[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Operation Midland and the Henriques report.
I am very grateful to you, Mr Streeter, for chairing this debate today, and to hon. Members from all parties in the House who have come to take part in this important debate.
One of the founding purposes of our Parliament, which was established 751 years ago, was for the redress of grievances. So let me say from the outset that where people—particularly the young and the vulnerable—have been abused by others, however high the alleged perpetrator is, they are not above the law. That was an assertion of the late and great Lord Denning, which is not in dispute. What is in dispute, and the subject of this debate, is the manner in which a number of police forces have chosen to operate and the rules under which they have operated.
Today I make no apologies for seeking to highlight what I and many others consider to be a major miscarriage of justice by the Metropolitan police and indeed by other police forces across the land. I intend to concentrate my remarks on Operation Midland, which involved the pursuit of unfounded claims that sexual offences were committed by the former Home Secretary, the late Lord Brittan; the former Chief of the Defence Staff and distinguished Normandy veteran, Field Marshal The Lord Bramall; and my long-standing friend, Harvey Proctor. Mr Proctor was also accused of murdering three children. I served in this House with both Leon Brittan and Harvey Proctor, and I have met the Field Marshal and his late wife, Lady Bramall, a number of times.
Other well-known people, such as Sir Cliff Richard, Paul Gambaccini and even the late Prime Minister, our former colleague Sir Edward Heath, have also been caught up in this scandal of police failure and mismanagement. However, such is the weight of evidence against—
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Would he just care to reflect on precisely what he means when he refers to the former Prime Minister, because from my perspective—as Salisbury’s Member of Parliament—I see that Wiltshire police have conducted their inquiries perfectly within the guidance set out by the College of Policing and are going where the evidence takes them?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I was about to say that, such is the weight of evidence against the police operations, that time will not permit me to make more than a passing reference to them. I am afraid that I disagree with his view of Chief Constable Veale of Wiltshire. The chief constable’s recent assertion—his bravado—was quite unwarranted. Sir Edward has been dead for 10 years, but I wish to leave that point there, because I think others may well deal with it, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able in due course to make his case in defence of Chief Constable Veale.
These people have lost income. Paul Gambaccini told the Home Affairs Committee that he had lost £200,000 in income and payment of legal fees following his suspension from the BBC and other broadcasters. Harvey Proctor lost his income following his sacking by the Duke and Duchess of Rutland, to whom he had acted as secretary. That sacking was largely at the behest of Leicestershire’s constabulary and social services. Loss of the job meant he also lost his home on the duke’s estate and he is now living in an outhouse with no running water and no lavatory facilities. That is the hard effect of this travesty.
In addition, the distress caused is difficult to imagine. During the investigation conducted under Operation Midland and Operation Vincente, Lord Brittan died and Lord Bramall’s wife died, neither of them knowing that the investigations had both been wound up. In the case of Lord Brittan, who died in January 2015, it was well over a year before the Metropolitan police told Lady Brittan that the Operation Midland case had been dropped, and only when they were asked by her lawyers to verify a report in The Independent on Sunday did the Metropolitan police say that they would not have proceeded.
However, the distress was not confined to that aspect of the case. Lady Brittan endured the indignity of the search of her property. As she told me, 10 to 20 officers invaded the house. She said it was like witnessing a robbery of one’s treasured possessions, including letters of condolence and photographs, without ever being told why. The police were insensitive to her circumstances and never told her that she had certain rights during a search. In her Yorkshire house, the police asked if there was any newly turned earth in the garden, again without saying why.
As Lady Brittan says, while it was ordinary police officers who were instructed to undertake the searches, responsibility for the control of this operation rests with senior police officers, whose insensitivity and incompetence has been revealed.
Does my hon. Friend agree that what appears to be at work here is the most extraordinary want of any form of judgment and balance? And would he care to comment on why there is a pattern running through all this activity of an absolute inability of the police to think for themselves?
My right hon. Friend makes an important intervention, and in looking at all of this I have tried to work out precisely what motivated the police. As I will say in a moment, they seem completely bereft of any common sense. However, if he will forgive me, I will try to address that point later on.
In respect of the searches of Lady Brittan’s home, one sergeant told her, “Thank goodness we are only lowly cogs in this investigation”.
Let me turn to my long-standing friend, Harvey Proctor. It took him 28 years to rebuild his life following conviction in 1987 for a sexual offence, which is no longer an offence and which of course cost him his place in this House. He shunned the public spotlight and became a very private citizen until, out of the blue, his home was raided by police, who spent 15 hours searching, removed papers and possessions, and told him that he was accused of being involved in historical child sex abuse. It took the police a further two months to accuse him of being a child serial murderer, a child rapist and an abuser of children. Those were the wild allegations of one fantasist known only to the public as Nick.
I think my hon. Friend is coming to a very important area. Does he agree that we must be very careful about talking about victims, because surely what we are talking about are complainants? There are no victims until allegations have been proven.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point and it is one that I intend to address in some detail in a moment.
Not content with making these serious charges against Harvey, Nick suggested that there was a paedophile ring operating in Westminster, accusations that the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), who is the deputy leader of the Labour party, was keen to exploit as a Tory scandal and for which he should now offer a full and unreserved apology.
Harvey had staying with him in his house a couple and their newborn child. He was told two weeks before the search of his house by the Metropolitan police that that child should be removed for their own safety, and secret sessions between the Leicestershire police, Leicestershire social services and the duke’s representatives were convened when pressure was placed on the duke and duchess to sack Harvey from his employment after the search of his house. Leicestershire constabulary and the Met passed responsibility for this issue to each other, backwards and forwards, but it happened.
What are the charges against the Metropolitan police and the other forces involved? First, it is that they adopted a policy that the accusations were, in the words of Superintendent Kenny McDonald, “credible and true”. Gone was any pretence of old-fashioned policing—looking dispassionately at the evidence and seeing where it leads.
This is where we are assisted by the excellent report produced by Sir Richard Henriques, a former High Court judge; admittedly, that report was at the specific request of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police. What Sir Richard found was that the chief constable of Norfolk, Simon Bailey, who I understand leads for the Association of Chief Police Officers on child protection and abuse investigation, produced guidance in November 2015 that insisted that complainants should be described as victims. He wrote:
“If we don’t acknowledge a victim as such, it reinforces a system based on distrust and disbelief.”
“The police service”—
please note the reference to the police service, not the police force—
“is the conduit that links the victim to the rest of the criminal justice system; there is a need to develop a relationship and rapport with a victim…in order to achieve the best evidence possible.”
That is the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham).
Does not that fundamentally undermine the bedrock of our justice system—that somebody is innocent until proved guilty?
My hon. Friends are intervening in such a way that they keep anticipating the next paragraph of my speech. I will be coming precisely to that point, because it goes to the heart of this case.
Sir Richard, in describing the approach as “flawed”, said that use of the word “victim” to describe a complainant
“gives the impression of pre-judging a complaint.”
So confident is Mr Bailey, he countered that by
“asserting that only 0.1% of all complaints were false”—
so, according to the chief constable of Norfolk, 0.1% of complaints were false—
“any inaccuracy in the use of the word ‘victim’ is so minimal that it can be disregarded.”
