ONE of Britain’s top spy bosses quit after he helped a paedophile priest avoid jail, it has been revealed.
Robert Hannigan provided a character reference for Father Edmund Higgins, who possessed 174 sick videos of children and boasted online about his sexual interest in babies.
PA:Press Association GCHQ boss Robert Hannigan quit after he helped a paedophile priest avoid jail
Father Edmund Higgins possessed 174 sick videos of children and boasted online about his sexual interest in babies
The priest was given an eight-month suspended sentence after the 2013 trial and went on to reoffend.
Hannigan stood down as GCHQ director in 2017 after less than three years in the post, citing “family reasons”.
Prime Minister Theresa May has been accused of a cover-up over the scandal.
Hannigan gave the reference “in good faith” before his appointment as director of the 5,000-strong Government Communications Headquarters.
His involvement in the case was said to have been discovered during a major investigation into online chatrooms by the National Crime Agency.
He confirmed to the Mail that the priest had been a family friend and said his “judgement was completely wrong” in providing the character reference.
He said: “His subsequent criminal actions appalled us and have shown that our judgement was completely wrong.
“When I later became director of GCHQ, all the correct steps were taken in relation to my involvement in this case and this was verified by Government lawyers.
“This is a personal family matter. We will not be making further comment.”
Hannigan’s connection to the priest was highlighted to figures at the very top of Government, including the Prime Minister.
Higgins visited online chatrooms where child sex abuse was being shown.
In May 2016 he hosted a chatroom where nine videos played showing child abuse, with one victim thought to be just three-months old.
His subsequent criminal actions appalled us and have shown that our judgement was completely wrongRobert Hannigan
When his home was raided the National Crime Agency found more than 800 illegal images, 201 of which were in the most severe category.
While he was on bail he visited the sites again and reoffended.
After his convictions, Higgins was defrocked and changed his name to Edmund Black but continued to offend.
He was jailed for 31 months in June 2018.
Hannigan offered to step down to avoid dragging GCHQ into the scandal.
Even senior officials within the organisation, Foreign Office and Cabinet Office were unaware of the significant reason why he left, it is claimed.
He has since gone on to launch a lucrative career in the private sector.
SNP MP Pete Wishart said the case “reeked of a cover-up” and called on May to explain what minister knew.
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He said: “‘No 10 must give a full account of what they knew, when they knew and why they have failed to do so before.
“The Prime Minister must come to the Commons tomorrow and explain the Government’s role in this appalling episode.’
The Cabinet Office declined to comment on the report.
PA:Press Association Hannigan stood down as GCHQ director in 2017 after less than three years in the post
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