DCI Paul Settle should have interviewed ex-minister over rape allegation – senior officers
By Mark Watts | 27 November 2015
Evidence submitted by Scotland Yard exposed a split between senior officers over the investigation into the rape claim against former home secretary Lord Brittan.
The evidence was heard by MPs on the House of Commons home affairs committee as they examined the Metropolitan Police Service’s investigation into the historical allegation of rape against Brittan.
DCI Paul Settle initially led the investigation into the claim that in 1967 Brittan, before he became an MP, raped a 19-year-old student named by Exaro as “Jane” to protect her identity. Settle decided against interviewing Brittan as part of the investigation.
“There were aspects of the investigation that had not been fully completed”
Steve Rodhouse, deputy assistant commissioner, Met
However, a Met review of the case concluded that Settle was wrong not to interview Brittan under caution. It also found that he had failed to conduct a thorough investigation.
Settle was removed from the case, and a new officer in charge interviewed the former cabinet minister.
Two of Jane’s flatmates from the time have come forward to Exaro to complain about misreporting of the case by other media, denying claims that they “contradicted” her account.
In evidence before the home affairs committee just over a month ago, Settle said:
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, while an allegation had been made, the offence had not been made out in law.
On the victim’s account alone it was unreasonable to suspect that anybody would have known that consent was an issue.
It was a highly unusual decision, in that I am aware there are guidelines that say we always interview the suspect. But those grounds to interview the suspect had ceased because it was a highly unusual set of circumstances where, on the victim’s account alone, the actual offence was not made out.
Asked how he described his decision not to arrest or interview Brittan in his log of the case, Settle said:
At this stage, I do not feel that the arrest or interview of Lord Brittan is a proportionate response. The matter is over 40 years old. The offence is not clear-cut. The additional witnesses do not support Lord Brittan’s presence at the time. The victim is sure of the identification from a certificate in this flat, but I am still not convinced that the offence is made out. There is no right of anonymity for persons arrested for sexual offences. Furthermore, there is considerable media intrusion regarding arrestees. At the moment, Lord Brittan is of interest in other aspects of a parallel investigation and to arrest or interview now would, I feel, jeopardise any potential inquiries as this would be nothing more than a baseless witch hunt.
A review by the gold commander, Graham McNulty, who specialised in investigating rape cases, concluded that detectives should have interviewed Brittan under caution. But Settle told the committee:
I think the interview was without grounds, and I think that the interview, consequently, was not within the confines of PACE [Police and Criminal Evidence Act] and unlawful.
Steve Rodhouse, the Met’s deputy assistant commissioner, disagreed. He told the committee:
Commander Graham McNulty received a briefing in relation to this case. He was not satisfied that all aspects of the investigation had been fully conducted so, therefore, he commissioned a review. That is a very common practice, a peer review by an experienced investigator. It was that review that highlighted that there were aspects of the investigation that had not been fully completed, and so that was the reason it was carried out.
I think this investigation was following the evidence where it could and conducting a thorough investigation of all the circumstances. That was not done within DCI Settle’s investigation. I understand his rationale but there were other inquiries that needed to be conducted before we could say we had done the job thoroughly.
It is highly unusual to undertake an investigation of this nature without interviewing the person who is accused. There are lots of reasons for that and, if I may, I could outline some of those, but not least it is important that Lord Brittan is able to give his account so we can follow that through. In this case, the CPS advice was that the incident as reported, a jury could have been persuaded that it may have taken place. They did raise significant concerns over whether Lord Brittan would have known that Jane was not consenting to sex. However, when we spoke to Lord Brittan, he did not raise that as an issue. His account was that this incident never took place at all.
My own view on this is that there were reasonable grounds to suspect an offence had taken place on the basis of what the victim had said. Issues of consent are, as people would judge, in people’s minds and it was entirely appropriate – and there was absolutely, in my view, a legal power – to conduct that interview. That was an interview conducted not under arrest, an interview under caution.
My view, for what it is worth, is that there was a legal power to interview Lord Brittan and there was no breach of the PACE codes.
I think the interview was clearly the key part because once Lord Brittan had said that he did not recall the incident – that it did not take place – clearly we needed to address the issue of identification and whether or not Jane had correctly identified Lord Brittan as the person who she believed had raped her. So there was a process to establish that, which was clearly very challenging with the passage of time and a known individual. There were also inquiries to establish whether Jane’s description of the location of the offence, or the incident, was consistent with where Lord Brittan had been living. She also describes some aspect of Lord Brittan’s possessions and we were seeking to establish whether that was borne out as well.
Asked whether none of this had happened under Settle’s investigation, Rodhouse replied:
That is right. They were all done subsequently.
I cannot account for DCI Settle’s decision making. Clearly, if you take DCI Settle’s view as fact – and I do not – then clearly there would be a long way between us in terms of law. But if you take an alternative view, that it was entirely open to him to conduct an interview, the natural course would have been to conduct the inquiries that I outlined earlier and we would not have been too far apart. I have not put the details of the allegation into the public domain for obvious reasons, and I do not propose to do so, but my judgment is that it is not clear-cut.
The committee – chaired by Keith Vaz, Labour MP – published a report earlier this month, which found:
In our view, based on the evidence we received, the conduct in the Lord Brittan case of the lead investigating officer, DCI Paul Settle, was exemplary. He is clearly a very professional and experienced investigator.
We were not given an appropriate explanation by senior officers of the reasons for DCI Settle’s removal from the case, which leads to the perception that pressure was put on them to do this. It is regrettable and unacceptable that, after his removal from the case in May 2014, DCI Settle was on extended leave.
We welcome the assurance we received from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner that DCI Settle has now been redeployed.
Proper account needs to be taken of the considerable publicity which high-profile cases attract, and the enormous impact which this has on the individuals against whom allegations have been made. These cases need to be dealt with sensitively, ensuring that exactly the same standards of fairness are exercised as in any other case.
In May last year, Exaro highlighted the breach of police guidelines in initially failing to interview Brittan under caution in the case.
It led Tom Watson, Labour MP, to write in protest to Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, about the failure to interview.
As the evidence to Parliament shows, senior Met officers agreed with Watson – and disagreed with the officer who originally led the case – that Brittan should have been interviewed under caution.
After a new officer was put in charge of the case, Brittan was interviewed. The former cabinet minister denied the allegation, and police concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.
The Met asked the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to review the completed file, but it refused to do so.
The Met formally told Jane in April that the case was closed unless any new information came to light. It has since apologised to Brittan’s widow for failing to tell her the outcome at the same time.
Brittan is one of several VIPs – some alive, some dead – who are under investigation by the Met’s ‘Operation Midland’ over allegations of child sex abuse.
Meanwhile, Exaro disclosed last week how the BBC is facing growing questions over its handling of the Smith review of the scandal over the late Jimmy Savile, paedophile and one of the broadcaster’s biggest stars.
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