Report: House of Lords Hansard Debate on Operation Conifer, 11 December 2018

How very apt. The Dark Ages of contemporary Great Britain, riddled with institutional cowardice. This important debate fits nicely with the discussion in my previously-posted blog.

 I reproduce below salient extracts (highlighted in bold font in places, and with my occasional observations in italics and [   ]). The link to the full debate is at the bottom.

Lord Lexden

[…..] The now notorious Operation Conifer conducted—misconducted, in the judgment of many people—by Wiltshire Police took two years and cost £1.5 million, of which £1.1 million came out of Home Office funds, placing responsibility for the operation’s very existence firmly with the Government. At its conclusion, seven of a total of 42 allegations made against Sir Edward were left open, neither proved nor disproved. Immense damage has been done to Sir Edward’s reputation. It will remain indelibly stained until the seven allegations have been cleared up.

I know of no one who does not regard this as a flagrant injustice. In today’s debate, we need to be absolutely clear about the Government’s stance. So I ask my noble friend: do the Government accept that Sir Edward Heath is the victim of a terrible injustice, which must be corrected? This is the first of four questions I shall put to the Government this evening.

I shall not dwell in detail on Operation Conifer. I do not think anyone has stepped forward to praise it. It has attracted only criticism—from legal experts, from informed commentators and from all those who believe in fairness, conspicuously represented in all parts of this House. One of the most memorable features of this remarkable police operation was the aggressive, belligerent behaviour of Wiltshire’s then chief constable, Mike Veale. Grave doubt was cast on his impartiality. He became the subject of widespread notoriety when he was quoted in a national newspaper as saying that he was “120 per cent” sure that Sir Edward was guilty. A statement by Wiltshire Police that followed was notable for its careful wording.

It is now clear that Mr Veale is not a man who believes that complete truthfulness is a requirement for the job of chief constable. An inquiry by the Independent Office for Police Conduct censured him in September this year for giving a false account of how he came to destroy his mobile telephone, an instrument widely thought to have contained information damaging to him in relation to Operation Conifer. Yet he remains a chief constable, translated from Wiltshire to distant Cleveland. The processes by which the most senior police officers are appointed in our country can contain puzzling elements. Cleveland’s reputation was not exactly outstanding, even before Mr Veale joined it.

Before the outcome of Operation Conifer was published in October last year, it was already obvious that an independent inquiry would be needed.


Lord Campbell -Savours (Lab)

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lexden. He has been a doughty campaigner on behalf of someone whom I believe was his friend. The House should also express gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who gave us an excellent analytical examination of the past and brought the House’s attention to matters of which many of us were previously unaware.

Once again, we are cantering around a course of myth, hearsay and rumour. I have been raising this issue in this House for more than two and half years and we have got absolutely nowhere. Nothing has happened, although I sense a change in opinion in this House towards the events alleged, whereby basically no one now believes them. It is not that I think that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has been unsympathetic. I think she is caught in the impasse of inexplicable fear at the top of government. There is no credible evidence whatever that a former Prime Minister was involved in child abuse or any other sexual abuse.

The issue is simple: who in authority will have the guts to stand up and say, “We are witnessing a quasi-judicial, historic miscarriage of justice without there ever being a trial”? That is what is so important. That is what a review would be all about. We want the historical record to be corrected in the court of international public opinion.​

The Government have taken the position set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who said:

“The police are operationally independent of government”.

That has been referred to before. She went on:

“The Government would step in only where all other avenues had been exhausted”.—[Official Report, 11/10/18; col. 178.]

We are at that point. All other avenues have been exhausted. The proof of that is set out in the 2018 report of the Wiltshire Police commissioner, who states:

“It remains my hope and expectation that IICSA will have something to say on the strength or otherwise of any evidence against Sir Edward Heath”.

He goes on:

“Should IICSA maintain that position”—

of failing to act—

“the Home Secretary should, in my view, order a separate public inquiry with the necessary powers and the remit to establish the facts”.

He further states:

“Wiltshire has more than met its national responsibilities, and I will not commission any further work in relation to Operation Conifer”.

He goes on to refer to his limited resources.

My problem with all that is that, while I understand the resource argument at the local level, I hesitate over the prospect of an IICSA finding of fact when the accused is dead. If a man is dead, there can be no finding of fact because there is no defence. IICSA’s operations are based on hearings. There is no one to hear, apart from the accusers, which takes us right back to the Janner case. Indeed, I note that in all the cases where accusations have been levelled against individuals who are still alive, we have had either apologies or mealy-mouthed statements withdrawing accusations. In other words, attack the dead who cannot respond and run scared of the living for fear of legal action.

