United Kingdom

How can Commander Calamity cling on?

Nick Bramall gives a mirthless laugh. The murky politics and contradictions of policing have long failed to surprise the son of Field Marshal Lord Bramall MC. But they still appal him. ‘It’s too late for Dad and the other victims, of course,’ he says.

‘Steve Rodhouse has never apologised to us, but he must know what is coming now. He was the man in charge and he should take the rap. I just find it very odd that despite him being involved in so many fiascos, he kept getting promoted.’

So many fiascos? This is a story in which failure apparently breeds success. Almost five years have passed since Operation Midland, the Metropolitan Police’s calamitous investigation into allegations of a VIP sex abuse ring made by an NHS manager called Carl Beech — aka ‘Nick’ — was officially closed down. On that day, March 21, 2016, the then Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) Rodhouse, who had overall control of Midland, declared: ‘I haven’t seen any evidence to prove that anyone, Nick or otherwise, has knowingly provided false information to the investigation.’

Former Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse, who had overall control of Operation Midland, is now Director General (Operations) at the National Crime Agency 

History has not been kind to that judgment.

Since then Beech has been jailed for 18 years for 12 counts of perverting the course of justice and one of fraud in relation to his outlandish Operation Midland claims, and other offences.

Beech is also a convicted paedophile, having admitted in 2019 to making or possessing indecent images or films of children.

The sadistic sex parties he talked of, involving field marshals, prime ministers, ministers, MPs and heads of MI5 and MI6, simply never happened.

And his credulous cheerleader? DAC Rodhouse.

He emerged unscathed from the wreckage of that disaster, which surely would have destroyed the credibility, if not the careers, of most other officers.

Carl Beech, the child abuse fantasist, was jailed for 18 years for perverting the course of justice. His wild claims led to the Operation Midland investigation into allegations of a VIP Child Sex abuse ring

Instead, Rodhouse is now Director General (Operations) at the National Crime Agency (NCA) the British equivalent of the FBI.

He oversees our defences against the most serious organised crime. For this he receives a salary package of around £300,000 a year — almost twice as much as that of the Home Secretary, Priti Patel.

These are not facts which make one sleep more comfortably at night. But ‘Teflon Steve’ — or plain ‘Plodhouse’ as some of his officers call him — would appear to have patrons in very high places in British law enforcement. Patrons who have, arguably, vested interests in his survival.

Who is prepared to challenge this status quo? Or dispel the impression of an outrageous cover-up? It might only be an impression, of course.

But we can reveal that DAC Rodhouse was cleared by the independent police watchdog without even being interviewed, only three months after his actions during the Midland investigation were identified as potentially ‘gross misconduct’ by two senior officers of the Met’s internal Department of Professional Standards.

The report that exonerated him was written by a lawyer whose job before joining the watchdog was resident magistrate on an archipelago 8,000 miles from Westminster where his most notable case was a dispute over the catching of the South Atlantic toothfish.

Rodhouse was also in charge of Operation Vincente, a concurrent and similarly flawed Met inquiry into false rape allegations against former Home Secretary Lord Brittan — who was also accused of abuse by Beech.

But his earliest and arguably most influential ‘fiasco’ — from which all others followed — came some years before. That was when he oversaw the Surrey Police investigation into a genuine VIP paedophile, the TV presenter Jimmy Savile.

It has been argued — not least by the police watchdog — that public outrage at the police failure to successfully prosecute Savile before his death in 2011 contributed to the panicked way in which the Met subsequently approached the Beech allegations.

Rodhouse had a significant hand in both cases, as we shall see. ‘Teflon Steve’ marched on. But now pressure for a reassessment and remedial action is mounting.

This week saw Home Secretary Patel appear before the Commons’ Home Affairs Select Committee.

