Department of Health probes abuse law concerns over former civil servant


newslatestThe Department of Health (DH) has been asked whether a senior civil servant – later arrested over two separate rape allegations – helped block tougher laws on the sexual abuse of people with learning difficulties in the 1980s.

Disability News Service (DNS) has asked DH to look into concerns that Brian McGinnis played a key role in dismissing calls in the mid-1980s for a review of the law on sexuality and people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions.

If it emerged that McGinnis did play a role in blocking tougher legislation on sexual offences, the Department of Health could find itself sucked into the scandal that has surrounded the Home Office over the whereabouts of the child abuse dossier handed by the Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens to home secretary Leon Brittan in the early 1980s.

McGinnis was named last month in a report into the activities of the disgraced TV presenter Jimmy Savile at Broadmoor hospital, as he was the senior civil servant in charge of mental health in the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS) in 1986, shortly before Savile was appointed to a new board to run the hospital.

The report mentioned that McGinnis had “since been the subject of two allegations that have been made public”, which “arose in the course of his voluntary sector work with disturbed and abused children, and both cases were dropped without charge”.

Those allegations were made public in a news story written by DNS editor John Pring in Disability Now magazine in 2006.

Last month’s Broadmoor report concluded that any suggestion that McGinnis had “some ulterior motive in regard to Savile’s Broadmoor role” was “highly unlikely”.

The year before McGinnis left DHSS, MPs on the Commons social services committee had called for an “independent expert review of law and practice on sexuality and contraception in relation to mentally disabled people”.

But DHSS dismissed the idea in its response to the committee’s report, warning that “a major review might simply attract unwelcome, unhealthy and wholly disproportionate media interest without achieving any helpful consensus”.

The review never took place, and law reform that would make it easier to secure convictions for rape and indecent assault of people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions was delayed until 2003, when a new act introduced fresh offences and tougher sentences.

McGinnis, who became a special advisor for Mencap after leaving the civil service, has never been convicted, or even charged, with any offence.

But he has been arrested twice over unconnected rape allegations, one of which involved a child with learning difficulties at the notorious Betts Way respite home in Bromley, Kent, in the mid-1990s.

The arrests came in March 2001 and August 2005 and both resulted in McGinnis, who is now 76 and lives in Shirley, Croydon, being released without charge.

Until the allegations about his behaviour were publicised in 2006, he was an influential figure in the disability world, with links to a string of charities, learning difficulty organisations and his local church in Shirley.

Following his first arrest, Bromley council advised its staff to “disassociate” McGinnis “with anything related to children with learning difficulties and council services”.

Croydon council later told church authorities that McGinnis “should be suspended from duties that involved him working with children”, after being informed by Bromley council about the 2005 arrest. He had at the time been working with a children’s church group.

DNS understands that any material held by DH on McGinnis and relating to the DHSS response to the social services committee will be passed to the child abuse inquiry launched by the Home Office this week, and that DH is currently examining its archives to check whether McGinnis influenced the DHSS response.

A DH spokeswoman told DNS: “We take any allegations of abuse extremely seriously.

“Savile’s involvement at Broadmoor has been independently investigated and the role of Brian McGinnis thoroughly examined.

“The Home Office has announced it will carry out an inquiry into child abuse. The inquiry will consider whether, and the extent to which, public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.

“The Department of Health will co-operate fully with the inquiry and will make all known documentation available so that it can be independently and thoroughly investigated.”

McGinnis did not respond to a request for a comment from DNS today (Thursday), but has always claimed that he is innocent of the rape allegations and that he is a lifelong “celibate”.

10 July 2014