UK Politics

Criticism of Leon Brittan over abuse claims 'wicked'

Lord Brittan Image copyright PA
Image caption Lord Brittan held a number of senior positions

A former colleague of Lord Brittan has hit out at the "wicked insinuations" surrounding his handling of historical child abuse allegations.

Lord Deben, who, as John Gummer, served alongside the former home secretary in government in the 1980s, said claims he had failed to properly investigate a dossier of allegations "was obviously not true".

Those who believed to the contrary should supply "real evidence" or "shut up", the Tory peer told the BBC.

Lord Brittan died on Wednesday aged 75.

Tributes have been paid in the House of Lords to Lord Brittan, a key figure in Margaret Thatcher's government and later a European Commissioner, after his death from cancer.

Lord Brittan recently faced questions over his handling of child abuse allegations, centring on a dossier on alleged high-profile paedophiles handed to him in the early 1980s by former Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens.

'Bundle of papers'

It was claimed that the dossier containing the allegations had been "destroyed" by officials although Lord Brittan insisted the proper procedures had been followed and a review last year found no evidence that records were deliberately removed or destroyed.

Image caption John Gummer served with Lord Brittan under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s

Lord Brittan said he had received a "substantial bundle of papers" from Mr Dickens, which he had asked Home Office officials to examine and "report back to me" if "action needed to be taken".

The review failed to locate "the Dickens Dossier", or any clear evidence of what Lord Brittan had done after receiving it.

Lord Deben, who served in a number of ministerial roles during the Thatcher government as well as being Conservative chairman, said he did not believe the dossier consisted of any "detailed, well thought-out list of work or real research".

'Real evidence'

It was more likely to have been made up of "bits and pieces" and newspaper cuttings, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"It was dealt with as any secretary of state would deal with it," he said. "But the subject is so disgraceful, awful and appalling that people, not realising that, would be asking, 'Why wasn't it dealt with in some special way?'"

Suggestions that Lord Brittan had sought to cover up the allegations in any way was completely false, he said.

"Anyone who knew him knew that it was not the nature of the man. He was very direct in saying that was not true and it was not true.

"Anyone who does not have real evidence should recognise it is a wicked thing to do to make allegations about anybody even if you don't like their politics.

"I do think that, particularly, politicians making innuendoes and insinuations, in order to make it look as if they know something when they don't, should shut up. If they do know something they should come forward directly and give that information."

Speaking in the Lords, former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Fowler said it was "inconceivable" that Lord Brittan would have been involved in any kind of cover-up.

"I hope, now he is dead, people will not use the release from libel to attack his reputation," he said. "He certainly does not deserve that."

'Clock ticking'

In October Fiona Woolf, the government's chosen head of the wider public inquiry into child sexual abuse, stepped down over criticism of her links with the Conservative peer.

Her predecessor, Lady Butler-Sloss, also stepped down after questions were raised about her independence and potential conflicts of interest.

Labour has said there is "no choice" but to restart the inquiry with a new chair and statutory powers, since survivors of abuse risk being "let down".

Home Secretary Theresa May has said she will announce the new head, powers and structure of the inquiry by the end of January.

But the BBC's home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds said the inquiry was in disarray, with no chair and the panel members in disagreement with each other.

The "clock was ticking" for the inquiry, he added, given that it was dealing with allegations stretching back to the 1950s, and those in positions of authority at the time who were still alive were nearing the end of their lives.

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