On Tuesday the retired High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques published his report into “the investigation of non recent sexual offence investigations alleged against persons of public prominence.” This was mainly – though not exclusively – related to his investigation of the Met’s handling of allegations made by a man going under the pseudonym of “Nick” and given the designation “Operation Midland.”
The terms of reference were set by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and about 90% of the report has not been disclosed. It is hardly surprising – though very much to be expected in an organisation that prides itself on its public relations as much as on its ability to catch criminals – that it should have chosen to “bury” the report on the day of the US elections.
As well as the bowdlerised report and the heavily redacted recommendations, it’s also worth reading the oddly chummy-sounding (although the two men had never previously met) covering letter which Sir Richard wrote to Sir Bernard. Its conclusion puts the best possible slant on Sir Bernard’s responsibility:
“I trust that commentators will not lay the blame for the grave mistakes in Operation Midland and Operation Vincente at your door. You have been let down by Officers of high rank ….”
The Times’s Sean O’Neill tweeted this morning: “Deputy heads must roll,” and I’m afraid this commentator, if that’s what I am, does not agree with the learned judge.
Even the 10% that has been made public reveals that the Met’s finest detectives fell prey to a combination of jaw-dropping naivety, asinine stupidity and Clouseauesque incompetence in allowing themselves to be duped by a man who is plainly either a dishonest chancer or a loopy fantasist.
Indeed it would be almost funny, were it not for the fact that acting on Nick’s allegations, the police descended on the homes of the entirely innocent Lord Bramall, Harvey Proctor and Lady Brittan, in the full glare of press publicity. The names of those falsely accused were thereby made public.
In the case of a raid “in North Yorkshire” – which must refer to the raid on Lady Brittan’s house (her husband being by that time dead) – officers even “conducted the search as though looking for bodies or body parts.” D Day hero Lord Bramall has described how he had to reassure his confused wife, who suffered from Alzheimers, as the police went from room to room through their house. Harvey Proctor, lost his job and his home as a direct result of the publicity, and then had to endure the break-up of his family. He is now, as he told LBC on Monday, “destitute.”
As Sir Richard puts it:
“It is difficult if not impossible to articulate the emotional turmoil and distress that those persons and their families have had to endure.”
He found that there was no justification for the raids. Not only that; the search warrants authorising them were only issued after police officers gave “inaccurate” statements to a judge, while at the same time concealing information that might have undermined their applications. It appears to be in relation to the issue of these warrants that a referral of several officers has been made to the IPCC.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the review is the revelation that the police were instructed to “believe” Nick, and immediately to consider him a “victim.” This was nothing to do with Nick himself. It had been Metropolitan Police policy since at least 2002 that anyone making an allegation of rape would be “believed.” The policy is as stupid as it sounds. As Sir Richard puts it: “requiring an investigator to believe a complaint which may or may not be true is a recipe for injustice.” It is a policy which“perverts our system of justice.” It remains the stated policy of Operation Hydrant, the national police organisation which co-ordinates the investigation of historic child abuse investigations, and of the College of Policing which yesterday issued a defiant statement in response to the report. In other words a practice which, in Sir Richard’s opinion, perverts justice, is still being advocated by the country’s most influential policing institutions. It goes without saying that Vera Baird, the Chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners also supports it.
(Ms Baird’s argument is that complainants in sexual cases should be treated in “exactly the same way as other complainants are believed.” Quite so: no complainant of any offence should be automatically believed, and I don’t think it would occur to many police officers that someone making an allegation of, say, assault should be believed simply because they are making an allegation. Some allegations may seem more plausible than others, but the job of the police is to investigate, not to believe or disbelieve).
It appears to have been this absurd insistence on believing any sexual complaint which led to Det Supt Kenny McDonald’s infamous public statement that he regarded Nick’s allegations to be“credible and true.” As a result, little if anything was done to investigate matters which might have undermined his accounts.
So, for example, officers interviewed Nick without making themselves aware of the content of his online blogs – an astonishing omission given that they were devoted to detailing the history of his abuse, and their existence was widely known. Nor do they appear to have waded through his many verses of execrable, but supposedly autobiographical, poetry.
