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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster Investigation Report


D.6: Sir Cyril Smith and the Special Branch raid on the Bury Messenger: Don Hale’s allegations

59. Don Hale is a journalist who has edited various local newspapers and has conducted several high-profile miscarriage of justice campaigns. He has received a number of awards for his journalism, including the OBE.

60. Mr Hale has given a well-publicised account of an incident in 1984 when he says his office was raided by Special Branch officers, who served (or at least purported to serve) a ‘D-Notice’ (an official request not to publish certain details of a story for reasons of national security) on him. He said that they seized documents containing names of MPs said to be sympathetic to the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), documents that Mr Hale said had been given to him by Barbara Castle, then an MEP. Mr Hale also described Cyril Smith visiting him at his office, threatening him, and demanding that he hand over the same documents.

61. If what Mr Hale said is true, then it is an example of politicians and the police acting to suppress allegations that, in one way or another, linked politicians of the time to child sexual abuse. What he described was a sophisticated and well-organised cover-up, involving physical violence and the misuse of power.

62. However, doubts have been raised about the credibility of Mr Hale’s evidence. An IOPC investigation identified various inconsistencies in the different accounts that Mr Hale has given over time. The Inquiry has investigated these matters, obtaining documentary evidence from the IOPC and from Special Branch. We heard oral evidence both from Mr Hale himself, who was carefully questioned over several hours by Counsel to the Inquiry, and from Brigadier Geoffrey Dodds, the current Secretary of the D-Notice Committee.

63. The core elements of Mr Hale’s oral evidence to us may be summarised as follows.

63.1. Mr Hale was a professional footballer in his youth. Following his retirement from football through injury he became a journalist, working first for BBC radio and thereafter for a series of local newspapers.[1] In 1984, Mr Hale was the acting editor of the Bury Messenger, a free weekly newspaper with a circulation of around 60,000.[2]

63.2. He told us that he had first met Barbara Castle in the early 1970s, when he was a footballer at Blackburn and she was an MP for a local constituency,[3] and that when he was at the Bury Messenger some years later (by which time she had left Parliament and become an MEP) she used to pay regular visits to him in his office.[4] Mr Hale had also come across Cyril Smith, another local MP, in the course of his journalistic activities.[5]

63.3. Mr Hale described a six-to-eight-week period in 1984[6] during which Mrs Castle visited him several times at his office in Bury. The theme of these meetings was Mrs Castle’s concern about organised support in Westminster for PIE. She told Mr Hale, on his account, that PIE was receiving Home Office funding and that its journal Magpie was distributed discreetly amongst MPs at Westminster by the MP Rhodes Boyson.[7] During the course of these meetings, Mr Hale said, Mrs Castle gave him a substantial amount of documentation – he described the total quantity as a “wedge”, perhaps 6–8 inches thick.[8] Many of the documents, Mr Hale said, were minutes of a committee of MPs and prominent people who were attempting to support the work of PIE, in particular in lowering the age of consent. The documents also included, he told us, a list of 16 politicians who were not only PIE supporters but were themselves actively involved in child sexual abuse.[9] Mr Hale said that he kept the documents locked in his bottom drawer.[10]

63.4. In preparation for publishing a story based on the documents, he telephoned several of the politicians named as supporters of PIE in those documents. One of these politicians was Jeremy Thorpe, the former leader of the Liberal Party, who Mr Hale described as being “stunned” by his call.[11]

63.5. The next stage in the sequence of events that Mr Hale described to us was a visit that he received in his office at the Bury Messenger from Cyril Smith. Mr Hale said that this visit took place the day after his telephone call to Jeremy Thorpe, Smith’s former Party leader. It was clearly Mr Hale’s understanding that his call to Mr Thorpe had triggered the visit from Smith. He described Smith being “very, very aggressive”, swearing at him, physically pushing him into his office and demanding that he hand over the documents. Mr Hale refused even though he thought that Smith “was going to go berserk”. After 5 or 10 minutes, Smith stormed off.[12]

63.6. A “day or two later”,[13] Mr Hale said, three Special Branch officers in plain clothes and 12 uniformed police officers came “charging” into his office at around 8:00am. They showed him “a couple of screwed-up documents” which they said were a search warrant and a D-Notice and demanded that he hand over the documents. He said that he was “pushed and shoved” until he agreed to release the documents. The officers then took the documents and left.[14]

63.7. Mr Hale said that he spoke to Barbara Castle on the telephone after the raid and that she responded by saying words to the effect of “I thought that might happen”. She told him, he said, that Special Branch had been following her. She thought she was under surveillance.

64. If Mr Hale’s account is accurate, the events he describes must have involved corruption and serious misconduct on the part of a number of politicians, police officers and other public officials. In deciding how much weight we are able to place on his account, there are a number of factors to consider.

65. There is very little independent evidence that either corroborates or undermines Mr Hale’s account. Cyril Smith and Barbara Castle are both dead. There is no evidence from anyone who witnessed the visits of either Cyril Smith or the Special Branch team to the Bury Messenger. At an early stage Mr Hale suggested that a cleaner may have been present at the time of the Special Branch raid, but he explained to us that he no longer thinks that was the case,[15] and we do not regard this as significant. Extensive searches of Special Branch records have been conducted at the request of both the IOPC investigation and this Inquiry;[16] no documents have been found relating to the raid that Mr Hale describes. That does not of course mean that it did not happen, only that there is no documentary evidence from this source supporting his account. Similarly, the evidence obtained both by the IOPC investigation and by the Inquiry in the form of Brigadier Dodds’ statement and oral evidence makes it clear that no D-Notice was or could have been issued in support of the raid that Mr Hale describes or the confiscation of the documents. This does not mean that Mr Hale was not shown a document by someone who falsely claimed that it was a D-Notice.[17] Finally, given the serious issues relating to his credibility (discussed in Part G), we are not able to place any great weight on the evidence of Tom O’Carroll insofar as it appears to undermine Mr Hale’s account.

