Home Affairs Committee Probes “The Investigation into the Late Lord Brittan”

As is being widely reported, Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee has held a session on “The Investigation into the late Lord Brittan”, focusing on the allegation of rape made by “Jane”. Some pieces of new information have emerged, which I have incorporated into my previous blog entry about the subject.

From the various accounts, it seems to me that (a) the decision in May 2014 to interview Brittan would have been made even without Tom Watson’s letter; and (b) that this decision, although open to criticism, was not self-evidently baseless, although it ended up vindicating the original view in February 2014 that Brittan had no case to answer.

What happened was as follows:

After his question in the House of Commons three years ago, in which he raised the possibility of “a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and No 10” in the 1970s and 1980s, Watson began to receive allegations of child sex abuse involving VIPs. He brought these to the attention of the police, and as such came to be regarded, in DCI Paul Settle’s term, as a “stakeholder.” Watson and Settle met on several occasions to discuss progress.

Although evidence of “a a powerful paedophile network” remains elusive, Watson’s efforts have helped to secure the prosecutions of three paedophiles (most notably, Charles Napier). Watson was never party to confidential information gathered by the police, and he did not offer operational advice.

At one meeting, Settle explained why an allegation against Leon Brittan brought by “Jane” had been dropped in February 2014 without Brittan being interviewed. Watson accepted Settle’s explanation, but he afterwards had a meeting with “Jane” at which she was distressed and Watson therefore decided to write to the Director of Public Prosecutions about it.

“Jane” passed a copy of the letter to Exaro News, which published a story around it on 17 May 2014. Given his ongoing working relationship with Watson, Settle was understandably put out. He regarded the letter as a “betrayal”. Then, On 19 May, a standard police review which had begun three weeks previously came to the decision that Brittan ought to be interviewed under caution as a matter of procedure (not because there was any evidence).

Settle interpreted this decision as having been prompted by Watson’s letter. He felt undermined and objected strongly (he has even agreed with the proposition put to him by a member of the committee that the subsequent interview with Brittan was “unlawful”), as a result of which he was taken off the case. The letter itself did not reach the police from the DPP until 2 June.

From this has come the recent headlines about how “Leon Brittan police ‘were panicked by Tom Watson’” and how “Tom Watson ‘forced out’ head of VIP sex abuse case” and “forced” the inquiry to continue. Settle claims that the letter caused “shock” and “panic”, but this has been denied by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse. Such headlines, I believe, are implausible and misrepresent the dynamics of what actually happened. If the police have made errors, it is not because Watson has made them do it.

However, this does not mean that Watson should not be criticised. Watson’s letter is a strongly-worded attack on Settle’s handling of the matter, and Settle has a right to feel aggrieved that it was not raised with him first given his association with Watson.

Further, we know that Watson’s uncritical advocacy of attacks on Brittan has been inspired to a large extent by several individuals who claim that Brittan was an orgiastic paedophile. However, these individuals’ accounts have crumbled under scrutiny, and Watson’s credulity has been harmful. One of these individuals (Watson has confirmed it’s not “Jane”) was responsible for the now-notorious “close to evil” quote that Watson has now apologised for publicising.

UPDATE: Two somewhat more robustly critical takes:

(1) From Anna Raccoon:

Watson’s letter to the DPP that caused so much anguish and was instrumental in bringing the allegations against Leon Brittan into the public domain was written after senior officers had already decided to review DCI Settle’s decision – but crucially after Watson had had another interview with ‘Jane’ who was deeply distressed following her meeting with Settle. Sadly no one thought to ask Watson whether he had made the senior officers aware of Jane’s distress, or even whether he might have intimated to them that if they didn’t arrest Brittan he, Watson, would take matters further – he was allowed to rest on his answer that when he wrote the letter, the decision had already been taken.

Perhaps, although I think this is speculative.

Settle (helped by CPS advice) clearly judges that “Jane’s” narrative amounts to a story of a consensual sexual encounter. But it’s not outlandish to suggest that there could be a reasonable (although not necessarily compelling) alternative perspective on “Jane’s” account. Such a counter-interpretation could have informed the review and Rodhouse’s agreement with that review. Certainly, I’m wary of someone who says they did not consent to sex being told that they did in fact do so, based on what appears to be an account of an encounter in which the complainant says that she had reason to feel afraid (of course, we now know that “Jane’s” account has not stood up to fact-checking, so this point is somewhat moot).

Anna also raises the issue of the letter that found its way to Exaro:

If Tom Watson, rather than explaining the situation to her, did give her a copy of a letter implying that a senior MP was of the opinion that the police had fallen short of their duty by not arresting Leon Brittan, then he only has himself to blame for the opprobrium that has fallen on him.

That seems to me to be a fair point, although it remains the case, it seems to me, that the media’s presentation of the casual chain is not substantiated.

(2) From Matthew Scott in the Telegraph:

First he introduced Jane to the police. When the experienced DCI Settle, the officer in charge of the case, decided any further investigation would amount – in his words – to a “baseless witch-hunt”, Watson then wrote an inflammatory letter over the officer’s head, to the DPP herself, in effect demanding that Brittan be interviewed. In other words, he was asking the DPP to perform what the officer in charge of the investigation actually did regard as a “witch-hunt”.

Anna and Matthew also both draw attention to robust questioning of Watson by Victoria Atkins. As Matthew notes:

Atkins pressed him about the way he had treated “Jane”. Had he made any video recording of his meetings with her? Had he made any audio recordings? He had not. Was he concerned that his involvement with Jane might prejudice any criminal trial? It seemed that Watson had barely considered that.

One Response

  1. Good job on a balanced, nuanced assessment. It has been disheartening recently to see commentators I respect (D Aaronovitch and ZeloStreet) being polarised over this issue and taking pot shots at each other

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