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Operation Midland - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:37 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, HMICFRS is not reviewing Operation Midland. On 3 October last year, the Home Secretary directed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services to undertake an inspection to determine the extent to which the Metropolitan Police service had learned the lessons of Operation Midland. Fieldwork has now been completed and the report is expected to be finalised and published by the end of March.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Is it not shocking that not a single police officer has been called to account for the catalogue of errors laid bare in Sir Richard Henriques’s report on Operation Midland, while some of those involved have been promoted to high rank? Why do the Government persist in rejecting the Wiltshire police and crime commissioner’s calls for an inquiry into Operation Conifer, the botched investigation of allegations against Sir Edward Heath—largely financed by the Home Office—whose shortcomings so closely resemble those of Operation Midland?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, Operation Conifer has been scrutinised and it followed absolutely the procedures it would have been required to undertake. Its outcome, while not satisfactory at all to some of Sir Edward Heath’s friends and family, has certainly been fully and rigorously tested.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, in addition to Carl Beech, two other people who have not been named publicly lied to the Midland inquiry. Why were those two people not named and did either of them make accusations against Lord Janner that were unjustified allegations?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, those who have not been charged are rightly anonymous; your Lordships’ House is very clear that we should not name people before charge. Whether people are named after they have been through a court process would be a matter for the courts.

Photo of Lord Beith Lord Beith Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in these two cases there was a catalogue of errors and a lack of judgment. While it is important that Governments do not interfere in the investigation and prosecution of crime—anyone who needed reminding of that had only to watch the TV drama about the Stephen Ward case, which illustrated it vividly—what we do expect from government is to ensure that a procedure is in place to learn lessons from monumental failure, so that we know what those lessons are, and then to ensure that they are acted on.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, that is precisely why the Home Secretary asked HMICFRS to carry out an inspection to determine the extent to which the Met had learned the lessons of Midland.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

My Lords, could my noble friend explain the nature of the further review that the Home Secretary has ordered? Is it for Sir Thomas Winsor to carry out, or for some other body? It is not entirely clear at what it will be aimed and what the purposes are.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

I can tell my noble friend that it is an HMICFRS review. I do not have the name of the individual who might carry it out, but I can certainly find that out for him.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, I think that many will be puzzled by the Government’s Answer to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden. All information from Carl Beech—serving 18 years for perverting the course of justice—regarding Operation Conifer, into Sir Edward Heath, was provided to Wiltshire Police by the Metropolitan Police’s investigation, Operation Midland. That is now the subject of a second report, review or investigation—whatever it may be—initiated by the Home Secretary. Bearing in mind the alacrity with which investigations into Operation Midland are initiated, and the similarity and close links between the subject matter and some key figures covered in both Operation Midland and Operation Conifer, why do the Government refuse to do what they have the power to do and set up a proper inquiry into Operation Conifer? Who is someone trying to protect, or trying to damn, by not holding such an inquiry?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

I have said many times at this Dispatch Box that the Government would not set up an inquiry, and that Wiltshire Police could do so if it wished—it has decided not to. On Carl Beech and Conifer, I should clarify that his allegations about Sir Edward were considered at the time by the senior investigating officer in Operation Conifer to have undermining evidence, and a decision was taken not to pursue them further in that case.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister has repeatedly said on the Floor of this House that the Government will not set up the sort of inquiry for which the noble Lord opposite has just asked yet again, but never has my noble friend been able to convince this House why.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

I have explained it many times and I know that I have not convinced this House why. It would be a matter for the police, who are operationally independent of government. It would be up to them if they wanted to carry out an inquiry. As I have said, Operation Conifer has been scrutinised over several layers, and it seemed a very robust and thorough inquiry.

Photo of Lord Watts Lord Watts Labour

My Lords, what is the point of having powers if the Government refuse to use them?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

As I have just explained, the Government would not usually instigate an inquiry in this sort of situation. It would be up to the police to do so, should that be appropriate.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench

The Minister has said several times that lessons have been learned. What are those lessons and how have they been implemented?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

I said at the beginning that HMICFRS was undertaking an inspection to see whether lessons had been learned from Operation Midland. That report is due out at the end of March.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, do the Government not realise that it is not acceptable to this House or to the country that Sir Edward Heath’s reputation should be trashed and no attempt made to have a judicial review, which would be independent and respected, into the circumstances of Operation Conifer, bearing in mind that the chief constable who was responsible for it was subsequently retired in disgrace from another force?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

Where I think I can agree with my noble friend—with the whole House, in fact—is that if false allegations are made against someone, it not only damages their reputation but undermines public confidence. In an instance of false accusation, it may be appropriate to support a prosecution for attempting to pervert the course of justice.