Margaret Hodge is currently Children's Minister in the LabourGovernment. However, between 1982 and 1992 she was Leader of Islington Council (a suburb in north London).
Demetrius Panton was sexually abused whilst a boy and in care at a children's home in Islington (this is not some mere allegation, however, as Mr Panton in 1998 received an out-of-court settlement from Islington and an unqualified apology from the local authority). Some of the abuse occurred during the time when Margaret Hodge was in post as Leader of Islington Council and when Mr Panton had attempted to bring the matter to her attention he was dismissed and no action was taken. A newspaper investigation carried out in 1992 revealed widespread child abuse in Islington Council-run children's homes, a lot of it when Hodge was its Leader. In 1992 Mr Panton had visited Mrs Hodge's 'surgery' whilst she was still Leader of Islington Council and, she not being present, was seen by Steven Twigg, now also a government Junior Minister in her department. He now feigns poor memory of what was discussed at the meeting and 'does not remember' being specifically asked to pass information on to Islington Council's Leader, Margaret Hodge. He says he did not do so, an omission he now 'regrets'. Regrets are really not adequate, though.
Recently the BBC Radio4 'Today' programme has been carrying out an investigation into Margaret Hodge's record as an elected official in the light of her becoming Children's Minister in June 2003, and has high-lighted the apparent neglect of the problems occurring in Islington whilst she was in charge there. Apparently this has provoked the Minister to write to the BBC Chairman, Gavyn Davies (copied to various other BBC executives including Director General Greg Dyke), suggesting that Mr Panton was an "extremely disturbed person" and implying, presumably, that he was not to be relied upon. This despite the compensation paid to him in 1998! As the Daily Telegraph reports today, Det Supt John Sweeney, who led the police investigation, told 'Today':
"I wouldn't say he was disturbed at all."
"I found Demetrious to be very articulate and very measured. I wouldn't say he was disturbed at all. He certainly wanted justice, and I can understand that."
A brief report on the matter is likewise carried in today's Guardian. This smear campaign against someone, an ordinary person (although perhaps not quite so ordinary - see below), who dares to criticise individuals within this present government, coupled with crude attempts to silence the BBC, apparently even mentioning (as a sort of 'killer weapon') the recent tragedy involving weapons expert Dr Kelly, only served to infuriate our national broadcaster. The 'Today' programme was involved in both stories; this emphasises just how valuable this programme is to our democracy in pretty fearlessly holding the government to account. And as for Mr Panton not being 'ordinary', he thankfully seems to have grown up a pretty well-adjusted individual - he is also a special advisor to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. No, Mr Panton is not 'ordinary', nor from all accounts that are worth noting (i.e. not the remarks of the self-serving Margaret Hodge) is he in any way "extremely disturbed".
This latest case is not the first time our government has behaved in this deplorable manner. They attempted to brand as 'racist' quite justified complaints by the family of Rose Addis, a 94-year old lady who had received lamentable service from the NHS. They attributed political motives to some of the injured who dared to speak out after the Paddington rail disaster. No, this government has 'form' in this area.
Unfortunately, despite the latest report yesterday morning on the 'Today' programme, the BBC's own website has NO recent comment on the matter at all, so the intimidation attempted by Margaret Hodge seems to be having major results already. There were two articles, here and here on 1 and 3 July 2003 respectively, which touch tangentially on the issue, but nothing I have been able to trace that is more recent. On the BBC website I did find this morning, though, a sort of 'government press release' from yesterday, advising a breathless public that "Minister for Children Margaret Hodge says the government's aim is to provide affordable pre-school childcare for all families" - naturally this story was also covered widely on BBC televised news bulletins yesterday. But nothing about the suitability of this person, Margaret Hodge, to remain a government Minister.