Ex-health secretary Patricia Hewitt has apologised for getting it “wrong” on a paedophile group when she was at the helm of a civil rights organisation.

From 1974 to 1983, the Labour MP was general secretary for the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL), when it granted “affiliate” status to the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE).

Ms Hewitt said the NCCL had been “naive and wrong” about the group, which wanted to make child sex legal, and that as general secretary she took responsibility for the mistakes.

She along with Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman and her MP husband Jack Dromey – who also worked at the NCCL – have been accused in a series of Daily Mail articles of being sympathetic to paedophiles.

Politics - MI5 Surveillance Operation Ruling - Press Conference - Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt - House of Commons
Ms Harman, left, and Ms Hewit, right, both worked at the NCCL, now Liberty

The newspaper has demanded the three Labour stalwarts apologise to the victims of child sex abuse.

In her first public response to the allegations, Ms Hewitt said any suggestion she condoned or supported the “vile crimes” of child abusers was “completely untrue”.

Harriet Harman
Ms Harman fiercely denied claims she was an ‘apologist for paedophilia’

“NCCL in the 1970s, along with many others, was naive and wrong to accept PIE’s claim to be a ‘campaigning and counselling organisation’ that ‘does not promote unlawful acts’,” she said.

“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.”

She also defended the roles played by Ms Harman and Mr Dromey, a Labour frontbencher.

“When Jack Dromey, as NCCL chairman in 1976, vigorously opposed PIE at the NCCL AGM, he did so with the full support of the executive committee and myself as general secretary,” she said.

“Harriet did not join the NCCL staff until 1978. She was one of two legal officers, neither of whom was a member of the executive committee.”

Ms Hewitt said she had been away for the past 12 days while the controversy was raging in the media.

During that time, Ms Harman has had a war of words with the Daily Mail over its claims she was an “apologist for paedophilia”.

Ms Harman insisted the tabloid’s stories were part of a “politically motivated smear campaign”.

Jack Dromey
Mr Dromey was on the NCCL executive committee in the 1970s

Unlike Ms Hewitt, Ms Harman, the NCCL legal officer from 1978 to 1982, has refused to apologise saying there was no reason for her to do so, but she “expressed regret” PIE ever existed.

In response to the Daily Mail’s claims, Mr Dromey said: “Sexual abuse of children is evil and I have always viewed paedophiles and any group associated with them as evil.

“During my time on the NCCL executive, I was at the forefront of repeated public condemnations of PIE and their despicable views.”

The Daily Mail’s consultant editor Andrew Pierce hit back at their statements, saying Ms Harman and Mr Dromey should have done more to distance NCCL from the “disgusting” PIE.

PIE, which has now been disbanded, was founded by Tom O’Carroll, who has been described as a “sexually predatory” paedophile.

He was allowed to make a speech at the NCCL spring conference in 1977.

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