Appearing before the home affairs select committee, Labour’s deputy leader said he regretted referring to Lord Brittan as “evil” after the Conservative peer died in January without having been told he would not face action over the rape claim.
But Watson defended his actions in going over the heads of senior detectives by writing to the director of public prosecutions after discovering that Brittan had not been interviewed by the Met about the allegation.
The hearing before a Conservative-dominated committee heard that Watson’s work with alleged victims of child abuse had resulted in three successful prosecutions for which he had been thanked by Met police officers.
The allegation against Brittan, that he raped a 19-year-old woman in 1967, came to light after the alleged victim, known as Jane, approached Watson in 2012. Police determined in September 2013 that the case should not be pursued, but the investigation was reopened and Brittan was questioned in May last year while suffering from terminal cancer.
Last week Watson declined to apologise to Brittan’s widow in parliament, but in his appearance before the select committeeon Wednesday he expressed regret for repeating a claim by an alleged sex abuse survivor who described Brittan as “as close to evil as any human being could get”.
Watson said: “I do regret using that phrase. That was not a phrase that I used, it was an alleged victim that used that phrase, but that wasn’t Jane. But I do regret using that emotive language, I shouldn’t have done and I’m sincerely sorry for repeating it, it was unnecessary.”
DCI Paul Settle of the Metropolitan police, who was in charge of investigating the claim against Brittan, shed light on the unorthodox relationship that his team had developed with Watson, who had been inundated with claims from child abuse victims and their organisations.
He told the committee that he had met Watson three or four times, and on the first occasion they met in the presence of a alleged abuse victim and a journalist.
Settle said he had ruled as early as September 2013 that the case against Brittan should not proceed, but he had been “betrayed” by Watson who went behind his back to demand that the investigation be reopened.
“I felt he was being very supportive and we had a very supportive relationship with him. Up until he sent that letter,” Settle said. He said the letter to the DPP, Alison Saunders, “confused matters considerably … It shook confidence within the team because it has kind of undermined us.”
It emerged that Settle had been sidelined after raising his concerns about interventions. Asked what he was doing now in the Met, he said: “Not a lot.”
Settle conceded that the letter to Saunders, which was later forwarded to police, arrived after his senior officer had already ordered a review of the case.
Watson said he was “sad” that Settle saw his letter as a betrayal, but he felt there was a risk that some alleged victims were not having their voices heard.
“That wasn’t my intention, to affect his career, I just wanted to make sure that Jane’s voice was amplified in the system,” he said. Watson denied he had been trying to micromanage the police investigation, and also rejected suggestions that his involvement was politically motivated.
The committee heard that in July 2014 a Met deputy assistant commissioner, Steve Rodhouse, took over the investigation into Brittan. Under his leadership, the investigation asked the CPS to review the case file, a request that was eventually turned down.
Rodhouse denied he had done this because of a “politics of fear” that had left celebrities and public figures vulnerable to repeated investigation. “It is important we do a thorough investigation on every occasion. But clearly, where the subject of the investigation is subject to public scrutiny, it is particularly important that we have got it right,” he told the MPs.
Rodhouse said he did not agree with Settle’s decision not to interview the alleged victim. “I thought there were grounds to conduct an interview,” he said, adding that this was also the view of a team of officers who reviewed Settle’s recommendation.
Harvey Proctor, who is under investigation for separate child abuse allegations of murder and rape, which he vehemently denies, said the evidence heard by the committee showed that others could die while waiting to be cleared.
“The police are supposed to deal with these inquiries expeditiously, but all I heard today means that the inquiries into me and others are going to be long and drawn out,” he said. “It will take years if they proceed at the same pace and with the same methodology. I fear for the health of many of those accused who are elderly and will also die before they are cleared.”
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