Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I sought this debate because of the deep public disquiet that has arisen over the manner in which a number of allegations of historical child sex abuse have been investigated. Public concern tends to be at its strongest in relation to instances of alleged child sex abuse, to which this Motion refers, but of course it ranges beyond them to other cases as well. It is unlikely that concern will diminish until action is taken to provide reassurance.
The number of historical allegations under investigation rose sharply following the discovery of the foul Savile crimes. Much police time has been and continues to be devoted to them. In September 2014, a quarter of the major incident detective team of Greater Manchester Police was working on cases of alleged historical abuse. There are a large number of suspected offenders to be investigated. Some will be innocent, others will be guilty, but it can often be extremely difficult to determine where the truth lies.
The difficulties and the damage that is done if they are not successfully addressed have been most usefully highlighted in an authoritative recent report produced by three academics and published by the Centre for Criminology at Oxford University. The report is entitled, The Impact of Being Wrongly Accused of Abuse in Occupations of Trust: Victims’ Voice. The victims in this context are of course those who were wrongly accused. The report documents the distress that has been inflicted on many men and women from all walks of life and backgrounds—people whose voices are rarely heard on the national stage. Here they speak of loss of income, unemployment, family break-up and mental breakdown.
The report leads us to the heart of the matter with which this debate is concerned. It notes a cultural shift towards believing allegations of abuse, adding that the presumption now is in favour of believing those who present themselves as victims. It notes, too, that some reports assert that victims’ accounts are being accepted at face value as evidence of the guilt of the person accused, with little attempt to find corroborating evidence. It is but a short step from such practices to the diminution, if not the reversal, of that most basic of our rights: that we are innocent until proved guilty. Is there a danger that that step might be taken in relation to the investigation of historical sex abuse allegations?
Indeed, it seems that it has in fact been taken in some police forces. The Metropolitan Police’s website proclaimed last year that:
“Our starting point with allegations of child sex abuse is to believe the victim until we identify reasonable cause to believe otherwise”.
This month has brought a powerful reminder of some of the principal causes of the disquiet that has arisen. Sir Cliff Richard has been told that he is not to face charges arising from the investigation of allegations relating to purported events going back more than 30 years. The allegations were made two years ago in a blaze of publicity created by the police and the BBC acting in grotesque collusion before he had even been interviewed. Such a media circus should never have occurred. Could it have been the fact that the initial complainant was aged under 16 at the time of the allegation, which created the temptation that led these two public organisations to take action at Sir Cliff’s expense? How can we ensure that nothing of this kind happens again? Sir Cliff has spoken movingly of the harrowing distress that he endured during the two years that he had to wait to hear his fate, which was that “insufficient evidence” existed on which to bring charges against him. His innocence has not been fully and unambiguously restored.
Those of us in political or parliamentary life will never forget other astonishing police behaviour. The manner in which Field Marshal Lord Bramall was treated shocked us all, as did the distress inflicted on Lord Brittan during his final illness and the additional pain suffered by his much-loved wife after his death. The sight of a senior police officer standing outside Sir Edward Heath’s former home in Salisbury and exhorting those who had allegations to make to get in touch will not fade from the memory.
Nor we will forget the ludicrous, large-scale police operation undertaken on the word of a fantasist to track down a murderous ring of paedophile politicians in Dolphin Square, London. Just a little light research would have shown that much the same story, minus murder, had been manufactured 20 years earlier. I myself was given a role in that first fable.
It does not follow from all this that allegations of historical or recent sex abuse should be investigated with a light touch. Stringent and thorough inquiries must be made to punish evil deeds committed in the past, but is the fundamental principle of innocence until proven guilty entirely safe? Dame Lowell Goddard, whose inquiry will be of such importance, referred recently to the balance which must be struck between encouraging the reporting of child sex abuse and protecting the rights of the accused. It is not evident that all our public authorities are striking the balance correctly today.
This point has been borne in upon me forcefully by the case of Bishop George Bell, which suddenly came to public prominence last October. Indeed, I think it deserves even more prominence than it has so far received, in view of the stature of the man accused and the manner in which a single, uncorroborated allegation of child sex abuse against him, stemming from purported events more than 50 years ago, has been dealt with by the Church of England authorities.
Born in 1883, George Bell has been described as,
“the one undeniably great figure”,
in the 20th-century history of the Church of England. He was Bishop of Chichester for nearly 30 years until his death in 1958, bringing fame to that diocese as his reputation grew. But for the public controversies that his monumental work at home and abroad aroused, he would almost certainly have become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1944.
His interests were astonishingly varied. He was a patron and friend of, among other creative figures, John Masefield, TS Eliot and Gustav Holst. He was one of the first and foremost leaders of the ecumenical movement after the First World War. He was, for some 20 years, a Member of this House, where some of his major public pronouncements were made and where he was held in the highest respect. He was continuously involved in combating injustice and suffering in Germany before and during the Second World War.
Before 1939 no one did more to sustain and defend German Christians and Jews of all kinds in the face of Nazi persecution. During the Second World War he led the protests against the bombing of entire German cities which visited punishment on both the just and the unjust. This brought him much criticism, but no one questioned the deep Christian integrity of this saintly man. He said in 1943:
“The Church has still a special duty to be a watchman for humanity, and to plead the cause of the suffering, whether Jew or gentile”.
A great life is the subject of much study after it is over. In this generation it has been closely examined by Dr Andrew Chandler, a leading historian of the Church of England, who recently published an outstanding new life of Bishop Bell, drawing on his vast archive at Lambeth Palace. Everything that Dr Chandler has examined reinforced the view that this was an unblemished life, a model in every respect of what a great Christian leader should be, in private as well as public affairs. How can a bishop retain his greatness if he is found guilty of a cardinal sin? Here, surely, is a man who has a special claim to the most careful treatment if posterity should ever have cause to doubt his virtue.
Reason for doubt did arise, first in 1995 and then again in 2013. Investigations since then, conducted in secret by unnamed experts under processes that are unknown, led the Church to the conclusion that it should settle a civil claim arising from a single allegation of child sexual abuse in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Compensation was paid to the anonymous complainant in the case, whom the Church refers to as “the survivor”. A statement announcing what had happened was issued last October.
I am a member of the George Bell Support Group, composed of distinguished QCs and other lawyers, Members of both Houses, academics and senior Church figures. The group published a report on 20 March, after examining in detail the processes that led to the Church’s statement last October. We called for an inquiry into the allegations against Bishop Bell. The Church authorities have not replied to the report. Two days ago, however, they announced an independent review into the case.
I look forward very much to the information that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford will no doubt provide about the review in his contribution to this debate. I hope he will be able to answer a number of key questions about how the review will be conducted. First, will the reviewer have legal experience relevant to child abuse cases? Secondly, will the review be willing to receive written evidence and submissions? Thirdly, will the review acknowledge that the burden of proof in civil proceedings rests with the claimant? Fourthly, what provision will be made to prevent the exercise being no more than a review of the processes set out in the Church’s practice guidelines which led to the statement last October? Fifthly, will the concerns raised by the Bell group’s report be addressed?
The occurrence of a series of highly controversial and disquieting investigations in both Church and state in recent years must lead us finally to question the adequacy and effectiveness of the guidelines that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have produced and use. The College of Policing has devised what is known as authorised professional practice guidance which sets out how the results of an investigation are to be evaluated. The Crown Prosecution Service has produced guidelines under which consultation is advised between the police and the CPS at an early stage in large and complex child sexual abuse cases—something which should surely occur as a matter of course.
Then there is College of Policing guidance on managing such complex cases. It has some significant features. They include,
“media interest and its impact on an investigation”,
and the avoidance of action that would involve trawling for witnesses. As regards the media, where such intense concern has arisen, this official guidance states that,
“save in clearly identified circumstances, or where legal restrictions apply, the names or identifying details of those who are arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released by police forces to the press or the public. Such circumstances include a threat to life, the prevention or detection of crime or a matter of public interest and confidence”.
I am not at all confident that that advice is entirely clear. It certainly seems to provide unduly wide scope for media intrusion on those under investigation. The guidance could usefully be reviewed in the light of what has happened in recent years. Many would feel that an explicit ban is needed on the deplorable media stunts in which the police have been involved and on sustained, irresponsible trawling for evidence. The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has recommended a prohibition on naming a person suspected of a sexual offence until they are charged.
