Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the publication of the report by Sir Richard Henriques and the publication of the report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) on Operation Midland, whether they will review the composition and terms of reference of the IOPC.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.
My Lords, while this is clearly a concerning case, it is vital that an organisation such as the IOPC operates independently of both the police and the Government. The Government have introduced reforms to improve its efficiency and effectiveness, progress has been made and we expect that trajectory to continue. The Home Secretary has asked HMICFRS to conduct an inspection of the Metropolitan Police Service to ensure that lessons have been learned from the issues highlighted. This will take into consideration the IOPC recommendations.
My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for her Answer, I must regret that it is nowhere near as robust as the Answer she gave to my noble friend Lord Forsyth. Does she agree that Sir Richard has performed a notable public service by examining rigorously a very shameful episode in our history which tarnished the reputations of some great people? Does she agree that, in contrast, the IOPC, whose duty should surely be to be a rigorous upholder of the highest possible standards, has delivered an abject apology for an appalling failure?
I would most certainly agree with my noble friend that Sir Richard has performed a notable public service. It is also important that we have an independent body that oversees, independently of both the police and the Government, the conduct of the police, so I would disagree with my noble friend on the second point.
Yesterday, I asked the Government what they meant in their response to an Urgent Question when they said that the Chief Inspector of Constabulary should,
“take account of the findings of the report of the Independent Office for Police Conduct”.
I asked if it meant that the Chief Inspector of Constabulary would take the findings of the IOPC report as read, or whether he would be able to consider, if he so wished, whether some of the report’s conclusions or statements were, in his view, valid or not. In response, the Government said that they meant that the chief inspector would,
“consider the Metropolitan Police Service’s progress in learning from the … recommendations of the IOPC report”.—[Official Report, 7/10/19; cols. 1985-86].
Would it not be helpful if the chief inspector was also able to consider, if he so wished, whether some of the conclusions or statements in the IOPC report were valid or not?
My Lords, in drawing up the terms of reference for the inspection, HMICFRS will come to its own conclusions about what the noble Lord has just outlined. I think taking into account the IOPC’s recommendation means taking a view of it in the round.
My Lords, Sir Richard Henriques’s report states that there were such inconsistencies between the fantasist Nick’s statements to Wiltshire Police and his later account to the Metropolitan Police that it was obvious that Nick’s account could not be relied on. In the full knowledge of that information, the senior investigating officer told a press conference that what Nick had said was “credible and true”. How can the so-called Independent Office for Police Conduct exonerate all those involved in such circumstances? Who are the IOPC trying to protect, and who was the DAC in overall charge of the investigation’s line manager at the time?
First, the noble Lord will know that Wiltshire Police dismissed the claims of Nick. On his question of who the IOPC is trying to protect, the IOPC is independent of both government and the police, and it is absolutely right that such a body exists to be able to scrutinise them.
My Lords, I welcome the Henriques report on both the police force and the IOPC. I regret to have to make this point, but will my noble friend also comment on the role of Tom Watson, who seems to have unduly pressurised the police and who made the terrible remark about the late Lord Brittan that he was as near to evil as any human being could be—a remark made without any real foundation? Does she not agree that anyone who can make such a remark on such flimsy evidence is not fit to hold public office?
My noble friend reminds me of how the influence of public figures can influence the progress of an investigation. The decisions that Tom Watson makes about his future will be a matter for him, but it is very important that in the future the police are allowed to get on and do their job without external influence, particularly from people who are quite influential themselves.
My Lords, I have mentioned to my neighbour in Crondall, Lord Bramall, the satisfaction that many must feel at the robust nature of the final report of Sir Richard Henriques. I have also made a point—and perhaps the Minister will comment on this—about the sniping about Cressida Dick, who is good news as the recently appointed Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Further to the question asked by the Member from the Liberal Democrat party, she should not take the rap for the dreadful mistakes made in this matter by the Metropolitan Police.
My Lords, in terms of taking the rap, the Henriques report makes it clear where accountability or failings have lain. It is a matter for the Metropolitan Police to hold the commissioner to account.
My Lords, is it not the case that this sorry story might never have unfolded if anonymity remained for victims until the police are ready to charge?
Of course, the presumption is anonymity before charge, but there will be circumstances where the police will feel it necessary to release names—although that is not in most cases; quite honestly, in a lot or most of the cases recently, it was through the media actually releasing names. It is against the law, I think, and anonymity before charge is an important standard to uphold, but of course we can all think of people who, had anonymity not been there, may never have come to justice.
Can my noble friend tell us a little more about the scope of the proposed Sir Tom Winsor inquiry? What did she mean when she said that it would ensure that lessons have been learnt? Does she not agree that, in addition to Carl Beech himself and the appalling incompetence of the police, there are a good many other parties involved who carry responsibility in this miserable affair, including some grandstanding Members of the other place and the more venal parts of the media—although there have been some very brave journalists as well? Is there not an important case for the Home Secretary to widen the scope of the inquiry. I greatly welcome that she has taken this move at last, in line with the very strong feelings of this House, but should this not be a wider inquiry into a miserable and disastrous affair, which reflects very badly on all those involved?
I do not disagree with my noble friend calling it a miserable and disastrous affair. I know that the Home Secretary has been in communication with HMICFRS, not to try and direct the role of the inspection but to discuss with it what might be within the scope of the inquiry.
My Lords, returning to the issue of anonymity, the law does not work, and the Minister knows it. Many reputations have been destroyed. Can I raise the question that I raised the other day about Mr Steve Rodhouse, director-general of operations at the National Crime Agency, who is principally responsible for this disaster? Why is he not going to be sacked?
I am afraid that the matter concerning the individual whom the noble Lord mentioned is a matter between him and the NCA.