In 2019, after deciding for a second time not to launch a full criminal investigation into Jeffrey Epstein, Scotland Yard declared nevertheless it “always takes any allegations concerning sexual exploitation seriously”.
It’s a claim that deserves scrutiny after Channel 4 News this week revealed a host of allegations involving multiple women, in London, over a decade.
From thousands of publicly available court documents, videos, books and other sources, our investigations team collected half a dozen allegations that Epstein and his associate Ghislaine Maxwell targeted, trafficked, groomed or abused young women in the UK. Maxwell has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
On Tuesday, I asked the Met’s assistant commissioner, Nick Ephgrave, to comment on our findings, at the end of an interview on the Daniel Morgan case. I’d pre-warned his press officer, and we’d sent a 14-page document to the force, asking them for comment on our investigation.
At the very least, I’d expected the assistant commissioner to have an elegant answer to hand, which dignified the victims’ claims with a response. Instead he refused to address the question. So how seriously does Scotland Yard take these allegations?
Twice now it’s refused to open a formal criminal investigation. In 2015, a British child abuse campaigner filed a formal complaint claiming that Epstein and Maxwell had trafficked a young woman to the UK for sex. The Met said it wouldn’t launch a detailed probe because “it was clear that any investigation into human trafficking would be largely focused on activities and relationships outside the UK”.
The following year, Virginia Guiffre complained directly to the Met, alleging that – aged just 17 – she was pressured by Epstein to have sex with Prince Andrew in London. The prince emphatically denies the allegations.
Scotland Yard reviewed its decision not to investigate in 2019 after Epstein’s death, but stood by it. Challenged on this last year, the Met Police commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, told us “the locus and focus of any investigation into Jeffrey Epstein is in America”.
But Channel 4 News confronted the Met with alleged incidents on British soil – and in London, the force’s backyard. Indeed, Epstein spent considerable time in this country. Our investigations team established from flight records disclosed in court cases in the US that his plane flew in and out of UK airports at least 51 times between 1997 and 2012. So why is the Met still holding out?
We asked Nazir Afzal, the former chief crown prosecutor in the Rochdale grooming gang cases, if Epstein and Maxwell were treated differently because of their connections with people of high social standing in the UK.
He said: “The perception here is a different approach was taken in relation to these alleged offences … than if it was some brown guy in Rochdale, or some sex offender in London who didn’t have any standing at all.”
Met sources insist this wasn’t the case, and that senior officers would never back off a case because of a suspect’s social standing.
But Afzal and others warn the perception remains – in both this case and that of the Daniel Morgan murder – that the force puts protecting its own reputation (and that of the establishment) ahead of justice for the victims. There have been five separate police investigations into the Morgan murder, at a cost to the taxpayer of £50m, yet still the perpetrator has not been brought to book.
Epstein’s suicide means his victims cannot receive justice. Meanwhile, Maxwell, who denies the allegations, is being tried in America in November, and police across the globe have launched criminal investigations. But without extensive inquiries from police here, justice may be denied once again.
What this week has shown, though, is how powerless victims remain in the face of either “institutional corruption” (to use the words of the chair of the Morgan report, Baroness Nuala O’Loan) or simply institutional paralysis.
Beyond the Met, people in positions of power or influence told us privately they were fearful of speaking out on Epstein and Maxwell because of the couple’s connections.
The police, though, are supposed to investigate without “fear or favour”. They’re supposed to be citizens in uniform. Back to the days of Sir Robert Peel, “policing by consent” relies on transparency, integrity and accountability. In its handling of the Epstein and Maxwell allegations, has Scotland Yard forgotten its founding principles?
Cathy Newman presents ‘Channel 4 News’, weekdays, at 7pm
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