What an astonishing claim to be made by a senior police officer in this country! Not one complainant with whom Sir Richard discussed the issue felt that the word “victim” should be applied instead. On the issue of searches, Sir Richard concluded that they were simply illegal.
Sir Richard turns next to the question of belief, noting that a 2002 police special notice dealing with rape investigations read that
“it is the policy of the MPS to accept allegations made by the victim in the first instance as being truthful.”
A 2014 report on police crime reporting by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary recommended:
“The presumption that the victim should always be believed should be institutionalised.”
As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) said, that approach represents a fundamental reversal of a cardinal principle of English law, namely that a man is innocent unless and until proved otherwise.
As Rupert Butler, counsel of 3 Hare Court, put it to Sir Richard:
“The assumption is one of guilt until the police have evidence to the contrary. This involves an artificial and imposed suspension of forensic analysis which creates three incremental and unacceptable consequences. Firstly, there is no investigation that challenges the Complainant; secondly, therefore, the suspect is disbelieved; and, thirdly, and consequently, the burden of proof is shifted onto the suspect.”
The second charge against the police relates to the evidence of witnesses. Sir Richard observed that
“prominent people…are more vulnerable to false complaints than others…They are vulnerable to compensation seekers, attention seekers, and those with mental health problems. The internet provides the information and detail to support a false allegation. Entertainers are particularly vulnerable to false allegations meeting, as they do, literally thousands of attention seeking fans who provoke a degree of familiarity which may be exaggerated or misconstrued in their recollection many years later. Deceased persons are particularly vulnerable as allegations cannot be answered.”
I emphasise that point to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen)—the allegations against Sir Edward are allegations that cannot be answered by him.
If I may respond to that point, very rarely does an individual act alone. When there are victims—I say victims—who are still alive and connected parties still alive, there is a duty to seek justice for those individuals if they exist.
My hon. Friend says “if they exist”; I am not saying they do not. I do not know, but what I do know—it is a fact—is that Sir Edward Heath is dead and cannot answer back.
Paul Gambaccini, whom I met yesterday, referred to the “bandwagoner”—a person who hears about a complaint against a well-known personality and adds their own false complaint, possibly to make money. That motive should not be discounted in the consideration of these matters.
The third charge relates to the reliability of witnesses. Nick, the man upon whose evidence much of this monstrous submission was based, was dismissed by his mother, his stepmother, his ex-wife and his siblings as a fantasist. In their investigation, Northumbria constabulary must be ruthless in their analysis of why that man should have been free to make such deeply serious accusations against prominent figures when it would appear that little research was undertaken into his background. If his own mother denounced him, why did the police attach such credence to his claims? Of course, this is a man whose evidence was said to be “credible and true” by that chief superintendent. Did they not even think it was worth asking his relatives?
Fourthly, “victims” were constantly kept informed of progress on the case, but the alleged suspects remained in the dark throughout. That cannot be allowed to happen again.
Finally, why did the police abandon all notion of common sense? My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) made that point. At the time of the alleged offences committed by Lord Bramall, he would have had any number of senior officers around him. What attempt was made by the police to ask for their opinion? Or did the police prefer to believe an unknown witness over one with close knowledge of the suspect? The idea that he was cavorting in some orgy on that most solemn of days, Remembrance Day, is not only absurd but an insult to a decorated war hero.
At my surgery on Saturday, I met Lieutenant Colonel Ben Herman. He is an ex-Royal Marine and a former equerry to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. He lives in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena), who cannot be here because he is attending a Committee. Lieutenant Colonel Herman was charged after being kept on bail for more than two years, but was acquitted after 15 minutes’ consideration by the jury. It was his contention that the attraction of his case was the opportunity to land a big fish. Lowly police officers carrying out dull work—except, I suppose, when they were infiltrating subversive groups and fathering children by the women they were supposed to be investigating—were salivating at the prospect of nailing a servant of the royal household. How far did such sentiments permeate the minds of those engaged on Operations Midland, Vincente and Yewtree?
These investigations constituted a grotesque and inexcusable failure by the Metropolitan police. Sir Bernard has accepted that there was failure, but who has been reprimanded or even sacked for the damage done to the individuals concerned and to the reputation of the Metropolitan police? We await the investigation of the Independent Police Complaints Commission with interest. I hope it will be expedited. On the other hand, the behaviour of those facing these dreadful accusations has been extraordinarily dignified. My noble Friend Lord Dear, a former chief constable of West Midlands police, said that in contrast to the dignity shown by Lord Bramall,
“the police investigation lurched from over-reaction to torpidity.”
I will outline what is needed. First, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe should ensure that those responsible for authorising payments to the real victims of this witch hunt—the people whose reputations his force has shredded and to whom immense distress has been caused—are provided with that authority before he leaves office early in the new year. I spoke briefly to him last night to let him know I was initiating this debate. He must sign the cheques before he leaves. Forcing these people to go to court to seek compensation would simply add insult to injury. However, in the absence of an agreed arrangement, that is what they may be obliged to do. As Paul Gambaccini said to me yesterday, no man should acquiesce in his own annihilation.
Secondly, the Henriques recommendations must be implemented urgently. In particular, the requirement that those making claims of historical child abuse be regarded as victims and not complainants must be reversed forthwith, as it overturns the centuries-old principle of the burden of proof. In an article in The Guardian on 10 February this year, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said—he kindly sent it over to me this morning:
“The public should be clear that officers do not believe unconditionally what anyone tells them.”
But that flatly contradicts Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s ruling, which I mentioned earlier, that the presumption should be that the victim is always believed.
Thirdly, the recommendation of anonymity before charge should also be implemented without delay. The Home Affairs Committee’s report on police bail, published on 17 March last year, was clear about that. It concluded:
“Newspapers and the media are prohibited from revealing the name of a person who is the victim of an alleged sexual offence. We recommend that the same right to anonymity should also apply to the person accused of the crime, unless and until they are charged with an offence.”
In support of that recommendation, the Committee referred to its predecessor Committee’s inquiry into the Sexual Offences Bill 2003, which
“called for anonymity for the defendant in such cases, because it felt sexual offences were ‘within an entirely different order’ to most other crimes, carrying a particular and very damaging stigma.”
I agree and, I am pleased to say, so does Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. At least we have found common ground there.
Fourthly, I am disappointed that the Home Secretary feels unable to intervene in any aspect of this saga. In response to my call for the full Henriques report to be published and for compensation to be paid, she wrote to me last month to say that:
“The police are operationally independent of Government, and so any arrangements in connection with the publication of Sir Richard’s report are a matter for the Commissioner of the Police for the Metropolis to consider and address.”
I do not agree. These are not operational matters. I regard them as matters pertaining to public policy, which cannot simply be passed back to the commissioner. Indeed, I would argue that it is unfair on him to leave him with the sole responsibility. I gather that, as far as compensation is concerned, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has to seek authority from other unspecified people, but I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm to me that that will be forthcoming shortly.
I have not been able to contact the Mayor of London, although his office phoned me about five minutes before this debate started. Again, I understand that he does not feel that this is a matter for him because it is an operational matter. I fundamentally disagree. This is a matter of public policy. There has been a serious miscarriage of justice, and Ministers cannot simply stand by and wash their hands of it. They may not agree with my view, but they should at least have a view. I think that the full Henriques report should be published. There is, for example, an entire chapter on Paul Gambaccini, which has not seen the light of day; it has been redacted in its entirety.
