A few days ago I wrote this blog when it was announced that Priti Patel was to call on the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services to review how the Metropolitan Police handled the £2.5m Operation Midland, which probed claims of a VIP abuse ring but led to no arrests. That blog compares how people like Patel are willing to focus on mistakes such as Midland and yet ignore other mistakes such as the Garden Bridge and Windrush which have cost a great deal more money or impacted far more people who have much lower profiles. The Midland call has arisen due to what was clearly a very high profile investigation with a number of evident mistakes and then led people linked to the innocent people who were investigated to have focused some of their criticism onto the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) who investigated the Metropolitan Police. Now their report has been made public, the media have started to focus on it and some backbench and ex-Parliamentarians are joining in with people like Tory MP Tim Loughton who is a regular Police critic calling for the Commons Home Affairs Committee, which he is a member of, to probe the matter and Labour ex-MP David Blunkett who was also a Home Secretary writing that the Police probe over VIP paedophile claims by fantasist ‘Nick’ is a whitewash thicker than two coats of paint.
The truth is that for most people there is no information available to make judgements about such matters, however people like Loughton and Blunkett are capable of getting onto radio channels and given spaces in national newspapers to raise their own ignorance. However what is clear is that there are principles and common issues that are capable of being addressed without in any way focusing on the case that few of us know much about.
For me one of these is that all investigations involve potential mistakes and some police investigation will certainly go wrong and damage people. On the other hand many more investigations go right despite the mistakes or near mistakes taking place as part of the complex process or investigating. Inevitably a very small number of these cases like the Midland one involve high profile people and often these are examples where such matters get much more difficult for the police because the people who seek to protect their friends are also very high profile and powerful. Classic examples such as Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris and Bishop Peter Ball are all cases where their profile and highly powerful friends have protected them and potentially made the investigations a great deal more difficult. So when these cases go right or wrong it is vital to avoid treating them as conventional cases and trying to learn from them in the way in which Patel, Loughton and Blunkett seem to want to do. If we are going to focus on the Police and on the IOPC, let us do so with a range of cases that are outside of the public media, and keep the high profile ones as a very small proportion to the actions of our public sector bodies.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct has been in operation since January 2018 and it was a formed when the Independent Police Complains Commission (IPCC) that had existed since 2004 was terminated. Both organisations, like all Police forces are capable of mistakes and the IOPC just like the last few years of the IPCC have been working very hard with funding that is far too limited for it to work in an effective manner. This raises a second principle. One of the complaints raised by Tim Loughton on Radio 4 was how long it has taken for the IOPC to make its judgement. The reality is that on much lower profile cases, the IPPC and now IOPC have taken very long periods to assess the work of police officers and in doing so have kept the officers and sometimes the public in a position where results are suspended. If people like Patel, Loughton and Blunkett want to see things improve, then they need to argue for greater levels of funding for the IOPC along with our police forces so that matters can be dealt with much quicker.
A third principle is that when things go wrong and when the IOPC carries out its work, that perhaps there should be a second check carried out if people want to avoid the IOPC being seen as too close to the Police forces. My own experience of observing cases is there is no linkage between the police and IOPC and indeed for the sake of the communities impacted, a closer connection at times would benefit the communities, but it is a very challenging arrangement to get right every time. If an additional check is to be carried out, again it will add to the cost and the delay of such matters!