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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster Investigation Report

Contents

E.3: The Conservative Party and Sir Peter Morrison

70. Sir Peter Morrison was the Conservative MP for the City of Chester between 1974 and 1992.

71. Peter Morrison held several senior roles in government and in the Conservative Party. Between May 1979 and January 1982 he was Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury (a senior whip).[1] Between June 1983 and September 1985 he was Minister of State for Employment, and between September 1985 and September 1986 he was Minister of State for Trade and Industry. From September 1986 to June 1987 he was the Conservative Party Deputy Chairman. Norman Tebbit (now Lord Tebbit) was Conservative Party Chairman between September 1985 and June 1987, so their time in Central Office overlapped by about nine months. From June 1987 to July 1990 Peter Morrison was Minister of State for Energy and from July to November 1990 he was Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. He was knighted in 1991 and stood down from Parliament before the 1992 general election. He died in 1995 aged 51.

72. In the course of the investigation, we examined some of the allegations made against Peter Morrison. We focussed in particular on how those allegations were responded to not only by the Conservative Party, both locally and nationally, but also by the wider political community and other institutions in Westminster. We heard from witnesses who were politically active in Chester during the period when Peter Morrison was the city’s MP and those in Westminster who had dealings with him and his alleged conduct. The questions we have to consider are what people knew about those matters and what they did about them. Was there a cover-up and, if so, who was complicit in it?

Chester

73. There had been rumours in Chester about Peter Morrison’s sexuality for many years. According to Grahame Nicholls, who was a lifelong trade unionist and Labour Party member, in the 1970s and 1980s the rumours that Peter Morrison liked “little boys” had been “rife”, and not only had he heard it but also “the political elite of Chester” knew the rumours. The political elite included the Conservatives.[2] By “little boys”, Mr Nicholls was talking about 11 to 17-year-olds. Mr Nicholls continued “Nobody did anything but everybody knew he had a way for young children”.[3] Mr Nicholls had also heard a particular rumour about an incident at Crewe railway station with a 15-year-old boy.[4]

74. Christine Russell was the Labour Party election agent for Chester between 1986 and 1992, later becoming PPC for Labour and then MP for Chester in 1997. Ms Russell, who met Peter Morrison three times in the 1980s, said she found him to be “quite aloof and arrogant”.[5] She heard about an incident at Crewe railway station which, depending on who was telling the story, involved him being taken off a train for having molested a boy on the train or being arrested in the men’s toilets at the station, having indulged in some sexual activity with young men.[6] A third allegation was of wild parties at his constituency home involving a select list of guests and young men.[7] Ms Russell confirmed that Chester had been “awash with rumours about Peter Morrison’s private life  his alcoholism and penchant for young men  from the early 1980s onwards”.[8] Ms Russell told us that the rumours were widespread not only within the political community but also throughout Chester. She said the allegations were being made by police officers and Conservative councillors. When she asked them what they were doing about the rumours, the response would be “he’s being protected”, which she thought meant they had tried to substantiate the rumours or had not bothered as it would be a pointless exercise.[9] She told us that Conservative councillors would say he was “being protected from on high”, in other words by the upper echelons of the Conservative Party.[10]

75. Gyles Brandreth, who succeeded Morrison to become Conservative MP for Chester in 1992, recalled meeting Peter Morrison during his candidacy for the seat. He found him to be a heavy drinker and smoker, and he sensed that he was homosexual. Morrison told him that he had been a Minister of State, a Privy Councillor and PPS to Mrs Thatcher, that he could not see himself moving further and that it had been made clear to him he was not going to join the Cabinet. Peter Morrison told Mr Brandreth that it was therefore time to get out and make some money by going into business.[11] Other evidence, to which we will come, suggests this was nothing more than Peter Morrison window-dressing to conceal the true reason for his standing down. When he was out canvassing knocking on doors, Mr Brandreth was told in no uncertain terms that Peter Morrison was “a monster who interfered with children” but there was nothing to substantiate these “slurs”, as he described them.[12]

76. Patricia Green’s late husband, Ralph Green, was selected to stand for the Liberal Party in Chester in 1974. In a 2018 police interview, Mrs Green said she and her husband were aware that Peter Morrison was homosexual but were unconcerned about that. In the late 1980s, they became aware that Peter Morrison had been involved in an incident on a train involving a boy. The allegation was that he had sexually assaulted the boy. They understood that he had been removed from the train at Crewe railway station. She recalled Peter Morrison had been travelling back from Westminster. Mrs Green said she had no direct evidence and her knowledge was based on rumour, adding both Labour and the Liberal Party “were talking about the information, which was so strongly believed that a by-election was going to be proposed”. She thought news of the Crewe incident “was suppressed due to his privileged background”.[13] In her 2019 Inquiry witness statement,[14] Mrs Green added that rumours circulated about Peter Morrison’s behaviour during his time as an MP, suggesting that he took an unhealthy interest in young people.

