LONDON (Reuters) - British prosecutors said on Thursday an ageing member of the House of Lords would not face charges over serious allegations of historical child sex crimes because he was too ill, leading to criticism by police and accusations of an establishment cover-up from campaigners.
The decision comes at a time Britain is holding a major inquiry into allegations of decades of abuse by high-profile figures including politicians.
“What will be perceived ... is that it’s once again the establishment closing ranks,” said Pete Saunders from the National Association for People Abused in Childhood. “This is a very grim day for child protection as far as I’m concerned.”
Lord Greville Janner, 86, a former Labour member of parliament and ex-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, had been investigated by police over allegations made by more than a dozen former residents of children’s homes in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that although there was enough evidence to charge Janner, who has always denied any wrongdoing, he would not be fit to plead or give evidence because he was suffering from severe dementia.
“That means that a criminal trial, to determine whether or not he was guilty of any offence, could not now properly take place,” said Alison Saunders, Britain’s Director of Public Prosecutions, in a lengthy statement.
She acknowledged the complainants would find the outcome “extremely disappointing”, while Labour said he had been suspended from the party.
Allegations against Janner first arose in 1991 when he was named as having abused a teenage boy during a trial of a children’s home manager in Leicestershire, central England, who was jailed for abusing children.
Janner, who was the subject of three investigations between 1991 and 2007, denied the allegations in parliament, but Saunders said both the CPS and Leicestershire Police had made mistakes in not acting earlier against him.
The CPS said a new inquiry launched in 2013 had produced evidence that would have justified charging him with 16 indecent assaults and six other counts.
“There is credible evidence that this man carried out some of the most serious sexual crimes imaginable over three decades against children,” Leicestershire Police Assistant Chief Constable Roger Bannister said.
“I am worried about the message this decision sends out to others, both past and present who have suffered and are suffering sexual abuse,” he said in a statement, adding police would consider what options they had to challenge the decision.
Last year, the government ordered an inquiry into decades of child abuse and whether powerful figures covered it up following a series of scandals.
These included revelations that late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile abused hundreds of victims for decades, accusations about Cyril Smith, a former lawmaker in northwest England who died in 2010, and the disclosure that some 1,400 children were abused in Rotherham, northern England.
Last month, the watchdog which oversees British police launched an investigation into allegations London police chiefs dropped sex abuse inquiries because they involved politicians.
editing by Stephen Addison