For all those people, this has been a harrowing experience exacerbated by insensitivity combined with incompetence on the part of the police. Lord Brittan went to his grave not knowing that the allegations in Operation Vincente had been dismissed. Lady Bramall went to hers not knowing that her husband had also been exonerated. Harvey Proctor said at his press conference on 25 August 2015:
“This whole catalogue of events has wrecked my life, lost me my job and demolished 28 years of my rehabilitation since 1987.”
Not a single police officer has been reprimanded, let alone sacked. Responsibility for this scandalous failure must lie with Sir Bernard and his senior officers. Either they knew what was being done in their name, which clearly renders them culpable, or they did not, which begs the question why they were not closely updated on cases involving multiple child murders and child sexual abuse, allegedly perpetrated by a Westminster ring involving a former Prime Minister and other public figures. In the case of Sir Cliff Richard, we know that the South Yorkshire police disgracefully conspired with the BBC to film the raid on his home.
However, there is one police officer who deserves praise. Detective Chief Inspector Paul Settle is the senior officer responsible for Operation Vincente into the allegation of rape made against Lord Brittan by a woman known only as Jane. In September 2013, he decided that the investigation should not proceed any further, and concluded that any action against Lord Brittan would be grossly disproportionate and would not have a legal basis. As he told the Home Affairs Select Committee, as a result of the hon. Member for West Bromwich East piling pressure on the Met, a hurried review of DCI Settle’s decision was carried out by another officer, who failed to look at all the documents and, in particular, did not look at DCI Settle’s decision log, a document he described as
“an intrinsic and fundamental part of all major investigations.”
That provides further evidence that culpability for this matter resides at the top of the Met.
For acting with probity, DCI Settle was ordered by his line manager, Detective Superintendent Gray, to have nothing more to do with the case. Not only was he brushed aside and not only was his hitherto distinguished career blighted but he was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for allegedly leaking information to the media. As one police source is reported to have told the Daily Telegraph:
“He was the only detective who spoke out against the witch hunt of VIPs and he is being punished for his honesty.”
It seems that he is being sacrificed by his superiors.
Finally, I say to those who might be tempted to think that I am concerned with those in high places suffering injustice only because they are people I know in one way or another that I am not. If that is how the police treat those in high places, what confidence can the ordinary man in the street have that he will receive fair and impartial treatment from the police?
Order. We have about 36 minutes until the wind-ups begin, and six people who have indicated that they wish to speak, so they have about six minutes each.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I thank the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) for securing this debate, which gives us the opportunity to examine policing in relation to one of the most serious crimes of our age. At the outset, I should say that I have spent a good number of years campaigning on child sexual abuse, and I have met many survivors of sexual abuse. Furthermore, my second wife was sexually abused as a child, as is publicly known, so I know that it destroys lives.
I have an additional perspective on this matter: I have been the subject of accusations of sexual abuse, which were investigated by the police. I knew the allegations were nonsense, and it was a very distressing time as I had to wait many months before the Crown Prosecution Service put me out of my misery and dropped the case because there was no evidence. It also cost me a considerable amount of money—the hon. Gentleman talked about that issue. I think I can therefore contribute an understanding not just of the seriousness of this type of crime but of the trauma that innocent people are put through when malicious allegations are made against them.
I have also been critical of the police for the mistakes they have made in investigating sexual abuse. I have had good reason to do so on behalf of my constituents, especially in relation to the Rochdale grooming scandal. Greater Manchester police eventually apologised for that.
I have also read the Henriques report on Operation Midland. It is clear that that investigation also suffered from chronic failures, albeit of a different kind. The pendulum swung from a situation in which the police showed little interest in investigating the crime to one in which, haunted by failures of the past, they became over-zealous and they over-reached. Neither approach is acceptable, and it is right that scrutiny and criticism have followed.
I am pleased that the Home Secretary has announced that the police should have a licence to investigate child abuse to ensure consistent standards and to prevent officers from being forced to take on roles for which they are not prepared. However, I also believe that the Home Secretary should introduce mandatory reporting of abuse, although that is perhaps a debate for another day. As important as it is to scrutinise Operation Midland, we cannot give the public the impression that we are here to protect our own or to make the police think twice before investigating any current or former Members of this House. The police must act without fear or favour. They should not be intimidated or discouraged from carrying out investigations into MPs. It is just as important that justice is applied to a Home Secretary as it is that it is applied to a homeless person.
We must remember that we have had Government Whips such as Tim Fortescue boasting that they could cover up scandals involving MPs and small boys; we have had papers from the head of MI5 sent to the Cabinet Secretary under Margaret Thatcher warning that Peter Morrison MP had a penchant for small boys; and we have had significant allegations of child abuse by Lord Janner. There are currently 29 cases before the Independent Police Complaints Commission involving allegations of the police covering up child sexual offences from the ’70s to 2005. The IPCC has admitted that some of those allegations concern Members of Parliament —people who have been Members of Parliament. I could go on with other examples. It is clear that Sir Ian Horobin, the MP who was jailed for child sexual abuse in 1962, was certainly not the only person in this House guilty of that type of crime.
But that is the wider context. I would like now to focus on my personal understanding of the failings in relation to Operation Midland. After I wrote a book on Cyril Smith and the abuse that he meted out, I was inundated with correspondence making all sorts of allegations about other politicians, including Leon Brittan. I looked into those allegations, but I could find no evidence to suggest that he had done anything criminal. Furthermore, my office spoke to the person known as Nick, who was a key source of evidence during Operation Midland. The feedback that I received was that he had been instructed by the now defunct news website Exaro not to provide details to me about VIP abusers. Nick was clearly a very damaged individual who was struggling to cope, and I do believe that he had been abused. I just did not know by who.
I found all that a depressing tale and decided not to do anything with Nick’s testimony. However, I assumed that the Metropolitan police would not rely on one victim and that there were surely others. It now appears that that was not the case, and it was obviously a mistake to rely on so much from just one person. That said, I will not join in the calls to have Nick prosecuted for perverting the course of justice. I do not think that would be wise. There is some irony, in that we do not have to go too far back in modern history to find a Director of Public Prosecutions stating that it was not in the public interest to prosecute Cyril Smith MP for child abuse, or Victor Montagu MP, who admitted abusing a boy for nearly two years, and yet there are now calls for a survivor of abuse to be prosecuted. I certainly do not think it is in the public interest to prosecute Nick.
The law is messy and imperfect. Child abuse is a difficult crime to investigate, and a combination of disinterest and inadequate police skills over recent decades has resulted in far too many people getting away with a very serious crime. On occasion, that has also resulted in the wrong people being accused, with a lot of unnecessary hurt caused as a result. Finally, the ongoing football scandal shows that we have been far too slow to act. We must be more vigilant about powerful people abusing children.
I am grateful to be called to speak, Mr Streeter, and I am very pleased to be able to make a short contribution to this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth). Everyone knows him to be a very good man, but it takes courage and determination to raise this sort of matter. I warmly support everything that he said.
