[The following guest blog post was written by @MySweetLandlord on Twitter. I am immensely grateful to him for this, which reveals very clearly many questions yet to be answered in the wake of the statements this week on the Dickens dossier by Leon Brittan.]
The 2 links below summarise the timeline of events on Wednesday July 2014 regarding various statements made regarding the ‘Dickens Dossier’.
On Wednesday July 2nd 2014 at 10am – Leon Brittan issues a statement through his solicitors Mischon de Reya:
During my time as Home Secretary (1983 to 1985), Geoff Dickens MP arranged to see me at the Home Office. I invariably agreed to see any MP who requested a meeting with me. As I recall, he came to my room at the Home Office with a substantial bundle of papers. As is normal practice, my Private Secretary would have been present at the meeting. I told Mr Dickens that I would ensure that the papers were looked at carefully by the Home Office and acted on as necessary. Following the meeting, I asked my officials to look carefully at the material contained in the papers provided and report back to me if they considered that any action needed to be taken by the Home Office. In addition I asked my officials to consider a referral to another Government Department, such as the Attorney General’s Department, if that was appropriate. This was the normal procedure for handling material presented to the Home Secretary. I do not recall being contacted further about these matters by Home Office officials or by Mr Dickens or by anyone else.
This statement in itself was not remarkable, although it is somewhat unusual is issue such a statement through a firm of solicitors. But the devil is in the detail, and the context is all important. For a start, although it didn’t specifically say so, this was a statement about child sex abuse, despite sounding like a dispute over a planning application.
Furthermore, Leon Brittan had been asked about paperwork supplied by Geoff Dickens before. By Martin Hickman of the Independent:
And also by Paraic O’Brien of Channel 4 News (Paraic O’Brien, ‘Leon Brittan: I was handed ‘paedophile’ dossier’, Channel 4 News, July 2nd, 2014), this was the exchange which took place:
In the email, I said: “I’m trying to find a dossier that was given to you by Geoffrey Dickens MP regarding child abuse while you were home secretary. I’ve been in contact with the Home Office but am not holding out much hope that they will be able to find it.”
I went on to ask him whether he had any recollection of the dossier. Half an hour later, Lord Brittan replied by email. He wrote: “I’m afraid I do not recollect this and do not have any records which would be of assistance, Leon Brittan.”
Now, all of a sudden,Leon Brittan recollected quite vividly. But also quite wrongly. A Home Office statement suddenly appeared, quoting from a letter sent by Leon Brittan to Geoff Dickens dated March 20th 1984. This statement was based upon the Executive Summary of a Home Office report concerning Historical records of documents it had relating to child sex abuse dated February 2013:
You drew my attention to a number of allegations concerning paedophilia when you called here on 23 November and in subsequent letters. I am now able to tell you that, in general terms, the view of the Director of Public Prosecutions is that two of the letters you forwarded could form the basis for enquiries by the police and they are now being passed to the appropriate authorities. In other cases there either seems to be inadequate evidence to pursue prosecution, for example the lady who wrote about PIE[1. Paedophile Information Exchange] advertising but did not secure any example of the material complained of, or they have already been dealt with in some way by the courts or the police.
This flatly contradicted Leon Brittan’s assertion from his statement that he had “not been contacted further about these matters”. A second statement was promptly issued:
In the last hour I have been alerted to a Home Office independent review conducted last year into what information it received about organised child sex abuse between 1979 and 1999. A letter was sent from myself to Mr Dickens on March 20, 1984 explaining what had been done in relation to the files. The Home Office independent review is entirely consistent with the action I set out in my earlier statement. Whilst I could not recall what further action was taken 30 years ago, the information contained in this report shows that appropriate action and follow-up happened.
Although, in itself, this chain of events didn’t appear to be particularly significant, things had started to look a little muddled. So let’s return to that first statement and ponder the real significance of what Leon Brittan actually admitted did happen.
Firstly, Dickens attended the Brittan meeting with “a substantial bundle of papers”. Presumably there would be some record in the Home Office of these papers having been provided. However returning to the Executive Summary report linked above, the only information recorded at the Home Office would appear to be subsequent letters.
The evidence of the existence of such a document is compelling. Contemporary press reports yield much information. This link – Ian Pace, ‘Published Articles on Geoffrey Dickens, Leon Brittan, and the Dossier’, Desiring Progress, July 2nd, 2014 – contains all the relevant articles.
Daily Express, November 25th, 1983
Daily Mirror, January 19th, 1984
Both these press cuttings specify dossiers supplied by Dickens. But there is something else interesting about them – they are dated 2 months apart, but both refer to dossiers being handed over ‘yesterday’. Clearly there were 2 meetings between Dickens and Brittan, and therefore there were 2 dossiers, rather than 1!
