Historical child abuse: Key investigations

  • Published

There are a number of ongoing investigations and inquiries - criminal and otherwise - into historical abuse allegations at institutions across the UK. Here is a guide to the key inquiries and their scope.


Operation Hydrant

In the summer of 2014 a co-ordination hub was set up by the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) to oversee the investigation of allegations of "non-recent" child sex abuse within institutions or by people of public prominence.

The team of officers working on this operation have been picked from forces across the UK, but the hub is based in South Yorkshire. The operation's staff are identifying links between investigations, and preventing duplication between forces

On 1 December 2015 the NPCC announced that the operation had received reports of 2,228 suspects being investigated by police forces in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - 1,217 of the suspects were "related to institutions", while 302 were classified as people of public prominence.

The operation is being led by Norfolk Police Chief Constable Simon Bailey.

Met Police

Umbrella inquiry: Operation Fairbank

Fairbank is the Met Police's umbrella inquiry into historical child sex abuse claims involving politicians and other public figures. It began in 2012 as a "scoping exercise" to establish evidence for formal investigation and went on to establish a number of criminal investigations: Operations Fernbridge, Midland, Cayacos and then later Athabasca.

  • Grafton Close Children's Home: Operation Fernbridge (now closed)
Image source, PA
Image caption,
Father Anthony McSweeney was found guilty of sexually abusing a teenage boy between 1979 and 1981

Launched in February 2013 and led by the Met Police, Operation Fernbridge investigated allegations of abuse in the early 1980s at Grafton Close Children's Home in west London, and at Elm Guest House in Barnes, south-west London. In connection with Grafton Close, two people were charged with offences. One was found dead and one, Catholic priest Father Anthony McSweeney, was found guilty of sexually abusing a teenage boy. He was sentenced to three years' jail in March. The operation has been closed and investigations into Elm Guest House taken up by Operation Athabasca (see below).

  • Elm Guest House: Operation Athabasca

This new investigation takes over from Fernbridge in investigating allegations about a paedophile network centred on Elm Guest House in Barnes, south-west London in the 1970s and early 1980s. Police are still appealing for information on 020 7161 0500.

  • Dolphin Square: Operation Midland

Established in November 2014, Operation Midland is examining claims that boys were abused by a group of powerful men from politics, the military and law enforcement agencies at locations across southern England and in London in the 1970s and 1980s. It is also examining claims that three boys were murdered. Operation Midland has focused on the Dolphin Square estate in Pimlico, south-west London.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Convicted paedophile Peter Righton
  • Paedophile Information Exchange: Operation Cayacos

Operation Cayacos investigated allegations of a paedophile ring linked to convicted paedophile Peter Righton - a founding member of the Paedophile Information Exchange, which campaigned to make sex between adults and children legal. Righton died in 2007. Two men, Charles Napier and Richard Alston, were subsequently convicted and jailed for 13 years and 21 months respectively.

Greater Manchester Police

  • Cyril Smith
Image source, PA
Image caption,
Cyril Smith died in 2010 aged 82

Greater Manchester Police is investigating allegations that Cyril Smith, the larger-than-life Rochdale MP who died in 2010, abused vulnerable young boys in the town. His family says he always denied the accusations.

The allegations first surfaced in 1979 when Private Eye magazine carried reports that he abused teenagers at Cambridge House, a privately run "hostel for working boys" in Rochdale.

It has also been alleged that he raped boys at Rochdale's Knowl View residential school and that he frequented Elm Guest House in south-west London - a location linked to the Met Police's Operation Fernbridge.

Wiltshire Police

Image source, Reuters
  • Edward Heath

The national investigation into claims of historical child sexual abuse involving former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath is being led by Wiltshire Police.

More than a dozen forces are carrying out investigations linked to Sir Edward - Wiltshire Police will act as overseer to ensure a "consistent approach".

Sir Edward lived in Salisbury, Wiltshire, for many years and died at his home there in 2005 aged 89.

On 3 August 2015 the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said it would look at whether officers at Wiltshire Police failed to pursue allegations made against the former prime minister.

A retired detective has alleged that claims were made in the 1990s but not followed up.

States of Jersey Police

  • Operation Whistle

In a statement released earlier this year the States of Jersey Police provided details of its "locally- generated operation" - Operation Whistle - which it said had been running "under the auspice of Operation Hydrant".

The force said Operation Whistle was set up after the Jimmy Savile scandal, and following an increase in the reporting of historical cases of abuse in Jersey.

The force said it was investigating a number of allegations involving:

  • 45 suspects - some of whom are deceased or as yet unidentified
  • Four institutions
  • 13 people of public prominence - one of whom is Edward Heath

Other inquiries and investigations

A number of other inquiries and investigations are under way or have been completed. Here are the details: