Conservative grandees could come under pressure to hand over their whips’ secret ‘Dirt Book’ to the wide-ranging child sex abuse inquiry announced yesterday
by Theresa May – in case it includes evidence to prove that a paedophile ring once operated in and around Westminster and was covered up.
A 20-year-old BBC documentary has been dug up in which a former Conservative whip, Tim Fortescue, admits that whips would offer to help MPs hush up potentially scandalous situations – including those involving “small boys” – in order to effectively blackmail them in the future into toeing the party line when they were required to vote on controversial issues.
Fortescue, a government whip from 1970 to 1973, when Ted Heath was prime minister, says in the documentary (see below, from 23.34 – 25.25): “Anyone with any sense who is in trouble would come to the whips and tell them the truth, ‘I am in a jam – can you help?’ It might be debt, it might be a scandal involving small boys, or any kind of scandal that a member seems likely to be mixed up in.
“We would do anything we could because we would store up brownie points. That sounds a pretty nasty reason but if we could get a chap out of trouble, he would do what we ask for ever more.”
The whips’ so-called ‘Dirt Book’ or ‘Black Book’ was the stuff of legend in Westminster until Michael Cockerell made the 1995 documentary and got the Tory peer Willie Whitelaw, a former chief whip in the 1960s, to confirm it on screen. “It was just a little book in which you wrote down various things you heard about people,” said Lord Whitelaw, who died in 1999.
It is not known whether the ‘Dirt Books’ for the 1970s and 1980s still survive or whether, like so much other potential evidence in this saga, they have “disappeared”.
Fortescue died in 2008 but his comments in Cockerell’s documentary were raised in the Commons yesterday by Lisa Nandy, Labour MP for Wigan, who said it was “a powerful example of how personal and political interests can conspire to prevent justice from happening.”
Theresa May told her: “It is not my intention that political parties be outside the scope of the inquiry. It has to be wide-ranging and it has to look at every area where it is possible that people have been guilty of abuse.”
The revelations about the Tory whips’ agreement to hush-up potential scandals will likely add fuel to the growing tensions between Tory grandees, who have started to fall out.
David Mellor, a Conservative Home Office minister from 1989 to 1990, said last night on Channel 4 News
that Lord (Leon) Brittan, the former Home Secretary, was “deeply upset” by Lord (Norman) Tebbit’s remark to Andrew Marr that there may have been an Establishment cover-up over child sex abuse.
“I am not sure where Norman Tebbit is coming from,” said Mellor. “I know what he said deeply upset Leon Brittan. I don’t know whether Norman at this time in his career needs evidence to make these kind of headline-grabbing assertions.”
Brittan issued a statement yesterday insisting he had acted properly by handing over to his Home Office officials the dossier
prepared by Geoffrey Dickens, the late Tory MP, which apparently named names in the alleged child sex abuse scandal.
Mellor made the point that it was the Tory government that had criminalised the Paedophile Information Exchange while leading members of the Labour Party were members of an organisation, the National Council for Civil Liberties, that once advocated PIE’s position.
Ex-Tory ministers like Mellor are clearly furious that the Tories are taking the flak, when all three main parties could yet see skeletons tumbling out of the cupboard. ·