Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader, has issued a partial retraction over his allegations of child sexual abuse against the former Conservative home secretaryLeon Brittan.
Watson said on Friday that after his death in January, he should not have written that Lord Brittan was “as close to evil as any human being can get”. He said the phrase, which came from an alleged victim of child abuse, was emotive and he should not have used it.
However, Watson declined to apologise for asking the police to launch a fresh investigation into Brittan, saying it was his duty to pass allegations of child sexual abuse to the police.
He pointed out that his questions in parliament about a network of paedophiles had led to convictions, and insisted “my motivation throughout has been to help victims as best as I could”.
He said he had heard what he regarded as compelling evidence from an alleged victim of child abuse relating to Brittan, and felt it was his duty to pass the evidence to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to reach a judgment after examining all the available evidence.
Brittan has been exonerated by the police of allegations of raping a woman, but his name had also been passed to police as one of a series of high profile figures involved in a Westminster child sex ring. The credibility of one of the key witnesses concerning these allegations was seriously questioned in a BBC Panorama programme this week.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, defended his deputy saying: “He does great work exposing some horrific activities, he should be congratulated for doing that.”
In a Huffington Post blog, Watson added: “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.
“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.”
Brittan’s brother, Sir Samuel Brittan, 83, had called on Watson to apologisedirectly to his sister-in-law, Lady Diana, for wrongly accusing her late husband of rape and child abuse. He claimed Watson had damaged Brittan’s reputation with “unforgiveable” slurs.
Samuel Brittan, a retired former Financial Times executive and columnist, said: “He should apologise to my sister-in law for making unfounded accusations against my brother. And he should apologise in public as well.”
He condemned police for their “outrageous treatment” of his brother, adding: “I was brought up with people saying the English police were wonderful. I’m not sure I could repeat that now.”
After Brittan died in January, Watson wrote an article describing how the peer stood “accused of multiple child rape” and repeated accusations he said came from victims that Brittan was “as close to evil as any human being could get”.
In an article in the Daily Mirror, Watson wrote: “It is not for me to judge whether the claims made against Brittan are true. It’s for the police to investigate these claims as they continue to do. But I believe the people I’ve spoken to are sincere.”
During his lifetime, Brittan consistently denied allegations of child sexual abuse.