Perhaps what we need most of all is a clearly written and readily comprehensible code of conduct, perhaps with statutory backing, for the police and public authorities investigating allegations of historical abuse: a document wholly free from the impenetrable jargon that so many parts of our public service have come to love, and readily accessible to the public it is designed to serve. At the heart of such a code should be the firm reassertion of that basic and precious principle, the presumption of innocence. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in support of the Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, which, as noble Lords will already have concluded, identifies a number of serious fundamental failures in our current system. First, I turn to the case of Field Marshal Lord Bramall. All of us will remember him as a Member of this House until his retirement two years or so ago. I remained close to him during the problems that arose as a result of his investigation. I should put on record that I was able to advise him constantly during that period and to give advice, when it was necessary, to his legal team. As such, I saw the unhappy case from the inside, from a particularly privileged position. As far as I am concerned, that investigation was mishandled from the very beginning. There was only one complainant: the man who is referred to under the nom de plume of Nick. There was no corroboration to Nick at the time, or indeed since. There was no early check made on the veracity of Nick. Checks that were carried out some time later indicated that his evidence was likely to be flawed; indeed, it is on record that some referred to him as a fantasist.
Of course, it is a matter of record, as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, has already identified, that there is a very heavy duty on the police to investigate cases of this sort. Indeed, it was always Lord Bramall’s position that he expected nothing less. He did not seek preferential treatment at any stage, despite his staggeringly well-known record in public life. But when it comes to carrying out an investigation, it surely is totally inappropriate to turn up at his house in a small market town with marked police cars, with 20—no less—officers in white scenes of crime suits to carry out a search of his property, in a blaze of publicity. I shall mention publicity in another context in a moment.
At that time Lord Bramall put forward the names of a number of his staff who were serving with him at the time that the allegations concerned—drivers, secretaries, staff officers, protection officers and so on—all of whom could have spoken in some detail about where he had been and whether it was possible for him to have committed those offences. Those interviews were not carried out for something like five months after he first put that information before the police. The inquiry dragged on, as we all know, for around 10 months. It could have been—indeed, I contend it should have been—terminated at around the three-month point. Eventually a file was put to the DPP to review the evidence. I can say without any fear of contradiction that there was no evidence other than the one allegation made by the man, Nick, and, as we know, there was no apology for a very long time, until one was dragged out in a very tardy fashion. He was, in effect, put on a hook as bait for others to come forward and say, “Yes, me too”.
I use the words “bait on a hook” because that is exactly how Sir Cliff Richard has described his experience in recent weeks. It was a different force—South Yorkshire Police—and I know little about that case, other than what I have read in the newspapers, and therefore have no personal inside knowledge of that investigation, except to say that it has a marked similarity to the Bramall case, almost holding up a mirror, as it were. There was the blaze of publicity that we all remember when Sir Cliff Richard’s house was photographed from a helicopter, with cameras from television companies, and a two-and-a-half-year inquiry. Again, as he put it, eventually the bait—him—was reeled in due to insufficient evidence. I would think that almost certainly there was no evidence other than the one complaint. Frankly, this is not good enough.
Sexual assault is a very serious allegation. When it involves minors, it becomes more serious and the duty on the police to investigate becomes even more pressing. But there is a fundamental principle that the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, has already identified—the need to preserve the legal tenet that you are innocent until proven guilty—which requires the investigators to hold the whole situation in balance. Until I realised that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, was going to speak, I was going to identify some of the circumstances concerning the investigation of Sir Edward Heath. I understand that he will speak to that later. All I will say at this stage is that I fully concur with what I believe he is going to say: in that instance I do not believe that the actions of Wiltshire Police were either proportionate or appropriate.
It is not only the police that I would take a stick to on this occasion; the case of Bishop George Bell has already been mentioned. Here I claim some sort of inside knowledge, in that I too am a member of the George Bell group. As the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, has already told your Lordships, it is a group comprising senior figures from the Church of England, Members of the House of Lords and of Parliament, historians, investigative journalists and two QCs. I should perhaps ask your Lordships to note that those two QCs are, in one case, a retired judge, and in the other a man who was until recently the chairman of the Bar of England and Wales. So they are no slouches so far as the investigation of evidence is concerned.
Bell has been dead for around 60 years and the group is very concerned that there is apparently only one complainant, a lady named as Carol under a nom de plume. We believe that if she was indeed assaulted, it could not have been by Bell. All the geography, the timing and so on speaks very clearly: it points to the activities of a cleric who may well have been occupying the nearby theological college, next to the Bishop’s Palace. It seems to the group that there is a huge problem here, which the Church of England has not identified. As your Lordships have already heard, in the last few days the House of Bishops has launched an inquiry, which I understand is standard procedure when a bishop is involved in allegations of this sort.
I go back to a statement made by the Church of England on 22 October last year. In my considered opinion, that statement was slippery. The public were assured that the process of inquiry had been thorough; it was not. The allegation was presented as something very solid indeed; it is not. The statement actively incited a public judgment of guilt while allowing the Church room for manoeuvre. I would contend that that, at the best, is disingenuous. Nothing about the actual process was exposed to public scrutiny. There was complete silence as to how the decisions were reached. The independent experts, as they were called by the Church of England, were then and remain anonymous. No one has been left in a position to judge their authority and the statement on 22 October did not acknowledge the true legal standing of those reports. At that time, it quoted at length the complainant’s solicitor’s view and that of the Bishop of Chichester, both of whom were treating the allegation as proven.
Since that time, as has already been alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, the Church has refused to answer questions because it insists that there is a legal requirement of silence. Both the eminent QCs in our group have challenged that view. The Church has refused to answer questions because, it says, it would compromise the complainant; but the complainant herself, under anonymity, has undermined that by giving interviews to the press. It has refused to answer questions because of the impending Goddard inquiry; but that view is undermined by a spokesman for that inquiry who said—I paraphrase—that, “The case of Bell will be nothing to do with us”. So we face a body which, on this occasion, is simply unaccountable and deeply resentful of the most authoritative external criticism. It has misrepresented the arguments of its critics, rather than face up to them squarely, and provided absolutely no information about its processes or identified those responsible for them despite the fact that the reputation of a significant figure has virtually been trashed.
I turn back to the statement saying that we can expect an investigation into this by the Church itself. A diocesan spokeswoman has said:
“There is absolutely no suggestion that this review is about what decision was made”.
So if we are going to look not at the decision but at the process, it seems to me—I shall be interested to know what view is expressed later—that there is a grave doubt whether the same players will be marking their own homework. Quite clearly, as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, said, the reviewer—the chairman of the review body—needs to have legal experience. It is no good having somebody who was involved in that process also involved in a review of what they themselves had conducted earlier.
I return very quickly to the problems that I identified in the Bramall case. There was clearly a lack of leadership and an overreliance on management procedures in that example. Only 10 or 12 years ago, shortcomings like that would have been identified, first of all, in the Police Staff College by changing the curriculum and insisting on different procedures being followed. However, we cannot look to the Police Staff College any longer, because it has been sold by the Home Office and there is nothing in its place. We would have expected, 10 or 12 years ago, advice perhaps to have come from the Home Office in the form of what were then called Home Office circulars—advice to all the police forces in the country, which was really quite powerful. That sort of advice has now been delegated to police and crime commissioners. The College of Policing—different from the Police Staff College—is embryonic and so far has not produced anything which is particularly convincing.
As a result, with no Home Office overview and instead the device of looking towards chief constables and PCCs, who are understandably preoccupied with local issues, the only overview that one seems to detect from the Home Office is value for money and collaboration agreements which lead to it—and not an interest, I should say, of any great depth in national standards of recruitment, training and, particularly, procedures.
That being the case, it gives me great pleasure to support the Motion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, and to congratulate him on securing this time. I reflect on the fact that we are here to protect the complainant and the accused together and that there is a very strong case for a code of conduct—whether it be statutory or persuasive matters not, so long as it is powerful—that will bear on this issue and the quasi-judicial bodies that would be encompassed within it, for example the Church.
In conclusion, I say only that it seems we have lurched as a society from the extremities of the mishandling of the Savile case into the extremes identified in the current cases, and we need to put the balance point back where it belongs.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for securing this debate and for his excellent introduction. It is a privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Dear, and we are in his debt for his very clear speech. I too am very troubled by the ease with which complaints going back years can trash, tarnish and destroy reputation, careers and lives. We have had evidence of that in recent years, as we have heard, with the accusations against Lord Bramall, Lord Brittan, the DJ Paul Gambaccini and Sir Cliff Richard.
