UK & World News

  • 1 March 2014, 0:38

Hewitt 'Backed Age Of Consent As Low As 10'

Former Labour cabinet minister Patricia Hewitt allegedly called for the age of consent to be reduced to as low as 10.

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

The ex-Health Secretary has apologised and conceded she 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.

Sky's Political Correspondent Sophy Ridge said: "I think the timing of this (apology), well you can draw your own conclusions, it came a day before The Sun uncovered concrete evidence linking her to some very controversial policies."

It is alleged that in March 1976 Mrs Hewitt put her name to a NCCL press release, that not only supported abolishing incest as a crime, but also lowering the age of consent.

The press release, obtained by The Sun, quoted her as saying: "NCCL proposes that the age of consent should be lowered to 14, with special provision for situations where the partners are close in age, or where consent of a child over 10 can be proved."

The policy caused controversy at the time and Sky News has uncovered a letter sent toMs Hewitt in July 1976by a woman, a member of the public, who expressed her concerns.

The woman wrote: "I really feel that if you consider you must protect men, rather than little girls, then you cannot be taken seriously."

Ridge said: "Clearly, some people were worried about the policies that the NCCL were pursuing."

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

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, 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.

Ms Hewitt 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."

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.

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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