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Historic Sexual Offences: Investigations

Volume 802: debated on Wednesday 4 March 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the management of investigations into historic sexual offences.

My Lords, allegations of sexual offences are serious matters and must be treated as such, regardless of when they are alleged to have occurred. Increasing numbers of people now have the confidence to come forward and report what happened to them. It is right that the police are investigating these allegations and encouraging that they are securing convictions and providing victims and survivors with the justice that they deserve.

My Lords, as the Carl Beech affair now draws to a close, is not the real scandal in its management the fact that decent, honourable people, who have and had given a lifetime of public service to their country, have had their reputations destroyed by the headline-grabbing accusations of ambitious self-publicists and irresponsible policemen, who believed and promoted the lies of a fantasist, and that the damage that these purveyors of untruth have done can never be mitigated? Surely the perpetrators of this huge injustice bear responsibility for what has subsequently happened and it rests on their conscience, and history will never forgive them.

I agree with much of what the noble Lord says. Once someone is falsely accused, that can never be undone and it can blight their entire life from that moment forward. Of course, some of the people whom I am sure the noble Lord is referring to are dead and cannot defend themselves. There is some remedy in law—perverting the course of justice or perjury in court—but he is absolutely right that those allegations can never be reversed and can destroy lives for ever.

Did my noble friend read the moving words of Diana Brittan, the widow of our former colleague Leon Brittan, and does she not agree that one who has abused his place in one House of Parliament should not be admitted to another?

I read the words of Diana Brittan. I hope that the whole House will take comfort from the fact that, when the House of Lords Appointments Commission decides whether people will come into your Lordships’ House, it should consider whether that person will bring the House into disrepute.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that complainants should always initially be cared for as genuine survivors of sexual offences but investigations should always be an objective search for the truth, and that there is no contradiction in such an approach?

My Lords, in view of the life-changing and career-ruining result of some of these accusations, is it not time that people were not named until charged? I wonder what the Government’s attitude is to that. It would be a great remedy in future to protect public figures from ruination by glib accusations.

My noble friend will know that the guidance on this states that the police will not name those arrested or suspected of a crime save in exceptional circumstances where there is a legitimate policing purpose to do so, such as a threat to life, the prevention or detection of crime, or when police have made a public warning about a wanted individual. However, my noble friend will also appreciate that, in the case of Jimmy Savile, for example, had people not come forward, those victims’ voices would never have been heard.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness consider that police forces have any insight into the impact of their behaviour? I have in mind particularly Wiltshire Police in the case of Ted Heath. So far, one has faced a stone wall and hardly received a decent apology for the way in which they pursued a ridiculous case.

My Lords, in this House we have talked about several cases such as the one that the noble Lord has referred to. It is right that lessons are learned from these things and that the IOPC steps in, and it is also right that these matters can be pursued through the courts.

My Lords, can the Minister explain how we will learn from the sorts of examples that we have had—for instance, the case of Sir Edward Heath in Salisbury—unless there is an independent review? In the past, we have been told that the Home Office cannot do that and that it is the responsibility of the police and crime commissioner. The police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire says that the police force there was acting as a lead authority on behalf of others. We need to accept that more than 40 allegations had to be investigated. How will we learn unless there is a review, and what can the Home Office do that will help to restore the reputation of both Sir Edward and, I have to say, Wiltshire Police?

I certainly take on board that last point about restoring the reputation of Wiltshire Police. I guess that it is for that force to ensure that the cultures change over time. Three successive Home Secretaries have now said that they will not instigate an inquiry and that it is a matter for the police. The IOPC has already had an inquiry into Operation Midland. HMICFRS is now carrying out a lessons-learned review into Operation Midland, and that report is due in the next few weeks.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has just said that there have been three Home Secretaries who have not made an investigation into Operation Conifer, but, as the right reverend Prelate said, we are not going to move forward here. Why will a Home Secretary not order an investigation?

My Lords, for the simple reason that the police are operationally independent of the Government; it is a matter for them. There are funds available should they wish to launch inquiries, but it has been the clear view of three successive Home Secretaries that an inquiry is not appropriate.