In the case of Lord Bramall, the accusation was dropped without a word of apology from the police. The charges against Lord Brittan and Paul Gambaccini were also dropped. As we have heard, Cliff Richard’s case was more deplorable: without any warning, combined action by the police and the BBC devastated the life of this well-known person, giving him, in his own words “two years of hell”. A week or two ago, the police dropped all charges because of lack of evidence. For Cliff Richard, that is not sufficient. He rightly demands that his name be cleared and a fitting apology given. It is good to note that he has been seen at Wimbledon this week.
We expect better in a land under the rule of law and in a democratic society where justice prevails. However, in the case of a dead person, the questions are much more difficult as the individual is no longer here to answer the accusations. I refer to Bishop George Bell, the Bishop of Chichester, one of the most distinguished Church leaders during the war years. He often spoke in this House and, in the words of his excellent biographer, Dr Andrew Chandler, was “ever the Christian internationalist”.
George Bell was happily married to Henrietta for 40 years. It was a close and enduring marriage in which Henrietta supported her energetic husband devotedly. Not a whiff of scandal dogged his career. His was a life of constant work and activity. Although often embroiled in controversy—he clashed often with his own church and political leaders of the time—he was the man of deepest integrity. He died in 1958. Thirty-seven years later, in 1995, a woman under the pseudonym of Carol made complaints against him that when she was a five year-old, the bishop abused her. I have no wish to denigrate her, because her experience could well be true, but was the bishop the culprit? The Church of England seems to be certain of it, because last October, as we heard, a legal civil claim was settled by the Diocese of Chichester and a sum of money given to the complainant. The Bishop of Chichester made an unreserved apology to “Carol” expressing his “deep sorrow” and acknowledging that,
“the abuse of children is a criminal act and a devastating betrayal of trust that should never occur in any situation, particularly the church”.
So Bishop George Bell was judged a paedophile and a pervert. The trashing of his memory and magnificent career is now well under way. George Bell House, in the diocese, a centre for vocation, education and reconciliation, has been renamed 4 Canon Lane. Bishop Bell school has been renamed Saint Catherine’s School. At the University of Chichester, the George Bell hall of residence has been renamed, as has the George Bell Institute. The man described by Ian Kershaw, the leading historian of the war years, as,
“the most significant English clergyman of the 20th century”,
is now being ruined, in the words of supporters of George Bell in the Chichester diocese,
“by an anonymous, unpublished claim, upheld by a non-court which won’t explain its decision”.
The worrying thing is that the Church of England has admitted that, given the positively ancient nature of these allegations, there cannot possibly be a test of the evidence to a criminal standard of proof. It has instead applied the civil standard: a balance of probabilities. However, even the civil standard relies on a person having a defence, someone to bat for them, and we have no evidence that the safeguarding officials of the Church of England—mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dear—who oversaw the supposedly painstaking investigation looked at any evidence. For example, I question whether they ever considered his extensive travels or his household arrangements, which might have thrown up some question marks about the nature of the allegations. They did not question a surviving relative or, even more devastatingly, Canon Adrian Carey—no relation—his chaplain for two of the years that the claimed abuse happened. Canon Carey strongly refutes any suggestion that anyone working in the palace “would often take the little girl with her when she went to work”. He never saw a child in such circumstances, and it is not clear in what capacity the child’s relative can possibly have worked at the palace in the evenings. This leaves many of us deeply unhappy with the process which the Church of England has undertaken. We sympathise with the complainant “Carol” but are unable to believe that even the lesser standard of proof has been properly applied.
I am distressed to make this observation of my own Church, but it seems to me that in this particular instance, its procedures have had the character of a kangaroo court and not a just, compassionate and balanced investigation of the facts.
A few days ago, as we have heard, the Church of England announced that an independent review would be set up to reconsider the George Bell case. The timing of the announcement might suggest to my mischievous mind that it is intended to fob us off. I hope I am wrong about that. However, I make a plea to the Church to ensure there is a clear, objective and open investigation, in which senior legal expertise is applied, to satisfy us all that justice has been served and above all, that the process be as open as it possibly can be.
Returning to the wider issue of the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, the cases of Cliff Richard, Paul Gambaccini, Leon Brittan, Lord Bramall, as well as George Bell, mean that there is a strong case to be made for a new approach to historical sex abuses. When a complaint is brought, we should not expect the police to regard it as credible and true but to investigate it with an open mind, pursuing the evidence wherever it leads to build a case which the prosecuting authorities believe has a chance of obtaining a conviction. Similarly, I suggest that the type of civil action that the Church used in Bishop Bell’s case should never be used in this way again. Surely there is also a strong case to be made for not revealing the identity of the accused until he or she is charged, because unless such changes are made, none of us is safe. Each one of us—however faithful we have been to our partners and to our ideals of right and wrong—will be at the mercy of mischievous and cruel accusations.
My Lords, we have just heard a most impressive and sombre speech from the noble and right reverend Lord, and I hope his words will be heeded by my noble friend when he comes to reply to this debate. We are, all of us, in the debt of my noble friend Lord Lexden for introducing this subject and for the manner in which he did so. We also had a very chilling speech from the noble Lord, Lord Dear, who talked about his association with Lord Bramall and how he had been able to advise him.
I was brought up—these things have been referred to before—to regard two propositions as being utterly necessary foundations for any civilised society. Any man or woman is innocent until proven guilty, and it is better that a guilty man or woman goes free than an innocent one is punished, and we should all bear that in mind. In recent years, in the emotional panic that has followed the Savile case we have lost our bearings, and no institution other than your Lordships’ House is better equipped to restore the moral compass of the nation.
All of us know of the extraordinary bravery of Bishop Bell. I was brought up to regard him as a really great figure in the land. I knew that he exasperated my greatest hero, Churchill, on many occasions, but again it is the hallmark of a truly free society that even in time of war a moral leader can do what George Bell did. That his reputation should have been so tarnished and trashed on the flimsiest of evidence, with no proper due process, makes me, as a lifelong Anglican, deeply ashamed that those in authority in the Church to which I am proud to belong should not have insisted upon a more thorough investigation before anything was said in public.
I make no complaint about the investigation of complaints. Of course, if an allegation is made to the appropriate authorities, that allegation should be thoroughly investigated. But no public statement should be made, particularly when the person concerned is long dead, unless there is virtually irrefutable proof. We all know the great things that Bishop Bell did, but now it seems that every place that bears his name is being transformed. We heard some of the examples given by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, in his speech.
However, it goes further than that, does not it? I do not think that I have ever been angrier than when I saw that police officer standing at the gate of Arundells, the home of the late Sir Edward Heath, in effect making a public appeal. Of course, I do not want to transgress on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, who will be much better qualified than I am to go into details, but it is shameful that so much money is now being wasted on trawling through papers to try to discover the merest reference to something when nobody has suggested that that something exists. We are dealing with Salisbury in the 21st century and not with Salem in the 17th. There has been too much in recent years of the atmosphere of the witch hunt. Of all the rogues in English history, few bear comparison with Titus Oates or Senator McCarthy. Are theirs the ideals that we should seek to uphold?
I knew Edward Heath reasonably well, in so far as anybody could, although nowhere near as well as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, did, of course. He stayed in my home and I had many conversations with him. I believe the allegations to be utterly without foundation. While I make no complaint about investigations taking place, as I earlier made plain, that they should be the stuff of headlines is completely wrong. Again, we all in this House knew Lord Brittan, whose last months were made miserable and difficult when, as he struggled with a fatal illness, story after titillating story appeared in the media. I have enormous admiration for the courage of his widow, whom many of us know, for the way in which she coped. Did she get a proper apology?
I hate this formula, which was used again recently in the case of Sir Cliff Richard, that there is “insufficient evidence to proceed”, from which it is perfectly possible to draw the inference, “guilty, but don’t do it again”. That is so wrong. There should be more fulsome and proper apologies. If there is no case to answer, there is no case to answer, and if there is no case to answer it is because the man’s innocence, which cannot be disproved, has been underlined. It should be underlined without churlishness, ambiguity or half-heartedness.
Of course, there are many other cases. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, referred to Paul Gambaccini, who appears to have had an exceptionally miserable and distressing time. At the end, he is back on the radio now, and very good, but can he be given back that time of misery and have substituted for it a time of joy? Of course he cannot.
