UPDATE: Local MP Ian Lucas says he is ‘shocked’ at claims made in the evidence session, and says “I did not take part in a cover up and would never do so” – you can read his full statement here.
Original story below…
Claims have been made that Conservative and Labour groups in Chester worked together in the late 1980s to ensure an MP stood down rather than be revealed as a paedophile, with assertions that local media at the time knew of the allegations but also helped a ‘cover-up’.
The allegations discussed yesterday at the inquiry looking into allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster centre around former Conservative MP for Chester Peter Morrison, who was also a well connected Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and alleged Bryn Estyn ‘visitor’.
The serious and numerous child abuse allegations regarding Morrison are long documented with the new inquiry looking at a range of related issues as part of it’s scope, including who was aware of the involvement of people of public prominence associated with Westminster in the sexual abuse of children, and failed to take adequate steps to prevent any such abuse from occurring and/or took steps to prevent such abuse from being revealed.
Wrexham’s MP Ian Lucas also has had his submission to the inquiry branded ‘disappointing’ by a witness at yesterday’s hearings.
Jane Lee the former secretary of the local Labour branch for Gresford and Rossett gave evidence to the inquiry in London yesterday (Full transcripts here) and spoke about various interactions she had in the late 1980s with Ian Lucas, then Chairman of the branch, as well as conversations with a local reporter for the Wrexham Leader on the topic of Morrison.
The evidence given by Ms Lee stated that the Leader reporter and Labour party member ‘Eileen Neidermyer’ (also named as ‘Eileen Nederlof’ by Mr Lucas) attended a post-meeting gathering in a pub in Gresford that she claims was also attended by Mr Lucas and his wife Norah. At that gathering, the Leader reporter ‘said with relish’ the paper would be running the story about MP Morrison being arrested for an incident involving a young boy or boys in toilets at Crewe station.
It is alleged the reporter told those present the story was ‘all set, it is typeset’, ready to print, and encouraged them to buy a copy of the paper the very next morning.
Ms Lee explained, with regret, how the mood was buoyant at the news, “We just thought great”, “We are going to win in Chester, he is going to be all over the front page”.
The story never appeared.
At a similar meeting a month later Ms Lee explained the Wrexham Leader reporter was asked why the story never appeared. Recounting the conversation from memory Ms Lee told the inquiry: “I can remember it virtually word for word.
“She said the Chief Constable of Cheshire got a phone call from the Prime Minister’s office — Margaret Thatcher’s name wasn’t mentioned, but it was ‘from the Prime Minister’s office’ and had been persuaded to not press charges but to give a warning, an official warning, and, well, we said, ‘Well, why didn’t that go in the paper?’, and she said — and I don’t know if it’s true or not, but she said, ‘You can’t report warnings. You can’t put warnings in the paper’.
Later Ms Lee clarified ‘warning’ could well have been a ‘caution’.
In the submission from Mr Lucas he recalls a member called Eileen Nederlof, a journalist working in Chester, raising the question of Peter Morrison. In a group discussion Nederlof ‘reported to us all an incident which occurred at Crewe railway station, with Morrison being arrested for a sexual offence’. Mr Lucas was clear to say the discussion was not official business of the Branch.
Mr Lucas added said he was ‘expecting it to be reported in the local press but it was not’.
Ms Lee was asked if she raised the matter with Ian Lucas.
Ms Lee said yes: “We always used to arrive at the branch venue early, Ian and I, a sort of pre-meeting meeting, and I just said to him, after a month of thinking about it, I simply said, ‘Ian, we need to do something about this. It’s not right’.
“Immediately Ian said, ‘I have done, Jane. I have rung somebody higher up, and they’ve told us, ‘We just don’t do that’ ‘, and these were the words he used, ‘For every one they have got, we have got one’.
Ms Lee was asked what she meant by ‘somebody higher up’, she replied: “I didn’t ask. I was so shocked at what he said that it was like — I didn’t say anything.
“I knew not to say — it was awful, really. I knew not to ask. Because it seemed to be such a serious statement, not just, ‘There is one’, and, ‘If they tell about us, our one, we will tell about their one’, but it was the fact that he was saying, everyone they have got, every paedophile they have got, we have got one. So it was so shattering, because, at that moment, I knew that my party was in the same position.”
Ms Lee added later: “The only exact words I can remember are the words ‘For every one they’ve got, we’ve got one’. I can remember those words precisely. He said something else before that to the effect of, ‘We don’t tell on them and they don’t’ — ‘There is an unwritten rule: we don’t tell on them, they don’t tell on us’.
Ms Lee said it was a ‘tumbleweed moment’ saying she did not ask anything further, and she ‘kept quiet for many many years’.
The written submission to the Inquiry from Mr Lucas was referenced (below) with Ms Lee told “Mr Lucas states here that he did not discuss the incident concerning Peter Morrison with anyone at Chester Labour Party or the national Labour Party or, indeed, with anyone outside the group that evening in Gresford and Rossett.”
The below section of Mr Lucas’s statement was pulled up for reference yesterday:
Ms Lee was asked for her reaction to it: “I’m disappointed that he — I understand that what I’m saying — he’s a member of parliament. He was going to stand as a member of parliament very shortly after that. Dr John Marek was resigning — was retiring. I just feel this was a chance for Ian to say — he’s got two children. It was a chance for Ian to say, ‘We did have that conversation’, and I’m sorry that he didn’t find it in himself to do that.”
