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Former judge criticises watchdog's review into police handling of 'VIP sex ring' lies

A former High Court judge has denounced a probe by the police watchdog as “flawed” after it cleared five officers of misconduct over their investigation into lies told by VIP sex ring fantasist Carl Beech, aka “Nick”.

Beech, 51, was found guilty in July of perverting the course of justice and fraud and is currently serving an 18-year sentence.

Beech’s claims that he had been abused as a child by a group of murderous paedophiles operating in Westminster were first reported by now-defunct news website Exaro in 2014, leading to the Met’s Operation Midland.

Police wrongly branded Beech’s claims as “credible” and raided the homes of a number of high-profile figures based on his lies. The two-year operation ended in 2016 without any arrests being made.

Sir Richard Henriques said “no effective interrogations” had taken place during the Independent Office for Police Conduct review.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Sir Richard expressed deep concern over the watchdog’s “lack of knowledge of criminal procedure” and called on Home Secretary Priti Patel to take action.

Sir Richard spent several months investigating Scotland Yard over Operation Midland.

His report was released in full last week, in which he said police had wasted £2.5m investigating the bogus claims, and revealed that officers made 43 major errors, including unlawfully obtaining search warrants for the homes of former Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Bramall, ex-Tory MP Harvey Proctor, and Lady Brittan, widow of former Home Secretary Lord Brittan.

Sir Richard said he found it “difficult to conceive that no misconduct or criminality was involved by at least one officer” during the inquiry.

“Whilst all five, absent any proper investigation, must be presumed innocent, the responsibility of the IOPC was to carry out a high-quality investigation in a timely manner,” he said.

“The delay in reaching their findings of almost three years is gross and inexcusable and goes some way to inhibiting any further investigation.

“The investigative process itself was minimal, unprofessional and the decision-making was flawed.”

Sir Richard said the two most senior officers among the five investigated – Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse and Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald – had not been asked “a single question in interview … written answers having been accepted without questioning”.

“The investigation of the three more junior officers proceeded so slowly that all of them had retired by the time any decision was reached,” Sir Richard added. “Had disciplinary measures been ordered, they could no longer have been imposed.”

Sir Richard concluded: “Maintenance of law and order depends upon the effective oversight of those invested with power. Who guards the guards themselves? A malfunctioning police force has not received the necessary oversight.”

The IPOC launched in January last year, replacing the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The IOPC said its investigation into Operation Midland focused on the Met’s decision to apply for search warrants and the accuracy of the information provided to the court in February 2015, relating to properties linked to Lord Brittan, Proctor and Lord Bramall.

It said: “While the IOPC could find no evidence of misconduct by the officers investigated, the investigation revealed gaps and shortcomings where there is room for improvement to reduce the risk of future failings.”

IPOC director general Michael Lockwood added: “Did the officers involved make mistakes? Yes. Could police processes have been improved? Almost certainly. But did they deliberately exclude information to secure the warrants? Our investigation found no evidence of that.”

Mark Watts, editor of Exaro at the time Beech’s false claims were reported by the website, said after the ex-nurse’s conviction by a jury that “no journalist needs to apologise for reporting on the case in good faith, as we certainly did at Exaro”.

Additional reporting by PA.

Picture: CPS/PA Wire

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