Inquiry: Dolphin Square, where boys are said to have been taken for sex sessions in the 1970s and 1980s (Picture)
The claim was as clear as it was chilling: behind the genteel façade of one of London’s most famous apartment blocks, children faced abuse on an industrial scale.
Every weekend, groups of vulnerable boys from local care homes were being smuggled to an address in Dolphin Square, Pimlico. There, after being plied with alcohol, they suffered sickening sexual assaults.
The paedophile ring orchestrating these crimes had, over time, come to believe it enjoyed immunity, a whistle-blower told police at the time.
After all, members were said to include a cross-section of Britain’s most influential politicians.
‘I had been specifically told that we were dealing with Conservative MPs,’ that whistle-blower, John Mann, recalled to me this week. ‘That’s one of the things which stood out for me.
‘Another was how violent it sounded. There was talk of dogs being involved and beatings. I would describe it as quite awful; the sort of thing you don’t easily forget.’
Mann, who is now a prominent Labour MP, originally stumbled across claims of abuse at Dolphin Square in 1988, when he was an ambitious young councillor in the South London borough of Lambeth.
At the time, he was leading an inquiry into endemic corruption in the Left-wing council’s housing department, where millions of pounds of taxpayer money was being syphoned to crooked building contractors.
‘The whole place was rotten to the core,’ he recalls. ‘I was leading a team of three or four employees looking into it. The scale of corruption was enormous. It involved criminal gangs. Two of our sources were drivers for [the Krays’ gangster rival] Charlie Richardson.’
During the course of this 18-month investigation, Mann had, however, uncovered evidence of a very different sort of organised crime: that a shady group linked to the building fraud was also running child sex rackets.
‘My team was getting tip-offs about all sorts of things,’ he says. ‘But this particular one was very precise. We were told that young boys from Lambeth care homes were being recruited as rent boys. Many went to Dolphin Square.‘
‘We were told this by several sources. It was very specific: there were sex parties there, and they involved Tory MPs.’
Initially, Mann says he ‘couldn’t work out what to do’ with this information, since ‘sex crimes weren’t something we were supposed to be investigating’.
But soon, realising the gravity of the situation, he decided to call a meeting with two officers from Streatham police station in South London.
‘I told them everything, and they promised to look closely into it,’ he says.
So far, so straightforward. But three months later, Mann heard a knock on the door of his office on South Lambeth Road. It was the two policemen. They apologised, but told me they had been forced to close their entire investigation,’ Mann recalls.
‘They’d been forced to drop it. Pressure had come from on high in the police service. There was nothing they could do about it. They were very unhappy.’
A string of prominent figures from all three major parties have so far been implicated in the scandal, most notably Cyril Smith (pictured)
With that, the Dolphin Square child sex scandal of 1988 was brushed under the carpet.
And there it might very well have remained were it not for an extraordinary series of events which began at exactly 12.06pm last Friday.
That was when the Metropolitan Police issued a press release revealing that it has launched an inquiry, ‘possible homicide’, linked to an establishment paedophile ring believed to have operated at Dolphin Square and other locations 30 years ago.
News of the inquiry, Operation Midland, came as an alleged victim, known as ‘Nick,’ gave two harrowing interviews detailing his ordeal at the hands of ‘very powerful people’ who ‘controlled my life for … nine years’.
Speaking to the BBC, ‘Nick’ told how he was originally ‘handed over’ to the group by his own father, an active paedophile, in the late 1970s.
‘They created fear that penetrated every part of me,’ he said. ‘I’ve never experienced pain like it. I hope I never do again.’
The group was ‘very organised’ and included leading members of the judiciary, military, and security services, along with politicians. It would hire chauffeurs to pick up victims and ferry them to sex parties or ‘sessions’.
After several hours of carousing, the ‘sessions’ would descend into ‘private time’, where ‘you’d have to perform various sexual things, but it would always culminate in being raped’.
On occasion, events took an even darker turn. For in an interview with Exaro, an investigative website, ‘Nick’ made the extraordinary claim that in addition to abusing victims, the gang had killed at least three of them.
He recalled seeing one small boy murdered in the presence of a former Tory Cabinet Minister, and another asphyxiated by a Conservative MP at a central London townhouse.
‘I watched while that happened. I am not sure how I got out of that,’ he said.
The third murder is said to have occurred in broad daylight on a street in South-West London in 1979, when a member of the group deliberately ran over and killed a boy aged between 11 and 12.