Ms Lee’s evidence can be viewed in the below video with her written statement in this PDF. Ms Lee also wrote a letter to the inquiry where she notes Mr Lucas’s ethical position over Facebook and Bradley Wiggins, and contrasts it to her historic claims.
Mr Lucas’s statement can be found on this PDF.
Evidence was also submitted from British Transport Police on if an arrest took place at Crewe station, with it noted such records do not exist.
The Inquiry also heard from Frances Mowatt ( agent and secretary to the City of Chester Conservative Association during Morrison’s time), Grahame Nicholls (Labour Party official) and former Chester MP (1997 to 2010) Christine Russell. (Full transcripts here).
Grahame Nicholls spoke of how ‘everyone in the political elite in Chester’ knew of ‘rumours’ that Morrison ‘liked little boys’. A section of his written statement (parts here, redacted) was referenced:
Nicholls added in his verbal evidence that a Chief Reporter at a local newspaper ‘would talk about it all the time’ and that ‘the press certainly knew’, adding he first became aware of the Crewe station incident via said reporter, “The press certainly knew. The chief reporter on one of the newspapers that I was very friendly with, she would talk about it all the time, you know. So the press knew, certainly.”
Nicholls characterised an ‘agreement’ between political parties that Morrison would not stand in the 1992 election in return for ‘not breaking cover on the story’.
A ‘strong relationship’ between the ‘main newspaper’ and the Conservative party was referenced, and he ‘presumed’ the local media had bought into some kind of agreement to keep stories about Morrison out of print.
Nicholls added: “The local media wasn’t at that time … didn’t want that published, because there was a very strong relationship between them particularly the main newspaper and the Conservative Party.”
A question was asked, “So were the press involved in this agreement too, that they weren’t going to publish?
Nicholls replied: “Yes, they weren’t going to publish. She told me they weren’t going to publish.
He was asked: “Was that because they had also bought into some agreement of this nature?
Nicholls replied: “I presume, yes.”
Christine Russell gave details of ongoing rumours prior to the Crewe station incident, including that circulated by ‘mainly Conservative councillors’ of ‘wild parties’ at Morrison’s constituency home called The Stables in Puddington village where ‘a select list of guests’ would attend mainly young men.
Rumours about excessive drinking ‘were then embellished’, and were known widely ‘not just in the political community but throughout Chester’.
Russell was asked: “What did you or anyone else do about these rumours during the 1980s?
She replied: “I think because the allegations were coming from police officers, from Conservative councillors, I would say to them, ‘What have you done about it?’ And it was, ‘Oh, he’s being protected, isn’t he?’ That was the common response.”
An odd meeting between Labour and Conservative party representatives in Nicholas Street Mews in central Chester was referenced, where the outcome was it became known Morrison would stand down. The meeting, apparently common knowledge and now ‘mythology’ in political circles, was described in detail being in on a ‘wet rainy day’ and the meeting in the middle of the street with the conservative offices at one end and labour’s at the other.
Russell said there was no truth in claims of ‘agreement’ taking place in effect consisting of various entities covering up for Morrison in exchange for him to step down, when directly asked: “You heard Mr Nicholls give evidence. You have his account, which was of a meeting in which you told the meeting that an agreement had been reached that essentially the political parties and the press would cover up these allegations against Mr Morrison in exchange for Mr Morrison standing down at the next election. What do you say to that?
Russell replied: “No truth whatsoever.”
Russell was asked, “Can you explain why Mr Nicholls and Ms Lee have both remembered something that you can’t?
Russell replied: “I can’t explain it.”
Russell noted three local papers were fully aware of various allegations, naming them as the Chester/Cheshire Observer, Chester Chronicle and Evening Leader, and that none reported on it.
Russell was asked: “It seems to have been the position that none of them reported it.
She replied: “No, they didn’t report it. There was no coverage.”
Later an anonymous person from MI5 gave evidence off camera, and said of the matter: “Today, as a matter of formal policy, MI5 does report all allegations of this sort to the police and, if the same information had come to MI5 today, it would be passed to the police”
Evidence sessions continue today regarding Morrison, with Gyles Brandreth another former MP of Chester appearing in person to give evidence on oath.
Locally further accounts may surface in publications who will be able to give their insider facts on if stories were pulled and other claims relating to their non-reporting, and will likely be able to locate and quiz employees from that era.
In other evidence media not running stories is also referenced with an arrest of Morrison in 1988 for ‘cottaging in Piccadilly Circus’ not published by the Mirror, with a reporter confronting him at home but being threatened with a libel action.
In the same evidence pack in 2012 there is an unsettling reference to a mystery call to a reporter who had just commented on Jimmy Savile allegations live on Sky News. The caller said they were aware of Morrison and claimed the ‘story went much deeper’.
A page from submitted documents also gives an insight to the lengths the Mirror went to while trying to get elements of the story out in this internal note from 1987:
The full three hour evidence session from yesterday can be viewed below and the text based transcripts in this PDF.
The inquiry continues.
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