Chapter 13 of Mary Whitehouse’s 1982 autobiography, “A Most Dangerous Woman” discusses her fight to bring in new legislation to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse. She describes how the Home Office (headed by Merlyn Rees), the Director of Public Prosecutions (Sir Thomas Hetherington), and the Attorney General (Samuel Silkin) showed a “consistent unwillingness to take action”, even after 1.6 million signatures had been gathered from the public. It was only through the use of a Private Member’s Bill by Cyril Townsend MP and the campaigning by Mary Whitehouse and her colleagues that the Protection of Children Act 1978 was passed. More information on the Act is available here. The debate is recorded in Hansard here.
At the same time as the Home Office was “unwilling to take action” in 1978, we know that key member/s of PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange) were operating from within the Home Office. After the homes of several PIE committee members were raided in 1978, a report was submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions (Thomas Hetherington) and the prosecution of PIE activists followed. However, the DPP chose not to prosecute all of them. One of the group – Sir Peter Hayman – was even granted anonymity, until Geoffrey Dickens MP used parliamentary privilege to name him. These decisions were later defended by the Attorney-General, Michael Havers.
Archived newspaper articles from the early 1980’s are now emerging on Twitter to show that Geoffrey Dickens MP submitted a dossier to then Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, with evidence of police accepting bribes from sex-shop owners, religious cults involving young girls, possible abuse at a children’s home, and a TV boss who was alleged to have had sex with children. The articles unearthed so far suggest that Leon Brittan was very reluctant to take action on this information. Mr Dickens reported receiving “continual harassment” since starting his campaign.
And while Cardinal Basil Hume was “strongly supporting” Mary Whitehouse’s campaign, we know that he had, since at least 1975, being covering up the sexual abuse of children at Ampleforth College.
If we replace the word “pornography” with the words “sexual abuse”, then Cyril Townsend’s opening remarks at the second reading of his Protection of Children Bill in 1978 do a good job of summing up where we still are in early-2013:
“Child [sexual abuse] is a distasteful subject to debate. Not unnaturally, the vast majority of our fellow countrymen are not fully aware of its prevalence in these islands… But right hon. and hon. Members appreciate from their postbags that there is much growing public anxiety and strong pressure for…action… We have a duty to look into the sewers of our society. We have a duty to provide penalties for those who abuse our tolerance and our freedoms. Above all, we have a duty to protect innocent children.”