After finding myself cast as the pantomime villain for the Whitehall farce known as the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), last year, the show finally took to the stage for a three-week run of public hearings last month.

These March hearings focused on the so-called Westminster strand, probing alleged V.I.P. child sex rings and cover-ups in politics and government. The inquiry had asked me to address a number of questions about the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), going back to the 1970s when I had been secretary and then chair. What they wanted from me, chiefly, was information that would confirm or refute an extraordinary claim coming from a senior civil servant, no less – not the most obvious source of wild fantasies – that PIE had been funded through government grants made at the behest of the secret services.

It struck me as a great opportunity to ridicule this absurd claim, backed by irrefutable documentary evidence in my possession. This would contribute to the long overdue and much needed discrediting of a whole gamut of conspiracy theories and allegations that exploded into the media in the wake of the Jimmy Savile “scandal” a few years ago. Among them, it will be recalled, were outrageous lies that falsely portrayed two PIE committee members as brutal murderers, along with the hilarious claim that former prime minister Edward Heath had attended PIE committee meetings.

Five years ago, when I first heard the claim about PIE getting government money, I wrote here at Heretic TOC:

… a former civil servant called Tim Hulbert has been peddling the fantasy that PIE was given as much as £70,000 of government funding. I wish! Unless our treasurer quietly trousered all that lovely lucre for himself, we received not a penny of public money. We always operated on a shoestring. I had assumed this Hulbert character was some low grade tea maker cum errand boy but it turns out he is now retired after ending up as head of social services at Bedfordshire County Council.

Turns out that Hulbert had been a senior consultant in a department overseeing grants to the voluntary sector. In statements made over the last few years he has been adamant that he confronted the head of the department, one Clifford Hindley, saying he had seen a proposal floating around in the office for a grant to PIE, and that he demanded to know what the hell was going on, because he thought it could not possibly be the right thing to do.

He said Hindley, who died some years ago, admitted there had been such a grant and had been of the opinion that PIE was a legitimate campaigning organisation, which made it eligible to be considered for public funding. Hulbert said he had been told to “back off” because the money had been given on the authority of Special Branch to allow it to keep an eye on PIE members. An earlier independent review, published as the Wanless-Whittam Report,  declined to rule this out, saying it would be “odd but not impossible”. Hulbert said he had even seen a copy of PIE’s magazine, Magpie, in the department, possibly in Hindley’s office.

And now, in person at the inquiry, the long-retired Tim Hulbert would insist once more that this conversation with Hindley really had taken place, and that he had seen the grant proposal. I saw the live feed of his evidence from the London hearing; the videos are still online for all to see, here for the morning session (from about 11 minutes in) and here (from the start) for the afternoon.

So, what did I make of it? Hulbert came across to me as slightly confused (not senile, but losing sharpness), of a rather excitable disposition and with an unreliable memory.

But I do not think he is a liar. There were no outright pork pies I could detect. Nor do I think his story is entirely false. His boss Clifford Hindley could very well have been a PIE sympathiser. I had never heard of him until his name emerged in the media following the allegations – but then we learned plenty. High up in the civil service, Hindley had clearly been a scholarly man, a classics, philosophy and theology graduate who studied at Oxford and Cambridge, and with many published articles to his name that showed “an obsessive academic interest in gay relationships between men and boys” as one report put it. These included a number of papers on pederasty in ancient Greece and others on composer Benjamin Britten’s known interest in young boys. Hindley’s focus on man-boy relationships has been monitored and logged just as obsessively by pianist Ian Pace at his Desiring Progress website. Pace discerns a tone sympathetic to man-boy eroticism in Hindley’s writing and I think he is correct.

What’s more,  soon after Hindley’s name came to media attention I had an email from an Italian postgraduate student who just happened to have bought a second-hand copy of my book Paedophilia: The Radical Case on Amazon. It bore the hand-written name Clifford Hindley on the fly-leaf, having apparently been his own personal copy. On several pages there were notes in the margins revealing the owner’s thoughts about aspects of the text – thoughts which definitely suggest a scholarly brain at work, such as Hindley obviously possessed. In my view, this definitely has to be our man. But before Mr Pace sees this and starts wetting himself with excitement, I should report there is nothing remotely salacious in these marginalia; the notes are more legalistic than erotic.

From the fly-leaf of Hindley’s copy of Paedophilia: The Radical Case

But none of this means Hindley ever succeeded in smuggling a grant through the system or even that he tried to do so. If there was an attempt, I know perfectly well he did not succeed, because I was familiar with PIE’s accounts at the relevant time. I was even able to submit a 1970s treasurer’s report as an exhibit for the inquiry, showing where all our very limited money was coming from, which was mainly from membership subscriptions. The Wanless-Whittam inquiry mentioned above had been unable to trace any money trail leading to PIE, which is not surprising as no money reached us.

Hulbert characterised that inquiry as shallow and “like something out of Yes Minister” – not so much Wanless as clueless. But Hulbert had no documentary or witness evidence to support either his suspicions against his boss or the cloak-and-dagger theory of secret service involvement. By contrast, Brian Altman QC, counsel to IICSA, had referred in an earlier session to my written statement and told the public hearing that my version was “consistent with the other evidence” on the matter.

