Labour Party deputy leader Harriet Harman has accused the Daily Mail of a “politically-motivated smear campaign” over its allegations that a pressure group she worked for gave support to paedophiles.
And she claimed that the Mail had published the allegations, even though journalists knew they were untrue.
The Mail has published several front pages in the last week on links between the Paedophile Information Exchange (a group which campaigned for paedophiles’ rights) and the National Council for Civil Liberties.
The PIE was an affiliate organisation of the NCCL at the time that Harman was the group’s legal officer (between 1978 and 1982). During that period her MP husband Jack Dromey was on the executive of the NCCL.
The Mail also claims that the NCCL supported lowering the age of consent to 10 and the legalisation of incest.
Harman told the BBC's Newsnight: “They’ve made these allegations before, they are so outlandish and far from the truth that in the past I have thought don’t dignify them with a response. I thought the same this time, but they’ve but it on their front page three times…
Asked whether she was aware that that PIE was affiliated to the NCCL at the time she was legal officer, she said: "Anyone could join the NCCL by paying a fee.”
Asked why it was considered OK for the NCCL to have any link with the PIE, she said: “NCCL was an organisation where any organisation could pay an affiliation and join it. There was no expulsion policy.”
She refused to apologise and told Newsnight: “This is the Daily Mail aggressively trying to completely reshape the facts of a situation 30 years ago. It is ironic that they are accusing me of supporting indecency in relation to children when they themselves are not above producing photographs of very young girls, titivating photographs in bikinis.
"If there is anybody over the years who has supported indecency it is much more the Daily Mail than it is me.”
In a statement, Harman said: “In recent days I have been the subject of a politically-motivated smear campaign by the Daily Mail. They have accused me of being an apologist for child sex abuse, of supporting a vile paedophile organisation, of having a relaxed attitude to paedophilia and of watering down child pornography laws. …
“I sincerely hope people won’t believe these smears – I suspect even the Daily Mail does’t believe them to be true.”
The Mail said in a leader today: “It is a newspaper’s role to ask awkward and often controversial questions – questions that, in this instance, still await satisfactory answers.”
The Mail also questioned why the BBC waited until Harman’s statement yesterday to cover the story – omitting mention of it even in newspaper reviews.
A BBC spokesperson said: “BBC News is an impartial independent news organisation and decides its editorial priorities on merit alone and without external help.”