INSIGHT into how prosecutors in the 1970s handled allegations against high-profile individuals of what today would be seen as sexual abuse or paedophile behaviour is revealed in newly released documents relating to a police investigation into the Bishop of Stepney, the internationally renowned anti-apartheid campaigner Trevor Huddleston, in 1974.
A redacted version of the Scotland Yard file was released by the National Archives last month after a freedom of information request by Private Eye last November following the Jimmy Savile scandal and the failure to prosecute former Liberal MP Sir Cyril Smith. The Huddleston file was previously ordered to remain closed until 2069.
Four counts of gross indecency
The file contains the report sent by the then Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Robert Mark to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) into allegations made against Huddleston concerning incidents involving four boys at the Anglican bishop’s home in east London. The report proposed that Huddleston could be charged with four counts of gross indecency involving fondling the boys while they sat on his lap. Huddleston admitted the behaviour but strongly denied any indecency, insisting it was a sign of affection for the children.
Because of Huddleston’s prominence and reputation, the DPP, Sir Norman Skelhorn, was asked for directions as to whether the bishop should be prosecuted. The report suggested the proposed charges “can be supported by the evidence obtained”. Skelhorn, however, decided not to prosecute.
The Scotland Yard investigation was kept secret. Rumours that reached Fleet Street were not published, but they were alluded to in 1976 in the Eye’s Grovel column (issue 383). Existence of the investigation was finally reported in 2004 in Turbulent Priest, a biography of Huddleston, who died in 1998.
The file confirms how reluctant prosecutors in those days were to bring cases where prominent personalities were involved and children were the main witnesses. Skelhorn also decided to take no further action over Cyril Smith, following an investigation into allegations of much more serious abuse of boys (Eye 1329).
A Labour party hero
On Huddleston, Skelhorn decided that “the evidence is not sufficient to warrant proceedings”. It later emerged that Skelhorn had consulted not just “leading Treasury counsel” but also Labour attorney-general Sam Silkin, who knew Huddleston, a Labour party hero. In a 1979 BBC radio interview, referring to a case involving a “very well known” man” and “small boys”, Silkin stated: “If he had been prosecuted at all it would have ruined his career and influence. Within the DPP’s department everyone thought the man would be acquitted – though there was clearly evidence.” The Huddleston file does not mention Silkin’s involvement.
Silkin told the Daily Mirror, again without naming Huddleston: “If he had been prosecuted – and acquitted – it would still have been disastrous for him. A great deal of mud would have stuck. The decision was made for the public good. We were almost certain that this man would be acquitted.”
The police were not entirely surprised. “It will be interesting to see how the Director deals with this one,” a deputy assistant commissioner had commented on the file.
After parents had complained, Huddleston, then 60, was interviewed under caution in April 1974 by two Scotland Yard detectives. Incidents were said to have taken place with two boys on five or six occasions.
Huddleston is recorded by Det Chief Supt Peter Amoss as saying: “It’s all perfectly true… I have sat them on my lap and I have touched their bottoms and pinched them but there is nothing indecent… It was purely a mark of affection… I have never done anything to harm a child… Neither do I consider it indecent to pat a child on the bottom or pinch him… The boys are telling the truth but the implications of indecency are completely absurd.”
“He has been outrageously indiscreet,” Amoss wrote in his report. It took only 11 days for the DPP’s decision not to prosecute.
According to Piers McGrandle in Turbulent Priest, Huddleston had a mental breakdown as a result of the allegations. In 1978 he left Stepney to become bishop of Mauritius and Archbishop of the Indian Ocean.