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Operation Midland - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:29 pm on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:29 pm, 18th March 2020

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, published on 13 March, which concluded that the Metropolitan Police Service has made slow progress in learning the lessons that arose from 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, the HMICFRS report commissioned by the Home Secretary is an important step in ensuring that lessons are being learned from the failures of Operation Midland. She recognises the critical importance of public confidence on this. Both HMICFRS and the IOPC recognise that the Metropolitan Police Service has responded positively since the publication of the Operation Kentia report in October 2019. The Home Secretary will continue to seek assurance from the Metropolitan Police Service that it is acting on the inspectorate’s findings.

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

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the Home Secretary for ordering this very important review. But how can it have been that two Metropolitan Police Commissioners were asleep on their watch, largely unconcerned, it seems, by the misdeeds and malpractices of officers during Operation Midland and, presumably, content that lessons that ought to have been learned swiftly were ignored for so long? Can my noble friend give the House three or four specific examples of the lessons that have now been apparently and belatedly learned? Finally, I return to one aspect of these police scandals that concerns me particularly as a political historian. Will the Government now stop blocking an independent inquiry into Operation Conifer, which left an unwarranted slur on the historical reputation of Sir Edward Heath? I put it to the Government that they have not given the House reasons for vetoing the inquiry but the opinions of a number of recent Home Secretaries, none of whom is a lawyer.

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, there is quite a lot in my noble friend’s follow-up question. I join him in paying tribute to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, who took very swift action in dealing with this. It is regrettable that there was no plan in place to deliver sustained improvements after Sir Richard’s review. Both HMICFRS and the IOPC have now found that the MPS has delivered significant improvements but, with respect to keeping track of those improvements, the Home Secretary will continue to seek assurances from the MPS that those improvements are being embedded across the force. On whether we will launch an inquiry into Operation Conifer, Operation Conifer and Operation Midland were quite different investigations. Operation Conifer has been subject to significant scrutiny. As Wiltshire Police has made clear, Operation Conifer did not pursue further inquiries into Carl Beech’s allegations after deciding that there was undermining evidence.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, I see the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, about Operation Conifer. In respect of all the allegations of historical sexual abuse, can the Minister tell the House how many convictions there have been to date?

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

I am glad that the noble Lord raises this because we need to see this in the broader context of historical abuse against children, of which there have been 11,346 non-recent allegations; that is a significant number. In total, 4,024 convictions have resulted from this. It has most definitely been something worth pursuing.

Photo of Lord Robathan Lord Robathan Conservative

My Lords, following the shocking episode of the police being misguided—shall we say?—in their actions, does Her Majesty’s Government have any position on those who used hysteria in the media or online, or indeed used parliamentary privilege, to destroy the reputations of decent public servants alive and dead who are unable to defend themselves?

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, I think it is important to say, as we have said before, that false accusations devastate the lives of those against whom they are meted out, but let us also look at some of the remedies. Carl Beech was sentenced to 18 years in prison. That does not take away from the devastation that has been caused by false allegations, but I go back to the point that there have been thousands upon thousands of non-recent allegations of child sexual abuse, many thousands of the perpetrators of which have now been convicted.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, would it not be a good idea for us to take on some better practice here? I pray in aid my noble friend Lord Paddick’s Private Member’s Bill, which suggests we ensure that somebody’s name is released not when the arrest is made but when a charge is made. Making sure that this happens will get rid of some of the bad practice that gets in the way of the rightful convictions of people who have done the wrong thing.

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, there is generally a presumption of anonymity but there may be policing reasons why, in the course of an investigation, police may release names. Quite often, it is the media that releases those names. There has been updated guidance for the media and the police on this.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, does the Minister believe that there is enough information in the public sphere about how such inquiries are supposed to be carried out? I took a particular interest in the Edward Heath case when I got a note through my letterbox in Crondall asking me to ring a Wiltshire police station. I did and was asked whether I had known Sir Edward Heath through the TUC and whether I had stayed at Chequers and so on. I was struck by how amateurish it all was. It is all very well our thinking about transparency in retrospect, but is enough known in the public arena about how such inquiries are supposed to be carried out?