The Paedophile Information Exchange was affiliated to the National Council for Civil Liberties – now Liberty – in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But how did pro-paedophile campaigners operate so openly?
A gay rights conference backs a motion in favour of paedophilia. The story is written up by a national newspaper as “Child-lovers win fight for role in Gay Lib”.
It sounds like a nightmarish plotline from dystopian fiction. But this happened in the UK. The conference took place in Sheffield and the newspaper was the Guardian. The year was 1975.
It’s part of the story of how paedophiles tried to go mainstream in the 1970s. The group behind the attempt – the Paedophile Information Exchange – is back in the news because of a series of stories run by the Daily Mail about Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman.
If there was anything with the word ‘liberation’ in the name you were automatically in favour of it if you were young and cool in the 1970s. It seemed like PIE had slipped through the net”
The Daily Mail has revisited the story of PIE to ask how much Harman and her husband the MP Jack Dromey knew about the group during their time working at the National Council for Civil Liberties, now Liberty, in the late 1970s. PIE was affiliated to the NCCL from the late 1970s to early 1980s.
Many of the revelations are not in fact new. The story’s return to the front pages demonstrates the shock people feel about how a group with “paedophile” in its name could operate so openly for so long.
PIE was formed in 1974. It campaigned for “children’s sexuality”. It wanted the government to axe or lower the age of consent. It offered support to adults “in legal difficulties concerning sexual acts with consenting ‘under age’ partners”. The real aim was to normalise sex with children.
Journalist Christian Wolmar remembers their tactics. “They didn’t emphasise that this was 50-year-old men wanting to have sex with five-year-olds. They presented it as the sexual liberation of children, that children should have the right to sex,” he says.
It’s an ideology that seems chilling now. But PIE managed to gain support from some professional bodies and progressive groups. It received invitations from student unions, won sympathetic media coverage and found academics willing to push its message.
It’s wrong to say that PIE was tolerated during the 1970s, says Times columnist Matthew Parris. “I remember a lot of indignation about it [PIE]. It was considered outrageous.”
The group’s visits to universities were often opposed. In 1977 PIE’s chairman Tom O’Carroll was ejected from a conference on “love and attraction” at University College, Swansea after lecturers “threatened not to deliver their papers if Mr O’Carroll stayed”, the Times reported. The May 1978 issue of Magpie, PIE’s in-house newspaper, records how O’Carroll had been invited to address students at Liverpool and Oxford University but that the visits were cancelled after local opposition.