Sir Richard Henriques, the retired High Court judge who, in 2016, wrote a damning report on Rodhouse and the Midland investigation, in which he identified no fewer than 43 major blunders committed by him and his officers

She told MPs that she intended to speak personally to Sir Richard Henriques, the retired High Court judge who, in 2016, wrote a damning report on Rodhouse and the Midland investigation, in which he identified no fewer than 43 major blunders committed by him and his officers.

Earlier this month the Mail published an open letter which Sir Richard had written to the Home Secretary, in which he expressed serious concerns about how Rodhouse landed his job at the NCA. He spoke out days after Lord Brittan’s widow gave a bombshell five-page interview to this newspaper, alleging a ‘culture of cover-up and flick away’ and ‘lack of moral compass’ among senior officers in the Met.

Sir Richard asked Miss Patel ‘who caused or permitted’ his promotion to take place before the police watchdog investigation was completed. He also raised the question of why two of Rodhouse’s key supporting witnesses to Beech’s claims — both convicted fraudsters and thieves with a history of making false sex allegations themselves — have never been prosecuted for their part in the scandal.

In addition, Sir Richard demanded an investigation into the conduct of the police watchdog — the Independent Office for Police Conduct, formerly the IPCC — which cleared Rodhouse.

The same day, during a radio interview, Miss Patel refused three times to give her unqualified support to the current Met Commissioner Cressida Dick. As Assistant Commissioner Dick and Rodhouse’s direct boss in 2014, she had signed off the start of Operation Midland.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick has been criticised over the Met's handling of Operation Midland

To add to the clamour for action, Howard Riddle, the former chief magistrate who issued Rodhouse’s team with the search warrants for the homes and offices of Lords Bramall and Brittan, and former Tory MP Harvey Proctor, wrote in the Mail this week claiming there was no reason to doubt Sir Richard Henriques’s conclusion that there were ‘reasonable grounds to suspect a criminal offence’ had been committed by the officers. He said that if police had failed to reveal to him evidence undermining the credibility of their witness ‘Nick’, then the applications for warrants would appear to amount to perverting the course of justice.

Today, Rodhouse and his legacy presents a significant issue for Miss Patel. What should she do?

Nick Bramall believes she has ‘no alternative’ but to instigate a public inquiry which could lead to a new criminal investigation, this time into the officers concerned.

He has sent a private letter to the Home Secretary. She had not replied when we spoke to Nick Bramall earlier this week. But he has now shared its contents with the Mail.

‘Dear Home Secretary’, he began. ‘Operation Midland unnecessarily trashed the lives and reputations of distinguished men. It is hard to believe that the uncorroborated testimony of one man could wreak such devastation. He told a fantastical story which the Metropolitan Police, in their wisdom, deemed “true and credible”. Most thought it so fantastical that it’s veracity was unlikely. It should, of course, have been discreetly yet rigorously examined. This was the prime duty of the Metropolitan Police Service and they failed miserably in that duty. Instead, seduced by the unlikely prospect of a VIP paedophile ring, and with redemption after the Savile fiasco beckoning, they embarked on an ill-conceived and reckless strategy which in hindsight appeared bizarre and at the time, heavy handed without evidence.

‘Houses were raided with battering ram insensitivity (a judge misled in the process). Subsequent interviews under caution, all in the glare of publicity resulting in considerable trauma to the Bramall family.

Home Secretary Priti Patel is considering the government's response to what happened during the Operation Midland investigation which wrongly accused a number of high profile politicians and senior figures 

‘And yet no police officer has received as much as a slap on the wrist. This cannot be right and I look to you, as Home Secretary, to instigate a fully independent inquiry into what has been an inglorious episode, a stain on the British Judicial System and the workings of the police.’

Steve Rodhouse joined Surrey Police in 1993. His current boss at the NCA, Lynne Owens, joined him there from Kent Police in 2002 and became divisional commander for the north of the county in May the following year.

Save for a brief period, they have worked closely together ever since — and back when she joined Surrey Police, Rodhouse was a detective chief inspector in the same division.

