Sir Stephen House won't face disciplinary proceedings following investigation into conduct in meeting

Published: 18 Mar 2024

Former Metropolitan Police Service (Met) Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House will not face any disciplinary proceedings following an Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation into his conduct during a meeting at New Scotland Yard in 2022, which found there was no indication he may have breached the police standards of professional behaviour.

We began our investigation in March 2023 after receiving a conduct referral from the Met following the broadcast of a news item that featured allegations by Professor Betsy Stanko about Sir Stephen’s conduct during the meeting, including a claim that he described the bulk of rape complaints as “regretful sex”. 

The meeting was held in January 2022 to discuss the findings of research into the MPS’ investigation and prosecution of rape and other serious sexual offences as part of Operation Soteria Bluestone - a national Home Office-funded research and change programme, led by the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

At the meeting were Professor Stanko and another academic, who were presenting their findings to four senior Met officers, including Sir Stephen, and a force employee.

We investigated four specific allegations about Sir Stephen’s conduct during the meeting.

These were that he:
•    was difficult and rude throughout the meeting and constantly interrupted the presentation
•    said that rape and serious sexual assault were not equivalent to serious violence or knife crime
•    used the term “bog of domestics” during a discussion about the overlap between domestic abuse and rape and other serious sexual offences, and
•    referred to the bulk of rape complaints as “regretful sex”.

During our investigation we contacted each of the individuals present at the meeting to try to establish what was said.

We found that no minutes of the meeting were recorded and only one of the individuals who attended was able to provide us with notes made at the time, which did not reference any of the phrases alleged to have been said. 

When interviewed by the IOPC, Professor Stanko said she was clear that Sir Stephen used those phrases and described his manner during the meeting as confrontational. She said that Sir Stephen brought up the phrase “regretful sex” during a discussion about a finding of an “endemic culture of disbelieving victims”. She did not raise her concerns at the time and the issue was first brought up over a year later when she was interviewed for a news report. 

Sir Stephen, who was interviewed by the IOPC under misconduct caution, denied each of the allegations and making those remarks. He believed he was either misheard or there was a misunderstanding and said no colleagues raised any concerns with him, however he agreed there may have been a clash of personalities between himself and Professor Stanko.

In the absence of any documented evidence, our investigation relied on recollections from those also present - more than a year after the meeting occurred.

We found that:

  • Those present described the meeting as “spiky” and “hard-hitting”. Some said Sir Stephen and other Met officers were defensive and challenged some of the findings presented, but disagreed that he was rude
  • No one else present recalled Sir Stephen making any remark about rape and sexual assaults not being equivalent to serious violence or knife crime 
  • No one else present could recall Sir Stephen using the term “bog of domestics”
  • Two of the five other people who attended recalled Sir Stephen using the phrase “regretful sex” - a phrase that appeared in the Operation Soteria Year One report, which was published almost 12 months after the meeting.  
    • One person couldn’t recall the context. 
    • A second person said they didn’t hear Sir Stephen describe most rape cases investigated by the Met as “regretful sex” but heard him use the comment in the context of a discussion about the disbelief of rape and sexual assault victims by Met officers. They said they intervened to correct Sir Stephen’s use of the term, believing he’d misused it when asking about false rape allegations.  
    • After repeated denials of using the phrase, Sir Stephen later accepted in an interview with our investigators that he may have said the phrase in the context of querying the researchers’ findings.

During our investigation we also spoke to other individuals who were not present in the meeting but were involved in the Operation Soteria Bluestone project. We also reviewed character witness statements and relevant policies, guidance and legislation.

At the conclusion of our investigation, we decided that there was no indication that Sir Stephen may have breached the police standards of professional behaviour. 

IOPC director Amanda Rowe said: “We investigated the allegations thoroughly but faced difficulties as, given the delay in the allegations being raised, we were reliant on those present at the meeting trying to recall what had been said at a meeting that took place more than a year before we spoke to them. There were also no minutes or detailed notes made by anyone who attended.  

“Both Professor Stanko and Sir Stephen are of impeccable good character and have served long and esteemed careers in the public service for which they have been awarded the highest honours. 

“This meeting involved robust challenges between professionals with differing styles and there may have been an element of a personality clash. Professional discussions on sensitive matters will rarely amount to breaches of the standards of professional behaviour. 

“We found evidence that indicated Sir Stephen did use the phrase “regretful sex”, but the recollections of those present do not indicate it was used in the context alleged, and in our view there has been a degree of misunderstanding. 

“We also considered Sir Stephen’s career history, previous actions and public remarks about combatting violence against women and girls and sexual offences, which supported his assertion that the alleged comments did not reflect his stance on the issue.

“The parties involved have been made aware of our findings.”

  • Metropolitan Police Service
  • Corruption and abuse of power