The case of Carl Beech, and more importantly its aftermath, remains, in my view, the most underreported and underappreciated news item in the past 20 years. Mr Beech accused a large number of prominent politicians, officials and VIPs of being members of a ring of child abusers, torturers and murderers over the course of several years. Police began investigating these charges in 2014, leading to the search of the homes of several prominent members of the public - including former MP Harvey Proctor and the late Lord Brittan of Spennithorne.
Following a £2.5 million investigation and hundreds of hours of police time, it came to light in 2016 that not only was Mr Beech lying about the accusations, but was also a paedophile himself. As the case steadily collapsed, an inquiry was called for by a number of prominent voices.
An inquiry by the Independent Office for Police Conduct began shortly after the collapse of the case, yet only published its findings earlier this year. Following publication, former High Court Judge Sir Richard Henriques, one of the voices who called for the inquiry in the first place, wrote an article for the Daily Mail slamming the inquiry for being conducted poorly and not punishing any of the five officers it was meant to principally investigate. According to Sir Richard, Mr Beech’s testimony did not meet the required standard for expanding investigations and applying for search warrants. As such, at least one officer in the investigation must have commited a form of misconduct by misleading a judge about the evidence and should thus be charged. Despite this, the inquiry exonerated all the involved officers of even the lowest form of misconduct. Sir Richard also criticised the IPOC’s conduct, given for example it only formally interviewed and cross examined one of the five ‘subjects’ of the investigation, who then claimed that due to the time scale she had forgotten the details of the case.
The implications of this case seem to continue to grow. Mr Beech recently confirmed that he visited Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson in 2014, who provided him with ‘assurances’ that his story would receive attention and proceeded to use details of the case to get more supposed victims to come forward. In an article published by the Sunday People in 2015, Mr Watson quoted Mr Beech, calling Lord Brittan, who had recently died, “as close to evil as a human being could get” - something he has since apologised for. Even the head of the Met, Dame Cressida Dick, has been stained by the Carl Beech case, as it emerged that she was Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Crime & Operations when the investigation was being set up, and thus played a role in looking over the claims of Mr Beech.
For the past few months, this case has remained in the headlines, yet never the true focus of attention. Mr Watson, Dame Cressida and the IOPC have increasingly come under fire for their roles in a scandal where innocent people’s names have been tarnished. There is a concern shared by many people over the implications of this case for something key to the liberty of everyone in this country - namely the proper rule of law.
If we consider Mr Watson’s role in these events, the concerns become manifest. Not only did Mr Watson interfere in an ongoing investigation in such a way that it became a political affair, but he also effectively declared in a tweet that he would ignore Lord Brittan’s right to presumed innocence. This is a worrying trend in our society, where such a right is ignored in high profile cases through fear of shaming genuine victims of heinous crimes. This is not to say that we should outright dispute any accusations of abuse or such crimes, but we must be careful not to ignore the basic rights of people in society, like Lord Brittan, such that their lives are unnecessarily destroyed. The importance of this to our system of law is that we must all accept the laws and rights of the country in order for law to reign supreme. If Mr Watson states he will choose to ignore a right upon which our judicial process is based, it should be a concern to us all.
Also, and perhaps most pressingly, we must consider Sir Richard’s greatest concern: that of police accountability. The lack of thorough interviewing of even the five officers initially highlighted, let alone their juniors or superiors, followed by a lack of repercussions for misconduct due to the inquiry’s trusting in the honesty of the officers all casts into doubt the IOPC’s ability to properly regulate the actions of the police. The implications for the wider rule of law are clear, for if the guards of the law are not truly accountable to the people or to the Crown, how can we really trust them to perform well?
This scandal deserves far greater attention, as it touches every party and section of our judicial system. Mr Beech is now rightfully facing a prison sentence of 18 years, yet, as outrage takes shape against Mr Watson, Dame Cressida and all of the involved officers, one can only hope it is channeled into something constructive that can reform our institutions to ensure something like this never happens again. Otherwise, as Sir Richard said in his article, ‘who guards the guards themselves?’.