Clouds Over Dolphin Square: Unanswered Questions
by Dan Smith
Dolphin Square / PAUL FARMER
The end of February saw publication of Scandal at Dolphin Square, the book I co-wrote with Simon Danczuk. It’s about the famous apartment complex in Pimlico and we consider it a slab of social history told through the stories of some of its most famous and infamous residents, from its opening in the 1930s to the present day. There are politicians and celebrities, spies and war heroes and many other notable characters besides – one review has called it a 'rollicking romp', and that is a pretty good description for large parts of it.
Yet there is one aspect of the book that has been greeted with, if not deafening silence, rather less notice than we feel it should. It is the great cloud that hangs over the Square – allegations of sexual abuse conducted over a sustained period. It's a subject that make people nervous, especially newspaper editors who have been stung with this sort of material before. There’s little sign anyone is going to take the opportunity of our book appearing to re-open the subject, but for what it’s worth, here are a few of my thoughts on the matter.
When we decided to write the book, we knew we had some great material from down through the decades. We also knew we would have to take on the great taboo of abuse allegations. We realised we could not tell Dolphin Square’s story without dealing with the claims of a VIP paedophile ring – claims notoriously made by a man known as ‘Nick’ (now identified as Carl Beech) back in 2014 that have subsequently rightly been debunked. Beech was a fantasist and is now serving an 18-year sentence for concocting a damaging web of lies and for his own paedophile offences. What Simon and I had not banked on, though, was finding a wealth of evidence that leaves little doubt that prominent people were involved in paedophile offences in the Square (and Westminster generally) over a period seemingly stretching from at least the 1980s into the 1990s.
We soon grasped that the ‘Nick’ affair had rendered reasoned public debate about such alleged abuse virtually impossible. We were repeatedly warned that the parts of the book dealing with these matters (in many ways, the most important parts of the book) would be the ‘hardest sell’. And that is, indeed, what we have found. I am, by most estimations, something of an old hand in the publishing game. So, I know that in many respects we have been very lucky with the reception that the book has received so far. Early sales have been encouraging and we have had pleasing media interest, including coverage by national newspapers.
What we have not had, though, is emails dropping into our inbox from more than a couple of the hardiest investigative journalists to find out just what it is we have to say on the subject of abuse. So let me state it here: Carl Beech was a fantasist whose stories caused unutterable damage. Abuse took place at Dolphin Square over many years, practised by prominent figures whose position helped them avoid prosecution for their crimes.
Those last two sentences can sit perfectly happily next to each other. It is a non sequitur to suggest that because Beech deceived, all other claims regarding abuse at Dolphin Square are untrue too. The very idea is simply a form of self-deception. And a particularly damaging form that plays to the interests of those who want the subject closed down. It is our job – the job of Simon and I, but also of the media, the police, the judiciary and other responsible public institutions – to wheedle out false allegations from truth; not to use false allegations as a cover for giving up on finding the truth.
It is not as if we do not have ample evidence in the public record of prominent figures being involved in abuse. Beside the recent examples of Epstein and Maxwell, we can point to Jimmy Savile, Cyril Smith and Peter Morrison, to name just three. There is little doubt that all three were the beneficiaries of a ‘turn a blind eye’ attitude, if not recipients of active protection by those of power and influence. Smith, for example, was put up for a knighthood by his party leader (and former resident of Dolphin Square), David Steel, despite Steel knowing him to be an abuser of children. We know, too, that party whips helped to cover up crimes in return for party loyalty. Conservative Chief Whip Tim Fortescue even allowed himself to be filmed for a documentary in 1995, saying: ‘Anyone with any sense, who was in trouble, would come to the whips and tell them the truth, and say now, ‘I’m in a jam, can you help?’. It might be debt, it might be … a scandal involving small boys, or any kind of scandal in which … a member seemed likely to be mixed up in, they’d come and ask if we could help and if we could, we did.’
The horror of the Jimmy Savile revelations after his death in 2011 briefly opened a door where, perhaps for the first time in history, the default was now to give the benefit of the doubt to those who said they were victims of abuse. In abuse cases, especially where crimes are historical, there is often the absence of ‘smoking gun’ evidence required to secure criminal conviction. Rarely is there forensic evidence, or a paper trail. But at least abuse survivors were now meant to receive a more sympathetic ear, rather than what had been the traditional reception: scepticism and an unwillingness to investigate on the presumption that conviction would be unlikely (and, indeed, for fear of rocking the boat).
Sadly, Beech rode roughshod through that door and ensured it was comprehensively closed. What has followed, I would suggest, is a massive ‘over-correction’ that means claims of abuse, especially in regard to Dolphin Square, are far too quickly disregarded. Anyone who suggests that all was not always well at Dolphin Square – and beyond – is brushed off as a fantasist, a disturbed mind, a conspiracy theorist.
