Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the Metropolitan Police to publish the full report by Sir Richard Henriques of the Independent Review of the Metropolitan Police Service’s Handling of Non-Recent Sexual Offence Investigations Alleged Against Persons of Public Prominence.
My Lords, the Home Secretary wrote to the Metropolitan Police Service on 14 August welcoming its commitment to publish as full a version as possible of Sir Richard’s report, and encouraging it to do so at the earliest opportunity.
Is there not an overwhelming national interest in ensuring that the report is published in full, so that all the lessons that arise from it can be learned? Is not full publication also essential to ensure, among other things, that complete justice is at last done to the late Lord Brittan, a great servant of our state; and that those whose misconduct added to his distress and that of his courageous wife in his last days are exposed and dealt with?
I recognise the strength of feeling from noble Lords on this subject, but the Metropolitan Police Service has already committed to publishing the report. The Home Secretary has made it a personal priority to ensure that lessons are learned from the failings of this investigation, and she met the deputy commissioner a fortnight ago. Investigations of individual officers are a matter for the IOPC, which will also publish its report shortly.
I welcome the noble Baroness’s comments but, in the light of them and the fact that it is a personal mission of the Home Secretary, why is neither the Government nor the police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire, Mr Angus Macpherson, prepared to look at the issues around Operation Conifer and the allegations surrounding Sir Edward Heath?
My Lords, given that it is in nobody’s interest that people should suggest that there have been redactions in the report to protect the interests of anybody involved in the investigation, might the report be independently reviewed—and any redactions authorised—by, for example, the inspectorate of constabulary or a senior judicial or legal figure?
Redactions are made to protect the anonymity of victims coming forward and to make sure that we do not discourage other victims from coming forward in future cases. We expect the Home Office to consider the Henriques report and the IOPC recommendations and, at that stage, will consider whether any further steps should be taken.
My Lords, Sir Richard Henriques said he could not understand why the Metropolitan Police was looking for further redactions. He said to the Telegraph in July:
“I am racking my brains trying to think of what possible covert methodology [the Met Police] are referring to. There were no secret bugs or undercover officers… There may be some areas that would need to be taken out because I looked at a number of other investigations and some information is not in the public domain, but that only constituted a tiny proportion of the … report.”
So even the author of the report wants it published. Please can the Government push ahead to make sure this happens as soon as possible?
I am afraid that I cannot make that undertaking at the moment, but the Government agree that there should be a general right to anonymity before charge for all offences. But there will be exceptional circumstances where there are legitimate policing reasons to name a suspect—for example, to make a public warning about a wanted individual. In other cases, it is important to preserve the anonymity of those coming forward with allegations that may not pass the threshold, as they would damage their reputation if they were made public.
My Lords, in her initial response, the Minister used the phrase “at the earliest opportunity”. Why not tomorrow? What is blocking the publication of this report? Is it not fair to conclude that at no stage, post Henriques, has any police force, police commissioner or police chief had the good sense to say that there will be a full review of how sexual offence accusations will be handled by the police in the future? Therefore, we can only look forward to further blunders, injustices and lives destroyed, as in the cases of Lord Brittan, Lord Bramall and, indeed, Mr Harvey Proctor, who at least can now take these people to court and see justice.
Regarding why it has taken so long to publish the report since the Metropolitan Police announced it on 14 August, the noble Lord will agree that, before publishing these reports, every individual named is given the opportunity to respond. That has taken some time. The Met has been concerned to follow the proper process before publication. The report contains sensitive material and it is right that care is taken, so that further distress is not caused to those mentioned in the report, including Bramall, Proctor and others.
My Lords, I remind my noble friend that many noble Lords are utterly convinced that there were no victims of Lord Brittan. As Parliament has a little time on its hands at the moment, could we not have a debate, before Prorogation, on the rule of law—in which I strongly believe—and the presumption of innocence?
My Lords, notwithstanding the errors that may have been made in the specific investigations that noble Lords have talked about today, could the Minister tell us whether it is the Government’s view that, when accusations are made against people of prominence, such investigations must be seen to be carried out properly and appropriately?
As I have said, the Home Office will carefully consider the ramifications of the reports that are to be published shortly and reflect on the testimonies therein. It will then ensure that appropriate action is taken with policing partners to address such issues, and that there can be public confidence in the fairness and impartiality of these reports.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that my noble friend Lord Cormack speaks for many and that the House should consider his point? We had a Statement recently about the increase in police numbers. Numbers are all very well, but they will not do much if leadership is wanting. The problem with Operation Midland, Operation Conifer and the rest of them is that they have created a crisis of confidence in the quality of police leadership.
Police issues are not a matter for government; they are a matter for the police. If my noble friend would like to take up through the usual channels the suggestion of having a debate on this subject, I am sure it would be welcome.
My Lords, the Minister will understand that there is a degree of impatience on this subject, partly because of the answer she gave that all these matters are ones for the chief constable and the PCC. The police service is a public service and is publicly accountable for the way in which it carries out its functions. I do not think it reasonable to say that chief constables are free to do whatever they wish. I hope the Minister will consider that.