My hon. Friend says “if they exist”; I am not saying they do not. I do not know, but what I do know—it is a fact—is that Sir Edward Heath is dead and cannot answer back.
Paul Gambaccini, whom I met yesterday, referred to the “bandwagoner”—a person who hears about a complaint against a well-known personality and adds their own false complaint, possibly to make money. That motive should not be discounted in the consideration of these matters.
The third charge relates to the reliability of witnesses. Nick, the man upon whose evidence much of this monstrous submission was based, was dismissed by his mother, his stepmother, his ex-wife and his siblings as a fantasist. In their investigation, Northumbria constabulary must be ruthless in their analysis of why that man should have been free to make such deeply serious accusations against prominent figures when it would appear that little research was undertaken into his background. If his own mother denounced him, why did the police attach such credence to his claims? Of course, this is a man whose evidence was said to be “credible and true” by that chief superintendent. Did they not even think it was worth asking his relatives?
Fourthly, “victims” were constantly kept informed of progress on the case, but the alleged suspects remained in the dark throughout. That cannot be allowed to happen again.
Finally, why did the police abandon all notion of common sense? My right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames made that point. At the time of the alleged offences committed by Lord Bramall, he would have had any number of senior officers around him. What attempt was made by the police to ask for their opinion? Or did the police prefer to believe an unknown witness over one with close knowledge of the suspect? The idea that he was cavorting in some orgy on that most solemn of days, Remembrance Day, is not only absurd but an insult to a decorated war hero.
At my surgery on Saturday, I met Lieutenant Colonel Ben Herman. He is an ex-Royal Marine and a former equerry to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. He lives in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr Jayawardena, who cannot be here because he is attending a Committee. Lieutenant Colonel Herman was charged after being kept on bail for more than two years, but was acquitted after 15 minutes’ consideration by the jury. It was his contention that the attraction of his case was the opportunity to land a big fish. Lowly police officers carrying out dull work—except, I suppose, when they were infiltrating subversive groups and fathering children by the women they were supposed to be investigating—were salivating at the prospect of nailing a servant of the royal household. How far did such sentiments permeate the minds of those engaged on Operations Midland, Vincente and Yewtree?
These investigations constituted a grotesque and inexcusable failure by the Metropolitan police. Sir Bernard has accepted that there was failure, but who has been reprimanded or even sacked for the damage done to the individuals concerned and to the reputation of the Metropolitan police? We await the investigation of the Independent Police Complaints Commission with interest. I hope it will be expedited. On the other hand, the behaviour of those facing these dreadful accusations has been extraordinarily dignified. My noble Friend Lord Dear, a former chief constable of West Midlands police, said that in contrast to the dignity shown by Lord Bramall,
“the police investigation lurched from over-reaction to torpidity.”
I will outline what is needed. First, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe should ensure that those responsible for authorising payments to the real victims of this witch hunt—the people whose reputations his force has shredded and to whom immense distress has been caused—are provided with that authority before he leaves office early in the new year. I spoke briefly to him last night to let him know I was initiating this debate. He must sign the cheques before he leaves. Forcing these people to go to court to seek compensation would simply add insult to injury. However, in the absence of an agreed arrangement, that is what they may be obliged to do. As Paul Gambaccini said to me yesterday, no man should acquiesce in his own annihilation.
Secondly, the Henriques recommendations must be implemented urgently. In particular, the requirement that those making claims of historical child abuse be regarded as victims and not complainants must be reversed forthwith, as it overturns the centuries-old principle of the burden of proof. In an article in The Guardian on
“The public should be clear that officers do not believe unconditionally what anyone tells them.”
But that flatly contradicts Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s ruling, which I mentioned earlier, that the presumption should be that the victim is always believed.
Thirdly, the recommendation of anonymity before charge should also be implemented without delay. The Home Affairs Committee’s report on police bail, published on
“Newspapers and the media are prohibited from revealing the name of a person who is the victim of an alleged sexual offence. We recommend that the same right to anonymity should also apply to the person accused of the crime, unless and until they are charged with an offence.”
