Dame Vera Baird QC, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales comments on Sir Richard Henriques' Independent Review of the MPS’s handling of non-recent sexual offence investigations Operation Midland Report

Key Points

  • The key failure here was not in the police believing the complainant or taking his allegation seriously in the first place. Police should do that. But then they must go on to investigate the crime. The failure is that they did not do so. This is basic policing and a substantial failure. It took Northumbria police a short time to ascertain that some of what he said could not have happened. The Met should have done that.
  • There is no culture of over-belief of complainants in policing. In particular in sex offence cases the reverse is the case. Complainants struggle to be taken seriously. Only 1.5% of reported rapes result in charge and many are dropped by police long before that.
  • It is a pity that Henriques has suggested that complainants should not be believed. Every kind of complainant should be believed at the outset and their allegations investigated. This part of his report came out some months ago and the danger is that that has had a chilling effect both on policing rape and obviously in the confidence of sexual abuse complainants that they will be believed. These too are victims of Carl Beech.
  • Another appalling error was to name the accused people. No suspect should be named before they have been charged. This doesn’t only apply to sex cases, the principle applies to all crime suspects. If there is a need to publish names to encourage other complainants as can be essential, it  should be a judge who authorises that.

Dame Vera comments further:

This case was a failure of the police most basic obligation to investigate crime.

The right approach is what the Metropolitan police guidance says[1] and happens in every case. You believe/take seriously/treat with respect every complaint of crime from burglary to serious assault to sexual violence and you then investigate it.

The failure here was not to believe him/take his allegation seriously in the first place. The failure was that the Met failed totally to investigate the crimes he claimed. It did not take Northumbria Police very long to do an investigation and to find that the crimes could not have taken place which brought about his conviction

Henriques says in effect

‘If you believe the complainant you don’t believe the defendant and this is a reversal of the burden of proof.’ That is incorrect and a shame since it has set up an echo amongst people who see complainants’ rights as in competition against defendants’ rights.

It isn’t the case that because every defendant has the right be presumed innocent until proven guilty that the police must never accept anything said against him. If six people all independent of each other and all who know the defendant say that he fired a gun at Mr X the police are not required to decline to believe a word of it in order to protect the presumption of innocence. There would never be a prosecution if that were the case. They haven’t heard a contrary story to put the allegation in doubt, so why should they not believe it until they investigate and either prove or cast doubt on it?

It is only if the police investigation culminates in evidence to meet the high standard of proof required to overturn the presumption of innocence. If they don’t there will be no prosecution and no conviction. What the police believed at the outset does not affect the burden of proof.

This man ‘Nick’ has by his abysmal behaviour made victims of crime of those who were investigated. The Met detectives excuse that they were forced to continue to believe him whatever an investigation said is an excuse.

Complainants in rape and sexual abuse cases are also victims of this man and the behaviour of the police in failing the public by their failure to investigate and making an excuse that is capable of resonating on the vast majority of honest complainants. As the statistics show it is extraordinarily difficult for any rape, however powerful the evidence, even to get to charging now. Only 1.5% of the cases reported are even charged. There is no over-belief in those complainants. They deserve to be treated as all complainants in all cases do, as truthful and then their allegations investigated to see if the evidence supports a prosecution.

Another important change should come from this case. Nobody accused of any kind of offence should be named before they are charged. There is no justification whatsoever to apply that rule only to sex cases. People who face charges of violently robbing the elderly or other heinous crimes need the same protection. They should be named only when/if they are charged as a rule. There will be a need for exceptions when it is likely that there may be other complainants, of whatever kind of case, who may be given the confidence to speak out against perhaps a powerful individual, only when others have already done so. In such a case names do need to be published but that – as this case demonstrates – should not be a police decision, it should be made the law that a judge, who is obviously independent of the police inquiry makes such a decision on the evidence.

One suspects that if that had been the rule at the time, the officers involved would not have behaved as they did, over readily associating themselves with the names of famous men, who deserve the same protection as the rest of us.

Notes

[1] ‘It is the policy of the MPS to accept allegations made by any victim in the first instance as being truthful. An allegation will only be considered as falling short of a substantiated allegation after a full and thorough investigation’ (Independent Review of the Metropolitan Police Service’s handling of non-recent sexual offence investigations alleged against persons of public prominence, page 20).