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'Malice, incompetence, negligence': How false claims about historical sex abuse in UK sparked '£2 million probe'

Carl Beech was found guilty of perverting the course of justice yesterday over sex abuse claims against senior UK politicians.

Court sketch of Carl Beech
Court sketch of Carl Beech
Image: Elizabeth Book/PA Images

YESTERDAY, A BRITISH man was found to have perverted the course of justice after his false claims that a number of senior politicians had sexually abused children decades ago sparked a two-year police investigation.

The Met Police has admitted that it “did not get everything right” in this case but said its officers didn’t act with “bad faith, malice or dishonesty” as it investigated the claims by former children’s charity worker and nurse Carl Beech. 

The force is coming in for fierce criticism for believing and subsequently investigating the false allegations, as is Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson who met with Beech to discuss his allegations before the Met Police launched its own probe. 

So how did this come about? And how did Beech subsequently get brought to justice?

Hitting the headlines

The scandal that senior politicians may have been part of a paedophile ring in the 1970s and 80s broke in July 2014.

An alleged witness and victim – designated “Nick” – spoke to Exaro news agency and claimed that children had been sexually abused, raped and murdered by members of this paedophile ring.

Following this, it hit all the headlines and began to dominate the national agenda in the UK, with the government urged to commission an investigation into the claims. Labour MP Tom Watson himself met Nick – whose real name Carl Beech was only revealed in the recent court case – and pressed for an investigation. 

A public petition demanding action be taken also got tens of thousands of signatures.

Speaking to the BBC, “Nick” said that the so-far unnamed perpetrators “had no fear at all of being caught” and were “quite open about who they were”. 

The pressure on police to thoroughly investigate the historical abuse allegations was intensified by the strong criticism made over the failure to bring TV presenter Jimmy Savile to justice while he was alive. 

The investigation was dubbed Operation Midland, and came on the back of Operation Yewtree which looked into sexual abuse allegations against Savile and others. 

The police officer leading the investigation, Kenny McDonald, described Beech’s allegations as “credible and true” on TV news bulletins in December 2014.

Implicated

Although the alleged offenders were not named, police raids on a number of homes meant that the identities of these individuals quickly got out into the public domain. 

Among those falsely accused were former prime minister Ted Heath, former home secretary Leon Brittan, D-day veteran Lord Bramall, and former senior members of the intelligence services. 

Beech had given in-depth details of the alleged crimes these men had committed, and accused some of them of murdering three children. 

He even stood by these accounts in court in recent times.

Following a lengthy, two-year investigation, police found no substance to the allegations made by Beech. Sky News reported that “seven lies” gave Beech away, including claims of injuries he’d sustained, his school attendance and drawings he’d made. 

It is being widely reported by British media that the cost of this probe was “at least £2 million”.

As his story began to unravel, former Tory MP Harvey Proctor held a press conference in August 2015 to defend himself. 

Proctor subsequently told The Guardian: “What I’d set out to do had been achieved. Up until then the media were being fed scraps of information by the police and Exaro, who were profiting commercially from selling the stories. The police, for evidential reasons, did not want to give the press too much but just enough to keep the pot boiling in the hope that somebody would come forward.

They were astonished that nobody came forward to corroborate what ‘Nick’ had said.

The following month, the Met Police said it had been incorrect for the senior officer to suggest that the witness’s account had been “credible and true”. 

Investigation into the investigation

After the Met Police had established there was nothing in the claims, a review was commissioned into how it had been investigated. 

That highly critical review from Sir Richard Henriques was published in November 2016. 

It found that the decision to search the premises of those accused was a “grave error of judgement when the several inconsistencies in Nick’s interviews are carefully analysed as they should have been prior to the searches”.

“I have concluded that this investigation could have been carried out speedily and without those named by Nick learning of it,” he said. 

Met Police deputy commissioner Sir Stephen House said yesterday that this review “allowed us to learn so that we could improve our handling of similar allegations in the future”. 

After reading the review, the Met referred the conduct of five officers to an independent complaints commission. House said that none of these officers were found to have a case to answer. 

“It must be remembered also that the work of Operation Midland was carried out against a backdrop of intense scrutiny and allegations that in the past the Met had covered up sensitive allegations about prominent people,” the deputy commissioner said

Guilty

Despite his defiance, 51-year-old father-of-one Carl Beech was found guilty of 12 counts of perverting the course of justice and one count of fraud.

He now faces a lengthy jail term.

The Met Police has said there will be an internal debrief to learn any additional lessons from the case. Labour’s Tom Watson has said that he treated the allegations seriously and welcomed a police investigation into it at the time. 

Despite these defences, criticism of how this all came about is likely to remain for some time. 

One of the accused, former MP Proctor said yesterday: “When resources are in short supply, the Met police should apologise to the taxpayer for squandering millions of pounds… by their malice, incompetence and negligence on Operation Midland.”

Comments are close as the case remains before the courts

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Sean Murray

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