Leon Brittan became Margaret Thatcher’s Home Secretary on 11th June 1983. Not long after starting in the role, he came under pressure to ban an organisation called the Paedophile Information Exchange.
The Paedophile Information Exchange, or PIE, campaigned to have the age of consent reduced to 4 years old, which would have effectively legalised paedophilia. PIE published a contacts page in its newsletter with a PO Box number, so paedophiles across the UK and abroad could forge links and trade tips on how to access children, and how to obtain images of child abuse. This was how organised paedophile networks developed in the UK, and helps to explain how paedophiles ended up infiltrating so many schools, children’s homes, and other institutions. By the early 1980s PIE had over 1000 members, including people in prominent and powerful positions in the British Establishment such as diplomats, MPs, aristocrats, intelligence agents, teachers, and child protection experts.
There were a number of big news stories in the early 1980s involving child abuse and missing children. One of these was the ‘Brighton Beasts’ case in August 1983; a 6 year old boy was snatched off the street and sexually assaulted by three men. These cases intensified public opinion about paedophiles, and strengthened the case for an outright ban of PIE and similar organisations.
Leon Brittan, however, did not share the public’s urgency to ban PIE. He outlined a ‘three step approach’ to the issue, which consisted of asking chief constables to report to him, asking the Department of Public Prosecutions to ‘consider’ prosecuting PIE members, and asking parents to keep a close eye on their children.
This provoked an angry reaction both from the public and some sections of the press. The mother of the 6 year old boy who was assaulted in Brighton said Brittan’s policy was “weak and worthless“. Charles Oxley, a headmaster who had infiltrated PIE and provided his information to the police, criticised Brittan’s policy as “apathetic”.The Daily Express, in a comment piece on 2nd September 1983, were most damning of all:
The policy of asking the DPP to consider prosecutions seems particularly suspect, since the DPP had already decided not to prosecute PIE member Sir Peter Hayman.
There was even a reported panic among prominent PIE members to cancel their memberships in anticipation of a clampdown. But they needn’t have worried because Mr. Brittan didn’t do anything.
Brittan’s inaction on the issue led a Conservative MP called Geoffrey Dickens to launch a campaign to ban PIE, which attracted huge popular support. Dickens started a petition, and with the help of coverage in the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror, it received over 1 million signatures from members of the British public.
In November 1983, Geoffrey Dickens gave Leon Brittan a ‘massive’ dossier on child abuse, with specific allegations about a link between PIE and Buckingham Palace staff, Foreign Office staff, and the civil service. Brittan did not investigate. It now seems likely that this paedophile ring would have been involved in the child abuse at Elm Guest House, seeing as the visitors to Elm Guest House included senior members of the Royal Household, civil servants, and other prominent Establishment figures. Had Brittan acted on this dossier, a powerful paedophile network could have been smashed, and countless children saved from abuse.
In January 1984, Dickens gave Brittan a second dossier alleging child abuse in a children’s home and naming prominent paedophiles including a television executive. In all probability this would have been the BBC, as they allowed Jimmy Savile to get away with abusing children for decades. Again, had Brittan acted on this dossier it would have almost certainly led to Savile and many others, and could have stopped the abuse of hundreds of children. The Home Office now say the dossier is missing, and when Paraic O’Brien recently asked Leon Brittan about it, he said “I do not recollect this and do not have any records that would be of assistance“. How strange that he can’t remember these incredibly important files.
In November 1984 two members of PIE’s executive committee were jailed, for 6 months and 18 months respectively. PIE bowed to public opinion and officially disbanded after the trial, which meant that after stalling for so long, Leon Brittan never had to make a final decision on banning PIE.
It appears that the rights of child abusers were given prominence over the rights of children. I’m sure Mr. Brittan had a reason for his failure to act on child abuse but we may never find out due to his inability to recall events from the 1980s.