77. Frances Mowatt was the agent and secretary to the City of Chester Conservative Association in 1974. In 1988, she left the area to move to Essex after the 1987 election. She knew both Grahame Nicholls and Christine Russell. Mrs Mowatt told us that she heard no rumours about Peter Morrison’s sexual life or private life the whole time she was in Chester. The words ‘sexual life or private life’ were used by Counsel to the Inquiry when asking Mrs Mowatt if she had heard rumours about those aspects of his life. The words are sufficiently broad to embrace child sexual abuse, homosexuality and drunkenness but Mrs Mowatt said she had heard no such rumours. She said she did not recognise Christine Russell’s description of the rumours in Chester, and as far as she was concerned Ms Russell was mistaken.[15]

78. In the course of her evidence, Ms Russell told us about a meeting Mrs Mowatt initiated between Mrs Mowatt and the late David Robinson, the former Labour Party agent and PPC who became the Labour candidate in the 1987 election. She said that the meeting took place during an election period but she could not recall if it was the 1987 general election or the 1988 local elections. What she could remember was a call from Mrs Mowatt asking if David Robinson was there and it ended up with him meeting Mrs Mowatt in a mews running between Labour Party headquarters and the Conservative office. She recalled Mr Robinson returning and telling people in the office that Peter Morrison was not going to stand down but that Mrs Mowatt had told him that Morrison was “not a well man and probably won’t be standing in the next election”. Ms Russell understood the meeting to be connected with the allegations against Peter Morrison. Ms Russell thought Mrs Mowatt was trying “to protect Morrison against coverup”, and was “naively assuming that if she was reasonable and assured David that Peter Morrison would be standing down at the next election, then, … in return, we would desist from joining in the accusations”, although as she pointed out, Labour were not making them.[16]

79. A letter from Patrick Walker of the Security Service (MI5) to Sir Robert Armstrong, then Cabinet Secretary, dated 7 July 1987, shortly after the 1987 general election, confirmed the meeting. The letter related to the content of a security briefing Mr Walker had given Peter Morrison on 2 July 1987. In the course of it, Peter Morrison mentioned to Mr Walker stories about his alleged homosexual behaviour which had surfaced in his Chester constituency during the general election. Mr Walker wrote:

Unfortunately, his election agent, in a well-meaning but clumsy attempt to spare Morrison embarrassment, had spoken without Morrison’s authority or knowledge to the Labour candidate. She chose to do so in a back street of all places. Morrison feared that if his agent’s approach reached the wrong ears it could be misrepresented as an attempted cover-up.[17]

80. Ms Russell confirmed that Mrs Mowatt was Morrison’s agent in 1987, that she (Ms Russell) was the Labour Party agent and David Robinson was the candidate. She said she had no doubt that the letter described the meeting.[18] In the meeting with Mr Walker of MI5, Peter Morrison had himself described a woman agent meeting the Labour candidate (who was David Robinson) in a Chester back street. In his letter to Sir Robert Armstrong, Mr Walker referred to an “election agent”. Mrs Mowatt was not an election agent but was the agent and secretary to the City of Chester Conservative Association. The confusion between whether or not the person who spoke to David Robinson was an election agent rather than the agent to the Conservative Association is immaterial. There is no question Peter Morrison was reporting the same meeting to Mr Walker.

81. By contrast, Mrs Mowatt told us that she was “utterly bewildered” by Ms Russell’s claim that she had requested a meeting with David Robinson, saying she was “completely mistaken”. She was referred to Ms Russell’s witness statement in which Ms Russell had recalled Mr Robinson telling her that Mrs Mowatt had told him:

there would not be a by-election and that Peter Morrison would not be resigning ‘although he was not a well man’ … and that he would not be standing at the next election”.

Mrs Mowatt told us there was never any such suggestion.[19]

82. Mrs Mowatt was also asked about the letter from Mr Walker to Sir Robert Armstrong. She commented that only Peter Morrison knew why he made those remarks, adding that he could have been referring to any one of 19 subagents. Mrs Mowatt insisted it was not her, despite the reference to a woman agent.[20]

83. We have no doubt that the back street meeting described by Ms Russell and mentioned by Peter Morrison to Mr Walker took place. The evidence of Ms Russell and the content of the Walker letter in combination suggests that the woman agent being referred to was Mrs Mowatt rather than anyone else. In our view, Mrs Mowatt was less than frank with us by concealing what was an attempt by her to cover up for Peter Morrison in 1987. We do not accept Mrs Mowatt’s evidence that she had not heard the rumours about Peter Morrison’s sexual life or his private life. We agree with Mr Nicholls, who described Mrs Mowatt’s claim not to know anything about them as “absolutely incredible”.[21] Her attempt to cover up his alleged behaviour could be for no reason other than that she knew about it and was protecting him.

