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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster Investigation Report


D.4: Howard Groves and Operation Circus

38. Howard Groves retired from the Metropolitan Police in 2014 as a Detective Chief Inspector. He told us about an incident that took place in about 1985 at the very beginning of his career, when he was a police constable. He had been seconded to a large investigation – Operation Circus, which targeted rent boys in and around Piccadilly Circus – involving allegations of indecency with young boys. Mr Groves told us that his role was to examine photographs that had been seized in the course of the investigation and to attempt to identify the individuals shown in them.

At some point during the investigation, we were briefed by a senior officer, the salient point from the briefing was that: if we identified any prominent members of society … the enquiry was to cease. I cannot recall who gave the briefing, where it took place or who else was present. At the time, I thought the decision was strange, but as a junior PC, I went with it at the time, throughout my time on the enquiry I was not aware of any prominent people being identified.[1]

He explained that he understood the term “prominent members of society” to mean MPs, royalty or other distinguished individuals.[2]

39. Mr Groves was pressed by Counsel to the Inquiry for any further details that he could recall about the briefing and it is fair to say that his recollection is very limited. He has little or no memory of when or where the briefing took place, how many others attended or who gave the briefing.[3] Mr Groves’ account has been considered by two IOPC investigations, Operation Osier and Operation Jordana.[4] Those investigations contacted a number of officers who had worked on Operation Circus, but none recalled a briefing of the type that Mr Groves described. This does not in itself mean that the briefing did not happen. Mr Groves’ evidence to us was that, notwithstanding his lack of recall of the surrounding details, what was said at this briefing was one of two incidents that had “left an indelible mark” on him as a police officer.[5]

40. Mr Groves did not suggest that any allegations against persons of prominence were actually suppressed during Operation Circus. The evidence gathered by Operation Jordana was to a similar effect – it seems that none of the Operation Circus suspects were prominent people. While Mr Groves’ evidence may therefore be indicative of the culture of the police at the time, it does not go any further than that.

41. The evidence of Mr Groves about the deference shown by junior to senior ranks within the police in the mid-1980s echoed that of Mr Holmes and Mr Sinclair. In explaining why he did not object at the time of the briefing to the suggestion that prominent suspects would not be pursued, Mr Groves said that because of his then junior rank “I didn’t think it was my place”.[6] He explained that there was a culture of deference within police ranks at the time, although he said that it dissipated as his career progressed – in his words, the police became “less of a disciplined service”.[7]

42. Mr Groves is likely to have a genuine memory of attending an Operation Circus briefing at which he was told that “if we identified any prominent members of society … the enquiry was to cease”. Mr Groves was careful not to overstate his evidence. Other evidence obtained by Operation Jordana provides a measure of support for the idea that the police officers directing Operation Circus did not wish to investigate any allegations against prominent persons that their enquiries might turn up. For example, Inspector John Hoodless, who appears to have been in “operational command” of Operation Circus,[8] told Operation Jordana investigators about a social meeting of the team in a pub before the start of Operation Circus, in which the team discussed the prospect of encountering high-profile targets in the course of the investigation.

We agreed we would not go for high-profile people because we were worried that we might have been shut down, as it might not have been in the public interest if we were to come up with politicians names, or people at Buckingham Palace; so we didn’t do it. We were aware that we had a number of suspects to target and wanted to focus on what we called the ‘street rats’ … That said, we never came across any high-profile people during the operation, not one.[9]

However, Superintendent Colin Reeve, the senior investigating officer, denied that prominent suspects would have received any special treatment.[10] As already noted, Operation Circus did not encounter any individuals of prominence in any event, so the issue remained hypothetical.

43. Nonetheless, the accounts of Mr Groves and Mr Hoodless provide further evidence, when taken with that of Lord Taverne and Mr Glen, Mr Sinclair and Mr Holmes, that at least on occasions in the 1970s and 1980s the Metropolitan Police was inclined to show deference towards prominent suspects in investigations into child sexual abuse.

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