The Blog

Its No Wonder MPs Like Tom Watson Are Challenging DPPs Over Child Abuse

It may be true he's made some mistakes here, as I'm not familiar with every case he's taken on. But it's time Tom was defended against the broad thrust of the criticism against him, which is that he threatened judicial independence and created a climate where mistakes were bound to happen.

For weeks now heavy artillery has rained down a barrage of criticism on Tom Watson. Much of it has been ferocious. "Tom Watson's career deserves to be destroyed right now," wrote Nick Cohen in the Observer. "Is Tom Watson a) a scorpion, b) a dog or c) a weasel?" ran a headline in The Times.

It's worth noting from the outset that I'm not one of Watson's acolytes. I didn't vote for him as deputy leader and I'm clear he made mistakes over Lord Brittan. That said, I've long been an admirer of his doughty campaigning and I believe we need more MPs like him.

For weeks now he's understandably had to defend his comments on the late Lord Brittan. But having apologized and admitted making mistakes on several occasions, his critics are in no mood to call a truce. Instead, they've moved on to a fresh line of attack with a continual drip feed of stories about his correspondence with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Meddling and interfering with justice have now been added to his charge sheet.

It may be true he's made some mistakes here, as I'm not familiar with every case he's taken on. But it's time Tom was defended against the broad thrust of the criticism against him, which is that he threatened judicial independence and created a climate where mistakes were bound to happen.

I don't buy into this at all. The idea that "misjudgments happen when politicians and the media whip themselves up into a frenzy," as journalists like Fraser Nelson argue, and not, presumably, when unaccountable bad decisions are quietly made behind closed doors, is absolute nonsense.

Anyone who's looked at the recent history of child abuse will know the calamitous approach to this crime by police and the Crown Prosecution Service means politicians and the media are more than entitled to get a little worked up.

Right across the establishment, from Directors of Public Prosecutions who deemed it not in the public interest to prosecute child abusing MPs to police forces who suppressed evidence and halted investigations where VIP abusers were involved and Attorney Generals who tried to stop paedophiles being named in Parliament, there was continual cover up.

And whenever each miscarriage of justice was allowed to pass, it wasn't because of over zealous MPs putting the authorities under pressure or due to media hysteria. It was simply a case of unaccountable, powerful people abusing their position - and getting away with it because of public deference to authority.

One former Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Norman Skelhorn, is a case in point. This is the man who decided it wasn't in the public interest to prosecute Cyril Smith MP over child abuse and it wasn't in the public interest to prosecute Victor Montagu MP, who admitted to abusing a boy for nearly two years.

Incredibly, Skelhorn thought it in the public interest to protect paedophile MPs.

Skelhorn was also the DPP when the 'Playland' scandal broke, which saw the Old Etonian Lloyds underwriter Charles Hornby jailed for the sexual exploitation of homeless boys near Piccadilly Circus. It's widely believed Hornby was the establishment scapegoat and many other VIPs managed to escape justice. The judge admitted not all the perpetrators were in the dock and one of the defendants, David Archer, said he'd presented police with a dossier naming millionaires and titled and influential people involved in the Playland affair. There was "a tremendous cover up to protect these people," he argued.

Not surprisingly, that dossier disappeared.

Perhaps if Tom Watson was around at the time, firing off a few pointed missives asking if the right procedures were followed then Skelhorn might have thought twice about covering up abuse.

Similarly we know from the 29 cases currently before the Independent Police Complaints Commission over allegations of police covering up child sex offences from the 1970s to 2005 that there are plenty of police chiefs with questions to answer. A few more letters from an MP like Tom Watson asking police chiefs back then to explain what was going on would have certainly raised the prospect of some accountability.

And I'm sure a bit of "meddling and interference" from someone like Tom over the scandal involving the recently convicted Bishop Peter Ball wouldn't have gone amiss either. Perhaps then royals, ex cabinet ministers and police chiefs wouldn't have gone to such lengths to try and protect someone who sexually abused 18 vulnerable young men.

There haven't been enough letters from people like Tom Watson over the years and I only wish there'd been more passionate, pushy and committed MPs demanding to know why justice was denied for so many vulnerable people.

The fact that more ignominy is being heaped on Tom Watson for 'interfering' in sexual abuse cases than the Conservative whip Tim Fortescue ever received for openly admitting he'd help MPs if they got involved in a "scandal involving small boys" shows how skewed people's values have become.

Tom is acutely aware of the monumental mistakes made in the past - and that's why he's been so tenacious in trying to make sure the authorities do a better job this time.

I'm not yet convinced we've properly learned from these terrible cover ups and that's why I don't believe Tom or any other MP for that matter should be doffing their cap and showing total deference to the legal system any time soon.

MPs have a duty to question authority and the day we stop doing that the less accountable authorities become.

Simon Danczuk is the Labour MP for Rochdale