Westminster Paedophile Inquiry Row: A shrewd move by Scotland Yard

Sir Richard Henriques.

Sir Richard Henriques. Pic Credit: Blackpool Gazette

The decision by Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, the Met Police Commissioner, to ask Sir Richard Henriques, a distinguished  retired judge, to review police procedures covering Operation Midland is very shrewd.

At a stroke it will knock down the hysterical coverage in some newspapers of the investigation which has involved prominent VIPs being interviewed by the Met following allegations of sexual abuse and murder from a survivor known as Nick.

The papers- some of whom seem to act as judge and jury  before the investigation has been completed – in wanting to clear prominent people and cast doubt on the veracity of the victim in alleging such crimes. They have  also complained about the Met Police spending time and money looking at historic child sex abuse cases.

It will also prevent Keith Vaz, the  Labour chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, grandstanding when  Sir Bernard comes before him at the end of this month.

He will know as a lawyer that he can hardly grill Sir Bernard about the procedures of the investigation while there is an inquiry by a retired judge looking into the same issues. Nor can he second guess Sir Richard’s findings.

Indeed instead he may have to explain why his committee was so quick to condemn the Met for its handling of  its investigation into the historic alleged rape  against the late Leon Brittan  brought by  ” Jane” now an independent review by Dorset Police has largely cleared the Met of any errors.

It should also provide a valuable breathing case for the Met to take a balanced decision on whether it can proceed further with Operation Midland rather than all this orchestrated hue and cry that it must be stopped now.

Obviously it has been painful for Leon Brittan’s family and the 92 year old war hero  Lord Bramall to be at the centre of such allegations but that doesn’t mean that the police should not investigate them.

Also it is not only cases brought by Nick that will come under scrutiny but also Darren where the Met Police appear to have taken the opposite decision and decided that Darren’s claims were not worth pursuing.

One of the most interesting findings by the judge will be how he sees the police handled two entirely different victims and  their allegations and what standards were applied.

In a statement announcing the review on Wednesday, Hogan-Howe said the aim was “whether we can provide a better balance between our duty to investigate and the interests of suspects, complainants and victims.”

The Met commissioner added: “We are not afraid to learn how we can do these things better, and that’s why I’ve announced today’s review in to how we have conducted investigations in to non-recent sexual allegations involving public figures.”

Henriques is a former high court judge who conducted an inquiry into how Lord Janner escaped justice over abuse claims.

He is  also the prosecutor who  brought the killers of James Bulger to justice and nailed Harold Shipman,the GP who murdered his patients..

Before retiring he was a judge presiding over  terrorist trials including the trial of eight terrorists who would have slaughtered almost 3,000 people had their plan to bring down transatlantic airliners been successful.

So he seems a good choice to cut through all the hyperbole surrounding the VIP paedophile ring  allegations and make sound recommendations on how the Met should handle such allegations in the future. My main reservation is how much of the report will be made public. Transparency is very important in this case.

 

 

A bloody nose for Keith Vaz: Met Police cleared in “Jane” rape case

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What I suspected was a flawed finding by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee into the Met Police’s investigation of the allegations by ” Jane” that she had been raped as a teenager by Leon Brittan has now been proved correct.

An independent review by Dorset Police of Met Police’s investigation into the case – slipped out in an appendix to a report from the committee – has upheld that the investigation was “necessary, proportionate and fully justified despite the significant passage of time.”
This contradicts the critical findings of MPs who preferred to rely on the evidence given by  Det Chief Inspector Paul Settle  rather than senior Met officers. Their description of Paul Settle’s conduct as ” exemplary ” now looks a trifle hollow.

His decision not to interview the late Lord Brittan despite this being standard procedure in the case of rape allegations is unsurprisingly not described as ” exemplary conduct” by Dorset Police.

Instead They say: “The initial SIO was, by his own admission, inexperienced in rape investigation and whilst he appropriately sought specialist assistance and referred the case for Early Investigative Advice, he drew an early erroneous conclusion that the offence of rape was not made out, due to his perceived issues with consent.

” The reviewer concludes that there were ample reasonable grounds to conduct an investigative interview of LB and that the enquiry could not be properly progressed without doing so. Such action was necessary, proportionate and justified and far from unlawful  (their emphasis) as was contended by the SIO when he subsequently gave evidence before the Home Affairs Select Committee.”

“The Early Investigative Advice file lacked essential detail and was incomplete. It is surprising that a relatively junior member of staff made the decision to close this case without auditable reference to senior command.”

