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Operation Midland

Volume 776: debated on Wednesday 9 November 2016

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what urgent steps they will take to restore confidence in the Metropolitan Police following the conclusions of Sir Richard Henriques report into Operation Midland.

My Lords, allegations of sexual offences are among the most serious to be investigated by the police. The police have a responsibility to investigate such allegations, thoroughly, sensitively and with rigour, so that the facts can be established. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe was right to ask Sir Richard Henriques to carry out this independent report, and it is now for the Metropolitan Police to address the findings and take action where necessary.

I thank the Minister for her reply. An initial reading of the report suggests that the operation fell short on a number of issues of natural justice. I want to ask the Minister about one: will she make sure that her department issues guidance that people under investigation should remain anonymous until the police are in a position to bring charges?

My Lords, we had a very good debate on this in the last couple of weeks and there is a general principle: people should remain anonymous before charge, but there are circumstances in which names may be released and it is in order for victims to come forward. I must say to the noble Baroness that victims’ groups support that principle.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of us saw at first hand the suffering of Lord Brittan, who died before his name could be cleared? Can the Minister explain why the text of this report, which appears an appalling indictment of the Metropolitan Police, cannot be published absolutely in full? Secondly, why could a copy of it not have been given to Lady Brittan before it was made public? Why could she not see the full report? Lastly, is it correct—as reported in some newspapers—that the search warrant for Lord Brittan’s house after he died was made out in the name of Lord Brittan, which, if true, would surely be improper procedure?

I am sure my noble friend will understand if I do not talk about individual cases, but I certainly concur with his point: suffering arises when people have their names released and are guilty of nothing. However, by the same token, victims often do not come forward because they are frightened, but they need to feel that they can in these situations. The report was commissioned by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and therefore its publication arrangements and whom he distributes it to are matters for him to decide.

My Lords, since manifest injustice results from the publication of names before charge, is it not a matter of urgency that the whole law and practice should be reviewed independently at the highest level and should not rely solely on the views of the police?

My Lords, it is the view of the Government that there should be a presumption of pre-charge anonymity, unless it is for victims who previously felt unable to come forward to do so. I must stress that victims’ groups are very supportive of some situations where it is right that names are released.

Was Lord Bramall given a copy of this report prior to publication in full? Two Members of your Lordships’ House, one tragically dead, the other still alive, have been traduced in the most vile and improper way. The reputation of a former Prime Minister has been trashed. A former Member of Parliament, who was certainly not guilty of the appalling things with which he was charged, has also had his life ruined. We must, I suggest to your Lordships and my noble friend, have a further debate on this. Can we please have copies of the report in the Library before we have such a debate?

My Lords, there will be a debate later today, if my noble friend would care to sit through the Committee stage of the Policing and Crime Bill. My noble friend and I do not disagree that there should be a presumption of anonymity, but it is important, in certain cases, for the police to be able to release names. The publication arrangements for the report are, as I have said, a matter for the commissioner to decide on.

My Lords, can the Minister comment on the criteria for deciding which names should be divulged and which should not? To use the language of victimhood, we are creating victims as well as defending victims.

My point was that we are creating victims as well as defending them; we are creating new ones. What are the criteria—that was the essential question—for deciding when anonymity ought to be breached and names put out?

The criterion is generally that it should be in the public interest for a name to be released. We can all think of examples where names have been released and somebody has been found not to have committed any crime at all. However, it is important in law to balance that with the importance of victims coming forward and not being frightened to do so.

My Lords, we note that, by remarkable coincidence, this report appears to have come out on the same day as the American presidential election result, which is very interesting. The Government’s reply to the Question appeared to be that it is for the Metropolitan Police to act. Does that mean that the Government will not even ask the Metropolitan Police what they are doing, including, for example, ensuring that at least in future there are adequate internal systems for regularly reviewing such major investigations to determine, among other things, whether there is still a case for continuing with them? Surely the Government do not intend just to sit back, do nothing and say that this is purely a matter for the Metropolitan Police.

My Lords, it was the commissioner who asked Sir Richard Henriques to carry out the independent report. It is now for the Metropolitan Police to address the findings of that report, and to take action where necessary.

My Lords, running throughout this report are two palpably obvious issues: the quality of officers at the top of any police service in this country and leadership. I spoke on this matter in Committee on the Policing and Crime Bill last week, as did the noble Lords, Lord Condon and Lord Blair, two former Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police. We raised very grave concerns that the requirements for training and selection of senior officers had been allowed to diminish to a point almost of invisibility, one example of which was the sale of the Police Staff College, which has not been replaced. Given that I am to have a meeting at the Home Office next week, will the Minister reassure your Lordships’ House that the issues of quality and leadership will be elevated to a point of prime concern in the Home Office, and will not remain almost invisible, as they are at the moment?

My Lords, I preface my comments by saying that the sale of a building is not, in itself, the most important aspect of those issues. However, what the noble Lord says about the quality of leaders and officers in the Metropolitan Police, and the police in general, is very important. We will have further debates on this. Certainly, the training and leadership of police forces that protect the public are of the utmost importance.

My Lords, it is patently unsatisfactory that the full report is not produced for the public to read. Should not the Home Office urge the commissioner of police to make it public?

My Lords, policing is independent of government. It is entirely up to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police whether he releases an independent report.