I mention it with some diffidence, but one case concerned a very recent Member of your Lordships’ House, who sat on the Bishops’ Benches: Michael Perham, then the Bishop of Gloucester, whom I knew when he was Dean of Derby and we both served on the General Synod. He was a good and decent man who could not even properly say farewell to his diocese because accusations on which the police decided to take no action had been made and publicised. I hope that the procedure for looking into these things by the Church of England will be thoroughly examined in the case of the living as well as of the dead, because the last year or so of Michael Perham’s episcopate was a time not of the joyful saying of farewell to those whom he had served well but a time of isolation, deprivation and misery. Nobody can be proud of that.
I very much hope that the calls that have been made by previous speakers for some form of code of conduct will be heeded. I very much hope that those in high authority in the police will realise that the handling of the Nick accusations did lasting damage to the police, and rightly so. “Credible and true”? We all know those words, by whom they were uttered and about what they were uttered. It is shameful that that should have been the case. The moral guardians of the nation must include the Church of England, our established Church, in which I so firmly believe. It needs to get its own procedures properly arranged so that we cannot traduce the reputation of the dead or put in misery the lives of the living without proper proof.
My noble friend Lord Lexden has performed a signal service to your Lordships’ House this morning. We are having a sombre and sober debate, which is right, and I hope that we will see some proper results from it. I hope above all, in the context of today’s debate, that we will have a sensitive and considered response from the Minister.
My Lords, I should like to express my total agreement with those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, and thank him for raising this matter on his Motion today. It is a serious matter and his proposals for resolving the problem certainly need to be very closely considered. I can see that there are difficulties about such guidance, but it is very badly needed.
I will confine my comments to the case of Sir Edward Heath. Your Lordships will know that, in the absence of any close relatives of his, I have expressed publicly my view that Sir Edward Heath was not guilty of any criminal offences of child abuse, and that remains my view. It is not my view only but the view of many others, and that is the position from which I come. I fully acknowledge that that is not evidence, unless there is no other evidence which is contrary to it, but it remains my belief that Sir Edward Heath was not a child abuser in that way or, indeed, in any way.
Much has been said today about Wiltshire Police’s investigation—Operation Conifer, they call it—of Sir Edward Heath’s case, particularly of the way in which a senior officer of Wiltshire Police stood in front of Sir Edward’s house in The Close in Salisbury, in effect appealing for witnesses to come forward. Since I last spoke about this in the House, I have had the advantage of a long meeting with the chief constable of Wiltshire Police on the matter. It was a confidential meeting and I do not propose to breach that confidence but, in fairness to him, I should like to put it on record that he has apologised for the conduct of that officer outside Arundells and he repeated that apology in our meeting the other day. He cannot of course tell me, your Lordships or anybody else what allegations are being investigated, nor do I expect him to do so.
However, the fact is that the inquiry has been ongoing for some time and is very wide in terms of the number of people being interviewed in connection with the operation. I have described it as a fishing expedition, and the chief constable was not wholly able to convince me that it was otherwise. The police have interviewed, are interviewing, or have proposed to interview a great number of people. The operation has already cost £400,000 and is likely to run for at least another six—probably 12—months and cost more than £1 million. A number of retired policemen and other people from outside the force have been recruited to help conduct the investigation. From the number of people and the breadth of the interviews, it looks much more like a fishing expedition than an inquiry—indeed, if I may put it this way, a dynamite fishing expedition and not a skilful casting of the line, which would be entirely understandable and right in this situation. I am sure that the chief constable thinks that what is going on is proportionate; I have not been convinced of that myself. I hope that he will, as he has said that he would, keep a clear eye on that aspect of the operation.
The existence of Operation Conifer became known partly, but not only, because of the disgraceful activity of the senior officer standing outside Arundells. There were other reasons as well, such as the publication by the Independent Police Complaints Commission of a report as to whether another investigation had been put off or stopped on account of the possible damage to the reputation of Sir Edward Heath. That was found to be unfounded, but the publication of the report of course drew attention to the fact that the matter was being investigated.
It has been said that such operations should be conducted in confidentiality and that there should not be revelations to the media. What happened in the case of Sir Cliff Richard—and, likewise, what happened with the officer standing outside Arundells—was shameful. If you are going to conduct an operation such as Operation Conifer, with a wide range of interviews, it is perhaps optimistic to hope that the existence of the operation can remain confidential. A number of people are being interviewed, and they will talk among themselves. It is almost inevitable these days that some echo of that will reach the media and the police force concerned will find itself pursued by the media.
I think the chief constable would allow me to say that he assured me that his force was not proposing to search the archives of Sir Edward Heath, which are now in the Bodleian Library. They would only wish to find out, if they could, details of his diary—where he was on particular days. Some of that information from when he was Prime Minister certainly exists in the National Archives. I do not know whether anything of it is left in the archives in the Bodleian Library.
The chief constable emphasised to me that the duty of the police in these matters is not to judge but to produce evidence—to find and pursue evidence that will corroborate other evidence. It is not their business to judge the results of that; that is for the prosecuting authorities and, ultimately, for a judge and jury. But of course, in the case of a man who has been dead for over 10 years, that is almost a travesty of justice. As the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, pointed out, we are at risk of turning upside down the standard principle that you are innocent unless you are proved guilty.
The police inquiry could produce evidence only if Sir Edward was still alive; no doubt that evidence would come before a court if it was sufficient, and it would be tested in the procedure in the court. That is impossible, because Sir Edward has been dead for over 10 years. We have the judicial inquiry led by Justice Goddard, and no doubt the result of the Wiltshire inquiries will eventually go to that body. However, that is not a very good substitute but a separate assessment of the balance of probability on the evidence; the best one can hope for is in effect a verdict of not proven. The situation seems very unsatisfactory in that historical allegations—which in this case have to be more than 11 years old, and are probably much older—are still floating around, being pursued, and reflecting on the memory and the probable innocence of a man of the stature of Sir Edward Heath.
My Lords, I am relieved that this debate is taking place and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for managing to bring it before this House. We should look calmly and frankly at the very difficult problems which are emerging with increasing regularity. I agree with what was said by the previous speakers.
We live in troubled times—and I do not refer only to the referendum. Ever since the shocking case of Jimmy Savile and others we have become accustomed to serious allegations of sexual abuse being made against well-known figures. We must recognise that many people, male and female, who were sexually abused as children have only recently been able to disclose that abuse, many years after the shocking events took place. It is brave of them to do so, and they have to relive the dreadful behaviour by adults they trusted, who abused that trust. Such allegations must of course be very carefully and rigorously investigated, and many of the allegations of historic abuse which are now being made have resulted in prosecutions and convictions. We need to remember that among those convicted was a diocesan bishop.
However, the question arises of how to deal with allegations made against those who have died, some of them many years ago. I suggest that a distinction should be made between the management of allegations against a living person and those against one who is deceased.
As noble Lords will know, there are two standards of proof—the criminal, which is of course a higher standard, and the civil standard of proof, which is on the balance of probabilities. As has already been said several times today, there is a firm commitment in English criminal law to the principle that a person is innocent until proved guilty in a criminal court. In cases where the balance of probabilities is applied, we must recognise the importance of looking carefully at the inherent probability or improbability of the allegations, as was said in the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords, the predecessor of the Supreme Court, in a case called Re H in 1996. It happens to be a case in which I was in the Court of Appeal and it was appealed to the House of Lords. In that case, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nicholls, said:
“The more improbable the event, the stronger must be the evidence that it did occur before, on the balance of probability, its occurrence will be established”.
Of course there will be cases where there is a strong body of evidence against a deceased person, but the words of the noble and learned Lord should be carefully considered.
The issue that causes me considerable concern is where the balance of probabilities is applied to historic cases of child abuse in which the alleged perpetrator is dead. I was taught as a young barrister “audi alteram partem”—that is, one has to hear both sides. Jimmy Savile may have been an exception because the volume of evidence of many, many victims built up to a horrifying degree, and there are other cases, but in general, with a few or particularly only one person making the allegation, however convincing, the authority or organisation dealing with the allegation has a duty to recognise that it may be able to get the story only from one side.
Consequently the authority, organisation or agency with the unenviable and difficult task of dealing with allegations against a person who may have died many years ago needs to have a policy and indeed a formula. In particular, it needs wording which makes it clear that it should listen to and recognise the seriousness of the allegations and give appropriate support to the person making those allegations, but generally—I should perhaps say always—it should resist the temptation to say that the account is convincing and is to be believed. Even on the balance of probabilities, if one side cannot be heard, that in my view is a step too far.