Their views  about ” Jane” are also significant.

They say:”The complainant provides a fairly compelling account of events. She is a competent witness,who displays no malice in her motivation.

Her accounts of her situation in 1967 are corroborated and it is plausible that she was moving in similar social circles to LB. The early disclosures in later years provide some consistency in her account and she appears to have little to gain from making a false allegation.There is some ambiguity surrounding the issue of consent, which would prove difficult before a properly directed jury.”

Her case  was superbly reported by Mark Conrad for Exaro. I met her and her husband and would agree with Dorset police’s assessment.

There were mistakes notably taking a broken tape recorder to interview Leon Brittan when it was eventually done – but it does not deserve the highly biased report in the Mail on Sunday on the findings.

Keith Vaz has opportunity to make amends. Perhaps he could either apologise or clarify his position on this investigation when the Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard  Hogan Howe appears before him on February 23.

 

 

 

Why are we waiting for Lady Macur’s Review into child sex abuse in North Wales?

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Why does a judge having meticulously completed a major report on failings in investigating historic child sexual abuse in North Wales want to redact her own findings?

This is the bizarre  question facing  Lady  Justice Macur who on December 15 last year handed in her final independent report to the Welsh Office and the Ministry of Justice. Yet only weeks later Caroline Dinenage, the junior minister at Ministry of Justice, told Ann Clwyd, Labour MP for Cynon Valley, that the judge herself was recommending ” certain material  should be considered for redaction”.

She also disclosed that ” the report needs to be considered by law enforcement agencies and the government before it can be published. This includes considering whether redactions need to be  made”.

At the moment there is no date for publication – rather like the situation until last month surrounding  Dame Janet’s Smith’s report into Savile at the BBC which had been delayed for more than a year after being completed.

The report is particularly significant for survivors of child sexual and physical abuse in North Wales children’s homes. An inquiry  by Sir Ronald Waterhouse into the abuse of children in care in the former Gwynedd and Clwyd council areas of North Wales between 1974 and 1996 was supposed to get to the root of the problem and see perpetrators jailed.

But it is now obvious some 20 years later that it failed to do so as Operation Pallial under the National Crime Agency has brought many perpetrators to the courts where they have either been found guilty and imprisoned or not guilty and allowed to continue with their lives.

The review will examine some very important questions. Was the scope of the first review adequate or did the terms of reference allow people to escape justice? Did the North Wales police do an adequate job investigating these crimes? How did some people get away with abuse? What do the police, the authorities and the government need to do to prevent such a repetition?

Yet at least two Welsh MPs Ann Clwyd and Wrexham MP Ian Lucas are far from happy about the fresh delay – the inquiry was started four years ago.

Ann Clwyd is particularly sceptical as to why the government needs to scrutinise the report before it is published.

She points out in a letter to Caroline Dinenage that it is meant to be independent of government but now the government will decide when it will be published and what will be published.

She wants to know whether the government and law enforcement agencies have been set deadlines and who will take the decision to redact what material and why.

It may be with Operation Pallial still to bring some cases to court notably the trial of ex  North Wales police chief Gordon Angelsea whose case is not due to start until  September that some material may not be published to avoid prejudicing the trial.

However none of this has been made clear. The Wales Office and the Ministry of Justice need to get on with this – set a date for publication – or suspicions will grow that both departments have something to hide. They owe this to the survivors of these appalling cases in children’s homes in North Wales.

 

 

How Kenneth Clarke and Chris Grayling’s failed commercial venture cost us the taxpayer over £1m

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An extraordinary report published by the National Audit Office today on ” Just Solutions” – the commercial arm of the Ministry of Justice set up by former Lord Chancellor Kenneth Clarke – reveals that taxpayers have lost over £1m on the failed venture.

Remember this was promoted by Chris Grayling so the Ministry of Justice could make money by selling prison expertise to regimes with appalling judicial systems like Saudi Arabia and Oman. It was closed down by Michael Gove when he became justice secretary after the election.

Now the NAO reveals that not only was this unethical but it actually cost the taxpayer money. Indeed one can see how desperate the government might have been to sign a  £5.9 m contract with Saudi Arabia and further contracts with Oman – as this would have been the only way it could have made a profit out it.

Instead over four years  from 2012 to this year  it lost £302,000, £390,000 £317,000  and £141,000 respectively. leading to a £ 1,150,000 cumulative loss for the taxpayer.

