Peter Tatchell has argued that “children have sexual desires at an early age” as he praised the “courage” of those selling what he later described as a “pro-paedophilia” book, The Telegraph can reveal.

In a review of a 1986 collection of essays compiled by Warren Middleton, former vice-chairman of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), Mr Tatchell, a gay rights campaigner, said that children should be “educated” so that they can decide when they want to have sex.

Mr Tatchell had even written a chapter for Middleton’s anthology – Radical perspectives on Childhood Sexuality, Intergenerational Sex, and the Social Oppression of Children and Young People – but has since attempted to distance himself, claiming that he was “conned” into contributing to “that vile book”.

The Telegraph can now reveal that a year after the book’s publication, Mr Tatchell submitted a review praising the way it “speaks coolly, clearly and radically about a subject which has far too long been shrouded in emotional hysteria and adult chauvinism”.

Mr Tatchell’s chapter in the book, written when the age of consent for gay men was 21, argued laws criminalising underage sex do more harm than good. Other chapters covered child pornography and prostitution, incest and “how to make paedophilia more acceptable”.

In the review for the newsletter of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1987, Mr Tatchell wrote: “Society would remove a lot of fear, anxiety and depression if, instead of repressing children’s sexuality, it acknowledged the fact that many children have sexual desires at an early age and accordingly educated children, so they are able to make free, informed and responsible decisions about when and with whom they have sex.”

On Tuesday night, Mr Tatchell said that he had still not read the book when he submitted the review, which a colleague had drafted, adding: “I apologise unreservedly for putting my name to this review, and for failing to make clear my unconditional opposition to adults having sex with children.”

The review emerged just weeks after a documentary celebrating the campaigner’s life was released by Netflix.

In Hating Peter Tatchell, celebrities including Stephen Fry and Elton John line up to praise Mr Tatchell’s work while Chris Smith, the former Labour MP, describes him as a “national treasure” and Dr George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, says he was “on the right side of history”.

The documentary, in which he is interviewed by Sir Ian McKellen, makes no mention of his comments on children and sexual desires.

But Mr Tatchell has long been dogged by accusations of being a paedophile apologist.

He faced a storm of criticism in 1997 for writing a letter to The Guardian in defence of another controversial book. In the letter, he claimed that some of his friends “had sex with adults from the ages of nine to 13. None feel they were abused”.

He later said that the letter, which he pointed out said it was “impossible to condone paedophilia”, was edited before appearing in the newspaper.

In an interview republished on his own website claiming to set the record straight on his views, Mr Tatchell describes Middleton’s book as “pro-paedophilia”, saying: “I had no idea that it had any connection to PIE and that it would even mention paedophilia, let alone justify it.”

“If I had known, I would not have agreed to write anything for that dreadful, nauseating book.” 

But his denials have been called into question by his review of the same book, still available in the archives of the British Library.

Headlined “Radical thoughts on consent”, Mr Tatchell noted in the review that Middleton had “found it impossible to get a publisher”

He continued: “I am only writing this review because it seems that no one else is willing to risk association with this taboo subject.”

He wrote that while the authors “oppose coercive and exploitative child sexual abuse” they “also argue that consenting, victimless sexual relationships between younger and older people should not be penalised by the law”.

The review goes on to argue there should be “greater rights for children” who should be “given opportunities to exercise power and choice in every facet of their lives including their sexual and emotional feelings”.

Mr Tatchell said last night that he had still not read the book and did not know of its connections to PIE when he was asked by “[a] person I trusted” to write a review condemning the censorship of it in 1987.

His colleague drafted the review as he was too busy, the former Labour Party Parliamentary candidate claimed, while Mr Tatchell himself made some stylistic changes.

Mr Tatchell claims that he only learnt of the true contents of the book and Middleton’s connections when it was sent to him years later and he “felt tricked and betrayed”.

“I am very sorry and deeply regret the terrible mistake of submitting this review. I was very wrong,” he said when approached by The Telegraph.

“It does not reflect my opinion that adults should never have sex with children and that children cannot consent to sex with adults. Once more, I apologise unreservedly.”

Mr Tatchell said that he “condemns” sex abuse and has “never knowingly been in contact with anyone involved or associated with PIE”.

He added: “I have always supported victims of child sex abuse in their quest for justice. For the record, my view is that paedophilia is the sexual abuse of children.”