Operation Midland: a miserable end to a miserable affair

The announcement from the Metropolitan Police that Harvey Proctor will face no charges over extraordinary allegations of sadistic rape and murder is unsurprising. It has been obvious for weeks that the police were simply waiting for a convenient time to drop the case, so embarrassing had it become. A cabinet minster’s resignation and the ensuing political turmoil have provided as good a time as any to make the announcement.

The allegations had received most of their publicity from the internet news site (which Mr Proctor understandably usually prefixes with the word “odd”) Exaro News.

When it published its first explosive video interview with “Nick,” the man we may now call the fantasist at the centre of the allegations, Mark Watts, Exaro’s Editor commented:

People hearing this allegation, that politicians were part of this abuse, will find this very hard to believe.”

Perhaps Mr Watts was pushing a story which he found hard to believe. Not so the police. Kenny McDonald, the senior police officer investigating the case, professed to believe him almost immediately, pronouncing Nick’s account “credible and true,” even as he embarked upon the lengthy investigation that has now stuttered to its ignominious conclusion. The mindset that the phrase conveyed was bad enough in itself. What made it worse was that every time Exaro published a new story about Operation Midland it was able to respond to almost any criticism by saying “look at the Metropolitan Police, they believe Nick.”

It is cold comfort to read in the Met’s damage limitation statement this afternoon that despite saying that he found Nick’s allegations “credible and true” Mr McDonald did not actually think they were  “credible and true.” Instead, we are now told, he kept “an open mind … throughout.” It is mind-boggling. If McDonald had an open mind, why did he pretend not to? Undue credulousness is certainly a fault in a police officer, but it is nothing like as serious as saying you think one thing, while secretly thinking more or less its polar opposite. McDonald himself may have been moved on, but Sir Bernard still seems to think his behaviour was somehow acceptable. It was not, and Sir Bernard’s defence of it is almost as bad.

Mr Proctor has issued a short statement, the most interesting part of which reads as follows:

I believe Operation Midland should now be the subject of a truely (sic) independent public inquiry.

I consider that Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Patricia Gallan, Steve Rodhouse and Kenny McDonald should tender their resignations from the Metropolitan Police Service forthwith.

I believe “Nick” and Exaro News Agency should be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice.

Unsurprisingly, he appears to have little confidence in the partly secret Inquiry announced by Sir Bernard last month.

Sadly, his call for the police officers most closely associated with the case to resign is unlikely to be heeded. Sir Bernard appears to have the skin of a grizzled pachyderm, a good quality in a police officer except when it is combined with the obstinacy of a cantankerous mule. His obstinate refusal to apologise over anything the police did in Operation Midland is reminiscent of his 2012 refusal to apologise to the former Met counter terrorism chief John Yates, whom he libelled in a document circulated to other officers. After refusing to apologise Mr Yates was forced to issue proceedings before Hogan-Howe eventually backed down leaving two sets of libel lawyers tens of thousands of pounds richer and the public purse somewhat poorer.

I presume Hogan-Howe cleared the Met’s statement before it was published. It does him no credit and it  bears his hallmark of obfuscation and obstinacy. One key sentence is this:

The MPS will not apologise for carrying out its duty to investigate serious allegations of non-recent abuse.”

Nobody is asking the Met to apologise for investigating “serious allegations of non-recent abuse.” Can I just repeat that, and perhaps I should underline it so that it has a better chance of getting through to Sir Bernard’s brain: no-one is asking the police to apologise for investigating Nick’s allegations. Allegations obviously should be investigated. The criticisms of the Met are about the manner in which this inquiry was conducted. The public statement in support of Nick, the leaking of names, the highly public raids, including the raid on the Bramall’s house as Lady Bramall was dying of Alzheimer’s, the length of time the inquiry has taken and the resultant trashing of the reputations of two living men to say nothing of numerous dead ones. And all this, with seemingly no recognition, even now, that the police had got anything wrong beyond the grudging concession of the possibility that the phrase “credible and true could have given the wrong impression that the outcome of the investigation was being pre-empted.”

Mr Proctor is, rightly, particularly concerned about the leaking of details of the raid on his house to Exaro. Any inquiry, secret or otherwise, needs to establish who leaked that information because it was only after this that Mr Proctor’s name (though readily guessable from the information previously published by Exaro) was made public. The Met says that they did not name him (or indeed Lord Bramall or Leon Brittan who were named at the same time), but what steps have they taken to discover who did? At present the leak seems to be treated as an unfortunate but inevitable fact of life, like a leaking urinal in a police washroom, instead of as a disgraceful and gross calumny on innocent people. The result was that Mr Proctor had to leave his home, leave his job and – not entirely unsurprisingly – decided to leave the country. Poor Lady Bramall died knowing who knows what.  And of course Leon Brittan, also implicated in the investigation, died whilst still publicly branded a suspect.