‘Nick,’ who claims to have visited Dolphin Square on at least ten occasions (and recalls its ‘dimly-lit, musty corridors’), has supplied Operation Midland with a written account of his ordeal and been interviewed extensively by investigators, passing them names of the Tory MP and the Cabinet Minister.
He has also identified a third abuser, Sir Peter Hayman, a former diplomat prominent in the Paedophile Information Exchange, a pro-paedophile lobby group endorsed at the time by the National Council for Civil Liberties, run by the future Labour grandees Harriet Harman, Jack Dromey and Patricia Hewitt.
The three boys identified by ‘Nick’ are doubtless not the only alleged victims now on Operation Midland’s radar.
On Wednesday, for example, the father of Vishal Mehrotra, an eight-year-old boy murdered in the 1980s, went public with the claim that his son also died at the hands of a Westminster paedophile ring.
The late Sir Peter Hayman was a former diplomat prominent in the Paedophile Information Exchange
Vishambar Mehrotra, a retired magistrate, told the Daily Telegraph how he received an anonymous phone call following his son’s disappearance on a Putney street in July 1981.
It purportedly came from a male prostitute who believed Vishal had been taken to Elm Guest House, a gay brothel in nearby Barnes allegedly frequented by high-profile sex offenders, including several figures now implicated in the Dolphin Square scandal.
At the time, Mr Mehrotra passed a 15-minute tape recording of the call to detectives, but claims they never properly investigated the allegation.
Part of Vishal’s body was found in woodland in West Sussex in February 1982. His legs, pelvis and lower spine were missing, along with his outer clothes and Superman underpants.
‘Now it is clear to me that there has been a huge cover-up,’ Mr Mehrotra said. ‘There is no doubt in my mind.’
The very idea that grown men might have killed small boys for sexual gratification might sound outlandish, but it’s not without precedent.
In a notorious 1989 court case, Sidney Cooke and three other members of a paedophile gang dubbed The Dirty Dozen were convicted of killing 14-year-old Jason Swift, who had been gang-raped.
Cooke was later implicated by one of his co-accused in that case, Leslie Bailey, of having also been involved in the 1984 abduction, rape and killing of seven-year-old Mark Tildesley, although only Bailey was eventually charged, having pleaded guilty to Mark’s manslaughter.
Police are believed to have tried recently (without success) to persuade the now 87-year-old Cooke to assist with recent inquiries. He is understood to have refused to help, and is not believed to have had personal links with MPs, judges or other VIPs.
Wherever they lead, this week’s developments will, nonetheless, add weight to claims — first aired by the Labour MP Tom Watson in October 2012 — that a ‘powerful paedophile network’ with links to Parliament operated with impunity in the 1970s and 1980s, using friends in high places to stay ahead of the law.
A string of prominent figures from all three major parties have so far been implicated in the scandal, most notably Cyril Smith, the Lib Dem MP for Rochdale, and Sir Peter Morrison, Margaret Thatcher’s private secretary.
The former Home Secretary Leon Brittan, has, meanwhile, been accused of ignoring or burying a dossier, given to him by the Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens in 1983, which named eight MPs as members of the sex ring. He denies the allegation.
Over the past year, I have devoted much of my time to investigating these child sex scandals, along with others involving the Paedophile Information Exchange, the Labour peer Lord Janner, and the Tory backbencher Sir Nicholas Fairbairn.
While a definitive ‘smoking gun’ is yet to emerge, the surprising number of parallels between the cases, and the weight of evidence to support the often-outlandish claims at their centre, leaves me in little doubt that some sort of Establishment paedophile ring existed in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s. And it seems increasingly likely many of its members were protected by the security services.
With this in mind, three police investigations are duly underway: Operation Midland, Operation Fernbridge (focusing on Elm Guest House) and Operation Fairbank (looking at political figures). A fourth, Operation Cayacos, is scrutinising the late Peter Righton, an influential social worker and convicted paedophile.
A source with knowledge of their progress told me this week that investigators currently believe Establishment paedophiles used flats at Dolphin Square as a ‘dropping-off point’ for young prostitutes.
‘Kids were brought there, and often partied there, but were sometimes also ferried to the Dorchester, or the Ritz, or addresses in central London,’ he said.
‘They were like lumps of meat in the back of a car. It [Dolphin Square] was a very convenient, and discreet, dropping-off point.’
The vast complex of 1,250 flats on a 7.5-acre plot close to the Thames was built in 1937 to provide homes for individuals its developers described as ‘notable in public life or society’.