The cases in question have created widespread concern about how the Metropolitan police and other forces have handled high-profile cases involving serious accusations of criminal offences allegedly committed by some of the leaders of our country. There is the apparently ongoing, astonishing case of our former colleague and Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath. So far, £700,000 has been spent on Operation Conifer, which is investigating the allegations against him. Some of the original allegations apparently included those of satanic rituals. Those complaints have since been dismissed, but they are illustrative of the bizarre extent of the allegations. The chief constable for Wiltshire has responded to the inevitable questions about why the police are wasting so much money on claims against a man who died more than 10 years ago and cannot answer back by defiantly affirming that he would not be
“buckling under pressure to not investigate or to conclude the investigation prematurely.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot mentioned the raid on the home of Lord and Lady Brittan. I should declare an interest: both Lord and Lady Brittan are very old friends of mine. My hon. Friend also mentioned the horrific indifference of the police officers involved. Furthermore, I remind the House of what happened to Lord Bramall. His house was raided by a 20-strong search team in a blaze of publicity, with police cars parked in the pub car park, advertising to the world what they were about. What an unspeakable way in which to treat a second world war veteran, let alone a former Chief of the Defence Staff of utmost probity. That calls the police’s whole sense of proportion and loss of judgment into question.
I knew Harvey Proctor slightly. He had been in the House for four years when I was first elected in 1983. We were not political soulmates, but I was one of those Members of Parliament proud to rally around to help him to set up his shop in Richmond following his conviction in 1987, which resulted in his leaving the House. I was heartened to see that, once again, people such as Matthew Parris and Michael Portillo were rallying around to support the public-spirited initiative of Iain Dale to raise money for Mr Proctor, who in my judgment has been unspeakably treated. The effort raised some £11,140, including many small contributions from ordinary people disgusted by what they had read about the handling of the case by the Metropolitan police.
Another case concerns a former fire officer in Dorset, David Bryant, who is 66 years old and has received commendations for gallantry. He spent almost three years behind bars for a crime that he did not commit, solely on the evidence of a man with a history of mental illness. Danny Day, now aged 53, had gone to the police in 2012 claiming that he had been raped by Mr Bryant and another firefighter, who is now dead, at the fire station in Christchurch on a single unspecified date at some time between 1976 and 1978. Mr Day said he was aged about 14 at the time of the alleged attack.
Mr Bryant, who the court heard was of “impeccable character” and had no previous criminal record, was convicted in 2013. Initially, he was sentenced to six years in jail, later increased to eight. Mr Day, who waived his right to anonymity in a series of newspaper interviews after the conviction, was finally exposed as a liar after detective work by a brave Mrs Bryant and a team of lawyers and private investigators who had been so horrified by the conviction that they had agreed to work on the case for free. Mr Justice Singly, hearing the case with Lord Justice Leveson and one other senior judge, said that other fresh material before the court included information that
“over a period from 2000 to 2010 the complainant in this case had to seek medical attention from his GP in relation to what can only be described as his being a chronic liar”.
David Bryant said:
“What happened to me must never be allowed to happen again. Being wrongly imprisoned as an innocent man is a living hell and something I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy.”
To conclude, there are terrible cases that must be dealt with—I agree with the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk)—but what comes through in the case of Harvey Proctor and others is the monstrous treatment of an innocent man, who lost his livelihood, his way of life and everything else that he had strenuously worked for to re-establish his good name. The Metropolitan police must put him back and recompense him for that terrible evil. A monstrous injustice has been done and is too regularly done. I beg the Home Secretary and others in some way to ensure that the police exercise a proper sense of proportion, common sense and good judgment when dealing with such difficult cases.
I extend my thanks to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) for securing the debate.
As more and more allegations of historical child sex abuse come to light, more focus is inevitably placed on how our police forces handle such important matters. We have had Operation Yewtree into the Jimmy Savile cases; the umbrella inquiry, Operation Fairbank, which investigated politicians and other high-profile public figures; and Operation Midland, which is our particular focus today. Operation Midland was closed without any charges being brought.
As is now agreed, the allegations of historical child sex abuse that gave rise to Operation Midland were mishandled at best and shambolic at worst. In the event, worryingly, 40 areas of concern were identified in Sir Richard Henriques’s report, including the “automatic believing” of the allegations of the person known as Nick, whom we have heard about. Nick, the principal complainant, was treated as being “credible and true”, to use Henriques’s words.
Although there can be no further doubt that Operation Midland is an example of investigation at its worst of most serious allegations, and that lessons must be learned so that such allegations in the future are properly and fully investigated, it is also essential that those who allege they have suffered sexual abuse always remain at the heart of police investigations and feel able, supported and confident about coming forward to report crimes in future.
Although the Henriques report spoke of police failings in automatically believing the complainant Nick, whose account and allegations contained inconsistencies that ought to have made investigators more sceptical and more questioning, he is only one person, and all future complainants should not be tarred with the same brush. False allegations of historical sexual abuse, or any sexual abuse, are not seriously believed by many people to be widespread, and we must remember that.
However, concerns about this entire unfortunate episode persist. There has been much criticism of the fact that only around 10% of the Henriques report will be published. What does that mean for full transparency in such a serious matter? The fact that its publication coincided with the day of the presidential election in America has also raised concerns about attempts to bury bad news, but bad news such as this is like Banquo’s ghost; it will appear at the most inopportune moments to haunt those concerned. This attempt to bury bad news does not reassure the public or gratify those who feel they were unfairly targeted as part of Operation Midland.
Scotland Yard has been accused of attempting to limit the damage to its reputation by heavily redacting the report. The main complainant who gave rise to Operation Midland has now been dismissed, as we have heard, as a fantasist who faces potential charges. We must also remember that, by their very nature, allegations of historical sex abuse can be extremely challenging to investigate and very difficult to prove in court. Amid all the criticism, we need to remember that the police have an extremely difficult task. If they were not to be seen to investigate such allegations, they could be accused of being conflicted over investigating establishment figures. Clearly, that would lead to a loss of public confidence.
Investigating in a heavy-handed and gung-ho all-guns-blazing procedure is not appropriate, either. A balance must be struck that most people would agree was not struck in Operation Midland. That should be a cause of great concern to us all. It is a concern that there should not be and must not be any negative implications for how such allegations are treated in future. It is a concern that the police learn the lessons and investigate all such allegations in future without fear or favour and go wherever their investigations take them. It is a concern that victims of such abuse are not dismissed out of hand and have confidence that allegations will be fully and properly investigated. It is a concern that the public must feel that establishment figures will be fully investigated properly and transparently when such allegations are made against them in future, in the same way as such allegations should be investigated against any ordinary person. Those are important points, as more allegations of historical sex abuse emerge from the world of football as we speak.
Child sex abuse is the dirty little secret that is slowly exposing itself more and more as more people find the courage to come forward. We need to treat such allegations with proper care and attention and investigate them correctly. We owe that to every single person who has lived through such horrific abuse. It is important that no one is seen to be above the law, and no matter how historical the allegations are, they must be subject to full analysis. When there is sufficient evidence, those who are found to be guilty must be punished.
Mistakes in Operation Midland should serve warning of the importance of getting this right for both alleged victims and alleged abusers. It should not and must not be used as a barrier or a reason to automatically disbelieve future allegations. We need to get this right. I hope that today the Minister will reassure us that the Government are placing a strong emphasis on making sure they get this right in future.