Mr Proctor wants both “Nick” and Exaro prosecuted for perverting the course of justice. Whether or not such a prosecution is brought it is essential that Mr Proctor’s call for an independent inquiry is heeded.

A proper inquiry would need to look closely at Exaro’s behaviour towards the witnesses upon whom it has based its stories. Was “Nick” a mentally fragile man recklessly thrown into the limelight in a desperate bid to make money for a failing media venture? What arrangements were made between Nick, Exaro and the police? What about the other witnesses upon whom Exaro has based similarly florid stories? One of these, “Darren”, has already spoken about Exaro with almost as much contempt as Mr Proctor himself.

And then there are the therapists. Nick has spoken of having had years of “counselling”. It is not unheard of for some forms of psychotherapy to generate entirely false memories. If Nick’s stories have come about as a result of this counselling or therapy then the sooner his counsellors are investigated and, if guilty of professional or even criminal misconduct named, the better for everyone. Who knows whether other people – perhaps less well-known and less able to defend themselves than Mr Proctor – have been implicated as a result of their practices.

One often-given justification for naming suspects before they are charged is that the knowledge that one person has made an accusation against an individual can embolden others to “come forward” with similar accusations. Coming forward” is invariably presented as a courageous and virtuous thing to do. Indeed, Nick has openly asked for others to do precisely that, although, fortunately nobody appears to have done so. But coming forward is only a good thing to do if you are telling the truth. Otherwise it is much better to hold back.

Even now, with the Met’s pompous and absurd statement that “a man in his 60s who was previously interviewed under caution has today, Monday 21 March, been advised by officers working on Operation Midland that he will face no further action,” the Met, so relaxed about the leaking of names while the inquiry was going on, can’t quite bring itself publicly to exonerate Mr Proctor now that it is over. A 16 month investigation by the best officers the Met can muster has produced nothing to back up Nick’s ridiculous claims. But Nick’s victims’ patent innocence of any wrongdoing will never be accepted by those who refuse to abandon their beliefs in an overarching VIP paedophile ring.

Nick will continue to lead his life in obscurity, feted as a hero by some. His therapists will continue to “treat” other people with mental health problems. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe will continue to preside over the Metropolitan Police and, with Hogan-Howe’s apparent insouciance Kenny McDonald will continue as a senior police officer happily saying one thing while thinking something completely different. Mark Watts, the Editor of Exaro News will eventually come up with some slippery justification for his organisation’s discreditable behaviour over the past two years. The internet conspiracists will work themselves into another lather of hatred.

It is a fittingly miserable outcome to a miserable affair.

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Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

15 thoughts on “Operation Midland: a miserable end to a miserable affair”

  1. One consequence of the justification of the current anonymity rule is often overlooked. By granting anonymity to accusers but not the accused, it means that whereas others might come forward either because they have suffered abuse or because they are climbing on the bandwagon, the accused cannot draw on equivalent opportunity.

    If the person accusing is known to be a serial liar or if the circumstances of the alleged claims are demonstrably false evidence to this effect may be hard for the defence to find if there is little known about the reality of the accuser’s current circumstances (and potential motive to fabricate) and that of how many years ago the offences were alleged to have occurred.

    Just as publication of the accused’s name may aid the police and proseuction, so too might the publication of the accuser’s name aid the defence.

    I say this but of course the primary responsibility in investigation for the reliability of evidence and credibility of claims lies with the police who are statutorily obliged to pursue all reasonable lines of inquiry whether they point towards or away from the suspect.

    When it comes to historic sexual allegations the police are frequently blinkered in this pursuit, echoing the one-sided guidelines of ‘case-building’ provided by the CPS.

    It is often the case that because the existence of the crimes lies with the credibility of the accuser little or no collateral inquiry is made other than seeking statements in support of prior complaint or similar claims.

    It would seem that the idea of evidence leading ‘away from the suspect’ is considered usually in connection with a verified offence where the identity of the perpetrator is to be decided, not whether the alleged offence was likely to have taken place at all and whether the complainant is reliable or has an ulterior motive to lie or mistakenly believe.

    For the investigators, less is more in such circumstances.

    In the case of Midland the absence of bodies did present an insuperable obstacle, but as the case rested on ‘Nick’s credibility, his public identification may have led to its being closed at a much earlier stage than was the case.

    Such a sea change in the law is of course unthinkable in the current climate, though anonymity of the suspect prior to charge ought to be considered.

    However the fact of this imbalance, ought. I believe to be recognised with it placing an even greater duty on the police to proactively investigate the reliability of the complainant in such cases – ie they should do what the Met was once disparaged for in rape cases – listen to the account and then ‘take a coach and horses through it’ ie they should seek, in the first instance to test the reliability by refutation to see if it still holds up.

