In Depth

Lord Brittan sex abuse claims: apologies, denials and defiance

Tom Watson apologises for calling Brittan 'evil' but will continue pursuing allegations of sexual abuse in Westminster

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Tom Watson, Labour's deputy leader, has apologised to Leon Brittan's widow for alleging that the former Conservative home secretary was "as close to evil as any human being could get".

Giving evidence to a Home Affairs Select Committee, the Labour MP said he regretted repeating the claim from an alleged victim, adding that it had been "emotive and unnecessary".

Watson and senior police officers and prosecutors were questioned yesterday by MPs over their role in the controversial investigation into allegations that the late Lord Brittan raped a teenager in 1967.

Much of the questioning centred on the letter Watson sent to the director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, in April of last year, complaining about how police had handled the case against the former cabinet minister.

Detectives later reopened the investigation and interviewed Brittan, but dropped the case again due to a lack of evidence. The former Tory home secretary, who always denied the claims, died in January without being informed of this. The Metropolitan Police has since apologised and its actions are currently being investigated.

DCI Paul Settle, who was in charge of investigating the allegation against Lord Brittan, told the committee that Watson's letter had been a betrayal of the inquiry and undermined their work.

Explaining why the case had been dropped, Settle told MPs: "I did not feel the arrest of Lord Brittan was a proportionate response. The matter was 40 years old and not clear cut…this would be nothing more than a baseless witch hunt."

Watson, meanwhile, rejected claims that he had been seeking to "micromanage" the investigation and insisted that he had only been trying to amplify the voice of the alleged victim, the BBC reports. "I felt people's voices were not being heard, and I hope they can understand that," he said.

Asked if he was overstepping his position as an MP by championing these issues, Watson said there had been "an explosion" of information coming into his office and that he had a "duty" to pass this on to the police. The MP concluded the interview by saying that he would continue to do so.

"If Tories hoped to damage Tom Watson today, they failed," says Channel 4's Michael Crick. "Indeed, he is determined to pursue these matters despite his new workload as Labour deputy leader."

However, some commentators warn that the "hysterical" response to allegations of VIP child abuse could now be replaced by negligence.

"The danger now is that the pendulum will swing too far the other way, with victims who make apparently extraordinary claims against public figures dismissed as fantasists," says an editorial in The Independent. "If that does happen, then a further disservice to justice will be done."

Tom Watson defiant over Leon Brittan sex abuse claims

13 October

Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson has refused to apologise for urging police to reinvestigate a rape allegation against former Conservative home secretary Leon Brittan.

Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday advised Watson to "examine his conscience" after it emerged that Brittan had died in January without knowing he had been cleared of suspicion over the accusation.

Watson was one of the first people to publicly reveal claims of a high-profile sex abuse ring in Westminster and passed on to police a large number of allegations sent to him, some of which have led to convictions.

Labour's deputy leader was also angered by a police decision to drop an investigation into the alleged rape of a woman by Brittan in 1967 and wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders to complain. Police later reopened the investigation and interviewed the former home secretary, but detectives concluded that they had been right to drop the case. Brittan had strongly denied the allegations against him.

Last week, Watson apologised for describing Lord Brittan as "close to evil", but remained defiant about his actions.

"I understand that honourable and right honourable members feel aggrieved that Leon Brittan was interviewed by the police and that they are angry with my use of language," he told the House of Commons. "But I'm sure that they would also agree that when anyone is accused of multiple sexual crimes by numerous, completely unrelated sources, the police have a duty to investigate, no matter who it is."

Addressing Cameron's comments, Watson said that everyone in the House of Commons needed to examine their consciences.

"We presided over a state of affairs where children have been abused, and then ignored, dismissed and then disdained. If anyone deserves an apology, it's them," he said.

In what The Guardian describes as "unusually tense scenes", Watson sat down as some Tory MPs shouted "shame" and "disgrace".

A senior Scotland Yard officer has written to Brittan's widow to apologise for failing to tell the Tory peer that he had been cleared before he died.

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