Then came the Savile case.

On May 13, 2007, Surrey Police launched an investigation into a series of alleged attacks by Savile on young girl pupils at Duncroft, an approved school run by Barnado’s. It was given the codename Operation Ornament.

The inquiry was handled by the North Surrey division. By now the district commander was Chief Superintendent Steve Rodhouse. He was put in overall charge of the inquiry, as the most senior ‘Gold’ officer.

Ornament was not straightforward, concerning as it did a major celebrity famous for his charity work and allegations dating back to the 1970s.

Over the next two-and-a-half years, detectives traced 23 girls, who claimed they had been abused by Savile. He had been given his own flat at the school.

However, the alleged victims were reluctant to cooperate with the Ornament inquiry.

Each was under the impression they were the only victim. This avoidable misapprehension attracted fierce criticism from Alison Levitt, QC, who would later prepare a report on the inquiry for the then Director of Public Prosecutions, now Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer.

D-Day hero Lord Bramall, pictured, was one of the high profile figures wrongly accused by fantasist Beech

Two further internal investigations by Surrey Police and another probe by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found the entire inquiry lacking in many areas including, tellingly, in senior oversight.

Critically, at a Gold group meeting on May 21, 2008, an assistant chief constable decided there was no need for further Gold group meetings at force level. They would remain at divisional level, firmly in Rodhouse’s hands.

The inquiry culminated in Savile being interviewed under caution. Yet he was allowed to choose the venue, his beloved Stoke Mandeville Hospital, as well as the date and time and to have a close friend in attendance. At this interview, Savile made several comments about knowing senior police officers in Leeds and socialising with them.

At one point, a detective inspector from West Yorkshire even contacted Surrey on behalf of Savile.

Police had been earlier criticised over their failure to believe victims of serial child sex abuser Jimmy Savile, pictured, who escaped arrest and prosecution despite decades of criminality

The CPS, whose prosecutor was later accused of failing to try to ‘build’ a case against Savile, advised no charges be brought due to insufficient evidence. Operation Ornament was closed down in October 2009.

The 2013 internal inquiry culminated in a list of seven ‘learnings’ — remember that phrase as it will crop up again in Rodhouse’s story.

Last night Richard Scorer, a lawyer at Slater Gordon who represents Savile’s victims, said: ‘It’s extremely distressing for victims to learn Savile never faced justice in his lifetime because of a catalogue of serious blunders.’

By 2009 Deputy Chief Constable Lynne Owens had moved to the Met, as a DAC. The next year Rodhouse followed her to Scotland Yard, after his appointment as a commander, with Owens as his line manager.

In February 2012, Owens returned to Surrey as chief constable. She would be in charge there as the full extent of the force’s errors over the Savile inquiry became clear.

Alison Levitt’s report to the DPP Starmer and his apology to Savile victims were instrumental in police adopting a new approach to abuse cases: the victim must always be believed.

The stage was set for Carl Beech. Rodhouse remained at the Met. By 2014 he had been promoted to DAC leading Crime Operations.

That November, Operation Midland was established with Rodhouse in overall charge as ‘Gold Commander’. The following month one of Rodhouse’s officers made the notorious statement that Beech’s claims were ‘credible and true’.

They were not, of course. Sir Richard Henriques’s report in November 2016 made that quite clear. Sir Richard concluded: ‘Since [Rodhouse] had formed the view that Nick may have fabricated some or all of this allegation, I am unable to see how he could properly formulate a decision to inform the public that “we believe Nick”.’

Sir Richard also blasted Rodhouse’s handling of Operation Vincente — the investigation into historic false rape allegations against Lord Brittan, made by a Labour Party activist with severe mental health issues. Brittan died before he was cleared.