84. In 2002, Edwina Currie Jones published her diaries for 1987 to 1992. In an entry for 24 July 1990, she wrote:

One appointment in the recent reshuffle has attracted a lot of gossip and could be very dangerous: Peter Morrison has become the PM’s PPS. Now he’s what they call ‘a noted pederast’, with a liking for young boys; he admitted as much to Norman Tebbit when he became deputy chairman of the party, but added, ‘However, I’m very discreet’  and he must be! She either knows and is taking a chance, or doesn’t; either way it is a really dumb move. Teresa Gorman told me this evening (in a taxi coming back from a drinks party at the BBC) that she inherited Morrison’s (woman) agent, who claimed to have been offered money to keep quiet about his activities. It scares me, as all the press know, and as we get closer to the election someone is going to make trouble, very close to her indeed.[22]

Mrs Currie Jones later explained in a police statement that she was using the term “young boys” to describe teenagers aged 16 and above.[23]

85. The matter appears only to have been considered serious, if at all, in political terms. In a witness statement Mrs Currie Jones made to the Inquiry in 2018,[24] she said that what had scared her was the fact that Peter Morrison had only recently been appointed to be Margaret Thatcher’s PPS and, if the information was or might have been true, he was consorting with males below the age of consent which might cause reputational damage for the Prime Minister herself.

86. Mrs Currie Jones’s Twitter account reveals that in February 2013 she responded to a Tweet asserting that Peter Morrison “was protected by a culture of sniggering, of giggling and of nudgenudge, wink-wink” by commenting “Correct quote. And I deeply disapproved”.[25] She was asked to explain her response, but in a 2019 witness statement was only able to say that at this distance in time she could not explain it, far less provide information as to whether and how Peter Morrison was protected, adding that she would always disapprove of a culture that protected any wrongdoing.[26]

87. Mrs Mowatt was asked about the second part of the diary entry concerning her. She said that, despite this appearing to be a description of her, she was never Teresa Gorman’s agent and what Mrs Gorman (who died in 2015) had said to Mrs Currie Jones about her being offered money and that she was her agent was “a wicked lie”.[27] Mrs Mowatt told us following her move from Chester to Essex she became active in the Essex South West European Parliament constituency.[28] The constituency included Billericay, Mrs Gorman’s Westminster constituency.

88. Grahame Nicholls told us that he had first heard the rumour about the Crewe railway station incident from Cynthia Body (since deceased), a reporter on the Cheshire Observer, and then again at a Labour Party meeting at Labour Party headquarters after the 1987 election but before the 1992 election; some time between 1988 and 1990 was his best estimate.[29] Mr Nicholls said that both Christine Russell and David Robinson were at the meeting, at which Ms Russell said that an agreement had been reached with the Conservative Association that Peter Morrison would stand down and the police would not take the matter any further. He added that the local newspapers were aware of the arrangement. He was unsure if Ms Russell had been at the meeting with the Conservative Association at which the arrangement had been reached but he was sure it was she who had imparted the information at the Labour Party meeting. He said he was not making it up or imagining it.[30]

89. The agreement was Peter Morrison would not be standing in 1992 and, if that was so, Labour “wouldn’t break cover on this particular story”, by which he meant release the information about the Crewe incident to the local media who had decided not to publish. When asked if the local media had “bought into some agreement of this nature” he answered “I presume, yes”. Mr Nicholls said he understood, from what Christine Russell had said at the meeting, that the police were also involved in the cover-up by taking no action. He could not answer why the Labour Party had covered up a story that would have given them considerable advantage at the next election.[31] He accepted that, if he had disagreed with it, he could have done something about it but had failed to. He told us he took the information and was just pleased that Peter Morrison was standing down. He accepted no thought was given to the 15-year-old boy who was the alleged victim of the abuse. He added it was “a Chester cover-up … Nobody was going to break ranks”.[32]

90. The story did not emerge until 20 years later when Simon Hoggart wrote a piece in The Guardian newspaper published on 16 November 2012 based on information Mr Nicholls had given him, although Mr Nicholls had not intended the information to be published. In the article, Mr Hoggart reported the deal which was struck between Labour, the local Tories, the press and police that if Peter Morrison stood down the matter would go no further.[33]

91. Jane Lee (formerly Leach) was the secretary of the Gresford and Rossett branch of the Labour Party in 1989 and 1990. Gresford and Rossett are in the County of Wrexham, some seven miles from Chester. At the time, Ian Lucas was the chair of that branch of the Labour Party.[34]

92. Ms Lee recalled a get-together at a pub following a monthly branch meeting at which she spoke to a woman she named as ‘Eileen Neidermeyer’. The meeting took place in 1989 or 1990. Eileen Neidermeyer was, she said, a Labour Party branch member. Ms Lee could not recall if her last name was in fact ‘Neidermeyer’, ‘Neiderlov’ or ‘Neider’ but it was Dutch. She recalled Ms Neidermeyer telling her that she should get tomorrow’s newspaper because it was ready to publish the fact that Peter Morrison had been found in the toilets at Crewe railway station. The newspaper she was talking about was the Wrexham Leader where Eileen Neidermeyer worked as journalist. Ms Lee told us she felt guilty about her reaction at the time which was only to see the political gain from the story, as it meant Labour would win Chester. However, the story failed to appear and at the following branch meeting Ms Neidermeyer told her that the Chief Constable of Cheshire had received a phone call from the Prime Minister’s office and he had been persuaded not to press charges but to caution Morrison instead. Ms Neidermeyer had told her that the story was pulled at the last minute because of the phone call.[35]

93. Ms Lee told us that she raised the issue with Mr Lucas, as she felt they needed to do something about it. According to her, Mr Lucas said he had rung someone in the Labour Party hierarchy, and he told her “There is an unwritten rule: we don’t tell on them and they don’t tell on us”, and that he had been told “For every one they’ve got, we’ve got one”, which she took to mean paedophiles, although the word was not used.[36] She said she did not think this was about outing homosexuals as opposed to paedophiles.[37]

