Police to reform approach to search warrants following backlash to failed Operation Midland paedophile investigation

Forces across UK to make changes on watchdog advice as Metropolitan Police faces legal action after Westminster abuse debacle

Jane Dalton
Thursday 05 March 2020 22:21
The Met's Operation Midland ran from 2014 to 2016 but produced no arrests
The Met's Operation Midland ran from 2014 to 2016 but produced no arrests

Police are overhauling the way they handle search warrants following the botched Operation Midland investigation into what was wrongly thought to be a Westminster paedophile ring.

Forces nationwide will make changes to how they apply for and check search warrants, after the police watchdog made 16 recommendations to improve.

Scotland Yard said it had also accepted “significant changes” to its policy and practices based on nine further recommendations.

Operation Midland, which ran from 2014 to 2016, led to search warrants for innocent people being obtained unlawfully after a judge was misled by the lies of a fantasist, a review last year found.

Under the £4.5m operation, Metropolitan Police officers investigating the claims of a sex ring raided the homes of high-profile figures including D-Day veteran Lord Bramall, Lady Diana Brittan, the widow of former home secretary Leon Brittan, and former Tory MP Harvey Proctor.

Not a single arrest was made before the operation was wound up.

Three months ago Mr Proctor made a formal complaint over the conduct of Met commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, accusing her of failing to correct the false claims of abuse made by Carl Beech in 2014 and echoed by another senior officer as “credible and true”.

He is suing the Met for £1m.

Beech was given an 18-year jail term for fabricating claims of rape, torture and murder by well-known names from the military, security services and politics.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) launched Operation Kentia to investigate the Met’s conduct over its search warrant applications made during Operation Midland. It found no evidence that officers had deliberately misled the district court judge, but found gaps in processes and systems.

Operation Kentia then made the 16 recommendations to improve policing practice nationwide, of which police accepted 13.

They include the College of Policing updating its professional investigator training.

IOPC director-general Michael Lockwood said: “The public can have real confidence that the issues identified during Operation Kentia, and more broadly in Operation Midland, have been taken seriously.

“These will make tangible differences, with police officers now being better trained and having a better understanding of search powers and warrants, particularly around issues such as duty of disclosure, seizure of property, who attends the search and improved guidance.”

Last month, the IOPC announced victims would be given the right to appeal when the watchdog decides not to bring criminal charges against an officer accused of misconduct.

A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said: “The Met is responding positively to each of the IOPC’s recommendations and has informed them of the current status and future plans for improving our practices relating to search warrants, record keeping and the use of HOLMES as well as the information provided to the media and suspects during investigations.

“A great deal of work is ongoing in each of these areas to ensure that the way we handle these important responsibilities is regarded as best practice across policing in the coming months and years.

“We have also been working with the NPCC, College of Policing and HM Courts and Tribunal Service to ensure we take the maximum learning from all of the recommendations, and where we can, we lean in to assist with national changes and improvements.”

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