Operation Midland: Henriques Report

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:39 pm on 13th December 2016.

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Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing and the Fire Service) 3:39 pm, 13th December 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter, especially as you have effectively encouraged colleagues to intervene on me. Thank you for that.

As others have done, I congratulate my hon. Friend Sir Gerald Howarth on securing this debate, and I thank him and others for the points that they have raised about this serious matter. I am grateful to all hon. Members for the quality of the debate, which shows Parliament at its very best. This subject is difficult and can be sensitive, but they have made their points clearly. I was going to say that if there is anything I do not touch on due to pressure of time, I will write to hon. Members, but I think we should have time to cover everything thanks to the tight speeches from the Opposition Front-Bench Members.

One of the difficulties with a debate such as this, as a couple of Members rightly mentioned, is getting the balance in the system, and understanding that there is a balance, that finds the correct line between making sure that people can come forward as complainants or victims—there is an issue about the definition of victims, which was raised by hon. Friends and is in the Henriques report—and judging that against the rights of the individual, ensuring that we have a system in which people have the freedom and confidence to come forward to make complaints in the first place.

One of the things the police force should be proud of—we should all be proud of this—is that we are seeing a rise in recorded crime, with the two main causes of that being the improvement in the quality of recording crimes and the number of people who have had the confidence to come forward that was not there before. We need to ensure that we retain that while we ensure that the police and criminal justice system have the credibility we all want them to have so that when an allegation is brought forward that has no substance and no finding, the police deal with it effectively and efficiently as well. I will now come to that issue, which is at the core of the debate.

I want to be clear at the outset that I am not going to defend—nor could I—the actions of the Metropolitan Police Service in this case. We in Government share the deep concerns that hon. Members have articulated so clearly during the debate and those about the Metropolitan police’s handling of non-recent sexual abuse allegations, including Operation Midland. The Metropolitan police’s credibility in dealing with child sexual exploitation generally was highlighted and clearly shown to be well below the standard it should be in the recent report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, which, to quote Sir Tom Winsor, is about the worst report that it has ever written about any police force in the country.

We recognise the anguish felt by those who had their reputations traduced by allegations that were subsequently discovered to be unfounded, and I empathise with them. To be unjustly accused of any crime, and, as the hon. Members for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) and for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) outlined, especially of a crime such as this, is a terrible experience for any individual. For that trauma to be exacerbated by police failures and behaviour is an affront to our criminal justice process and it should not happen.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, to his credit, was right to ask Sir Richard Henriques to carry out the independent review, but now he must stand up to the findings of that review. It sheds a light on the errors made by his force in carrying out the investigations. He has been frank in acknowledging the failings of the Metropolitan Police Service, and he, and I would say also his successor—I hope that he will deal with this so that it is not an issue for his successor to pick up next year—must not shy away from a proper consideration and response to Sir Richard’s recommendations or from taking all action necessary to ensure that that litany of errors never occurs again. I do mean all action necessary, and I will come to the detail of that in a moment. It is imperative that that is done without shying away from it at the earliest opportunity.

The Metropolitan police are now consulting on the recommendations with the National Police Chiefs Council, the Mayor’s office for policing and crime, the College of Policing and statutory and voluntary partners in the criminal justice system. I urge all parties involved in that work to consider the recommendations swiftly and decisively. They must learn the lessons from the failures. Investigations into allegations around sexual offences must be carried out professionally and appropriately for both parties.