Of all the disgraceful slurs made against Leon Brittan, perhaps the most shameful came in an article the former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson wrote for the Sunday Mirror, just three days after Lord Brittan’s death.
Under the headline ‘Time is right to finally get to the truth’ he wrote the most devastating character assassination imaginable on a man of good character who had not yet been buried.
Part of it read:
Yesterday, one survivor said to me that Brittan ‘showed me no kindness or warmth’.
That Brittan was ‘as close to evil as a human being could get in my view’. This survivor said that Brittan and the others ‘took my childhood, they took the very essence of who I was and finally he’s taken away my right to see justice done’.
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.
You can’t listen to a two-hour testimony of an abuse survivor and walk away when the going gets tough.
And any snorts of derision aimed at me from media commentators are nothing compared with the ruined lives of abuse victims.
Former Home Secretary Leon Brittan stands accused of multiple child rape.
Many others knew of these allegations and chose to remain silent. I will not.
The police must continue their investigations.
That ‘survivor’ of Lord Brittan was ‘Nick’ – aka Carl Beech, the most notorious liar, hoaxer, in British criminal history. Another of Mr Watson’s sources for the column was ‘Jane’, the mentally ill Labour activist with a history of making false allegations.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson wrote a devastating article for the Sunday Mirror, just three days after Lord Brittan’s death
When I raise the details of that article with Lady Brittan, it is the only time in our many hours together that she loses her composure and the tears begin to fall.
‘It was about the most despicable thing I think a human being could do to another,’ she told me.
‘To say that sort of thing about someone, when they have just died … I just thought it was an awful and terrible thing to do.
‘If you are going to make those sort of allegations, make them when someone is alive. They are protected by the laws of libel. But to do it so soon after someone had died. Those words, in that way, [were] not only despicable but also an act of cowardice.
‘How can you do that? Whatever you may feel to a fellow human being, and indeed to their family…’
Lady Brittan cannot fathom the reasons for Mr Watson’s seemingly very personal crusade against her husband
Ten months later, on the insistence of the Commons home affairs committee, Mr Watson belatedly sent a handwritten letter of apology to Lady Brittan. ‘I was grateful for that. But when you have said something of that nature, at that time, about someone you deeply love, it’s very offensive,’ she says.
‘To make it public in a newspaper it seems to me that there is nothing that can take away the hurt of actually having said it. That the act is done. And there is almost no apology you can make for it.’
Mr Watson’s handwritten ‘apology’, I can reveal, was just 120 words long and was on House of Commons notepaper.
It can have taken only a few minutes, at most, to write. Compare that with the 627 words of character assassination that the press standards campaigner wrote in his Sunday Mirror column.
To this day, Lady Brittan cannot fathom the reasons for Mr Watson’s seemingly very personal crusade against her husband. ‘Apart from maybe catapulting himself up to the higher echelons of the Labour Party, I didn’t entirely understand the motivation, unless it was personal hatred,’ she says. ‘I have no idea.’
For her, Mr Watson ‘turned the knife’ more than any of the politicians who made unsubstantiated claims against her husband. Some, although not Mr Watson, even suggested Lord Brittan was ‘hiding behind illness’ to avoid being held to account.
That ‘survivor’ of Lord Brittan was ‘Nick’ – aka Carl Beech (pictured), the most notorious liar, hoaxer, in British criminal history
In April 2015, the Met asked the CPS to review the file on Jane’s allegations for a fourth and final time, and it was rejected that June.
Finally, Lord Brittan’s name was in the clear – and it was Mr Watson’s reputation that lay in tatters. Not that it prevented him landing a plum new job.
Though he has [thus far] been denied the peerage he craves, Mr Watson was appointed chairman of UK Music last year – to the horror of many in the industry.
Given Lady Brittan’s testimony today, those who saw fit to appoint him to the role may wish to reflect of the wisdom of that decision.
Does a man who put a grieving widow through ‘the most despicable thing a human being could do to another’ really have the necessary judgment to be the ambassador for British music?
And should his old friend, the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, consider trying to get Mr Watson a peerage in the future?
Lady Brittan says: ‘The only thing I’ve wished to say publicly, is that the House of Lords abides by the same rules as the House of Commons. And both of them have parliamentary privilege. And I do think that there was a misuse of parliamentary privilege in the House of Commons by him [Mr Watson].
‘The members of the House of Lords are legislators and somehow, you do have to try and make sure that everyone who goes into the House of Lords does at least adhere to the seven standards of public life.
‘And one of those perhaps, is, you have to be honest, and you have to be transparent and you have to have probity. And you shouldn’t do things that you shouldn’t do.
‘A lot of this stuff, a lot of what has been said, it’s water under the bridge for me. But nonetheless, I do feel very strongly about misusing the privileges that Parliament gives you.’