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Operation Midland Independent Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:38 pm on 7th October 2019.

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Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing) 6:38 pm, 7th October 2019

I congratulate Mr Davis on securing this important urgent question.

Sir Richard Henriques’s report makes for extremely sobering reading. At the heart of this case are the victims and their families, who have faced years of questions and unthinkable damage on the basis of false and malicious allegations. It is clear that this case has exposed a serious failure of the police’s investigative functions and decision making, which has had profound consequences. Officers failed to present the whole picture when seeking search warrants, and the investigation into Lord Brittan went on far too long. Of that, there is no question.

The question for the IOPC is whether the five officers involved acted deliberately or criminally. Its conclusion is that they made mistakes and that the processes failed, but that they were not guilty of gross misconduct. Indeed, Sir Richard himself acknowledged that, notwithstanding the many mistakes made, the officers conducted the investigation

“in a conscientious manner with propriety and with honesty.”

The question, therefore, for the police, for the Home Office and for us, as Parliament, is what needs to change organisationally and culturally to ensure that investigations are properly, objectively and successfully pursued. That institutional change must be our objective, but it is so often lost in the heat of the tabloids’ gaze.

It is right that our police are subject to the most intense scrutiny. The accountability of the police is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy, and many of Sir Richard’s recommendations must be implemented in the interests of accountability. Will the Minister therefore confirm exactly how many of his 25 recommendations have already been delivered and what the timeline is for further recommendations from both Sir Richard and the IOPC to be implemented and for HMIC’s review?

Does the Minister believe that there is a systemic issue on disclosure and search warrants that must be nationally addressed? What steps will the Home Office take to lead on this work? Will he specifically look into the recommendation around the audio recording of warrant applications? Furthermore, it was disappointing that the report was selectively leaked over the last week. Is any investigation intended into those leaks?

Finally, as has been touched on, this case has reignited the debate around belief of victims by the police. That debate cannot be had outside the context of record lows for rape prosecutions, with only 3% of cases reaching the courts. Our criminal justice system does not currently deliver justice to victims of sexual abuse, and it has not done historically. From Rotherham to Oxford, and from Torbay to Rochdale, victims have been failed time and again by all institutions of the state. We must therefore think carefully before imposing sweeping changes regarding the belief of complainants by the police that would have the effect of undermining genuine victims in coming forward.

As the Victims’ Commissioner has said, complainants’ rights do not exist in competition with suspects’ rights. That is why it is right that officers believe, take seriously and treat with respect every complainant of crime in the first instance and then investigate thoroughly, without fear or favour. Does the Minister therefore agree that the right approach is currently contained in the College of Policing guidance and that this approach must always be carefully balanced against the impartiality of the subsequent investigation?