Paedogate puts the past in the pillory


You know when a scandal has made it to the news big league when it gets the “gate” tag, like Watergate. Well, the last ten days or so in the UK have given us Paedogate, in which the rabid right wing Daily Mail launched a sustained campaign to expose left wing support for the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) when I was its Chair back in the 1970s.

The aim was clearly to embarrass and undermine three leading figures in the Labour party. It worked. Initially dismissed as old hat because the story had been around for years as vague internet gossip, the Mail’s detailed trawl through publicly accessible archives and their own newspaper cuttings library paid off. At last, the rest of the national media finally sat up and paid attention in a big way. The Labour trio who were under fire, thanks to their work for the National Council of Civil Liberties (NCCL), to which PIE was affiliated, were forced to respond publicly. Harriet Harman, now Deputy Leader of the Labour party, angrily denounced the Mail. She had been an NCCL legal officer. Patricia Hewitt, a former cabinet minister in Tony Blair’s government, had a tougher hand to play because she had been NCCL’s General Secretary and had been closely associated with the organisation’s own very radical policy on the age of consent. She was forced into an apology in which she disowned this policy and also wrote:

“As general secretary then, I take responsibility for the mistakes we made. I got it wrong on PIE and I apologise for having done so. I should have urged the executive committee to take stronger measures to protect NCCL’s integrity from the activities of PIE members and sympathisers and I deeply regret not having done so. In particular…Tom O’Carroll should never have been allowed to join the gay rights sub-committee.”

This did not stop The Sun from running a devastating front page the next day:

Sun-Hewitt-Front-533x680What struck me as most interesting, though, was how the other member of the trio reacted. This was Jack Dromey MP, formerly Treasurer of the Labour party and now a Labour shadow minister. He is also Harriet Harman’s husband. He chaired the NCCL for a while during a decade on its executive committee in the 1970s. After I spoke on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said:

“It is no surprise that a convicted paedophile, the like of whom I took action against during my time in the NCCL, should choose to smear me.”

Smear him? Moi? I was doing my best to exonerate him and the other two, not smear them. I was clearly reported on the BBC as saying none of the trio supported PIE or paedophilia. I have been a Labour voter all my adult life, albeit with little enthusiasm in its recent, increasingly authoritarian, years. I had no wish whatever to back the Mail’s savage attack agenda, which really has been a smear campaign.

But Dromey insisted no one would believe a “convicted paedophile” like me.

He was wrong. The words were hardly out of Dromey’s mouth when Melanie Phillips, famous as a fiercely conservative commentator on all things moral, appeared as a panellist on BBC 1’s Question Time political TV show. She said:

“The Paedophile Information Exchange gentleman, Mr O’Carroll, has said, perfectly correctly, the problem was not that Harriet Harman supported paedophilia or PIE… the problem was that it was mixed up with the whole gay rights agenda.”

I did not see any “problem” and her use of the word “gentleman” was no doubt intended as ironic. Nevertheless, at least she very sensibly preferred to take my word over that of a politician desperate to wriggle his way out of a tight spot. Indeed, what thinking person wouldn’t, especially those who know that many of my misfortunes, and PIE’s, can be attributed to an abundance of openness and honesty, not a lack of it. PIE never sailed under a false flag: paedophile was in our name, hence giving an unmissable clue to what we were about. Even the judge, when I was tried for conspiracy to corrupt public morals, told the jury “You may feel Mr O’Carroll has come remarkably clean in his evidence, if that is the phrase for a trial such as this.”

I dwell on Dromey’s attack on my integrity not out of personal pique but because it highlights the reflexive assumption of so many people that being minor-attracted means you must be morally deficient in every conceivable way. Question Time provided another striking example of this when Conservative defence minister Anna Soubry said:

“The other thing we now know about paedophiles is how wickedly cunning they are…I don’t like to stereotype but I think we can with paedophiles. The things they do are bad and evil enough in themselves but their wickedness and cunning, the way that they will inveigle their way into the affections of a child or a mother…”

Note that emotive word “inveigle”. Whereas ordinary, decent, folk become friends and win each other’s affections in a presumptively benign way, the paedophile is assumed to be devious and manipulative, with almost superhuman powers of deception – powers hard to reconcile with the claims of researchers who seek to dehumanise us in the opposite direction, writing us off as mentally deficient, with low IQs, implying we are subhuman.

