Dorset Police’s report: officers had ‘ample reasonable grounds’ to question ex-minister
By Mark Watts | 8 February 2016
“The reviewer concludes that there were ample reasonable grounds to conduct an investigative interview of LB [Brittan]” – Patricia Gallan, Met’s assistant commissioner, outlines review findings
Scotland Yard was right to interview former home secretary Lord Brittan over a rape claim, a police review of the case has concluded.
The review by Dorset Police’s deputy chief constable, James Vaughan, found that the investigation into the claim that Brittan raped a 19-year-old female student in 1967 was “necessary, proportionate and fully justified”.
It backs senior managers at the Metropolitan Police Service who decided that the original officer in charge of the case, Detective Chief Inspector Paul Settle, was wrong in his refusal to interview Brittan under caution over the claim.
The complainant, known as “Jane” to protect her identity, came forward to Exaro to complain about Settle’s conduct of the case. Jane claimed that before he became an MP Brittan raped her after duping her into a flat when they met for a blind date.
The Met commissioned the review, and its assistant commissioner with responsibility for specialist crime and operations, Patricia Gallan, outlined its findings in a letter to the House of Commons home affairs committee.
The review found, she said: “Skilful investigators pursued appropriate lines of enquiry from the complainant’s account and obtained credible evidence. At the conclusion of these lines of enquiry, any reasonable investigator could properly conclude that the allegations made by the complainant were far from fanciful and continued to be proportionate and justified.”
The review raises questions about why the House of Commons home affairs committee, which is chaired by Keith Vaz, Labour MP, backed Settle’s decision not to interview Brittan.
Settle, who also headed ‘Operation Fairbank’, the umbrella scoping exercise for allegations of sexual abuse against politicians and other VIPs, told the committee that interviewing Brittan would have been “grossly disproportionate and would not have a legal basis”.
However, the review said that Settle “drew an early erroneous conclusion that the offence of rape was not made out due to his perceived issues with consent. The reviewer concludes that there were ample reasonable grounds to conduct an investigative interview of LB [Brittan] and that the enquiry could not be properly progressed without doing so.
“Such action was necessary, proportionate and justified and far from unlawful as was contended by the SIO [senior investigating officer] when he subsequently gave evidence before the home affairs select committee.”
“It is surprising that a relatively junior member of staff made the decision to close this case without auditable reference to senior command.”
“The complainant provides a fairly compelling account of events. She is a competent witness, who displays no malice in her motivation.
“Her accounts of her situation in 1967 are corroborated, and it is plausible that she was moving in similar social circles to LB. The early disclosures in later years provide some consistency in her account, and she appears to have little to gain from making a false allegation.”
“There is some ambiguity surrounding the issue of consent, which would prove difficult before a properly directed jury.”
The review found that the case was “more likely to lead to acquittal than conviction”.
It 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 as a “false accusation”.
The review also endorses the complaint raised about the conduct of the case by Tom Watson, Labour MP, who protested about it to Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions.
Settle was removed from the case, and a new officer in charge interviewed Brittan.
The former cabinet minister denied Jane’s allegation.
The review says that the interview was not recorded because of equipment failure.
Police closed the investigation following Brittan’s death after the Crown Prosecution Service refused to review the file of the completed investigation.
False media reports prompted two former flatmates of Jane’s to come forward to Exaro to deny claims that they “contradicted” her account to police.
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