HOWARD RIDDLE: Met officers may have perverted the course of justice
Why I now believe Met officers may have perverted the course of justice in ‘VIP paedophile ring’ case, writes former Chief Magistrate for England and Wales HOWARD RIDDLE
Former judge Howard Riddle (left) is demanding a criminal inquiry into detectives who asked him to sign search warrants in the disastrous VIP child sex abuse inquiry
Earlier this month the Daily Mail published an open letter to the Home Secretary from the former High Court judge, Sir Richard Henriques.
In the course of his investigation into Operation Midland, Sir Richard had detailed a series of damaging errors made by the Metropolitan Police.
Some of those involved the applications for search warrants for premises connected to distinguished and entirely innocent men: Lord Bramall, Lord Brittan and Mr Harvey Proctor.
Sir Richard said: ‘A district judge was knowingly misled into issuing search warrants.’
The search warrants were issued by me.
Now that the applications have been published and are in the public domain, it is no longer inappropriate for me to comment on them.
The police were investigating allegations of murder and serious sexual assault on boys.
They asked for my authority to search a number of properties for evidence in connection with those offences.
Authorising a search of a person’s property is a serious invasion of privacy, and can be justified only if there are reasonable grounds to believe that an indictable offence has been committed and that relevant evidence will be found during the search.
In the course of his investigation into Operation Midland, Sir Richard Henriques (left) had detailed a series of damaging errors made by the Metropolitan Police. The false allegations from Nick – real name Carl Beech (right) – led to the paedophile being jailed for 18 years for perverting the course of justice and other offences
The judge or magistrate issuing the warrant is wholly dependent on the police to provide accurate information.
As is nearly always the case, I had no knowledge of the facts gathered in the investigation apart from those contained in the application form.
The information is sworn by the officer on oath, a solemn process designed to emphasise the importance of telling the truth (including setting out any undermining factors) and the consequences of perjury.
In this case the allegations were made by a man identified as Nick but whose real identity was known to police. I was provided with a summary of the claims he had made.
Nick alleged, falsely as it later became clear, that he had witnessed murders and been a victim of assault himself. He named a number of people, including those mentioned above, as being involved, along with others whose identity he did not know.
Nick had said that some of the offences had been filmed, so police were looking for films as well as diaries and indecent material relating to children.
Presumably to allay any fears I might have that the informant was malicious, the application stated the following:
1: The victim has been interviewed at length by experienced officers from the child abuse team.
2: His account has remained consistent.
3: He is felt to be a credible witness who is telling the truth.
4: There is nothing to suggest any links to those he accuses suggesting the allegations are malicious.
5: An independent counsellor instructed by Nick supports his account as credible.
6: A [named] qualified consultant instructed by police was of the opinion that the counsellor was able to make an accurate assessment of his credibility.
7: Nick is in a managerial position.
8: He is of good character.
9: I was also told, and endorsed this on the application, that the application had been considered at Deputy Assistant Commissioner level.
During Operation Midland, applications were made for search warrants for premises connected to distinguished and entirely innocent men, including Lord Bramall (left) and Lord Brittan (right, with Lady Brittan)
On the information provided on oath, the statutory test was made out. I was also persuaded that the police understood the need for sensitive handling of the search, including not alerting the press, which would inevitably have increased the distress of people presumed innocent.
However, the Henriques Report established and set out a number of ways in which that information provided by the police was false and misleading.
Sir Richard concluded that had the correct information been provided then the warrants would not have been issued.
In his recent letter to the Home Secretary, he says that I was knowingly misled and that there are reasonable grounds to believe a criminal offence was committed.
I have never met Sir Richard Henriques, but I know his reputation. He is one of the foremost criminal lawyers of his generation, as a barrister and then as a judge.
The Metropolitan Police asked him to report on the failings of Operation Midland, the police operation that pursued untrue allegations made by Nick, now identified as Carl Beech, who is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence for perverting the course of justice, as well as other offences.
The Henriques Report is thorough and detailed. There is no reason to doubt Sir Richard’s conclusions. I am not aware of any dispute as to the facts he found. It is a matter of astonishment and grave concern that the 2016 report and its recommendations have not been acted upon.
If those responsible for the application knew facts that undermined the credibility of the witness, and did not disclose them, then the applications for search warrants would appear to amount to perverting the course of justice.
Perverting the course of justice is a serious criminal offence that almost always carries a prison sentence. It is the offence, along with some others, for which Carl Beech is serving 18 years’ imprisonment.
Steve Rodhouse was ‘gold commander’ of Operation Midland. He is now deputy head of the National Crime Agency, Britain’s version of the FBI, on a salary package of around £300,000
Current Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service Dame Cressida Dick, pictured in 2019
It is also not clear to me why the investigation by the police watchdog, now known as the Independent Office for Police Conduct, did not take as its starting point the detailed factual findings of Sir Richard in his report.
Of course, the officers responsible for providing the information in the search warrant applications are presumed innocent of any crime. All that is being said is that there are reasonable grounds to suspect a criminal offence. Those grounds seem to me to be stronger than the grounds police had for suspecting Lord Brittan and others of murder.
Of course, the officers should have the opportunity to explain their position, under caution where appropriate. Of course, the investigation needed to be fair, but it also needed to be rigorous. This didn’t happen.
The failure to act appropriately in the light of the findings of the Henriques Report has caused obvious and understandable grief to those wrongly accused by Carl Beech, and their families.
That is bad enough. It is made far worse by the damage caused to the administration of justice. Judges and magistrates issuing search warrants must be able to rely on the accuracy and the integrity of the information sworn on oath before them.
They must know that in the rare and exceptional case of being deliberately misled, then action will be taken for perverting the course of justice.
Sir Richard Henriques’ letter to the Home Secretary makes a clear and compelling case that an independent police force investigate the conduct of Operation Midland by both the Metropolitan Police and the IOPC.
Each of the questions he asks must be answered. I wholeheartedly support his call for action.
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