'No cover up' of historic abuse
Nick Clegg has dismissed the possibility that decades of child abuse could have been deliberately covered up by successive governments.
The Deputy Prime Minister said recent investigations had uncovered a "horrendous under-scene of British society which no-one knew existed".
While some aspects "may or may not have been known about" by prominent individuals, there was no reason to think anyone in authority was aware of the wider scale of the problem, he insisted,
Mr Clegg was challenged over his response to the scandal at a question time session hosted by the Mumsnet website and denied his party had acted slowly in backing a public inquiry.
All parties had "c ollectively moved quite quickly" in the wake of revelations of alleged abuse "unimaginable in scale and depravity, so revolting (that) have shaken everyone to the core".
"A lid has been lifted on a kind of horrendous under scene of British society which no-one knew existed," he added.
Pressed by the questioner over whether " you really think nobody knew that existed, or that there was a cover up by successive governments of the systematic abuse of children over decades", Mr Clegg responded: " Of course I don't think that.
"To abuses going back to the 60s and 70s, 50s and 60s before many of us here were even born?
"Of course I don't know about circumstances - no-one does - that spanned half a century, cross the whole of the country and by definition are acts of depravity which have taken place in secret by people doing evil things which they want to hide from others.'
'Why would anyone know exactly what's happened on that scale?'
"I assume things of such depravity may or may not have been suspected or known by different parts of British society like Jimmy Savile at the BBC," he said.
"What I wouldn't do if I were you is assume that because you can point to an individual allegation and another allegation that some other individual made another allegation, therefore there must have been an organised plot spanning decades which everyone must have known about.
"I just don't think it works like that.
"These are highly-intelligent depraved individuals who appear, that is the allegation, to have organised with each other to abuse the most vulnerable children in society."
Mr Clegg also said all parties should be "as up front as possible" about their negotiating "red lines" if the general election results in another hung parliament and negotiations over another coalition government.
"In a world where the era of single-party government is more or less over .. all parties need to be as up front as possible about which policies they will dig theirs heels in on and insist on," he said.
Mr Clegg said he believed the Liberal Democrats should be proud of the "plucky, brave way we stepped up to the plate" by joining the Tory-led coalition in 2010.
While it would have been better to be in power at a time of plenty rather than at the height of an economic crisis, he conceded, he was not at all embarrassed by what the power-sharing administration had done.
"Politics is like life, like raising a family, like having kids, like doing work, you don't chose your time, you deal with the cards that are dealt to you.
"And I, despite endless invitations to the contrary, far from feeling in any way embarrassed by what the Liberal Democrats have done in government, I am incredibly proud.
"In a very plucky, brave way, we stepped up to the plate, and broadly speaking - no doubt for individual decisions we could have done better - we have done the right thing."