I won't name child abuse MP: Fury as Mrs Thatcher's former Cabinet chief defends failure to act over senior Tory
Published: 24 July 2015
By Vanessa Allen, Claire Ellicott and Daniel Martin
The most senior civil servant in the Thatcher government was accused of a ‘shocking' and ‘cavalier' attitude last night after he defended an apparent child abuse cover-up.
Former Cabinet Secretary Lord Armstrong was warned by the security services in 1986 that an MP had ‘a penchant for small boys'.
But no action was taken and yesterday Lord Armstrong, who refused to name the MP involved, insisted the allegations were just ‘shadows of a rumour'. He said he believed the decision not to investigate the paedophile claims was ‘correct at the time'.
It emerged this week that MI5 had known about the allegations but failed to investigate after the MP denied them. Sir Antony Duff, then MI5 director-general, wrote to Lord (then Sir Robert) Armstrong, saying the man ‘has a penchant for small boys'.
Ex-Cabinet Secretary Lord Armstrong was warned by the security services in 1986 that an MP had ‘a penchant for small boys' but no action was taken. While the MP has not been named, other papers in the files relate to key figures from the 1980s, including Mrs Thatcher's secretary Sir Peter Morrison (together above)
He added: ‘At the present stage… the risks of political embarrassment to the government is rather greater than the security danger.'
The letter was part of a cache of files unearthed by the Cabinet Office and handed over to an official inquiry into historical abuse allegations. It has been seized upon by campaigners as evidence of a deliberate cover-up.
The MP has not been named but other papers in the files related to key government figures from the 1980s, including Mrs Thatcher's former parliamentary secretary Sir Peter Morrison and former Home Secretary Leon Brittan.
Police are already investigating claims linking both men to alleged paedophile rings in Westminster but neither man was charged with any crime during their lifetime.
Lord Armstrong told the Daily Mail: ‘I thought MI5's actions were correct at the time. I think they were right to report the rumour, they were right to make what inquiries they could and they were right to come to the conclusion they did. I think if there was evidence it would have been properly examined at the time. I don't think this is a matter of important people being protected. You can't pursue inquiries unless you have evidence on which you can base the enquiry. A shadow of a rumour is not enough.'
Lord Armstrong said he knew the identity of the MP in question but refused to name him, saying: ‘I think he was interviewed but he denied it. It is not my position to name him.'
He said he did not know if Mrs Thatcher was told of the MI5 decision. Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale who helped uncover the extent of Cyril Smith's child abuse, said he was shocked by Lord Armstrong's ‘cavalier attitude'. He said: ‘It's a criminal matter and it beggars belief that someone at the heart of government should show such a lack of interest in protecting children.
The MP has not been named but other papers in the files related to key government figures from the 1980s, including Thatcher's parliamentary secretary Sir Peter Morrison and ex-Home Secretary Leon Brittan (above)
‘We know that young boys were raped by powerful people causing untold damage and it looks like the only priority for those running the country at the time was to protect the reputation of the Government at all costs.'
Two of the files unearthed by the Cabinet Office were said to have come from the Prime Minister's office.
One related to the diplomat Sir Peter Hayman and the security risks posed by his ‘unnatural sexual proclivities'.
The other named former Tory minister Sir William van Straubenzee, although it is not clear whether it contained any allegations against him.
Sir William's sister dismissed any abuse suspicions against him as ‘total balderdash'. Vivien van Straubenzee, 80, told Channel 4 News: ‘He's been dead for 15 years. I think it's absolute nonsense. It's absolute rubbish. The thought of him doing anything like that is just dreadfully crazy.'
The documents relating to Leon Brittan, Peter Morrison, William van Straubenzee and Peter Hayman have been shown to police and will be passed to inquiry into child sex abuse being led by Dame Lowell Goddard.
David Cameron promised there would be no bar to current investigations, adding: ‘The police on their part should then follow the evidence without any fear and without any uncertainty about how high they can go – they can go as high as they like.'
Sue Reid: Mandarin who can't help being economical with truth
Defiant: Lord Armstrong is at the centre of
accusations of a major Establishment cover-up
His admission that the Government had been ‘economical with the truth' during its epic battle to ban the MI5 memoir Spycatcher has gone down as one of the most outrageous euphemisms in recent political history.
So it is perhaps not surprising that Lord Armstrong – who was Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet Secretary for eight years – is now at the centre of accusations of a major Establishment cover-up of child abuse by leading public figures in the 1970s and 1980s.
It has been revealed that he was urged by MI5 to help hush-up abuse allegations against a senior MP so as to avoid political embarrassment for the Thatcher government.
A document from November 1986 shows that Sir Antony Duff, then director-general of MI5, wrote to Armstrong about inquiries into one MP said to have ‘a penchant for small boys'.
Even today, despite years of official investigations into the claims and a top-level review into the loss of hundreds of Home Office files relating to the original allegations, Armstrong defiantly refuses to identify the suspect politician or even say if he is alive or dead. Can he really still believe that it is acceptable to be ‘economical with the truth'?
His attitude reflects an arrogant mindset that has for too long prevailed in Westminster and Whitehall.
The newly-unearthed files expose how protection of the Establishment took priority over the need to prosecute anyone suspected of paedophilia and over the safety of vulnerable young children.
