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Labour's Tom Watson refuses to apologise over Leon Brittan allegations

Published 12/10/2015

Labour's Tom Watson has been criticised over his comments on Lord Brittan
Labour's Tom Watson has been criticised over his comments on Lord Brittan

Tom Watson has refused to apologise for raising allegations against the late Leon Brittan instead demanding all MPs examine their consciences.

Mr Watson said all politicians had "presided over a state of affairs where children have been abused and then ignored, dismissed and then disdained - if anyone deserves an apology it is them".

Labour's deputy leader was met with loud cries of "shame" from the Tory benches following his remarks, which were provoked by Tory grandee Sir Nicholas Soames demanding an apology to Lord Brittan's family in a point of order.

Mr Watson said: "I understand MPs feel aggrieved Leon Brittan was interviewed by the police and they are angry with my use of language but I am sure they would also agree that when someone is accused of multiple sexual crimes by numerous completely unrelated sources the police have a duty to investigate, no matter who it is."

Mr Watson continued: "It is not for me to judge the validity of these claims but I believe I was right to demand the guidelines were adhered to.

"I also believe very many victims of this country have been too terrified to speak out for too long. It's not all over just because a few famous people have gone to prison.

"It hasn't all got out of hand just because people in high places are scared. The survivors of child abuse have been belittled and ridiculed for too long. That's the real scandal here."

Mr Watson recalled remarks by the Prime Minister today urging him to "examine his conscience" over the allegations made.

Mr Watson said: "I think we all need to examine our consciences in this House, we presided over a state of affairs where children have been abused and then ignored, dismissed and then disdained.

"If anyone deserves an apology it is them."

Earlier, David Cameron said Labour's deputy leader "has a lot of questions to answer" over his public comments about sex abuse allegations against former Conservative minister Lord Brittan.

Mr Cameron said the West Bromwich East MP should "examine his conscience" after Lord Brittan's brother called on him for an apology.

Mr Watson accepted on Friday that he should not have repeated the comment of an alleged sex abuse survivor that the peer was "close to evil".

But he insisted it was his "duty" to pass on evidence from those claiming to have been abused to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Raising a point of order in the Commons, Sir Nicholas asked the Speaker if Mr Watson had asked to make a personal statement in which he should: "Apologise for the way in which he has so vilely traduced the late Lord Brittan and further for him to have a chance to apologise to Lord Brittan's dignified and courageous widow."

Following Mr Watson's remarks, Mr Bercow said: "This is not an occasion for a debate on this matter."

Sir Nicholas said Mr Watson's response was "completely unacceptable" and called on him to think again about the way he was conducting his campaign.

"He has become the witch-finder general," he told BBC Radio 5 Live. "I really do think we have got to bring some order to this debate which is running out of hand."

Pressure on Mr Watson was further increased with the release by the BBC of details of a letter obtained by the Panorama programme which he wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, complaining at the way Lord Brittan's case was being handled.

"I am driven to the unpalatable conclusion that the identity of the alleged perpetrator, Leon Brittan, may in some way have influenced treatment of the case," he was quoted as writing.

"I hope I am wrong, but in my view the case demands your personal attention."

Mr Watson said he was "absolutely not" going to step down as Labour's deputy leader. Asked if he thought he was "fit for this office", he told Channel 4 News: "Of course I do. I'm trying to get to the truth of historic child abuse over many decades and we need a public policy response to that that means we can never again allow victims to have their voices unheard in the criminal justice system."

Mr Watson added: "All I can say to you is that there is far more to this case than meets the eye. I think that should be a concern for the Goddard Inquiry, but I don't think it requires public comment now."

Challenged by interviewer Jon Snow over whether he should now issue a "genuine and heartfelt apology for the grief you've caused", the Labour deputy leader said: "I need to be honest to myself and to people. I believe that I was helping victims have their voice heard, and I don't want to cause more distress than has already been caused."

Asked whether he would now speak to Lord Brittan's family, Mr Watson said: "I'm not entirely certain whether that would be productive."

The MP again defended his decision to write to the DPP, telling Channel 4 News: "What I had was a survivor who felt that she had not had her voice heard in the criminal justice system, and I helped amplify that to the DPP.

"It's not unreasonable for me to demand that the criminal justice system does its job, and I've got some experience of trying to make sure that it does do that."

Pressed over his use of a survivor's description of Lord Brittan as "close to evil", Mr Watson said : "I talked to two of the survivors, who were extremely distressed and told me that they felt that justice would now not be done and they would not be able to have a proper investigation, and they were very emotional about it. I regret repeating their emotive words and I've said that."

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