The escalating row between Harriet Harman and the Daily Mail over her links to a paedophile campaign group in the 1970s was cranked up a notch today after she tweeted one of the website’s stories showing a 12-year-old girl wearing a bikini with the comment: “Would you take lessons from the Daily Mail?”
The deputy Labour leader posted the tweet in response to a series of stories in the newspaper calling on her to explain her connections to the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) when she was legal officer of the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL).
The tweet follows an apparent change of tack earlier by Ms Harman, who earlier seemed to backtrack on her refusal to apologise and expressed "regret" that PIE had been allowed to join the civil rights organisation for which she worked in the 1970s.
However, following an uncomfortable interview last night with BBC Two’s Newsnight programme, in which she adopted the same stance, Ms Harman came out swinging with a tweet that read: "When it comes to decency and sexualisation of children, would you take lessons from the Daily Mail?"
When it comes to decency and sexualisation of children, would you take lessons from the Daily Mail? pic.twitter.com/MXmWhOILKQ— Harriet Harman (@HarrietHarman) February 25, 2014
That was accompanied by a screenshot of a Mail Online story from October 2011, headlined "Inside Courtney Stodden photo album: Teen bride as an innocent 12-year-old" posing with sisters in first bikini shoot". It features images of the "aspiring model", who married the Green Mile star Dough Hutchinson, as a child "gazing into the camera".
The latest comments came as the feud between Ms Harman and Britain’s second-largest selling daily newspaper intensified.
It centres on NCCL’s decision to give the paedophile rights group "affiliate" status in 1975 and to lobby Parliament the following year for the age of consent to be lowered.
Ms Harman, who has accused the Mail of running a politically-motivated smear campaign, joined the NCCL two years later.
The paper has also focused on Ms Harman’s husband, Jack Dromey, and the former Labour Cabinet minister, Patricia Hewitt, who were officials at the NCCL in the 1970s.
The newspaper has accused Ms Harman and Mr Dromey of issuing statements "full of pedantry and obfuscation" which failed to answer central allegations and denied others it had not made. Ms Hewitt has not commented.
In her Newsnight interview, Ms Harman repeatedly declined to accept that it had been a mistake for any link to have been allowed between the NCCL and PIE.
"On the basis that it has created, somehow, a sense that NCCL's work was therefore tainted by them, yes, obviously that is a very unfortunate inference to happen," she said.
"It is not the case that my work when I was at NCCL was influenced by PIE, was apologising for paedophilia, or colluding with paedophilia - that is an unfair inference and it's a smear."
Asked why she would not say it had been wrong, she told the programme: "Because they were challenged and they were pushed aside from their views having any influence on NCCL."
Ms Harman also rounded on the Daily Mail, which she said was "not above producing photographs of very young girls".
She said: "This is the Daily Mail aggressively trying to completely reshape the facts of a situation 30 years ago.
"It is ironic that they are accusing me of supporting indecency in relation to children when they themselves are not above producing photographs of very young girls, titivating photographs, in bikinis.
"I stand by what I was doing at NCCL and I stand by what I have done all the way through."
She added: "I think if there is anybody who has over the years supported indecency it is much more the Daily Mail than it is me and that's the frank truth of it."