UK

Theresa May says sexual abuse claims are tip of iceberg

Distressed boy Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption An inquiry, set up by Mrs May, will look at how public bodies dealt with historic allegations of child sex abuse

Allegations of child sexual abuse that have emerged so far are only the "tip of the iceberg", Home Secretary Theresa May has said.

Institutions to protect children "were not doing so", she said, adding that "as a society" we must "get to the truth" about the extent of child abuse.

It follows allegations of paedophiles in positions of power and claims about attempts to cover up their actions.

Mrs May has announced an independent inquiry to look into past abuse claims.

The inquiry has been delayed by the resignations of Baroness Butler-Sloss and Fiona Woolf, the government's first two choices to chair it.

Both stepped down after criticism over their personal links to senior figures from the 1980s.

But speaking on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, Mrs May said it was "so important" to have the wide-ranging inquiry.

"There is a real issue here about how was it that in the past, but continuing today, the very institutions of the state that should be protecting children were not doing so?," she said.

Image caption "We must as a society get to the truth, Theresa May told the programme

"We must as a society get to the truth of that, because ... what we have already seen revealed is only the tip of the iceberg on this issue," she added.

It follows allegations that records of child abuse by prominent figures, including politicians, were deliberately removed or destroyed by the Home Office.

Mrs May said it was still "not possible" to say whether there had been a cover-up over the claims, despite a review into how the Home Office dealt with files alleging abuse from 1979-99.

The independent review by Peter Wanless, head of the NSPCC, which was published earlier this month, said it was impossible to say whether files were removed to cover up abuse - but found nothing to support such a claim.

'Public's imagination'

Recently, it was alleged there was a cover up of the murder of an eight-year-old boy by a paedophile ring, which included politicians.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, commissioner of the Met Police, said the force was taking the allegations "very seriously".

Police had about 40 detectives looking into claims, he told the programme.

"There are a series of claims over quite a long period of time and not all of them are linked, although in the public's imagination they might be," Sir Bernard said.

"We have now had more recently this discussion or these claims about murder and, of course, that makes it even more serious."

The allegations of a cover-up included the "extra complication" of involving "people in power", he said.

"I am determined we will get to the bottom of this, so we are talking to the witnesses and all the people who have got information," Sir Bernard added.

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