My Lords, following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the then acting police and crime commissioner for Cleveland determined that former Chief Constable Mike Veale had a case to answer for gross misconduct. The matter is now subject to a misconduct hearing and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment further while those proceedings remain ongoing.
I congratulate my noble and now right honourable friend, one of the hardest-working Ministers in our House over many years, on becoming a member of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council. How could it possibly be right for a disgraced former chief constable deemed, as my noble friend said, to have a case for serious misconduct to answer with a legal hearing pending to be receiving a salary in the region of £100,000 plus expenses from public funds as adviser to the police and crime commissioner for Leicestershire and Rutland—who purports to be a Conservative, which makes the matter even worse? Is there no time limit on starting the legal hearing, which was announced last August?
I thank my noble friend. Not only do I personally feel very honoured, but it is an honour for the House as well. As regards someone being up for investigation and now having a case to answer for alleged misconduct while drawing their salary, someone who is still innocent of misconduct is still able to draw their salary until it is proven otherwise. I can understand my noble friend’s frustration, but that is the case.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness as well. I remind the House that I have been a police and crime commissioner for Leicestershire. Does the Home Office really have nothing to say regarding the behaviour of Leicestershire’s current police and crime commissioner in bringing in Mr Veale—unvetted, I believe—on his first day in office and continuing to employ him on high remuneration as his chief adviser, even though the local police force was embarrassed and many in Leicestershire are offended? The Home Office is not often shy about giving its opinion. Why is it so shy in this case?
My Lords, I endorse the comments of my noble friend Lord Lexden about the Minister’s work, which has been very valiant during the whole of this difficult case. I think it is generally agreed that Operations Conifer and Midland are now utterly discredited. One appreciates that the Government do not want to intervene in the present conduct inquiries, but can we at least be assured that they are constantly pointing out to the police administration, with which they cannot of course intervene, their expectation that there will be a full calling to account of those who made these absolutely disastrous misjudgments and caused so much unfair discredit to so many hard-working and public-serving people? Can we at least have that assurance so that there is some movement to restore confidence in our otherwise quite excellent police force?
Certainly the current proceedings are evidence that things are at least being taken forward. I appreciate that many noble Lords will feel very disgruntled about this, but several layers of scrutiny have been afforded to both Operations Conifer and Midland. The whole proceedings have been well scrutinised, but I still appreciate the frustrations of the noble Lord and other noble Lords.
My Lords, the Library has informed me that the report has not been made publicly available. Why not? Is it not time to finally remove the unproven stain on the character of distinguished servants of the state and for the Prime Minister, with the support of the leader of the Opposition, to grip the situation and instruct the Cabinet Secretary to take every administrative step to achieve this end?
My Lords, putting this case to one side, as a result of a number of unfortunate incidents there seems to be a general deterioration in trust between the police and the general public. This is an absolute tragedy, because every police officer I have ever met polices entirely for the right reasons and in the public interest. Can my noble friend say what steps she is taking to try to rebuild this level of trust, which is so essential if we are to effectively police?
I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend that trust has been diminished, certainly in the past couple of years. The death of Sarah Everard exemplified that lack of trust. I hope that getting Dame Elish Angiolini in to do the inquiry into the killing of Sarah Everard, the circumstances surrounding it and the police’s practices will go some way to restoring trust and confidence in the police.
My Lords, can the Minister, now a privy counsellor, give us an update on the IOPC’s examination of Charing Cross police station, where a lot of protesters have now made reports that they were treated badly by the officers there, who also treated women very badly? For example, their names were not released so people did not know whether they were being held there and they were held longer than they needed to be—that sort of thing. Is it possible to have an update?
My Lords, can I take my noble friend back to the Question asked by my noble friend Lord Lexden? I entirely endorse his personal comments about her, but the case of Mr Veale, who appears to have tarnished every office he has held and whose traducing of Edward Heath still remains on the record, really is extremely unsatisfactory. This should be properly investigated. For reasons I do not understand, we have heard constant refusals to have a proper inquiry into Conifer and Midland. We need one. It is not too late to have one now.
I am afraid that I must disappoint my noble friend by telling him that we do not have any plans to commission a review of either the conduct of the investigation into the allegations made against Sir Edward Heath or the findings of that investigation.
My Lords, the Minister has emphasised that there is an ongoing inquiry into the conduct of Mr Veale. Does she accept that, in many areas of public and private life, persons against whom serious allegations are made are suspended from their office, employment or other contributions to public life while an investigation is conducted? Why is that not happening here?
I want to ask my noble, and now right honourable, friend one simple question: will anyone ever be held to account for Operation Conifer? As my noble friend pointed out, it was a grotesque witch hunt against Sir Edward Heath—a public servant of the highest integrity—conducted by someone who is now deemed by the IOPC to have a case to answer for gross misconduct, with a legal hearing pending against him. Will anyone ever be held to account?
My Lords, Operation Conifer has been subjected to extensive scrutiny by its own independent scrutiny panel, two reviews by Operation Hydrant, in September 2016 and September 2017, and a review in January 2017 by HMICFRS. We have talked about the Independent Office for Police Conduct; it has also considered specific allegations relating to the former chief constable.