the case by April 2013. In addition, May confirmed that the government would ask "a senior independent figure" to lead an investigation into the 1996-2000 Waterhouse Inquiry, which is accused of failing to consider all allegations of abuse. "Given the seriousness of the allegations, we will make sure that this work is completed urgently," she added.

Responding for Labour, Yvette Cooper warned that having more than one inquiry risked causing confusion and called for "a single, overarching review". But it was Tom Watson, who first aired the new allegations at PMQs last month, who made the most notable intervention when he accused May of instituting "the next stage of a cover-up". The Labour MP told the Commons:

The lesson of Hillsborough and hacking is that a narrow-down investigation is the basic building block of a cover-up. To limit this inquiry to north Wales and Savile would in my view be a dereliction of the Home Secretary's duty. It would guarantee that many sickening crimes will remain uninvestigated and some of the most despicable paedophiles will remain protected by the establishment that has shielded them for 30 years.

Whether you were raped or tortured as a child in Wales or in Whitehall you are entitled to be heard. The media may be transfixed by the spectre of a paedophile cabinet minster abusing children, but what actually matters is that thousands and thousands of children, whose lives have been ground into nothing, who prefer to kill themselves than carry on, who have nowhere to turn, to whom nobody listens, whom nobody helps. Does she sincerely want to start making amends or can she live with being what she’s just announced – the next stage of a cover-up.

May was careful to warn MPs that using parliamentary privilege to name the Thatcher-era Tory could jeopardise any future prosecution. For the record, the individual in question has denied all of the allegations. He told the Daily Telegraph:

Some guy said I was in the habit of taking young men from Wrexham in my Rolls-Royce.

But I have only been to Wrexham once and I didn’t visit the children’s home, I made a speech to the constituency. I was with an official at all times. I never had a Rolls Royce.

When the inquiry was taking place I hired a lawyer to watch it in case there was any mention of my name. The point is that it is totally without any grounds whatsoever.

Labour MP Tom Watson warned that "many sickening crimes will remain uninvestigated". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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