Former home secretary Leon Brittan (right) is to make a statement today about what he knew of the allegations in the Eighties. Photo: Getty
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MPs call for historical allegations of paedophile MP ring to be investigated

MPs are calling for an alleged network of paedophile politicians in the Eighties to be investigated. It's a story that has been under the radar until now.

It’s a story that has been rumbling away in the background for some time, a significant development of which was almost completely muffled yesterday due to coverage of the outcome of the Rolf Harris trial.

Yesterday, the former home secretary Leon Brittan, who served in the role under Margaret Thatcher in 1983-85, was called upon to make public what he knew about allegations in the Eighties of a network of paedophile politicians operating in Westminster.

The MP who called for Brittan to help uncover the truth about these claims is Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale, who has recently published a book about a former Rochdale MP and abuser of young boys Cyril Smith, whose crimes he helped expose.

Danczuk was speaking at a home affairs select committee hearing, and claimed that a dossier of allegations about a ring of paedophile MPs was presented to Brittan while he was in office. Danczuk also called for a full inquiry into the historical allegations to help identify perpetrators other than Smith.

He called politics, “the last refuge of child sex abuse deniers”.

Brittan, who is now a Conservative peer, said last night that he will issue a statement this lunchtime “about the handling of such papers in the Home Office”, as the Mail reports. His account could well bring this story above the radar.

I spoke to Danczuk last month, and this is what he told me about the historical allegations:

… there were people out to protect Smith because he was part of a network of paedophiles. I’m absolutely, wholly convinced of that. And more will come out I think in the near future to show that Smith could’ve easily been part of a Westminster network of paedophiles.

He also commented to me that along with a cross-party group of MPs, including Tom Watson, Zac Goldsmith and Tessa Munt, he is working on, “exposing other politicians [of the past] who’ve been implicated in this stuff.”

Although the facts have yet to be ascertained, it will be worth watching how this story unfolds.

UPDATE (11am):

Brittan has issued his statement on the alleged paedophilia in Westminster. Here it is in full:

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.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.