Sandra Laville and Rajeev Syal for Guardian.UK
A £2m police investigation into an alleged VIP paedophile ring accused of killing three children more than 30 years ago has collapsed amid calls for resignations from three of the UK’s most senior police officers.
The Metropolitan police said Operation Midland has been closed without any charges being brought against any of the former politicians, military officers or government officials said to be involved, after a 16-month inquiry involving 31 detectives.
The declaration came on Monday afternoon an hour after the last living suspect in the inquiry said he had been told he would face no charges. Harvey Proctor, the former Conservative MP, was told after a conversation between his solicitors and a senior Met officer that there was insufficient evidence to pursue a case.
The decision to clear Proctor represents a humiliating retreat for the Met, one of whose officers had previously described his accuser’s allegations as “credible and true” – a claim that was subsequently withdrawn.
In his statement, Proctor called for the resignations of the senior officers involved in Operation Midland and an independent inquiry into the operation.
“I have been advised that the Metropolitan police service have informed my solicitors that they intend to take no further action.
Operation Midland: how the Met lost its way
“I consider that Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Patricia Gallan, Steve Rodhouse and Kenny McDonald should tender their resignations from the Metropolitan police service forthwith,” he said.
A statement from the Met said Proctor would not be charged, adding that other suspects who are now dead would not have been charged if they were alive.
“Operation Midland has now closed”, the statement said. “Deputy assistant commissioner Steve Rodhouse, the senior officer in charge of Operation Midland, has concluded that the threshold has not been met for the case to be referred for any charging decisions.
“While investigations could not be completed into individuals who are no longer alive, sufficient evidence has not been found that would have led the MPS to refer the matter to the CPS if they were alive.”
The closure of the high-profile investigation is being seen as a significant blow to the reputation of Scotland Yard and its commissioner, Hogan-Howe.
The high-profile investigation was based on claims from a single alleged victim known as Nick. He said he witnessed a group of powerful men in the 70s and 80s abusing young boys in central London locations, such as a flat in the Dolphin Square block near Westminster.
Nick’s allegations centred on a number of figures in the establishment at the time. These included Proctor; Leon Brittan, a former home secretary; Lord Bramall, a former head of the armed forces; Sir Edward Heath, the late prime minister; and the former heads of MI5 and MI6, all of whom were said to have been part of the savage paedophile ring that killed three boys.
The late former home secretary Leon Brittan was among the establishment figures alleged by ‘Nick’ to have been involved in child abuse.
The late former home secretary Leon Brittan was among the establishment figures alleged by ‘Nick’ to have been involved in a child abuse ring. Photograph: ITV/REX
Proctor has also called for his accuser and the news website Exaro, which published or sold stories based on many of the claims, to be prosecuted.
The former MP for Billericay and Basildon said MPs including Zac Goldsmith, Tom Watson and John Mann who made public comments implying the guilt of high-profile paedophiles should apologise on the floor of the House of Commons.
Proctor said the three MPs “should hang their heads in shame” for
making “self-serving” comments on claims that a VIP child sex ring ran out of Westminster.
Goldsmith implied under the cloak of parliamentary privilege that a former cabinet minister, immediately identified on social media as Brittan, had been photographed in a compromising position with a young boy. Goldsmith has declined to withdraw the comments.
In October 2012, Watson made a speech in the Commons asking David Cameron about claims of a “powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No 10” and later met Nick. Mann handed detectives a dossier naming 22 politicians – including six serving MPs and members of the House of Lords – suspected of involvement in a Westminster paedophile ring.
Nick, a man in his 40s, first made allegations of child abuse to his local police in 2012, when he reported sexual and physical abuse by his stepfather, a military figure. Officers did not pursue the investigation because the man in question had died several years before.
He emerged as a complainant to the Met after Watson’s allegations in parliament in 2012. Contacted by Exaro, Nick made his allegations first on the news website, and later underwent three lengthy police interviews that led to the opening of Operation Midland in November 2014.
The inquiry examined Nick’s allegations that he and other young boys were sexually abused between 1975 and 1984 at various locations across London and the Home Counties, including military establishments. The venues included a flat in Dolphin Square.
As a result of Nick’s allegations officers opened murder inquiries into the killing of three young boys. But they never established the identities of the victims or recovered any bodies of young boys who had gone missing in the period in question.
