The Daily Mail has a remarkable interview with the Metropolitan Police’s DCI Paul Settle, speaking in a personal capacity about his work investigating claims of “VIP sex abuse”:
DCI Settle had no idea of the ‘poisoned chalice’ he’d been handed after Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson raised a question in the Commons of a ‘powerful paedophile ring’ linked to a previous prime minister’s ‘senior adviser’.
Under-resourced, with just six staff to investigate more than 450 allegations that subsequently flooded in after Watson’s bombshell statement, DCI Settle says he set about the task ‘impartially and objectively’ — only to have his professionalism questioned by superiors within the force, who eventually removed him from the post altogether.
Settle has since been signed off from work with stress, and now spends much of his time “slumped on the sofa, often close to tears”:
‘One minute I was the lead investigator, and the next I was told I was off the case. I believe senior officers were frightened of Tom Watson; what he might do and how that might affect their careers.’
DCI Settle claims he was frozen out and isolated by senior officers.
‘It was like a switch had been turned off. One minute I was a trusted colleague — and the next it seemed people were looking at me with blank faces and avoiding me.’
The interview follows a report in the Telegraph from a couple of weeks ago that Settle’s wife had written to the Met Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, complaining about how her husband has been treated.
Tom Watson asked his question in parliament in October 2012 after allegations had been brought to his attention by a retired child protection officer named Peter McKelvie; on his website (on a page now deleted), Watson clarified that he was referring to McKelvie’s concern that “a wider investigation regarding the activities of convicted paedophile, Peter Righton was not fully investigated”.
The subsequent flurry of activity led to the conviction of Charles Napier (who admits his crimes) and two other individuals, but it also stirred up false claims and old rumours about Westminster-based “VIP paedophiles” that had previously appeared in sources such as Scallywag magazine in the 1990s. Watson was thereafter put into contact with “Nick”, who claims to have seen MPs rape and murder children, as well as “Jane”, who says that she had been raped by Leon Brittan as a young woman in 1967. McKelvie later distanced himself from a number of the more sensational “VIP” claims, although not in a way that was to his credit – as I discussed here.
During this period, Watson had a number of meetings with Settle, including one in February 2014 in which Settle explained to him why “Jane’s” complaint had been dropped in September 2013 without Brittan being interviewed. Watson appeared to accept his account, but he then wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions demanding Jane be interviewed. The letter did not formally reach the police via the DPP until 2 June 2014, but its contents were published by Exaro on 17 May 2014.
On 19 May 2014, Settle was told that a standard police review had decided that Brittan ought to be interviewed under caution as a matter of procedure after all, even though the closing of the case in September 2013 had been based on CPS advice. The new Mail article has some background:
…as the investigation got under way, DCI Settle — who began to feel that many of the allegations his team worked round the clock to corroborate were the work of plausible ‘fantasists’ or Left-wing activists — was soon viewed as a lone voice…
‘The complainant was a troubled woman with a long history of problems, who only came forward with her allegation after Tom Watson’s question in the Commons.
‘She could not remember where the alleged attack had taken place, and there was no proof she ever met Lord Brittan,’ DCI Settle says.
‘We tracked down people she named in her statement — no mean feat after 47 years — none of whom could corroborate her account.
‘One of her friends said they’d never met Lord Brittan socially, nor was he part of their circle.
‘The woman claimed that Lord Brittan had phoned her flat asking to speak to her, but the lady who supposedly took the call denied ever having received it.
‘I consulted the Crown Prosecution Service — who reviewed the file anonymously without knowing it involved a prominent person.
‘They concurred with my decision and said no further action should be taken.
Settle gave evidence about the subject to the Home Affairs Select Committee in October 2015, as I discussed here; he went so far as to say that Brittan’s interview under caution that later followed (at Brittan’s home, during his terminal illness) had been unlawful, and to describe the investigation as a “baseless witch-hunt”
Was the 19 May decision prompted by Watson, or was it going to happen anyway? I discussed some views about this here, and the CPS says not; either way, though, it turned out that Settle’s initial decision had been correct: “Jane’s” account is not just uncorroborated, but is positively contradicted by witnesses whom she herself named. (1)
However, I do have a couple of concerns about the rhetoric. Unless “Jane” has a previous history of dishonesty or delusions, the fact that she “was a troubled woman” ought not to be relevant; vague suggestions of mental illness are not helpful, and are perhaps discriminatory.
It was also previously reported that Jane is a Labour Party activist; when the above refers to allegations from “Left-wing activists”, is this a reference to Jane, made into a plural by the journalist for sensational effect, or are there really others? It seems to me that this is problematic, for two reasons: political differences should not invalidate a complaint; and, if false complaints are being made for political reasons, then these must be simply malicious and should be prosecuted.
The new interview article also includes the detail that Settle
…was later placed under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission after being accused of leaking personal information about another complainant — an accusation he fiercely denies.
This appears to confirm that Settle is the unnamed officer referenced in an Exaro article from January (no longer available due to the demise of Exaro) headlined “IPCC Probes Panorama Source over leaking of CSA survivors’ IDs”. This headline heavily implied that there had definitely been a leak that the police were probing, when in fact police were merely looking into an allegation of a leak – a complaint most likely filed by someone at Exaro, thus generating their own exclusive.
But several of Exaro‘s supposed “VIP abuse” survivors had had their own contacts with other media professionals, and we can be sure that their names were generally known within the industry when Panorama began work on its documentary on the subject. This is particularly the case with “Nick”, who not only previously appeared on TV talking about Jimmy Savile but who at one stage had a large body of self-published writing available online.
(1) The Daily Mail‘s current sympathy for Settle should not mean that we forget a sensationalising article it published in July 2014, which heavily implied that the original police decision had been improper and mysterious. That article began with the claim that “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”, and added that she had “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”.
But that was before “campaigning Labour MP Tom Watson” became Deputy Leader of the Opposition and thus “witch-hunter Watson“, and before “Nick” had been thoroughly debunked.
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