A government department appears to be trying to cover up evidence that a former senior civil servant – later arrested over two unconnected rape allegations – may have helped block tougher laws on the sexual abuse of disabled people.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) promised five years ago that it would pass “all known documentation” about the possible actions of Brian McGinnis to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
Disability News Service (DNS) asked DHSC this summer if it had kept its promise and passed the documents about the actions of McGinnis in the 1980s to the inquiry, but was told by the department’s press office to submit a freedom of information (FoI) request.
Now the department, headed by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock, has finally answered that FoI request, but its response claims that it would be too expensive to check whether it kept its word.
Its freedom of information department says in the response that it would be a “very time-consuming process” to confirm if it passed information to IICSA because it would have to search “a vast quantity of files”.
It claims it would take one person more than three-and-a-half days to search its archives.
It took more than a week for DHSC’s press office to respond to questions about the FoI response.
When a DHSC spokesperson eventually responded, he refused to comment; or explain why DHSC could not just ask the IICSA inquiry team if it had received information about McGinnis; or say whether the department had breached its safeguarding duties by failing to keep track of information passed to the inquiry.
An IICSA spokesperson said: “The inquiry cannot comment on whether it has or has not received evidence from a particular individual or organisation outside its public hearings.”
But he said he had passed on DNS’s concerns about DHSC and McGinnis to the inquiry team.
The DHSC promise to pass on documents to IICSA was made in 2014 after concerns were raised that McGinnis may – in the 1980s – have helped to stop MPs tightening laws protecting people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions from sexual abuse.
McGinnis was named in 2014 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.
McGinnis has always claimed to be innocent of the two separate rape allegations and insists that he is a lifelong “celibate”.
In 1985, 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”.
It is believed that this response could have come from McGinnis.
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 experience of mental distress was delayed until 2003, when a new act introduced fresh offences and tougher sentences.
DNS was led to believe five years ago by the Department of Health (as it was known at the time) that any material it held on McGinnis that related to the DHSS response to the social services committee would be passed to the child abuse inquiry that had recently been launched by the Home Office.
It also claimed that it was examining its archives to check whether McGinnis had influenced the DHSS response in 1985.
It later confirmed that it was investigating whether McGinnis may have helped to block tougher sexual abuse legislation.
A DH spokesperson said in August 2014: “We are taking this issue very seriously and investigating whether there is any relevant material held on file.”
But DHSC is now claiming it would be too time-consuming to check its records to confirm if it did pass any documents to IICSA.
McGinnis, who became a special advisor for the charity Mencap after leaving the civil service, but left that role more than 10 years ago, 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 in his early 80s and is believed to live in Shirley, Croydon, being released without charge.
He has always denied the allegations.
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.
Picture: Professor Alexis Jay, chair of IICSA
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