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Operation Alice

Volume 564: debated on Monday 10 June 2013

The Metropolitan police are conducting an investigation under the supervision of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. My hon. Friend will understand that there is nothing that I can add to that in Parliament without straying into the territory of a criminal IPCC investigation.

We have a situation where police from the Met appear to have fabricated evidence against a Cabinet Minister; the Met Commissioner is put in charge of the investigation and admits to discussing the case with journalists; in breach of his own rules, he fails to keep a note of the discussion; and, six months later, we do not even have a report. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Commissioner has a lot of questions to answer?

I am as eager as my hon. Friend is to see justice done at the end of this episode, but I am sure that he will understand that the service of justice would not be improved by my providing a running commentary, from the Dispatch Box, on an ongoing criminal investigation.

The Commissioner promised a ruthless search for the truth when he established Operation Alice, but, as the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) said, this has taken eight months, involved 30 investigating police officers and cost the taxpayer £144,000 for an incident in Downing street that lasted 45 seconds. We are not asking for a running commentary; we are just asking the Minister when we can have a timetable so that this and other investigations currently costing £23 million in terms of past errors by the police are investigated thoroughly but quickly?

This is an investigation done partly by the Metropolitan police, who are operationally independent, and by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, so it is not for Ministers to set timetables. Indeed, I urge the House to recognise that to ask Ministers to intervene closely and in detail in the work of operationally independent police forces or the IPCC would be the wrong way to go.

In view of the revelations of the past week, will the policing Minister put in place a strict disciplinary code that requires all police officers of all ranks to keep a comprehensive and accurate record of all contacts they have with the press?

I will, as ever, listen carefully to my right hon. Friend’s suggestions, but I emphasise the important distinction, which I know he as much as anyone would recognise, between actions that should be taken by Ministers and actions that need to be taken by operationally independent police forces.

After a terribly bruising encounter at the hands of the media, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) attempted to clear his name in the press. It now seems apparent that he was the victim of media spin at the highest level of the Metropolitan police. Does the Minister understand that this case is particularly important not because the wronged party was a Member of Parliament but because it could happen to any one of our constituents who do not have the vehicle to put things right?

I absolutely understand the importance and the very many lessons that may well be drawn from that case. What I should not and will not do is draw any conclusions in the middle of the investigation.

The Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme took 10 days to establish that the video record was completely at odds with the police account of events. Since the police have now interviewed 800 officers, spent £144,000 and taken eight months apparently to go nowhere, might it not be an idea to invite Channel 4’s “Dispatches” to be put in charge of the investigation, as it appears to be more effective and would certainly be more independent?

I am, as ever, grateful for my hon. Friend’s suggestions, which I am sure will be heard in the appropriate quarters.