Hogan-Howe finally apologies for disastrous Operation Midland
The retired judge heading up the review of the failed investigation into the VIP paedophile ring has warned that a police policy of ‘believing victims’ has lead to miscarriages of justice on a ‘considerable scale’.
Sir Richard Henriques, in a coruscating review of eight investigations, identified 43 failings in relation to Operation Midland alone, including the Metropolitan Police’s public statement that the allegations of the sole complainant ‘Nick’ were ‘credible and true’. ‘The policy of ‘believing victims’ strikes at the very core of the criminal justice process,’ Sir Richard wrote. ‘It has and will generate miscarriages of justice on a considerable scale.’
Sir Richard made a series of recommendations including that throughout the investigative and judicial process those who make complaints should be referred to as ‘complainants’ and not ‘victims’ by the police; that the police instruction to believe a ‘victim’s account’ should end; and that suspects should have the right to anonymity prior to arrest enforced by statute.
Yesterday more than six months after the collapse of Scotland Yard’s investigation into the historic sexual abuse and murder inquiry that focused on prominent figures from the worlds of politics, military and law enforcement, the Metropolitan police commissioner finally made public apologies. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe acknowledged ‘serious failings’ in the conduct of the ill-fated Operation Midland as well as the separate investigation into an allegation against Lord Brittan.
Distrust and disbelief
The Henriques report is highly critical of a change in police policy in the wake of the Savile revelations. The judge cited a 2014 statement of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary which stated that ‘the presumption that a victim should always be believed should be institutionalised’. The review quoted chief constable Simon Bailey who heads up Operation Hydrant, set up to share good practice for forces investigating historic abuse cases, defending the change in policy.
‘If we don’t acknowledge a victim as such, it reinforces a system based on distrust and disbelief,’ Bailey told the review. He went on to describe the police service as ‘the conduit that links the victim to the rest of the criminal justice system’ and argued that there was ‘a need to develop a relationship and rapport with a victim… in order to achieve the best evidence possible’.
Henriques attacked what he called ’inaccurate terminology’. ‘A criminal justice system that deliberately describes those it serves inaccurately is a flawed system and chief constable Bailey’s argument ignores the consequences of false terminology.’ He took issue with Bailey describing the police service as ‘a conduit’. ‘I prefer to consider the police service as a critical part of the criminal justice system under an absolute duty to use accurate language,’ he said.
‘Since a complainant may or may not be telling the truth, the present policy causes those not telling the truth to be artificially believed and, thus, liars and fantasists and those genuinely mistaken are a given free run both unquestioned and unchallenged.’
Sir Richard Henriques
Sir Richard said that ‘the instruction foisted upon investigators to believe a victim perverts our system of justice and attempts to impose upon thinking investigator an artificial and false state of mind’.
Bailey also told the review that only 0.1% of all complaints might be false and thus any inaccuracy in the use of the word ‘victim’ was ‘so negligible that it can be disregarded’. Sir Richards said that such an assertion ‘bore no relation’ to his own judicial experience nor to his experience during his review. ‘I remain most concerned that the Hydrant team fail to appreciate the danger of false complaints and that a cardinal principle of the criminal justice system is that the complaint maybe false.’
So Richard also recommended that suspects should have the right to anonymity prior to arrest enforced by statute. ‘Nobody is safe from false accusations and damaging exposure under present arrangements,’ he said. ‘A reputation built on a lifetime of public server so popular entertainment can be extinguished in an instant.’
Yesterday, the Met chief finally made a public apology to Lord Bramall, Lady Brittan and Harvey Proctor for ‘the intrusion into their homes and the impact of Operation Midland on their lives’. ‘The public identification of suspects compounded the harm of our investigative failures,’ Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said. ‘They have all suffered as a result of the investigation and our description of the allegations as “credible and true”. We should not have said this, and we should have tested the credibility of the complainant more rigorously before conducting the searches.’
Sir Bernard said he took personal responsibility for the failings. ‘It is a matter of professional and personal dismay that the suspects in the investigation were pursued for so long when it could have been concluded much earlier,’ he said. He said that the investigation found ‘no credible evidence’ against the three men.
