Search warrants in false VIP sex abuse claims probe ‘obtained unlawfully’
Warrants to raid the homes of suspects in Scotland Yard’s disastrous investigation into false claims of a VIP Westminster paedophile ring were “obtained unlawfully”, a damning report has said.
Sir Richard Henriques said the main cause of the botched probe was “poor judgment and a failure to accurately evaluate known facts”.
The former High Court judge – who was called in after the 16-month Operation Midland ended in 2016 without a single arrest – found a “major contributing factor was the culture that ‘victims’ must be believed”.
Homes of D-Day veteran Lord Bramall; Lady Diana Brittan, the widow of former home secretary Leon Brittan; and former Tory MP Harvey Proctor, were raided on the basis of false claims made by fantasist Carl Beech, then known as “Nick”.
The review concluded the search warrants were “obtained unlawfully” and that the magistrate who granted them was “misled”.
“The written applications stated that ‘Nick’s’ account had remained consistent and he is felt to be a credible witness who is telling the truth,” it said.
“‘Nick’s’ account had not been consistent throughout. Further, there were, in my judgment no reasonable grounds to believe ‘Nick’ and the statement that he had told the truth was not consistent with information then available.”
Beech is serving an 18-year jail term for fabricating a series of claims of rape, torture and murder by innocent, well-known names from the military, security services and politics.
More findings of the highly critical review of Operation Midland, which has to date cost the Metropolitan Police around £4.5 million, were published by the force on Friday after mounting pressure to be open and transparent.
Sir Richard identified 43 police failings in his report, which said: “Whilst the responsible officers assert that they kept an open mind, several failures can only be explained by an unwarranted and disproportionate belief in ‘Nick’s’ credibility.
“The most significant error in this investigation was the decision to apply for search warrants coupled with formulating inaccurate statements which were placed before the district judge.
“But for that decision, this investigation may well have been completed without the dreadful adverse consequences I have described.”
Among a string of recommendations for the force, Sir Richard said suspects should have their anonymity protected by law, victims should be asked to sign confidentiality agreements in cases involving “prominent people” and the policy that a complainant’s account “must be believed” should end.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson was found to have added to the pressure on investigating officers, who were “fearful of media criticism and public cynicism,” according to the report.
A review of Operation Vincente – the investigation into an allegation that Lord Brittan had raped a 19-year-old woman in 1967 – said officers may have been “in a state of panic” over a letter sent by the MP on House of Commons notepaper.
“There can be no doubt that Tom Watson believed ‘Nick’ and it should be stated that he had previously provided the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) with information leading to convictions in other cases,” Sir Richard said.
“His interest, however, in both Operation Midland and Operation Vincente created further pressure upon MPS officers.”
Daniel Janner, the son of the late Labour MP Lord Janner who was one of those accused by Beech said Mr Watson was “partially responsible”, claiming he “applied pressure on the police and should hang his head in shame and resign”.
But Mr Watson said the review contained “multiple inaccuracies” about him and said it did not make clear letters from him were received by police after they had already interviewed Lord Brittan.
In a statement he said it “cannot be argued that it was pressure from me that led to Lord Brittan being interviewed”.
He added: “I have always said that it wasn’t my place to judge whether sexual abuse allegations were true or false – that was for the police.”
The officer in charge of both operations, Steve Rodhouse, apologised for the “distress” caused as a result, saying the report shows there are “clearly lessons to be learned for future investigations”.
He said: “In hindsight I can see I did not ensure that we got the balance right” between a “determination to maintain confidence” and the police’s “duty to robustly test the allegations being made”.
Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House said: “Mistakes were made in Operation Midland and we have apologised for those. We apologise for them again today.
“However, we do not agree with everything Sir Richard wrote in his report or indeed all of his recent statements regarding further investigations into the actions of officers.”
Mr Proctor called for the force’s commissioner Cressida Dick to “consider her position”, saying: “She showed no leadership or professional ability to insist on investigation into Beech himself.”
He accused her of failing to amend previously inaccurate statements on the credibility of Beech’s allegations, adding: “Her inaction was irresponsible and immoral and she should now consider her position.”
Before the report was published, Ben Emmerson QC, the lead counsel to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, claimed he warned Scotland Yard of Beech’s “bogus allegations” months before officers shut down the investigation.
He said he interviewed Beech in 2015 and claims to have told senior police officers on September 30 that year not to believe his claims of rape and torture, adding: “They had a ring of outlandish fabrication about them.”
On Thursday, Home Secretary Priti Patel wrote to Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor, asking for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) to review how officers handled the case.
Some of Sir Richard’s report was released by the force three years ago, in which he criticised the Met for believing Beech for too long; one officer for announcing publicly that the claims were “credible and true”; the application for search warrants with flawed information; and failing to close the investigation sooner.
Then-force chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe made a series of extraordinary apologies over the bungled investigation.
This includes payouts to the Brittan family and Lord Bramall. Mr Proctor is suing the Met for £1 million and a settlement has yet to be reached.
Five officers were referred to another police watchdog now known as the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). But the body found no evidence of wrongdoing or criminality.
Ms Patel has also asked the HMICFRS inspection to take into account this subsequent IOPC investigation, known as Operation Kentia. The full report is yet to be published.