This “inveigling” allegation, or something very like it, was also used in the context of PIE’s relationship with NCCL. PIE did not merely affiliate with the civil liberties body, oh no. We were said to have “infiltrated” it, as though by stealth, and as though we could not possibly be entitled to take part in the democratic process like any other properly constituted democratic body, which we were, putting forward our policies in proposals presented to government, lobbying members of parliament and so forth. We were even bad-mouthed for having tried to forge alliances with other radical groups, as if this were not part and parcel of ordinary political life. It was implied, indeed asserted openly, that we were so “vile” (definitely the adjective of the moment) we should not have been allowed to take part in this process.

This orgy of shunning and anathematising has had its opponents though. Brendan O’Neill, in Spiked, came up with a classic defence of civil liberties, backing the stance NCCL took all those years ago in allowing PIE to affiliate. He wrote:

“If civil liberties organisations won’t defend the freedoms of speech and association of unpopular groups, then what is the point of them? Respectable groups don’t find their freedoms curtailed. The Women’s Institute is not prevented from publishing its ideas; Labour Party members aren’t arrested for what they write in private letters. It is only the moral outliers of a society who have their right to propagate their beliefs hammered by the authorities, whether it’s gay pornographers, the hard left, Nazis or self-confessed paedophiles. It is the freedom of speech of these deeply unpopular causes that true civil libertarians must defend, firstly because we recognise that freedom of speech means nothing unless it extends to everyone; and secondly because if we allow the state to define a certain outlook as so foul that it ‘corrupts public morals’ and thus must be extinguished, then we set a very dangerous precedent that might one day reach to us and call into question the acceptability of the views we hold, too.”

Germaine Greer, the now venerable and ancient pioneer of Second Wave feminism in the 1970s, was also strikingly forthright in her support for NCCL on Any Questions?, BBC Radio 4’s equivalent of TV’s Question Time. She defended Harriet Harman and said the press appeared to have forgotten what a civil liberties organisation actually does. She defended PIE’s right to put itself forward just like other groups. Revisiting her own stance in the 1970s, she pointed out that the age of consent issue was not just about paedophiles but about young people’s right to a sexual life, which was why she and others had supported changing the law. Remarkably, others on the panel also defended the NCCL and a straw poll of the studio audience (at the Bath Literature Festival, so perhaps a more sophisticated bunch than your average) revealed nearly unanimous support for Harriet Harman. They thought she should not be obliged to apologise for NCCL’s relationship with PIE.

After the best part of a fortnight in which imprecations such as vile, perverted, depraved, disgusting, etc., have been spat out endlessly over the airwaves against me and other former PIE members with perhaps even more venomous, in-your-face force than comes across in print, I hope I will be forgiven the indulgence of quoting a rare comment that perhaps can be seen as putting me in a slightly better light. It was in a local paper near the Open University, where I was a press officer until 1978 when I was sacked after my role in PIE had become a high-profile embarrassment. The Milton Keynes Citizen quoted a former colleague of mine at the university as saying, “Tom O’Carroll was a bit of a charmer. He was a handsome man and an eloquent talker. I can see how people may have been hooked in to support his cause.”

I’d love to know who that was so I could give them a hug! But, of course, being charming etc. is all part of how demonically cunning we are, isn’t it?!

Finally, it might be an idea to give links to some of the stories that were either particularly effective in giving Paedogate momentum, or strikingly bizarre, or even in a few cases informative and insightful. See below. The links are roughly in chronological order, earliest first.

Now say sorry! Ex-Yard chief calls on Labour trio to admit backing paedophilia was a ‘huge mistake’

The ‘right’ to sleep with children was one ‘civil liberty’ that NCCL supported

‘Harman did not want to rock the boat over links to child sex group’

MP Jack Dromey denies paedophile group ‘smear’

‘Paedogate’ Gets Worse For Harriet Harman As PIE Leader Tom O’Carroll Reveals New Details

Harriet Harman rejects claims from paedophile campaigner Tom O’Carroll

Lobbying by paedophile campaign revealed

Harriet Harman, paedophilia and sexual norms: the past seems like another country

Looking back to the great British paedophile infiltration campaign of the 1970s

How did the pro-paedophile group PIE exist openly for 10 years?

