Detectives investigating historical child abuse allegations should not indulge “narcissists and fantasists”, a former director of public prosecutions has warned, as pressure mounts on Scotland Yard over its inquiry into high-profile paedophiles.
Lord Ken Macdonald QC said police must conduct “impartial, objective investigations” and there is a danger that concern for victims is “morphing into a medieval contempt for the accused”.
His strong comments come as the Metropolitan police come under pressure to shelve Operation Midland, their inquiry into an alleged Westminster paedophile ring, after detectives reportedly raised doubts about the testimony of the key witness.
The broadcaster Paul Gambaccini also renewed his attack on Scotland Yard and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for failing to apologise over their handling of sexual abuse allegations made against him.
Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, said: “An understandable modern concern for victims’ rights is now in real danger of morphing into a medieval contempt for the accused and a shocking disinterest in the basic norms of justice.
“Child sex abuse is an appalling crime and we shouldn’t do anything to discourage people who have suffered it from coming forward.
“But it is the job of the police to conduct impartial, objective investigations, not to indulge narcissists and fantasists, and certainly not to hand over the right to determine the truth to people on the sole basis that they claim to be the victims of crime.”
There are a number of live investigations across the UK including Operation Yewtree, launched in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, Operation Athabasca, which is looking at claims of abuse at Elm Guest House in south-west London, and Operation Midland, which is examining claims that politicians, intelligence officials and senior military figures abused and murdered children.
Operation Midland is based on the allegations of one witness, known only as “Nick”, who senior detectives described as “credible and true”. Senior figures in a separate judge-led public inquiry into historical child sex abuse and the CPS have reportedly been told by detectives there is no substance to allegations made by Nick.
Nigel Evans MP, the former Commons deputy speaker who was acquitted of rape and sexual assault charges last year, criticised police on Tuesday for playing “judge and jury” over Nick’s allegations before the investigation had concluded.
He said detectives should stop putting complainants “on a pedestal” and urged the Commons home affairs select committee to launch a wide-ranging review into the handling of sexual abuse investigations.
“[The police] really do need to get off this position whereby anybody who comes to them with an allegation is immediately believed and their evidence is seen as compelling,” said Evans.
“It should be treated as an allegation which needs to be tested. It shouldn’t be ‘we believe you’ straight away because they don’t believe the person who didn’t do it.”
He added: “What they fail to recognise is that in an investigation which either leads to no further action – or indeed in an investigation that leads to trial and acquittal – the real victim is the person who has to stand trial and be a defendant in the full glare of publicity. There’s no recognition in the police or Crown Prosecution Service that that is the case.”
Nick’s claims formed part of the allegations put to Harvey Proctor, the former Conservative MP, during a police interview. Last month Proctor said he was “completely innocent” and accused police of a witch-hunt against homosexuals. He also disclosed that he had been questioned about his alleged involvement in a paedophile ring with Edward Heath and Leon Brittan.
Mark Williams-Thomas, the former police officer who exposed Savile as a serial sex offender, warned that many of the current allegations against political figures were unsubstantiated and could “totally undermine” efforts to tackle child abuse.
“I don’t believe this is a witch-hunt, but I do believe that the police are failing to properly evidence and investigate allegations prior to either making them public or reporting them as being factually 100% correct,” he said.
Peter Saunders, founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood and a victim of child abuse, added: “There’s a difference between a false and innocent accusation. such as mistaken identity, and a false and malicious accusation.
“A false and malicious accusation should be taken extremely and the people who commit such a crime should feel the full force of the law. They’re not just wasting police time, they’re potentially wrecking someone’s life.”
“But from the police angle, if they’re on to something and suspect they’re dealing with real crimes and real accusations, then they should be able to take time to gather evidence.
“It seems something genuinely went badly wrong in the case of Gambaccini.”