IOPC finds shortcomings in the handling of search warrant applications in Operation Midland

Published: 07 Oct 2019

An Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation of applications for search warrants made by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) as part of Operation Midland has identified shortcomings and organisational failings, with 16 recommendations made to change policing practice.

As a result of the Henriques review, in November 2016 the MPS referred a number of allegations involving five officers to the then Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). These allegations involved Operation Midland and Operation Vincente. An independent IPCC investigation began assessing the material and concluded that some of the allegations did not constitute misconduct and therefore, the investigation of these allegations was discontinued. We concluded that only one matter might constitute misconduct and was further investigated. 

This investigation focussed on the decision to apply for search warrants and the accuracy of the information provided to the court in February 2015, relating to properties linked to Lord Brittan, Mr Proctor and Lord Bramall.

The investigation found no evidence the police officers investigated had deliberately misled a district court judge, but found gaps in processes and systems.

The Operation Midland investigation report can be found here.

The IOPC investigated these allegations independently from government, the police and complainants. This was a thorough and detailed investigation which involved an experienced team of investigators reviewing over 1,800 documents and over 300 statements held by Operation Midland, gathering 14 independent witness accounts, in addition to gaining accounts from the three officers subject to misconduct notices. 

While the IOPC could find no evidence of misconduct by the officers investigated, the investigation revealed gaps and shortcomings where there is room for improvement to reduce the risk of future failings. 

Director General Michael Lockwood said: “Did the officers involved make mistakes? Yes. Could police processes have been improved? Almost certainly. But did they deliberately exclude information to secure the warrants? Our investigation found no evidence of that. 

“The IOPC is very clear that there must be accountability and assurance to the public that the weaknesses we have identified are addressed so these mistakes can never be repeated. Our report makes 16 recommendations for the MPS and other stakeholders in the police and criminal justice system. 

“Our learning includes a set of areas relating specifically to search warrants which focus on their completeness, duty of disclosure, and communication, amongst others. Specifically, it also recommends consideration of the cost-benefit of implementing in the future the audio-recording of search warrant application hearings which we believe would increase public confidence by improving transparency. 

“More widely, our learning also invites forces and other policing stakeholders to reflect on and consider a number of other important areas to decide whether any further action is needed. These relate to media management and handling, closing statements at the conclusion of an investigation and communications with suspects. 

“Importantly, this also includes the issue of the culture of belief, where understandably in the highly charged atmosphere of the time, guidance was to believe the victim. This is absolutely right at the recording stage but should not be at the expense of investigating allegations objectively and thoroughly." 

The IOPC has asked for all organisations named in the recommendations to provide a response within two months so the public can be assured that policing practice will change. 

Mr Lockwood added: “The IOPC’s legal remit is to investigate serious incidents involving the police and to consider whether there is a case to answer for police misconduct. It was not to conduct a review of the all assertions made in the Henriques Review. However, we did consider his review and concur with many aspects, reflected in our final recommendations." 

“We look forward to working with the HMICFRS to ensure these learning recommendations are appropriately considered.” 

The IOPC’s learning recommendations are: 

Recommendation 1 – The MPS should take immediate steps to assure itself that appropriate measures (for example, training, guidance and oversight) are in place to ensure that warrants applied for by the MPS are consistently completed to a high standard.  

Recommendation 2 – The National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing should work together to consider what steps can be taken to ensure that warrants applied for by the police service are consistently completed to a high standard. In doing this they should consider learning and action taken from an internal review of search warrants carried out by the NCA and subsequent inspection to determine whether any of this learning is transferrable to the police service. They should then determine who the appropriate lead to take forward any appropriate actions is. 

Recommendation 3 – Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service should consider the costs and benefits of implementing audio recording of search warrant application hearings and whether this should form part of the hearing process. 