The Wiltshire Police commissioner says that the Government should do something, and they should. Sir Edward Heath was not a Wiltshire Council leader; he was a Prime Minister with an international reputation. We either give Wiltshire all the money it needs—not part of the money, as happened before—to draw up the Conifer review, or the Government carry out a judge-led review of the evidence. Anyhow, it should not cost much. There is very little evidence, just hearsay and untruths. The Nick case will prove that.

The powers that be have allowed this whole debate about sexual abuse to become bogged down in political correctness. We are entering a fantasy world where anyone without principle can make a claim of sexual abuse against any other person in the knowledge that there is a presumption that the accuser is to be believed. The whole process is being greatly aided by the sexual offences compensation scheme, otherwise known as the criminal injuries compensation scheme, with legal expenses funded by the taxpayer while the scheme is undermining the credibility of legitimate claimants. All you now need is a vivid imagination, a preparedness to lie and the ability to make the accusation seem realistic by drawing on other cases already on the public record that give credence to your accusation and you are on your way to a windfall.​

I give your Lordships an example. Let us take the Janner case. Last week, IICSA informed me of a further accusation against Janner. It came after the collapse of the civil claims against the Janner estate when an unidentified man claimed that,

“he was raped at Dolphin Square”—

noble Lords will recall Dolphin Square—

“whilst in the care of social services by a person he subsequently believes to be Janner”.

That is from paragraph 7 of Professor Jay’s letter of determination, dated 2 May 2018. Until then there had been no claim by anyone, ever, that Janner was linked to the infamously false Dolphin Square allegations [Note – except in the arch-fraud David Icke’s “The Biggest Secret” (1999) at p. 307!]. It is a patent lie, yet this individual, referred to as F54 in the IICSA inquiry, has been granted core participation status in the Janner strand, entitling him to legal representation by solicitors and counsel at huge cost to the taxpayer [and we all know who they are are], running into tens of thousands of pounds. His lawyers will be able to charge for preparatory work leading up to proceedings and representation at a three-week hearing fixed for February 2020. I object, on behalf of the taxpayers of the United Kingdom: it is an outrage and it further affects the credibility of the IICSA inquiry.

 8.00 pm

In that quotation, the reference to a location is a straight lift from the famous Nick’s Dolphin Square fantasyland. It would be interesting to know how much this job is worth to the lawyers. Talking about the lawyers, they run a pretty lucrative trade. I have two adverts here that are to be found in Inside Time, a publication for prisoners. One reads:

“Child abuse solicitors: helping victims to claim compensation and achieve justice. If you suffered physical psychological or sexual abuse as a child from someone who was in a position of trust, our specialist child abuse lawyers may be able to help you claim compensation and achieve justice”.

It goes on to name particular locations, including St Williams, Market Weighton, Manchester care homes, Wales care homes, Leeds care homes and a detention centre. It asks readers to approach one of its lawyers. I have another from the same journal that circulates in prison:

“Child abuse: helping victims achieve justice. The law allows people to make claims for compensation even if the abuse they suffered took place many years ago”.

It goes on to say that specialist solicitors are available to help. It does not surprise me that many accusers have substantial prison records. Of course, these are many of the people now making applications for compensation.

Let me tell the House, lest people think we are interested only in the cases of the great and the good, that many cases have passed my desk over the years claiming miscarriages of justice. I must admit that not all have been credible, but one is from a man who lives in modest circumstances in Darwen, Lancashire, a constituency I fought some 45 years ago. This man, now aged 70 and ill, is still in prison, serving a 16-year sentence at HMP Wymott following what I believe to be a miscarriage of justice. The case has been to the cash-starved Criminal Cases Review Commission, which lacks the resources to reopen the case on the scale I believe necessary. He may well die in prison. His case disturbs me. I feel utterly helpless, although I am ​trying to find a way to have his case reopened. I feel for such cases, while feeling equally for those women whose cases are not properly investigated and where the guilty go free.

I despair over what is happening in the handling of sexual offence cases. I do not know whether we need special investigative bodies, special courts or something else. What I do know is that we need an end to political correctness in decision-making. The case of Sir Edward Heath is a sickening betrayal of British justice. Our judicial system is being brought into disrepute across the world. Our Government—indeed, successive Governments—are frozen in the headlamps of inertia when it comes to sexual offences.

Someone asked me the other day: why get involved in these cases, which risk one’s own political reputation? The answer is simple: I, along with others, cannot abide injustice. Here I am, a Labour Peer, defending the reputation of a Conservative Prime Minister, a man I never particularly liked, but one’s political preferences are irrelevant when it comes to principle and justice. These cases are riddled with injustice. We are witnessing the destruction of reputations built up in public service over a lifetime, and all because the state is gutless in its obsession with a political correctness which is not even correct and is distorting rational consideration of what constitutes guilt. One day, society will look back at this period in quasi-judicial history, particularly in the area of sexual offences, and liken it to a time when justice was summary, akin to the Dark Ages in the darkest recesses of the past.