July 23, 2015 / 11:01 AM / 2 years ago

Former UK spy chief warned of political embarrassment risk over child abuse claims

LONDON (Reuters) - A British spy chief warned Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government in the 1980s that allegations of a lawmaker "having a penchant for small boys" risked causing political embarrassment, according to a review of government documents.

Britain has been rocked by a series of child sex abuse scandals dating back to the 1970s involving celebrities and politicians. Various institutions have been accused of failing to follow up abuse allegations and, in some cases, of actively covering them up.

Last year a review by Peter Wanless, the Chief Executive of anti child-cruelty charity the NSPCC, and lawyer Richard Whittam into the handling of allegations of abuse by politicians found no evidence of a high-level cover up.

But since that review was published, the government has uncovered extra files and passed them to Wanless and Whittam.

Lawmaker and Thatcher-aide Peter Morrison, diplomat Peter Hayman, interior minister Leon Brittan, MI6 spy agency chief Maurice Oldfield, and lawmaker William van Straubenzee, who are all now dead, were named in the files.

"There were a number of references across the papers we saw that reinforced the observation we made in our review that issues of crimes against children ... were given considerably less serious consideration than would be expected today," Wanless and Whittam said in an update to their review published on the government's website.

The pair highlighted an example of a letter from Antony Duff, then director general of the MI5 spy agency to then cabinet secretary Robert Armstrong in 1986 about claims from two sources that a named lawmaker had "a penchant for small boys".

"Matters conclude with the acceptance of his word that he does not and the observation that 'At the present stage ... the risk of political embarrassment to the government is rather greater than the security danger,'" Wanless and Whittam said.

"The risk to children is not considered at all."

Speaking on BBC Radio on Thursday, Wanless said this was "not necessarily" evidence of a cover-up but demonstrated there had been more interest in the reputations of individuals and departments than what might be happening to children.

Wanless said the documents would be made available to a major independent inquiry into child abuse that was launched earlier this month and is expected to take around five years to complete.

Editing by Stephen Addison

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