LONDON — One of Margaret Thatcher’s most senior ministers died Thursday amid a swirl of accusations that he was personally involved in the abuse of children and the subsequent coverup of a Westminster pedophile ring.
Lord Leon Brittan, who was appointed Home Secretary in 1983, always denied the allegations, some of which can be published for the first time now that he has died. Police sources also confirm that at the time of his death, he was being investigated over allegations that he had raped a woman as a young man. Brittan died in his sleep at home with his family at the age of 75. He had suffered from cancer and heart problems.
A former children’s charity worker claimed two years ago that police had seized a list of pedophiles who operated at a gay-friendly hotel in West London, called the Elm Guest House. The handwritten list, which included Brittan’s name among celebrities, politicians, and intelligence agents, has been an open secret among abuse survivors and investigators, but the mainstream media refrained from naming the former minister for fear of a defamation lawsuit.
There have also been claims, published without Brittan’s name, that a senior Tory minister was stopped by customs officials at Dover and found to be carrying sex-abuse videos of children “clearly under the age of 12.” A former customs official reportedly told detectives that he had passed the evidence to police at the time, but nothing had come of their investigation.
No charges were ever filed against Brittan and none of the accusations have been tested in a court of law; it has even been suggested that he was deliberately smeared in the early 1980s by MI5 agents, who were angry at his plans to “shake up” the intelligence services. David Mellor, another of Thatcher’s cabinet ministers, said there was no truth in any of the allegations. “I’m especially sad he died after he was subjected to unwarranted criticism and innuendo,” he said. “It is sad for me that he’s died while that was uppermost in his mind. It’s a terrible way for a tremendous man to go.”
Brittan was widely considered to have been one of most brilliant political minds of his generation and he was elevated to Home Secretary at the age of 41, making him the youngest holder of that prestigious post since Winston Churchill. He was forced out of the job after two years amid a political scandal, but recent claims about his conduct in office cast a far greater shadow over his career.
An investigation was ordered last year after claims that a dossier containing the names of prominent VIP pedophiles, including politicians, had been covered up by Brittan. The file, alleging the existence of a Westminster child-sex ring, was handed to the Home Secretary in 1983 by Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens.
The file subsequently disappeared from the Home Office— whether the allegations were ever properly examined and what happened to the dossier are two of the questions to be investigated by the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which was established last year. The panel has been mired in controversy since its inception. Fiona Woolf, a lawyer and former lord mayor of London, became the second chair of the inquiry to step down before the panel got to work when it emerged that she was close friends with Brittan’s wife.
The panel, which may be replaced by a more formal judicial inquiry, has a wide remit to study allegations that sexual abuse was allowed to continue at the heart of the British establishment with impunity. A parallel police investigation is also underway to examine allegations of historic sex abuse and murder. Scotland Yard detectives said late last year that they believed allegations that teenage boys were raped, assaulted, and even murdered at “sex parties” attended by senior MPs and intelligence officials.
The scale of the allegations has shocked the country, but speculation about Brittan was not new. His name was first published in association with a sex scandal in 1984. Westminster was abuzz with talk of “the most damaging government sex scandal of the century.” On several occasions, MPs believed details were going to be published in the upcoming Sunday newspapers.
In the end, it was left to Private Eye, a scurrilous political magazine that made its name by testing the limits of Britain’s libel laws. It ran a story announcing that the man at the center of these rumors was none other than Leon Brittan, the Home Secretary, but after a long investigation it claimed that there was no truth to the salacious accusations.
Private Eye concluded that the allegations were circulated by MI5 officers who were furious about his plans to reform the intelligence agency after the Libyan Embassy siege in London in 1984. They also claimed that an anti-Semitic element had helped to promulgate the rumors through Fleet Street. “The MI5 spooks and loonies who object to having a Jewish Home Secretary… [have] retaliated by resurrecting the Brittan smear and spreading it around the Street of Shame,” the magazine wrote.
The Daily Mail’s Guy Adams has re-examined these claims in recent months, and just as the celebrated investigative journalist Paul Foot, and the News of the World found at the time, he has concluded that there is no clear evidence of Brittan committing any crime.
Scotland Yard confirmed last night that officers were still investigating an allegation from a woman who said she was raped by Brittan in 1967. Brittan, who was appointed to the House of Lords in 2000, was interviewed under caution last year, but not charged.
Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who has led the recent campaign to re-examine allegations of a Westminster pedophile ring, said Brittan’s death was a blow to those who wanted to uncover the truth.
“Firstly, I’d like to offer my condolences to Sir Leon’s family for their loss. However, his untimely death is also a loss to the inquiry that the Home Secretary ordered into establishment child abuse.” he said in a statement Thursday. “Sir Leon is someone who should have faced questions and been compelled to give evidence over his role as Home Secretary in the 1980s when a dossier containing allegations of establishment child abuse was handed to him.
“It’s fair to say that a cloud has hung over him for a long time.”
Alison Millar, a lawyer for the firm Leigh Day, which is representing some of the alleged victims of abuse, said: “Our clients will be disappointed that Leon Brittan, as a witness at the center of the issues the inquiry is to examine, is not able to answer questions about what he knew about alle