Past tenants include the Far-Right political leader Oswald Mosley, Harold Wilson, Christine Keeler and Princess Anne, who (after moving out) allegedly claimed to be tired of ‘nosy neighbours, noisy traffic and the sight of hookers plying their trade nearby’.
By the late 1980s, it housed 51 MPs, 16 peers, 12 generals and six admirals. More recently, such noted Parliamentarians as William Hague, Alastair Darling, Malcolm Rifkind, Menzies Campbell and Mo Mowlam called it home.
The vast complex of 1,250 flats on a 7.5-acre plot close to the Thames was built in 1937 to provide homes for individuals its developers described as ‘notable in public life or society’
Dolphin Square, just a few hundred metres along the Thames from Parliament, has always contained its own shops, restaurants and leisure facilities, but — unusually — was not gated, meaning outsiders could come and go. Some of its units could also be rented on short-term lets, making them perfect for non-residents to hold decadent parties or conduct fleeting affairs.
Intriguing in light of recent events is the fact that in 1994, a small-circulation magazine called Scallywag published a lengthy article detailing rumours that politicians had been abusing children at Dolphin Square for 20 years.
‘We often have underage boys wandering around, totally lost, asking for a particular flat,’ a source there purportedly told it.
Scallywag was, however, the very opposite of a reliable source. It had achieved notoriety in 1993 after being sued by the Prime Minister John Major for reporting entirely fictitious rumours that he’d had an affair with a Downing Street caterer.
Its coverage of Dolphin Square was also riven with factual errors. Indeed, it centred on the entirely false premise that a paedophile ring was being run there by the late former Tory treasurer Lord McAlpine.
Only one source was named for this very serious allegation: a former care home resident called Steve Messham.
In 2012, the same Mr Messham resurfaced on BBC Newsnight. He again alleged that he had been abused by a ‘senior political figure’, who was later identified on social media as Lord McAlpine, only to realise — after being shown a photograph of the Conservative peer two days later — that it was a case of mistaken identity.
The ensuing controversy saw the BBC pay £185,000 in damages, and led to the resignation of its new director-general George Entwistle.
All of which neatly illustrates the difficulty of separating truth from fantasy when dealing with historic sex abuse, along with the scale of
the challenge now facing investigators if they are to assemble sufficient evidence to secure any convictions.
The testimony of ‘Nick’ provides another case in point. A professional man, who has no criminal record or apparent mental health issues, he is considered a trustworthy witness.
However, there is at present no physical or documentary evidence to back up many crucial aspects of his story about the Dolphin Square sex ring (I have searched in vain, for example, for contemporary newspaper articles about a small boy being mown down on a London street in broad daylight).
Neither are the police believed to have found anyone capable of providing reliable testimony that corroborates many of ‘Nick’s’ claims.
This fact may explain why the BBC have (unlike the news website Exaro) so far held back from broadcasting some of the more explosive aspects of his story, including suggestions that he witnessed murders carried out by senior Tories.
It may also explain why the police chose so publicly to announce their murder investigation — believing, perhaps, that media coverage might be a good way to persuade other victims to come forward.
After all these years, attempting to substantiate even vague details of Labour MP John Mann’s tale is equally difficult. Only two members of the small team who worked with him at Lambeth are still believed to be alive. The location of one, Hayley Graham, is currently unknown, but this week I tracked the other, Jack Organ, to Almeira in Southern Spain.
Here, the 73-year-old retiree lives with his wife Paula Strudwick, who coincidentally is a former dominatrix who in 1997 made headlines after telling the News of the World about her lengthy affair with the Tory minister Jonathan Aitken.
Organ told me that in September he was contacted by police officers from London working on the Dolphin Square sex inquiry. However, he was unable to offer them much help.
‘I remember rumours of abuse, involving homosexuality in Lambeth children’s homes. There was talk of important people being involved. But it was hard to pin down anything specific.‘
‘The police were searching for hard evidence. They offered to come and see me if I had any. I just can’t remember the sort of details they are after.’
Time will tell whether other lines of inquiry yield more fruit. The tragedy, of course, is that if police had mounted a thorough investigation 30 years ago and these allegations had been tested in court, the fate of ‘Nick’ and so many other young men is likely to have been very different.
That is why it is vital this new investigation is utterly rigorous. Only then will Dolphin Square finally give up its secrets.
Additional reporting: Rebecca Camber.