It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I thank Sir Gerald Howarth for securing this debate, which gives us the opportunity to examine policing in relation to one of the most serious crimes of our age. At the outset, I should say that I have spent a good number of years campaigning on child sexual abuse, and I have met many survivors of sexual abuse. Furthermore, my second wife was sexually abused as a child, as is publicly known, so I know that it destroys lives.
I have an additional perspective on this matter: I have been the subject of accusations of sexual abuse, which were investigated by the police. I knew the allegations were nonsense, and it was a very distressing time as I had to wait many months before the Crown Prosecution Service put me out of my misery and dropped the case because there was no evidence. It also cost me a considerable amount of money—the hon. Gentleman talked about that issue. I think I can therefore contribute an understanding not just of the seriousness of this type of crime but of the trauma that innocent people are put through when malicious allegations are made against them.
I have also been critical of the police for the mistakes they have made in investigating sexual abuse. I have had good reason to do so on behalf of my constituents, especially in relation to the Rochdale grooming scandal. Greater Manchester police eventually apologised for that.
I have also read the Henriques report on Operation Midland. It is clear that that investigation also suffered from chronic failures, albeit of a different kind. The pendulum swung from a situation in which the police showed little interest in investigating the crime to one in which, haunted by failures of the past, they became over-zealous and they over-reached. Neither approach is acceptable, and it is right that scrutiny and criticism have followed.
I am pleased that the Home Secretary has announced that the police should have a licence to investigate child abuse to ensure consistent standards and to prevent officers from being forced to take on roles for which they are not prepared. However, I also believe that the Home Secretary should introduce mandatory reporting of abuse, although that is perhaps a debate for another day. As important as it is to scrutinise Operation Midland, we cannot give the public the impression that we are here to protect our own or to make the police think twice before investigating any current or former Members of this House. The police must act without fear or favour. They should not be intimidated or discouraged from carrying out investigations into MPs. It is just as important that justice is applied to a Home Secretary as it is that it is applied to a homeless person.
We must remember that we have had Government Whips such as Tim Fortescue boasting that they could cover up scandals involving MPs and small boys; we have had papers from the head of MI5 sent to the Cabinet Secretary under Margaret Thatcher warning that Peter Morrison MP had a penchant for small boys; and we have had significant allegations of child abuse by Lord Janner. There are currently 29 cases before the Independent Police Complaints Commission involving allegations of the police covering up child sexual offences from the ’70s to 2005. The IPCC has admitted that some of those allegations concern Members of Parliament —people who have been Members of Parliament. I could go on with other examples. It is clear that Sir Ian Horobin, the MP who was jailed for child sexual abuse in 1962, was certainly not the only person in this House guilty of that type of crime.
But that is the wider context. I would like now to focus on my personal understanding of the failings in relation to Operation Midland. After I wrote a book on Cyril Smith and the abuse that he meted out, I was inundated with correspondence making all sorts of allegations about other politicians, including Leon Brittan. I looked into those allegations, but I could find no evidence to suggest that he had done anything criminal. Furthermore, my office spoke to the person known as Nick, who was a key source of evidence during Operation Midland. The feedback that I received was that he had been instructed by the now defunct news website Exaro not to provide details to me about VIP abusers. Nick was clearly a very damaged individual who was struggling to cope, and I do believe that he had been abused. I just did not know by who.
I found all that a depressing tale and decided not to do anything with Nick’s testimony. However, I assumed that the Metropolitan police would not rely on one victim and that there were surely others. It now appears that that was not the case, and it was obviously a mistake to rely on so much from just one person. That said, I will not join in the calls to have Nick prosecuted for perverting the course of justice. I do not think that would be wise. There is some irony, in that we do not have to go too far back in modern history to find a Director of Public Prosecutions stating that it was not in the public interest to prosecute Cyril Smith MP for child abuse, or Victor Montagu MP, who admitted abusing a boy for nearly two years, and yet there are now calls for a survivor of abuse to be prosecuted. I certainly do not think it is in the public interest to prosecute Nick.
The law is messy and imperfect. Child abuse is a difficult crime to investigate, and a combination of disinterest and inadequate police skills over recent decades has resulted in far too many people getting away with a very serious crime. On occasion, that has also resulted in the wrong people being accused, with a lot of unnecessary hurt caused as a result. Finally, the ongoing football scandal shows that we have been far too slow to act. We must be more vigilant about powerful people abusing children.