In December 2014, Scotland Yard held a press conference in which they revealed they were investigating the murders of three young boys and the abuse of children which had taken place over a decade at the various locations. Most significantly a senior officer on the homicide command, Det Supt Kenny McDonald, said Nick’s claims were “credible and true”. The latter part of the statement was subsequently withdrawn.
Police acknowledged the investigation was complicated and difficult. It was also carried out in the public glare.
Police made coordinated raids involving up to 60 officers on the homes of Bramall, Brittan and Proctor last March. As officers searched his home, Proctor received a call from a journalist from Exaro asking him to confirm the raid.
The home of Brittan’s widow, Diana, was raided by more than 20 0fficers six weeks after her husband had died. Bramall’s home was raided as he cared for his wife who was suffering from dementia.
Proctor was personally accused by Nick of participating in two murders and aiding in a third murder of young boys, along with numerous other claims of torture and rape against Nick and other boys.
Nick’s credibility as a witness was questioned last year after the BBC’s Panorama disclosed that he had appeared anonymously on a television programme claiming to have been abused by Jimmy Savile, but had not mentioned his alleged abuse at the hands of the paedophile ring.
Operation Midland’s total cost was £1.7m until November 2015, the Met confirmed. Final costs can expect to be in the region of £2m, informed sources said.
Two other witnesses came forward to the police inquiry and their claims were assessed, the Met statement said.
Rodhouse, the senior officer in charge of the investigation, defended the way it had been conducted and declined an opportunity to apologise to Proctor. “it is absolutely right that we assessed carefully the allegations made to us,” he said.
In the Met’s statement, which ran to more than 1,000 words, the force said it “will not apologise for carrying out its duty to investigate serious allegations of non-recent abuse”.
It added: “The MPS recognise, however, how unpleasant it is for an individual to be investigated and to have their innocence publicly called into question. The MPS sympathises with those affected, including the families of those no longer alive, and regrets the distress they have felt.”
No evidence has been found to prove that detectives were knowingly misled by a complainant, the statement added.
Nick also told detectives that one of the potential homicide victims looked like 15-year-old Martin Allen, who vanished in November 1979, and a separate investigation will continue into his disappearance, police said.
An independent, judge-led inquiry has already been announced into how Scotland Yard has dealt with historical sex abuse investigations involving public figures.
The former high court judge Sir Richard Henriques will examine a number of inquiries including Operation Midland.
The investigation into Nick’s allegations will be examined by the Goddard inquiry into sexual abuse in institutions, which is likely to call senior officers and others to what will be one of the first public hearings the inquiry carries out.
Goddard has said the investigation will be “an objective, fact-finding inquiry” focusing on high-profile allegations of child sexual abuse involving current or former members of parliament, senior civil servants, government advisers and members of the intelligence and security agencies.
Some have defended the approach of the Met. Pete Saunders, from the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said: “I have been dealing with the police for 20 years. They do get it wrong sometimes, we all do, but generally speaking they know when they are dealing with someone that is credible and they know when they are dealing with a liar.”
Zac Goldsmith urged to withdraw paedophile ring allegations
Ex-Tory MP Harvey Proctor says Goldsmith should rethink mayoral bid unless he retracts claims of VIP abuse at Richmond guest house
Zac Goldsmith told MPs in November that there had been a cover-up of abuse involving establishment figures at the guest house in Richmond, south-west London.
Zac Goldsmith is facing questions from a former Conservative MP and the brother of Lord Brittan after he refused to withdraw claims made in parliament about an alleged paedophile ring in his constituency.
The Conservative mayoral candidate for London has been accused of repeating unfounded allegations of abuse by VIPs in Richmond, south-west London, that were apparently based on testimony from a convicted fraudster.
Goldsmith told MPs in November there had been a cover-up of abuse at Elm Guest House, involving establishment figures including a former cabinet minister, whom he did not name, but who was identified on social media as Leon Brittan. A spokesperson for Goldsmith said the MP had “rightly” asserted that child sex abuse should be taken seriously.
But Goldsmith’s critics claim that the allegations have now been widely discredited and that it was time for him to withdraw his previous statements to parliament. Harvey Proctor, the former Tory MP who has been questioned by police over the alleged paedophile ring and denies any involvement, called for Goldsmith to drop out of the race to become mayor unless he withdraws the statements, which Proctor regards as a smear.