The authority also has to be absolutely aware of the media’s ability to elaborate and distort the statements. Great, great care must be taken not to allow the media to convict the deceased alleged abuser based on the loose language used in the authority’s statement. I understand that the Church of England did not actually say that Bishop Bell was a sex abuser but it appears not to have taken steps to correct the media impression.
I have no views on whether, if the evidence of sexual abuse is strong, the victim should be compensated. In some cases it is clearly the right thing to do. I know from my report on sexual abuse in Chichester that the evidence against one priest who died was very strong, and compensation in that case was, in my view, entirely appropriate. It is not necessary for me to refer any more to Bishop Bell. I am more concerned about a better way of dealing with historic allegations against a deceased person in future and to correct the balance.
I am relieved to learn that the Church of England is now holding an internal inquiry on how the Bishop Bell case was dealt with. I hope that it will include how the Church will deal with similar issues in the future, and that it will ask the right questions. I hope that it will also look at the language that the Church and its representatives will use, and remind them of the importance of caution in everything that is being said.
This is a problem that will not go away, and it is quite clear that the method of dealing with it somehow or other has to be improved. I am not sure how easy a code of conduct would be to achieve but it is, undoubtedly, a sensible suggestion that requires careful consideration. However, I am not convinced that statutory guidelines would be the right way forward.
I wonder whether your Lordships will allow me to tell the House a personal story. When I was a Court of Appeal judge, I was cautioned by the police in relation to an accident that occurred in Cardiff. They cautioned me in the Royal Courts of Justice in London in respect of a silver Honda Civic, with my number plate, which had turned right without giving any warning and knocked over and injured a cyclist. I said that I was in London on the day in question, sitting in court, and told them to ask the registrar. “We have done so”, they said. Then I told them where I was in the evening and that there was no way I could have got from trying a case in London to Cardiff. They said, “We know that, and we also know that the woman who did it had long hair”—I have always had short hair—“and was at least 20 years younger than you”. The reason for telling you this is that I then received a letter from the police saying that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute me.
My Lords, what a pleasant story to lighten up rather a gloomy morning.
I do not want to discuss any individual case. I share the anxiety of the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, about the number of cases where disquieting situations have been identified. Perhaps I will begin by saying that the presumption of innocence survives death.
I hope it will be of interest to the House if I discuss briefly the context in which we have arrived at where we are, in which the Crown Court is packed, day by day, with cases alleging sexual abuse going back many years. It starts from this: when I was called to the Bar, the general assumption was that a child’s evidence really should not be heard. The obstructions were huge and, when you did get to court, there were further obstructions. Let me start with the ones at court, because there is not time to deal with them all.
Something that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, said reminded me of this. In 1958, Lord Goddard made it absolutely plain that it was ridiculous to suppose that the jury would attach any value to the supposed evidence of a child of five years old. Notice the word “ridiculous”—it is not moderate. That sounds like the five year-old girl spoken of as Carole. I do not know anything about what she did, but the reason I am describing this is that it exemplifies the then broad attitude to complaints made by children.
There was a competency test if a child came to give evidence. The judge solemnly asked questions about whether the child believed in God and hell-fire. Depending on the judgment that the judge made, the child could be sworn—or not. If the child was not sworn, there could be no conviction without corroboration, to which I will come. Five small boys or girls saying, on separate occasions, “The history master touched me on my bottom”, if they were all unsworn, could not provide support for each other. There could be no corroboration, although five little children happened to say that the history master happened to be doing this thing to them. As to the rules of corroboration, you have to imagine that only a legal technician could invent them.
Let us take the issue of distress. Distress is sometimes a sign that something has gone wrong, is it not? But the jury had to be directed: “Well, distress, members of the jury … Well, children often do suffer distress, so there may not be anything specific about it. Anyway, distress can be easily feigned, as you know”. Of course, it is true. We were treating children as though they were more likely to lie and make things up than adults. I regret to say that adults make things up and lie just as often as children. We then got to the solemn warnings to the jury, assuming the evidence got to the jury: “Now, you may think that little boy or little girl was a very impressive witness, but I must direct you on the dangers of convicting on the evidence of a child. And if it is a sexual offence, it is doubly dangerous to convict on the evidence of a child”. As to the courts’ arrangements, I still remember a stepfather coming into the court—it was not Crown Court; it was the Court of Session—bringing with him the 13 year-old stepdaughter he was alleged to have indecently assaulted. What kind of start to giving evidence against your stepfather would that be? The other problem was that a statement taken from a child could not be used in evidence, so six or nine months after the event the child had described in the witness statement, nobody said, “Have a look at your statement”. Six to nine months later, much of the periphery will have disappeared from the memory of a child, but of course the periphery is not what the issue is.
The whole process in court made life difficult and, although I am talking about courts, they simply reflected public views on these issues. Children invented allegations. History masters did not do dirty things. It was very easy for the child to invent and their allegations could not be true. Some of your Lordships will remember Esther Rantzen’s great efforts to heighten this issue on a television programme and I wonder whether your Lordships will be true to their consciences and remember wondering at the time whether she was exaggerating. I bet that, if you are true to your consciences, you will say, “That is what I thought”. We are now reaping the whirlwind consequent on silencing children who had complaints of serious sexual crime to make. The whirlwind is no place for calm justice, and that is part of our problem.
Another part of our problem is how we address the issue. Put simply, let us have no more historical sexual abuse cases, by which I do not mean today but that in 2035 we are not examining allegations made in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 or 2005. The process of reforming our system has been amazing when I compare the world that I was brought up in at the Bar—and it was the whole of my time at the Bar right until I left it in 1988—with where we are now. It is much better. But the processes still move with the alacrity of a disenchanted snail. His Honour Tom Pigot, the former Common Serjeant of London—he is not with us now—produced a report in 1989 which just about everybody who has read it thinks is a strong way forward to enable justice to be done: not to convict the innocent but to enable the matter to be properly looked at. In 1991, there were some small changes; in 1994, there were some small changes. In 1999, we had the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act, which allowed for a pre-recording of the evidence of the child to be taken as the evidence, so the child would be interviewed and there would be the child’s story. Tom Pigot recommended that the cross-examination, too, should be pre-recorded—in 1989, mark you. In 1992, Western Australia introduced the system that Judge Pigot and his committee had recommended to us in 1989. In 2010, some marvellous research in Australia demonstrated that this process was not inimical to justice. There was no suggestion that there had been an increase in the miscarriages of justice—nothing like that.
Where are we in our jurisdiction? We now have a pilot scheme in Leeds, Kingston and Liverpool. Judges I have heard about think it is admirable, that the process is very good. Let us take one simple advantage. If the child is giving evidence of assaults in which he or she has been involved or been a witness to involving a number of defendants, the trial may be split for obvious reasons. This way round, you have the child’s evidence-in-chief and the child’s evidence in cross-examination. The child does not have to go through the process four times even though there will be four trials. It is admirable. You have the child’s evidence as it is, fresh. It is of course open to objection and to cross-examination—the processes have not changed.
There is one more plus, which I emphasise because it goes to the heart of whether there will be allegations in 30 years’ time of sexual abuse now which have been silenced. Once you have all the child’s evidence, you can then decide whether the child should have treatment. If the child has to be cross-examined it is difficult to arrange for treatment, if it is necessary, because by the time of the trial the child will be slightly confused, inevitably, about what was treatment, what the treatment was and whether the reiteration of the story to the psychiatrist, psychologist or whoever has changed the story. There is a great tendency in the system to say, “No, don’t let us have treatment until the process is complete”. However, once the evidence is there, you can get on with whatever is needed for the child.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that every allegation is true, that false allegations are not made or that mistakes will not be made. We must bring Pigot to the cross-examination issue and pre-recorded testimony into effect as soon as possible. It has been waiting since 1989. I cannot say more than that. The longer it goes on, the longer we will have the process I have outlined, with the difficulties in relation to treatment and getting a contemporaneous story, which is more likely to be true than a non-contemporaneous story, and so on.
One day it will happen. One day—this is not in Pigot’s report—I hope it will be quite unnecessary for a child ever to go to court to give evidence in the physical surroundings of the court building because the evidence will be there. The child will not be needed. Of course you build in discretion for the judge to say, “Yes, this is a case where, I am afraid, we must have the child here”, but it is not necessary once you have it all on tape.
