David Blunkett (pictured) branded the report into Operation Midland a ‘whitewash’
Never for a moment did I imagine such a whitewash.
When I called in this newspaper two months ago for full publication of the Henriques report into Operation Midland – that disastrous investigation by the Metropolitan police into a non-existent VIP paedophile ring – I was certain that action must follow.
It did not seem remotely possible to me that, if the report by former High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques was made public without any redactions, the police complaints body could continue to ignore its findings.
Last Friday the first three chapters of the judge’s independent review were finally released by the Met.
They dealt with Operation Midland and Operation Vincente, which targeted high-profile individuals including former Home Secretary Leon Brittan, ex-Army chief Field Marshal Lord Bramall, and ex-MP Harvey Proctor.
All had been accused of horrendous crimes including rape, paedophilia and sadistic abuse, after police accepted the twisted sexual fantasies of one man – Carl Beech aka Nick – as evidence, with virtually no scrutiny.
Yet the statement released yesterday by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) watchdog is a shocking exercise in exoneration – a whitewash big enough to cover the whole of the exterior of New Scotland Yard in two thick coats.
The statement finds no evidence of misconduct by police officers, conceding only that there were ‘gaps in processes and systems’.
The investigation into the handling of allegations made by Carl Beech (left, outside Worcester Crown Court and, right, being interviewed by police) has been criticised by the former Home Secretary
This is breathtaking, given how furiously Sir Richard excoriated the police for their behaviour. In an article in yesterday’s Mail, he wrote: ‘I find it difficult to conceive that no misconduct or criminality was involved by at least one officer.’
The IOPC’s reaction shows complete disregard for the lives of the individuals falsely accused and for their families. Lord Brittan died not knowing whether he would ever be exonerated. His widow and family have borne the brunt of the misguided investigation, which was needlessly cruel.
In Harvey Proctor’s case, a man’s life has been all but destroyed. Lord Bramall, a D-Day hero, was 91 when he was questioned over allegations so inconsistent, contradictory and improbable that I am bewildered any experienced police officer could have taken them seriously.
There isn’t one of us that would not want the police to take seriously allegations of paedophilia or worse. But when the pursuit of justice turns the innocent under investigation into the victims, we have turned the justice system on its head.
That all this can happen without any sign that senior police are willing to learn from their mistakes, is horrifying. The IOPC statement says only that they accept procedures could be tightened up: we all want the police to follow good procedure, but that doesn’t begin to address the issue.
If that is the best the IOPC can do, then I am afraid it is not fit for purpose. The organisation was brought into being by the Police and Crime Act 2017, to replace the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which I set up as Home Secretary, 15 years ago.
Essentially, this arrival of the IOPC appeared to be a rebadging exercise, a piece of branding which enables an administration to ring the changes. Its response to Sir Richard’s report can be counted as its first major challenge – and it has failed pitifully.
The IOPC has proved itself a poor replacement. It is clearly not set up to provide the independent oversight that is badly needed, and it is apparently staffed by people who lack the experience to understand even the basics of the criminal justice system.
How can they hold the police to account unless they understand how the force operates? According to Sir Richard, he was not contacted by the watchdog for 20 months after his initial recommendation for an independent inquiry. When the ‘lead investigator’ from the IOPC did get in touch, she admitted that she had no legal training, and did not fully understand how police went about applying for search warrants (a crucial issue in Operation Midland).
Her attempts to take a statement from the former judge failed. In the end, he had to offer to write his own and submit it by email.
Of the five officers who were superficially investigated by the IOPC and then cleared of all misconduct, four were never questioned and the one who was questioned was promoted while under investigation and retired before she was officially cleared. What a farce. No wonder the Met sees no reason to put its house in order.
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, cannot afford to ignore this travesty. If I were still sitting at her desk, my response would be threefold. Firstly, I would demand an immediate shake-up of the IOPC. We need a watchdog that can do its job, one staffed by people who know what they are meant to be doing.
Secondly, I’d go back to the home affairs select committee that recommended the rebadging of the IPCC and ask what they intended. There must have been good intentions – these should be followed through.