Recommendation 4 – The Criminal Procedure Rule Committee should consider whether additions can be made to the ‘Notes for Guidance’ relating to section 10 (authorisation) of the search warrant, and to section 10 itself, to include a checklist which requires the authorising officer to confirm:

i. that all relevant information is contained within the warrant to the best of their knowledge and belief, and

ii. that the possibility there may be evidence, intelligence or other matters that might reasonably be considered capable of undermining the application has been considered, and relevant assurances have been sought from the applicant.

Recommendation 5 – The MPS should issue an urgent reminder to officers of the requirements of this duty of disclosure and how high the onus is on them to make full disclosure in a search warrant application. 

Recommendation 6 – The Home Office’s Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) Strategy Board should amend Code B of PACE to provide guidance to make the duty of disclosure clearer to investigators and assist them to comply with this duty. 

Recommendation 7 – The MPS should issue an urgent reminder to officers of their responsibilities for notifications relating to searches under PACE. 

Recommendation 8 – In the next review of PACE, the Home Office PACE Strategy Board should review requirements for notification relating to searches including looking at any inconsistencies in requirements under different PACE powers. The review should consider whether there should be a specific requirement in all searches that a list of property seized is provided, detailing under which powers it was seized, and explaining how individuals may seek its return or be allowed to have copies/access to it. The IOPC will be happy to provide input to consultation around such a review based on this and other case experience. 

Recommendation 9 – The MPS should take steps to ensure that consideration of potential conflict of interests, whether real or perceived, inform decisions about which officers are deployed to undertake a search. This should include a responsibility on those making the decision as well as an expectation that officers will self declare any potential conflict of interest. It is acknowledged that there may be circumstances where the benefit of a particular individual being present outweighs a potential conflict of interest. In these circumstances, decisions should be fully considered and managed appropriately.  

Recommendation 10 – The MPS should define the benefits of using HOLMES to ensure that those benefits are maximised with reference to, but not bound by, Major Incident Room Standard Administration Procedures. The MPS should also ensure that it has a clear policy for its staff, requiring a decision to be made and articulated in relation to how HOLMES will be utilised to enhance the quality of the investigation, which should include associated resources and role allocation. Particular consideration should be given to:  

  • Using the full functionality of HOLMES to support an investigation (with the appropriate associated resourcing requirement to avoid a backlog of investigative material being added). 
  • Using HOLMES as defined by the needs of the enquiry (known as HOLMES-lite), in which case clear direction and policy decisions must be provided in relation to what roles will be allocated, or
  • Not using HOLMES at all in the specific circumstances.

Recommendation 11 – The MPS should consider how it can best reinforce with its officers and staff the importance of good-quality document management and take appropriate steps to act on this. This could, for example, be achieved by embedding it in policy or training. 

Recommendation 12 – For investigations, especially of the type described above, the MPS should seek to undertake regular periodic reviews to provide the necessary advice and support to the overall strategic management of the investigation and to ensure they are conducted within the level of quality and strategic oversight required by the chief officer. Reference should be made to the relevant College of Policing advice in this area. 

Recommendation 13 – While acknowledging there is a fine balance to be struck, we would invite the police service to reflect carefully on and renew their efforts to balance the culture of belief at the time an allegation is recorded with the clear need to objectively investigate the allegations thereafter. 

Recommendation 14 – The MPS should review its media handling procedures to ensure alignment with current APP. Police forces should assure themselves that any media strategy relating to an investigation includes careful consideration of the potential for an individual to be identified through the information released about them. Naming a suspect before charge is a major step and should only be undertaken in exceptional circumstances and for a clear policing purpose.  

Recommendation 15 – While we appreciate that the police cannot control what the media reports, police forces should take careful steps – particularly where an investigation has demonstrated that allegations have been made falsely or in bad faith – to ensure that a fair and balanced summary of the reasons for taking no further action is put out into the public domain.

Recommendation 16 – Suspects should receive regular open and candid communication from the MPS throughout the progress of their case, including an indicative timescale for the investigation. It is accepted it will not be possible or appropriate to give them details of the precise nature of enquiries being undertaken.