THE BLOG
09/10/2015 09:22 BST | Updated 09/10/2016 06:12 BST

I Felt It Was My Duty to Pass Accusations Against Leon Brittan to the Authorities

I have heard many disturbing and harrowing accounts of child abuse since I asked that question in the House of Commons. It is impossible not to become deeply upset and angry when listening to them. When the death of Leon Brittan was announced, I worried that the justice system would no longer take its course and that the allegations would never be thoroughly investigated... The choice facing anyone who is presented with testimony of this kind is whether to pass it on to the authorities and urge them to investigate or to ignore it. I chose the first option. I felt it was my duty to do so.

In October 2012 I asked a question in Parliament about a network of paedophiles. An investigation into their activities had been closed down before reaching a conclusion. Two of them have now been convicted and they are serving long sentences. I have passed more information to the police since then and a third man has also been sent to prison partly as a result of this. My motivation throughout has been to help victims as best as I could.

In 2014 I wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) asking her to look into serious allegations that had been made against Leon Brittan. Let me set out as clearly as I can why I wrote that letter. I had been told of multiple allegations about Leon Brittan and I had met some of the people making those allegations at their request. I did not and could not know if they were true but I did believe their claims should be fully investigated.

I felt the testimony of one of those people was particularly compelling. But it was for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to reach a judgment on that after examining all the available evidence. That is the approach I have always followed when contacted by people who claim they are victims of child abuse or other serious sexual crimes.

I have said in the past that I am sorry for the distress Leon Brittan's family experienced as they grieved for him. I still am. But I wanted the claims made against him properly investigated. I think most people would assume that when an individual is facing multiple allegations of sexual crimes from people who are independent of each other, the police would want to interview them. As it happens, I think that Leon Brittan would have been interviewed even if I hadn't intervened because the DPP made it clear in her reply to my letter that the police investigation into him was ongoing.

The lessons of the Jimmy Savile affair couldn't be clearer. Theresa May has said that we have only seen "the tip of the iceberg" when it comes to child abuse. That's why we can never return to the days when survivors of child abuse felt unable to speak out because they were ignored or even ridiculed. It does not matter who you are, what you do or how powerful you might be, when someone makes an allegation against you it has to be treated seriously.

I have heard many disturbing and harrowing accounts of child abuse since I asked that question in the House of Commons. It is impossible not to become deeply upset and angry when listening to them. When the death of Leon Brittan was announced, I worried that the justice system would no longer take its course and that the allegations would never be thoroughly investigated. As the tributes flowed in from his lifelong friends I felt for those people who claimed he abused them. I repeated a line used by one of the alleged survivors, who said: "He is close to evil as any human being could get". I shouldn't have repeated such an emotive phrase.

The choice facing anyone who is presented with testimony of this kind is whether to pass it on to the authorities and urge them to investigate or to ignore it. I chose the first option. I felt it was my duty to do so.

Tom Watson is deputy leader of the Labour party and MP for West Bromwich East