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

I am sure that the members of the Government Whips Office will be delighted to hear that my hon. Friend feels rightly confident in having that conversation with them. He is right; that is exactly what should happen. However, through the Policing and Crime Bill we are trying to recognise that from time to time, as much as I wish it were not the case, there may be an officer who feels for whatever reason that they cannot go down that route and effectively act as a whistleblower. I will come on to how that should be handled going forward in more detail in just a few moments.

I will turn to some of the specific issues raised during the debate, but hon. Members will be aware that I cannot comment in detail on some of the specifics of Operation Midland, or indeed on individual cases associated with it. It is inappropriate for the Government to comment on operational matters such as those. Additionally, I am sure hon. Members are aware that action is being taken by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which I will outline, as a result of some of the failings identified in the review.

Five Metropolitan Police Service officers, ranging from a detective sergeant through to a deputy assistant commissioner, have been referred to the IPCC. Indeed, the individual who originally made the allegations that Operation Midland focused on is also being investigated by an outside force for attempting to pervert the course of justice. To that end, I hope the House appreciates that I am constrained by various ongoing proceedings, but I am happy to continue and to outline some further wide-ranging points.

On the publication of the report, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot referred in his opening remarks, I believe that there should be a presumption in favour of transparency in a situation like this. It is to the commissioner’s credit that he commissioned this report, and I will discuss his plans for publishing it when I see him next week. There is a balance to be found between considering any legal implications of sensitive and confidential material in the report and publishing that material, which is an issue I know the commissioner has to look at. I will discuss that with him next week. In the first instance, we and the Metropolitan police should look to be as transparent as possible.

I understand the views of Sir Richard Henriques and Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe on whether the police should “believe” all victims. I cannot be clearer on the matter than by reiterating the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who was then the Home Secretary. She said that the police should focus on the credibility of the allegation, rather than on the credibility of the witness or victim. That has to be right, but as was said earlier, it works both ways in terms of how the police deal with these issues.

The position of the National Police Chiefs Council—I spoke to Simon Bailey about this earlier today—is that officers and staff must approach any investigation without fear or favour, and must go where the evidence takes them. I understand that Simon Bailey clearly made the point to Sir Richard Henriques, as he was putting together his report that outlined how many claimants’ allegations tend to be baseless, that once the victim has come forward, that case and its investigation must be undertaken without fear or favour to get to the bottom of whether that allegation is correct. If it is, it should quite rightly be followed through to its finality, which the police are required to do by the code of practice of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996.

The evidence of the victim is just one part of an investigation; “believing” victims, or even referring to them as such at the point of disclosure when recording the crime, as opposed to complainants, should not and must not interfere with that. However, we need a system under which people who believe they are a victim feel confident and free enough to come forward in the first place. I am sure we all wish to see that continue. As with the rest of Sir Richard’s recommendations, I know that the Metropolitan police, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs Council are looking closely and carefully at that, as they must, in order to respond fully.