Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe 'increasing uncertainty' over abuse cases

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has said policy should be "reformulated"

Metropolitan Police chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has "intensified" uncertainty over how sex abuse claims are handled, the police watchdog says.

Sir Bernard recently said an official policy to automatically believe victims had caused confusion among detectives investigating historical allegations.

He said there was a danger this meant complainants would always be believed.

But in a letter, the chief inspector of constabulary Sir Tom Winsor called Sir Bernard's comments misleading.

He said the policy was used for the purpose of recording a crime, rather than how claims should be investigated.

'Increased the risk'

In 2014, Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) issued guidance which said "the presumption that a victim should always be believed should be institutionalised".

Speaking at a BBC event, Sir Bernard said it was time to "reformulate" the policy, so police showed empathy towards alleged victims but kept an open mind as they tested claims.

He went on to tell BBC Radio 4's Today programme that police had become "hung up" on the word "belief" and it had "confused officers".

He added there was a "grave danger" that "we will always believe any complaint that is made and that's not wise for any good investigator, nor as it would be for any journalist".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Allegations against Lord Bramall were found to have no substance

However, in a letter sent to the Met chief on 11 February, Sir Tom said the guidance was "conspicuously explicit" that the presumption of believing complainants was for the purpose of recording a crime once it had been reported to police.

It did not suggest complainants should be believed throughout the investigative process, he added.

He said: "In saying what you said on the Today programme, without qualification or context, and accepting the misapprehension on the part of the interviewer that the institutionalisation of belief should go much further than the simple administrative act of recording a crime, I regret you may have increased the risk that officers and others may not understand the position.

"Rather than dispel uncertainty, I fear you may have intensified it."

The Met's Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Mark Simmons, said it was "far from the truth" to suggest Sir Bernard was "confused" or had a "misapprehension on that issue".

He added: "I think the issue more significantly is in these really difficult areas where you go into the heart of some of the issues of vulnerability for some of the people who suffer these offences.

"They're complex matters to investigate and we need to make sure we get to the truth, but no, I'm pretty clear and I think all our people are, the commissioner is not confused about the approach we should be taking."

Met review

A review into the Met's policing procedures, which will be led by an ex-judge, is due to scrutinise the force's handling of investigations including Operation Midland - which is looking at claims that boys were abused by powerful men from politics, the military and law enforcement agencies in the 1970s and 80s.

The review follows criticism of the handling of cases involving former military chief Lord Bramall and the late Lord Brittan, a former home secretary.

Lord Bramall, who was told last month no action would be taken against him, later called for a review into the way cases were investigated.

Sir Bernard has apologised to the widow of Lord Brittan, who died without knowing a rape claim against him, which he denied, had been dropped.

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