In a letter to Armstrong about the suspected MP, Sir Antony warned that secrecy must prevail. ‘At the present stage...the risk of political embarrassment to the Government is rather greater than the security danger,' he wrote.
In other words, if the rumours of a sex-ring were true and children had been abused, the welfare of the child must be subjugated to the national interest.
At the time, in 1986, there was little public discussion about the rumours. Whistleblowers were silenced, files mysteriously vanished and evidence which might have nailed the culprits was ignored.
Some scant information emerged in newspapers and during court trials of members of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) who were campaigning to legalise sex with children.
It wasn't until DJ Jimmy Savile was finally exposed that historical sexual abuse was taken much more seriously.
In the 1980s, though, a brave Tory MP, Geoffrey Dickens, had done his best to expose the scandal. Convinced there was a conspiracy to cover up widespread paedophilic abuse in political circles and the security services, he leaked to Private Eye magazine the story that senior diplomat and MI6 spy Sir Peter Hayman (also a member of PIE), had escaped prosecution over the discovery of violent pornography found on a London bus.
He also tackled the Attorney General and was told that a packet containing obscene literature and written notes between Hayman and several other persons had been found, but the Director of Public Prosecutions had not pressed charges. It subsequently emerged during a trial against other PIE members that Hayman's identity was protected by the Crown Prosecution Service and the police.
Lord Armstrong – who was Thatcher's (pictured) Cabinet Secretary for eight years –
is now at the centre of accusations of a major Establishment
cover-up of child abuse by leading public figures in the 1970s and 1980s
Irate, Dickens then handed a ‘massive dossier of evidence' to Home Secretary Leon Brittan who promised to investigate the matter – but it was not pursued.
Dickens also confronted Mrs Thatcher about whether the convicted Soviet agent Geoffrey Prime had been involved in child abuse. She replied: ‘I understand that stories that the police found documents in Prime's house or garage indicating that he was a member of PIE are without foundation.'
This was untrue, although it is unclear whether her answer was based on a duplicitous briefing from civil servants or security chiefs.
Undaunted, Dickens kept campaigning, although his house was mysteriously burgled, key documents disappeared, he received threatening phone calls and complained he was on a professional killer's hit-list. The Home Office warned the Press off following his leads. And so everything went quiet. Looking back, of course, it is easy to understand why. National security and the reputation of the government were paramount.
This was still not the end of the Cold War and before the Soviet Union's collapse. Duff's revealing letter to Armstrong may have been written amid fears that a suspected high profile politician could be blackmailed by the Soviets into spilling British security secrets.
Only in the last three years has the truth finally emerged about the number of paedophiles in high places. In 2012, Labour MP Tom Watson told the Commons there was ‘clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network had been linked to Parliament and to No 10.' A month later, fellow MP Simon Danczuk cited Cyril Smith as a serial abuser of young boys.
As a result of publicity following the Jimmy Savile scandal, men came forward saying they had been abused many years previously by the now dead Liberal MP.
In due course, campaigners and victims emerged with similar stories of a Westminster-linked sex scandal. Scotland Yard then set up an inquiry into Elm Guest House in Barnes, south west London, where it was claimed prominent men, including politicians, judges and public officials, abused young men in the 1970s and 1980s.
It wasn't until DJ Jimmy Savile was exposed that
historical sexual abuse was taken more seriously
By July last year, more than ten men were reported to be on a list of alleged child abusers held by police.
In a separate development, Labour's Lord Janner was accused of a string of sexual abuse charges dating back to the 1960s.
One of the main questions that is now being asked is how much the Thatcher administration – or, indeed, the Prime Minister herself – knew of the allegations of child abuse and the parallel cover-up.
One of her closest aides, MP Peter Morrison, has been linked with a series of incidents of child abuse in the 70s and 80s. They centred on children's homes in North Wales and specifically the Bryn Estyn care establishment where it has been claimed that Savile molested boys. Even at the time, concerns were expressed privately about the wisdom of a man bedevilled by such deeply unpleasant rumours to be so close to the Prime Minister.
Fellow Thatcher confidant Norman Tebbit has since admitted he heard about the allegations and confronted the MP, who denied everything. Lord Tebbit says he believes a VIP ring of paedophiles operated in Westminster over many years, covered up deliberately by those who felt they should protect the Establishment.
Perhaps, it is no surprise that Lord Armstrong should still refuse to be entirely open about the affair. Just a few months ago, when asked on Radio 4's Today programme about a secret document that had warned Mrs Thatcher of the allegations of child abuse against Sir Peter Hayman, Armstrong told the BBC: ‘Clearly I was aware of it ...but I was not concerned with the personal aspect of it, whether he should or should not be pursued. That was something for the police to consider. My concern was implications of national security and international relations.'
How piquant that it was the same man, who, in 1987, used the memorable phrase about being ‘economical with the truth' when he was cross-examined during the Spycatcher trial.
Former MI5 officer Peter Wright was trying to get permission to publish his memoirs against the Thatcher government's wishes.
During a two-week cross-examination, Armstrong explained why he felt sometimes it was necessary to give a misleading impression.
It seems there were others within the Establishment who used this same tactic when dealing with rumours about a child sex ring operating inside Westminster.
They may have felt they were loyal to the Government, but their actions meant that it has taken 30 long years for the scale of the sex abuse scandal to be uncovered. And even now we may not know the full truth of it.
Source: ‘Daily Mail'
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