94. Ms Lee said that she had done nothing with the information and had kept it quiet for years. She was “disappointed” with Mr Lucas’s Inquiry statement in which he denied having discussed the matter with anyone in the Chester Labour Party or at national level. She understood the seriousness of what she was saying and that Mr Lucas was an MP.[38] She was asked if she thought that the deal struck between Labour and the local Tories she heard about in Mr Nicholls’ evidence was the same deal she had heard about from Mr Lucas. Her answer was that she thought the implication was the same.[39] She told us that in 2014 she reported the matter to the police; she had been thinking about the matter for years and had been “thinking of the children”. She said that she thought she had been a party to a conspiracy and a cover-up and that she had to hand herself in to the police.[40] She agreed that she had wrestled with her conscience and she told the Inquiry finally “I just feel as if … we are all guilty, everyone who kept quiet. It’s just terrible”.[41]

95. In light of Ms Lee’s account, Ian Lucas provided the Inquiry with a second statement dated 25 March 2019.[42] In it, he challenged Ms Lee on some of the details of her account, and he robustly denied having any direct conversation solely with her concerning the allegations made by ‘Eileen Nederlof’ (which was the correct name for the Wrexham Leader journalist, according to Mr Lucas). He denied having any contact with anyone outside Wrexham, and he categorically denied having spoken the words attributed to him by Ms Lee. So far as he is concerned she had made a false allegation against him, he would never conceal or cover up such allegations and did not do so, not least because in the course of his parliamentary career he had raised matters linked to sexual abuse on a number of occasions.

96. Christine Russell was asked about the meeting at which Mr Nicholls said an agreement had been reached. She said there was no truth in it whatsoever. She said that the Mowatt/Robinson meeting was not kept secret, so people within the Labour Party knew about it and it was common knowledge that Peter Morrison was going to step down. She could not explain the common thread in the accounts given by Ms Lee and Mr Nicholls, prompted by the alleged Crewe railway station incident, and how or why they remembered something she could not but she was firm in her evidence that there was no agreement to cover the matter up, adding it would not have been in the electoral interests of the Labour Party to stop the rumours. She remembered telling activists they could campaign on Peter Morrison’s right-wing views but not to gossip about the rumours. In her witness statement, she added recalling having to refute national press allegations of a deal and that such a move would not have been in Labour’s best interests “as the rumour-mill was doing an excellent job at eroding Conservative Party support in Chester”.[43] She agreed that none of the local newspapers reported the Crewe railway station incident despite knowing about it. It was, she said, unsubstantiated gossip but she told us she had informed the regional office so they were aware of it.[44]

97. Ms Russell was shown Patricia Green’s 2018 police interview,[45] in which she had said she and her husband had heard the rumours which both Labour and Liberal Party members were talking about, and they were so strong that it was believed a by-election was to be proposed. Ms Russell maintained her position that she had not attended any meeting of the type mentioned by Mr Nicholls and had there been any mention of a by-election she would have been present, which made her think no such meeting ever took place.[46] She told the hearing she had discussed the matter at length with Mrs Green “when the Inquiry was first brought up” and they did not disagree about what she had told us in her evidence or about what Mrs Green had said in her statement. She was then asked about Mrs Green’s recent Inquiry statement of 31 January 2019,[47] in which Mrs Green stated that Ms Russell had told her she had been present at the discussion described by Mr Nicholls when it was agreed Peter Morrison would stand down and she would not pursue other matters concerning his previous conduct.[48] Ms Russell’s response was to say that Mrs Green had got it wrong and that she probably had been speaking about the Mowatt/Robinson meeting. It was, however, pointed out to her that Mrs Green could not have been speaking about the Mowatt/Robinson meeting because there was no mention in her statement of Frances Mowatt or David Robinson, yet she did mention Grahame Nicholls. Ms Russell agreed these were two different incidents. So the question was why Mrs Green was mentioning a different incident to the one Ms Russell claimed to have been speaking to her about. Ms Russell’s answer was to say Mrs Green was mistaken or had possibly misunderstood.[49]

98. Ms Russell suggested that there may have been individual conversations between members of different political parties but there were no formal discussions and no informal discussions leading to an arrangement could have occurred without her being aware of it. She was asked how the accounts of Mr Nicholls, Ms Lee and Mrs Green might be reconciled with hers. She suggested there had been some confusion between the earlier Mowatt/Robinson meeting and the time when Peter Morrison in fact stood down, saying that the rumours continued after his re-election in 1987 until the time he announced he was not seeking re-election.[50]

99. Gyles Brandreth told us that he had never heard about any deal between the parties, the press and the police as the reason underlying Peter Morrison’s stepping down. He had met local journalists and the local political activists of all the parties and he was on good terms with senior local police officers but it had not come up, and it was not surprising that it had not come up, because Peter Morrison was associated with Margaret Thatcher, this was a new era, it was reasonable for him to move on, and it was a marginal seat which he might have lost.[51]