Proctor had refused to give evidence to Sir Richard and accused his review of being ‘a cover up’ – as reported on the Justice Gap here. Over the weekend in an interview with the Press Association, the former MP claimed the Met was trying to bury the release of a heavily edited report. ‘It is not surprising that here, almost at the death, with the Henriques report, true to form, they continue their PR cover-up and announce that they’re going to bring out their report on obviously a very busy press day,’ he said. ‘Completely outrageous.’
A bone head stampede to believe
Yesterday’s public apology has been a long time coming. ‘I can’t really apologise for investigating a serious allegation and that is what we have done,’ the Metropolitan police commissioner told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier this year when being interviewed about his officers’ investigation into allegations against Lord Bramall.
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe told presenter John Humphries that he did have ‘regret, and it’s a genuine regret’ if the 92-year old veteran of the D-Day landings had been ‘damaged in this process’.
Operation Midland was launched on the basis of a single witness known as ‘Nick’. Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald, the lead officer for the operation, appealed for more witnesses to come forward in December 2014 with the following words:
‘They and I believe what Nick is saying to be credible and true hence why we are investigating the allegations he has made to us.’
However 16 months later – and at a cost of £1.8m – the investigation failed to turn up any evidence to back up the shocking allegations against an all-star cast including Lord Bramall, Leon Brittan, Ted Heath, and former heads of MI5 and MI6.
In August last year Harvey Proctor, who has been arrested twice, called an astonishing press conference at which he catalogued claims made by the anonymous ‘Nick’. ‘Anonymity is given to anyone prepared to make untruthful accusations of child sexual abuse whilst the accused are routinely fingered publicly without any credible evidence first being found,’ said Proctor. ‘This is not justice. It is an abuse of power.’ The former Tory MP argued that he was the victim of a ‘homosexual witch hunt’.
Proctor went on to name eight high profile figures who featured in Nick’s claims – as well as Leon Brittan and Lord Bramall, there was a former MI6 chief, an ex head of MI5 and the late PM Ted Heath. He repeated one particularly outlandish and lurid allegation in which it was claimed that ex PM Heath stopped Proctor from castrating Nick with a penknife.
‘Edward Heath despised me,’ Proctor told journalists. ‘I despised him too.’ Now he was accused of ‘doing dreadful things’ in his London house (‘… a house to which I was never invited and to which Heath would never have invited me’).
Meanwhile Paul Gambaccini offered a searing firsthand account of being pursued by a modern day witch-hunt in his book Love, Paul Gambaccini: A year under the Yew Tree published in September 2015.
The veteran DJ was first arrested in December 2013, re-bailed five times before the CPS decided to drop the case in October last year. Paul Gambaccini told the House of Commons’ justice committee that his serial re-bailings were scheduled to coincide with developments in other high profile cases such as Rolf Harris and Max Clifford. The broadcaster described himself as the victim of a ‘fly paper’ investigation, whereby a suspect’s name is hung up in public to see if it draws out more complainants. ‘Police use of the “flypaper” practice of arresting someone, leaking the details, then endlessly re-bailing them in the vague hope that other people come forward is unacceptable and must come to an immediate end,’ concluded Keith Vaz, the committee chairman.
In an interview with the Justice Gap when asked if the veteran DJ had had an apology from the police, Gambaccini replied: ‘I can’t ever look to the Met for either honour or decency. It is tough living in a country where you know that.’
In September last year, the former Director Of Public Prosecutions, Lord Ken MacDonald QC launched into a blistering attack on (his words) ‘a bone-headed stampede’ to take all complaints of historic sexual abuse claims on face value.
It was the job of the police to conduct ‘impartial, objective investigations’, not to ‘indulge narcissists and fantasists’, MacDonald wrote. ‘Justice simply cannot survive a process in which the police hand over the right to determine the truth to accusers, simply on the basis that they claim to be the victims of crime.’
In an article for the Guardian earlier his year, Hogan-Howe recognized that public confidence had been damaged by misfiring investigations. According to Andy Higgins, a senior analyst at the Police Foundation, DS Kenny McDonald’s publicly stated belief in Nick was ‘much more than a detective’s linguistic slip’. He argued that ‘one great tectonic principle of British criminal justice’ – ‘the careful and even-handed, collection and weighing of evidence’ – was grinding against ‘a brave new continent on which rests the “progressive’ principle” of automatic victim belief.’
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award