Police investigations and the role of the Crown Prosecution Service Contents

3Involvement of Members of Parliament in investigations

24.Tom Watson MP’s involvement in investigations into alleged sexual offences, including those against children, came to public prominence in October 2012 when he called on the Prime Minister, in the House of Commons, to investigate “clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No 10”.23 Mr Watson then became closely involved with members of the general public who approached him about reporting such offences. He also then worked with the police in connection with some of their investigations, including the allegation against Lord Brittan, as he explained to us.24

25.We heard from the DPP that there are “lots of cases where we get letters from other MPs, or indeed members of the public, that relate to investigations”, and these are passed onto the police.25 DAC Rodhouse explained that the Met “commonly receive letters from MPs, campaigners, around individual allegations, particularly where the victim in that case, the complainant, does not believe there to be a thorough investigation. We listen to them all, we address them, and absolutely we would undertake a review.” He went on to explain that since April of this year “there has been a victim’s right to review where no further action has been taken in respect of rape allegations. What that means is if the victim in the case is unhappy with the police investigation, it will be reviewed by a different officer”.26 So although there is nothing unusual about the Metropolitan Police undertaking reviews, the key issue is that all decisions taken during a review should be taken independently, based on the evidence, and not influenced by the identity of the person making representations.

26.Mr Watson’s actions in relation to the Lord Brittan case culminated in him writing to the DPP, on 28 April 2014, pressing for “an immediate review” of the case by the CPS. The DPP replied on 13 June 2014, saying that “any decision whether or not to investigate a case, or how to investigate a case, is a matter for the police” and that she was therefore forwarding Mr Watson’s letter to the police superintendent in charge of the case.27

27.Following Lord Brittan’s death, on 24 January 2015 The Mirror newspaper carried an article by Mr Watson in which he repeated quotes from a person who had made allegations against Lord Brittan, including that he was “as close to evil as any human could get”.28

28.It was not appropriate for Tom Watson MP to have made the comments he did about Lord Brittan in the press. Even though Lord Brittan had died, and it could not therefore have impacted on a prosecution, it could have impacted on the Goddard Inquiry, which may consider the cases involving Lord Brittan. Despite the police not naming Lord Brittan, Mr Watson took it upon himself to do so in the press. He did not first contact the police to find out why they had not named Lord Brittan nor did he contact the Goddard inquiry. We recommend that MPs refrain from using parliamentary privilege or their position to name suspects that the police has decided not to name and that they should, at the very least, contact the police before doing so.

29.Mr Watson’s involvement in the case was extensively covered in the media following the broadcast of the BCC Panorama programme, and the subsequent MPS apology to Lady Brittan, in early October 2015 (as discussed in Chapter 1). It was also raised in the House of Commons.29 Following our evidence session, there were press reports that Mr Watson had also written to the former DPP, Sir Keir Starmer (now a Member of Parliament) about other sexual offence cases.30 We asked Mr Watson and Sir Keir for their response to these news stories. Mr Watson informed us that none of that correspondence related to the Lord Brittan case.31 Sir Keir Starmer told us that he was on leave when Mr Watson’s letter was received and it was dealt with by the CPS Chief Executive.32 The current DPP provided further details about how the correspondence was dealt with by the CPS.33

30.In oral evidence we asked Mr Watson whether he had considered the risks in his close involvement in investigations of cases such as that involving Lord Brittan. In particular, he was asked whether he perceived a risk arising from having meetings with complainants, where no transcript or video or audio recording was made, in that he might then be open to a defence counsel accusing him of coaching the complainant, if the case came to trial. Mr Watson’s view was that, in meeting the complainant in the Lord Brittan case, he “was trying to do his very best” on her behalf and “you can only try to get people into the system and refer their allegations and information to the police and then it is down to the police to do their job”. He acknowledged that he would “worry” about the potential trial of an alleged sex offender being jeopardised.34

31.It is an inevitable part of a Member of Parliament’s role that he or she will be approached by constituents, and others, in relation to allegations of offences, including historic sexual offences. This is particularly the case where an MP has taken a robust public position on an issue. Previously Mr Watson had campaigned over phone-hacking and wrote a book about the matter. It is entirely proper for an MP to try to assist people who bring such cases to their attention. However, in matters relating to the criminal justice system, this can create difficulties in determining where the line should be drawn. We believe that, to avoid being drawn into improper involvement, the safest course of action for an MP is to pass the information on to the responsible agencies, without comment, including in the media. In fact, Mr Watson did do this by sending his letter to the DPP of 28 April 2014. The agencies should then be left to pursue the case, in accordance with established practices; in effect, MPs should not seek to substitute their views for those of the investigating officers. This will help to ensure that Members of Parliament do not later find themselves facing potential accusations from a defence counsel of having coached a complainant, or of having impeded the achieving of “best evidence”, if a case comes to trial. It will also avoid the risk of adversely affecting future investigations and prosecutions. In relation to MPs communicating with the CPS about a case under investigation by the police, the DPP made clear that the CPS has no power over a case until it has been referred by the police for a decision by the CPS.

32.Mr Watson gave a qualified apology to the Brittan family during his evidence to us, saying that he was “sincerely sorry for the hurt caused to Lady Brittan” and for the distress to the wider family. He stated openly that “he was trying to do his very best” on behalf of the complainant in the case and we accept Mr Watson’s motivation in bringing the “Jane” case to the police’s attention. However, it is unfortunate that, in writing the article in The Mirror, he could not have hoped to achieve anything other than to further impugn the name of the (by then deceased) Lord Brittan. We consider that it would have been more appropriate for Mr Watson to have written to Lady Brittan to apologise, and we recommend that he now does so.

33.We became aware of reports in the media in which it was suggested that Tom Watson MP had raised other cases with the DPP. It should be noted that the DPP, in her evidence to us, stated that she had met Mr Watson for the first time that day, at the evidence session. We wrote to Mr Watson and the previous DPP to establish the facts and are grateful for their responses. However, it is clear that this is not a matter for this Committee to deal with. This inquiry has focused solely on the Lord Brittan case.

34.The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has been established, with Justice Lowell Goddard as its Chair, specifically to deal with the complex matters arising from allegations of historic child sexual abuse. It has a specific remit to listen to victims and to encourage them to tell the Inquiry about their experiences, and the process for this public engagement has now begun. We have full confidence in the processes being undertaken by the Inquiry and believe that Justice Goddard, whose appointment was endorsed unanimously by our predecessor Committee, should be given the space, time and support she needs to deal with these complex, difficult and important issues.

23 HC Deb 24 October 2012, col 923; see also Letter from Tom Watson MP to the Prime Minister

24 See in particular Qs 183-188; Qs 211-212; Qs 230-236 and Qs 246-248. See also oral evidence from DCI Paul Settle, Qs 18-21; Qs 40-48

27 Correspondence between Tom Watson MP and the DPP, 28 April 2014 and 13 June 2014 (redacted)

28 The Mirror, 24 January 2015 “Tom Watson: Leon Brittan child rape investigation must continue despite his death”

29 HC Deb 12 October 2015, cols 47-48

30 See, for example, Daily Telegraph, 22 October 2015, “Tom Watson pressured CPS to reopen second sex abuse case”

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Prepared 19 November 2015