I have now read all the Metropolitan Police will allow us to read of Sir Richard Henriques’s report on Operation Midland and on the lessons to be learned from that appalling fiasco. That marks me out from the journalists who have reported it for the newspapers and the BBC. They decided to restrict their reading to the heavily redacted conclusions on Midland. They haven’t bothered to look at the (largely unredacted) general report on the lessons to be learned. But it really is worth reading (you can find it on the Metropolitan Police interweb site).
I will only a mention a few of Henriques’s conclusions, to give you a flavour of them. He starts off by considering the question of whether the police should refer to complainants as “victims”. The police are adamant that they should use that word, rather than “complainants”. He points out that the courts never use the word “victim” unless and until there is a conviction. All the complainants he interviewed agreed with him that they should not, before conviction of their alleged assailants, be described as victims. To do so is to prejudge the very issue which has to be resolved. Suspects are innocent until proven guilty and it is plainly quite wrong for the police to declare to the world that the complainants are genuine victims. The police disagree with Henriques, but we must hope they accept his recommendation that complainants must no longer be called victims.
Next, and this is probably his most important recommendation, he says that the national police guidance that investigating officers are required to believe all complainants must be changed. The police, he says, must carry out objective investigations. They must have an open mind. Forcing them, often against the evidence, to believe the allegations made by complainants can be very dangerous. It can lead to the police setting out to create a case rather than to investigate it properly. The police (to his credit this does not apply to the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis) do not accept the obvious sense of Henriques’s insistence that it is plainly wrong to require officers to believe everything every complainant says. We must hope they will give in and end the sort of appalling injustice we saw in Operation Midland (a senior officer announcing that an obvious fantasist’s allegation were true).
The police told Henriques that the instruction to believe complainants was reasonable because false allegations were almost never made. That, as he made very clear, was rubbish. Sadly, people make false allegations about sex offences all too often, and for all sorts of reasons. There are those who regret having had consensual intercourse and invent the theory they were raped to relieve their guilt. There are those who cheat on their husbands or boyfriends and then, because they fear being found out, say they were raped. There are those simply hope to get compensation and therefore invent sexual assaults. There are fantasists, like “Nick” who probably just want to be noticed. And there are others who make false allegations for no apparent reason at all. Of course, most complainants are truthful, but far too many are not. Henriques must be right when he tells the police they have got to be fair and objective when they embark on these investigations.
Then there was the police practice of, effectively, identifying suspects before charge. The theory is that the police do not reveal the identities of suspects unless they are charged. There is, of course, a problem caused by a few crooked officers who accept payment from tabloid newspapers to identify “celebrity” suspects. But that is probably not a major problem. What is a major problem is the practice of announcing, for instance, that “police have interviewed a man in his nineties from Farnham” (that’s what they said about Lord Bramall). Henriques says the police must stop making those announcements. The age, sex and location of suspects should not be given.
It goes without saying that Henriques takes a very dim view of the police practice of deceiving judges when applying for search warrants (as happened with Lord Bramall, Lady Brittan and Harvey Proctor). And he deprecates the police love of dawn raids on the houses of people alleged to have committed offences many years ago.
The last point I will mention is Henriques’s dislike of the mealy mouthed statements made by the police when they announce they are not taking further action against innocent people. As he said, it is as plain as plain can be that Bramall, Brittan and Proctor were entirely innocent. But all the police will say is that there was “insufficient evidence” to proceed. That, inevitably, gives the impression that there was evidence, but just not quite enough to get a conviction.
There can be no doubt that Operation Midland was a disaster from beginning to end. We must wait to see whether the police are prepared to mend their ways.