22 Jan 2015

Former home secretary Leon Brittan dies after cancer battle

Former home secretary Leon Brittan dies of cancer. His final years saw controversy over his handling of a dossier into alleged child abuse, and he faced police questioning over a sexual allegation.

Lord Brittan, 75, was home secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government between 1993 and 1985.

Paying tribute, Prime Minister David Cameron said of him: “”Leon Brittan was a dedicated and fiercely intelligent public servant. As a central figure in Margaret Thatcher’s government, he helped her transform our country for the better by giving distinguished service as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.”

A kind, assiduous and brilliant man William Hague MP

Lord Brittan spent a decade in Brussels from 1989 to 1999 as one of the UK’s European commissioners, and also served as vice-president of the Commission from 1989 to 1993.

Elected MP for Cleveland & Whitby in 1974, he held the seat until 1983 and then became MP for Richmond, Yorkshire, from 1983 to 1988. Leader of the House William Hague, who succeeded him as MP for Richmond in 1989, announced his death to the Commons, describing him as “a kind, assiduous and brilliant man.”

Missing dossier

After years out of the public eye, Lord Brittan came under renewed scrutiny after he told Channel 4 News he could not remember being handed a 50-page dossier of allegations about a paedophile ring, compiled by the late Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens.

It was later revealed that Lord Brittan had been at a meeting at which the dossier had been presented to the Home Office, but he said in a statement that “appropriate action” had subsequently been taken.

The extent of his social contact with the former Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf also caused problems for the government when the revelation that Ms Woolf had been to supper with Lord Brittan, a neighbour, five times since 2008 eventually forced her to step down as head of an inquiry into historic child abuse.

Conservative peer, Lord Lamont, paid tribute to his long-time friend and cabinet colleague, telling Channel 4 News he was “one of the cleverest men of his generation”. However, when asked about the allegations surrounding the dossier, Lord Lamont denied any wrongdoing, saying that the former home secretary had handled it “with integrity”.

Child abuse campaigner Mark Williams-Thomas tweeted “the death of #LeonBrittan will certain[ly] allow the publication of certain information that was known & had recently been investigated” adding in a subsequent tweet “the police as part of Op Yewtree undertook an investigation into #LeonBritan as a direct result of an allegation in 2013.”

In 2014 Lord Brittan confirmed that he had been questioned by police about an allegation of sexual assault, but in a statement said “this allegation is wholly without foundation.”

In a statement made by his family, they said: “As a family, we should like to pay tribute to him as a beloved husband to Diana and brother to Samuel, and a supportive and loving stepfather to Katharine and Victoria, and step-grandfather to their children.

A shy but kindly man, he was always more likely to encourage than condemn Former prime minister John Major

“We also salute his extraordinary commitment to British public life as a Member of Parliament, Minister, Cabinet Minister, European Commissioner and Peer – together with a distinguished career in law, and latterly in business.

“Leon passed away last night at his home in London after a long battle with cancer. We shall miss him enormously.”

His family said there will be a private funeral service for family only, and a memorial service will be announced.