Some Notes on Leon Brittan, Geoffrey Dickens, and the Media

From an article by James Gillespie in last week’s Sunday Times:

EVIDENCE has emerged that Leon Brittan, the former home secretary, who died of cancer last week, was unjustly accused of covering up child sex-abuse allegations.

Geoffrey Dickens, the MP who submitted the allegations to Brittan, praised him for “splendid support” and thanked the Home Office for its work in combating paedophilia, the evidence shows.

One [allegation] was from an angry mother complaining that her 16-year-old son had “become homosexual” after taking a job in the kitchens at Buckingham Palace, where homosexuality was “prevalent”. The second was from a civil servant working for what was then Customs and Excise, who pointed out that addresses linked to paedophile material sent from abroad were not routinely passed on to the police.

A second batch of material followed:

According to an internal Home Office inquiry conducted by an investigator from HMRC, “some . . . relate to the cult Children of God”, a religious sect widely accused of abusing children [see footnote below – RB].

The other letters involved matters that had already been dealt with by police or the courts or lacked evidence, such as a letter from a woman complaining about PIE advertising but without any examples.

That was in late 1983 and early 1984; neither man would have imagined that the nature and handling of this material would come under intense scrutiny thirty years later, and then define Brittan’s contribution to public life. TV news reports of Brittan’s death on 21 January led with reference to the “dossier”, while among newspapers and on the internet the majority consensus is that Brittan was a monster who had suppressed Dickens’ information as part of a conspiracy to protect a cabal of VIP orgiastic paedophiles who raped and murdered boys on a regular basis.

In fact, however, there was nothing about a VIP paedophile ring in Dickens’ communications with Brittan, and Dickens never accused Brittan of a cover-up:

On the contrary, on March 31, 1987, Dickens told the Commons: “I should like to place on record my thanks to the Home Office and the departments within the Home Office for following up the many cases that I keep sending to it. I should also like to thank the attorney-general. They have been very helpful and a strength to me in my campaigns.”

Of course, this does not address wider accusations against Brittan; last week’s Daily Star Sunday ran a piece (by Tom Savage) on Brittan’s “catalogue of depravity” (without quote marks), headlining the claim that he had “abused ten-year old boy” (with quote marks). This refers to one of three individuals who claims to have been abused by Brittan. According to the story, which emerged last summer, the victim, who is now living in the USA, has declined to give a formal police statement. However, according David Barrett at the Telegraph:

Police have traced a copy of a statement he gave more than 30 years ago as a child when he was rescued from horrific sexual assault. His version of events is understood to be corroborated by a detective who conducted the official interview with the child at the time.

It not clear here why we here have “is understood to be corroborated”, rather than “has been corroborated”.

Two other alleged victims are a woman named “Jane”, who says she was raped by Brittan in 1967, when she was 19 years old; and “Nick”, on whose sensational testimony the entire stock of credibility of the website Exaro News currently rests. “Nick” claims not just to have been raped by Brittan and other VIPs, but to have witnessed two murders at abuse parties and the killing of a third boy as a “warning”. “Nick” was recently accompanied by Exaro News to make a police statement (in a somewhat unusual arrangement), as a result of which it is now reported that Brittan was facing a “Met probe” at the time of his death.

There are also alleged witnesses: a social worker has said that in 1990 he was shown a photo of Brittan “naked except for a frilly apron and cap”, while “on his lap was a boy of about 12, ­prepubescent, stark naked”;* and a retired customs officer claims to have seen “an ex-minister” in an abuse video that was seized at Dover in 1982. It’s difficult to imagine why Brittan would have allowed himself to be shown in such compromising situations, and there remains a frustrating gap between sensational testimony and hard evidence.

[UPDATE, 27 September 2015: the social worker, Chris Fay, was jailed for fraud in 2011. Oddly, newspapers quoting his testimony on this and related matters haven’t felt the need to mention this particular detail. Fay’s conviction has been noted on social media for a while, but it has only now reached at mainstream media, with a piece in the Telegraph. The paper’s interest follows the increasing publicity given to “VIP paedophile claims” during the summer of 2015, and also Tom Watson’s rise to deputy leader of the Labour Party.]   