100. British Transport Police made enquiries to discover what information it holds in relation to Peter Morrison. The information on their system was not inputted until 2012.[52] There is no contemporary record to confirm Peter Morrison was ever removed from a train or found in the public toilets at Crewe railway station, far less any record of an arrest or proof that he was cautioned.[53]

101. Ms Eleanor Grey QC, who represented the Labour Party, invited us to cast a very critical eye over Ms Lee’s account of a deal, not least her own failure to explore the matter further. She emphasised that we have not called Mr Lucas to hear his side of the story. Ms Grey suggested that this would generally mean we are content with the contents of his statement and will accept them; she argued that to do otherwise would be wholly wrong, having not heard from Mr Lucas.[54] She submitted that neither Mr Nicholls nor Mrs Green could identify who agreed to the deal and that there was “great vagueness about dates”.[55] She emphasised Ms Russell’s denial of being party to any agreement or knowing the Labour Party had been so. She argued Mr Brandreth failed to support the suggestion of any agreement and overall there was the absence of Conservative Party, police or press witnesses to support it. Ms Grey pointed also to the inherent implausibility of the involvement of the Labour Party, the fact the rumours were not new in 1988–1990, and that being party to an agreement of the type described by Mr Nicholls made no sense from the Labour Party’s perspective. There were, she submitted, good valid reasons why a political party would not seek to make capital out of such rumours. She concluded this topic by saying:

the idea that unidentified members of the Labour Party would be party to an agreement with regards to Peter Morrison’s political future is to be firmly rejected”.[56]

102. We are confronted by a fundamental conflict of evidence between the witnesses.

102.1. Some of the evidence, although not in identical terms, suggests there were discussions leading to an arrangement or agreement between the local parties, police and press to cover up Peter Morrison’s alleged misconduct in consideration of him standing down at the next election. Other witnesses (both past and present MPs) who were said to be directly involved in the discussions or arrangements in the cover-up vehemently deny it.

102.2. We find credible Mr Nicholls’ account that at a meeting attended by him Ms Russell spoke about an agreement to cover up the alleged Crewe railway station incident. She denies presence at such a meeting, far less involvement in any deal. We conclude Ms Russell was present at the meeting described by Mr Nicholls as supported by Mrs Green’s recent account but she has sought to downplay her role. We cannot and do not conclude on the evidence that she was a direct party to the alleged agreement.

102.3. Ms Lee was genuine but we cannot determine whether the journalist she named as Eileen Neidermeyer had simply found an explanation why the story she had previously bragged about was not to be published or whether Ms Lee misinterpreted what she was told. There is no evidence in support of the account that the Chief Constable of Cheshire had received a call from the Prime Minister’s office in about 1989–90 intervening in order to persuade him to drop charges and to caution instead. This contrasts with the period before 1987, to which we will come, when records do show that concerns about Peter Morrison were expressed to Mrs Thatcher. Moreover, there are no contemporary records to support the allegation that Peter Morrison was apprehended at Crewe railway station, far less arrested and cautioned.

102.4. We acknowledge Ms Lee’s evidence that she took her concerns to Mr Lucas who told her he had spoken to the hierarchy and explained to her the “unwritten rule[57] of not informing. Mr Lucas denies it. We did not hear from him at the hearing and, although we do not agree that that means we must accept what he says, we do agree it would not be fair to make any finding about the conflict between them and we do not do so.

Westminster

103. Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller joined the Security Service (MI5) in 1974, rising to become Director General of the Service in 2002. At the time of the events we are concerned with, she was in the Secretariat “with responsibility for the oversight of its foreign relationships with foreign services”. Towards the end of the 1980s she was promoted and put “in charge of the work on Middle East terrorism”.[58]

104. She was friends with Peter Morrison through much of the 1980s. She described her friendship with him as “quite good … not close”. She would see him socially and occasionally have dinner with him. They also had friends in common.[59] She was asked about the evidence of Susan Hogg, Peter Morrison’s former diary secretary between 1983 and 1985 when he was the Minister of State for Employment,[60] who told us that at night when he phoned into the office from home she was aware of the presence of an ‘Eliza’ in the background. Mrs Hogg had also seen her when on one occasion she visited the department.[61]

105. Baroness Manningham-Buller denied being in Peter Morrison’s house with the frequency Mrs Hogg’s evidence implied. She said that impression fitted the concern she later developed that he had been suggesting to people that she was his girlfriend which was why towards the end of the 1980s she saw less of him. She speculated that the impression he was trying to give related to his sexuality.[62]

106. On 6 January 1986, Sir Antony Duff, then Director General of MI5, wrote to Sir Robert Armstrong, then Cabinet Secretary, recalling there had been unsubstantiated rumours circulating about Peter Morrison as early as 1983 that he had been apprehended by police for importuning. He informed Sir Robert that a member of his staff had passed on information they had been told by a friend a couple of months before that Peter Morrison had been caught soliciting in a public lavatory and had narrowly escaped being charged; also that a second friend had said that Lord Cranborne had been telling the story quite openly to people.[63] In his reply of 13 January 1986, Sir Robert recalled the 1983 information and said he had ensured the Prime Minister had been made aware of the “potential problem”.[64] From September 1985 to September 1986, Peter Morrison was Minister of State for Trade and Industry and therefore the information imparted by the member of staff arose during a period when Peter Morrison was in government.