Thirdly, I would urge Dame Cressida Dick, the Met commissioner, to take a grip on the situation. She needs to be seen to be leading, not taking a back seat. Yesterday she made a statement saying she was ‘deeply sorry for the mistakes’.
She needs to go further. I have great respect for her and the Met, but I fear the capital’s police force risks losing public trust unless it takes much firmer action on the Operation Midland debacle.
Lord Blunkett was a member of the Cabinet from 1997-2005
Shaming of police watchdog
By Stephen Wright and Neil Sears
Pictured: Lord Bramall, whose home was raided by police
The police watchdog was in the dock last night over its inquiry which cleared five key detectives of misconduct in the bungled VIP child sex abuse investigation.
It faced widespread condemnation over its astonishing report exonerating the officers of misleading a judge to get search warrants to raid homes, including that of former armed forces chief Lord Bramall.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) examined four specific allegations of misconduct in Operation Midland and a separate inquiry into a bogus rape claim made against former Tory Home Secretary Leon Brittan. In each case, it found no evidence of misconduct.
Its stance put it on a collision course with retired High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques, who in a 2016 inquiry identified 43 major errors by detectives on Operation Midland, the multi-million pound inquiry sparked by the lies of ‘Nick’, real name Carl Beech.
In yesterday’s Daily Mail, Sir Richard attacked the ‘flawed’ IOPC inquiry, accused the watchdog of ‘lack of knowledge of criminal procedure’ and highlighted ‘gross and inexcusable delays’. Yesterday Downing Street refused to back the IOPC’s handling of the ‘deeply troubling’ case. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘It has raised a number of serious issues.
‘That is why the Home Secretary has asked HM Inspectorate of Constabulary to inspect the Met. It is vital the public have confidence that the police not only exercise their powers in a correct and proportionate way but that they are properly held to account.’
The spokesman said the Prime Minister retained ‘full confidence’ in the head of Scotland Yard Dame Cressida Dick, who oversaw the setting up of Operation Midland.
Pictured: Carl Stephen Beech attends the hearing in Gothenburg District Court for his extradition back to the UK
But asked to give similar backing to the IOPC, he twice refused. Last night IOPC director general Michael Lockwood told the Daily Mail that while he had learned from the inquiry into the ‘Nick’ case, he felt he had done a good job and was staying in his role.
Speaking near his home in Surrey, the former council chief – who is on £180,000 a year – said: ‘We had to establish the facts and that’s what we have done.
‘In my view the investigation was a thorough one. We looked at nearly 2,000 documents and 300 statements. We looked at just four allegations and came to a view. We didn’t believe the line had been reached in terms of misconduct. We did feel there had been mistakes and lessons to be learned.’
The watchdog said it had found ‘shortcomings and organisational failings’, with 16 recommendations made to change policing practice.
Mr Lockwood added: ‘The biggest one for me is this ‘culture of belief’. There was this great frenzy about paedophile rings and a great desire for the police to prosecute, a media frenzy, and this practice for police forces that you should believe the victim. We think that was an important factor.’
But former Tory MP Harvey Proctor, falsely accused of being a serial child killer, said: ‘The so-called investigation is simply a whitewash. This report shows the IOPC is worse than useless.
‘The Home Secretary should remove the IOPC director general ,and the IOPC must be abolished and replaced by experts who are genuinely qualified to assess and to criticise police failings.’
He added: ‘We now know the police watchdog is blind.’
Daniel Janner QC, whose late father Lord Janner was also accused by Beech, said the IOPC had ‘overlooked clear evidence of serious failings and negligence’.
The watchdog said detectives could not remember why certain decisions were made. It was not clear if those in command knew of an earlier complaint from Beech to Wiltshire police, which had inconsistencies compared to what he told the Met two years later.
The IOPC inquiry began after the Met referred five officers who had been involved in Operation Midland to the police watchdog. Only one – DCI Diane Tudway – answered questions face-to-face.
