Elm Guest House claims and controversy
The Elm Guest House was a former hotel in Rocks Lane, near Barnes Common in south-west London. In a list produced by convicted fraudster Chris Fay, several prominent British men were alleged to have engaged in sexual abuse and child grooming at the Guest House in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Labour MP Tom Watson suggested in an October 2012 statement to the House of Commons that a paedophile network which had existed at this time may have brought children to parties at the private residence. During 2014 and 2015, allegations against several leading politicians of the period, mostly now deceased, were made public in the British press. Many of these claims were examined and discredited in an October 2015 episode of the BBC current affairs programme, Panorama.
The role of the guest house became the subject of a Metropolitan Police Service investigation known as Operation Fairbank in late 2012; the purpose of this "scoping exercise" was to assess Watson's claims. As a result of allegations arising from Operation Fairbank, a full criminal investigation called Operation Fernbridge was launched in February 2013. No further evidence into alleged abuse connected to the Elm Guest House was uncovered and the operation was closed in March 2015. Another investigation, Operation Midland, was set up to examine claims of possible homicide. A subsequent inquiry found that those investigated by Operation Midland had been victims of false allegations. In November 2016, the then-Metropolitan Police commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, made a personal apology to the innocent parties involved.
Elm Guest House
The three-storey Elm Guest House was in Rocks Lane, close to Barnes Common in south-west London. It had eight guest rooms, and its facilities included a sauna, solarium and video studio. The Edwardian house has since been converted into two-bedroom apartments, and the current occupants are not connected to the allegations.
In the 1970s, The Elm Guest House owner and manager, Carole Kasir, "transformed [the house] from a nondescript suburban hotel into a gay rendezvous which was advertised in Gay News and other specialist publications". A party was raided by the police in 1982, following which 12 boys gave evidence that they had been abused by men at the house. Kasir was the only person who faced charges stemming from the raid and she was convicted of the charge of running a disorderly house. The identities of the men who attended the party are not known and have been the subject of much speculation in subsequent years. By 2012, The Independent described the house as "conspiracy theorist's dream". Kasir died in 1990 at the age of 47; an inquest found that the cause of Kasir's death was suicide due to an overdose of insulin.
History of claims
In 1990, according to journalist James Hanning, Chris Fay, a Labour councillor, convicted fraudster and a campaigner for the National Association of Young People in Care, claimed on oath that former Home Secretary Leon Brittan had been involved in abuse and that in March 1990 he had seen a photograph of Brittan with a young boy. He said the picture had been shown to him by Carole Kasir, co-owner of the Elm Guest House, who died weeks later. Fay alleged that children from the Grafton Close Children's Home in Richmond, south-west London had told him they had been trafficked to Elm Guest House. He drew up a list of public figures that he said victims had told him had stayed at the Elm Guest House. The list included former government ministers, senior MPs, top police officers, judges, pop music stars, and people with links to the Royal Households. It was uploaded to the internet.
In the aftermath of the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal in October 2012, Labour MP Tom Watson said in the House of Commons he had evidence that there was a "powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and Number 10". With the public upset that Jimmy Savile was never properly investigated over his alleged crimes, the Metropolitan Police launched Operation Fairbank as a scoping exercise to examine Watson's claims. Watson publicly stated that Brittan was "as close to evil as any human could get" and he wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions to reopen a rape investigation into Brittan that police had previously decided not to pursue. Police ultimately decided that Brittan would face no further action but he was never told he would not be charged before his death in January 2015.
Claims are challenged and discredited
In an edition of Panorama broadcast on 6 October 2015, a former Elm Guest House prostitute was interviewed who claimed that he was unaware of any MPs visiting the brothel. Journalist John Oakes told them he had investigated Chris Fay's claims, but had never been able to find any "solid" information nor trace of photos Fay said he had seen. A man named Mark stated that he had been an abuse victim at Grafton Close but had never been to Elm Guest House and had never spoken to Fay. Another person interviewed by Panorama said they named Brittan as their abuser only after being pressured by Fay. The Daily Telegraph later reported that Fay had been jailed for fraud in 2011. Fay said he regretted starting a "witch-hunt".
In late 2015, Watson was criticised for consistently refusing to comment after it was revealed that the police had been pressured into investigating rape allegations against Brittan by Watson. That November, Watson apologised to Brittan's widow and her family for the distress caused by the investigation. Metropolitan police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe issued an apology of his own in February 2016 for mishandling the investigation.
The police investigation known as Operation Fairbank was first set up under conditions of secrecy. The Independent on Sunday reported that it focused on claims of sexual abuse and the grooming of children, involving parties for men at the former Elm Guest House. Police also investigated allegations that in the early 1980s a "paedophile ring of VIPs" abused boys from the Grafton Close Children's Home.
A full criminal investigation, Operation Fernbridge, was launched as a result of allegations that arose from Operation Fairbank. Operation Fernbridge investigated allegations concerning both Grafton Close children's home and Elm Guest House.
Operation Fernbridge was supported by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and Richmond Social Services. In June 2013, it was reported that seven police officers were working on the case and were following more than 300 leads. In July 2014, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that they had more than tripled the number of officers working on the case, announcing that 22 officers were working on the operation.
Two men, a Catholic priest from Norwich, and a man understood to be connected to the Grafton Close children's home in Richmond, were arrested on suspicion of sexual offences and questioned by child investigation officers from Operation Fernbridge in February 2013. A third arrest, of a 69-year-old man, took place in July 2013. A trial against Tony McSweeney, the Catholic priest, started at Southwark Crown Court in February 2015. However, John Stingemore, the man who formerly worked for Richmond Council, was found dead at his home in January 2015 whilst still awaiting trial. McSweeney was later convicted of his charges and sentenced to prison.
Although arrests from Operation Fernbridge did result in a conviction stemming from Grafton Close children's home, it did not expose abuse related to Elm Guest House. After McSweeny's conviction, Operation Fernbridge was closed and investigations related to Elm Guest House were taken over by Operation Athabasca.
Vishambar Mehrotra, the father of eight-year-old Vishal Mehrotra who disappeared in July 1981 said in November 2014 that he believed his son may have died at the hands of a paedophile ring involving high-profile individuals, and that he feared that the Metropolitan Police covered up links between his son's death and activities at Elm Guest House. Mehrotra went missing in Putney, close to the Elm Guest House in Barnes. The upper half of his torso was subsequently found seven months later, buried in woodland in West Sussex.
In November 2014, Carl Beech, then known publicly under the pseudonym "Nick" told Operation Fairbank detectives that he had been abused by a VIP gang of paedophiles for over a decade and that he had witnessed them murder three boys. Mehrotra's murder, and the murder of two other boys, were subsequently investigated as part of Operation Midland. Based only on the accusations of the one accuser, Midland investigated Edward Heath, Leon Brittan, Edwin Bramall, Harvey Proctor and others. An inquiry conducted by Richard Henriques found that those accused had been victims of false allegations and the Metropolitan Police commissioner subsequently apologised to the living suspects (Bramall and Proctor) and Brittan's widow.
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