Crack Scotland Yard detective says top brass sabotaged his bid to expose Blair minister in Establishment paedophile ring.
By Guy Adams
Published: 24 July 2015
Former police inspector Clive Driscoll was investigating a minister in Tony Blair's government suspected of being linked to a paedophile ring in 1998 when he was moved off of the case
One November day in 1998, a group of officials from Lambeth Council found themselves in an upstairs meeting room at Mary Seacole House, a concrete office block in South London.
It was the end of a lengthy business meeting. And they were sitting in stunned silence.
The reason? A few moments earlier, a local police inspector had just delivered several pieces of earth-shattering news.
First, he revealed that detectives working on Operation Trawler, an investigation into a paedophile ring suspected of operating in the London borough's children's homes, were focusing their inquiries on 12 potential abusers.
Second, he was prepared to name these people. Third, it contained the names of several high-profile members of the Establishment.
On condition of confidentiality, the policeman read out a list of the people his team was pursuing.
One was a Lambeth councillor. Another was a household-name celebrity. A third, perhaps most explosively, was a minister in Tony Blair's government.
‘These are all only suspects at this stage,' the policeman said, bullishly. ‘But I have reason to believe that further investigation will produce evidence that I can use to pursue court cases.'
In the room in Clapham High Street there was a sharp intake of breath. Labour-run Lambeth was no stranger to ugly headlines. For almost two decades, its name had been a byword for corruption, incompetence, and loony-Left political dysfunction.
Since the Eighties — when, under the Trotskyite leadership of ‘Red' Ted Knight, it was dubbed Britain's worst-run local authority — the Town Hall had spawned a series of criminal investigations and public inquiries, involving everything from fraud and blackmail to Mafia-style racketeering.
More recent years had seen Lambeth's social services department rocked by a string of appalling sex scandals, some of which remained ongoing.
Yet even by those standards, the allegation that its premises were home to an Establishment paedophile ring, which included a member of the government, must have seemed so extraordinary, and so utterly unprecedented, as to be in a class of its own.
That, presumably, will have been the verdict at Mary Seacole House that day, where the gobsmacked council officials included several of Lambeth's most senior social workers and executives, along with two of the borough's solicitors.
Of 12 suspected child abusers on Driscoll's list in 1998, one was a minister in Tony Blair's (pictured) government
But in the weeks that followed, something very strange occurred. Far from leading to arrests and court cases, the policeman's comments triggered events that saw him moved out of Lambeth and Operation Trawler brought to a halt.
In the process, those 12 suspected abusers, including the minister, were kept out of the firing line for more than 15 years. Things had started to unravel roughly three weeks after the meeting on November 26, 1998, when the police inspector, Clive Driscoll, was summoned to a meeting by his superintendent.
There, he learned he was being moved off the investigation, and transferred out of Lambeth, with immediate effect, due to what the superintendent opaquely called ‘orders from on high'.
Shortly afterwards, Operation Trawler was unceremoniously shut down, and its remaining staff transferred to other duties, again due to apparent ‘orders on high'.
Records of its existence, including paperwork identifying the 12 suspects, were transferred to police and council archives, where many crucial documents would subsequently disappear. Finally, that December, Driscoll, a highly-regarded police officer with two decades of service, found himself being disciplined for alleged misconduct, for having shared the high-profile men's names in that original, supposed confidential meeting.
The formal complaint was eventually dropped, but not before he'd been forced to undergo a highly unpleasant disciplinary hearing. By the time he learned he was in the clear, all hope of continuing to pursue the investigation had vanished.
All of which meant that — by accident or design — the allegations he hoped to investigate were kicked into the long grass.
There they remained until early last year when, amid growing public concern about historic child sex offences and their apparent cover-up, Driscoll gave a brief interview about his experience in Lambeth to BBC2's Newsnight programme.
Recently retired, Driscoll was by then one of the best-known detectives in Britain, thanks to his involvement in a string of celebrated cases.
He was respected, among other things, for leading a meticulous investigation into the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence. Against extraordinary odds, he'd uncovered new forensic evidence (where several predecessors had failed) leading to the successful 2012 prosecution of the teenager's killers Gary Dobson and David Norris.
Michael John Carroll was allowed to work
with children in Lambeth, south London,
despite being convicted of a serious sex offence
Driscoll had also spearheaded the delicate inquiry into Bachan Athwal, a Sikh woman from West London convicted in a 2007 trial of orchestrating the honour killing of Surjit Athwal, her daughter-in-law.
Given these successes, it was perhaps little surprise that the Metropolitan Police should this time around decide, in direct response to Newsnight, to take his comments very seriously.
