Christa Ackroyd: Why the treatment of Lord Brittan has made me agree with Sir Cliff Richard

Lord Brittan, The Metropolitan Police decided the former home secretary had no case to answer, but failed to tell him before he died of cancer.Photo:: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Lord Brittan, The Metropolitan Police decided the former home secretary had no case to answer, but failed to tell him before he died of cancer.Photo:: John Stillwell/PA Wire
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What happened to Leon Brittan, Lord Brittan, one of Yorkshire’s most eminent politicians is a disgrace.

Dying of cancer, his final days were dogged by the most lurid and despicable of accusations. Detectives had already thrown out one of the claims, that of an unsubstantiated rape of a girl, but didn’t bother to tell him. They said sorry for that later. Too late. He had died.

Following his death Lord Brittan’s name emerged as part of an investigation into a supposed paedophile ring that allegedly not only lured and abused young boys but had murdered three of them. No worse, he was described by senior labour politician,Tom Watson, as ‘as close to evil as any human being can get.’ Watson, now deputy leader of the Labour Party, later said he was ‘sincerely sorry’ for the distress caused to Lord Brittan’s family, that he was using the words of an ‘alleged victim’ but that he shouldn’t have done.And so he apologised. As did police when they paid out substantial damages to Lord Brittan’s widow for the way they carried out raids on his London and Yorkshire homes. A year later they confirmed to her that her late husband would have had no case to answer.

But this is not just a story of one reputation potentially destroyed and a man dying before knowing he had been exonerated. Other senior members of the establishment were implicated. And it was the fault of the Metropolitan police force if the rumours and speculation ran out of control. Two little words effectively saw to that. The accuser, named only as ‘Nick’ was, according to one senior investigating officer, ‘credible and true.’ Only he was a liar. And he was neither credible nor true. What’s more Carl Beech, his real name, was this week found guilty not only of lying but by his own admission, of making and possessing indecent images of children. He was the paedophile. And now he will presumably face a lengthy jail sentence as a result, as those he accused try to pick up the pieces. Why this sorry mess got so out of control is now the subject of important debate. A report into the failed Operation Midland, which cost £2m, came to the conclusion that numerous errors had been made but that a major contributing factor was, post Jimmy Savile, ‘the culture that ‘victims’ must be believed.’ Only I repeat, this ‘victim’ was a liar. Not all ‘victims’ tell the truth. Not all ‘victims’ are victims.

So here is where I stand. Firstly there is not one person, including Lord Brittan’s wife, who has ever said such claims should not be investigated. The Savile case showed us that no one should ever turn their back on those who have suffered at the hands of those who are deemed too powerful to interview. But there should should never trial by public opinion.

And so I reluctantly have to come to the conclusion that Sir Cliff Richard is right. There should be no naming of alleged perpetrators of sex crimes until there is evidence sought by police and examined by the Crown Prosecution Service to bring a case to court. I say reluctantly because, after Savile, there is a certain truth that once the alleged ‘crime’ enters the public domain other victims may be encouraged to come forward. However I am again bound to come down on the side of Sir Cliff when he said there is ample opportunity between a charge being brought before a court and a trial for that to happen. What cannot continue is a police investigation carried out in the full glare of publicity. And there has to be a better way to bring an end to such investigations than ‘insufficient evidence’. That alone adds fuel to the ghastly and unfair phrase there is no smoke without fire. There is no case to answer is entirely the right statement to make, if indeed there is no case to answer.

The Met should have taken Carl Beech’s claims seriously. They were serious claims. But they should not have been investigated against the backdrop of public speculation.That is not justice. That is a system that flies in the face of the bedrock of British law that anyone is entitled to be innocent until proven guilty. And the only place where that can happen is in a court of law. Events of the last few days will be some small comfort to Lord Brittan’s widow. But as she so eloquently said when she received an apology from the Met: “We are pleased that the rest of the world knows for sure what I, my family and Leon’s friends have always known - that he was a dedicated public servant, a devoted family man - and innocent.” It is sad beyond words that he himself is not alive to reclaim his legacy.