But this “catalogue of depravity” raises an obvious question, which Exaro News’ editor, Mark Watts, has addressed on Twitter:

[…] one thing i don’t understand : of all people, why did Geoffrey dickens give his dossier to leon brittan? [Link]

[…] Not sure, but it seems that Geoffrey Dickens was testing Leon Brittan, seeing how he reacts. [Link]

This appears to have been plucked out of thin air, and looks to me to be a clumsy attempt to explain why Exaro‘s narrative doesn’t quite stack up.

Last week’s Sunday Times report is cited today in a column in the same paper by Dominic Lawson, written in defence of Brittan’s memory. Lawson also raises a related subject that Exaro has so far avoided:

Dickens – whom his colleagues politely described as a “maverick” – was in fact one of the promulgators of the great satanic ritual abuse conspiracy: this reached its febrile heights in both Britain and America in the 1980s, dying away only after hundred of people had unjustly had their children snatached aways by social workers infected with this form of hysteria.

I blogged on Dickens and Satanic Ritual Abuse here; the subject inspired Dickens to compile yet another dossier, which – perhaps inevitably – also got lost. In 1990, Dickens wrote the foreword for a book, Dance with the Devil, by a supposed ex-witch turned-Christian named Audrey Harper (ghosted by a journalist, Harry Pugh). Harper told stories of sacrificed babies, boys abused on inverted crucifixes, and rituals of profanation inside churches involving coprophagy and drinking urine in mockery of the Eucharist (“it made me feel sick”, she recalls on page 108). The book claimed that 200,000 people are involved in Satanism in the UK. If Exaro News is so confident of Dickens’ judgement, why haven’t they sought her out for further comment?

It is true that Dickens did correctly name the diplomat Peter Hayman in Parliament as a paedophile involved with child pornography, but it is not the case that Dickens was the one to expose him – the story of how Hayman had left paedophile material on a bus was published by Private Eye in 1980, in an article entitled “The Beast of Berlin”.

Lawson’s article is entitled “These Child Abuse Slurs are just the Angry Left’s Revenge on Thatcher”. This overstates the political dimension, but as I wrote in 2012, following the unravelling of the Lord MacAlpine fiasco, I certainly get the distasteful impression that some people would be bitterly disappointed to discover that particular individuals have not been sexually abusing children. It seems to me to be a form of anti-establishment millennialism: at the moment, there are only signs and hints – but very soon, the powerful will be brought down from their thrones, ruined and disgraced through the discovery that they have been involved in exceptionally foul and self-debasing crimes.


(1) Don Hale and Barbara Castle

Another story about Leon Brittan and a dossier comes from Don Hale, who by his own account is himself part of the wider story. Hale used to be editor of the Bury Messenger, and last summer he claimed (or, as some hacks prefer, “revealed”) that he had been given “an incendiary dossier… by long-serving Labour politician Barbara Castle”:

They included typewritten minutes of meetings that had been held at Westminster in support of the paedophile agenda, along with details of a host of Establishment figures who had apparently pledged support to their cause.

No fewer than 16 MPs were on that list, several of them household names. Also mentioned multiple times was Tory minister Sir Rhodes Boyson, a well-known enthusiast for corporal punishment, and Education Secretary Sir Keith Joseph.

However, before Hale could publish, he was visited by police officers with D-Notice:

‘If you don’t comply with this notice, we will arrest you for perverting the course of justice,’ the detective barked. ‘You will be liable for up to ten years in prison.’

The dossier was confiscated; Castle subsequently told Hale “I thought this might happen”, and she “went to her grave in 2002” with the dossier’s contents “still secret.”

The story is a strange one, not least because a D-Notice is a request for editors to refrain from publishing information voluntarily, rather than a gagging order. Following Brittan’s death, Hale followed up with a new item for the Daily Mirror:

Former Labour MP Barbara Castle said Leon Brittan was a man that she ‘could not trust,’ and was highly critical of his handling of a dossier said to have contained the names of VIP paedophiles.

