I have been wracking my brains to recall what we knew and what we suspected about Parliamentarians being involved in paedophilia during my time in the Commons as an MP and a journalist between 1983 and 2002. The terrible realisation is that the answer is precious little. Despite Fleet Street and Parliament being a rumour mill there was a lot chat, very little detail and no tangible proof. We all knew who was gay, who was bisexual and who was shagging whom, gay or straight with innumerable perverse permutations to spice it all up. Our tribunes are not much different from anybody else except that they have more opportunities to get up to naughties.
Of course we knew about the mortuary exploits of Jimmy Savile and his penchant for amputees. But we had no proof. We knew about Cyril Smith, various peers, senior people within Number 10, but again, no proof. And despite all my years of propping up bars and sifting the most bizarre gossip about the sexual practices of various Home Office ministers, usually served up by vindictive Police Federation whispers, most of the stuff was fairly flaky. My favourite piece of nonsense was about a senior labour Cabinet Minister who was unable to reach orgasm unless he stabbed young bunnies in a shoe box by the bed. And many of us watched, as was our duty, grainy footage of some unidentifiable old boy, grunting over what was said to be an underage boy. We were told it was a well known grandee. It could have been anyone. And the well known rumour that a very senior Labour figure was having sex with underaged boys in car parks, cautioned by the police and the paperwork destroyed, was pure malicious fantasy. The only evidence that seemed to stack was about Cyril Smith; but not enough to safely print.
But there was absolutely no gossip that I can remember about a paedophile ring in the heart of government. This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t one. It’s just that child sex offenders are the most manipulative and deceitful of criminals. They are chameleons, genetic freaks blending into a world of normality, so that they can pounce un-noticed. They are nearly always people you would not suspect. Pillars of the community, God fearing churchgoers, professional men; those of power and influence. Their very respectability gives them an impunity. Stewart Hall? You must be joking. Rolf Harris? Are you out of your mind?
So those with the deepest, darkest and sickest secrets are masters of the art of deception. It is the only way they can survive. Unless they are foolish enough to leave a paper trail they are almost impossible to track down. And they are skilled in the art of camouflage.
I am genuinely mystified at what happened to Geoffrey Dickens’ dossier in 1983 when he handed to Home Secretary Leon Brittan. I knew Dickens very well. He was a fearless campaigner for the protection of children. But the loveable old boy was never seen as a serious figure by the establishment. Was his dossier a rehash of flaky unprovable gossip or was it something more substantial? My instincts is that it was the latter as some information was sent to the DPP for consideration. Although that appears to have been lost too. But there must be a paper trail. And what of the law officers? If there was a degree of sensitivity due to allegations about public figures I would be amazed if they were not asked for advice. Another paper trail.
And who was the Attorney General? Sir Michael Havers. A man so utterly straight and independent minded that he threatened to send the police into Number 10 unless Thatcher cooperated over the leaking of papers in the Westland scandal. And who was his Solicitor General? Sir Patrick Mayhew. Another fearless independent minded man. If these men had suspected a cover up which could interfere in the course of justice they would have resigned and brought down the government. And their are some interesting coincidences. Mayhew was Minister of State at the Home office until June 1983 and Leon Brittan was the Trade Secretary at the centre of the Westland affair.
I popped onto the terrace on Wednesday and spoke to some senior journalists whose judgement I take seriously. They are beginning to think that there is a corker of a story here. All the more reason for David Cameron to order a swift judge led inquiry to pull the loose ends together. We need to know the following.
What action and by whom was taken over this dossier.
What was the protocol for the storing of documents.
How could it have gone missing.
What letters were written to Dickens.
What do the minutes of meetings about the dossier contain.
What was sent to the DPP and what action was taken.
What do the departmental minutes contain.
What action was taken over burglaries at Geoffrey Dickens’ London and constituency homes.
Do the police reports still exist.
Number 10 has got to get a grip on this quickly. The appointment of a civil servant to look into this has all the fingerprints of Jeremy Haywood. This is either going to be a massive political story with groundbreaking consequences or it will be a pathetic tale of complacency and cock up. Whatever it turns out to be this is a time for speed and transparency. Something went horribly wrong in 1983. The public must be told which it was, no matter how embarrassing to the then administration.
Norman Tebbit, keeper of the flame of St Margaret, appreciates the need for a full and frank and speedy investigation. I hope that David Cameron realises how big this will become.