Tom Watson has said he will write to the widow of Leon Brittan to apologise directly after he was criticised by MPs for repeating a claim that he was “as close to evil as any human could get” in connection with sex abuse allegations against the Tory peer.
Brittan, who died earlier this year after a long battle with cancer, has long been linked to allegations of paedophilia and an establishment cover-up.
The Jewish politician was a key figure in Margaret Thatcher’s government before becoming a European Commissioner.
The campaigning Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson was accused of acting inappropriately over his reference to the words of an alleged sex abuse survivor in a newspaper article following the late politician’s death.
Scotland Yard was also attacked over “errors of judgment” in the case in a scathing report by the Commons Home Affairs Committee.
Lord Brittan died in January without being told he would not face action over a claim, made to police in November 2012, that he raped a 19-year-old woman known as “Jane” in 1967.
Mr Watson has faced criticism over his involvement in the matter.
He said he was “sincerely sorry” for repeating the phrase and the distress caused to the family of Lord Brittan when he appeared before the committee last month.
But in their report, members suggested he should go further and write to the late politician’s widow, describing his remarks at the hearing as a “qualified apology”.
It said: “We consider that it would have been more appropriate for Mr Watson to have written to Lady Brittan to apologise, and we recommend that he now does so.”
The committee said it accepted Mr Watson’s motivation in bringing the case to the attention of police, but said: “It is unfortunate that, in writing the article, he could not have hoped to achieve anything other than to further impugn the name of Lord Brittan.”
It was “not appropriate” for the Labour MP to have made the comments in the press, the report said, saying it could have impacted on the Goddard inquiry into child abuse.
“Despite the police not naming Lord Brittan, Mr Watson took it upon himself to do so in the press. He did not first contact the police to find out why they had not named Lord Brittan nor did he contact the Goddard.”
It also recommended that MPs should refrain from using parliamentary privilege or their position to name suspects that have not been identified by police.
Police originally determined that the rape complaint against Lord Brittan should not be pursued more than a year before he died.
But the investigation was reopened and he was quizzed under caution in May last year while suffering from terminal cancer.
Mr Watson faced intense scrutiny after it emerged that the interview was carried out shortly after he wrote to the director of public prosecutions asking for the case to be reviewed.
The committee said that although it is “entirely proper” for an MP to try to help those who bring cases to their attention, this can “can create difficulties in determining where the line should be drawn” in matters relating to the criminal justice system.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, said: “Members of Parliament should take care that their passion for justice should not cross the line into areas that are not appropriate or for giving rise to any perception, real or imagined, that the criminal justice system is being used for other purposes.
“An apology from Tom Watson to Lady Brittan would draw a line under these unfortunate circumstances.”
In response to the report, Mr Watson said: “I apologised on national television for repeating the words of an alleged abuse survivor.
“I made it clear that I was sincerely sorry for the distress caused to Lady Brittan and her family.
“I didn’t write to her because I wasn’t sure that a letter from me would be well received.
“But if committee members consider that to be the correct course of action, I will certainly heed their advice and write to Lady Brittan.”
Leon Brittan was buried in an unmarked grave for fears it would be vandalised, due allegations of covering up of a paedophile ring.
His burial on 28 January of this year was ‘very private’, and upon the request of the family, only those who have their permission can see the grave.
They outlined that fears of the grave being vandalised due to the accusations are the main driver for the decision, according to Exaro, the Investigative Journalist site.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.
By Joe Millis