Political status was "repeatedly valued above the welfare of children" because of a "consistent pattern of deference towards people of public political status", an investigation into child sex abuse in Westminster has found.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report found “a political culture which values its reputation far higher than the fate of the children.”

IICSA’s latest report says that "political institutions have significantly failed in their responses to allegations... Failing to recognise abuse, covering up allegations and actively protecting high-profile offenders, including politicians".

But crucially the report also concludes "there was no evidence of any kind of organised ‘Westminster paedophile network’ in which persons of prominence conspired to pass children amongst themselves for the purposes of sexual abuse".

Neither was evidence found of any attempt to cover up such a network.

A number of political parties and high profile figures, many of them now dead, come in for criticism.

Amongst those still alive are former Liberal leader Lord Steel, who did nothing about allegations around the Liberal MP Cyril Smith; now known to have been a serious predatory paedophile.

Former Liberal leader Lord Steel (pictured in 2015) was heavily criticised in the report. Credit: PA

Steel told the inquiry he did not investigate the allegations because they had happened before Smith was a member of his party.

The report said: “This failure to recognise the risks was an abdication of responsibility, and the fact the offences were non-recent was irrelevant.”

Following the report's publication, the Liberal Democrats said they would be "thoroughly reading" the report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

A party spokeswoman said: "Cyril Smith's acts were vile and repugnant. We have nothing but sympathy for those whose lives he ruined.

"This is an important inquiry and we are thoroughly reading its report."

Cyril Smith at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference in Blackpool. Credit: PA

Senior Conservatives are also criticised over the case of former Cabinet member Sir Peter Morrison, who died in 1995. The report says “senior officials within the Conservative party knew about allegations concerning Morrison for years but did not pass them on”.

When it was alleged that Morrison had been caught by police abusing a 15-year-old boy, the report stated that “the evidence shows his party made efforts to suppress these rumours rather than conduct a formal investigation”.

Knowledge of the allegations went to the very top of the government. The report said "Margaret Thatcher was aware of rumours about Morrison but did nothing" and neither did Party Chairman Norman Tebbit, MI5 or the Cabinet Office.

Margaret Thatcher was reportedly 'made aware of rumours about Morrison but did nothing'. Credit: PA

More recently a Green Party election candidate in 2017, Aimee Challoner, appointed her father as election agent despite 22 charges against him including rape and sexual assault of a child. He was later sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Shockingly the report finds "the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru, UKIP, and the Cooperative Party still do not have proper safeguarding policies in place."

IICSA recommends that all Parties must have comprehensive safeguarding policies and urges Cabinet Office to re-examine its policy on forfeiture of honours.

Chair of the Inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay OBE, said: “It is clear to see that Westminster institutions have repeatedly failed to deal with allegations of child sexual abuse, from turning a blind eye to actively shielding abusers.

“A consistent pattern emerged of failures to put the welfare of children above political status although we found no evidence of an organised network of paedophiles within government.

“We hope this report and its recommendations will lead political institutions to prioritise the needs and safety of vulnerable children.”