For decades, there were whispers of a pedophile ring operating at the highest levels of British society.
Yesterday, British police announced results of an investigation that reveal those rumors to be an understatement.
We should note, this story might be disturbing to some listeners. Vicki Barker reports from London.
VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: The tally of abuse seems to embrace virtually every British institution.
Of the 1,433 suspects, 261 are considered people of public prominence — entertainers, athletes and politicians.
Hundreds more held responsible positions at schools, orphanages, hospitals prisons, the military. Some 200 are now dead.
Chief Constable Simon Bailey is leading the inquiry code-named Operation Hydrant.
CHIEF CONSTABLE SIMON BAILEY: It gives you some idea of the scale of the challenge that we're facing because this simply cannot be simply about the police service.
It is far, far broader than that.
BARKER: The police haven't always been part of the solution. There are allegations that senior officers helped quash previous investigations.
(SOUNDBITE OF WATER RUNNING)
BARKER: Three bronze dolphins cavort in the courtyard fountain at Dolphin Square, a stone's throw from Parliament and the government ministries of Whitehall.
This vast 1930s apartment complex has long been a bolt-hole for the British establishment,
but Dolphin Square is also one of several addresses across London where one pedophile ring, comprising some of Britain's most powerful men,
allegedly abused underage boys in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, boys as young as 6 bused in from care homes or the slums.
There are tales of orgies and even one allegation of murder.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Why would the state chose systematically to protect VIP pedophiles?
BARKER: In March, the BBC reported that an undercover police team investigating the ring in the early 1980s was ordered to hand over all of its evidence and the officers threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.
James Badenoch is a senior British lawyer who has handled a number of cases involving the sexual abuse of children.
JAMES BADENOCH: The idea that they were terrorized in the way alleged doesn't surprise me at all.
What surprises me, like so many other citizens of this country, is the idea that people so high up would have been, A, involved in it and, B, willing to cover it up.
BARKER: Those trying to parse these new allegations of that long-ago abuse speak of a different time and age of a white,
male British elite largely educated at boarding schools where bullies and pedophiles found fertile ground,
of a culture of deference and an establishment that instinctively protected itself.
JON BIRD: So, yeah, I mean, this is all ambitious business plan.
BARKER: Jon Bird helps run the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, or NAPAC.
For decades, he says, its hotline has been hearing from men who say they were abused as children at Dolphin Square and elsewhere.
The few who went to the police at the time got nowhere.
BIRD: The police are now taking it seriously. For years, they didn't. Now they have realized they've had to look again at all of these old stories.
BARKER: The publicity surrounding the late British DJ Jimmy Savile, posthumously exposed as a prolific pedophile in 2012, helped open a floodgate.
Hundreds of men and women came forward and continue to come forward to say they were victims. Yesterday's revelations are unlikely to be the last.
Operation Hydrant is among at least 16 police, government and independent inquiries into historical pedophile abuse now underway in Britain.
For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.