Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

London — British police and political parties may have tried to protect high-profile individuals suspected of child sex offences, a lawyer for an inquiry into allegations of historical abuse said on Monday.

An inquiry into “allegations of child sexual abuse and exploitation involving people of public prominence associated with Westminster” will look at allegations that police investigations may have been reluctant to pursue such cases.

Counsel to the inquiry Brian Altman also said it would look at whether there was interference in decisions to prosecute public figures and whether party leadership and enforcers helped cover up accusations.

“The central issue that this investigation will address is whether Westminster institutions have failed — and, indeed, whether they are still failing — to protect children,” Altman said. He said the probe is looking at the conduct of institutions rather than individuals and would not determine if crimes had been committed.

Altman said the inquiry would examine an allegation that the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), which sought to abolish the legal age of sexual consent, received thousands of pounds from the British government in the late 1970s, possibly to help an investigation into the group. He said the allegation had not been immediately substantiated.

The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse — of which the Westminster investigation is one strand — is one of the largest and most expensive undertaken in Britain.

It was set up in July 2014 by now-Prime Minister Theresa May in her former role as interior minister after a series of abuse scandals that dated back decades.

It began work in 2017 after the first three figures appointed to lead the investigations stepped down.

The inquiry is expected to take five years to complete, with hearings regarding the Westminster complaints scheduled to last three weeks.

One of those the inquiry will hear about is former prime minister Ted Heath, who died in 2005. In 2017, police said they would have questioned him about alleged sexual abuse of boys if he were alive today. Supporters of Heath described that investigation as an expensive and flawed witch-hunt.

Daniel Janner, whose father, a former legislator who died in 2015, was subject to allegations that will be investigated by the inquiry in 2020, said the proceedings are unjust and people behind false accusations should be investigated.

“It is deeply disturbing that the searching spotlight of truth has become the flickering flame of bureaucratic inertia and costly political posturing,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.