Four officers have retired, while the fifth, Steve Rodhouse, has been promoted to a £240,000 a year job at the National Crime Agency. He was cleared after four months without being interviewed. Tory MP Tim Loughton called for the Commons Home Affairs Committee, of which he is a member, to probe the matter. He told the BBC: ‘It’s been called a whitewash, I think that’s putting it very mildly. I think it’s a cover-up.
‘I think it’s feeble, it’s toothless, it’s shoddy, it’s unconvincing and it’s pretty incompetent. This whole report is not fit for purpose.’
Earlier, Dame Cressida issued a statement on the ‘Nick’ scandal – but ignored growing calls to give details about her involvement.
She said: ‘I am deeply sorry for the mistakes that were made during our investigations into the appalling lies spun by Carl Beech.
‘They simply should not have happened.’
Mr Proctor called Dame Cressida’s statement ‘extraordinary’.
‘It did not address her own crucial role,’ he said. ‘She has shown a complete lack of transparency.’
Beech was jailed for 18 years in July for perverting the course of justice and other offences.
Report’s verdict on four key questions? No case to answer!
By Ian Drury and David Barrett
The IOPC report exonerating five police officers involved in the VIP child sex abuse probe has been branded a whitewash.
A previous inquiry by former judge Sir Richard Henriques suggested detectives broke the law. But the watchdog found no case to answer after examining four key points:
Allegation 1: Detectives failed to diligently investigate claims by ‘Nick’ – real name Carl Beech – that he had been raped and tortured by distinguished Establishment figures, including Field Marshal Lord Bramall.
What Sir Richard found: No attempt was made to question Beech on numerous inconsistencies between claims initially made to Wiltshire Police and the increasingly fantastical allegations made in his blogs and Met Police interviews. Officers did not even examine his computer – because it might have spooked him.
IOPC conclusion: The officers ‘went to great lengths’ to investigate Beech. Indeed, it said ‘decisions were brave and taken in good faith’. Inconsistencies in accounts could reflect not just untruthfulness but ‘the passage of time, human frailty, trauma, confusion and other similar factors’.
Verdict: No misconduct.
Allegation 2: Then Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse and Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald made misleading statements at a now notorious press conference when they described Beech’s declarations as ‘credible and true’.
What Sir Richard found: It was a ‘serious failure’ for two senior officers who had never met Beech and, in one case, never read his testimony, to announce to the Press and public that they believed the witness. That was ‘inappropriate, prejudicial… and misleading’.
IOPC conclusion: The provision of information to the media was ‘a judgement call made with good faith’. It was influenced by the Met’s culture and police guidance of ‘believing victims’.
Verdict: No misconduct.
Allegation 3: Officers failed to present all relevant information, especially about Beech, to a senior judge when applying for search warrants for properties owned by Lord Bramall, Lord Brittan and Harvey Proctor.
What Sir Richard found: False documentation had been placed before the judge on oath – meaning the warrants were obtained illegally. Despite officers telling the court Beech was a ‘consistent and credible’, they knew his story was riddled with at least seven flaws.
IOPC conclusion: The decision to apply for search warrants ‘not taken lightly’. There was no evidence to ‘suggest that the officers’ doubted ‘Nick’s credibility at this point’. Similarly, there was ‘no evidence’ officers believed there were inconsistencies in Beech’s story.
Verdict: No misconduct.
Allegation 4: In 2014, Mr Rodhouse reopened an investigation into outlandish claims that Lord Brittan, by now terminally ill, had raped a women in the 1960s. The officer had ‘no new grounds to do so’.
What Sir Richard said: Mr Rodhouse deliberately kept Lord Brittan as a suspect on one probe to prop up the other. Questioned why the officer prolonged the investigation even after Lord Brittan’s death.
IOPC conclusion: It acknowledged the ‘very damaging impact’ of the decision on Lord Brittan and his family. The inquiry was ‘launched in good faith, against a credible account… and was undertaken with integrity’. But ‘mistakes were made and some of the judgements in hindsight can possibly be challenged today’.
Verdict: No misconduct.