Sir Samuel Brittan, the brother of the late former home secretary, said it would be “helpful” if Goldsmith clarified his statements by confirming that Brittan was innocent of all charges.
Their demands follow last week’s Panorama programme, which undermined some of the central claims surrounding the existence of a paedophile ring in Elm Guest House.
The Goldsmith row comes after four days of pressure on Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, to offer a full apology for repeating claims of rape and paedophilia against Brittan. Watson has apologised for describing Brittan as “close to evil” but has refused to accept that police have no evidence that he was a paedophile.
In a speech to parliament in November 2014, Goldsmith said he had been “reliably told” that 12 boys gave evidence in 1982 that they had been abused at Elm Guest House. “When [the co-owner] died a few years after the house was raided, in very odd circumstances, a child protection campaigner from the National Association Of Young People In Care called for a criminal investigation into events there.
“He said he had been told by [the co-owner] that boys had been brought in from a local children’s home – Grafton Close, also in Richmond – for sex, and that she had photographs of establishment figures at her hotel. One of them apparently showed a former cabinet minister in a sauna with a naked boy,” he said.
“The Met has since confirmed that Cyril Smith visited the place and at least three other men named in documents as visitors to the Elm guest house were later convicted of multiple sexual offences against children. It is impossible to believe there was not a cover-up,” he said.
A year-long inquiry by Panorama examined a number of claims when it was broadcast on Tuesday. The programme-makers interviewed the former social worker Chris Fay, who has been described as a campaigner for the National Association of Young People in Care.
The programme disclosed that Fay was a convicted fraudster. In an interview, he told the programme that he had seen two compromising photographs of Brittan with young boys, one of which was taken in a sauna. He also claimed that Proctor’s name was on the list of VIP paedophiles who attended Elm Guest House, but the list has since disappeared.
Journalists from the BBC also contacted one of the former young boys who Fay had claimed had told him that he had been abused by VIPs. The witness, called Mark, said he had never spoken to Fay and that he had never been taken to Elm Guest House. Another person interviewed by the programme, called David, told Panorama that he was pressured by Fay into saying Brittan was present while abuse took place by another accuser.
Fay did not respond to Guardian requests for an interview, but he told Panorama that no such pressure took place and stood by his claims as reported by Goldsmith.
On Tuesday, Proctor said the highly damaging allegations from Fay appeared to have been repeated at length by Goldsmith and should now be withdrawn because Fay was an unreliable witness. “I used to own a shop in Richmond-upon-Thames and it would often be visited by Professor Teddy Goldsmith.
“He would not have wished to have seen his nephew smearing me and a former cabinet minister in his own party. Zac Goldsmith is a disloyal Conservative. He should consider his position as mayoral candidate for London,” he said.
Proctor was questioned about Elm Guest House at his second interview with Scotland Yard officers in August. The following day he held an explosive press conference denying claims that he was an abuser and claiming that he and others have been victims of a “homosexual witch hunt”.
Samuel Brittan said that that Goldsmith’s conduct has not been as damaging to his family as the claims by Tom Watson, but his claims should still be addressed. “It would be helpful if Zac Goldsmith clarified his statement and cleared my brother of these claims,” he said.
Goldsmith did not respond to questions asking whether he met Fay or whether he was aware that he was referring to Brittan when he referred to a cabinet minister in a sauna during his speech to parliament.
A spokesperson for Goldsmith said: “In his speech to parliament Zac rightly pointed out that allegations of historic[al] child sex abuse should be taken seriously and investigated appropriately – this is why he welcomes and supports the Goddard inquiry.”
Justice Lowell Goddard is leading an independent inquiry examining how public bodies handled their duty of care to protect children from historical abuse in England and Wales.
Scotland Yard was unable to say whether it had ever confirmed that Smith, the former Lib Dem MP for Rochdale, visited Elm Guest House. Police are continuing to investigate claims of a paedophile ring in Elm Guest House through Operation Athabasca. Sources have told the Guardian that the inquiry is petering out.
Operation Midland: how the Met lost its way
Senior officers face scrutiny over a high-profile inquiry into an alleged murderous Westminster paedophile ring based on claims by a single witness
The allegations sparked a 15-month investigation.
