Police cover-up and UK libel laws protected top politician, says ex-editor of Sunday Mirror

Commentary: how paedophile Peter Morrison escaped exposureBy Paul Connew | 26 September 2014For every editor who reflects on his or her career, there will always be the frustrating memories of the “stories that got away”.

For me, two of those concern the harrowing subject of child sex abuse, and the haunting spectre of power, celebrity, VIP cover-up and the chilling, intimidating effect of the UK’s draconian libel laws.

The two names in question have entered the lexicon of the UK’s shameful and still-unfolding saga of child sex abuse: the Tory grandee, Sir Peter Morrison, and the BBC star, Jimmy Savile.

In 1994, when I was editing the Sunday Mirror, the paper’s veteran chief crime reporter, Chris House, told me about the story that had frustrated him a few years earlier.

Sir Peter Morrison, former parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to Lady Thatcher when she was prime minister, had been arrested after sexually molesting underage boys in a public lavatory, but it was “covered up” and no charges brought.

The source was a police officer who was dismayed by the turn of events. Morrison’s first reaction on being taken to the police station was to “pull rank”, demanding to see the most senior officer there and unashamedly announcing who he was.

The matter was taken out of the hands of the arresting team who later learned, to their disgust, that it “had been dealt with” and would not be taken any further. With the source unwilling to risk his career by going public, and the paperwork related to the arrest “disappeared”, the only option was to confront Morrison, a flamboyant Old Etonian from a wealthy, aristocratic political dynasty, and a firm favourite of Thatcher.

Morrison, a barrister by background, was MP for Chester from 1974 to 1992, and a previous deputy chairman of the Tory party. He helped run Thatcher’s ill-fated campaign to see off a leadership challenge in 1990.

When a Mirror reporter confronted Morrison at his Chester home, he indignantly dismissed the whole story as “fantasy”, and issued dire legal threats. Without being able to call the paper’s police source as a witness, and with all the documentation about the arrest apparently “killed” by senior police figures, the story died, too.

Chris House told me this just as I was trying to break the story of another VIP paedophile – Savile, another Thatcher favourite.

In an attempt to revive the Morrison case, I managed to establish through a well-connected police contact that the Tory grandee’s previous arrest and proclivities were no great secret among some senior echelons of Scotland Yard. But there was “zero” chance of obtaining any documentation or official confirmation.

Not only that, but Morrison had been arrested more than once in both his Chester constituency and London. The incidents were “hushed up”, according to my source.

It is worth noting that, after the Leveson inquiry into newspaper practices, the climate in many police forces makes it harder for whistleblowing officers to talk to the media.

Only now, nauseatingly, do we know that Morrison’s sordid life was not such a great secret in certain senior Tory circles.

In her diaries, Edwina Currie, former Conservative minister, disclosed that Morrison was a “noted pederast” with a “liking for young boys”.

In July, Lord Tebbit, former Conservative Party chairman, said that he had heard “rumours” about Morrison before he became Thatcher’s PPS in 1990. He challenged Morrison, who flatly denied it.

There is a further disclosure in the updated diaries of Gyles Brandreth, broadcaster and Morrison’s successor as MP for Chester. Published to coincide with the Conservatives’ conference this weekend, Brandreth recounts how William Hague, then Welsh secretary, warned him in 1996 that Morrison, who had died the year before, “might feature” in the inquiry into child sex abuse in children’s homes in north Wales.

I can only turn my frustration over those “stories that got away” by publicly throwing my weight behind the campaign for justice for the thousands of victims of child sex abuse and exposure of the multi-institutional failures and cover-ups that made it possible and shame us as a society.

As work on the overarching inquiry into child sex abuse begins, the truth must be dragged out no matter how rich, how powerful, how well-connected the perpetrators, alive or dead, may be.

Paul Connew is a former editor of the Sunday Mirror, and ex-deputy editor of the Daily Mirror and the News of the World.

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