We all bring prejudices into this place. The greatest prejudice that perhaps we all share is one of revulsion at the idea of child sexual exploitation, but when it affects an individual we know or revere, our prejudice is to immediately assume they are innocent. That was the case, in my circumstances, with Field Marshal Lord Bramall. He is an individual who, in my regiment, is revered, with a semi-godlike status. The whole family of the regiment were horrified that he should have been accused in such a way, and we rejoice that all the effects of the accusation have been removed from his character. However, we remain demanding of answers in this case.
Of course the great and the powerful should be investigated when allegations are made, just as allegations against anyone should be investigated, but it is how we investigate that matters. The Henriques report has outlined an appalling catalogue of errors in all the cases that hon. Members have mentioned in this debate. In the case of Lord Bramall, the report says that it was wrong to raid his home based on the testimony of a single complainant since dismissed, as hon. Members have said, as a fantasist. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) about the number of officers, where they parked and the other factors involved in the case. The Henriques report says that it was entirely wrong to wait 10 months for the investigation to be dropped. In addition, Henriques questions the police tactics in obtaining search warrants for Lord Brittan’s and Harvey Proctor’s homes.
We have to ask who in the team conducting the search on Lord Bramall’s home questioned the ethics of entering the house of someone in their 90s in the way that they did. This was someone nursing his terminally ill wife. The police spent 10 hours in that house, many of them dressed in forensic suits, causing great distress to the ailing Lady Bramall. They took personal items out of the house and did not return them for a very long time. What kind of appalling groupthink existed in that team? I understand the medical term for it is cognitive dissonance. We have seen this in hospitals that have declined to see terrible figures on mortality. We have seen it in other organisations. I suggest it was prevalent in the Operation Midland team. Was there—is there—an adequate whistleblowing system that would have allowed someone properly to raise this?
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), who secured this debate. He made an excellent speech. In many of our public services, including our most secret intelligence services, there is a system for people to raise concerns, but the system clearly failed in the case of Operation Midland.
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) rightly talked about the pendulum swinging. The police were appalled at the attacks that had been made on them for their failure in the Savile case and they swung the other way. But did anyone lose their job over the treatment of people like Lord Bramall, Lord Brittan and Harvey Proctor? Such high-profile people who are still alive are articulate and able to make a powerful case on their own behalf, whatever the privations they have suffered as a result.
On that point, I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent speech. Someone was in charge of this. Someone was providing the leadership for the teams and exerting the judgment, issuing instructions and orders, and yet no one has been held accountable for the dreadful way in which it was being done.
As my right hon. Friend’s grandfather might have said, who was in charge of the clattering train? But it is not just about famous and well-known people. What about the teacher, the carer, the social worker, the fireman who are treated in this way? Blame lies not just with the misguided officers behind so many of the failures in Operation Midland. The climate was perpetrated by—I will name him—the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) and others, who fostered a conspiracy theory culture around many of the investigations into the individuals.
The hon. Member for Rochdale was right to mention the loathsome people behind Exaro, the news website that put innocent people’s names in the public domain. It is hard to credit that the initial failures of the search and the delay in announcing that the inquiry had been dropped were compounded by the official letter Lord Bramall received, which was very churlish in its conclusions. It just said there was insufficient evidence to merit continuing the inquiry, and that further investigation could take place if more information came out. That was sent to a 90-year-old war veteran, with his dying wife in the house. What kind of mindset prevailed in the organisation?
I want never again to be ashamed of any action taken by the police force in any part of the country. I revere the police and firmly agree that they have a most difficult job; but the way things were done in the case I have outlined is deeply worrying to all of us who believe that fairness before the law is this country’s greatest virtue. I hope that the Minister will understand the strength of feeling that means he needs to hold the police force to account.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) on his powerful speech. I entirely agree with everything that was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames). He was absolutely right when he focused on the issue of common sense. I should not want to be a police officer, and no doubt a police officer would not want to be a politician; but Operation Midland is not the police’s finest hour.
I think that there are five colleagues present in the Chamber who have been in this place since the time when those who were accused were parliamentarians; so most of us knew those individuals. Of course, it is not for us to judge the rights and wrongs of whatever they were accused of. Lord Bramall, about whom my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) spoke, is someone for whom I have the highest regard. It is unforgivable that his wife died without knowing that the accusations against her husband were false. The way the raid on his home was conducted was a disgrace. The late Lord Brittan was a fine Home Secretary and a great European Commissioner. When I heard of the allegations against him I just could not believe them. It is, again, unforgivable that he died without knowing he had been cleared of the allegations.
However, I want to focus in my speech mainly on Harvey Proctor. He was the Member of Parliament for Basildon first, and then Billericay, from 1979 to 1987. I was elected for Basildon in 1983 and Harvey Proctor then became the MP for Billericay. As a newly elected Member of Parliament, elected under extraordinary circumstances to a House that was very different from the way it is today, I was grateful for all the help and support that he gave me. I speak as I find; he was perhaps the least materialistic Conservative colleague I have ever known. His reputation as an assiduous constituency Member still holds good today. It was a shock when, in May 1987, in the first week of the general election campaign, there was a trial and Harvey was convicted of an act of gross indecency; he was fined £1,450. Suddenly, in the first week of the campaign, there was a new Conservative candidate, the late Teresa Gorman.
I think that Harvey paid a heavy price for what he was found guilty of in 1987. I have been in correspondence with the Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary, to see what could be done about the charges. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex for what he and others did to try to rescue Harvey’s career, which had been destroyed. So it was a shock when, in March 2015, Harvey’s home at Belvoir was raided. Between 1987 and 2015 I had rather lost contact with him and it was after some years, at a caravan rally at the Duke of Rutland’s estate, where he was the manager, that we met. I was reminded—we are all busy people and we forget about things—how his life had been destroyed; he was haunted by what had happened in 1987. Harvey was, of course, accused of rape and murder, and has been acquitted.
Sir Richard’s report, which is excellent, makes 40 recommendations. I want to end by saying that I am tiring of Ministers responding to debates with what amounts to saying they cannot do anything. In 1983 they could do something, so how is it that 33 years later Ministers seem to be so powerless? Surely a word could be said, or a message could be sent. As far as Harvey Proctor is concerned, his life has been destroyed; he is more than entitled to compensation, as indeed the other victims should be.
Early one morning in March 2015, one of my constituents opened the front door of her home in Wensleydale to find a group of police officers standing there, with a warrant to search her house. Having lost her husband of 35 years just weeks before, she watched while the officers upturned every inch of the home they had shared. She told me it was
“like seeing your house burgled in front of your eyes”.
My constituent is Lady Diana Brittan, and her husband Leon was once my constituency’s representative in this House.
By any measure, Leon Brittan was a great man. Our nation’s youngest Home Secretary since Churchill, he helped to guide the country through the long night of the miners’ strikes. As Secretary of State for Trade, he played an instrumental role in creating the World Trade Organisation and, as Britain’s EU Commissioner, he won the nickname “Bulldozer” for his immovable commitment to UK interests. In pursuing what he knew to be right, regardless of who told him otherwise, Leon soon proved that he had, in spirit at least, been a son of Yorkshire all along.