When we wrote the relevant chapters of our book, Simon and I were careful to be sober in our use of language and to avoid throwing around claims that we could not corroborate. For some who are convinced they know the identities of specific abusers, we have not gone nearly far enough. But the simple fact is, the book would not have seen the light of day if we had ‘named names’ on the basis of un-evidenced allegations. Or if it had seen the light of day, we’d now be tied up in libel actions and the book discredited. So, we were assiduous in including only material that we are happy stands up.
Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA)
For starters, we have the evidence of former police officers. Take, for instance, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s report last year on its investigation into possible abuse in Westminster (in which Dolphin Square regularly featured in testimony). One former police officer (whose identity was withheld) gave a written statement that described in detail their interaction with a group of young boys in the 1990s. The officer described how the boys ‘claimed one another had been abused by other people, were taken to parties and things’ at ‘what they call the Dolphin Place, we thought that was Dolphin Square. They used to talk about a big dolphin there... They knew of a network of other children who were abused. We were told that one of [the] boys had been beaten up in Trafalgar Square, had serious brain injuries. From what the boys say this lad was going to inform the police, tell them everything. [NAME REDACTED] got hold of him, beat him up, he was left brain dead.’ The officer continued: ‘There was someone in the Navy that they had met there. Supposed to be a politician involved that they had met but no name... Half the time when they were taken to these places they were drunk out of their brains. They would top them up with more alcohol and they would be abused.’
Another former Met officer called Paul Holmes confirmed that Dolphin Square ‘appeared in a number of vice-related operations and intelligence reports’. And yet another officer, whose beat included Dolphin Square for several years, confided to us that the Square was a 'Pandora's box' and ‘the sort of place you lived if you didn't want anyone to know your business’. He remembered the common sight of teens – often aged just fourteen or fifteen – entering the Square in the company of older men who, when challenged, were typically asserted to be the ‘uncle’ of the youth. Former drivers working out of the Square similarly described driving residents about in the company of very young, non-familial companions.
We also spoke to David Ingle, who was abused as a teenager in the early 1980s by a family neighbour in Lincolnshire called Gordon Dawson. He states that Dawson frequently took him to Dolphin Square, where he was introduced to more men, some of whom sexually abused him. He was not told their names but understood them to include parliamentarians and members of the Church of England. After long supressing his experiences, Ingle made a complaint to the police in 2007 – years before both the Savile revelations and Carl Beech’s allegations.
Ingle was the latest in a long line to point the finger at Dawson. However, Dawson was pre-warned by the police of his imminent arrest. Within hours, he was found dead in the woods at his property, shot through the head. The investigation into Ingle’s allegations ground to a halt, and still he awaits answers about what was done to him and by whom in Pimlico. We have seen evidence that clearly shows that prominent figures in Dawson’s social circle did indeed have connections to Dolphin Square. It is possible that these may be coincidental but they have certainly not been exhaustively investigated.
William van Straubenzee
Additionally, we have been able to connect known (or strongly suspected) paedophiles to the Square. The notorious offender Roddam Twiss was a visitor there, as was Jimmy Savile (whose agent lived and had offices there). We also learned about former Conservative MP and Northern Ireland Minister, William van Straubenzee, a solicitor who provided advice to the Dolphin Square Trust and served as something of a ‘gate-keeper’ in terms of influencing the offering of tenancies to new residents. In evidence provided to IICSA by MI5, it was stated: ‘In 1982, MI5 received information that suggested that William van Straubenzee engaged in sexual activities with young boys whilst in Northern Ireland [he had been Northern Ireland Minister between 1972 and 1974]. This information was shared with the Cabinet Office, who shared it with the Prime Minister.’
Child sex abuse is such a fraught subject that too often individuals and institutions, who should seek to protect victims and avert further abuse, allow their fear of reputational damage to outweigh the entitlement of victims to a fair hearing. There is also a wider political culture that seeks to shut down concerns over the more general conduct of public figures (as exemplified by the recent party-gate scandal) by proclaiming that any given issue is now ‘closed’ and that we should ‘move on’ after the most cursory of ‘investigations’.
We have a Prime Minister, let us not forget, who once declared that historical child abuse investigations represented money ‘spaffed up a wall’ (a dismal choice of language in the circumstances). If recent headlines tell us anything, it is that ‘the Establishment’ still needs to come to a reckoning concerning the crimes of some of its constituents. I will be a step nearer to believing that there is nothing to learn from investigations into historical child abuse when we do not have an erstwhile heir to the throne describing Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes against minors in terms of ‘[conducting] himself in a manner unbecoming’.
I am not surprised that the evidence of wrongdoing that we lay out in the book– a convincing case, we assert, when considered on its merits – has not been seized upon by the wider media. But we are still a little bit disappointed. Not for ourselves, or even because there are people who continue to get away with having done awful things. But for the victims and survivors, like David Ingle, who deserve resolution but continue to be denied answers to their questions about crimes that have impacted their entire lives.
To conclude, if you think you know the deal with Dolphin Square, read the book with an open mind and decide for yourself if the story begins and ends with ‘Nick’ and his unmasking. And if you’re a journalist who sees there is something more to it all than that, feel free to run with it. We would like nothing more.