Patricia Hewitt, the former Labour Cabinet minister, has apologised for the connection between a civil liberties organisation which she headed and a paedophile rights group.
She broke her silence over the controversy to admit National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) was “naive and wrong” to accept the claims by the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) that it was a campaigning and counselling organisation.
Ms Hewitt said that as the NCCL's general secretary the 1970s she took responsibility for mistakes that had been made. She said in a statement: “I got it wrong on PIE and I apologise for having done so.”
The former minister is one of three Labour figures who have been accused by the Daily Mail of being “apologists for paedophilia” as they were prominent in the NCCL when the PIE was affiliated to it. Until tonight Ms Hewitt, who stood down from Parliament at the 2010, had not spoken about the subject.
Ms Hewitt, who said she had been away for the past 12 days while the controversy was raging in the the press, said any suggestion that she had condoned or supported the “vile crimes” of child abusers was completely untrue.
However she acknowledged that she should have done more to protect the integrity of the NCCL from the activities of PIE, which was allowed to join the organisation as an affiliate member.
“NCCL in the 1970s, along with many others, was naive and wrong to accept PIE's claim to be a 'campaigning and counselling organisation' that 'does not promote unlawful acts',” she said.
“As general secretary then, I take responsibility for the mistakes we made. I got it wrong on PIE and I apologise for having done so.
“I should have urged the executive committee to take stronger measures to protect NCCL's integrity from the activities of PIE members and sympathisers and I deeply regret not having done so.”
In particular she said that PIE member Tom O'Carroll should never have been allowed to join the NCCL's gay rights sub-committee.
Harriet Harman, the party's deputy leader, who was the NCCL's legal officer in the late 1970s, has said she regrets the link with the “vile paedophile” group, but has nothing to apologise for. Her husband, Jack Dromey, who also worked for the NCCL, has also said he vigorously opposed the PIE's presence in the civil liberties organisation.