UK
11/02/2016 08:13 GMT | Updated 11/02/2016 10:59 GMT

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe Says Police Should Not Believe 'Unconditionally' Alleged Victims Of Historical Sex Abuse

Alleged victims of historical sex abuse should not automatically be believed by police, Britain's most senior police officer has said after a storm of controversy over how officers handled allegations against public figures.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said that officers should not believe alleged victims "unconditionally" and that allegations should be investigated with an "open mind".

The Metropolitan Police commissioner's stance goes against the current policy of presuming claims to be true.

He also said that suspects should be given anonymity before they are charged because "reputations may be tarnished".

bernard hogan howe

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said that the approach that police take should change

Sir Bernard's comments come after he announced a judge-led review of Scotland Yard's controversial handling of claims of a VIP paedophile ring in Westminster amid mounting pressure over Operation Midland.

Writing in the Guardian, the police chief said "public confidence has been affected" by the Met's handling of investigations into Lord Bramall and other high-profile figures.

The way officers investigate historical sex claims involving public figures would be part of the review, Sir Bernard added, suggesting a shake-up of policy to make it "more neutral".

Sir Bernard said that a review of the Met's approach to rape allegations showed that the force's policy had evolved over the years.

In 2002, the Met said officers should accept an allegation "made by the victim in the first instance as being truthful".

A report in 2005 called for a "culture of belief, support and respect".

In 2014, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary said: "The presumption that a victim should always be believed should be institutionalised."

Sir Bernard said: "The public should be clear that officers do not believe unconditionally what anyone tells them. They are listened to, sometimes at length, before the decision is made to begin an investigation.

"A good investigator would test the accuracy of the allegations and the evidence with an open mind, supporting the complainant through the process. This is a more neutral way to begin than saying we should believe victims, and better describes our impartial mindset.

"Emotionally, though, it may not be enough to give victims confidence in our approach."

But he admitted the change in approach created a tension that was "hard to reconcile".

Sir Bernard had a heated exchange with John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday over the Met's handling of allegations of historical sexual abuse.

The Scotland Yard boss again refused on Wednesday to bow to calls to apologise to Lord Bramall, 93, amid fierce criticism over the conduct of Operation Midland, which saw police raid the home of the former D-Day veteran.

The case against Lord Bramall was later dropped.

The findings of the review, to be led by former High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques, will be published later in the year, although the full report will remain confidential.

But it has been dismissed as a "PR campaign" by former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor, who was questioned under the controversial inquiry before facing no further action.

Operation Midland, which had cost £1.8 million as of November last year, centred on allegations by a man known as "Nick", which were described by a detective at the time as "credible and true".

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