However, in the last year of his life, when he was dying from cancer, he received a phone call from the Metropolitan police. He was told that he was to be investigated for an allegation of rape some 48 years old. The phone call was made despite the fact that the officer in charge of the case described the investigation as “grossly disproportionate”, and despite the fact that, as the Director of Public Prosecutions would later confirm, the case “at no time” met the necessary threshold for a realistic prospect of conviction. No one is above the law. It is of course right that the police should vigorously pursue allegations of criminality. However, in the case of my constituent it is clear that the Metropolitan police committed grave errors. As the Select Committee on Home Affairs said, the police acted in fear of
“media criticism and public cynicism”.
That is not a proper basis for police operations. The pursuit of justice is not an exercise in public relations.
Commissioner Hogan-Howe is to be commended for initiating the excellent independent Henriques review of the Met’s performance. However, the report is damning and lists more than 40 different failings, of which I will touch on three. First, current police guidance dictates that officers must “believe” a complainant’s allegations and that complainants should be referred to as “victims”. That is a dangerous principle. It flies in the face of the most fundamental principle of our justice system: that an accused is innocent until proven guilty. It goes beyond the reasonable requirement that officers should treat any allegations seriously and respectfully, and it creates a mindset where investigators may be tempted to fit facts to an accusation rather than approach their investigation with an open mind. It was precisely such thinking that led officers allegedly to mislead a judge about the credibility of a witness, thereby obtaining an unjustified search warrant and causing my constituent Lady Brittan so much distress.
Secondly, there were serious shortcomings in the way that the Metropolitan police interacted with the media. Our laws rightly preserve the anonymity of the accuser for sexual offences. Yet for the accused, our protections have repeatedly proved inadequate. Current police practice of confirming to the media the age and location of suspects is clearly incompatible with the police policy that suspects should maintain their anonymity until charged. For Leon, whose long years of public service made him easily identifiable, anonymity was lost well before it should have been, with devastating consequences. Lady Brittan, who was a dedicated magistrate, described to me how she and Leon, who was then in the late stages of cancer, were chased down narrow Yorkshire lanes by photographers and how their daughters fended off journalists outside their home. I appreciate the delicate arguments involved in considering statutory pre-charge protection of anonymity, but the failings of Operation Midland provide a compelling case for review.
Lastly, and most unforgivably of all, the police failed to inform the Brittan family that they were no longer pursuing their investigations. They found the time to inform the complainant, but it was not until nine months later that Lady Brittan read in a newspaper what she had known all along: that her husband had done nothing wrong. That delay meant that Leon died without ever seeing his innocence confirmed. It is shameful that the man who led our police force through one of its most challenging periods found himself so poorly repaid at its hands.
In conclusion, I have no doubt that if Leon, with his fierce intellect, had been standing in my place today, he would have made a far better case than I ever could. However, foremost in his mind would have been that the lessons must be learned, and learned properly. No one should ever suffer the injustice that he and his family have had to endure.
If each of the Front Benchers aims for nine minutes, that will give Sir Gerald two minutes to respond. I call Richard Arkless.
Thank you, Mr Streeter. I will not attempt to take up any more time than I have been allocated; I am keen to hear what the other Front Benchers have to say. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) on bringing this sensitive and difficult topic to the Chamber. It is not easy to take the position that he has taken on this matter, and I recognise his bravery for doing so.
I will start by bucking the trend and praising the police—although obviously not in the context of Operation Midland. In my experience, the police in all four nations of these islands do a terrific job, and we should not forget that. This seems to be an isolated incident, and it is right that we express concern about it and try to tackle it.
Like most Members in the Chamber, I believe two things in this respect. First, I believe in the presumption of innocence. I am a lawyer, so for me that is a cornerstone of a civil society and the rule of law and it ought never to be discarded. Secondly, I believe that child sexual abuse is the most heinous crime that human beings have ever committed against other human beings. It is a heinous crime not only to be committed, but for someone to be accused of if they have not committed it. We should remember both those things. It is the only crime for which I could possibly justify reinstatement of the death penalty—clearly not in cases where people are innocent, but it is the most appallingly disgusting crime.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in the case of Cliff Richard, for example, the presumption of innocence was done away with when the search of his house and the reason for it was broadcast live on television with the connivance of the police?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I have just said that I appreciate that child sexual abuse is the most heinous crime not only to commit but to be accused of, and I have certain personal sympathies with Mr Richard’s position that there should be anonymity before charge. That debate is ongoing, and it is right that we have it. I do not disagree at all that child sexual abuse is the most heinous and appalling crime to be convicted of, and I have sympathy with anyone who has ever found themselves in that position.
I suppose the public will watch debates such as this and think to themselves, “What on earth was going on 20, 30 or 40 years ago?” The allegations made in the context of Operation Midland could not be proven—rightly so, it seems—but we have had other high-profile cases such as Savile, and we now have allegations involving football players and clubs. It seems that when two or three victims, or complainants, have the courage to come forward, that unlocks a Pandora’s box that no one thought was there. Although the points that the hon. Member for Aldershot made are steeped in sense, the danger of this debate is that we somehow appear to be protecting our friends and pals. If we do that, it will completely put off more victims from coming forward, and if they do not come forward, we will never understand the scale of what seems to have happened in a time about which I quite frankly cannot understand what I have seen and heard over the past few years.
The hon. Gentleman made a fantastic and powerful speech, and I was struck by the recommendations that he made. I was interested in his points about 3 Hare Court chambers—which I used to work with, incidentally, so I trust its advice. I was quite perturbed and distressed by the words “if they exist”. Clearly, in Operation Midland, it was difficult to prove that Nick was telling the truth, but if we in this place start taking that attitude—“Do victims exist? Should these allegations be believed? Are they spurious?”—we will put a lid on people being brave enough to come forward and describe such allegations, so that we in society can face up to what people did years ago, which none of us would suggest we have any part in.
That is the main point that I wanted to make. I was going to comment on some other speeches—I have been impressed by all the speeches—but I am keen to hear what the other Front Benchers have to say. I conclude with a note of caution: although it is right that we have this debate, we should be very clear and careful about the message that we send out. Presumption of innocence is one thing, but I would rather have a debate about the thousands of people all over these islands who have been sexually abused—not by the gentlemen investigated by Operation Midland, granted—and who never had the courage to come forward. I would like those people to come forward so they can finally get justice. That is what I would prefer to be talking about.
May I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) and all other Members on their passionate and interesting speeches? May I also say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter?
The report’s findings are extremely serious. They relate to the poor conduct of the police investigation and the breach of the police’s own guidelines on the anonymity of suspects, which have caused the Met to be in crisis. However, people’s focus is changing, and there now appears to be more attention on the credibility of rape and sexual assault victims. There is no evidence in the report to support a blanket change in policy for the treatment of all victims, which would run counter to all the evidence and the positions of all stakeholders.
Rape Crisis England and Wales says:
“The vast majority of survivors choose not to report to the police. One significant reason…is the fear of not being believed.”
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children carried out a series of focus groups with victims of Jimmy Savile to identify common themes that prevented those victims from reporting their abuse to the police at the time and to explore how the police could improve their management of the reporting process and subsequent interviews and contacts. In all those groups, a key reason victims gave for not disclosing abuse was their overwhelming belief that if they had done so, they would not have been believed. Those who did not report abuse cited feelings of shame, guilt and a fear of not being believed, as well as feeling intimidated by Jimmy Savile’s profile, as their reasons for not telling anyone. Status and position must not be a shield against investigation. We have heard a lot about loss of income and livelihoods. If just one case is proven, that is one child’s childhood that has been taken.
