Scotland Yard commanders secretly briefed on dramatic plans for police investigation
By David Hencke and Mark Watts
16th February 2013
Met commanders have received a secret briefing on preparations by Scotland Yard’s paedophile unit to arrest a former Conservative cabinet minister.
They were told of the plans during a highly confidential briefing on progress in two police operations examining allegations of child sex abuse against senior political figures and other VIPs.
The briefing was given by the detective chief inspector who heads the Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit, which is carrying out both operations. Sources close to the investigations gave details of his plans to Exaro.
The leading officers, including Peter Spindler, the Met commander who oversees the paedophile unit, were stunned as the senior detective outlined his intention to arrest and charge the ex-minister. The detective said that he was not intending to take the step imminently, but this is where he expects the investigations to lead.
He identified the ex-minister in the briefing. Exaro knows the ex-minister’s identity, but has decided against publishing it to avoid jeopardising police operations.
The senior detective said that his team was still at an early stage of its investigations, but had already gathered a good deal of evidence that the ex-minister had sexually abused boys. In addition, one woman has told detectives that the ex-minister raped her when she was a young woman.
He said that detectives would spend many more weeks looking for further evidence from victims before being ready to make the arrest.
The operations are potentially politically explosive. Sources involved in the investigations have expressed fears to Exaro that they will be closed down, as has happened in the past.
Exaro does not have a list of who attended the briefing, but the commanders had asked to be updated on where the highly sensitive investigations were going.
‘Operation Fairbank’ is “scoping” a wide range of allegations against senior political figures. These were passed to the police by Tom Watson, the campaigning MP, after he raised them in Parliament last October.
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Met’s commissioner, is on record as saying that Scotland Yard is treating the allegations seriously.
‘Operation Fernbridge’, which was upgraded to a full criminal investigation last month, was started after an Exaro reporter accompanied a key source to a meeting with police officers and Watson at the House of Commons in October.
This operation is investigating allegations of a paedophile ring centred on Richmond between 1977 and 1983. The allegations were initially part of Operation Fairbank, but were separated into Fernbridge in January.
Operation Fernbridge carried out its first arrests the week before last. Two Exaro journalists were watching one address, and took a series of pictures of detectives taking away one suspect.
Detectives arrested John Stingemore, the 70-year-old former deputy head of Grafton Close children’s home, formerly run by the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, at his flat in St Leonards-on-Sea in East Sussex, and Revd Tony McSweeney, 66, a Roman Catholic priest from Norwich.
The Met has confirmed that both suspects were bailed until April.
Spindler said in a statement after the arrests: “This is a complex multi-agency investigation supported by the NSPCC, CEOP and Richmond social services involving non-recent allegations of sexual assault against children.”
The Diocese of East Anglia issued a statement confirming that McSweeney was arrested, and that he was bailed to reappear at a police station in ten weeks.
The statement said that he was arrested “as part of a police investigation into allegations of the non-recent sexual abuse of children”.
It continued: “Revd McSweeney has voluntarily withdrawn from all active ministry and has resigned as director of the Notre Dame high school in Norwich with immediate effect. This is a neutral act that makes no judgement of guilt or innocence, and which is in line with safeguarding procedures of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.”