Met insist no cover up in botched ‘Nick’ probe

Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent
·4-min read

The Metropolitan Police has insisted there was “no cover up” in the botched VIP child sex abuse investigation after confidence in Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick was called into question.

Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House apologised again for failings made by the force after political aides maintained the Prime Minister and Home Secretary had “absolute confidence” in the UK’s most senior police officer.

It comes after Priti Patel declined to express her confidence in Dame Cressida when questioned over Operation Midland during a live interview on Friday morning.

The exchange on LBC Radio prompted her spokesman to afterwards insist she had “full confidence” in the police chief, with Downing Street later asserting the same for Boris Johnson.

Sir Stephen later said in a statement: “I want to say clearly that the Metropolitan Police Service is truly sorry for the harm caused by the mistakes made in Operation Midland, and we fully understand why many of those people directly affected by the lies of Carl Beech and the investigation which followed remain deeply unhappy.”

He described the probe as “without doubt one of the most scrutinised investigations in policing history”, adding: “There is no cover up and nor has there been one.”

While there were “undoubtedly very serious mistakes made”, this does “not in itself mean that there was misconduct by the officers involved”, he said, adding: “What we must now do is continue to ensure that our learning prevents similar cases from occurring in the future and this is something the Met is absolutely committed to.”

When repeatedly questioned during the interview on whether she has confidence in Dame Cressida, Ms Patel responded: “I work with the commissioner.

Coronavirus – Wed Feb 10, 2021
Home Secretary Priti Patel was repeatedly asked to express confidence in Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“The commissioner does a lot of great work and she oversees the largest police force in the country.

“There are still questions, rightly so – some questions have been put to me today, actually, very publicly in newspapers, and it’s right that I also look at these questions.”

After the interview, Ms Patel’s spokesman said: “The Home Secretary has full confidence in her to do her job”, but declined to say why Ms Patel refused to express this during the interview.

Later, Downing Street said both Mr Johnson and Ms Patel have “absolute confidence” in Dame Cressida.

It comes as former High Court judge called on Ms Patel to launch a criminal inquiry into the failed probe.

In an open letter, Sir Richard Henriques said Scotland Yard’s disastrous Operation Midland has “gravely damaged” confidence in the justice system.

Court artist sketch of Carl Beech at Newcastle Crown Court
Court artist sketch of Carl Beech at Newcastle Crown Court (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

He heavily criticised the Met’s bungled investigation into false claims of a VIP sex abuse ring in Westminster in a 2016 report, which identified 43 police failings.

But the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) watchdog found no evidence of misconduct or criminality by the officers during the operation.

Former home secretary Leon Brittan was one of the men falsely accused by fantasist Carl Beech – then known as “Nick” – and died in January 2015 without knowing there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him.

His home was raided, along with those of D-Day veteran Lord Bramall and former Tory MP Harvey Proctor, before it emerged that all the claims were based on lies by Beech, who was jailed for 18 years in 2019 for perverting the course of justice.

Mr Proctor has previously described the police watchdog’s probe into five officers involved in the investigation as “a whitewash”.

A review by Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Tom Winsor also criticised the Met for waiting three years before acting on Sir Richard’s recommendations and found bosses were more concerned with “restricting access” to the report.

Sir Richard said a district judge was “knowingly misled into issuing search warrants”, in his letter published in the Daily Mail.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that criminal acts have been committed,” he said.

Downing Street previously said the Met must “learn from its failings” amid Lord Brittan’s widow accusing Scotland Yard of having a culture of “cover up and flick away”.