DCI Paul Settle’s evidence to the Home Affairs Committee yesterday has been fascinating. A solid, old fashioned Police Officer, standing his ground in the face of his senior officers and an array of Members of Parliament.
It emerged that he hasn’t ‘left the Metropolitan Police force’ as some had imagined, on a fat pension. He’s still there ‘but not doing very much’ – shades of having been transferred to the lost property division. Perhaps he sits in a cubby hole making armoires for doll’s houses. A tragedy.
No matter how the parliamentarians tried to exonerate MPs who – let us say – choose to involve themselves in the affairs of people who are not their constituents, no matter how right it is that MPs bring matters to the attention of the Police, no matter that we have a free press who should be allowed to report matters of public concern – Settle’s actions had been guided by a very simple precept. He ‘went where the evidence led’.
In the case of ‘Jane’, an individual who had been brought to his attention by Tom Watson, as being a ‘victim of rape’ – allegedly at the hands of Leon Brittan – her evidence didn’t lead him to believe that an offence had occurred.
It was not a matter of ‘not believing her’. In fact he did, totally, believe what she had said, and what she had said did not amount to having been raped. From that moment on, it became immaterial whether she was alleging that Leon Brittan had raped her or Uncle Tom Cobley. There was no offence for anyone to be interviewed about.
Let me put it in very simple terms – it was as though she had alleged that Leon Brittan was a bank robber – and her evidence was that she had seen him going into a chemist’s shop…..
“My reason […] was that I concluded that any action against Lord Brittan would be grossly disproportionate and would not have a legal basis as, in order to interview him, we would have to have had reasonable grounds to suspect that an [offence] had been committed.
The investigation had shown that whilst an allegation had been made, the offence had not been made out in law and as such those reasonable grounds had ceased.”
Brittan hadn’t been interviewed by Settle because no offence had taken place (according to Jane’s own statement) which would justify, under PACE regulations, anybody being interviewed. Indeed, when the file was first reviewed by the CPS to see whether the ‘evidential threshold had been reached’ it was reviewed anonymously, so the CPS were unaware that Lord Brittan was involved.
Subsequently, the issue was clouded by a) Jane giving interviews to the media which made allegations that had not formed part of the statement she gave to DCI Settle, b) Tom Watson writing to the CPS, to complain about DCI Settle’s decision, rather than complaining to his senior officers or indeed taking the matter up directly with Settle, and primarily c) Watson’s letter to the CPS appearing in the media giving rise to accusations that Brittan had not been interviewed over this matter because of his position.
Then we heard from Steve Rodhouse and Patricia Gallan, representing the Commissioner. They made it clear that in view of who the ‘alleged perpetrator’ was – there was ‘added value’ in giving the ‘public confidence’ that whoever you accused would be arrested and questioned – regardless of the paucity of the evidence ‘which was a matter of opinion’.
The fact that the evidence didn’t reach the CPSs evidential threshold of a ‘realistic prospect of conviction’ obviously didn’t impress him…..he was of the opinion that another police officer might have reached a different decision (since by then it had been established that the CPS response was that it was entirely a matter for the police to decide whether to interview if they felt they had the evidence).
Leaving us with the uncomfortable impression that whether you are arrested and publicly disgraced with or without charge following an allegation is more likely if you are famous, and depends on the whim of the individual police officer….
Next up was Tom Watson. Today the left wing papers will be full of quotes from some such as David Winnick helpfully asking Watson whether he ‘thought that MPs should forward onto the Police allegations from alleged victims of sexual abuse?’ – Why yes David. Of course they should! Whilst the right wing press will prefer the forensic questioning from the indomitable Victoria Atkins who nailed Watson on the subject of contamination of evidence and his qualifications to act as a ‘hub’ inviting victims of sexual abuse to contact him in the first instance.
Buried amongst the interpellate tribal barracking, some helpful information appeared.
Watson’s letter to the DPP that caused so much anguish and was instrumental in bringing the allegations against Leon Brittan into the public domain was written after senior officers had already decided to
review DCI Settle’s decision – but crucially after Watson had had another interview with ‘Jane’ who was deeply distressed following her meeting with Settle. Sadly no one thought to ask Watson whether he had made the senior officers aware of Jane’s distress, or even whether he might have intimated to them that if they didn’t arrest Brittan he, Watson, would take matters further – he was allowed to rest on his answer that when he wrote the letter, the decision had already been taken.
Another sad omission in Watson’s questioning was that when he told the committee that it was ‘Jane’ who had handed over a copy of his letter to ‘Exaro’ and thus unleashed fevered internet speculation that Brittan was being protected, rather than Jane’s evidence being unsubstantiated by her own statement – no one asked Watson the obvious question of who gave Jane a copy of the letter? It certainly wasn’t Alison Saunders, the DPP, and the police didn’t know about it until some weeks later…
‘Jane’ was an extremely vulnerable and highly distressed witness who had already undergone three hours of questioning by South Yorkshire Police, another three hours by the Metropolitan Police, and two reviews of her evidence had been found to fall short of substantiating her allegation by the DPP. Her voice had been heard – at length.
If Tom Watson, rather than explaining the situation to her, did give her a copy of a letter implying that a senior MP was of the opinion that the police had fallen short of their duty by not arresting Leon Brittan, then he only has himself to blame for the opprobrium that has fallen on him.
It was a completely irresponsible and unforgivable thing to do.
No mealy mouthed apologies to the Brittan family, accompanied by the hint that the police haven’t yet finished digging their way through the rest of his ‘299 allegations’ so he can’t ‘really’ apologise yet, will ever undo the wrong he has done. Had Leon Brittan lived, it would appear that Watson had managed to compromise any realistic prospect of a fair trial in respect of any allegations.
All he has achieved is seeing a decent police officer relieved of his duties, and fanning the flames of internet rumour. Watson’s attempts to muddy the waters further by implying that there are outstanding investigations are despicable – Leon Brittan is dead, there can be no further charges.