In 1991 Greville Janner, the Labour MP for Leicester West, became the first MP in history to be accused of child sexual abuse in a court of law. (Guardian 31/10/91)
The Cyril Smith case has shown that allegations against an MP or VIP would never normally have got as far as court, but the allegations against Janner were raised indirectly during the trial of the paedophile social worker Frank Beck.
After Beck’s trial had finished, Janner returned to the House of Commons to declare his innocence and received a standing ovation from MPs.
And what proof did Janner have to convince other MPs of his innocence?
Well, apparently he had received a letter from a convicted criminal, a cellmate of Frank Beck, which said Beck intended to ‘frame’ Janner.
The letter was never produced as evidence by Janner, his word alone was good enough for MPs to believe the allegations against him were false. And none of them seemed to think it strange that a prisoner would grass on a cellmate to protect the reputation of an MP.
From Janner’s speech:
“Their motive was made blazingly clear by a letter that I received only yesterday from a former cellmate of Beck’s. I do not know the man, but he took it on himself to communicate with me. He writes that Beck told him that he—Beck —was going to frame me. According to Beck, that would take the light off him. To that end, Beck had enlisted the help of Winston. The former cellmate also wrote that the police knew that he was willing to give evidence to that effect if the Crown thought it necessary to call him. In the event, it did not, but the allegations against me were precisely as the prosecution alleged in Beck’s trial —an attempted diversion from the reality of Beck’s guilt. Both verdict and sentence showed—happily—that the attempt failed totally.“
A couple of days later the police announced there would be no action taken against Janner. (Guardian 07/12/91)
Clearly nervous of further “allegations against innocent third parties”, MPs immediately moved to change the law which allowed Janner to be named in Beck’s trial, but this was rejected by Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Solicitor General.
Justice Jowitt, the judge in the Frank Beck trial, had done his best to protect “innocent third parties” by imposing a ban on press reporting, only to have it overturned on appeal. (Guardian 30/11/91)
“The Judge in the Leicestershire child sex abuse trial of three former social workers has stepped in to prevent the names of “people in high places” being used in court.” (Social Work Today 10/10/91)
Just to make absolutely sure no “innocent third parties” were named, Andrew Kirkwood QC, who led the subsequent inquiry, ruled that all evidence would be kept secret from the public. (Social Work Today 07/05/92)
Kirkwood also stated that there was “no evidence of a paedophile ring” operating in Leicestershire children’s homes. (Social Work Today 23/04/92)
Frank Beck died in Whitemoor Prison two years after starting his sentence. The inquest ruled out claims that he had been poisoned, and gave the cause of death as ‘natural causes’. (Care Weekly 28/07/94)
See Hansard for Greville Janner’s speech in full, along with fawning statements of support from Keith Vaz and other MPs.