Police investigations and the role of the Crown Prosecution Service Contents

4The Metropolitan Police’s handling of the investigation process

35.We were keen to establish why the Metropolitan Police was so focused on trying to persuade the CPS to review the evidence file relating to the Lord Brittan case after the CPS had made clear in November 2014 that the file did not meet the evidential criteria set out in the Director’s Guidance.35 DAC Steve Rodhouse stated in correspondence that:

It was felt that these were highly unusual circumstances where the previous independence of the police to tackle sexual offending by VIPs had been publicly called into question. A decision to take no further action in respect of this allegation would undoubtedly have resulted in media criticism and public cynicism and there was clearly a very strong public interest in ensuring that the correct decision had been made.36

36.We challenged DAC Rodhouse in oral evidence as to whether it was appropriate for the police to be influenced in this way “by media criticism and public cynicism”. He told us that he felt that “this was absolutely a case where public confidence was best served for a full and independent review of the circumstances”. It was not a question of the MPS wishing to avoid “difficult headlines”, but rather that “what I did not want is for people to be put off because they had fears that allegations against prominent people would not properly be considered”.37

37.DAC Rodhouse confirmed that an internal MPS review “by an experienced investigator” led to the investigation being reopened in April 2014, which involved the interview under caution of Lord Brittan. DAC Rodhouse told us that “it wasn’t until 12 November [2014] that we were in a position to say, ‘The investigation, from our perspective, is complete’ and submit that to the CPS”. He acknowledged that “clearly there was consideration as to whether the full code test had been met, that being: was there sufficient evidence to warrant a charge in the matter in our opinion.”38

38.In his letter of apology to the late Lord Brittan’s solicitors of 6 October 2015, DAC Rodhouse acknowledges that the CPS had concluded in July 2013, when it provided early investigative advice to the MPS on the case, that “there was insufficient evidence at that time”. He went on to say that the MPS’s own assessment was that its subsequent further inquiries in 2014 “had not strengthened the available evidence”.39 The MPS nevertheless submitted the evidence file to the CPS in November 2014. Then, after the CPS had decided that the file did not meet the criteria for further action, the MPS went ahead and appealed that decision.40

39.We do not agree with the Metropolitan Police’s argument that Lord Brittan could not have been informed about the status of the investigation by the time he died in January 2015. The only reason for the delay was the MPS’s determination, in contradiction of the agreed Guidelines, to appeal the CPS decision that the evidence file did not meet the necessary threshold. Although the MPS has subsequently apologised to Lady Brittan, we do not regard this as sufficient. She has had the anguish of seeing her husband die without him knowing that he had been cleared.

40.DAC Steve Rodhouse’s letter of apology, sent to the late Lord Brittan’s solicitors, makes clear that the MPS had itself concluded (by November 2014) that its further inquiries “had not strengthened the available evidence” in the case. Yet, despite this, the MPS still pressed the CPS to review its decision that the evidential criteria in the Lord Brittan case had not been met. The MPS told us that it took this step because it feared “media criticism and public cynicism”. This is not a proper basis for police decisions on whether to proceed with an investigation, which should be considered in a wholly objective manner, based solely on the evidence. We commend the CPS for taking the proper objective approach, based entirely on the evidential requirements. We consider that errors of judgement were made in this case and that the MPS should take steps to ensure that its future decision-making is not influenced improperly by its perceptions of potential public criticism. The MPS has a strong international reputation and in our system of policing by consent the police must command public confidence. This is not the same as reacting to criticism by members of the public and by the media. For it to be seen to be influenced by “media criticism and public cynicism” risks undermining the whole basis of its investigations and public confidence in the police. The MPS must avoid this risk and ensure that it acts in every case as a robust and rigorous police force.

Conduct and treatment of the investigating officer

41.DCI Paul Settle led the investigation into the Lord Brittan case from December 2012 until he was removed by his superior officers, in May 2014, from all involvement in Operation Fairbank (the investigation into allegations of sexual abuse amongst senior politicians). DCI Settle said that he had been informed about this by his line manager, a detective superintendent, but he believed that the decision had been taken at “commander level” within Gold Group (the Strategic Overview Group in the MPS).41 DCI Settle told us that he believed that he had been removed from the investigation because he stood by his view that no further actions should be taken in the case. In reply to our question about what he was doing at the moment, he told us “not a great deal”.42 The Metropolitan Police Commissioner later informed us that DCI Settle had now been redeployed.43

42.It was reported in the press after the MPS apology to Lady Brittan was made public that DCI Settle had felt that “he was being deliberately undermined” by Mr Watson.44 Despite some resistance from senior officers in the MPS, DCI Settle gave oral evidence to us, which we found enormously helpful.45 He reiterated then that he had felt undermined by Mr Watson writing to the DPP about the case, but also went further, saying that he had

been “extremely disappointed” and “shocked” by Mr Watson writing to the DPP without discussing the matter with him first. He regarded this as a “betrayal” given that DCI Settle believed that he had established a good relationship with Mr Watson and had been “frank and honest with him and transparent from the outset”.46

43.In our view, based on the evidence we received, the conduct in the Lord Brittan case of the lead investigating officer, DCI Paul Settle, was exemplary. He is clearly a very professional and experienced investigator. The MPS itself concluded that the further investigations it conducted after DCI Settle’s removal from the case “had not strengthened the available evidence”. We were not given an appropriate explanation by senior officers of the reasons for DCI Settle’s removal from the case, which leads to the perception that pressure was put on them to do this. It is regrettable and unacceptable that, after his removal from the case in May 2014, DCI Settle was on extended leave. This is a waste of police resources, particularly at a time when cuts in police funding are being made (on which we are currently conducting a separate inquiry). We welcome the assurance we received from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner that DCI Settle has now been redeployed.

Dealing with high-profile cases

44.Proper account needs to be taken of the considerable publicity which high-profile cases attract, and the enormous impact which this has on the individuals against whom allegations have been made. These cases need to be dealt with sensitively, ensuring that exactly the same standards of fairness are exercised as in any other case. The similarities between the Paul Gambaccini and Lord Brittan cases, in terms of the delays in progressing the cases and informing the individuals concerned about progress, are striking and point to a lack of co-ordination and unity of purpose between the CPS and MPS. We request that, in response to this report, the MPS and the CPS set out the steps they plan to take to improve their handling of such cases, particularly in relation to avoiding delays in the investigation process, and in informing the suspect about progress with, and the outcome of, the investigation.

39 Letter from DAC Steve Rodhouse to Anthony Julius, Mishcon de Reya Solicitors, 6 October 2015

40 Metropolitan Police report on the investigation into Lord Brittan: key findings, 16 October 2015

41 Qs 36, 55-57 and Q105

42 Q105

43 Oral evidence taken from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, on 10 November 2015, HC 476, Q250

44 See, for example, Daily Telegraph, 10 October 2015, “Tom Watson ‘forced out’ head of VIP sex abuse case as he admits Leon Brittan slur caused ‘distress’”

46 Qs 12-14; Q55

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 19 November 2015