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Police: Independent Inquiries

Volume 790: debated on Thursday 19 April 2018

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what criteria must be satisfied for them to establish an independent inquiry into a police investigation.

My Lords, it is not possible to identify a definitive set of criteria to determine when the Government should establish an inquiry. Inquiries result from a huge variety of events, and each decision has to be taken on its merits.

Is my noble friend aware that the demand for an independent inquiry into the police investigation into Sir Edward Heath is not going to go away? Does she agree that the best thing would of course be for the Wiltshire police and crime commissioner to set up his own independent inquiry? This Tuesday, yet again, he refused point blank to do so. Is not the only option now for the Home Office to set up such an inquiry?

As I said the other day, an inquiry of any form should be considered only where other available investigatory mechanisms would not be sufficient. I absolutely concur with this demand, which is repeatedly made from your Lordships’ House. My noble friend is correct that the Wiltshire PCC has it in his power to initiate such an inquiry.

My Lords, does the new independent office of police misconduct have a role in this type of inquiry? It can of course initiate its own inquiries.

I should clarify that it is the Independent Office for Police Conduct rather than misconduct, as the noble Lord knows. The IOPC can investigate a matter referred to it, but it also has call-in powers to require referral. In terms of investigating a police force, the IOPC is independent of government and the Home Secretary does not have the power to direct it to investigate a force or any of its officers. The key functions of the IOPC include providing independent oversight of the police complaints and discipline system, considering appeals when people believe that a police investigation into a complaint has got it wrong, and carrying out its own investigations into the most serious and sensitive matters relating to police conduct.

My Lords, I understand the concern of noble Lords about the reputation of the right honourable Sir Edward Heath, but what about Bishop Bell, Lord Brittan or Sir Cliff Richard? It pains me to say this, but the police and the media cannot be trusted to comply with their own regulations on this issue. Will the Minister meet me to explore how my upcoming Private Member’s Bill to legally preserve anonymity before charge might be supported by the Government?

I am always happy to meet the noble Lord; we meet regularly. I understand all the cases that he talks about, which have gone through various mechanisms of investigation, and am happy to meet him to talk about his Private Member’s Bill.

My Lords, is it not the case that the examples which the noble Lord has just made strengthen the case for an inquiry by the Government? Can the Minister tell us whether the Government are legally debarred from setting up such an investigation, or whether they have such powers but have so far chosen not to use them in this case?

The Government are not debarred from setting up an inquiry, and there are mechanisms to do so under the Inquiries Act. But as I said to my noble friend, an inquiry of any form should be considered only when other available investigatory mechanisms would not be sufficient. As I explained to him, there are other available mechanisms.

My Lords, as my noble friend has just admitted, there is nothing to prevent the Government acting. As the Home Office could do with some good publicity at the moment, could we not have a High Court judge or retired judge appointed to look into the implications of the Edward Heath case, the Brittan case and the Bishop Bell case, because there is profound public unease about all these things?

My Lords, further to the correspondence that I drew to the Minister’s attention the other day, we now have access to 10 FoI responses by Macpherson to people in the Wiltshire area. Perhaps I may read one of them:

“Should the Inquiry prove unable or unwilling to take this task on”—

and it has said that it is not willing to take it on—

“I will reiterate my earlier call for the government to establish a judge-led review of the evidence”.

He makes it quite clear there what his position is. That was on 10 October last year, only five days after the publication of the Conifer report. Why do Ministers not bring this man into the department, have a word with him and tell him to get on with the job he was given when he was appointed as the police commissioner for Wiltshire?

I shall certainly take that suggestion forward, to stop myself getting beaten over the head every day over this matter. But more seriously, the noble Lord has very kindly brought to my attention the correspondence received and I have written to the PCC. I have also written to noble Lords, as I said the other day, to make the position quite clear: that he can initiate such an inquiry.

My Lords, I am a Salisbury boy and proud to be the descendant of four generations of policemen. May I let my noble friend into a little secret? I did not have much time for Ted, either personally or politically, but this is not natural justice. Will she not accept that, if we cannot get to grips with these serial cases of misrepresentation and allegations, it will serve only to undermine genuine attempts to deal with the really serious cases that must be dealt with?

I totally appreciate my noble friend’s point, but when he talks about this not being natural justice, Ted Heath has not been convicted of anything. Of course he has not; he is deceased. But there is a mechanism to go forward, if an inquiry wishes to take this forward, through the PCC and he is within his powers to do so.

My Lords, the Minister said that the Government will not mount an inquiry while there were other ways of doing so. The police and crime commissioner has, regrettably, refused to do so. What other ways are available at present?

There is the mechanism that the PCC is elected, and the people will take a view on how he performs his role when it comes to his future election.