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Operation Midland made mistakes, but the presumption of innocence must prevail | Michael Lockwood | Opinion

Yesterday we at the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) published our report into certain elements of the Metropolitan police’s Operation Midland, the investigation into an alleged VIP paedophile ring. Some chose to condemn that investigation even before the publication of the report. I understand that those who have suffered great injustices as a result

Yesterday we at the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) published our report into certain elements of the Metropolitan police’s Operation Midland, the investigation into an alleged VIP paedophile ring. Some chose to condemn that investigation even before the publication of the report. I understand that those who have suffered great injustices as a result of the lies told by Carl Beech are unhappy with our conclusions, but many of the comments made are inaccurate and appear to be based on misunderstandings of the role and remit of the IOPC.

Our role was not to investigate all the assertions made in the review of the case by retired high court judge Richard Henriques. We did, of course, consider his findings and agree with many aspects of Henriques’s review, but on some aspects we do not.

We have never claimed to be a perfect organisation – indeed we are still working through many legacy issues, including improving timeliness of investigations. A concerted effort has seen a 20% improvement in the past 12 months with 80% of investigations now complete in under a year.

Am I satisfied this investigation took so long? Far from it. But this was not a cursory investigation, nor was it run by a sole investigator, as some would suggest. Investigators from police and civilian backgrounds worked on this, backed by a team of lawyers and policy experts. They More than 1,800 documents and 300 statements were examined. Some of those unhappy with the outcome of our investigation have chosen to single out a member of our investigation team. These personal attacks on their experience are not only inaccurate, but unwarranted and uncalled for.

The detail of our investigation is in the minutiae which does not readily lend itself to quick media soundbites. Suggestions we “overlooked” interviewing the officers we served misconduct notices on are simply wrong. All of the officers answered our questions.

In relation to deputy assistant commissioner Steve Rodhouse and Det Supt Kenny McDonald, their actions in supervising the search warrant applications were assessed, and would not have met the threshold for misconduct. We cannot act outside the law.

What was Operation Midland?

Operation Midland was set up by the Metropolitan police in November 2014 to examine allegations of child sexual abuse and homicide. It was based on false claims by Carl Beech, known as “Nick”, that he was abused by public figures of authority from 1975 to 1984, and witnessed the abuse of others.

He made widely reported false allegations about being taken to parties at exclusive private members’ clubs, in Dolphin Square in London and other locations – including swimming pools – attended by among others the former prime minister Sir Edward Heath, the former home secretary Leon Brittan, the then chief of defence staff Lord Bramall, the ex-MI5 chief Sir Michael Hanley, as well as the former Tory MP Harvey Proctor.

Operation MIdland was closed in March 2016 with no charges brought. Beech was jailed for 18 years in July 2019 for making the claims. He is appealing against the conviction and the sentence

A 2016 report into the investigation said it was ‘riddled with errors’, identifying 43 individual errors made by officers, that the team misled a judge to get search warrants, and finding that five officers, including four detectives and a deputy assistant commissioner, would be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for failings.

Henriques himself states in his report that he believed the officers conducted this investigation in a conscientious manner and with propriety and honesty. Yet at the same time he fervently believes they acted unlawfully. Which is true?

Despite his assertions otherwise, we did not rely on this statement as the basis for our investigation. On the contrary, we took active steps to look for evidence which countered this view.

Henriques states in his review he was not the appropriate authority to investigate the matter. We are and we conducted a thorough investigation that found shortcomings, but no misconduct.

The presumption of innocence until proven guilty must prevail, and we agree there must be accountability. There were clear mistakes made during Operation Midland. Henriques identified many of these and we concur, but our investigation found no evidence that the three officers we served notices on for misconduct had deliberately deceived a district court judge when they applied for search warrants to search the homes of Lord Bramall, Leon Brittan and Harvey Proctor.

I have met wsome of those affected by Carl Beech’s lies and listened to the significant pain and distress they have experienced – this should never be repeated. However, we are required to act within the law and our remit.

Equally, police officers must work within the law. They must make judgment calls. They have to make decisions many of us would be paralysed by. But they also work within a culture and systems that provide them with guidance, policies and rules.

This investigation happened at a time when Britain was rocked by the crimes of Jimmy Savile and other scandals. The culture of belief – supported by police guidance – was to believe the victim. This is correct, but it must also not be at the expense of an objective investigation. It was this organisational framework that was weak and contained gaps.

If we want change, if we want to ensure that the failings of Operation Midland are never repeated again, it is not a witch-hunt of individuals that will prevent this, it is organisational change.

Michael Lockwood is director general of the Independent Office for Police Conduct



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