Labour chiefs: It’s OK to have sex with 10-yr-olds

Labour’s paedo problems: no reason to gloat

The NCCL was right to affiliate with PIE

Allen Ginsberg, Camille Paglia and the literary champions of paedophilia

Huge sums of TAXPAYER’S cash ‘handed to vile child-sex pervert group’ by Home Office officials

EXCLUSIVE: ‘Paedogate’ storm has its roots in MK

Home Secretary cheated justice by dying!


It’s not Harman and co. the media should be after but Roy Jenkins, the former Home Secretary, who cunningly escaped justice by dying over a decade ago.

Unlike Jimmy Savile whose “victims” (alleged victims, actually, despite increasingly injudicious assertions to the contrary by people who ought to know better, including the politically ambitious former DPP Sir Keir Starmer) numbered only in the hundreds, Jenkins was responsible for policies that affected millions, ushering in the “permissive society” of the 1970s that was responsible for all manner of evils if you believe the likes of Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens – and many presumably do, judging by the sustained ferocity of the campaign against the radicalism of those times in sister paper the Daily Mail this past week.

The “evils” for which Jenkins – possibly the greatest reforming Home Secretary ever – was personally responsible included a stupendous swathe of landmark measures: abolition of the death penalty, liberalisation of the abortion law, the end of theatre censorship, introduction of a defence of literary merit into the law on obscene publications, decriminalization of homosexuality between consenting adult males. Jenkins saw the permissive society as a civilized society. Unlike today’s authoritarian Labour hierarchy who seem happy only when they are banning something, Jenkins was a socialist who believed in freedom. In terms of the French revolutionary slogan, he took liberty as seriously as equality – a rare combination given that these ideals are often seen as in tension with each other.

Jenkins also set the tone at the Home Office for a generation. In 1979, three years after his departure to become President of the European Commission, his former department of state published Sexual Offences, Consent and Sentencing (Home Office Research Study No. 54). It took the recognition of “under-age” consent seriously, using the term “partners” rather than “victims”.

Also – and this will raise eyebrows but I said it way back in 1980 in my book Paedophilia the Radical Case – we had it on reliable authority that Jenkins personally read PIE’s evidence to the Home Office Criminal Law Revision Committee on the age of consent and that our proposals for law reform caught his imagination. He is said to have been impressed but was of the opinion that politically “it hasn’t a hope in hell”.

Jenkins had himself been politically able to encourage thinking that was only marginally less radical than ours, though, thanks to intellectual developments in the previous decades, including the great surveys by Alfred Kinsey which had demonstrated that children can and do behave sexually, including experiencing sexual orgasm from infancy onwards. And, as Jon Henley pointed out in the Guardian in 2001, French thinkers had helped set the pace too:

Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and the… French health and education ministers Bernard Kouchner and Jack Lang were among the signatories of petitions in the 1970s calling for paedophilia to be decriminalised, it emerged….

A number of extraordinary documents have surfaced – in the wake of accusations of possible child sex abuse against the former student revolutionary Danny Cohn-Bendit that are forcing France’s intellectuals to confront the values of the May 1968 revolution and its aftermath, a period that witnessed probably the biggest change in sexual behaviour in recorded history.

The petitions were issued after a 1977 trial that saw three men jailed for non-violent sex offences against children aged 12 and 13.

“Three years in prison for caresses and kisses: enough is enough,” one petition, signed by Mr Kouchner and Mr Lang, said. “French law recognises in 12- and 13-year-olds a capacity for discernment that it can judge and punish,” said a second petition signed by Sartre and De Beauvoir, along with fellow intellectuals Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida; a leading child psychologist, Françoise Dolto; and writers Philippe Sollers, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Louis Aragon. “But it rejects such a capacity when the child’s emotional and sexual life is concerned. It should acknowledge the right of children and adolescents to have relations with whomever they choose.”

By the early 1970s the gay liberation movement was in full swing in the UK and campaigning organisations such as the Gay Liberation Front, and even the more conservative Campaign for Homosexual Equality, did not in those days entirely set their face against paedophilia. It was a time for debate, in which many felt that the now vilified Paedophile Information Exchange was in the vanguard of change because its policies promised to set children free as well as the adults attracted to them.