She said he was ‘a powerful man with many secrets,’ and claimed many of his colleagues ‘just dare not get the wrong side of him.’

…The former Labour cabinet minister, then known as Baroness Castle of Blackburn, who represented north Manchester as a Euro MP, attacked the credibility of the then Home Secretary, and believed he was the ‘last person you would want to give a file of the nature to for review.’

…She found a raft of confidential sexual abuse papers and claimed, ‘they had Leon Brittan’s fingerprints all over them,’ and believed he was in possession of key facts.

The article is oddly written; for some reason, Hale chose not to make clear that he is the source for the supposed quotes; anyone coming to the story cold would be baffled by the lack of context.

A later article by Gillespie confirms that there is no such dossier in Castle’s archive, and addresses a claim by Hale that Castle told him that she had discussed the matter with her former special adviser Jack Straw. Straw told Gillespie that he has “no recollection” of her discussing the matter with him, and that there is nothing about it in her records.

(2) Tony Bushby and the Daily Star Sunday

Further claims appeared in the Daily Star Sunday on 1 February, in an article by Tony Bushby entitled “Teen rent boy VANISHED after spying on VIP paedo ring”:

A newspaper gave the lad a camera after he volunteered to expose the high-class perverts abusing youngsters at sex parties in the early 1980s.

The lad named then-Home Secretary Leon Brittan as an attendee at the parties.

But he disappeared hours after starting his probe – and was never seen again.

The investigation was launched by journalists on a Sunday newspaper after a panicked late-night phone call from a different rent boy, who told reporters he feared for his life because a policeman tasked with protecting him had been ordered to close the case.

According to the story, the rent boy who made the call had previously told journalists at the Sunday Mirror that MPs, including Leon Brittan, had attended sex parties along with VIP foreigners who had “jetted in to an airfield on the outskirts of London – possibly RAF Northolt.” The rent boy had contacted police after “he witnessed something – he wouldn’t say what – that left him fearing for his own and other boys’ safety”.

The rent boy also gave reporters the phone number for the officer who had been told to close the case. One journalist made a call; however:

The reporter said he knew Leon Brittan was involved and asked to meet up – but that terrified the policeman.

“Look please – go away,” he said… “It has been made clear to me my job is on the line, my whole career. Please, leave me alone.”

Some of this previously appeared in a Daily Star Sunday article co-authored by Bushby in late 2012, although with some curious differences; in the earlier version, the the rent boy with the camera who “vanished” does not appear at all, and there’s no claim of direct contact between the rent boy who had spoken with police and journalists. Instead, the source is the police officer, who is presented as providing new quotes and who is “furious” rather than “terrified”:

The furious ex-policeman said: “It wasn’t that we ran out of leads but it reached a point where a warning to stop came.

“It was a case of ‘get rid of everything, never say a word to anyone’. It was made very clear to me that to ­continue asking questions would ­jeopardise my career.”

The new story does not make clear what happened to the rent boy who had been in contact with police, saying only that:

Reporters continued to work on the story, and in the following weeks had infrequent contact with the rent boy who’d originally phoned in.

However, in the 2012 story:

The vulnerable teen who spoke to ­detectives vanished just weeks after blowing the whistle.

Bushby’s new piece also ends with a detail taken from Exaro:

It also emerged Brittan was named as attending parties at Dolphin Square, a central London flats complex where witnesses have told police three boys were murdered.

Exaro’s “Nick” actually claims to have seen two sex murders at Dolphin Square, as well as a third boy being run over by a car in south London as a “warning”. And “Nick” is one person, not “witnesses” [UPDATE 2019: Nick can now be named as Carl Beech, and his claims have been found to have been fraudulent. More details here].

(3) Clive Harrington

In early February, Exaro introduced a man named Clive Harrington, who says that he was harassed and financially ruined after raising the subject of Leon Brittan with Bernard Weatherill, the Speaker of the House of Commons, at a dinner event in 1989.