    This used to be known as testing the evidence. It is not offensive to genuine victims, but supportive, and would ensure only reasonably well-founded cases reached court and restrict the danger of miscarriage of justice.

  2. How could the Met fail to question “Nick’s” credibility, when they must have been aware of his online participation in a community of self-professed “survivor’s advocates” and pedophile conspiracy theorists – both before and during Operation Midland? How could they fail to question Nick’s allegations, when he was openly interacting with persons that Kevin Allen had publicly described as “my team”? How could they take Nick’s allegations seriously, after he named as a principle suspect the same man that Kevin Allen’s “team” had been touting as a prime suspect in the disappearance of Martin Allen, YEARS BEFORE, on conspiracy websites?

    1. Jamie re your comment.. ‘I know now & for a long time from speaking to Itvs deputy editor that Mark W-T won’t have any of his programs on British tv again & I mean anything to do with crime. Itv were advised as were many newspapers I have contacts with that they’d all face hefty law suits for not checking any of Marks Credentials. We all know he’s Narcissistic & a car crash of an ex police constable. His whole career built on whopping lies.’

      Firstly I agree wholeheartedly with you about MWT and his lies. I was a police officer for 30 years in the CID and on murder squads and find his antics a disgrace to those who serve the office of Constable in the UK.

      I take it his lies came to light too late for the Investigator series to be pulled. The sad part is other people now contact him about their own missing persons and unsolved crime cases believing he can be their saviour. I wonder if they knew the truth about his background as a police officer and inexperience as a detective if they would have contacted him for assistance. Also how he can claim to be an expert is beyond me, and just because he has a Masters in Criminology, like thousands of others, does not mean he knows what he is talking about.

      Does Simon Cowell know that he’s been had over as well?

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  4. Serious questions for the legal beagles around here, please.
    I’m reading in The Telegraph, that “…a sex abuse victim lodged a formal complaint with Scotland Yard accusing him [“Nick”] of making up the allegations….”.
    Bizarre that this complainant apparently cannot be named, either, but how far does the blanket of invisibility extend? If this complainant didn’t know Nick’s legal name, could they still file such a complaint? How? Against “person unknown, called “Nick” in news reports” -? Or would police be forced to reveal Nick’s identity, to this complainant?

    What if a person who had filed a complaint of childhood sexual abuse against some former guardian, but went on to attempt to kill that former guardian and then went on the lam? Could the police put out “wanted” notices for the attacker, and reference his abuse claims against attack victim? Could members of the press reveal the attackers identity – ever – in such a case?

    Are these accusers subsequently anonymous-for-life in all aspects of their public persona? Is everyone barred from “naming them publicly” against their will, forever, even with reference to seemingly unrelated matters?

    1. One only has to look at Esther Baker- a woman who has given interviews to many a local, national and international news outlet under her real name over the course of the last year yet, when it suits her, still has the brass neck to make a song and dance about her name being published elsewhere (Harvey Proctor’s book) without her express consent to see how some try to manipulate anonymity law.
      We also have “Darren” whose identity is known to many after he gave an interview under his real name to the BBC prior to his ludicrous Thornham Magna claims but still retains his anonymity now regardless of that.
      Then there is the man who appeared on Panorama as “David”, whose real identity most also know, not least because his real name (or enough of it) was used as his alias in a MSM interview he gave.
      Three examples of those who have abused their right to anonymity, and of course then there is “Nick”.
      Previously strongly in favour of lifetime anonymity for survivors of sexual abuse, because of idiots like these, my view on this has since somewhat changed and would like to see a review, not just with regards to anonymity for suspects but with regards to anonymity for accusers too, whereby those who abuse that anonymity forfeit the right to retain it.

  5. Excellent blog. An inquiry into this farce is much needed. While we’re at it, perhaps there should be general inquiries into the whole area of police and CPS handling of allegations, anonymity and the presumption of innocence. I’m not holding my breath though.

  6. The Establishment will never allow itself to be investigated. Fact. Can anyone shed light why the MPs did not vote to rescind the OSA to allow witnesses to step forward? How about a certain customs officer on duty at Dover in 1982 who was put on gardening leave? These people in charge own the press and many have masonic connections. The system is corrupt and geared towards the wealthy – take Boothby in the 60s. CSA? – Just look at how many files were lost… and no one made accountable.

  7. I am afraid that the chances of Mr Proctor obtaining redress and justice are passingly small, though I hope that I am mistaken.

    Perhaps now that these insanities are nearly behind us there could be a very necessary shift of focus, and the spotlight shined upon the real child abuse scandal of our times

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Easy-Meat-Britains-Grooming-Scandal/dp/1943003068

    Watson’s motives in these sordid affairs have certainly been diversionary.

    If anyone is interested I will indicate why this is so.

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