The force announced its staff would be formally investigating both Driscoll's alleged discoveries in Lambeth — and the manner in which he was removed from office — as part of Operation Trinity, a new inquiry focused on sex abuse in the borough in the Eighties and Nineties. That investigation continues.
In the meantime, Driscoll's recollection of the Lambeth sex ring is set this week to make a sensational return to the news agenda with the imminent publication of his autobiography, In Pursuit Of The Truth.
It tells how Driscoll, an eccentric figure with a reputation (in some quarters) as a maverick, spent 34 years in the Met modelling himself on Sergeant George Dixon, the old-school TV bobby played by Jack Warner on the BBC show Dixon Of Dock Green.
Preferring to walk London's pavements rather than sit behind a desk, he repeatedly turned down promotions to carry on doing old-fashioned beat work, and at times confounded colleagues with his unconventional approach to modern policing.
It is, for obvious reasons, the two lengthy chapters detailing his work in Lambeth that will be most keenly scrutinised, however.
In them, Driscoll, now 64, describes moving to the borough in July 1998 as a member of SO5, a specialist Scotland Yard unit focused on child protection.
On one of his first days, he attended a meeting at Lambeth Council where officials discussed the recent arrest, by police in Liverpool, of Michael John Carroll.
Carroll, then 49, was the former manager of a home for vulnerable children in Angell Road, Brixton. He'd been given that job by Lambeth Council in the late Seventies, despite a 1966 criminal conviction which made him a Schedule One sex offender, the most serious category, who is known to be a danger to children.
Even after Lambeth learned of that conviction, he was scandalously allowed to work with children in the borough until 1991. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, he abused dozens of them.
After leaving Lambeth, Carroll moved to the North-West, where he'd abused more boys, leading to him, at the time of the meeting, facing around 70 criminal charges. He would admit to 24 indecent assaults, five counts of attempted buggery, five of buggery, and one act of gross indecency, on 12 boys, earning a ten-year jail sentence. One of his victims was aged just eight.
It wasn't long, however, before Driscoll was told this abuse was part of a wider pattern. Moments after the July meeting, he claims to have been approached by a Lambeth social worker called Libby Blake.
‘Carroll was only the tip of the iceberg,' she allegedly told him. ‘The children's homes have been the playground for the rich and powerful for years.'
Driscoll was quickly moved off the operation, which was subsequently shut down by ‘orders from on high'
Driscoll was told about Steven Forrest, an assistant to Carroll who had died of Aids in 1992. He, too, appeared to have abused boys at Angell Road, and council staff were now concerned some of his victims had been infected.
Blake advised Driscoll to seek further details regarding the dark underbelly of the borough from a local councillor called Anna Tapsell, telling him: ‘She's the only one in Lambeth who'll tell you the truth.' He spoke with Ms Tapsell and recalls: ‘What Anna told me was almost too horrific to process.
‘According to her, children from homes in Lambeth had been farmed out to paedophiles and other sexual predators.' Whistleblowers had been unable to stop the abuse because, she claimed, ‘they're up against some very powerful forces'.
Indeed, Driscoll claims that Tapsell was subsequently visited by ‘Special Branch' officers advising her against talking publicly about the alleged child abuse.
Undeterred, he instructed two junior officers to begin investigating potential abuse at Angell Road and other Lambeth children's homes as part of Operation Trawler.
They started by interviewing a cross-section of council staff, care-home employees, and police colleagues from Liverpool, who were carrying out their own investigation of Carroll called Operation Care. These inquiries saw Driscoll managing to, as he puts it, ‘strike gold'.
‘I found someone who admitted they'd seen pornography changing hands on council property, which led to someone else saying there was a video doing the rounds featuring “prominent” people engaged in sexual activities with minors.'
He never discovered that film, but arrested a man who possessed a selection of other illegal pornographic movies, several of which appeared to have been made in properties belonging to Lambeth Council.
That man (whose name has been omitted from the book to avoid interfering with an ongoing police investigation) was jailed for four years. ‘There were recognisable faces in his pictures, both victims and perpetrators, and locations that could be traced,' says Driscoll.
Elsewhere, he writes, an ‘anonymous informant' passed on the names of three people he ought to take an interest in. ‘These weren't witnesses or victims,' he writes. ‘They were suspects. One of them was a Lambeth councillor. Another was a celebrity. And a third was a member of the government.'
By late August 1998, Driscoll was sufficiently confident about his operation's progress to be prepared to confidentially share an overall list of ‘around a dozen suspects' with two colleagues from outside the police force: a social services inspector and a senior member of Lambeth council. ‘Everyone in the room was happy,' he said of their response. ‘I left and my work continued.'