These disquieting situations involving the historical sexual abuse of children which have been referred to have produced the whirlwind that puts us where we are. The presumption of innocence remains. The need to investigate modern, ancient or middle-aged allegations of sexual crime with assiduous fairness remains. There is no presumption. What is needed is an open mind and for us to bring our own system in the court up to date.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for bringing this debate before us and for the considered and careful way in which people have made their contributions. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that this House has an important part to play in setting our moral compass on the issues we are discussing.
I wish to make it clear that I and the Church of England welcome the introduction of some statutory guidelines for responding to historic allegations. As we in the Church are acutely aware, this is a difficult and sensitive area, so responding well to such allegations is extremely important. If there was statutory guidance on such cases, it would be easier to respond well and consistently. That said, we are all aware that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse may make relevant recommendations, and it might be that the Government wish to wait for them before issuing guidance in this area.
The noble Lords, Lord Lexden and Lord Dear, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, and others have raised the specific case of Bishop George Bell, and I want to reflect briefly on it. The Church acknowledges his principled and courageous stand during the Second World War against the saturation bombing of civilians and the extraordinary contribution he made to peace, at no small personal cost. We also acknowledge the very significant part he played in the ecumenical movement. I feel this keenly myself. I served for a short time as a priest in the Chichester diocese and I am one of a small group of bishops who are active in the peace movement, so in a small way by comparison, I have known what it is like to be misunderstood and vilified for that witness. Bishop Bell has been someone from whom I personally have drawn enormous inspiration. It is therefore a very painful blow to me, as it is to many in the Church and in wider society—as has been evidenced by some of the things others have said in this debate—that a man of such extraordinary gifts could also have been so flawed. But the Church, of all institutions, should not find it conceptually difficult that great gifts and talents may coexist with great flaws.
The decision to publish the allegation against Bishop Bell was not taken lightly, but we believe that it was the right decision in the circumstances. The Church, through a safeguarding core group which considered the evidence against him, tested over a period of 18 months the allegations made by someone referred to as “Carol” so far as possible over such a distance of time. Of course, as has been said, the process was greatly hampered by the fact that Bishop Bell and others were dead. Here, I want to thank the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for her speech. We in this House and the Church need to consider very carefully what she said.
It also needs to be said that the core group did have the benefit of legal advice, the views of Sussex Police, evidence about the survivor’s connection with the Bishop’s Palace at Chichester and medical reports. Church staff also examined the Bell papers held in Lambeth Palace library. The legal advice was that, had the claim been tested by a court, on the balance of probabilities, Carol would have won her claim. In those circumstances, the proper thing to do was to settle the case rather than putting a survivor through the harrowing process of giving evidence. Having settled, the Church had to make the existence of the case known to allow for other survivors to come forward, if there were any, and because of Bishop Bell’s considerable status. If the Church had chosen to remain silent and the information had subsequently come out by another route, the Church would rightly have been criticised for instituting a cover-up and placing Bishop Bell’s reputation above justice for the survivor.
Saying all this gives me no joy at all, but we are hampered in commenting further on the process because of the importance of protecting Carol’s confidential information. We cannot answer many of the points that have been made without revealing information that could lead to her identification. However, the Church remains satisfied of the credibility of the allegation. As is good practice after any serious allegation, the Church has announced an independent review of the process that was used to assess the allegation made against Bishop Bell. I fear that I cannot answer all the specific questions that were asked in the course of this sombre and helpful debate—a debate that, I stress, I welcome—but I will make sure that answers, where possible, are given. However, I can comment on a few points that were raised.
First, it is not for the Church to breach the survivor’s confidentiality. She did choose to speak to the press, but that was because some in the George Bell Group had made hurtful comments about her. I need the House to be clear that we are not marking our own homework. The reviewer who will undertake this review is independent. I cannot tell noble Lords who that is, because the reviewer has not yet been appointed.
I apologise for interrupting but I would be most grateful if the right reverend Prelate said whether he is willing, with his colleagues, to arrange a private meeting with those of us who have spoken in this debate and who are very concerned about this matter, at which he would be able to say in confidence things he feels unable to say on the Floor of the House.
I am able to say yes to that for myself; what I am not able to do is speak for those who are overseeing this case for the Church of England. Although I am happy to be standing here and speaking for the Church of England today, some noble Lords will realise that I am the duty bishop this week and I have not been directly involved with any of these investigations. I am not saying that to distance myself, but I simply cannot speak for others on the question that the noble Lord has raised, though I give him my assurance that I will raise it with those who are overseeing this case.
I now turn to a couple of other things that were raised in the debate. It was suggested that the review might be a knee-jerk response to something that has happened. That is unfair. We are aware of the importance and sensitivity of this case. It also happens now to be standard practice for us to do such reviews when a bishop has been accused. My own dear friend, Michael Perham, Bishop of Gloucester, was mentioned in the debate. That happened with his case. For the record, I ought to say that it was the police, not the Church, that released Michael Perham’s name.
Miscarriages of justice happen, people do things wrong and people investigating them get things wrong, but to call the prayerful, careful, sensitive and serious investigation “a kangaroo court” was a really rather unhelpful slur in an otherwise serious and helpful debate. There is a review taking place; it is a review of the process, which will enable us to learn lessons for future cases. New statutory guidance about the handling of such cases would be of great assistance to the Church of England, to many other institutions and to our nation.
Will the right reverend Prelate say something about the independent review? The majority of us who have spoken believe that there has been a miscarriage of justice; is there any chance that the independent review will reconsider the decision that was made by the civil court action?
I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. Will he ensure that the Bell group’s report is fully and properly considered in the places where it needs to be considered, and that as full a response as possible is forthcoming? It is a most serious and full document, and for it to be set on one side by those to whom it was directed would be a grave and unfortunate matter. I urge the right reverend Prelate to make sure that that process of setting aside the carefully considered report does not happen.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for giving us the opportunity to debate this important issue. Many noble Lords will be aware that I was a police officer for more than 30 years. It is important to remind the House of that. I am also a confirmed member of the Church of England, which might come as a surprise to some people. I have not been excommunicated as far as I know, although I may have given the Church just cause to do so. However, I am a reasonably high-profile gay man and noble Lords might think that I would therefore be a prime target for the sort of unfounded allegation that has been made against some others who have been mentioned today.
The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, talked about the impact on people who are wrongly accused of this sort of offence, and the real danger of a reversal of burden of proof. It is very important to stress that. He also mentioned the case of Sir Cliff Richard, where a decision was taken not to take any further action after a period of two years. The absolutely appalling collaboration between the police and the BBC, which involved a BBC helicopter filming the invasion of Sir Cliff’s home while he was abroad—the first he knew of it was when he saw it broadcast—was a terrible way to carry on. I agree that the conclusion of insufficient evidence, which is always cited in these sorts of cases, is not enough. I will come back to that.
The difficulty is that the public perception, encouraged by many people in the media, is that if an allegation is made or somebody is arrested, there is no smoke without fire. Having reasonable cause to suspect, which is the level that is necessary for a police officer to arrest somebody—it is a very low level—does not mean that that person is guilty, even though that appears to be implied by some of the media coverage. That important issue needs to be addressed.
Many have talked about the case of Bishop George Bell. I confess my ignorance in that I know nothing about the bishop or his character. All I would say is that my experience is that, despite somebody’s apparently impeccable character, that individual could have one flaw that is kept secret but could undermine all the other evidence of their good character. A police colleague with whom I shared a section house—a police barracks—was a very dedicated, quiet and pleasant individual. During a firemen’s strike we could not understand why he was the first officer on the scene in many cases until he was discovered with a can of petrol and some matches. That is an example of how somebody can do something completely out of character. We should not ignore that fact either.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, talked about what he considers to be the mishandling of the investigation of Lord Bramall. There is a case to which I shall refer in a moment of which I have personal knowledge. My professional judgment is that that police investigation was also mishandled. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, made particular reference to marked police cars going to an address and people carrying out a forensic examination over an allegation that had been made 10 or 20 years before. In terms of proportionality, what sort of forensic evidence did the police expect to get from that search, compared with what they were likely to actually get from it?
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, made an extremely important point—if I may say such a thing to the noble and learned Baroness—about the difference between allegations against people who are deceased and those against people who are alive, and the fact that it would be very difficult for the other side of the case to be put in those circumstances. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey of Clifton, put it very succinctly: clearly, it is far more difficult when the person accused has passed away and cannot defend themselves, particularly against a civil action that is decided on the balance of probabilities. That is something that really needs to be addressed.
