Cameron's 'gay witch-hunt' fears

David Cameron on ITV1's This Morning Image copyright ITV
Image caption David Cameron on ITV1's This Morning

What began with crimes committed by a big-name celebrity who is now dead has moved on to a swirl of internet and Twitter rumours about politicians who are still alive.

Rumours which the prime minister was confronted with on ITV's daytime sofa this morning.

David Cameron was clearly not impressed when Phillip Schofield presented him with a card on which he had written down a string of names of politicians he'd found linked to child abuse after what he described as a three minute search on the internet.

The PM's aides called it "a silly stunt" - a stunt which could lead to legal action against ITV since you could read the names if you tried very very hard and had the right technology. The BBC has now blurred the pictures when using them.

It's true that it doesn't take long to find names - but not evidence or even allegations made by their alleged victims. In our age, it is possible to instantly find names of people linked maliciously to every sort of crime and misdemeanour.

But why did the prime minister speak of his concerns about a possible witch-hunt against gay people in particular?

His aides say that he is disgusted by the online recycling of decades-old gossip about whether some politicians are covering up the fact they're gay, which is now being linked with the grave and unrelated crime of being a paedophile.

Today's row was triggered by the allegation that a Conservative politician from the Thatcher era was one of the abusers of children at this North Wales children's home - an allegation now being examined by the judge who has been appointed to review the Waterhouse inquiry into what happened there.

The drive to uncover the true scale of child abuse has begun in earnest. The question raised today is how to separate that from a witch-hunt.

PS As a former Deputy Editor of Panorama I am well aware of the risk of false allegations of sexual abuse. The programme exposed the grave injustice done to parents in Rochdale whose children were taken away from them thanks to false claims of sexual abuse. David Aaronovitch of The Times - who used to be a current affairs executive at the BBC - writes more about this here.

Correction 10 November 2012: The BBC has apologised unreservedly for broadcasting a report on Newsnight on 2 November over allegations of child abuse which transpired to have involved a case of mistaken identity. As a result the video of the original report has been removed from the website. More details can be found here.