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Crime: Historic Sex Abuse Allegations

Volume 771: debated on Tuesday 19 April 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what meetings have been arranged between Home Office ministers and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police on historic sex abuse allegation enquiries.

My Lords, Home Office Ministers have regular meetings with chief police officers on a wide range of subjects, but no meetings have taken place or been arranged between Home Office Ministers and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on the subject the noble Lord has raised.

My Lords, is there not now a gross imbalance in the treatment of suspects and complainants in sex abuse cases, with the result that the reputations of the falsely accused are shattered while the reputation of the false accuser remains intact behind a wall of secrecy—particularly in the case of this man “Nick”—unless of course they are prosecuted? In that light, should Ministers not be spelling out to Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe that the leaking of operations in these cases and the subsequent identification of the accused, when often they are innocent, is an affront to human rights and natural justice? It is far too easy in this society to destroy the reputations of perfectly innocent people.

My Lords, I have to acknowledge the noble Lord’s persistence in this matter. I think he will appreciate that it is a complex one. We recognise that there is a difficult balance to strike between the operational advantages of naming suspects in some criminal investigations and respecting suspects’ right to privacy. As my noble friend Lord Faulks said in answer to the noble Lord last month, Parliament itself has changed its mind on this issue. The Government’s position is that although in general there should be a right to anonymity before the point of charge, there will be circumstances in which the public interest means that an arrested suspect should be named. The College of Policing guidance is that the police should not routinely release information about suspects before charge and that the decision to do so should be made on a case-by-case basis by a chief officer, and only when the circumstances justify it. Notwithstanding that, and bearing in mind what the noble Lord said about human rights and justice, the former High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques has been commissioned to examine the way in which recent cases involving non-recent sexual allegations have been conducted, and to report to the commissioner.

To what extent do specific allegations have to be made before a large-scale investigation of someone’s documents is initiated?

I am afraid I do not know the answer to that. I will have to write to my noble and learned friend.

My Lords, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner recently told me that there was a lot of evidence to justify police investigations of historic child abuse that could not be made public. What evidence have the police produced to reassure the Government that such investigations have not been deliberately protracted to give the impression that the allegations are being taken seriously? In the case of Paul Gambaccini, for example, it must have become apparent very quickly that the allegations were never going to be substantiated.

The noble Lord will know full well that the Home Secretary does not get involved in operational decisions with the Met or with any police force. However, if there are concerns about this, there are of course well-known methods by which people can complain: to the individual force itself, to the IPCC, and to the police and crime commissioner.

My Lords, I take a slightly different point of view from some of my colleagues in the House. I need to make it clear that I have no detailed knowledge of the individual historic sexual offence investigations to which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, refers. I recognise that there are widespread concerns about the way the Met has acted, and indeed, on what I have read, I share some of them. However, I put it to the House that the commissioner appears also to have recognised this, as evidenced by his decision to apologise personally to some of the individuals and to appoint a retired High Court judge to inquire into his force’s conduct. I therefore suggest to the Minister that the Home Office’s job now is to urge the commissioner in the strongest possible terms to publish Sir Richard’s report as soon as, and in as complete a form as, possible. Does the Minister agree?

I agree with the noble Lord on much of that. Sir Richard Henriques has agreed to conduct the independent review, as we said, and the key findings of it and the recommendations will be published later this year. However, I must make the point that it is a private report for the commissioner and will contain sensitive things, so the whole report will not necessarily be published.

Given the high-profile nature of the historic sex abuse allegations inquiries issue, and given the questions raised about the appropriateness and fairness of the actions taken and the interventions made by political figures and commentators, do the Government believe that this issue raises policy and strategic questions on which the Mayor of London or his deputy, as police and crime commissioner for the Met police, should have taken the lead; or do they still believe that this is merely an operational matter on which the Metropolitan Police Commissioner should make the key decisions on whether, and if so what, action should be taken?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a topical question, with the PCC elections coming up in May. The presumption of anonymity is a College of Policing guideline, and it expects that to be derogated from only when there are operational reasons for doing so; so that is a case for the chief officer of police, in the circumstances. The PCC holds the chief constable to account for the overall performance of the force, and the Mayor of London similarly holds the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to account. Paragraph 18 of the Policing Protocol Order 2011, which sets out the PCC’s roles and responsibilities, says that,

“the PCC must not fetter the operational independence of the police force and the Chief Constable who leads it”.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blair, referred to apologies, but one thing that has caused widespread concern is that the apologies do not appear to have been as unequivocal as they should have been.

My Lords, it is up to the commissioner in his private meeting with certain high-profile figures to deal with the matter in the way he thinks fit. One has to remember in these cases that there are sometimes public policy reasons why people’s identities should be revealed. It is obviously a sensitive issue, but one has to remember that in child sexual abuse cases, by and large, these are under-represented people and we want to encourage as many of them as possible to come forward. They face tremendous obstacles in doing so and they must be supported.