Metropolitan Police Leon Brittan Statement: Some Context

UPDATE (21 October): Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee has now held a session to discuss how police handled the allegation made by “Jane”; extra details have now been added in italics to reflect the extra information from this.

The Metropolitan Police (MPS) has issued a statement about its handling of the allegation of historic rape against Leon Brittan. There are three main points of interest, which I will briefly summarise and discuss.

The initial decision not to inverview Brittan in 2013

The statement confirms that the initial complaint of rape made by “Jane” against Brittan in November 2012 (referring to an event that allegedly occurred in 1967) was marked as “no further action” in September 2013, following advice from the Crown Prosecution Service.

This decision was known already; according to the CPS in June:

At [the police’s] request, we provided police with early investigative advice on this matter in July 2013 – there was not at this stage enough evidence to request a charging decision and any decisions made at this stage were investigative and operational and therefore for the police.

The Independent added a few days later:

The Independent on Sunday can reveal that the initial legal advice given to the police in August 2013 was that the evidence against him fell short of the standards required to lead to a prosecution. The police agreed, and decided against interviewing Lord Brittan.

…The CPS opinion has never been made public, but the IoS can reveal that concerns were expressed as to whether, assuming an encounter took place, “the suspect was unaware that the victim was not consenting to the sexual intercourse between them”. “On the victim’s evidence alone,” says the advice, “there is no evidence that the suspect had asked the victim for sex, that he had demanded sex, that he had forced the victim to [lie] on the bed, neither did he ask her to remove her clothing”.

Some details had also appeared on Exaro in May, including the detail hat Brittan’s name was “masked” when the file was sent to the CPS. However, Exaro also claimed that the “officer in charge” later confirmed that Scotland Yard had given Brittan’s name and details of the case to the CPS. It’s not clear what “later” here means.

[The officer in charge at the time was DCI Paul Settle. Speaking to the committee, he clarified that the advice sought was “early operational” advice, not advice on a charging decision. This kind of advice does not direct the police to take particular operational decisions. Settle says that potential media interest was “a factor” in asking the CPS for advice, but that the decision not to proceed was based on evidence, and that it did not appear that the offence of rape had occurred. In his opinion, the case “fell at the first hurdle”.]

The decision to interview Brittan in May 2014

According to the statement, the complainant “expressed unhappiness” with this result in February 2014, highlighting that Brittan had not been interviewed about the matter.

[Settle confirmed that there had been a “heated meeting”. He rejected a claim, apparently made by “Jane”, that he had slammed papers onto his desk].

The police decision was reviewed from 28 April to 19 May 2014, at which point it was decided to interview Brittan after all. According to the statement, the review was “part of established police practice”, and the officer who had asked for the review was not aware of the complainant’s “reaction” to the September 2013 decision.

Comments

Tom Watson MP wrote to the DPP about the case on 28 April. The letter did not reach the police until 2 June [after arriving at the CPS on 2 May], but its existence became public knowledge on 17 May. Did this information affect the outcome of the review two days later? The MPS insist that it did not:

The MPS is frequently contacted about ongoing investigations by MPs acting on behalf of their constituents or campaigning for a particular cause.We accept that this is part of their Parliamentary duties and a legitimate part of holding the police to account in a democracy. But the principle that police officers are independent when making decisions about operational matters is one that we firmly adhere to.

The fact that the police decision came on 19 May does give an unfavourable impression, but given the existence of the review starting from 28 April (exactly three weeks before), it seems to me reasonable to judge that the timing was coincidental. We cannot know for sure, though.

Details of Watson’s intervention were reported in the Daily Mail in July 2014:

Police only questioned Leon Brittan now over alleged 1967 rape because Director of Public Prosecutions demanded to know why they shut case with no investigation

Former Home Secretary Leon Brittan was only questioned over allegations he raped a student in 1967 following demands by the Director of Public Prosecutions, it has been claimed.

…Saunders is believed to have looked into the case herself after the campaigning Labour MP Tom Watson wrote to her asking that she examine the way the police handled the case.

The tone of the article clearly implies that the police were suspiciously slow to act – a striking contrast with the current slew of condemnatory articles in the same paper in which “campaigning Labour MP Tom Watson” has morphed into “Witch-hunter Watson“, the man who forced the police to re-open an investigation into an innocent and dying man. Case in point:

How letter from Tom Watson complaining that police had ignored Brittan rape claim struck fear into the hearts of Scotland Yard chiefs.

…A Police Federation source said: ‘Watson struck fear into the Yard’s top tier because of his role in uncovering the hacking scandal. There was extreme panic. Detectives were joking that Scotland Yard was being run by Commissioner Watson.’

This “Commissioner Watson” sound-bite does not ring true, and it seems to me that if Watson really did provoke “extreme panic” that reflects more on the police than on him. I think there are grounds to criticise how Watson has handled the allegations against Brittan (see below), but this is polemical misdirection. If the police got it wrong, it is not because “Watson made them do it”.

[Settle believes that the letter did have an effect, causing “panic” and “shock”. However, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Rodhouse rejected this at the committee, stating that he does not believe the letter had any influence.

