Brittan strenuously denied rumour


Published: Thursday 22nd January 2015 by The News Editor

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Leon Brittan’s brilliance as a politician and a lawyer was unfairly, many believed, tarnished by allegations which were never proved, and which he strenuously denied, involving the abuse of a schoolboy in North Yorkshire.

In the early 1980s, when he was Home Secretary, the newspapers were full of carefully-worded innuendoes that Brittan, whose constituency was Langbaurgh, and whom it was rumoured was homosexual, was suspected of “inappropriate” behaviour in connection with this child.

Rumours were rampant, not only in the area of his constituency but throughout Westminster as well.

It was at the height of this frenzy that a strange incident occurred at a reception given for political reporters at the Home Office.

Many people thought that because of this furore, the reception would have been cancelled – but, no, it went ahead as planned.

I was there with a few score colleagues from the Press Gallery. At that moment, Brittan had not yet shown up.

Then suddenly, a po-faced official approached me, tapped me on the shoulder, and said that the Home Secretary would like to see me privately in his office.

I downed my drink hastily, and followed the official out of the room. The other journalists looked on enviously. Was I about to be given a scoop?

They were right. In his office, Brittan, as always, greeted me courteously.

“Look at this,” he said, handing me a page from the forthcoming issue of Private Eye. To my astonishment, this page of The Eye contained an article, not merely not attacking Brittan, but exonerating him from any involvement with this boy. In short, it gave him a clean bill of moral health.

He then said to me: “This looks very much like the collapse of these allegations, which are wholly untrue and could be malicious.”

The implication of what he said was that if Private Eye, normally the scourge of ministers in trouble, had reached this conclusion, his denials must have been true.

“Get that out on the Press Association,” he said.

Needless to say, I wasted no time in doing that.

His official, who had been standing in the background during our brief but historic encounter, led me to a telephone in another room at the Home Office – and the story was winging its way around the world within minutes.

Then I returned to the reception, by which time Brittan had joined the throng. But, to my delight, he remained tight-lipped about our meeting and the allegations which he assumed had now gone away. He would only engage in innocent chit-chat.

I told other reporters who questioned me that they would see what happened if they looked on the Press Association tapes.

But, sadly for him, the allegations did not wholly go away. Years later, indeed only a few months ago, they resurfaced amid the row over the “missing” paedophile dossiers compiled by the late Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens.

These allegedly contained details about Brittan’s alleged activities. But what happened to these files still remains a mystery, even though there were claims that they were so embarrassing not only to Brittan but to some other high-ranking politicians, that they were quietly destroyed.

But others who claimed to have seen these dossiers claimed there was nothing of any consequence in them.

By this time Brittan was plainly a sick man. And, as was his wont, he maintained a lawyerly silence over the whole affair.

It was an unhappy background to his whole political career which his friends have always said was blameless.

Meanwhile, before he became a minister, Brittan was one of the most industrious MPs I have ever come across.

Day after day I would receive missives from him about local issues in his Langbaurgh constituency.He was the epitome of courtesy and good manners – a man it was difficult to dislike.

Published: Thursday 22nd January 2015 by The News Editor

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