Operation Midland - Private Notice Question

– in the House of Lords at 1:04 pm on 11th February 2021.

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Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 1:04 pm, 11th February 2021

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many officers of the Metropolitan Police have been disciplined in connection with Operation Midland since the publication of the report by Sir Richard Henriques The Independent Review of the Metropolitan Police Service’s handling of nonrecent sexual offence investigations alleged against persons of public prominence, on 4 October 2019.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, disciplinary action against individual officers is a matter for forces. However, my noble friend will be aware that, following Operation Kentia’s investigation into the five officers referred to it in connection with Operation Midland, the IOPC found organisational failings and issued 16 learning recommendations but found that none of the officers had a case for misconduct.

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

My Lords, who could fail to be moved by the following dignified yet devastating words:

“I’ve always believed that a strong moral compass is essential to every public body and especially to police forces, and above all, to its leadership … However, it just seems to me the Metropolitan Police has preferred its corporate or personal ambitions to a strong moral compass.”

Those are the words of Lady Brittan who, with the husband to whom she was devoted, our former colleague and the former Home Secretary, Lord Brittan, suffered grievously at the hands of policemen who failed to adhere to the law they had sworn to uphold. The House will not have forgotten other distinguished public figures who had their reputations traduced. Almost exactly a year ago I asked in this House:

“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?”—[Official Report, 3/2/20; col. 1613.]

I got no answer. I therefore ask the Government that question again today. Do they not understand that it is their duty to act, and act now?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, the IOPC has declined to investigate the matters to which my noble friend refers. With regard to higher rank, I assume he is referring to the commissioner, whose term ends in April 2022. Of course, the decision on appointment following that will be a matter for the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London.

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

Those impacted by Operation Midland, and their families, were caused great distress by failings in the operation. However, it is also the case that our justice system continues to badly let down victims of sexual abuse, with prosecutions for rape at an inexcusable low. Do the Government agree with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in its report last year on the response of the Metropolitan Police Service to the Henriques report, that

“The police have a responsibility to encourage victims to come forward—and that means creating a sense of public confidence that complaints will be taken seriously.”

A great number of legitimate victims came forward following the high-profile case of Jimmy Savile. Are the Government satisfied that enough is now being done to encourage victims of sexual abuse to report such crimes, and what work is being urgently done to improve prosecution rates since victims of both non-recent and more recent sexual abuse deserve justice, and those who committed the offences should receive justice?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

The noble Lord makes a valid point. This is all about victims. It is important that victims come forward—so often they have not. When we look back at past times, perhaps when I was a child, and some of the subsequent cases that have come to light, it is clear that victims were consistently failed, certainly in the area of child sexual abuse.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Lord Brittan’s accuser was interviewed by Wiltshire Police before he was interviewed by the Metropolitan Police, and he wrote blogs about the alleged incidents. Sir Richard Henriques found numerous inconsistencies between his Wiltshire interviews, his blogs and his MPS interviews, yet the information on the search warrant used to invade Diana, Lady Brittan’s home stated:

“His account has remained consistent and he is felt to be a credible witness who is telling the truth.”

How can the Home Office sit on the sidelines in the face of such evidence and the suffering of Lady Brittan?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I do not undermine the suffering of Lady Brittan but, with regards to the individual to whom the noble Lord refers, a remedy was sought. That individual was convicted of perverting the course of justice, and now sits in prison.

Photo of Baroness Sanderson of Welton Baroness Sanderson of Welton Conservative

My Lords, I refer to my interests as set out in the register. There is little doubting the terrible damage done to all those targeted by Operation Midland, but I make the point that these false allegations also harm the real victims of child sexual abuse, of which there are many. How many convictions have there been to date for historical child sexual abuse?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

First, I totally agree with my noble friend about false allegations harming the actual victims, which has never been raised in your Lordships’ House before. On historic convictions for non-recent child sexual abuse allegations, since 2015 there have been almost 5,000. Those are the victims we should really be thinking about.

Photo of The Duke of Wellington The Duke of Wellington Crossbench

My Lords, I should first refer to the fact that I was a personal friend of the late Lord Brittan for 40 years; indeed, my father was a friend of the late Lord Bramall. I have the greatest sympathy for our much respected Minister having to answer questions on this matter, but we have all been deeply disturbed by the reports of the interview with Lady Brittan, and I wonder whether the Minister would be prepared to meet her and the family of Lord Bramall to hear their concerns and look into this matter again. It is very disturbing, and I am sure I speak for all Members of the House in saying that.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I have met the family of Lord Janner. I am not sure that it would be appropriate at this point to meet Lady Brittan, which does not mean that my sympathy for her is any diminished from what it is for anybody whose family member has been falsely accused of something they did not do.

