Met Police investigating 'very significant' public figures

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Media captionMet boss Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe says those wrongfully accused in Operation Midland could get compensation

A number of "very significant public figures" are being investigated by the Metropolitan Police, Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has revealed.

There were "at least 20" high profile cases under way, he told the BBC.

He argued that all suspects should retain their anonymity before being charged, and victims - particularly in sexual offences - should not automatically be believed by police.

Sir Bernard said it would be "improper" for him to interfere in VIP cases.

He said that one of the biggest criticisms of Operation Midland, Scotland Yard's investigation into paedophile allegations against VIPs, was that senior police interfered in inquiries "just because an important person is involved".

Acknowledging a highly critical independent review of the operation, Sir Bernard said: "We got it wrong. But the reputation of the Met should not be damaged by these errors in these cases."

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said the Met investigated around 800,000 crime reports a year - including an "awful lot" of cases that were either of public interest, or concerned people of public interest.

"If you just look at serious crime, there are about a hundred murders a year in London," he said.

'Anonymity before charge'

Operation Midland was launched after claims that boys had been sexually abused by a group of powerful men from politics, the military and law enforcement agencies at locations across southern England and in London in the 1970s and 1980s.

It cost £2.5m, but closed in March without an arrest or charge.

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Image caption Lord Bramall, the former head of the Army, has received a personal apology from Sir Bernard

Sir Bernard said that it was "perfectly possible" there would be compensation for the former head of the Army, Lord Bramall, and ex-MP Harvey Proctor.

Both men were accused but subsequently cleared, leading to a personal apology from Sir Bernard.

He said the right to anonymity before charge should be a statutory right - because the bar for arrest was "relatively low".

He said much of the current advice on policing was that they should believe the victims - particularly in sexual offences - because "they've been ignored too often in the past".

But he argued that victims should not be automatically believed.

"We should be independent, we should be comforting, understanding and sympathetic to complainants and we should accept their complaint and then go and investigate.

"But we shouldn't believe the complainant, because to believe leaves you in a difficult position when it comes to the suspect," he said.

'Damaging report'

Sir Bernard dismissed criticisms that the review of Operation Midland was published on the same day as the US presidential election.

He said: "This clearly was a damaging report. We'd been trying to publish it two or three weeks previously and in the end that date was selected. It was the earliest we could do… there was no motive to hide it, it didn't get hidden."

Five officers were referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) following the review.

It found 43 failings in Operation Midland, including believing one complainant, a man known as "Nick", for too long.

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