Mark Watts Exaro News
Mark Watts, editor in chief of Exaro, who has led on the reporting of the Westminster paedophile ring claimsYouTube

It is the news website at the centre of the Westminster paedophile scandal, unleashing scurrilous, sinister and salacious allegations at the establishment month after month. Exaro is a dedicated investigative journalism publication behind very explosive reporting.

Exaro – strap line "holding power to account" – has had several major scoops since its launch in the autumn of 2011. Among them is the covert recording of media mogul Rupert Murdoch speaking to journalists at The Sun, when the billionaire octogenarian appears to suggest he had known for decades about corrupt payments to police for news stories – something his spokesperson later denied.

And in 2012 Exaro exposed tax avoidance by civil servants, who were paid salaries by the government through private companies they owned. Around 2,400 civil servants were found to be dodging tax this way. The Exaro reporter who unearthed the story, veteran writer David Hencke, was named political journalist of the year at the 2012 British Journalism Awards.

Exaro was founded by the seasoned journalist Mark Watts, who is editor-in-chief, and the PR man Tim Pendry, whose firm once advised the wife of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The firm has been backed by the multimillionaire financier Jerome Booth, who has put in it over £2m ($3.1m) in loans. These must be paid back in full, according to the company accounts, on 16 March, 2016.

Exaro's business model is not immediately clear – a paywall was abandoned in 2013 and the website opened up for free – but Exaro regularly partners in its investigations with big broadcast and print outlets, such as BBC Newsnight, Channel 4 and the Sunday People. It also runs a company data subscription service (£4,500 a year) offering users an "in-depth and detailed overview of UK insolvencies, including the industry sector for the company and the details for the insolvency practitioners, where available".

In its unrelenting reporting of what has been dubbed the 'VIPaedophile' scandal, Exaro has sullied the reputations of several senior politicians and establishment figures who it accuses of being involved in a gang of child rapists, among them the Thatcher minister Leon Brittan and former MI6 boss Sir Peter Hayman. Both men, as with many of the accused, are dead.

Dolphin Square
Dolphin Square in Pimlico, London, is claimed to be one of the several locations of property where children were taken to be abused by establishment paedophilesGetty

Much of the allegations rely on a source known as 'Nick' who claims to have been abused by the paedophile ring when he was a child in the 1970s. Others who say they were routinely abused by powerful men have also told their stories. Former police sources have come forward to Exaro to say they had their investigations into establishment paedophiles shut down in the 1970s and 1980s. In parliament, the issue has been pursued vigorously by Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour party and collaborator with Exaro.

While it has won a legion of online fans, Exaro has also come in for some heavy criticism. It is accused of having weak sourcing for its big paedophile claims, among the critics being the barrister and legal blogger Matthew Scott. A BBC Panorama documentary called VIP Paedophiles: What's The Truth? has also cast doubt on many of the lurid claims made by Exaro's investigations.

The Metropolitan Police, which has opened investigations into these claims, said Panorama put its work at risk – in particular Operation Midland, which is exploring allegations that the supposed Westminster paedophile ring was behind the murder of three boys. Mark Watts, editor in chief of Exaro, also hit out at Panorama – which he refused to give an interview to – calling the show "a disgraceful piece of gutter journalism".

With the police still investigating, Exaro still digging, and sceptics of the VIPaedophile story still critiquing the claims made, we are a long way from the last word on the issue – and, perhaps, even further from the truth.