In the end it was Hulbert who ended up looking like a buffoon from a satirical TV show. He started squealing like a stuck pig when Altman began politely asking a few gently sceptical questions about his evidence. It was “outrageous” that his word should be questioned in this way; he felt “insulted” to be subjected to such a “cross-examination”.

Best of all, though, was a moment of absurdity that that went way beyond Yes Minister. This would be the full Monty Python!

It came when Hulbert’s dodgy memory dug up a dim recollection that he had seen a grant renewal spreadsheet in the office with an entry on it relating to a grant for the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS). This was a biggy because the WRVS were getting over £1 million a year. One line of the paperwork indicated a grant listed as WRVS (P.I.E.), according to Hulbert. He thought this was an attempt to hide money (some tens of thousands of pounds ) going to the Paedophile Information Exchange by hiding it within the much bigger grant going to WRVS.

What he actually saw, though, in all probability, was not WRVS (P.I.E.) but WVS (PIE). This emerged in the hearing through reference to something Hulbert could well have stumbled across in the archives, dating back to the wartime work of the WRVS going back to 1941, before the organisation was “royal” and was just the plain WVS.

This would have been referring not to P.I.E. (or PIE) the paedophile organisation but to actual pies, the ones we eat! The inquiry heard that the WVS ran something called the Rural Pie Scheme thorough which millions of pies and snacks were distributed to agricultural workers during the war.

Who would ever have guessed that one of the unfortunate consequences of the Second World War (though hardly among the most unfortunate, except, perhaps, from Hulbert’s point of view!) would be that an aging civil servant would make a fool of himself at a public airing of events far removed from the war effort nearly three quarters of a century after it had ended! Priceless!

Hand-written notes in Hindley’s own copy of Paedophilia: The Radical Case.

Another remarkable feature of the inquiry for me was the surprisingly sad spectacle of some bitter testimony given by retired detective sergeant Bryan Collins, who had been with the Obscene Publications Squad (OPS) in the 1970s. I knew him all too well: he was the officer who arrested me in 1978 the course of the police investigation of PIE and who handled the case until its conclusion with my conviction for conspiracy to corrupt public morals in 1981.

I have nothing against him personally. He told the inquiry he had been hand-picked by the OPS chief as an “honest cop” following a notorious period in the history of the Metropolitan Police Service when corruption had been rife, with officers taking substantial cash bribes from those operating “sex shops” and the like in the capital, to dissuade them from seizing pornographic magazines, etc., that were on sale, and from launching prosecutions.

Offering a big bribe was well out of my financial league so I never had a chance to put Collins’ honesty to the test. But I have no reason to doubt it either. In fact, if he is to be believed, he and a now deceased colleague turned down an extremely tasty offer of £25,000 each – huge money in those days – from former PIE member Sir Peter Hayman to drop an investigation against him.

Collins is clearly still angry and bitter some forty years later over the fact that the case against Hayman was dropped, despite strong evidence against him in relation to child pornography. To him, it was very clearly an establishment cover-up. To have prosecuted Hayman would have been too embarrassing to the powers that be, given that he had been deputy commandant of the British military government in West Berlin from 1964 to 1966, and had served as High Commissioner to Canada. He was also the only real, as opposed to fantasy, secret services person we now know about in PIE’s history, as he had also been deputy director of MI6 – oops, sorry, there may have been Geoffrey Prime as well, but he spied for Russia!

Hayman did not escape embarrassment in the end, of course. As those who know their PIE history will be aware, the story of the dropped prosecution came out in Private Eye, and then Geoffrey Dickens MP called out Hayman in parliament as a paedophile.

What really sticks in Collins’ craw is that instead of being given credit for mounting what could have been a successful prosecution of Hayman, he and another officer on the investigation were blamed for leaking the story to the press. As he put it:

All they were interested in was getting somebody’s head to roll for what was published in Private Eye. That was their only intent … I was good at my job. And they couldn’t have cared less. They ruined me – it is not good to stand there and somebody turns around to you and says, “You’ve done this. You’ve committed an offence. We want your warrant card… To me, that was – I’d rather be stabbed than have that happen.”

As for the cover up, it had been achieved via a cosy (and very unusual, if not irregular) private chat between Hayman’s solicitor, Sir David Napley, and the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Thomas Hetherington. Here’s how the inquiry heard it:

Altman:  The way you see it, Mr Collins, it was Sir Thomas Hetherington doing a deal with Sir David Napley in relation to Sir Peter Hayman?

Collins:  Best club in the world, isn’t it: three knights of the realm? You know, not bad, is it?

Altman: Well, that will be for others to answer.

Bryan Collins and I seemed to have a totally different view of everything. I remember him saying to me we probably couldn’t even agree on what the weather was like. I have to say, though, he is dead right on this one.  And despite our differences I couldn’t help feeling considerable sympathy for him after hearing this testimony.