Further digging yielded an article from the Daily Telegraph, November 15th, 1984:
So Leon Brittan had a total of 3 meetings with Geoff Dickens, during which at least 2 dossiers were provided. Also handed over was a petition with one million signatures (Daily Express, November 25th, 1983.
As if this wasn’t enough, as reported in the Daily Express, August 25th, 1983. Dickens produced a ‘thick file’ which he handed direct to Sir Thomas Hetherington, the Director of Public Prosecutions:
On that very same day, Leon Brittan broke his holiday to express his outrage at child sex attacks, and declare he was taking a “personal interest” – Daily Star, August 24th, 1983:
The following day, The Guardian reported:
Two Scotland Yard dossiers had been produced, one of which was sent to the Home Office.
All the evidence therefore shows that Geoff Dickens had 3 meetings with Leon Brittan and provided him with 2 dossiers and a huge petition. He also handed another dossier to the DPP naming 8 big names including a ‘personal friend of his’ and a ‘television presenter’. Scotland Yard produced 2 files of their own, 1 of which also went to Leon Brittan, the other of which went to the DPP. Leon Brittan’s first statement admitted to Dickens providing ‘a substantial bundle of papers’, which is consistent with at least 1 of these dossiers.
But whatever became of these dossiers? But the Home Office Investigation of February 2013 had failed to find any record of these dossiers, let alone the dossiers themselves. Since that investigation, Home Office Permanent Secretary Mark Sedwill has clarified, in a letter to Keith Vaz MP dated July 5th 2014, that “The investigation did not find a single dossier from Mr Dickens” (see Sedwill to Vaz, July 5th, 2014, reproduced on Tom Watson’s site).
This time there was some detail of what records had been kept:
The review identified 527 relevant files which had been retained. These 527 physical files were all physically examined. In addition the same extensive analysis identified 114 potentially relevant files had been presumed destroyed, missing or not found.
What this statement doesn’t clarify is whether there is any record of what these 114 files were, and whether any of them originated from Geoff Dickens. What it does clarify is that 18% of relevant files were recorded but not physically present.
It also confirmed that Leon Brittan, who was outraged and taking a personal interest in child sex abuse, had managed to write just the 1 letter to Geoff Dickens, detailing the small amount of information he had forwarded to the DPP.
Under these circumstances we need to return to what Leon Brittan actually admitted did happen during his meeting with Geoff Dickens on November 23rd 1983.
As is normal practice, my Private Secretary would have been present at the meeting.
So there was a witness to exactly what happened. Leon Brittan had 3 private secretaries at the Home Office (see Dod’s Parliamentary Companion, 1984):
These 3 civil servants are all very much still alive and active in professional life, and Leon Brittan has put them in an awkward position. If none of them admit to being at the relevant Dickens meeting they contradict Leon Brittan. If 1 of them admits to being present but denies the production of a dossier they also contradict Leon Brittan. If 1 of them admits to being present and also admits the production of a dossier it raises serious questions for the Home Office to answer, in addition to those concerning the rest of the dossiers reported to have been logged with the Home Office at various times.
The ‘Dickens Dossier’ itself is only part of the jigsaw. The wider issue is that Geoff Dickens and Leon Brittan had a great deal of personal contact over the issue of child sex abuse in high places 1983-84, and it is impossible to believe that names weren’t mentioned. Geoff Dickens was a personal friend of Cyril Smith, who was MP for the neighbouring constituency of Rochdale. Leon Brittan himself had been to Rochdale to help Cyril Smith with fundraising (from Simon Danczuk, ‘A promiscuous mother and the childhood taunts that turned Cyril Smith into a twisted predator’, Daily Mail, April 17th, 2014);
If one of those names was Cyril Smith it would surely have caught Leon Brittan’s attention, and perhaps his child sex abuse could have been curtailed nearly 30 years before he died. If another was Jimmy Savile, the same applies.
However the ‘Dickens Dossier’ has become the focus of press and public attention, and some further explanation is required as to what became of it. Hopefully the ex Home Office civil servants named above will be more forthcoming than Sir Brian Cubbon (see ‘Former mandarin has “no recollection” of paedophile dossier’, Channel 4 News, July 3rd, 2014). He was the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office 1979-1988, but has “no recollection at all” of this dossier.
As stated above, Leon Brittan’s Parliamentary Private Secretary was Tim Smith MP. He also has no memory of the ‘Dickens Dossier’.
The final name stated above was Douglas Hurd MP, Minister of State at the Home Office 1983-84 and himself Home Secretary 1985-1989. He has yet to comment, but his memoirs (as quoted at Ian Pace, ‘Douglas Hurd on Leon Brittan at the Home Office’, Desiring Progress, July 5th, 2014)
state the following:
Leon’s style was centralising in the sense that he liked to know everything and took the main decisions himself.
