There has indeed been a cover-up by the establishment over allegations of paedophilia. Since the death of Lord Brittan was announced on Thursday morning, few credible media outlets have let on what was really being alleged about the late peer, whose death drew heartfelt expressions of sadness from university contemporaries and others. Initially, TV and radio mentioned his purported failure, as Home Secretary, to investigate claims made by Geoffrey Dickens. The “dossier” had gone missing, and remains missing. But this 48-hour “cover-up” is all code, born of, believe it or not, the mainstream media’s respect for someone so recently departed. Three major claims stand against Brittan, though, and his family and friends are the ones who will have to defend his name. If you tend to believe conspiracy theories, you’ll love this. If not, prepare to be appalled, on several counts.
In the summer of 1982, a pre-pubescent boy was taken to a safe venue by police. He had sometimes been seen at Elm Guest House, a venue for gay men to meet and party in discreet circumstances in Barnes, west London. But, on this occasion, the boy had obviously been savagely abused and that Saturday night he told police who was responsible. One of several abusers, he said, was “Uncle Leon, who works at the big house”. “The big house” was said to be the House of Commons and “Uncle Leon” was said to be none other than Leon Brittan, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the first Thatcher government.
By the following morning, the boy – who had not signed a statement – had had second thoughts. He just wanted to go home. More than 30 years on, he will not “go there”, nor, less forgivably, will a man who almost certainly took part in the abuse. As it happens, early last week, I visited someone who spoke to the badly injured boy that Saturday night, so he was in a position to weigh up the “Uncle Leon” inference. He shut the door on me.
I first came across claims that Brittan was a paedophile in 1990, when, seeking a London link to the notorious Kincora boys’ home scandal in Northern Ireland, I met Chris Fay, a Labour councillor and campaigner for the National Association of Young People in Care. He was to claim on oath that Brittan had been involved in abuse and that in March 1990 he had seen a photograph of Brittan in a French maid’s uniform, with a young boy. The picture had been shown to him by Carole Kasir, co-owner of the Elm Guest House, whose diabetes was to contribute to her death weeks later. “It’s one of the biggest regrets of my life that I didn’t take pictures of those pictures,” he told me last week. No one knows what happened to the pictures, but they certainly helped to set hares running. It was claimed that Special Branch had seized them, that Carole Kasir was murdered, that judges, diplomats, clergymen, even Soviet mole Anthony Blunt, had attended the parties in Barnes. But where were the other victims? Some were unconvincing, others had not been underage after all, others again had been doing it for money, or all three. The evidence could not be found.
There were to be other claims against Brittan. One was that he had either brought a child abuse video through customs at Dover, or been seen on such a video. Arguably, the memory of the only credible witness (where are the others?) would not now stand up to courtroom scrutiny and the video is nowhere to be seen. There is also a claim that Brittan had raped a young woman in the 1960s. The police, who believe Brittan had “a bit of a thing about power”, are still “reviewing” that, despite the Crown Prosecution Service sending it back twice because the case wouldn’t get to first base. Don’t hold your breath.
It is quite possible Brittan was entirely innocent. With lawyerly caution, he said he had no recollection of having been to the Elm Guest House. Even allowing for the cancer that eventually killed him, so brilliant a QC could have done more to banish the deluge of claims against him on the internet. And, conceivably, there was a perfectly legal side to his private life that he, being of a certain generation, did not choose to make public. Jeremy Thorpe’s life, for example, reminds us of both the potency of anti-gay prejudice and the willingness of a deferential establishment to turn a blind eye.
But… if you have read this far, shame on you, shame on me, for being interested in what to some will be historic tittle-tattle. I don’t know, even now, if he was guilty, but he is way beyond the law. What does matter are the hundreds, thousands, of victims who have had the misfortune to be abused, but not by a tantalising “senior former cabinet minister”. Will the trophy hunters be so keen to expose the scout masters, teachers, social workers, uncles, fathers and stepfathers? Even in a new climate, it still takes much more courage than most of us can imagine to publicly confront what was done to them.
Two of my friends, men in their fifties, both amusing, successful, “normal” guys, have recently let it be known that they were abused in their youth. One wrote to the other last week of his experience in giving a statement to the police: “It was a shocking experience. I cried through most of it. I was stunned – thrilled, really, by the awareness that, at last, after all these years, someone in authority was listening. I had no idea that the moment would be so huge. [I now realise] just how helpful, even therapeutic, the simple act of telling the story can be. That is the key to it. I believe now that collusion and cover-up was a curse to our country in the 20th century: that the root of much of the evil done to children emanates from the simple British taboo about making a fuss. What I did and you’ve done tells everyone it is OK to make a fuss – in fact, it must be done.”
So, Mrs May, about that inquiry….