Dr Chris Moores writes about Peter Hayman, the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), the release of National Archives files PREM 19/588 and an alternative account of the prosecution of PIE members.
The discovery and release of Government papers detailing the investigation into the conduct of the diplomat Peter Hayman have generated substantial press coverage over the past week. The PREM 19/588 files released by the National Archives can be seen on the blog of Ian Pace and Spotlight on Abuse; both of which provide substantial resources on historical child-sex offence cases.
In many respects the official documents confirmed much of what we already knew about Hayman. A retired diplomat and former British High Commissioner in Canada, he was exposed in the pages of Private Eye in 1980, named by the Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens under Parliamentary privilege in 1981, and scrutinized in the press during the early 1980s. These accounts linked his activities with the now notorious paedophile advocacy group the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE).
It is interesting, but not entirely surprising, to learn that reports on Hayman crossed the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s desk and that a press ‘line’ was agreed. The documents are also demonstrative of long-standing Cold War anxieties about the subversive potential of sexual blackmail; a key concern of the authorities was the potential national security implications that Hayman’s activities might have created.
The documents address press concerns that there was an official attempt to protect Hayman. They say that he was not considered immune from prosecution and that there was no evidence linking him to specific crimes. Accordingly, Hayman was not central to PIE’s operations and there was no evidence to link him with the charge of ‘conspiracy to corrupt public morals’ which was directed against other PIE members.
Such official observations contrast with other contemporary observations of the trials of PIE leaders. The accounts of the PIE trials written by members of the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) Gay Rights Sub-Committee interpret the conduct of the prosecutors differently. It is now fairly well-known that PIE had links to the NCCL’s Gay Rights Sub-Committee in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Two PIE members briefly and occasionally served on that Sub-Committee.
As with many organizations from the ‘gay left’, this body was concerned about the potential implications that the PIE trials might have on the future policing of ‘non-normative’ sexual behaviour including homosexuality. Many civil libertarians were also very anxious about the vagueness of conspiracy charges. Subsequently, the NCCL Gay Rights Sub-Committee monitored the PIE trial very carefully.
Moreover, it was close to the defence team involved in the PIE trials. Peter Thornton, a member of the NCCL’s executive, served as a barrister in PIE cases and its Gay Rights Officer, Barry Prothero, attended the committal proceedings to decide what evidence might be used against PIE. After the collapse of the first PIE trial in November 1980 Prothero wrote to gay rights campaigners in Canada noting on the case that ‘the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] seems to be negotiating to drop the conspiracy charges’ because ‘there is another man who may have been charged and who was not because of his connections and blowing the cover-up is likely to be worse for the DPP than proceeding with the prosecutions’.
Prothero observed that ‘although assisting in a “cover-up” may be distasteful, not only the defendants but the entire gay movement in this country would be delighted if this one succeeded in order to keep the case out of court’.
A second letter, written in February 1981, was even more specific. Prothero wrote that the first PIE trial used a ‘tiny fraction of the evidence presented at the committal proceedings’ and called only four of the thirteen witnesses present at the earlier hearing. ‘Of the hundred odd boxes of material that were used at the committal, only five magazines and a handful of letters were used at the trials’.
Accordingly Prothero observed that ‘it is clear that most of the evidence that was not used was dropped because Hayman, the erstwhile HC to Canada, was the central figure in its production. The defence barristers tell me that he began the “round Robin”, as the letter writing circle is called, which generated most of the material upon which the committal was based’.
Such reports may be dismissed as the ill-informed writings of an over-worked pressure group officer holding a position on a Sub-Committee which had already demonstrated an ill-judged sympathy towards PIE members and which was also involved in campaigning against the use of conspiracy charges on civil liberties issues.
While the NCCL Gay Rights Sub-Committee’s interest in PIE was hugely problematic, it did mean that its gay rights workers were well-informed on the civil liberties issues raised by PIE. Questions must still be asked about how to reconcile these competing explanations and whether further evidence might found to explain the DPP’s decisions on Hayman and PIE.
The contents of these documents show some of the difficulties in searching for documents about historic sex offences. We need to be aware that paper archives are always limited and partial. There are constraints on the past that they capture, and the processes which permitted their assembly and compilation frame what has been included, excluded and catalogued as part of the historical record.
Certainly much will be revealed, if files exist, can be found, and are opened. However, it seems that such official documents are unlikely to contain smoking guns outlining “cover-ups”. Now that we have an official inquiry into historic child sex offences, it is not just important that official reports and documents are properly investigated and loose-ends chased up, but that these are combined with evidence produced outside of the apparatus of the state and, most importantly, that the testimonies of survivor groups are properly evaluated.
Consideration of the abused is, of course, completely absent from the pages of PREM 19/588. If the National Archives documents fail to show the ‘establishment’ cover-up that journalists and campaigners are eager to find – a “cover up” which certain members of the NCCL felt took place – they are nonetheless demonstrative of an official attitude favouring protection over investigation, seeking to shut-down avenues of inquiry rather than open them up.
 Barry Prothero to The Body Politic Collective, 19 November 1980, Liberty Archives, Hull History Centre, UDCL/688/11.  Barry Prothero to Gerald Hannon, 10 February 1981, Liberty Archives, Hull History Centre, UDCL/688/11.