In support of that recommendation, the Committee referred to its predecessor Committee’s inquiry into the Sexual Offences Bill 2003, which
“called for anonymity for the defendant in such cases, because it felt sexual offences were ‘within an entirely different order’
to most other crimes, carrying a particular and very damaging stigma.”
I agree and, I am pleased to say, so does Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. At least we have found common ground there.
Fourthly, I am disappointed that the Home Secretary feels unable to intervene in any aspect of this saga. In response to my call for the full Henriques report to be published and for compensation to be paid, she wrote to me last month to say that:
“The police are operationally independent of Government, and so any arrangements in connection with the publication of Sir Richard’s report are a matter for the Commissioner of the Police for the Metropolis to consider and address.”
I do not agree. These are not operational matters. I regard them as matters pertaining to public policy, which cannot simply be passed back to the commissioner. Indeed, I would argue that it is unfair on him to leave him with the sole responsibility. I gather that, as far as compensation is concerned, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has to seek authority from other unspecified people, but I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm to me that that will be forthcoming shortly.
I have not been able to contact the Mayor of London, although his office phoned me about five minutes before this debate started. Again, I understand that he does not feel that this is a matter for him because it is an operational matter. I fundamentally disagree. This is a matter of public policy. There has been a serious miscarriage of justice, and Ministers cannot simply stand by and wash their hands of it. They may not agree with my view, but they should at least have a view. I think that the full Henriques report should be published. There is, for example, an entire chapter on Paul Gambaccini, which has not seen the light of day; it has been redacted in its entirety.
For all those people, this has been a harrowing experience exacerbated by insensitivity combined with incompetence on the part of the police. Lord Brittan went to his grave not knowing that the allegations in Operation Vincente had been dismissed. Lady Bramall went to hers not knowing that her husband had also been exonerated. Harvey Proctor said at his press conference on
“This whole catalogue of events has wrecked my life, lost me my job and demolished 28 years of my rehabilitation since 1987.”
Not a single police officer has been reprimanded, let alone sacked. Responsibility for this scandalous failure must lie with Sir Bernard and his senior officers. Either they knew what was being done in their name, which clearly renders them culpable, or they did not, which begs the question why they were not closely updated on cases involving multiple child murders and child sexual abuse, allegedly perpetrated by a Westminster ring involving a former Prime Minister and other public figures? In the case of Sir Cliff Richard, we know that the South Yorkshire police disgracefully conspired with the BBC to film the raid on his home.
However, there is one police officer who deserves praise. Detective Chief Inspector Paul Settle is the senior officer responsible for Operation Vincente into the allegation of rape made against Lord Brittan by a woman known only as Jane. In September 2013, he decided that the investigation should not proceed any further, and concluded that any action against Lord Brittan would be grossly disproportionate and would not have a legal basis. As he told the Home Affairs Select Committee, as a result of the hon. Member for West Bromwich East piling pressure on the Met, a hurried review of DCI Settle’s decision was carried out by another officer, who failed to look at all the documents and, in particular, did not look at DCI Settle’s decision log, a document he described as
“an intrinsic and fundamental part of all major investigations.”
That provides further evidence that culpability for this matter resides at the top of the Met.
For acting with probity, DCI Settle was ordered by his line manager, Detective Superintendent Gray, to have nothing more to do with the case. Not only was he brushed aside and not only was his hitherto distinguished career blighted but he was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for allegedly leaking information to the media. As one police source is reported to have told the Daily Telegraph:
“He was the only detective who spoke out against the witch hunt of VIPs and he is being punished for his honesty.”
It seems that he is being sacrificed by his superiors.
Finally, I say to those who might be tempted to think that I am concerned with those in high places suffering injustice only because they are people I know in one way or another that I am not. If that is how the police treat those in high places, what confidence can the ordinary man in the street have that he will receive fair and impartial treatment from the police?