In Brief

Judge to review Scotland Yard's handling of sex abuse claims

Metropolitan Police policy to automatically believe abuse complaints may come to an end

Scotland Yard may no longer automatically believe people making allegations of rape or sexual assault after criticism of its approach to historical child abuse cases.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has asked retired High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques to review the handling of the allegations made against public figures and VIPs.

Sir Richard will examine Operation Midland – the inquiry into an alleged 1970s paedophile ring – and report on whether procedures could be improved. Some of his findings will remain private, says the BBC, due to the "confidential and sensitive information" they are likely to contain.

The inquiry will also ask whether a policy in which "the victim should always be believed" should be dropped, The Guardian reports. The presumption of honesty was introduced in 2014.

Pressure has been mounting on senior officers to explain why "the lives of public figures have been besmirched by untrue allegations", says the Daily Telegraph.

The Met has been criticised for inquiries into former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor and retired Field Marshal Lord Bramall, as well as ex-cabinet minister Lord Brittan, who died last year without having been told the case against him had been dropped.

Last week, London Mayor Boris Johnson refused to confirm that Sir Bernard's contract will be renewed when it expires in September. The home affairs select committee has asked him to appear in front of MPs to answer questions about the cases.

The government has set up a separate inquiry investigating the scale of historical abuse and claims of a cover-up within the police force and other parts of the British establishment.

Scotland Yard chief faces grilling over sex abuse inquiry

8 February

MPs are to question the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, over the force's sex abuse inquiry.

Sir Bernard will face the home affairs select committee later this month to discuss the handling of the investigations, known as Operation Midland.

He is also preparing to apologise to Diana Brittan, the wife of the late Lord Brittan. The peer died last year without being informed an investigation into a rape allegation made against him had been dropped four months earlier.

A review by Dorset Police concluded the force was correct to pursue the former home secretary, who was battling cancer, despite officers initially carrying out a "poor standard" interview with the alleged victim. It added that Lord Brittan's accuser had given a "fairly compelling account of events".

However, critics argue the force allowed the presumption of innocence to be turned on its head.

Sir Bernard may also apologise to Lord Bramall, the former head of the army, and other establishment figures "falsely accused in the now discredited investigation into child abuse by VIPs", reports The Times.

Lord Bramall has accused the Met of failing to follow up leads and alibis that could have exonerated him months before, although he has expressed sympathy for the Commissioner, describing him as a "poor chap".

The Times believes Sir Bernard's five-year term as head of the Met, due to end in September, should not be extended following his "disastrous" management of the inquiries.

Former police officers last week told the Daily Telegraph the Commissioner was a "dead man walking" because of the "beleaguered" sex abuse inquiry.

Writing in The Guardian, Zoe Williams calls for a "new normal" in which society's need to believe in human goodness comes second to the pursuit of justice.

Our collective horror over sex abuse means that once somebody has been accused, they stay accused, she says. Consequently, we are stuck swinging on a pendulum from the "bad old days" when victims were not taken seriously to the present day, when the "presumption of innocence has been replaced by the impossibility of exoneration".

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