66. The reliability or otherwise of Mr Hale’s evidence cannot therefore be determined by reference to independent sources and we must consider the content of Mr Hale’s own evidence.

66.1. There are several implausible elements to Mr Hale’s account. In certain key respects Mr Hale’s story simply does not add up. It is extremely unlikely that, if Mrs Castle had evidence of child sexual abuse and support for PIE at Westminster and wished to expose it, she would have sought to do so by giving the documents to the editor of a free newspaper in the North West with a small, local circulation. Even if, as Mr Hale said, the large national newspapers had refused to take the story, there were obvious and better alternatives, such as publication in Private Eye, or Mrs Castle simply making a speech to publicise what she had discovered.

66.2. It also seems unlikely that Cyril Smith would have taken the considerable risk of making such a public and violent demonstration inside Mr Hale’s office simply to obtain documents that might embarrass Jeremy Thorpe. (Mr Hale was clear that the documents did not name Cyril Smith.) Smith would have had no personal interest in protecting Jeremy Thorpe – Baroness Brinton told us that the two men “cordially loathed each other”.[18] Nor would there have been any great political purpose served by protecting him. Jeremy Thorpe had been publicly discredited by his trial several years previously in 1979, and by 1984 it was eight years since he had been leader of the Liberal Party and five years since he had ceased to be an MP.

66.3. Finally, if the documents did say what Mr Hale claimed and if the visit by Cyril Smith and the Special Branch raid did take place, it is inconceivable that neither Mr Hale nor Mrs Castle sought to bring these matters to public attention. Mrs Castle was a veteran politician with great experience of challenging the establishment. Mr Hale was an established journalist who went on to lead press campaigns including one that came to national attention and won him industry awards. The raid, if it happened, was itself evidence that there was substance in the concerns about Westminster child sexual abuse and a cover-up that was the subject of public debate led by Geoffrey Dickens MP and others in the mid-1980s. If it all happened in the way that Mr Hale described, it is likely that he and probably also Mrs Castle would have been very vocal about it. One way or another, they would have made certain that their story was told publicly. We do not consider that either of them would have been deterred by what the simplest of enquiries could have established was a false D-Notice. The fact that Mrs Castle appears to have said nothing about these events before her death in 2002 and Mr Hale said nothing for some 30 years, and then only once other allegations had been made in the wake of Jimmy Savile’s death, leads us to doubt whether the events did in fact take place as Mr Hale described them.

66.4. We also have some related concerns arising from what Mr Hale can and cannot remember, and the way in which he has given his account on occasions over recent years. Mr Hale cannot remember a single name from the list of 16 politicians alleged to be active child sexual abusers that he says was amongst the documents he received from Mrs Castle. As Mr Hale acknowledged, this list was, potentially at least, journalistic “dynamite”.[19] The names must have loomed large in his mind as he read the documents and considered how he should go about researching and publishing a story. As his oral evidence to us demonstrates, there are many other detailed facts about these events that he does recall. It is not credible that he cannot now remember any of the list of 16 names that he says he was given. It is also odd that in a July 2014 Daily Mail article[20] devoted to relating Mr Hale’s account – for which, as he accepted, he was the source – the Special Branch raid is described as taking place before the visit from Cyril Smith. When asked about this discrepancy, Mr Hale said that it must have been a mistake made by the journalist or the sub-editor.[21] That is, of course, possible. It is also possible that Mr Hale himself got the sequencing wrong when giving his account to the journalist, and if that is right then this is a further example of a pattern of surprising features of the way in which Mr Hale has given his account over time.

66.5. Mr Hale has told his story many times over recent years – to the police and IOPC investigators on a number of occasions, to journalists and to this Inquiry. The various accounts have become more detailed over time. Even when giving oral evidence to us, some of the detail that he gave did not appear in any of his previous statements. This included points of some significance, for example the fact that he had spoken to Leon Brittan personally in seeking to research the documents that he had been given,[22] and Barbara Castle’s belief that she was under surveillance by Special Branch.[23] Mr Hale gave two explanations. One was that the police had deliberately omitted details from his earlier statements. We do not accept this suggestion. We have seen no evidence to support it and, when Mr Hale said that the final typed version of one statement had changed considerably from the initial handwritten version, we obtained the original handwritten document and saw that its content was in fact identical to the typed version. The second explanation, which Mr Hale gave more than once, was that details of these events had come back to him over the course of time and that even now he was still remembering some fresh details.[24] Given the length of time that has passed since 1984, and the obvious risk that Mr Hale’s memory has been contaminated by extraneous factors, the fact that his memories seem to have ‘developed’ in this way is a reason, we think, to treat his entire account with a degree of caution.

66.6. During the hearing Mr Hale was asked about a statement from Northamptonshire Police, which was to the effect that they had no record of interviewing him about an incident involving Cyril Smith being stopped on the M1 motorway in the 1980s. Mr Hale was adamant that he had been interviewed about this incident and that the police statement was therefore mistaken. It subsequently transpired that the police statement was in error and that Mr Hale was right.[25] This does not change our view set out above.

67. For all the reasons set out above, we cannot place weight on the evidence that Mr Hale has given us. It may be that something along the lines of what he has described took place. But given the lack of any corroborative evidence and the problems described with Mr Hale’s own evidence, we are not able to make any positive finding in this regard.

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