Settle was surprised by the letter, since it followed a meeting with Watson in which he had explained to Watson why “Jane’s” case was not going forward. However, Watson says after this meeting he spoke with “Jane”, who was in a distressed state, and as a result he wrote the letter to the DPP. 

A copy of the letter was then given by “Jane” to Exaro, hence the publication on 17 May].

The decision to push on in late 2014

A further file was passed to the CPS in November 2014. However, The CPS “wrote back saying it would not consider the file because it did not meet the appropriate criteria”. The police decided to appeal this decision, for extraordinary reasons:

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.

Lord Brittan could not therefore, at that point, have been informed that no action was to be taken in respect of this allegation. Although the MPS had concluded that there was not a strong case against Lord Brittan, the purpose of requesting a CPS view was to assess whether, in its view, it did reach the evidential standard. It would have been open for the CPS to conclude that it did not meet the threshold for charging and no further action should be taken, or that further enquiries were needed, or that there was in fact sufficient evidence for a charge. It was therefore conceivable that a reviewing CPS lawyer could have concluded that Lord Brittan could have been charged.

The matter was raised informally with the Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for London on 15 January 2015, and then in writing on the 23 January and the 2 February. Lord Brittan died on the 21January.

Comments

This must surely undermine “the principle that police officers are independent when making decisions”. Natural justice for the accused demanded that the matter be resolved as quickly as possible; yet an operational decision was instead made for public relations reasons. As a result, Brittan died before the final outcome was known.

[Rodhouse insists that the reason he wrote to the CPS in November was to ensure good practice. However, Alison Saunders, the DPP,  says that the file did not meet the clear evidential level required for it to be considered by the CPS. I had originally imagined the CPS and the police passing the file back and forth, but having heard Saunders’ explanation I no longer think that is fair. It appears that the decision was properly that of the police].

Further comments

One can see why an argument to drop the matter on the grounds of doubts around lack of consent would be controversial, but it now seems clearer than ever that the initial police decision not to proceed in 2013 has turned out to be the correct one. Evidence and testimony since collected by the police suggest that either the story is a complete fiction, or that Brittan was a victim of mistaken identity [although “Jane” told police that she saw Brittan’s name on a certificate on the wall of the location where she claims that the offence occurred]. I don’t know which, although I do think it would be better to form a judgement based on these facts, rather than on claims that “Jane” is “mentally ill” (which, even if true, may be completely irrelevant) or speculations that she is motivated by political malice. [1]

There are, of course, other allegations against Brittan. However, the testimony of several men who have linked Brittan to VIP paedophile orgies has fallen apart: one of “Nick’s” stories involving a public event cannot be substantiated, and his tales of abuse and murder include fantastical elements; another previously insisted he had not been abused by Brittan; and third said he was pushed into naming Brittan as a “joke” (much of this revealed by the BBC’s Panorama) . Watson promoted and endorsed these people, when he ought to have been more discrete, more circumspect – and more sceptical.

Operation Midland, which was set in motion by “Nick’s” allegations, is continuing, although I’d very surprised at this stage if anything of substance about VIPs comes of it. There are, however, a couple of other loose ends involving Brittan. Ironically, we turn once again to the Daily Mail, which before turning on Watson boasted in May (H/T to Joe Public) that it had

…led the way in reporting allegations [of police corruption], particularly concerning the notorious Elm Guest House in Barnes, South London, where a VIP paedophile ring is said to have operated.

There are two specific claims: (a) that a boy rescued from the Elm Guest House had mentioned “Uncle Leon” who worked “at the big houses”, but that this had been excised from his statement to police; and (b) that Brittan had been photographed by police entering the premises of a paedophile party, and that the surveillance operation was then closed down. Papers and photographs then “went missing”.

Both stories are anonymous; the former is presented as fact, despite the lack of any hard evidence. The reference to “the big houses” (or, in another version, “the big house” – the slippage here is significant) sounds contrived to me – if he knew “Uncle Leon” worked at Parliament, why not use that word? If he didn’t know, where did “big houses” come from? If he knew something in-between, wouldn’t “the place where Big Ben is” be more likely? The boy apparently now lives in the USA and does not want to talk about it.

Investigations involving Brittan are thus continuing – but are the police actually still gathering and assessing the evidence, or procrastinating?

Footnote

[1] Once again, the Mail has been shameless here – in July 2014 the paper reported that:

A woman has claimed that Lord Brittan – then in his late 20s and a rising star in the Conservative Party – raped her at his London home after they went on a blind date in 1967 when she was 19.

She then said she was subject to a ‘dirty tricks campaign’ when she finally went to police in 2012 to report the alleged crime, claiming officers then launched a smear campaign to paint her as promiscuous and mentally ill.

The woman, now 66 and reported to be a Labour Party member, did not identify Lord Brittan in her interview [with Exaro News].

Subsequent Mail articles went on to describe her as a “Labour activist”, but the whole thing was re-hashed polemically at the end of September as “now it can be disclosed the woman… may have had a political motive”. This spurious “now it can be disclosed” was obviously a crude (but effective) way to generate a sense of crisis, and to minimise the paper’s own involvement in promoting lurid stories.

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