Nobody troubled to find out whether he had made a claim for compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. Needless to say, he had done so, yet when officers learnt of it they did not ask to see the accounts that he had given. They did, however, “assist Nick to to process his claim” for compensation, even as their own investigation continued on its lethargic course. The report does not reveal how much, if anything, Nick has received as a result of his police-assisted application for compensation.
There was very little potential for scientific evidence, for the very good reason that no crimes had been committed. Even so, seized property was left unexamined for 9 months before being found to have “no evidential significance.” The delay must have been agonising for those falsely accused, but it at least gave time for 2 officers to take a pointless trip to Australia to speak to a witness who could just as well have been skyped instead.
In the absence of any proper science the police put their faith in junk science. They“relied on the advice of Nick’s counsellor without sufficiently evaluating her experience or qualifications.” Given the well-established risk that suggestive counselling can sometimes result in false allegations, a basic check of the credentials of Nick’s counsellor was the very least that could have been expected of any competent inquiry.
After several months, and despite the Met’s stern injunction to believe everything that Nick, said nagging doubts seem to have begun to creep in. Some officers at least may have had the beginnings of suspicion that they were being hoodwinked. A psychologist was instructed to advise the hapless coppers on Nick’s credibility. Unfortunately she was not provided with videos of Nick’s Met interviews, his blogs or the contents of an earlier complaint dealt with by the Wiltshire Police; and nor was she given enough time to read the 17 hours of interview transcripts with which she was provided. Meanwhile the – presumably sceptical – views of a “well-regarded Consultant Psychologist” were ignored on the grounds that he was “biased.”
Sir Richard’s report – at least the published parts of it – says comparatively little about the involvement of the media. Throughout the the whole Operation Midland saga the online scandal-site Exaro News continued to report Nick’s claims in ever more salacious detail, although carefully editing out the most absurd-sounding parts. Far from disinterestedly reporting news, Exaro’s editor in chief Mark Watts openly attacked Harvey Proctor for his “shameful” and “over the top theatrics” when he held a news conference to protest his innocence of multiple rape and murder. Apparently this “distressed” Nick.
It is unclear what Mr Watts would consider an appropriate response to being falsely accused of multiple sadistic murders, or why the victim of such an accusation should be expected to keep quiet so as not to distress his tormentor.
At least Hogan-Howe has apologised for his force’s behaviour. Mr Watts has not, although thankfully the horrible company for which he worked collapsed like a cold soufflé once Operation Midland was wound up.
What should be done now?
There are entirely understandable calls to prosecute Nick for attempting to pervert the course of justice. Harvey Proctor says that he should be prosecuted unless he is “insane.” Daniel Janner (inevitably Nick named his father, Greville Janner, and Jimmy Savile too, as being amongst his abusers) has suggested that he might bring a private prosecution. The CPS are said to be considering the matter but it by no means follows that Nick could or should be prosecuted. Sadly, the phenomenon of people telling false stories to the police is not unprecedented. Sometimes it is done maliciously but it is also sometimes done by people who – for any number of reasons which do not necessarily involve insanity – simply believe their own entirely false stories.
What about the Met itself? IPCC disciplinary proceedings against junior officers are all very well. Sir Bernard’s apologies are all very well – and were accepted with remarkable grace by both Lord Bramall and Harvey Proctor. But Sir Bernard’s position ought to be quite untenable. This was the highest of high profile inquiries. It was provided, as Henriques makes clear, with all necessary resources, including one assumes its best detectives. It should have been obvious even to interested outsiders, and certainly to the head of the Metropolitan Police, that it was careering wildly off the rails from the moment Supt McDonald announced that Nick’s allegations were “true.” Instead of getting a grip on the investigation, Sir Bernard allowed it to run on and on, trashing the reputations of the innocent for month after month.
Apologies alone are not enough. Nor is it enough to slink away in a few months time while junior officers face disciplinary proceedings. Sir Bernard should have the decency to tender his immediate resignation, and for good measure he should report himself to the IPCC. Allowing his subordinates to carry the can while escaping any formal censure himself is hardly an honourable course of action.
If the Met’s finest detectives can conduct as disastrous an investigation as this in a multiple murder investigation involving prominent politicians, one shudders to think what ineptitudes are likely to exist in lower profile investigations of “ordinary” historic sex cases.
A slightly different version of this piece appeared in the Daily Telegraph, 10th November 2016.www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/10/operation-midland-has-been-a-disaster-one-dreads-to-think-what-e/ )