21 Oct 2015

Tom Watson apologises for Brittan comments

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson apologises to Lord Brittan’s widow for repeating a claim that the former Conservative home secretary was “close to evil”.

Appearing in front of the home affairs select committee, Mr Watson said he was “very sorry for the distress caused” to Lord Brittan.

He apologised for repeating a claim by an alleged abuse victim who had described him as “as close to evil as any human being could get”.

He told MPs: “I do regret using that phrase. That was not a phrase that I used, it was an alleged victim that used that phrase. But I do regret using that emotive language. I shouldn’t have done and I’m sincerely sorry for repeating it. It was unnecessary.”

Rape allegation

Lord Brittan died in January without being told the Metropolitan police had dropped a rape allegation against him and the Met has apologised to his widow.

Earlier, the former head of the Metropolitan Police VIP paedophile unit told the commitee that Mr Watson’s intervention in the Brittan case undermined other inquiries into the activities of other high profile alleged paedophiles.

DCI Paul Settle suggested that his involvement had had a “deep seated” effect on the way police conduct investigations.

He added that he was removed as head of the unit investigating high profile paedophiles because he had “taken a stand” by saying the investigation into Leon Brittan should not be taken further.

Labour’s deputy leader was being questioned by MPs, alongside senior police officers and prosecutors, in relation to their conduct over abuse allegations relating to Lord Brittan.

‘Very low blow’

DCI Settle said that Mr Watson’s decision to write to the DPP about the Lord Brittan case was “a very low blow” and “a betrayal” of the inquiry. The police officer, who stepped away from Operation Fernbridge last October, added that he felt Mr Watson’s intervention “undermined” the investigations carried out by his department by directing their attention away from other important work.

However he added that information passed to police by Mr Watson has led to three successful prosecutions. DCI Settle said his unit investigated “in the region of 400” allegations, but many were little more than “rumour”.

Assistant commissioner Steve Rodhouse said that he reopened the case because it was “close cut” and the “public needed reassurance”.

In July 2013 the Crown Prosecution Service found there was not enough evidence for a prosecution of Lord Brittan over a claim that he had raped a 19-year-old female student in 1967. The case was then reopened less than a year later.


During the second investigation, Lord Brittan, who was suffering from terminal cancer at the time, had no charges brought against him.

A month before this interview Mr Watson had written a letter to the head of the CPS calling for a review of abuse allegation against the peer. Although the allegation was well publicised in the media the letter was only passed in full to police in June, after the interview of Lord Brittan.

Mr Watson, who as a backbench MP led calls for a full inquiry into allegations of child abuse by public figures, has previously refused to apologise for his role in the case.

Earlier this month, the Met published the key findings of a report into the handling of the Brittan case.

It revealed investigating officers told the complainant in April that there would not have been a prosecution for rape had Lord Brittan still been alive – a move which a Met spokesman says was “premature”, as the CPS did not confirm it would not pursue the case until June.