107. Baroness Manningham-Buller was asked about those letters. She thought that she was the member of staff who had passed on the information, saying it had been her duty to do so.[65]

108. She was also asked to consider five other documents dated between 4 November 1986 and 17 December 1986, by which time Peter Morrison was Conservative Party Deputy Chairman. Baroness Manningham-Buller had not previously seen two of the documents.[66]

109. The first document in the series, dated 4 November 1986, is a letter from Sir Antony Duff to Sir Robert Armstrong.[67] It referred back to Sir Robert’s 13 January letter, and informed him that the rumours persisted. Sir Antony wrote that a member of staff had heard from Donald Stewart, the Conservative agent for Westminster, that Peter Morrison had “a penchant for small boys”, which Mr Stewart had heard from two sources. Sir Antony wrote that despite the fact Peter Morrison had only just taken up his position in Conservative Central Office there might be a real possibility that he would be a candidate for office in the future and the stories would need to be reconsidered “in the security context”. He advised that the first step was to speak to Mr Stewart and that “in the light of the Jeffrey Archer case, the risk of political embarrassment to the Government is rather greater that the security danger”. He thought that the chief whip might speak to him rather than MI5 in order that they should not get directly involved “for the time being”. It is notable that no consideration was given to or mention made of the risks to children of alleged sexual abuse by Peter Morrison.

110. Baroness Manningham-Buller had clearly seen the letter because she had dated and initialled it, though she thought the date ‘3/11/86’ she had written by her initials ‘EMB’ could not be right and should probably have been ‘4/11/86’, the date of the letter.[68] She believed she had been shown the letter as she had been the source of the information in the January letter, even though it was Mr Stewart who had been the source of the information in this letter. She said that on this occasion she was not the member of staff to whom Mr Stewart had given the information.[69]

111. Counsel to the Inquiry asked her whether she could think of any reason why MI5 was going to stay in the background for the time being. She responded by saying this was the first time children were mentioned and the fact they were not given prominence in the letter “is shocking” but security and Peter Morrison’s vulnerability to potential blackmail were the narrow focus at that stage. She added that even if the reference to children had been given greater prominence, the matter should have been passed to the police but it was not, albeit this had not been her decision. She agreed that because Peter Morrison was at this time Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, he was no longer in government and therefore did not represent the same security risk as a minister.[70]

112. Baroness Manningham-Buller had produced two memos, respectively dated 11 November 1986 and 13 November 1986, in which she was to impart further information to her superiors.[71] In the first of them, she provided information that a friend had told her the previous day that there had been a report in The Star of 3 November 1986 that a prominent Tory was under investigation by police “because of his interest in small boys” (although her handwritten annotation on the memo indicated that the press cutting did not in fact refer to “small boys”), and that as a result Peter Morrison was being hounded by the press, representatives of which had followed him from London to Islay (his country home). She added that Peter Morrison had vehemently denied to another friend of hers that there was any truth to the story. In the second memo, she reported seeing Morrison and his father the previous night when both separately told her that the press had been camping on his doorstep over the past two weeks and seeking comments.

113. Peter Morrison told her that he had first learned of the allegation five years before when Norman Tebbit had asked him about it. He said the Prime Minister was aware of it and was supporting him, and he hoped the press would publish so he could “sue and nail the lies that were being spread about him”.[72]

114. A note on the memo of 13 November in the handwriting of the Director General’s private secretary indicated that the Cabinet Office had been informed by phone, and that Sir Robert Armstrong had taken no action yet on the Director General’s letter of 4 November 1986. Another handwritten note by Sir Antony Duff states “Subject to agreement from F” (Director F is the director in charge of countersubversion) he “would write as in the attached”, which referred to the draft of a letter.[73]

115. Baroness Manningham-Buller told us these were the days before any safeguarding policy was introduced at MI5 and she and her sources (who she could no longer remember) were never questioned and the police were not involved.[74]

116. The two documents she had not seen before were a letter from Sir Antony Duff to Sir Robert Armstrong of 18 November 1986 and Sir Robert’s letter in response of 17 December 1986. In his 18 November letter, Sir Antony summarised the information Baroness Manningham-Buller had provided in her second memo, concluding “In the circumstances, there would seem to be little point in carrying this further”.[75] Sir Robert agreed with him in his response letter.[76]

117. Baroness Manningham-Buller agreed it was “ironic” that within the space of two weeks Sir Antony Duff had moved from a position of advising that the chief whip should speak to Donald Stewart regarding his information, with MI5 remaining in the background, to a position where because of her information in the second memo no action was to be taken at all.[77]

118. The decision to take no action was based on information which had originated from Peter Morrison himself: that the Prime Minister was aware of the matter and she was supporting him. There is evidence to support his assertion that this was indeed the Prime Minister’s position. The statement and evidence before us of Lord Armstrong confirmed the Prime Minister had been aware of the continuing rumours since 1983 but considered there was nothing that could be done, although she had asked to be kept informed of developments.