The end of Scotland Yard’s high-profile investigation into claims of a murderous Westminster paedophile ring puts the Metropolitan police under scrutiny over their methods and raises new questions about the pressure MPs exert during criminal inquiries.
Senior officers will be asked to explain why it took 16 months to conclude there was no corroborative evidence to support lurid, horrific and, for some, extraordinary murder allegations from a single witness.
Despite three alleged murders, the investigation, called Operation Midland, has not identified or found a single body or led to any charges.
The force’s approach was forged by the experience of the Jimmy Savile scandal, and the subsequent Operation Yewtree inquiry. During that investigation, hundreds of witnesses came forward after a high-profile press conference to corroborate each other’s accounts of sexual exploitation and rape that had been unspoken for decades.
At the centre of Operation Midland was the complainant, Nick, a pseudonym to hide his real identity. A father in his 40s, Nick has held a long-term job and positions of responsibility in his community.
Nick had written of abuse by his stepfather and a group of men, and attracted the attention of individuals who work to support victims of child abuse. Through them he was contacted by a journalist from the website ExaroNews, made up of a small group of investigative reporters based in Fleet Street. Using Nick as a source they sold stories in the summer of 2014 about the alleged Westminster paedophile ring to tabloid newspapers. Nick also met the MP Tom Watson.
Detectives contacted Exaro and, unusually, Nick was accompanied by a journalist from the website when he was interviewed by officers. From the start, the police were conscious of media involvement in the inquiry.
Nick gave a detailed account of sexual abuse and murder. He said he was first physically and sexually abused by his stepfather, a military figure who eventually passed him round to other figures of authority from 1975, when he was seven, to 1984.
He named 12 members of a ring of powerful abusers. They included Harvey Proctor, the former home secretary Leon Brittan, the former prime minister Sir Edward Heath and the former chief of defence staff Lord Bramall. Another former army general was also implicated along with the former heads of MI5 and MI6.
The abuse took place, Nick claimed, at an apartment block called Dolphin Square, a short walk from parliament, and other locations around London, including the Carlton Club and at venues in the home counties, including military facilities.
The most startling claim was that the gang murdered three boys – two were allegedly killed for sexual pleasure and another run over by a car to keep other abuse victims in a state of terror.
According to Proctor’s solicitors, Nick told police he watched Proctor repeatedly stab a restrained 12-year-old boy for 40 minutes before strangling him to death.
On another occasion, the solicitors were told that Nick had said he was raped by Proctor, who he said planned to cut off his genitals with a penknife but was stopped from doing so by Heath. Nick claimed to have been handed the penknife by Proctor as a memento.
Before apparently trying to test or corroborate any of the allegations, the Met held a press conference in December 2014 during which the lead officer, DS Kenny McDonald, told journalists that Nick had been interviewed by experienced officers from murder investigations and that they believed his account. “They and I believe what Nick is saying is credible and true,” he said.
It was a statement for which the Met has been heavily criticised – including by some of its own officers – and which it later had to retract.
Officers hoped that employing similar tactics to Operation Yewtree – reassuring victims they would be believed and making high-profile appeals for information – would bring new witnesses forward.
“You don’t have forensics, you don’t have cell site evidence in these kinds of inquires. What you are looking for is other witnesses who are giving similar accounts,” said a senior police source.
Harvey Proctor at a press conference in August, where he insisted he was completely innocent. Photograph: Lauren Hurley/PA
But witnesses and other victims were not forthcoming, unlike in the cases of Savile, and others. In the meantime, there had been much speculation across social media over the identity of the alleged paedophiles.
In March, detectives raided Proctor’s home near Grantham, Lincolnshire. The former MP for Billericay had stood down from his seat in 1987 because he was charged, and later found guilty, of indecent behaviour with men aged between 17 and 21 – a charge that could not be made today because the age of consent for same-sex relationships is now 16. Since then, Proctor had been living anonymously with his partner away from the public eye.
When more than a dozen officers raided his home, confirming the first named suspect in the inquiry, Proctor was once again thrust into the spotlight – this time as a suspected paedophile and murderer. Proctor said that after the overwhelming publicity that followed, he had to leave his job as private secretary to the Duke of Rutland. The police, he claimed, had deliberately ensured that the raid would be leaked to the media to generate further publicity.