The Met has made very serious errors. The detail of the Henriques report should be used to strengthen police procedures for both investigation and the treatment of suspects. It cannot and must not be used to downgrade the seriousness of allegations of rape or sexual assault—crimes that are already woefully under-reported and have low conviction rates. Victims fearing that they will be doubted only serves to prevent reporting and to degrade those victims. There must be no move backwards by the police to make matters even worse. There must be no return to the abysmal treatment of victims or lack of seriousness in investigations, or to the police denigrating victims or denying them their rights.
Thank you. The Minister now has plenty of time to respond. I call Brandon Lewis.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter, especially as you have effectively encouraged colleagues to intervene on me. Thank you for that.
As others have done, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) on securing this debate, and I thank him and others for the points that they have raised about this serious matter. I am grateful to all hon. Members for the quality of the debate, which shows Parliament at its very best. This subject is difficult and can be sensitive, but they have made their points clearly. I was going to say that if there is anything I do not touch on due to pressure of time, I will write to hon. Members, but I think we should have time to cover everything thanks to the tight speeches from the Opposition Front-Bench Members.
One of the difficulties with a debate such as this, as a couple of Members rightly mentioned, is getting the balance in the system, and understanding that there is a balance, that finds the correct line between making sure that people can come forward as complainants or victims—there is an issue about the definition of victims, which was raised by hon. Friends and is in the Henriques report—and judging that against the rights of the individual, ensuring that we have a system in which people have the freedom and confidence to come forward to make complaints in the first place.
One of the things the police force should be proud of—we should all be proud of this—is that we are seeing a rise in recorded crime, with the two main causes of that being the improvement in the quality of recording crimes and the number of people who have had the confidence to come forward that was not there before. We need to ensure that we retain that while we ensure that the police and criminal justice system have the credibility we all want them to have so that when an allegation is brought forward that has no substance and no finding, the police deal with it effectively and efficiently as well. I will now come to that issue, which is at the core of the debate.
I want to be clear at the outset that I am not going to defend—nor could I—the actions of the Metropolitan Police Service in this case. We in Government share the deep concerns that hon. Members have articulated so clearly during the debate and those about the Metropolitan police’s handling of non-recent sexual abuse allegations, including Operation Midland. The Metropolitan police’s credibility in dealing with child sexual exploitation generally was highlighted and clearly shown to be well below the standard it should be in the recent report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, which, to quote Sir Tom Winsor, is about the worst report that it has ever written about any police force in the country.
We recognise the anguish felt by those who had their reputations traduced by allegations that were subsequently discovered to be unfounded, and I empathise with them. To be unjustly accused of any crime, and, as the hon. Members for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) and for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) outlined, especially of a crime such as this, is a terrible experience for any individual. For that trauma to be exacerbated by police failures and behaviour is an affront to our criminal justice process and it should not happen.
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, to his credit, was right to ask Sir Richard Henriques to carry out the independent review, but now he must stand up to the findings of that review. It sheds a light on the errors made by his force in carrying out the investigations. He has been frank in acknowledging the failings of the Metropolitan Police Service, and he, and I would say also his successor—I hope that he will deal with this so that it is not an issue for his successor to pick up next year—must not shy away from a proper consideration and response to Sir Richard’s recommendations or from taking all action necessary to ensure that that litany of errors never occurs again. I do mean all action necessary, and I will come to the detail of that in a moment. It is imperative that that is done without shying away from it at the earliest opportunity.
The Metropolitan police are now consulting on the recommendations with the National Police Chiefs Council, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, the College of Policing and statutory and voluntary partners in the criminal justice system. I urge all parties involved in that work to consider the recommendations swiftly and decisively. They must learn the lessons from the failures. Investigations into allegations around sexual offences must be carried out professionally and appropriately for both parties.
Having benefited hugely from particular kindness from both Field Marshal Lord Bramall and Lord Brittan, may I suggest, as colleagues have, that it is not just about learning lessons? Those who were responsible for the disgraceful behaviour on the day and the failure to follow up afterwards must be identified.
My hon. Friend makes a good point that the review deals with. I will come specifically to that in a moment.
This problem will not go away. Reports of child sexual abuse are increasing year on year and our public must have confidence in the system and that their police force—whoever and wherever that is—will handle those cases appropriately. However, again, that works both ways. Members have noted the case of South Yorkshire police and Sir Cliff Richard and how that was dealt with. That is a great example of how to do it badly and in a way that brings the entire police force into disrepute.
In order to wield the power, the police have to take investigations forward properly and appropriately; they have to understand the adage that with great power comes responsibility. At what point could anyone take the view that it is appropriate to carry out a raid with the BBC or any media outlet in tow?
Like my hon. Friends, I find the behaviour of the police and the BBC completely inexplicable. What action has been taken? What reprimands have there been? Has anyone been sacked? Can the Minister tell us?
My hon. Friend may be aware that there have been changes in the leadership at South Yorkshire police, and work is being done there to look at how they act. One of the other things we are doing to ensure that action is taken more widely nationally is to look at some issues that the Home Secretary has raised. I will come to that in just a few moments.
Today I have spoken to the national policing lead, Simon Bailey, who will be coming to see me before Christmas to discuss the recommendations of the review and the work that the police are doing more generally in response to these serious issues. There is also the issue of compensation for those who feel that they have been poorly treated and who have seen their reputations tarnished by the Metropolitan police force. As Members have said, that is important.
Of course, as we have taken power from the centre and moved it into police forces, it is for the Metropolitan police to address any claims for compensation that arise from the report’s findings and the general issues around such cases, particularly the Harvey Proctor case. I am sure that the House will agree that money cannot give someone back their previously unsullied reputation; nor can it give back the months, if not years, of anguish and turmoil they will have suffered. It does however at least provide some recognition of failure and responsibility, and recompense for the cost that people have suffered. That is something on which the police must focus. I am seeing Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe next week, when I will raise that issue and what the Metropolitan police are doing in that case. I assure the House that I will treat these matters with the utmost seriousness in raising them with him, and indeed in the conversations that I will have with the national police lead.
The Minister has rightly talked about maintaining the right balance, and he is making a powerful speech. However, if a member of a team going to search an individual’s house knows that what they are being asked to do is intrinsically wrong, what mechanisms exist in the police? I am mindful that the police have to maintain good order and discipline and cannot have people questioning them and going to the press, but there must be a hierarchical system in which an individual can say, “This is wrong. Something has to change.”
I will come in a second to how the police should be dealing with those issues and going about their investigations, but, in terms of something happening whereby a member of the force sees something is wrong, in the first instance we should have a police service in which any member within it has the ability and confidence to come forward to the hierarchy of that service with a complaint and an outline of where things are going wrong. However, going beyond that and realising that we live in the real world and that in some hierarchical organisations, no matter how much we want it to be different, people feel that they cannot do that, in the Policing and Crime Bill that is going through Parliament we are giving more power to the Independent Police Complaints Commission so that it can take things up directly to give better protection to whistleblowers.
I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot.