119. As regards the 4 November 1986 Duff letter, Lord Armstrong said he had reported the development orally to the Prime Minister who was aware from other sources of the current rumours of “Morrison’s activities and propensities”,[78] but she did not think it necessary to ask the government chief whip to interview Mr Stewart.

120. Lord Armstrong said he “presumed” the Prime Minister had come to the view that it was unnecessary to interview Mr Stewart due to enquiries which had been made through Party channels, and he agreed with her view; Peter Morrison was Conservative Party Deputy Chairman and “that was where the action should lie”, in other words with the Party. In that role, Peter Morrison was no longer a member of the government and so had no security-sensitive position. This is why, according to Lord Armstrong, Sir Antony Duff suggested the chief whip interview Mr Stewart: it was not MI5’s role to become involved with political parties.[79]

121. Lord Armstrong accepted that rumours Peter Morrison had “a penchant for small boys” did change the complexion of the information the government had about him but said to us “clearly, also, the Conservative Party had this information” and so it was for them to report it to the police to investigate and it was not his position as Cabinet Secretary to advise the Prime Minister on the course that should be adopted, as he assumed she was getting that advice from the Party, anymore than it was his duty to advise her to pass on the information, given she was already aware of the rumours.[80] He added that Norman Tebbit, the then Chairman of the Conservative Party, was also aware of the matter and it was for the Prime Minister and him to consider any action that might be taken as regards the Deputy Chairman of the Party as there was clearly no security concern.[81]

122. Lord Armstrong was asked by Counsel about the fact that neither MI5, the Cabinet Office, the Prime Minister nor the Conservative Party had reported Peter Morrison to the police, and was asked to consider, whether in retrospect, that had been the correct decision. His response was:

I thought that was correct at the time. I thought that the police had been aware … we knew from … what the Chief Whip had said in November 1983 that the police were aware of the affairs then and that they would presumably be following up that information if they needed to do so.[82]

123. This appears to be little more than buck-passing, with no one actually thinking about, or taking any responsibility for, the obvious issues of child protection and safety.

124. There is evidence of another source of information about Peter Morrison that reached the Prime Minister’s ears. Barry Strevens, Mrs Thatcher’s former personal protection officer and a Detective Inspector, recalls a visit Mrs Thatcher was making to Chester which he dates as being in 1985. This was around the time Peter Morrison was being considered for Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party. Mr Strevens recalled mentioning to a police officer who was head of operations in a local police force about the fact that consideration was being given to Peter Morrison becoming Deputy Chairman of the Party. The officer told Mr Strevens that he thought he should know about the rumours circulating regarding Peter Morrison holding parties in his Chester home and the local press who were looking into rumours that a 15-year-old boy was frequenting the parties. Mr Strevens decided to tell Mrs Thatcher when they returned to Downing Street. He saw her in her flat at 10 Downing Street. Present was Archie Hamilton, who preceded Peter Morrison as her PPS. Mr Strevens told her what he had heard, for which she thanked him. According to Mr Strevens, Mr Hamilton took notes during the meeting. Mr Strevens heard no more about it but had expected the instigation of some form of investigation, by which he meant a conversation with Peter Morrison and Archie Hamilton and some action depending on the outcome. Despite his information, Peter Morrison did become Deputy Chairman of the Party. Much later, in the early 1990s, Peter Morrison revealed to Mr Strevens without any animosity that he knew about the conversation he had had with Mrs Thatcher.[83]

125. Lord Hamilton (as he is today) recalled the meeting, although his memory was that it took place in the Prime Minister’s office in the House of Commons. He was a friend of Peter Morrison’s. Lord Hamilton recalled Mr Strevens telling them about a party at Peter Morrison’s Cheshire home that was exclusively male. He did not remember any reference to young men but does not deny Mr Strevens might have said this. The tenor of the conversation was, he recalled, that Peter Morrison was homosexual, to which the Prime Minister said something like “well, that’s that then” and Mr Strevens left. He did not think he had taken notes but might have. Lord Hamilton added that Mrs Thatcher would have been aware of his friendship with Peter Morrison, and “she herself had a long relationship with the family including Peter’s father, who had also been a Member of Parliament”. He states that nothing Mr Strevens said led him to believe Peter Morrison “was a paedophile or having sexual relations with underage males”. Lord Hamilton said he was surprised that she had appointed him as her PPS but only because he was unreliable due to his drinking.[84]

126. The conflict of evidence about what precisely was said to the Prime Minister is irreconcilable but this was a source of information about Peter Morrison which appears not to have been taken sufficiently seriously, far less enquired into. Had proper enquiries been made with Peter Morrison and the police, then they might have resolved whether he was engaging in homosexual acts which were not illegal or whether he was a danger to children.

127. MI5’s inaction led the MI5 witness from whom we heard to describe it as:

a matter of regret that no consideration was given at the time to the criminal aspects of the matter because if these rumours were in any way true then ideally they would have been passed to the police so the police could investigate them”.