It was into these heady circumstances, which now seem so distant and exotic, that Mesdames Hewitt and Harman leapt when they decided to join the then very trendy National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL). I believe they thought the job would make a promising platform from which to launch careers as Labour party politicians. I say this with the benefit of hindsight, knowing now what I did not know at the time, namely that they would both become cabinet ministers in Labour governments. Harriet Harman is now Deputy Leader of the Labour party and her husband, trade unionist Jack Dromey, who also served with the NCCL in the 1970s, became Labour’s Treasurer.

For a week or so now this trio has been under immense, sustained, pressure from the Daily Mail and other media to explain why they worked with an organisation that had its own radical policy on sexual law reform, including lowering the age of consent to 14 (or 10, “provided it is demonstrated that consent was clearly given by the child”) and why they allowed the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), castigated by the media as a “vile”, “perverted”, etc. organisation of “predatory paedophiles” to remain affiliated to the NCCL.

The truth of the matter is that none of these three was at all enthusiastic about PIE’s involvement. I know because I was a regular participant in meetings of the NCCL’s gay rights sub-committee in the late 1970s, representing PIE. None of the trio ever attended a meeting of that committee during the sessions I attended and I have no direct evidence of what they thought about PIE. The talk reaching me at the time, though, suggested that they were hostile to PIE, not supportive. To that extent, current Labour leader Ed Miliband is right to support his deputy, as he has done, against any suggestion that she (or indeed the other two) ever actively worked to promote “paedophile rights”.

Not that PIE itself campaigned for any “right” of paedophiles to have sex with children, as the media love to insinuate. Our aim was sexual self-determination for all, regardless of age. The realisation of this aim would merely have legalised adult-child sexual acts in the event of a child being a willing partner.

Of course, I would greatly prefer Miliband to be boldly radical, like Roy Jenkins, but that is a hopeless proposition in the current climate of opinion. It seems to me that in the very different atmosphere of the 1970s Hewitt, Harman and Dromey made a very different calculation. While they did not like PIE and did nothing to support our objectives, they were afraid of appearing insufficiently “right on”; consequently they were nothing like as strenuous and public in their efforts to distance themselves from PIE as they are now claiming. Dromey, in particular, is quoted in the Mail as saying “During my time on the NCCL executive, I was at the forefront of repeated public condemnations of PIE and their despicable views.” That’s news to me, and the Mail said it was unable to locate any such public statements. Maybe by “public” he meant imprecations muttered to cronies at his local pub. I do not know what they did behind the scenes to combat the prevailing radical mood but I do know that they allowed me – or permitted NCCL to allow me – to continue attending the gay rights sub-committee during their watch. My presence was never challenged. I always felt welcome. Eventually, I resigned as Chair of PIE when I was facing a charge of conspiracy to corrupt public morals. That was the logical time to end my attendance at NCCL meetings.

I am scribbling this at midnight because my entire day has been taken up with variously fending off and succumbing to approaches by the media – the Mail (again), the Sun, ITN, BBC (three or four different people throughout the day), the Guardian. Have I missed anyone? Probably, it’s been frenetic. Most of them seemed interested in absolutely nothing beyond the role played by the Labour trio in relation to PIE in the 1970s. The wider context appeared to concern them not one jot.

I should just mention Andrew Gilligan’s piece for the Daily Telegraph a few days ago though, as this was a bit different (“The ‘right’ to sleep with children was one ‘civil liberty’ that NCCL supported”, 21 Feb.). Remember Gilligan? He’s the guy who used to work for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme who famously made a broadcast in May 2003 in which he claimed that the British Government had “sexed up” a report in order to exaggerate the WMD capabilities of Saddam Hussein. He resigned from the BBC in 2004, in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry, after Lord Hutton questioned the reliability of his evidence. In the view of many (including me) he has since been vindicated.

Not that I’m enthusiastic about his report on PIE, for which he trawled through Paedophilia the Radical Case in order to rip my words out of context in a highly unsympathetic way. It was an interesting piece, though, not least for this claim:

PIE’s members, mostly educated and middle-class, were good at finding “progressive” academics – some useful idiots, others rather more sinister – to fight their cause.

I emailed him today (sorry, yesterday, as I’m now well past midnight) to ask which of these academics he regards as idiots and which as sinister – and why. No response yet, but he’s known to be nocturnal so he might fire off a reply about 3am!

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