Call off the lynch mobs, we have enough inquiries
Anger over historical abuse doesn't justify our persecution of the innocent now, says Ruth Dudley Edwards
There's a moral panic raging in the Westminster bubble as a lynch mob on the internet spread deranged conspiracy theories about historic paedophiliac networks and cover-ups among the British establishment from the 1960s onwards.
Of course, there is a reason for it. Among other scandals, Jimmy Savile's behaviour was tolerated by the BBC and the NHS, Rolf Harris assaulted women in full public view, and latterly there were dreadful failures by the social services in Rochdale, Oxford and other towns where children in care were groomed by gangs of predators.
Whistleblowers were routinely ignored, embarrassing testimony was swept under carpets, children and other victims were disbelieved or written off.
But there have already been plenty of investigations, arrests, convictions and reports and there's a real danger of overkill.
Prisons struggle to accommodate hundreds of inmates convicted for sex abuse decades ago and police officers fear that children are being put at risk now because of a disproportionate focus on past offences: there are historic abuse inquiries all over the country, and five in London alone.
Unlike in Ireland, there's no equivalent of the Catholic Church to be a handy scapegoat, and rising hysteria has forced the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to set up an inquiry with the remit of investigating pretty well every institution in the country about which there are any complaints.
With allegations rife about paedophilia among politicians, the government just doesn't have the nerve to tell the media and the public to calm down and consider how little evidence there is that more than a few nasty men (most of them dead) were involved.
The deceased former MP Cyril Smith, a populist mountain of lard assaulted boys at every opportunity.
Westminster insiders could name a small handful of MPs and peers who have been suspected for decades of having paedophile instincts and, of course, there are a few other such rotten apples in any institutional barrel.
But conspiracy theorists are swooping with glee on any fact that appears to back up their overwhelming desire to see such pillars of society as royals, peers, politicians, civil servants and bishops unmasked as abusers.
Take the issue of the missing files. The late Geoffrey Dickens MP - who I well remember as an attention-seeking exaggerator - spoke frequently of his dossier of information on a paedophile ring in Westminster.
He gave a copy more than 30 years ago to the then Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, who was hounded recently because he was hesitant and confused when asked about it.
The Home Office then produced a letter from Brittan to Dickens telling him his allegations had been looked at and sent to the appropriate authorities.
That the dossier has vanished along with 113 other files about sex abuse fed the flames.
Now, as I remember well from my time in the civil service, to make space, files were regularly sifted with varying degrees of efficiency, current ones were kept, those thought unimportant were destroyed and the rest went to join the millions in the National Archives.
The Home Office is huge, and tens of thousands of files have gone the way of the 114.
Then there's the Elm House London guest house, a kind of male brothel in the late 1970s and early 1980s, where boys from care homes were allegedly abused.
A list of its alleged VIP visitors is circulating widely on the net. But no sane paedophiles would sign their names in such a guest book.
The custom in such establishments was to sniggeringly sign the name of someone notorious (hence Anthony Blunt, exposed in 1979 as a traitor), an enemy (the name followed by "Sinn Fein" would have been contributed by a devout anti-republican), or someone of impeccable character you think is a bit of a goody-goody, which accounts for a few names including that of Peter Bottomley.
Bottomley is a man of decency and integrity, whose work for charities included chairing the body running the Church of England children's homes, all of which - as he told the BBC Today programme last week - had outside visitors who children could see alone because "a small voice needs to be heard".
He explained that he'd been awarded in 1989 the equivalent of just under €500,000 when he sued three newspapers for allegations about his support for a social worker in his constituency accused of misbehaviour in a children's home.
He gave a "public warning" that "if any substantial publisher links me in any defamatory way with the Elm Guest House", where he'd never been, they could expect to be sued.
I hope he'll now extend his threat to all those gullible, lazy-minded malicious gossips defaming him and other innocents on the net. That children suffered abuse in the past is no excuse for persecuting good people now.