Skip to main content

Independent Office for Police Conduct

Volume 811: debated on Tuesday 16 March 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the work of the Independent Office for Police Conduct in relation to Operation Midland.

My Lords, following the publication of the IOPC’s investigation report, in October 2019 the Home Secretary asked the director-general to set out his plan for improving public confidence in the IOPC. The Home Secretary has been clear that she believes that there are outstanding questions and will discuss these with Sir Richard Henriques. We also welcome the Home Affairs Committee’s current inquiry into the police complaint system. We understand that the committee is taking evidence in relation to Operation Midland.

My Lords, would we not all agree across the House with the following words:

“I find it quite extraordinary that anyone who is referred for misconduct is not interviewed”?

Would we not all share courageous Lady Brittan’s astonishment that a deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police—a man who was in charge of the disastrous Operation Midland and who allowed false evidence to be used to obtain search warrants—was not asked a single question in person before being cleared by the IOPC of allegations of misconduct? Why has the distinguished former High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques, to whom my noble friend referred, not yet received a reply to his request last month for an investigation into the

“apparent condoning of police criminality by its notional watchdog”

and other serious issues? Why is Sir Richard still waiting for an answer, and when will the investigation be started?

My Lords, as I understand it, Lady Brittan has received an apology from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police; again, I extend my sympathy to her for the events to which she and indeed her late husband were subjected. The IOPC is an independent body, which takes its decisions independently from the Government and from the police. I cannot and will not comment on the way in which the IOPC conducts its own investigations. My understanding is that Sir Richard will receive a letter from the Home Secretary. However, it is worth bearing in mind in relation to his more recent comments that in his report itself Sir Richard said that

“the officers had conducted this investigation in a conscientious manner and with propriety and honesty.”

Like my noble friend Lord Lexden, I hope that Ministers will initiate a comprehensive inquiry into the manifest shortcomings of Operation Midland and the IOPC. I also wonder whether the Minister shares the widely held view that the considerable injustice done to all those who have been defamed can never been remedied without expanding the remit of any such inquiry to include Midland’s associated and no less egregious scandal, Operation Conifer.

My Lords, as regards injustice, as I have previously said, the commissioner has apologised both to Lady Brittan and to Lord Brammall. On the shortcomings of the IOPC, we agree that there is room for further progress. The Home Secretary has raised concerns about the IOPC’s performance, and in October 2019 she formally requested a report on the IOPC’s plans to increase efficiency and effectiveness—that is on the Home Office website. The Government are not minded to initiate a public inquiry into either Operation Midland or Operation Conifer, because both operations have already been subject to considerable scrutiny.

My Lords, we all want to avoid terrible cases like this. Some people are concerned that if there is anonymity up until charging, which of course would stop cases like this one and that of Cliff Richard, people may not come forward with important information. However, does the Minister agree that if people come forward after charging, that is still possible and in fact more possible, because the CPS will by then have looked at the allegations and found out whether there was anything worth pursuing?

My Lords, there is indeed a difference between pre and post charge. The Government believe that, in principle and in general, there should be a right to anonymity pre charge in respect of all offences. But—it is an important but—there will be exceptional circumstances where there are legitimate policing reasons for naming a suspect, such as an imminent threat to life. The guidance in this regard is governed by the College of Policing’s authorised professional practice on media relations, which states:

“Police will not name those arrested, or suspected of a crime, save in exceptional circumstances … such as a threat to life, the prevention or detection of crime, or where police have made a public warning”.

After charge, as the noble Lord indicates, the position is different.

My Lords, should we not congratulate the Mail and in particular journalist Stephen Wright for his forensic work in unravelling the Beech affair and their exposure of deficiencies in the Rodhouse-led investigations? Why does not Mr Rodhouse, who prior to the abuse scandals had a reputation for competence and thorough investigations, interview and explain the background to his actions? We all make mistakes in life and sometimes admitting them can be both therapeutic and clear the air. At least the public would then understand what has happened.

My Lords, so far as the Mail’s investigations are concerned, I would make three points. First, the message must go out that if you deliberately lie about sexual abuse, you will go to prison for a long time—in this case, 18 years. Secondly, as the noble Lord said, people make mistakes. The MPS made mistakes, it has learned, it needed to learn, and it is continuing to learn. Thirdly, however, the message must go out: if you are a victim of child sex abuse, even if it is historic, come forward. We have successfully prosecuted and obtained over 5,000 convictions, and in every case we will seek to ensure that justice is done, whether that be a conviction or an acquittal.

My Lords, one of the major recommendations of Sir Richard’s review was that the Met’s media communications policy should be amended to avoid any details of age or geography being released to the public in relation to the arrest, search, interview or bail of any suspect. Is the Minister satisfied that this recommendation is being followed and monitored to ensure that deviation from it will constitute a disciplinary offence?

My Lords, in her letter to the Home Secretary dated 15 February 2021, the commissioner set out that the MPS will follow the College of Policing media approved professional practice, which I set out to the House a few moments ago. Whether a breach of that is a disciplinary matter must be a matter for the police and for the IOPC.

This Question is about victims of false allegations and the role of the IOPC in investigating what happened and why. We also need to do better for all those victims who bring forward legitimate allegations yet are failed. Some 99% of rapes reported to the police in England and Wales result in no legal proceedings whatever. What more can the police and the IOPC do to play their part in helping to ensure that the rate of prosecutions for rape increases?

The noble Lord raises a critical point. Both my department and the CPS are focused on ensuring that we improve the number of rape allegations which come to court, where there is sufficient evidence to do so, and that the conviction rate improves as well. That is a huge amount of work and outside the ambit of a particular answer, but he will know that the Government are particularly focused on that area.

My Lords, in my activist world I hear a lot of complaints against the IOPC and its previous incarnation. I am curious about the fact that a lot of former police officers work there as investigators. It has been suggested that the IOPC does not investigate as thoroughly as it might because it has too many former police officers. Has the Home Office paid any attention to that?

My Lords, one must have a balance. If you are going to investigate the police, you need some people in your organisation who have the skill set to know how the police operate. The figures are these. Overall, 23% of IOPC staff are former police officers—that is 28% in operations. However, first, they do not investigate their former force; and secondly, most senior decision-makers are not former police officers. By law, the director-general cannot be a former police officer, and the current director-general has put in place a practice that the two deputies are also not former police officers.

My Lords, I regret that the time allowed for this Question has elapsed—not least because supplementaries and answers were too long.