Patricia Hewitt paedophile apology 'isolates' Harman

Former health secretary sorry after call to lower age of consent and legalise incest in 1976

LAST UPDATED AT 12:34 ON Fri 28 Feb 2014

LABOUR'S Patricia Hewitt has apologised for her involvement in a civil rights organisation that granted affiliation to a paedophile campaign group in the 1970s.

It comes after The Sun accused her of backing a plan by the Paedophile Information Exchange to lower the age of consent and legalise incest nearly 40 years ago.

Hewitt, the former health secretary who stood down as an MP in 2010, was general secretary of the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) in the 1970s. Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman and her husband MP Jack Dromey also worked for the council.

Hewitt's is the only name on an NCCL press release, issued in March 1976, that proposed to lower the age of consent to 14 with "with special provision for situations where the partners are close in age, or where consent of a child over ten can be proved", says The Sun.

The document also called for the legalisation of incest when committed between "mutually consenting persons over the age of consent".

Hewitt last night issued an apology. She said: "I take responsibility for the mistakes we made. I got it wrong on PIE and I apologise for having done so.

"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 added that she does not support reducing the age of consent or legalising incest, and stressed that she never condoned the "vile crimes" of child abusers.

The Daily Telegraph says Hewitt's "frank apology" has undermined Harman's insistence that she had "nothing to apologise for", leaving the Labour deputy leader "increasingly isolated".

The Daily Mail says it was "too long in coming" but at least Hewitt had the "decency to apologise". It adds: "What a shaming contrast with her friend and NCCL sidekick Harriet Harman, who managed only a grudging expression of 'regret'." · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.