Detective Chief Inspector Settle did precisely that. He said that he thought the inquiry should go no further. What happened to him? Basically, he was destroyed. I do not think any legislation that my right hon. Friend can put on the statute book will remedy what has happened, which is a failure of leadership in the Metropolitan police.
I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and then deal with both issues.
The Minister is helping the debate, but may I pursue the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon)? Rather than having to go to the extreme of whistleblowing and making a formal complaint, why cannot someone say to their leading officer, “What on earth are we doing? Who told you to do this? Why are we doing it? Explain it.” I can do that with my Whips. Why cannot they do that with their inspectors?
I am sure that the members of the Government Whips Office will be delighted to hear that my hon. Friend feels rightly confident in having that conversation with them. He is right; that is exactly what should happen. However, through the Policing and Crime Bill we are trying to recognise that from time to time, as much as I wish it were not the case, there may be an officer who feels for whatever reason that they cannot go down that route and effectively act as a whistleblower. I will come on to how that should be handled going forward in more detail in just a few moments.
I will turn to some of the specific issues raised during the debate, but hon. Members will be aware that I cannot comment in detail on some of the specifics of Operation Midland, or indeed on individual cases associated with it. It is inappropriate for the Government to comment on operational matters such as those. Additionally, I am sure hon. Members are aware that action is being taken by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which I will outline, as a result of some of the failings identified in the review.
Five Metropolitan Police Service officers, ranging from a detective sergeant through to a deputy assistant commissioner, have been referred to the IPCC. Indeed, the individual who originally made the allegations that Operation Midland focused on is also being investigated by an outside force for attempting to pervert the course of justice. To that end, I hope the House appreciates that I am constrained by various ongoing proceedings, but I am happy to continue and to outline some further wide-ranging points.
On the publication of the report, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot referred in his opening remarks, I believe that there should be a presumption in favour of transparency in a situation like this. It is to the commissioner’s credit that he commissioned this report, and I will discuss his plans for publishing it when I see him next week. There is a balance to be found between considering any legal implications of sensitive and confidential material in the report and publishing that material, which is an issue I know the commissioner has to look at. I will discuss that with him next week. In the first instance, we and the Metropolitan police should look to be as transparent as possible.
I understand the views of Sir Richard Henriques and Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe on whether the police should “believe” all victims. I cannot be clearer on the matter than by reiterating the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who was then the Home Secretary. She said that the police should focus on the credibility of the allegation, rather than on the credibility of the witness or victim. That has to be right, but as was said earlier, it works both ways in terms of how the police deal with these issues.
The position of the National Police Chiefs Council—I spoke to Simon Bailey about this earlier today—is that officers and staff must approach any investigation without fear or favour, and must go where the evidence takes them. I understand that Simon Bailey clearly made the point to Sir Richard Henriques, as he was putting together his report that outlined how many claimants’ allegations tend to be baseless, that once the victim has come forward, that case and its investigation must be undertaken without fear or favour to get to the bottom of whether that allegation is correct. If it is, it should quite rightly be followed through to its finality, which the police are required to do by the code of practice of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996.
The evidence of the victim is just one part of an investigation; “believing” victims, or even referring to them as such at the point of disclosure when recording the crime, as opposed to complainants, should not and must not interfere with that. However, we need a system under which people who believe they are a victim feel confident and free enough to come forward in the first place. I am sure we all wish to see that continue. As with the rest of Sir Richard’s recommendations, I know that the Metropolitan police, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs Council are looking closely and carefully at that, as they must, in order to respond fully.
Lord Dear made an important interjection on this issue in the other place. He said that the loss of the Police Staff College has had an impact on decision making and leadership. Does the Minister agree, and are there plans to put something like it in its place?
I understand why Lord Dear made that point; I met him recently and he outlined his thoughts. However, we now have the College of Policing, which is working to make sure that we have the standards and the sharing of best practice in place. That is exactly what the college is there for.
The Home Secretary recently announced the development of a licence to practise for child sexual abuse investigators, as hon. Members outlined earlier. That will ensure that only qualified officers are carrying out those complex investigations and in the correct and appropriate way, and are hopefully dealing with some of the issues raised earlier. As a Government, we have done more than any other to lift the lid on what are heinous crimes. We have acknowledged the painful treatment endured by victims and by those wrongly accused. We have to make sure that we get that balance right. Similarly, we have to acknowledge the pain endured by those who have suffered sexual abuse and whose voices went unheard for such a long time. We saw that with the revelations relating to Jimmy Savile several years ago, and we are sadly seeing it again now with the appalling scale of allegations of abuse within football, as was noted earlier.
Child sexual abuse is a despicable crime. We have to do everything in our power not only to prevent it from happening but, where it happens, to root it out, deal with it and bring people to justice. We have been consistently clear that, where abuse has taken place, victims must be encouraged to come forward and have their allegations reviewed thoroughly and properly investigated so that people can be brought to justice. Again, that has to work both ways. To have confidence in the system, both the victims and the accused must have confidence that they will be treated with respect and will be brought to justice where appropriate.
In the case of Operation Midland, the Metropolitan police is clearly guilty of serious errors, as we heard earlier. Those failures must not be allowed to undo so much of the good work that we and they have done in recent years in giving that confidence to victims, survivors and the wider public to ensure that the police take these crimes seriously. Victims should—and increasingly do, as we have seen with the football scandal—feel able to come forward, to report abuse and to get the support that they need. In ensuring that that continues, we must not turn a blind eye to when the police get it wrong. In this instance they got it wrong, and they must stand up to that.
I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot for raising these important issues in such a powerful way, along with other right hon. and hon. Members. I hope that I have been able to assure hon. Members on the Government’s position; I will update them further following my meetings over the next week.
I am most grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. It has been a seminal debate and has been very powerful and useful indeed.
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) that child abuse is the most heinous crime. That is why it is so serious for those who have been falsely accused; it is the most heinous crime. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) was also absolutely right that accusations must be investigated, and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) said that the police must not be intimidated.
That is common ground among us all, but I think the hon. Member for Rochdale was right when he said that the pendulum had swung too far the other way. We know of the ghastly things that happened in his town; blind eyes were turned to the most heinous of crimes there, which must never be allowed to happen again. The issue is getting the balance right, which we have to do. I think that the guidance has to change. I cannot believe that we can carry on, as is required at the moment, having to believe people making these sometimes very wild accusations.
It is important that the point made by Sir Richard Henriques is taken on board—that some people in public life, particularly entertainers, are especially vulnerable to fantasists’ made-up accusations. In winnowing out all of these cases, it is important to recognise that some people may themselves be the target of fantasists who are interested simply in making money. I readily understand, as Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said in his February article in The Guardian, that investigating these cases is exceptionally difficult. However, this debate has illustrated that the pendulum has gone too far, and that the police have to adopt a different standard. They must call people “complainants” and not “victims”, because otherwise they have prejudged the case at the outset.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for his comments. I am delighted that he is meeting Chief Constable Bailey next week, because the issue is the nomenclature and the police’s approach to these claims. I particularly welcome his meeting next week with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and his belief that compensation, particularly in the case of Harvey Proctor, must be resolved before Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe retires. That is a precondition, and I hope that my hon. Friend will reinforce that message and secure that result. I end by thanking all hon. Members for taking part in the debate, and by reminding them that this inquiry has cost the British taxpayer between £2.5 million and £3 million.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10 (6)).