Operation Midland police fell for ‘false claims’ of VIP abuse, report says
Senior detectives fell for false allegations from a man who claimed VIPs had sexually abused and killed children, and then misled a judge to get warrants to search the homes of innocent members of the establishment, distressing them and their loved ones, a report has found.
The report into Operation Midland by Sir Richard Henriques, a retired judge, said one of the reasons detectives blundered was because they had to believe the victim under a policy originally aimed at stopping officers hiding the scale of sexual violence.
The main complainant, known as Nick, is now under investigation by Northumbria police for allegedly perverting the course of justice. Details of his alleged conduct are outlined in sections of Henriquess report that the Metropolitan police are keeping secret, the Guardian understands.
Detectives helped Nick fill out a claim for criminal injury compensation, and at one point described his claims as credible and true. But Henriques identified 43 failings by detectives who spent 16 months and more than 2m pursuing the allegations.
Nicks claims led to the Met investigating public figures including the former military chief Lord Bramall, the former home secretary Leon Brittan and the former Tory MP Harvey Proctor.
Henriques said police should have spotted that Nick was not credible earlier, and ceased their investigation sooner.
The report concluded: Those accused remained isolated and uninformed of the progress of these several investigations until finally being informed that there was an insufficiency of evidence against them. In short, these men are all victims of false allegations and yet they remain treated as men against whom there was insufficient evidence to prosecute them. The presumption of innocence appears to have been set aside.
Bramalls late wife witnessed the search of their home, Lady Brittan was distressed by the raid on their property, and Proctor has said police actions ruined his livelihood.
Henriques called for an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) inquiry into the false grounds used to obtain search warrants. The gravity of a judge being misled in such circumstances cannot be overstated.
He said the searches were carried out when there were no reasonable grounds to believe an indictable offence had been committed.
Police stated in the application for a warrant that the victim had contacted police in late 2014, when in fact Nick first contacted MPS [Metropolitan police service] in 2012 before being referred to Wiltshire police where he was interviewed at length in December 2012.
One police chief and four detectives are to face investigation for potential disciplinary offences.
The deputy assistant commissioner Steve Rodhouse, who was in day-to-day charge of Operation Midland as well as a separate inquiry into claims Brittan had raped a woman in the 1960s, denied any wrongdoing. I do not believe that I, or indeed any officer within Operation Midland, have committed any misconduct, he said.
The Met commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, commissioned the report in February, a month before Operation Midland was shut down having been unable to establish any grounds for arrest. It was dismissed by critics as a baseless witch-hunt, and Henriquess report damned the Met.
He said the presumption of innocence had been sacrificed for the policy that victims should be believed. He said the protocol perverts our system of justice and should be scrapped.
While Hogan-Howe backed the reports findings, the rest of British policing and victims groups appeared to oppose it, saying it could damage the fight to bring sexual abusers to justice.
David Tucker, crime lead at the College of Policing, said: To start an investigation from a position of doubt is unlikely to encourage victims to come forward.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said the reports recommendation to scrap the policy could not be allowed to result in a return to the dark days when we looked the other way and failed to confront the horrors of abuse and bring those responsible to justice.
Hogan-Howe said he had been unaware of the scale of the blunders until he read the report. He accepted responsibility for the serious failings and said it was a matter of professional and personal dismay that the VIPs had been pursued by the police for so long.
However, the commissioner, who retires in February, said he could not know about every investigation across London, even the high-profile ones.
He said he had apologised to Bramall, Lady Brittan and Proctor. 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.
But Hogan-Howe said that when Midland started in late 2014, police were accused of being part of an establishment coverup of sexual abuse: These investigations started at a time when there was significant concern that numerous sexual attacks on children and others had been ignored, including by the Metropolitan police in decades gone by.
Even worse were the allegations that abuse had been covered up by the establishment, including the government.
The Met faces more than 40 claims of bungling child sexual abuse inquiries and is expected to face criticism from the government-backed inquiry into the handling of sexual abuse claims over the past several decades.
Henriques said Brittan should have been informed before his death that the rape claim against him had been dropped, and he backed calls for suspects to have anonymity unless there was a reason to name them.
The Crown Prosecution Service said perverting the course of justice occurred when a person deliberately makes a false allegation of a crime in the knowledge that there is a risk that the police will conduct an investigation.