The important issue for me, which I want to concentrate on, is where the accused is still alive. This is a very complex issue—far more complex than perhaps some of today’s debate has indicated. The care of victims of child abuse has to be paramount and they have to be believed and supported. Someone who honestly believes that they have been the victim of child abuse, albeit they are now an adult and it happened many decades ago, needs help and support. However, what also needs to be taken into account is that they might be mistaken in the identification of the perpetrator or even about whether the thing happened at all. But that should not make any difference to the care that is given to that victim, unless the allegation subsequently proves to be deliberate or malicious.
However, we must change the way that we deal with the accused. The police are in a difficult position, partly of their own making and partly, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said, because of the historic way in which the criminal justice system as a whole has tended to disbelieve child victims in particular. It is not that long ago that there was a fly-on-the-wall documentary of Thames Valley Police, investigating rape allegations when the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, was the chief constable. Those rape survivors were generally not believed by the police in the same way that child victims were not believed. That resulted in the now noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, and a female colleague, Thelma Wagstaff, producing a book which revolutionised the way that the police dealt with rape investigations. It has not been universally applied, according to the accounts of some rape victims, but it has certainly made a significant difference.
One of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Blair, asked me to do when he was first appointed Commissioner of the Met was to carry out a review of rape investigation in the Metropolitan Police. We looked only at adult victims because at that time there were few allegations of the rape of children. We identified, for example, victims who had learning difficulties or who were sex workers, who the police officers investigating thought might not make good witnesses or might not stand up very well to cross-examination, so they tended to be disbelieved because the police thought that their evidence could be challenged in court. This was something that clearly needed to be addressed and I think there are parallels here with the situation of the victims of historic child abuse.
This is partly a result of the adversarial judicial system that we have, where the legitimate role of a defence counsel is to cast doubt on the testimony of the prosecution witness. The problem is that perpetrators also know that people with learning difficulties, and perhaps children and sex workers, may not be as believed as other victims—and that makes them even more vulnerable to such attacks. The police must recognise this. We must believe victims and do everything we can to protect and care for them, whatever their abilities as witnesses. One of the main conclusions that we came to in that investigation of rape was that it was not the desire of every victim of rape for there to be an investigation. They wanted to be believed and cared for, while the thought of going through the ordeal again in court was too much for some. We have to bear that in mind and, again, there are parallels with these sorts of cases.
Perpetrators must know now that they will be arrested and questioned and their conduct gone into because, whatever the credibility of an individual witness, if there is more than one allegation of this kind, the situation is different. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, talked about a case where five young people all made a similar allegation but, in those days, none of them was believed. The difficulty for the police service has become how to find other survivors of the same perpetrator. The Savile case lifted the lid on this practice when it became apparent that, because of the perpetrator’s position relative to that of the survivors, the survivors had not been believed. They had not been cared for or protected. That has made the police acutely sensitive to the accusation that they do not take seriously the victims or survivors of child exploitation. I believe that it has resulted in a situation where they feel that they need ruthlessly and relentlessly to pursue allegations of historic child abuse, particularly where the alleged perpetrator has a high public profile.
I was involved throughout the case of Paul Gambaccini, from shortly after his arrest until its conclusion. I would say that that case, too, was mishandled. It was apparent from what Paul Gambaccini told me, right from the word go, that the allegations were incredible, for want of a better word. Yet it took months and months of his being bailed and re-bailed before the police were able to say that they would not take the case any further. The welfare of those accused must also be taken into account.
There is of course a temptation for the police to publicise it when they arrest somebody, if there is no other corroborating evidence, in order to get other people to make similar allegations against the same individual. But surely the way for the police to do that is to encourage every victim of child sexual abuse to come forward and for them to maintain those allegations on a database that is accessible by all forces. If the survivors are in different parts of the country but make similar allegations against an individual, the dots can be joined up—rather than conducting the sort of fishing expedition with dynamite that has been referred to and happens now.
Guidelines are given to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service about these sorts of cases and those guidelines clearly need to change. Unless and until somebody has been charged, the identity of the perpetrator should remain confidential. If the police want other victims or survivors to come forward once the person has been charged, that is fair enough. It may be that no further action is taken. The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, talked about a far-ranging investigation where the identity of the perpetrator might come out in public before a charge. The term “insufficient evidence” is not enough: we need to have a form of words around the fact that there was no supporting evidence for the allegation that was made, if that is the case. This is more complex than some noble Lords have said, but clearly there is a need for change. Both the College of Policing and the Crown Prosecution Service need to look at this very carefully.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for bringing this debate before us. I find myself agreeing, at least in part, with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in his essential point that this is more complex than might be judged from some of the contributions. It seems to me that the essence of this whole area is the dilemma between victims and the accused, and the interests of society as a whole. It is an extremely complex area, and I hope, because of the diversity of inputs, we have something of a balance in terms of that complexity.
I was a little distressed with the first five contributions, not because I felt they were wrong or insincere in any way but because they focused so much on the harm of injustice to the accused. That is absolutely right, but I shall go on to talk a little about the victims’ side in this. I thank the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for bringing the debate back into the centre by talking about the victims, the problem of time, people who are dead being accused and particularly the issue of children. I have seen ways of handling child victims used elsewhere in the world that are much better than our own practices, which would prevent some of our problems.
I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for explaining the really difficult dilemma the Church of England faced. It may not satisfy noble Lords, but at least it gave some perspective. I am a bureaucrat and could see myself in the middle of that dilemma, thinking “Where do we go, how do we make this as fair as possible, whose interest do we have to defend?”. Finally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for giving us the operational perspective on just how difficult these things are.
The scale of the historical child abuse that has emerged is deeply harrowing and difficult to comprehend. Lord Justice Goddard, who chairs the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, has described the inquiry’s task as “daunting”. Institutions that have a responsibility to safeguard children and vulnerable adults must take responsibility for their safeguarding practices and procedures and for any failures in these procedures. The Goddard inquiry into child sexual abuse will support the process of accountability for institutions that have previously failed in this duty. The inquiry is expected to draw conclusions about the patterns of child protection failings across a range of institutions in England and Wales, including the police, the criminal justice system and the Church of England. The findings of the inquiry must be studied closely.
Contemporary police forces have, in the main, done their best to investigate instances of historical child abuse, and the current guidance supports that. The College of Policing provides operational guidance to the police. It has detailed guidance—authorised professional practice—on investigating child abuse and safeguarding children, which contains a section, “Delayed reporting of child abuse allegations”. The College of Policing explains that the APP is authorised by the professional body for policing—the college itself—as the official source of professional practice. Police officers and staff are expected to have regard to the APP in discharging their responsibilities. There may be circumstances, however, where it is legitimate to deviate from APP providing there is a clear rationale for doing so. Guidance is just that—guidance. The police need discretion in how to investigate. Of course, any breach of professional practice, despite not carrying criminal liability, could have an impact on the inclusion of evidence, and the police must carry out their investigations with this understanding.
It must be remembered that in March 2016, the chief executive of the College of Policing, Chief Constable Alex Marshall, published a letter addressed to chief constables, commissioners, police and crime commissioners and the heads of public protection units. This followed discussion of the investigation of historic child sex abuse allegations between the College of Policing, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police Service and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. The chief executive’s letter stated that a,
“succession of high-profile cases concerning non-recent child abuse has focused public attention on the approach police take to victims, first at the point of reporting, and then in investigating crime. In cases involving sexual offences, substantial efforts have been made to improve the confidence of victims to come forward and report crimes to the police. It is important that progress is not lost”.
It is vital that the Government accept the need of the police for additional funding to investigate effectively the sudden and extreme increase in the number of historic child abuse cases recorded by the police.
Norfolk Constabulary Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead for child protection, said in March 2016 that there had been an 80% rise in child sex offence allegations in the three years to 2015. There were 70,000 investigations in just the past year, with historical complaints making up 25% to 30% of the total. Mr Bailey told The Times:
“The average cost of each investigation is £19,000, so the police force is now spending a billion pounds a year on cases. If it continues at this rate we will be investigating 200,000 cases at a cost of £3 billion by 2020”.
There have been errors made in investigations, which have been well illustrated in today’s debate, but overwhelmingly it must be remembered that it is victims who have struggled for justice.