Photo of Lord Davies of Gower Lord Davies of Gower Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former Metropolitan Police officer. The inexcusable and hapless supervision of this matter from the very top of a once proud and competent investigative organisation has left a trail of victims feeling very hurt and bitter. Spurred on by unforgivable political interference, those supervising and having overall responsibility for this investigation permitted uncorroborated evidence from a now disgraced fabricator of evidence to be believed and invested in. That fact speaks volumes for the lack of management and detective ability of those at the top of the organisation at the time, who have now been allowed to move on to more prominent roles. Are we to understand that the Home Office, as the lead government department for policing, is content for this stigma to fester; and is it not time to review the downward spiral of detective recruitment and training in the Metropolitan Police?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I agree with my noble friend that anybody who has been falsely accused or caught up in some of the inadequacies of investigations has my absolute sympathy, because it ruins lives; but in terms of remedy of institutional failures, we currently have the IICSA inquiry, and I hope that that will bring some sort of closure to the families and people affected by those institutional failures.

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench

My Lords, I cannot resist asking the Minister whether the police treatment of the late Lord Bramall will ever be repeated.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, over the past few years, we have learned many lessons about what went wrong in a number of those cases. As I said, IICSA continues its inquiry. I hope that nothing like this ever happens again.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

My Lords, when this report was commissioned, was it done for the purpose of preventing a repetition of what had happened; to consider the possible discipline required as a result; or did it include both?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, its primary focus was to learn the lessons of what went wrong during that period so that those mistakes would never be repeated. Obviously, the IOPC then declined to investigate further.

Photo of Lord Garnier Lord Garnier Conservative

My Lords, Lord Brittan demonstrated that it is possible to maintain one’s dignity in adversity. In the last months of his life, he was cruelly assailed by baseless allegations made by malicious users that would have broken healthy men. It is sad that he did not to live to witness his own exoneration and that his widow is still troubled by the acts and omissions of the police identified by the Henriques report. Does my noble friend agree that police officers who have taken an oath to uphold the law but who suborn it by perverting the course of justice by deliberately misleading a judge should not just be investigated for misconduct but prosecuted?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, as I said, the IOPC has declined to investigate in certain areas. I know that certain cases have been given to Merseyside, as a separate force, to investigate, but it is sad that Lord Brittan did not get to see his name cleared and I understand the grief that his widow will be going through.

Photo of Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Non-affiliated

My Lords, I take the Minister back to the question asked earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. It was quite clear that different evidence was given to Wiltshire Police from later on. Experienced police officers should therefore have noticed a difference in the reliability of the witness much earlier. We have here an institutional as well as an individual failure. Although the person referred to at that stage as Nick has since been prosecuted, why has no officer been held accountable for their failure, which was so clear, obvious and well documented?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I have given that answer several times now. Obviously, disciplinary action against an individual officer is a matter for forces; we have IICSA’s current inquiry into institutional failures and we have had a number of inquiries into different matters regarding the issues raised this afternoon.

Photo of Lord Berkeley of Knighton Lord Berkeley of Knighton Crossbench

My Lords, I have great sympathy with a lot of the views that we have heard, but I will try to look optimistically forward. I know that the Minister and her department have been looking at the whole question of whether anonymity should be given until a charge is made, and I wonder whether she could fill us in on where we are on that, what are her views and how that might help to prevent this happening again.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

We have discussed this a lot in your Lordships’ House. There is a presumption of anonymity, and that is absolutely right. There are occasions when names may be given out to bring forward further evidence. The Jimmy Savile case was a classic case in point. Quite often, it is not the police, the Home Office or anyone but the media who gives out names.

Photo of Lord Hayward Lord Hayward Conservative

My Lords, first, I declare an interest in that Paul Gambaccini is, I am pleased to say, a close personal friend. I am also conscious that the Metropolitan Police on occasion, when investigating such cases, has clearly shown its ability and impartiality, which is not reflected here. I come back to the Henriques report. Will that and similar reports be taken into consideration by the Home Office in future for any appointments and promotions? Many of us consider that necessary for this report.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, it depends which promotions the noble Lord is talking about, but recruitment within the police is done by the police; recruitment of the commissioner, as I said, is done by the Home Secretary in conjunction with the Mayor of London.

Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Chair, House of Lords Commission, Lord Speaker, Chair, House of Lords Commission

My Lords, the time allowed for this Private Notice Question has passed.