Elm Guest House claims and controversy
The Elm Guest House was a former hotel in Rocks Lane, near Barnes Common in south-west London that was named in a 2012 report into sexual abuse and child grooming in the late 1970s and 1980s. Several prominent British men were alleged, in a list produced by convicted fraudster Chris Fay, to have visited the Guest House during this time. 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. The then-Metropolitan Police commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, later made a personal apology to the innocent parties involved in November 2016.
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.
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 convicted of the charge of running a disorderly house, but allegations of abuse against children, (and an alleged subsequent reported investigation in 2003), were apparently not pursued. 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 also 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 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 later publicly stated that two people had come forward and told him they were abused by Brittan.
Over the next few years, additional allegations were reported in the media. Allegations were made that Liberal MP Cyril Smith, DJ Jimmy Savile, convicted rapist Sidney Cooke, and Foreign Office barrister Colin Peters were among those who visited the establishment. The police's Professional Standards Directorate examined potential criminal offences by undercover officers at the time of a police raid on Elm Guest House in June 1982. The Metropolitan Police referred themselves to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, asking them to review sixteen different allegations that they had suppressed evidence of child sexual abuse and prevented the investigation of some allegations between 1970 and 2005.
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. Fay told Panorama that 17 or 18 children from Grafton Close had told him they had been trafficked to Elm Guest House; one of them, Mark, stated that he had been an abuse victim at Grafton Close but had never been to Elm Guest House nor 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, who wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Police ultimately decided that Brittan would face no further action but Brittan was never told he would not be charged before his death in January 2015. In November 2015, Watson apologized 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.
Operation Fairbank examined claims that Cyril Smith abused boys at the 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 in Richmond, south-west London. A former Conservative cabinet minister was reportedly investigated as part of Operation Fairbank, the minister was understood to deny any wrongdoing.
Former Prime Minister Edward Heath was also investigated by Operation Fairbank in April 2015 after a man who was serving a prison sentence for child sexual abuse accused Heath of raping him when he was 11 years old. In August 2015, the Metropolitan Police stated: "after a full assessment of the allegation there were no lines of enquiry that could proportionately be pursued by the MPS". Despite this, Wiltshire Police included this allegation in their inquiry of Heath. Heath died in 2005.
Operation Fernbridge and Operation Athabasca
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. Operation Fernbridge did investigate a senior Conservative politician for having allegedly been stopped by a customs officer with child pornography in the 1980s. In July 2014, it was reported that Sir Nicholas Fairbairn was also investigated as part of Operation Fernbridge.
After McSweeny's conviction, Operation Fernbridge was closed and investigations related to Elm Guest House were taken over by Operation Athabasca. An allegation against Enoch Powell was subsequently investigated. David Aaronovitch of The Times wrote in April 2015 that the 1980s claims about Powell originated from fabricated claims invented by a conman, Derry Mainwaring Knight, whose false assertions had become known to clergy, but had been unwittingly conveyed to the police in good faith. The police found no evidence to support the allegation against Powell. Allegations were also made regarding former Speaker of the House of Commons George Thomas and Labour MP Leo Abse, these allegations had been passed to officers leading an investigation into an alleged "network of politicians". The probe into Thomas ended in March 2017 with no further action taken.
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, a man 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 apologized to the living suspects (Bramall and Proctor) and Brittan's widow.
Operation Hydrant is a coordination hub which gathers information from other inquiries, including those described above. In May 2015, Operation Hydrant reported that 1,400 men, of which 261 were high-profile individuals, were being investigated over allegations of historical child abuse.
Some of the men accused of being involved in abuse related to the Elm Guest House faced unrelated inquiries. Allegations regarding Jimmy Savile were investigated as part of Operation Yewtree. A report into his alleged offences, Giving Victims a Voice, was released in January 2013. Greater Manchester Police investigated Cyril Smith as part of Operation Jaguar. In 2014, The Metropolitan Police started Operation Cayacos, an investigation into historical claims of child abuse by a paedophile ring linked to Peter Righton. Tom Watson stated that files on Righton contained "clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring." Wiltshire Police launched Operation Conifer in 2015 to examine claims against Edward Heath.
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