Tom Watson to face select committee over pursuit of Leon Brittan

Tom Watson MP

Tom Watson will appear before a parliamentary committee next week to explain why he urged police to reopen an investigation of rape against the late peer Leon Brittan.

The home affairs select committee has invited Labour’s deputy leader to appear next Wednesday at what is expected to be a fractious meeting. Watson will not attempt to avoid close questioning from MPs, it is understood.

Conservative MPs are furious with Watson over his pursuit of Brittan, who was suffering from cancer in his final months, as well as the Labour MP’s comment soon after Brittan died that the Tory peer was “close to evil”.

It means that the tables will be turned on Watson, who gained a reputation as a ferocious select committee inquisitor after he grilled Rupert Murdoch over phone-hacking allegations in 2012.

Brittan died in January without knowing that he had been cleared of suspicion over the allegation that he had raped a woman. It has emerged that Watson had previously written to the director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, about an allegation of rape when he learned that the police inquiry was being dropped.

Four Conservative MPs asked the committee chairman, Keith Vaz, to put Watson’s actions on the agenda when it meets in private on Tuesday.

Watson issued a defiant response on Monday to the prime minister’s demands that he apologise for putting the police under pressure to reopen the rape inquiry.

He told parliament it was the children who had been the victims of abuse who deserved an apology after he was urged earlier in the day to “examine his conscience” by David Cameron.

The Crown Prosecution Service found in July 2013 that there was not enough evidence to prosecute over the allegation that Brittan had raped a 19-year-old female student in 1967.

When Watson was asked to respond to a point of order from Sir Nicholas Soames, who said he had “vilely traduced” the former home secretary, the Labour deputy leader told the Commons: “I understand that honourable and right honourable members feel aggrieved that Leon Brittan was interviewed by the police and that they are angry with my use of language.

“But I’m sure that they would also agree that when anyone is accused of multiple sexual crimes by numerous, completely unrelated sources, the police have a duty to investigate, no matter who it is,” he said.

Addressing Cameron’s comments, he said the survivors of abuse had been ignored and belittled for too long. “Earlier the prime minister said that I should examine my conscience. Well, I think we all need to examine our consciences in this house.

“We presided over a state of affairs where children have been abused, and then ignored, dismissed and then disdained. If anyone deserves an apology, it’s them,” he said.

In unusually tense scenes, as Watson sat down, some Tory MPs shouted “shame” and “disgrace” across the floor of the House of Commons.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rajeev Syal, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 13th October 2015 17.45 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010