And its scope was much wider than people realised with projects in Nigeria, the Seychelles, Libya, Estonia, Mauritius, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands as well as private study visits to drum up business in China, Bangla Desh, Turkmenistan and India.

As the NAO found: ” The cost of setting up JSi exceeded the income generated by completed contracts. We estimate that JSi’s costs were approximately £2.1 million from 2012 until its closure, including £239,000 on consultancy services. Therefore JSi made a net loss of approximately £1.1 million in this period. This is due, in part, to the decision to withdraw from prospective arrangements with Saudi Arabia and Oman.”

The report discloses that it had big plans for Oman.

“The initial proposal, Phase 1, was for a small piece of work to critique the plans of an
existing prison and was valued at £98,000. This was expected to be followed by work
to develop a new prison in Oman, Phase 2, valued initially at approximately £4 million
but later negotiations increased this to £7.8 million. In addition, preliminary discussions
were held in 2014 with the Omani government around a national training programme.”

Grayling also spent £6500 fighting off a judicial review  of its activities before the organisation was closed by Michael Gove.

This is all a far cry from the boasts in the Ministry of Justice six monthly report saying it was all contributing to the ministry’s budget and supposed to be saving the taxpayer money. Instead it was racking up debts.

This a sorry tale for anybody who has a shred of ethics and thought Britain should not be helping regimes that flog and behead offenders. Bur the fact that it lost money doing it is  a  further damning indictment of the government and Chris Grayling.

As Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee, said yesterday:  “When Just Solutions International was closed down it had made an overall loss of £1.1 million despite a commitment that it would be self-funding by April 2013.

“Despite being a commercial venture, it generated less than £1 million income over three years.

“I am concerned by the loss of taxpayers’ money on this failed venture, and the Ministry of Justice’s ongoing work with countries with questionable human rights records.”

 

 

Theresa May’s new immigration official: the private landlord

Home Office 2005

Home Office HQ: running ” an ineffective and possibly racist ” scheme

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On Monday Britain’s immigration officials are to be swelled by millions of new recruits – an army of private landlords.

February 1 marks the day landlords  and any private home owner  who takes in lodgers will be expected to act as immigration officers and check the immigration status of anybody renting a room. British, Swiss and EU citizens are exempt. But anyone with a foreign sounding name, black face or Aussie or American accent will immediately  be under suspicion.

Failure to do so will mean that private landlords  face a fine of  up to £3000 (less for a first offence) and even once they are registered the landlord faces another fine if he or she fails to tell the Home Office when the lodgers’ visa runs out.

According to James Brokenshire, the immigration minister, it is all very easy and should prove no burden to millions of British citizens who let out rooms or have buy to lets.

As he says “Ahead of the scheme’s roll out, we have been working very closely with an expert panel to make sure their feedback is taken on board and to design a scheme that is as simple and light touch as possible. Many responsible landlords have already been undertaking similar checks – these are straightforward and do not require any specialist knowledge.”

Apart from his insult to thousands of professionally trained immigration staff, James Brokenshire’s comment is wide of the mark. As I wrote in Tribune magazine last week the scheme is so simple that the Home Office’s  so called new ” simple guide” for landlords issued on January 8 was suddenly withdrawn and archived seven days later.

The reason became very clear. it was pretty complicated and required landlords to be able to distinguish between fake immigration papers and real ones.

The government’s brilliant test run has proved not to be so. Trialled in the West Midlands in places like Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Sandwell, it turned out that half the landlords never registered and it was difficult to find out who was taking lodgers. Some people relying on agents decided the best thing was not to take any foreign people at all, and the dangers of racism was obvious.

This suggests it could be difficult to enforce, particularly over lodgers. Nobody need be registered if they are staying less than three months. The rules say tenants leaving most of their belongings in a property for more than three months or are registered to vote or with a local doctor would have to be checked. And will  cash strapped local councils have time or inclination to check.

They also want landlords to certify the documents are genuine, the picture is of the immigrant and to be wary of damaged documents.

In my view this another example of the government dumping its responsibility to check immigrants coming into Britain on to the general public rather than having an effective and well staffed Borders Agency in the first place.

But it will also be ineffective. My  knowledge is limited  and is mainly through connections to the Kurdish community after my daughter married a Kurdish asylum seeker – who now has a UK passport.