“Exaro journalists knew of the search of my house before the police left it – one of them called me, with devastating consequences for my life. The MPS [Met] know the type of statements they release do identify innocent people by ‘context’ that they themselves give,” he said.
In a letter to Proctor, the Met denied disclosing his identity to the media. Brittan, who died of cancer in January 2015 aged 75, had been interviewed over a separate rape allegation. He died not knowing that police had concluded he had no case to answer four months earlier.
But six weeks after his death, his widow, Diana, looked on as police raided his central London home over Nick’s claims. A close friend of the family said she was not told the reason for the raid as officers took away computers, papers and hard drives, some of which belonged to her. They have not yet been returned.
Officers also raided the home of Bramall, 92, a war hero who took part in the Normandy landings and whose wife was in the last stages of dementia.
Both Proctor and Bramall were interviewed under caution but never arrested.
Senior police sources have defended the searches and the use of a number of officers. “What you are looking for is indicative behaviour, images of child abuse on a computer for example, or letters or documents linking a suspect to a complainant. We use lots of officers in order to get searches done efficiently and swiftly.”
But nothing was found in any searches to corroborate Nick’s allegations.
In August 2015, Proctor said he had had enough and held an explosive press conference at which he outlined Nick’s claims, as told to him by the police, placing them in detail in public for the first time. He also named his fellow accused and ridiculed the suggestion that he and Heath had ever socialised with each other.
In September, the Met admitted that it should never have stated Nick’s claims were true. Within weeks, McDonald was taken off the inquiry.
Bramall was told by Scotland Yard in January that he would face no further action. He, like Proctor, wants Nick investigated for wasting police time, but there is no will within the Met police to pursue the complainant, whose account of abuse touched them, and who came across as a credible witness.
Bramall, Proctor and the family of Brittan have all expressed their exasperation at the failure of detectives to test Nick’s claims. For example, Bramall, who was head of the British army when the alleged abuse took place, said that no one had bothered to speak to his personal assistant during their inquiries; Lady Brittan, a former magistrate, was not asked about whether she could account for her husband’s movements on specific days.
But police are understood not to have been given specific dates of when the abuse took place. The senior source said complainants of non-recent child abuse found it extremely hard to pin down times and dates due to their age, the time that had passed and the trauma they might have suffered.
The role of politicians, including Tom Watson and the London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith will now be under renewed scrutiny. Watson, the Guardian understands from a source involved at the beginning of the inquiry, met Nick very early on. Both politicans have been accused of abusing their positions to influence the police inquiries and cast aspersions upon alleged abusers.
Goldsmith has declined to withdraw allegations that Brittan was an abuser, which he made in the Commons in November 2014 under parliamentary privilege. At the time a spokesperson for Goldsmith said: “In his speech to parliament Zac rightly pointed out that allegations of historic[al] child sex abuse should be taken seriously and investigated appropriately – this is why he welcomes and supports the Goddard inquiry.”
Justice Lowell Goddard is leading an independent inquiry examining how public bodies handled their duty of care to protect children from historical abuse in England and Wales.
Watson, who first made claims of a Westminster paedophile ring in parliament in 2012, has since apologised to Lady Brittan in a handwritten letter for any distress made by his claims that Lord Brittan was “close to evil”.
Simon Danczuk, the MP for Rochdale who uncovered many of the abuse claims against Cyril Smith, was one of seven MPs who in June 2014 signed a letter calling for an overarching inquiry into child abuse. The others were Watson, Goldsmith, Loughton, Caroline Lucas, John Hemming and Tessa Munt.
John Mann, who wrote on Twitter on the day of Proctor’s arrest that the former Tory MP was “the first of many”, gave a dossier to police in December 2014 which he said contained abuse claims against 22 politicians including three current MPs and three peers. Mann has dismissed away criticisms saying his focus is the victims of abuse.
The Met commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, in an article in the Guardian, last month admitted that public confidence has been affected by the controversy over Operation Midland. He indicated that there would be a rethink of the policy of automatically believing people who say they have been sexually assaulted.
As the fallout continues, there are fears for the pressure Nick has been under. Pete Saunders, of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said: “I am concerned about him. I have no doubt that Nick has been abused, and he won’t mind me saying that we have been supporting him in any way we can.”