It appeared from the corporate record that “that consideration was never given … They took a narrow, security-related view … not a broader one”.[85] Today, under their safeguarding policy, MI5 would pass such information to the police.[86]

128. Baroness Manningham-Buller was clear that, notwithstanding the lack of any MI5 safeguarding policy, the police should have been involved. We agree with her that her information, together with that of Donald Stewart had he been interviewed, might have been extremely pertinent to the police overview of the matter. However, none of the information was ever interrogated.[87]

129. Lord Armstrong said Peter Morrison had denied the truth of the allegations and had threatened to sue, and the Prime Minister would not have appointed him her PPS if she had doubts about him. He said he was unaware of any cover-up.[88]

130. Gyles Brandreth echoed those views in his evidence to the Inquiry. He did not think Peter Morrison would have been appointed as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party if anyone had thought there was anything in the stories. He told us that he had later discussed Peter Morrison with Baroness Thatcher who had known he was a heavy drinker and assumed him to be gay. It was, he said, inconceivable that if she had thought he was “in any way a paedophile or an abuser of children” she would have countenanced the possibility of him becoming her PPS or that he would have had her approval as an MP. Mr Brandreth agreed that a proper police investigation would have been preferable.[89]

131. Notwithstanding the persistence and gravity of the rumours, they were not properly investigated and Peter Morrison’s career was unaffected. He remained Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party until June 1987, when he became Minister of State for Energy. He became Margaret Thatcher’s PPS in July 1990 and headed her ill-fated campaign in the Conservative leadership election later that year. He was knighted in 1991.

132. Lord Tebbit said in a statement he made in 2018 that it was possibly in 1986 that he was visited by a police officer from Cheshire Constabulary who told him “Peter Morrison had an interest in young men and may have overstepped the mark.” He took that to be a reference to “sexualised activity with young men of about sixth form age”, the age of consent for sexual activity between men then being 21. Lord Tebbit said also that the police officer did not provide any evidence of these allegations, nor did he say that Peter Morrison had been arrested. He said he spoke to Peter Morrison about what the police officer had said, telling him “not to be a fool and to mind his behaviour, not only in that matter, but also his excessive drinking” but Morrison “denied that anything had happened and certainly did not indicate he had been arrested or anything like that”.[90] There is no evidence to assist the determination of whether the police visit to Lord Tebbit related to the alleged Crewe railway station incident or some other alleged misbehaviour in Cheshire.

133. During a television interview on The Andrew Marr Show aired on 6 July 2014, Lord Tebbit was asked about a piece Simon Danczuk had written in The Mail on Sunday that same day calling for a public inquiry into historic child sexual abuse in Westminster. Lord Tebbit said that the situation had to be understood against the “atmosphere of the times”.

at that time most people would have thought that the establishment  the system  was to be protected. And if a few things had gone wrong here and there, that it was more important to protect the system than to delve too far into them. That view, I think, was wrong then and it is spectacularly shown to have been wrong because the abuses have grown”.

He added “there may well have been a big political cover-up” related to child sexual abuse in the 1980s but that it was “almost unconscious” and “the thing that people did at that time … you didn’t talk about those sort of things”.[91]

134. According to Lord Armstrong, both Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit had been aware of the rumours about Peter Morrison. Norman Tebbit had been the Chairman of the Party during the period Peter Morrison was Deputy Chairman. Their tenure in Central Office overlapped during a nine-month period from September 1986 to June 1987. This is the period in which Lord Tebbit recalled receiving a visit from Cheshire Constabulary about Peter Morrison’s conduct. It is also the period in which MI5 and the Cabinet Office were informed about Peter Morrison’s alleged conduct but did nothing about it.

135. In light of this and Lord Tebbit’s comments on The Andrew Marr Show, it was suggested by Counsel to Lord Armstrong that if anyone knew of any cover-up, Norman Tebbit did. Lord Armstrong said he could not say whether Lord Tebbit did or did not know of any cover-up.[92] We cannot conclude on the evidence we have seen and heard that there was a deliberate rather than an “almost unconscious” cover-up in the language of Lord Tebbit but we do consider that Peter Morrison was protected as a member of the establishment.

136. In their supplementary report to the Home Office, published in July 2015,[93] Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC commented on a batch of documents that had come to light in the Cabinet Office, and which they had been shown after they had completed their initial report on behalf of the Home Office. They made the following comment about these additional documents which included the 4 November 1986 Duff letter:

there were a number of references across the papers we saw that reinforced the observation we made in our Review … that issues of crimes against children, particularly the rights of the complainant, were given considerably less serious consideration than would be expected today. To give one striking example, in response to claims from two sources that a named Member of Parliament ‘has a penchant for small boys’, matters conclude with acceptance of his word that he does not and the observation that ‘at the present stage … the risks of political embarrassment to the Government is rather greater than the security danger’. The risk to children is not considered at all.[94]

137. We agree. There is no evidence that any appropriate attention was paid to the information in the 4 November 1986 letter from two sources referring to Peter Morrison having “a penchant for small boys[95] or the information in the 11 November 1986 memo alleging that he was under investigation by police “because of his interest in small boys”.[96]

138. The coincidence of identical information from different sources separated by one week should have rung alarm bells in government in Westminster. It did not do so. Instead, considerations of political embarrassment and the risk to security were paramount, while the activities of an alleged child sexual abuser who held senior positions in government and the Conservative Party were deliberately overlooked, as was the course of public justice.

References

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