According to the story, in the 1980s Harrington was a “paper millionaire” businessman, and was hoping to become a Conservative MP. However, he also had “a good friend who ran four brothels”, and this person told him that Brittan was a paedophile. Harrington says that he repeated his friend’s claim to Weatherill after “too many glasses of wine”:

“I realised immediately that I had, at the very least, breached etiquette. Weatherill ignored what I said, and did not talk to me again. My comment was met with silence.”

Harrington says that he made his money in insurance, but that a few years after speaking to Weatherill he was (in his words) “a tramp”:

Harrington, of Sussex, blames his outburst for a harassment campaign against him.

He was arrested for stealing a car that he had hired… No charges were brought.

Police then questioned him about three insurance policies that he had sold. “I was totally bemused by it all. No charges were ever brought…”

The suspicion destroyed his business and he lost his licence to trade, Harrington said. He went bankrupt…

“I kind of learned the hard way. You do not fight these kinds of people”

Weatherill died in 2007, while the brothel keeper is unnamed. At best, these are claims from one source; yet Exaro treats the anecdote as if it were established truth, with the headline:

Tory hopeful told speaker’s dinner: Leon Brittan is a paedophile
Bernard Weatherill was staggered to hear of child sex abuse by former home secretary

However, the detail that Harrington was made bankrupt is, perhaps for the first time with Exaro, a detail that it ought to be easy to confirm against official records. Bankruptcies in the UK are published in the London Gazette, which can be browsed via its official website.

A search for “Harrington, Clive” and “Clive Harrington” under the “all notices” option brings up just one person: a builder who was declared bankrupt in 1987 and who was involved with some follow-up matters in 1994. A filtered search for “Harrington” + “Clive” from 1989-2015, in case Clive is a legal middle name, brings up one other person in 2005, but again the details do not match the story published by Exaro.

[Update: It turns out that “Harrington” is actually his wife’s surname. Why would he come forward under her name rather than his own? Perhaps it has something to so with this 2011 story in the Daily Mirror:

Five “unscrupulous” connected companies involved in dubious property investment schemes in the UK and in Spain have been put into liquidation in the High Court.

Company Investigations of the Insolvency Service uncovered a string of lies, forged signatures and missing paperwork at Property Legal Services (London) Limited, Property Legal Services (2007) Limited, Overseas Legal Services Ltd, Enjoy Property Ltd and United Holdings & Investment Limited.

…In ordering the companies into liquidation Registrar Derrett said… “The link between the companies is Mr Ballard and his wife Clare Harrington also known as Clare Lewin…”

(H/T Mike Thomas)]


The Children of God is an American religious group, today known as the Family International. It believes in free love between members, and this previously included sexual relations with and between children. Dickens’ reference to the group, and to homosexuality at Buckingham Palace, are sloppily conflated in a headline that appeared above a Don Hale story in the Daily Star Sunday in December: “Child sex cult in Buckingham Palace”.

5 Responses

  1. Thank you for your unbiased comments on Leon Brittan. I have no thoughts one way or the other regarding Leon Brittan (I may be on his wing of politics but consider him pretty unimportant politics wise) but I am a great believer in innocent until proved guilty. There has been a lot of publicity about paedophiles etc. in the last few years and this (unfortunately) brings out the publicity seekers and worse. He may or may not have been “up to something” but I prefer to reserve judgement. I even played a Gary Glitter CD in the car the other day!

  2. Thank God someone has a grasp on the bizarre leaps of logic and attempts to make some sense of the rubbish that is being promoted on social media.
    This is an excellent article because the author has researched and produced valid and true facts without bias.
    As for the lot on social media, they have all decided that the very worst is true for some strange reason and are then working backwards to fill in the blank parts with whoever they feel needs to eb demolished.

  3. I think you have slightly muddled the two versions of the’rent boys/police’ story at the end. It’s the latest version that has the boy ‘vanishing’, not the first.

    • The 2012 piece says that the “vulnerable teen who spoke to ­detectives vanished just weeks after blowing the whistle”; in the new version, journalists have “infrequent contact” with him and it’s the second rent-boy, with the camera, who vanishes.


  4. I get it now, thanks. Had not realised two alleged ‘rent boys’ involved.

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