Rodhouse was also responsible for f Operation Vincente — the investigation into historic false rape allegations against Lord Brittan, made by a Labour Party activist with severe mental health issues. Brittan died before he was cleared

The Henriques report — which also doubted the legality of the search warrants obtained by the Midland team — questioned in particular the actions of five senior officers, Rodhouse among them. These officers were all investigated — and cleared — by the subsequent IOPC inquiry which has been described as a ‘whitewash’ by the families of Beech’s victims.

Part of the report was authored by Carl Gumsley, who exonerated Rodhouse early in 2017 without the watchdog interviewing him.

Before he became a watchdog commissioner, Mr Gumsley was the resident magistrate on the Falkland Islands. According to the local Penguin News, in 2013 he conducted a judicial review into whether a fishing boat should be allowed to catch toothfish off the islands. Operation Midland was a very different kettle of the creatures.

Rodhouse’s name appears 161 times in the IOPC ‘whitewash’ report released in October 2019. While finding no evidence of deliberate wrongdoing it repeatedly flags up ‘learning’ matters for the officers under investigation. ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade could also have been described as a “learning matter” for those who were responsible,’ observes Nick Bramall dryly.

Buried in Appendix 2 of the report are paragraphs of huge significance which have never been reported before.

They reveal that two senior officers in the Met’s Professional Standards Department — including another DAC — classified Rodhouse’s conduct in Midland as potential ‘gross misconduct’, a sackable offence (if proven).

The watchdog report says: ‘The finalised report by Sir Richard was sent to Assistant Commissioner (AC) Helen King. AC King tasked Detective Superintendent (DSU) Ashwood to review the report with the aim of establishing if the findings made by Sir Richard would indicate a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour amounting to misconduct.’

Police failed to search Beech's computers - which contained images of child abuse - because they did not want to alienate him during the investigation

Two allegations were indeed assessed by Ashwood as ‘amounting to gross misconduct (if proven) for the officers concerned’. This conclusion was then reviewed and rubber stamped by DAC Fiona Taylor.

Yet within three months the IPCC (now IOPC) had cleared Rodhouse. News of his controversial exoneration was eventually released on Budget Day in March 2017, a good day to bury bad news, some might say.

The full report on Midland still reads like a litany of incompetence. Rodhouse had not even met Beech by the time the search warrants were executed.

Beech’s computers — in which he stored child sexual abuse images — had not been examined by Midland officers for fear of offending him. He might ‘disengage’ from the inquiry.

Time for Rodhouse to get promoted again. In November 2015, Lynne Owens was appointed head of the National Crime Agency.

In May 2018 Rodhouse became her deputy. Commissioner Dick described him at the time as a ‘great professional — hardworking, determined and a thoroughly decent and compassionate leader and colleague’.

In her own Press statement, Owens —the well-connected daughter of former West Midlands Chief Constable Sir Ted Crew — welcomed Rodhouse with open arms: ‘He brings a wealth of knowledge and practical skills that further strengthen our response to fighting serious and organised crime in the UK.’

The NCA has repeatedly refused to answer questions about how many people applied for the job Rodhouse got, how many were shortlisted, and if Dame Lynne — she was ennobled in the last New Year honours list — sat on the selection board.

A very senior law enforcement figure told the Mail: ‘I remember Lynne telling me around that time, “We’re getting Steve [Rodhouse] in as head of operations”. I was quite shocked, given his track record over Midland.

‘But it all made sense. Lynne likes him and they go back a long way together in their careers.’

A highly respected former chief officer, with knowledge of Operation Midland, had a less sanguine view.

He told the Mail that irrespective of the legality of the Midland search warrants, the level of ‘gross negligence’ in the investigation could be, in his view, considered to be ‘misconduct in public office’ — a criminal offence.

Nick Bramall agrees: ‘I have nothing but contempt for the way the police handled Operation Midland,’ he says.

The ball lies in the Home Secretary’s court. She is not tainted by nepotism and self-interest like so many in this case. What will she do?

Additional reporting: Simon Trump

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