But it seems clear to me that each community sticks to its own – and is a mixture of people who have British passports, are awaiting asylum applications, and are illegal. The  accommodation arrangements  for the latter  are informal and wouldn’t be covered by the new Immigration Act as no contracts would be signed. So unless Mr Brokenshire is going to ask the police to raid the house of every former immigrant in England he will never  discover what is really happening.

Instead he has dumped a bureaucratic system  on millions of law abiding citizens as a ” window dressing ” operation to cover up his government’s failure to police the immigration system itself.

 

 

 

Leaked Savile Report: The BBC culture that failed to protect people from abuse

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Dame Janet’s highly critical report on the BBC’s handling of Jimmy Savile leaked to me  pinpoints  very serious issues at the Corporation which are still not resolved.

The official response from Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC, that this was a dark day for the BBC and it is all in the past does not wash.

Nor frankly does Dame Janet Smith’s plea to ignore this “early” draft. All the evidence  from people was taken before it was compiled and she has said she has not changed her conclusions. So will she rewrite it now?

Her draft report is not a whitewash. It is a closely argued analysis revealing a culture that allowed considerable sex abuse to flourish at ground floor level without a mechanism to report this to the top. This does not seem to have  changed and has conveniently let all the BBC’s top executives off the hook.

It reveals a  crass deferential attitude to celebrities – who could do anything they liked because they were ” untouchable” and people looked the other way. This is no different today – given the present cult of celebrity.

It also reveals an organisation that is more concerned with its public reputation that tackling the root of the problem- how to stamp out opportunities for sexual abuse.

Not only were under age  adolescents and children the victims of sexual abuse but so were  staff employed by the BBC – who did not complain because they wanted to keep their jobs.

And if anyone complained it seemed the BBC was woefully inadequate in investigating what happened – if it did indeed want to get to the real truth. That failure extended to its own investigations into the issue by its own investigative journalists who found their work dropped or sidelined.

When the BBC does publish the report it will have a lot of explaining to do. On the central issue of child sex abuse Dame Janet concludes that there could still be a paedophile lurking in the BBC and thinks the chance of this being exposed is now worse than then – because many people are on short term contracts and would worry if they could work again.

Her findings directly contradict a report commissioned by the BBC last year from the firm Good Corporation which praises the BBC’s policies in preventing a repeat of child sex abuse. Which is right?

Also it is still clear  the whistle blowing process at the BBC, is, at best, not properly promoted ( say the Good Corporation) or worse, virtually non existent  (  says Dame Janet’s review).

So I don’t think anyone should be fobbed off by complacent attitudes from the BBC and attempts to move the debate to the dim and distant past,. The BBC failed a group of survivors of sexual abuse by doing nothing then – and could be doing the same now.

Exaro Exclusive: Dame Janet Smith’s criticism of the BBC over Savile

Jimmy Savile BBC

Jimmy Savile : Credit: BBC clip

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On the day Dame Janet Smith finally promised to publish her findings into the activities of paedophile Jimmy Savile in the BBC Exaro has published the main points in her draft report which examined and analysed what happened at our major broadecaster.

The report is a devastating critique of  the BBC’s culture in the 1970s and 1980s where ” talent” was ” untouchable”, managers were ” above the law” and there was a heavy drinking culture among top executives.

Her report outlines multiple rapes and indecent assaults on girls and boys, and incidents of “inappropriate sexual conduct” with teenagers above 16, all “in some way associated with the BBC”. Altogether there were over 60 victims and possibly up to 100 people had heard rumours about his activities, but nearly all at shop floor rather than managerial level.

“Three of Savile’s victims were only nine years old.”

Many BBC employees told Smith’s “review” that they had heard about Savile’s predatory sexual conduct, but feared reporting concerns to managers. But Smith accepts a series of denials by senior figures that they were aware of Savile’s sexual misconduct.

Most of Savile’s rapes, attempted rapes and more serious sexual assaults took place in his flats or caravans, she says.

“However, I heard of incidents that took place in virtually every one of the BBC premises at which he worked. These included the BBC Television Theatre (in connection with Jim’ll Fix It), at Television Centre (in particular in connection with Top of the Pops), at Broadcasting House or Egton House (where he worked in connection with BBC Radio 1), Lime Grove studios and various provincial studios, including Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow.

Exaro reveals today how Smith’s draft report:

We also publish the key extracts from the Smith report’s summary and conclusions, and from its damning chapter on the BBC’s management culture.

I will comment about this in a later blog but the revelations as anyone can see are wide ranging and very substantial.