In addition to greater police funding to investigate child sexual abuse, there must be consideration of and funding for provision of support for victims of abuse. These victims can live with the physical, emotional and psychological impact of the abuse for the rest of their lives.
A common call, which has been repeated today, when errors by the police are made or where they drop an investigation following a complaint of historical abuse, is for alleged perpetrators to receive anonymity. However, it cannot be forgotten that victims of sexual crimes are likely to be highly vulnerable and unlikely to come forward. For instance, Rape Crisis states that only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police.
The criminal justice system must encourage victims to speak out. We know that publishing information about police investigations into alleged abusers encourages other victims to come forward. Furthermore, cases are often built from this vital information. However, the police must carry out investigations into alleged abuse responsibly and brief the press responsibly. The Labour Party is adamant that the Leveson 2 inquiry into unlawful and immoral conduct between the police and the press must go ahead once criminal prosecutions have ended. This will help scrutinise and create recommendations on the ways in which the press and the police should work together. Can the Minister assure me that part 2 of the Leveson inquiry will go ahead and will consider the concerns expressed by so many noble Lords today?
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for initiating this important debate and to all noble Lords for their contributions. It has been a wide-ranging discussion.
I will start by acknowledging that the issues raised by this debate are both complex and sensitive. In any situation where reputations may be at risk, perhaps unfairly, it is no surprise that there is passionate engagement in the rights and wrongs of every case. Indeed, it is right that there is debate on such issues. I am sure that we all agree that allegations of child sexual abuse, whether recent or in the past, are exceptionally serious matters. It is of course for the police to investigate such allegations. The Government have been absolutely clear that where an allegation of child sexual abuse has been made, it should be reported to the police, so that it can be thoroughly investigated and the facts of the case established. The police are guided in their investigations by the authorised professional practice issued by the College of Policing, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, a few moments ago. The creation of the College of Policing has been an important pillar in our programme of police reform. The college is independent from government and its role is clear: setting high professional standards, sharing what works best, acting as the national voice of policing, and ensuring police training and ethics of the highest possible quality.
The college produces authorised professional practice guidance to the police on a wide range of policing issues. There is authorised guidance on the investigation of complex cases, which include the investigation of child sexual abuse. Separate guidance exists on managing relationships with the media and a revised version of this is currently out for consultation until 8 July this year. The new version will include guidance on when the police can provide details of a suspect ahead of any charges being brought and, as many of your Lordships have noted during this debate, that is a critical issue, of course.
The college has the power to place this practice guidance on a statutory footing, should it choose to do so. It has power—subject to the Home Secretary’s agreement—to recommend that regulations are made which will apply to all members of police forces. Stronger still, it has powers to make codes of practice, which chief constables must have regard to in the exercise of their functions. A code of practice is a statutory document and, should a chief constable not comply with such a code, they would be open to challenge. As I said, the decision to seek any statutory provision would be a matter for the college itself, which is independent of government.
Because it is the police who are the proper authority to investigate such allegations, the Government have no plans to extend or issue statutory guidance on investigating child sexual abuse more widely to other public bodies or institutions. As noble Lords of course will be aware, we have seen an increase in the reporting of recent and non-recent allegations of child sexual abuse connected to institutions and organisations. It is absolutely right and proper that these institutions should look into the circumstances of any such allegations. They should review their safeguarding responsibilities and make any necessary changes, whether that be in additional security, ensuring effective identification of risk to children and young people or more general safeguarding measures.
Institutions might need to investigate claims as the result of civil proceedings being brought against them. How they do this is essentially a matter for each organisation or institution on a case-by-case basis. Each body will have its own circumstances and procedures, both now and in the past, by which it must be guided. I do not believe that central prescription in the form of statutory guidance would assist them in undertaking this important duty. Indeed, imposing a unilateral process on so many disparate organisations may lead to less transparency and fairness rather than more.
It would not be appropriate for me to comment specifically on the particular cases highlighted during this debate, but I understand the concerns of my noble friend and others in this place about the process of these investigations. As noble Lords will now be aware, the Church of England announced on 28 June that an independent person will be appointed to review the processes used in the Bishop Bell case. However, my noble friend Lord Lexden will be aware that this was a civil, rather than a criminal, matter. It was entirely open for the complainant in that case to pursue a civil claim. Once that claim was issued, it was for the Church of England to consider the facts of the case and to decide whether to settle or to go to trial, and for the claimant to decide whether to agree to a proposed settlement. The parties to any civil dispute are entitled to reach a private settlement. They do not need to initiate any legal proceedings to do so and settlement of a dispute out of court is common. Of course, litigation should be a remedy of last resort. The role of the state in this context is to provide the court system to determine disputes that cannot otherwise be resolved.
I turn to some additional comments made by noble Lords during the debate. If my responses are short, it is not because I consider their contributions to be slight. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, brings a wealth of policing experience to his observations on operational matters, and I would not seek to comment on those matters in this context. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey of Clifton, suggested that civil action should never be used but, with respect, those who claim to have been the victim of a wrong must in a free society have access to courts of justice that can resolve the issue of that wrong.
My noble friend Lord Cormack referred to the need for more extensive and direct apologies. I aspire to a situation in which there is no requirement for apologies. The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, spoke of the fact that, as witnesses are interviewed during the course of an inquiry, knowledge of an investigation will find its way to the media. That is, of course, the case. There are differing difficulties, depending on whether the person accused is still alive or is dead. If the person is still alive, they at least have the resort to the law of defamation in circumstances when a false accusation is made and repeated in the media. However, when a person is dead, they have no such opportunity.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, pointed out that, particularly in the case of historic allegations, it is necessary for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to proceed with particular care. Of course, its job is not to seek conviction but to seek the truth. Careful and rigorous investigation is always required, and I would not comment further on such matters.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, alluded to the difficulties in the past of dealing with the evidence of young children when accusations of this kind were made. In a way, it is because we have improved our ability to deal with child evidence that we have unleashed this tidal wave of historic cases. It is only now that we appear to be able to cope properly with the evidence of people speaking to events that happened many years ago. One hopes that the numbers will dissipate as we engage with the historic cases that we have. The noble and learned Lord referred to the second part of the Pigot report. In light of the trial that has gone on in four of our courts over the last few years, we are evaluating the results of the pilot with a view to rolling that out nationally. The evaluation report is expected to be published soon; I acknowledge to the noble and learned Lord that it has perhaps been a little time in coming.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, suggested that we must always believe victims. I would perhaps put that in a slightly different way. We must always take allegations seriously, but there is always the danger that the accused will become a victim. We must bear that in mind as well, in this context.
Finally, the second part of Leveson was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. I observe that that was pressed by the Opposition to a vote in the House of Commons during the passage of the Policing and Crime Bill on 13 June, and I reiterate what was said at that time. The Government will consider the way forward following the conclusion of criminal proceedings connected to part 1 of the Leveson inquiry.
I apologise for intervening at this stage. I have become very rusty since I took the PACE Bill through this House many years ago, but my noble friend said that the code of practice for chief constables, issued from within the police force, had a statutory power. Does that not mean that it is therefore subject to consideration by Parliament under the provisions for other statutory instruments?
I endeavoured to say that the codes of practice emanate from the College of Policing, and it would be open to the College of Policing to seek to put them on a statutory footing. They are independent of government, and it would be for the college to take that step. I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for nodding in agreement.
My Lords, we have been discussing a range of acute difficulties created by the whirlwind to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, referred. The Hansard record of this debate will provide a rich source of material for future reflection and consideration. I thank all noble Lords who have made this debate so important and memorable. I hope that idea of a police code of conduct, which was mentioned by a number of speakers, will not be lost to sight. I am most grateful to the Minister for his careful and considered reflections on the position today regarding guidelines and the difficulties that would lie in the way of rapid progress towards a statutory state of affairs.
For me, this debate has highlighted the particular care needed in investigating allegations against the dead. The Church of England authorities must recognise that decisions reached behind closed doors by secret processes simply will not pass muster in this age of much-vaunted transparency. If the review of the Bishop Bell case, which is to be most warmly welcomed, is to make real progress and allay concerns, it will need to take careful account of points made in this debate. I reiterate the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Cormack that a meeting of those of us who are particularly concerned might very well be a useful means of making some progress. Above all on this great matter, I must finally stress that the Bishop Bell case needs fundamental reconsideration. That is what the group of which I have the honour to be a member has pressed for, and the case for that fundamental reconsideration will continue. I thank the House for making time for this very important debate.