Mark Watts was busy picking the cherries out of the Operation Vincente review conducted by Deputy Chief Constable James Vaughan of Dorset Police.
Met was right to interview Lord Brittan over rape – review.
Screams his headline – in red. I am not aware of anyone who has ever queried whether a serious allegation should be investigated, nor whether the alleged perpetrator should be interviewed. The question has always been whether they should be shackled, arrested or publicly shamed without just cause.
Sadly, the amount of media pressure piled on DCI Settle, by Exaro and their fellow conspirators, Tom Watson et al, meant that merely interviewing Lord Brittan, however quietly carried out, would be leaked and shouted from the roof tops, adding credence to the rabid vitriol deluging the Internet and the media.
DCI Settle’s subjective opinion, taken after consultation with the experts, led him to believe that such an action would be disproportionate to the level of evidence that he held. That evidence is described in the report as being:
Her accounts of her situation in 1967 are corroborated and it is plausible that she was moving in similar social circles to LB.
We now understand that the CPS consider it ‘sufficient evidence’ when a man and a woman happen to be on the same station platform, along with several thousand other people, at the same time, to bring a case to trial. What does ‘plausible….moving in similar (not same!) social circles’ mean for heavens sake? They both went to various coffee bars in Richmond? What corroboration of her ‘situation’ – a flat mate agreeing that she lived in Richmond? Or Hackney? Holborn? Wherever?
DCC Vaughan says that:
There is some ambiguity surrounding the issue of consent, which would prove difficult before a properly directed jury. Proving that consent was not given or could have reasonably been implied would be the first difficult step and proving that LB understood this to be the case would have proved more difficult still. When all these factors are taken into account, the reviewer concludes that following a thorough investigation with no useful lines of enquiry left unexplored, the case is more likely to lead to acquittal than conviction. Therefore the Full Code Test is not quite met.
‘Not quite met’. On Planet Watts, this translates as ‘the review…makes clear that the evidence neither proves nor disproves Jane’s allegation against Brittan, who died just over a year ago, despite media reports that labelled it a ‘false allegation’.
What the review makes clear in that paragraph, is that despite the media – or should we say Exaro and Watson – pushing, goading and demanding that the Met interview Lord Brittan in a glare of publicity; they still didn’t have any evidence that could stand their own balsa-wood ‘Full Code Test’. A full code test that apparently only requires that you show you were on the same railway station at the same time.
The test is that ‘an objective, impartial and reasonable jury … or judge is more likely than not to convict the defendant of the charge alleged?’ When even the CPS think that this outcome is unlikely – you have a major problem alleging that this review in some way exonerates your belief that the evidence was equally balanced between ‘provable’ and ‘unprovable’.
‘The investigation broadly conformed to MPS and nationally approved operating standards in its structure, application and form.’
‘The reviewer is satisfied that all reasonable and proportionate lines of enquiry have been exhausted by skilful and tenacious investigators and tenacious investigators’.
‘The reviewer is satisfied that the investigation was launched in good faith, against a credible account provided by a compelling witness and was undertaken with integrity. Enquiries were proportionate to the matters in hand and remained objective throughout.’
‘The reviewer is satisfied that all reasonable investigative opportunities have been thoroughly explored.’
Strangely, I don’t find any of those statements from the review appearing in Exaro’s cherry picked account of the findings. You may have great difficulty accessing the summary report – it is listed as ‘appendix A’, tagged onto the bottom of a letter from Patricia Gallan, Met Police Assistant Commissioner, addressed to Keith Vaz and lodged in the House of Commons library.
Here is a link to it – you will have to scroll right to the bottom of the letter. Seems that nobody, least of all ‘holding power to account Exaro’ wants you to read the original version. I think you should.
It criticises South Yorkshire Police for their initial handling of the allegation:
The first ABE of the complainant by South Yorkshire Police was of a poor standard and a subsequent interview conducted by the MPS, whilst much improved, still lacked sufficient probing at key points and fell short, overall, of achieving the best evidence available from the complainant.
The actual criticism of Settle was mild:
The initial SIO was, by his own admission, inexperienced in rape investigation and whilst he appropriately sought specialist assistance and referred the case for Early Investigative Advice, he drew an early erroneous conclusion that the offence of rape was not made out, due to his perceived issues with consent.
So neither the ‘specialist advice’ nor the ‘CPS advice’ gave him any indication that the material handed over to him by South Yorkshire, nor his own ‘subsequent’ interview with the complainant, came up with anything that could lead him, of necessity a subjective opinion, to the conclusion that if he did subject Lord Brittan to the public ‘confirmation bias’ by interviewing him, that it would lead to a prosecutable case.
Settle’s opinion was that such an interview would have been unlawful. The review concludes that it would have been lawful – whilst conceding that the end result would have been the same.
I conclude from all this that without the media, Exaro, and political posturing that was hanging around this affair like toxic smog – had Lord Brittan been ‘Joe Blogs’- he would have been interviewed; not arrested, nor charged, but interviewed.
That he wasn’t, because the claims had already been exhaustively aired on social media, and an interview at that stage would merely have stoked the media flames, I think was a proportionate and justified decision on DCI Settle’s part.
Hindsight, in the form of other officers taking over the case, interviewing Lord Brittan, and seeking the assistance of our curiously undemanding CPS’s version of ‘sufficient evidence’, fails to say at what stage Lord Brittan should have been interviewed.
I think when DCI Settle had to make the decision whether to interview or not – he made the right decision for that point in time.
The particular circumstances of ‘that point in time’ were engineered by Exaro and Tom Watson. It suited their career and financial circumstances to do so.
That is neither DCI Settle’s fault nor responsibility.