Troubling: The Labour minister was
kept out of the firing line for 15 years
Then, in early November, came the sensational meeting at Mary Seacole House. Driscoll was later shown official Lambeth council minutes of the meeting.
He was ‘surprised to note', he writes, that ‘there was mysteriously no record' of him having named his 12 suspects.
‘I then spoke to two social workers, who confirmed there had been a further meeting [after the one he attended] to discuss the minutes. One of the original men present had gone through saying “take that out ... take that out ... take that out”.' The resulting document therefore told, he claims, a ‘very different' tale ‘to the version I lived through'.
Driscoll was then, he says, dismissed from Lambeth a few weeks later by Superintendent Brian Tomkins, who allegedly told him: ‘I'm really sorry, Clive, but the orders come from on high.'
Operation Trawler was closed down shortly afterwards, and its investigations were taken up by a different Met Police inquiry, called Operation Middleton. ‘They managed a handful of arrests over a decade,' says Driscoll. ‘None of the major players from my list featured.'
As to the subsequent disciplinary complaint against him, he adds: ‘The case against me was eventually dropped — not that I was told at the time — moments after I was officially moved from Lambeth.
‘I couldn't help feeling that it had been designed to halt my investigation long enough until other people were successfully put in place.'
Many readers will doubtless agree. Yet some others may, for entirely understandable reasons, feel inclined to question this and some of the other more sensational claims on these pages.
After all, most of the more controversial aspects of Mr Driscoll's memoir appear to be unsupported by surviving documentary evidence.
He does not retain the correspondence he was sent regarding the disciplinary complaint. Neither has he produced any paperwork recording the interviews, meetings and conversations he cites in great detail in the book.
Most importantly, perhaps, he does not elaborate on what evidence he had actually compiled against either the Blair minister or other members of the alleged Establishment paedophile ring.
Driscoll doesn't say whether he had been able to identify specific victims and first-hand witnesses of alleged abuse, or whether his list of high-profile ‘suspects' was merely a collection of names of people about whom he'd heard convincing rumours.
A dossier of correspondence released this week under the Freedom of Information Act does reveal that ministers in Tony Blair's government received briefing papers in 1998 about Michael John Carroll. But none of those documents contain any mention of a minister being under suspicion.
Not all of the people and organisations mentioned in Driscoll's autobiography appear to share his exact recollection of specific events, either.
Libby Blake tells me that while she does recall meeting Driscoll in the summer of 1998, and telling him to contact Anna Tapsell, she categorically did not tell him that local children's homes had been ‘the playground for the rich and powerful for years'.
Blake also denies describing Tapsell, in the same conversation, as ‘the only one in Lambeth who'll tell you the truth'.
Both those quotations by Driscoll are inaccurate, Blake insists, for two reasons: first they express opinions she did not have, and second they use expressions that she does not use, and has never used, in normal conversation.
Tapsell, for her part, denies ever having been visited by Special Branch officers, as Driscoll's book states. However, she does recall receiving a similar visit from a superintendent working on Operation Middleton. She also remembers hearing that Driscoll was investigating a dozen high-profile suspects, including a minister.
With this in mind, she describes the rest of the text as ‘very authentic'.
Lambeth Council has yet to comment on the specifics of Driscoll's memoir, but says it is ‘firmly committed' to finding the truth about historic abuse cases that occurred on its patch.
The Metropolitan Police, meanwhile, will say only that ‘there remains an ongoing investigation by the Directorate of Professional Standards into allegations made by Clive Driscoll'. They do not dispute that he was moved from Lambeth in late November 1998.
One contemporary source who backs up important aspects of Driscoll's version of events is Nigel Goldie, a former Lambeth social services boss.
He claimed this week to have had a ‘discussion' with a government inspector about Driscoll in which they pondered ‘how we were going to handle this because of the huge political implications of a serving minister being investigated on suspicion of child sex offences'.
Weighing all this evidence, we can perhaps be entirely sure of just a few elements of this extraordinary tale.
First that at a Lambeth Council meeting in November 1998, Clive Driscoll did indeed announce that he was investigating 12 named suspected paedophiles, including a celebrity, a Lambeth councillor, and a Labour minister, on suspicion of abusing residents of local children's homes.
Also, that around three weeks later, he was removed from the borough and his investigation was closed down. The rest, for now, is open to debate.
‘The truth is out there — and getting nearer,' is how Clive Driscoll himself puts things.
‘If and when it does all come out, it could cause the biggest shake-up of our country since Oliver Cromwell.'
In Pursuit Of The Truth by Clive Driscoll is published by Ebury on Thursday at £20.
Source: ‘Daily Mail'
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