Douglas Hurd was Minister of State at the Home Office from after the General Election on June 9th, 1983, until September 10th, 1984 (when Hurd was promoted to the Cabinet, to become Northern Ireland Secretary), as detailed in his Memoirs (London: Abacus, 2003), pp. 318-328. Leon Brittan was Home Secretary at the time. Hurd writes the following about Brittan in the memoirs:
‘Another set [of Cabinet ministers] are centralisers. Loving detail, they gather it relentlessly into themselves. Such ministers can thrive only if they have trained their minds to absorb formidable quantities of facts and figures and transmute them into decisions. Two examples of this style in my time were Geoffrey Howe and Leon Brittan, which suggests to me that it comes most easily to lawyers. Serving later under Leon Brittan at the Home Office, I marvelled at his mastery of a complicated agenda.’ (p. 285)
‘‘Leon Brittan could have been forgiven some exasperation at this point. He was lumbered with a Minister of State nine years older than himself who had acquired a reasonable reputation at the Foreign Office but who seemed unsuited for the job he had now been given. Leon possessed a first-class legal brain, had served in the Home Office before, and held every issue at his fingertips. The pile-up of work was formidable. Leon would have been justified in politely pushing me to the margins and getting on with all important matters himself. If that had happened, then the fear I wrote into my diary a week after joining the Home Office that I would never reach the Cabinet would have come true. Leon’s style was centralising in the sense that he liked to know everything and took the main decisions himself. But he involved me fully in his meetings, listened patiently to my naïve views on criminal justice, delegated to me just the weight I could carry, and showed officials that I was to be treated with respect.’ (pp. 320-321) (my emphasis)
(William Whitelaw, Home Secretary during the first Thatcher Government, shared a similar view of Brittan’s brilliance, talking of him and Patrick Mayhew, both working under Whitelaw as ‘two outstanding lawyers’, and Brittan as ‘an exceptionally clever man’ (William Whitelaw, The Whitelaw Memoirs (London: Aurum Press, 1989), pp. 162, 256).
On Wednesday (July 2nd, 2014), Brittan issued the following statement:
‘During my time as Home Secretary (1983 to 1985), Geoff Dickens MP arranged to see me at the Home Office. I invariably agreed to see any MP who requested a meeting with me.
‘As I recall, he came to my room at the Home Office with a substantial bundle of papers. As is normal practice, my Private Secretary would have been present at the meeting.
‘I told Mr Dickens that I would ensure that the papers were looked at carefully by the Home Office and acted on as necessary.
‘Following the meeting, I asked my officials to look carefully at the material contained in the papers provided and report back to me if they considered that any action needed to be taken by the Home Office.
‘In addition I asked my officials to consider a referral to another Government Department, such as the Attorney General’s Department, if that was appropriate.
‘This was the normal procedure for handling material presented to the Home Secretary. I do not recall being contacted further about these matters by Home Office officials or by Mr Dickens or by anyone else.’
Then a few hours later, Brittan issued a second statement:
‘In the last hour I have been alerted to a Home Office independent review conducted last year into what information it received about organised child sex abuse between 1979 and 1999.
‘The review found information had been dealt with properly. It also disclosed that material received from Mr Dickens in November 1983 and January 1984 had not been retained.
‘However, a letter was sent from myself to Mr Dickens on March 20, 1984 explaining what had been done in relation to the files.’
Considering this dossier contained ‘explosive’ information, according to Dickens’ family, can we really believe that a Home Secretary who Hurd describes in such a fashion would act in this manner?
Furthermore, as detailed (with full references to published articles) on Spotlight, there were three Dickens dossiers, given to Brittan on c. August 20th, 1983, November 23rd 1983, and January 18th, 1984. Hurd was Minister of State at all of these points. A further Minister of State during the period was David (now Lord) Waddington., whilst David Mellor was Under-Secretary of State; he has today (July 5th, 2014) said that he remembered ‘sort of chat around the department’ that it ‘wasn’t a very substantive thing at all’, and that ‘People are talking about this document as if it’s a carefully worked through expose of people. There’s no reason to think it was’.
Hurd would, following his stint in Northern Ireland, succeed Brittan as Home Secretary in August 1985, saying that Margaret Thatcher ‘was moving Leon Brittan to Trade and Industry because she wanted more attention paid to these subjects. She asked me to explain this to Leon, as if that were my responsibility rather than hers.’ (Hurd, Memoirs, p. 346)
A full statement from Lord Hurd is needed, not least about whether Lord Brittan’s account of the dossiers is consistent with what Hurd himself has written about the man.