Why the police swallowed Carl Beech’s lies

‘Believing the victim’ makes miscarriages of justice inevitable.

Luke Gittos

Topics Politics UK

The Metropolitan Police have published an independent review of their handling of historic sexual-abuse allegations against high-profile individuals. The report followed an investigation by Sir Richard Henriques, a retired High Court judge. The Henriques report is, in part, a response to the conviction of Carl Beech, who was found guilty earlier this year of perverting the course of justice. Beech’s conviction followed the collapse of Operation Midland, which was established on the basis of Beech’s lies about a VIP child-abuse ring, which he said included politicians like Ted Heath, Lord Brittan and Harvey Proctor

The report makes for shocking reading. Detectives misled judges in order to obtain warrants to search the homes of those falsely accused. The police simply ignored the array of undermining and contradictory aspects of Beech’s evidence, which should have revealed his deceit much sooner. Labour MP Tom Watson made a now-discredited statement in the House of Commons in 2012 that he had ‘clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and Number 10’, after meeting with Beech. Following this, a senior investigating officer made communicating with Watson one of her investigative priorities. Political pressure increased the risk of serious injustice.

What is so valuable about the Henriques report is not just what it reveals about Operation Midland but also its robust criticism of how sexual-abuse investigations more broadly have proceeded in recent years. It is deeply critical of a number of policies adopted by the police ever since the high-profile investigation into Jimmy Saville and other celebrities, which became known as Operation Yewtree.

First, Henriques recommends that police stop using the term ‘victim’ during an investigation, and instead revert to the term ‘complainant’. This practice began with Operation Yewtree’s report of its investigation into Saville, titled Giving Victims a Voice. This step was taken because Saville was dead and there was no way to test the evidence against him. The police simply assumed allegations against him to be true and therefore that all complainants were indeed victims. This then became policy for all abuse investigations. Henriques quotes guidance for officers from Operation Hydrant, written by Simon Bailey, national police lead for child protection and abuse investigations. As Henriques notes, it consistently uses the term ‘victim’ to describe those who make allegations. Henriques says ‘the entire judicial process… is engaged in determining whether or not a complainant is indeed a victim’ and using the term at the outset of an investigation ‘is simply inaccurate and should cease’.

Once complainants had been transformed into ‘victims’, it followed that police should ‘believe’ what these victims were telling them. In 2014, detective superintendent Kenny McDonald famously told the British media that Carl Beech’s false allegations were both ‘credible and true’. Henriques describes McDonald’s intervention as a ‘serious mistake’. Henriques rightly argues that the police’s blanket policy of believing the victim is a ‘reversal of the burden of proof’ which ‘imposes an artificial state of mind upon an investigator’. It ‘strikes at the very core of the criminal-justice process’ and will ‘generate miscarriage of justice on a considerable scale’.

This ‘reversal of the burden of proof’ has other consequences. Henriques discusses the statistics related to false allegations. He says the police have been proceeding on the basis that ‘only 0.1 per cent of complainants’ are likely to be false. Henriques points out that ‘the retaining of the word “victim” and the culture of “belief” appear to have been based on the supposition that the level of false complaints is so small that it can be disregarded’. Officers investigating these allegations ‘fail to appreciate that… a cardinal principle of the criminal justice system is that a complaint may be false’.

What’s more, it is simply not the case that the number of false allegations is low. This was made clear during Operation Fairbank, a forerunner to Operation Midland. In the course of this single operation, investigators received more than 400 complaints that transpired to be ‘without merit’. For Henriques, the culture of belief leads officers to ignore the possibility that allegations may be ‘malicious, mistaken, designed to support others, financially motivated or inexplicable’.

At spiked we have made these arguments time and again since the emergence of Operation Yewtree. Investigating allegations of sexual abuse must involve robust questioning. Complainants claims must be taken seriously, but not straightforwardly ‘believed’. The Henriques report is not just an illustration of specific police failings, it is a robust and welcome restatement of the principles that ought to guide our justice system.

Luke Gittos is a spiked columnist and author of Why Rape Culture is a Dangerous Myth: From Steubenville to Ched Evans. His latest book, Human Rights – Illusory Freedom: Why We Should Repeal the Human Rights Act, is published by Zero Books. Order it here.

Picture by: Getty.

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Garreth Byrne

11th October 2019 at 10:18 pm

Some people want to believe the biggest lies; and some people, as Goebbels showed, want to tell the biggest lies.

A Game

11th October 2019 at 8:11 pm

This is everywhere. Wherever woke has mushroomed, the police have lost it.

The case of George Pell in Australia is a humdinger for this. And on appeal, 2 of three judges, one a former solicitor, the other a civil barrister, ruled in favour of an entire case presented on the back of a “compelling witness”, even though his story was full of inconsistency and improbability. The 3rd judge, a beacon his entire career in criminal law, ruled for Pell and found the witness and his account deeply problematic.
The braying mob don’t care that Pell is probably innocent. They want the scalp.
The whole case began with the police putting the call out for anything on Pell. Dubbed “Get Pell”. Two years before they hit pay dirt. Its beyond belief.
In this case, I don’t care if he did it. I want the burden of proof, the protection from a single person pointing a finger at another, to remain intact.

The true message that should be out in society is, if someone has done something to violate you, you must find the strength and courage to come forward at the time. There may or may not be a case in the long term, but if you can’t care at the time… the window for justice will be lost.
That children aren’t empowered to do this (being immature, malleable), if there is no corroborating proof, then sometimes evil people, get away with evil things.

Currently in Australia, a police sniper is being hung out to dry. Classic whistleblower. Lindt Café siege… we’re all yelling at our televisions “this is a f**k up”… The coroner’s report was softly, softly… we’re all yelling, “this is a cover up”. He’s haunted by everything that went wrong that day.
At 10am the NSW Police Commissioner (hack by the name of Scippioni) was telling us that they are working that everyone comes out safe, alive. You think… mmmm, terrorism, not usually their end game to come out alive, but its at the 2 hour mark… at Midday, when they same line is being touted, you now know its in the hands of amateurs.
I have an eyewitness to my ideas on the night… two bullets. One for the glass, one for the deadsh*t. That’s what the sniper has gone on the record saying. Their Chief Sniper was stood down. Against protocol. Scipioni and his immediate underling, K Burn/s, both knocked off work, as per usual. A café in the CBD with hostages at gun point from a known Islamist (local pest for attention, sending letters to dead soldiers families… that kind of dipsh*t)… yep, can’t hang around. A psychologist on board, advising, who got everything wrong.
Apparently NSW Fuzz still has deep, deep corruption issues. (They do, historically.) Scippioni is mates with the NSW Premier. They refused Federal Help.
The POS fires a shot. Nothing. Snipers are calling in what they are seeing. Those transmissions went unanswered. Amateur hour in the bunker. It was 9 or 10 minutes later that Tory Johnson, on his knees, is sh*t by the POS. Those snipers saw it unfolding, and got to watch it happen.
This particular sniper is haunted by what a cluster f**k it was. He knew they had the power to prevent it. After all, that is the art of the sniper. They aren’t there to arrest anyone.
No no. A lot of the public are in denial, its to go away. What about the families? (Yeah, lets not go after those responsible for doing their jobs badly, no no, can’t have that…)
Police are just one of those industries where you MUST do better, must not fold, cannot fold. That they are wanting to, that the new leaders of police are these indoctrinated careerists… Who, for some reason, deserve to take the pay, the title, the power… but never the responsibility.

What’s interesting in the Carl Beech case is… where was some behavioural science? That he’s a ped himself… not a stretch at all.

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