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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Contracting Out

Question agreed to.

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Operation Lancet

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Kemp.]

10.8 pm

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough): By my reckoning, this is the fifth Adjournment debate on Operation Lancet. However, it is the first to be held consequent upon a partial conclusion—that is, the 14 guilty pleas and the forced resignation of former Detective Superintendent Mallon from Cleveland police. Although Operation Lancet is not terminated, it might be said that, for the first time and with facts available, the House is able to have a reasoned—if short—debate.

Operation Lancet has gone on for four and a half years. What has it been about? In part, it has been about allegations that a group of Middlesbrough detectives gave inducements such as drugs to criminals in order to gain information. There were suspicions that close personal relationships existed between some Cleveland police officers and people believed to be drug traffickers. Even if only a fraction of the complaints were true, the officers involved had behaved in a regular and systematic fashion, apparently safe in the knowledge that compromised colleagues would not betray their activities. When Mallon pleaded guilty to 14 disciplinary charges arising out of Operation Lancet, he converted these allegations in relation to drugs into facts.

Operation Lancet has highlighted a culture among some Middlesbrough police officers who traded with drugs as their currency—a fact again confirmed by Mallon's guilty pleas. It found that drugs taken into police custody were not properly recorded or handled, or correctly disposed of by destruction. What happened to the unaccounted for drugs? They were given to prisoners in police cells in exchange for information, and they were used by police officers themselves. All of that is confirmed by Mallon's guilty pleas.

Mallon based his entire policy of zero tolerance on one officer who was himself a known drug abuser and another who had already been removed from the CID for disciplinary reasons. According to the West Yorkshire police report on which Mallon relies, those two individuals were

Having chosen the tools, it was hardly surprising even to the West Yorkshire police that he became less forthcoming in dealing with allegations about them. Even the West Yorkshire police accept that he dealt with those allegations in an unprofessional way.

The facts are simple. Mallon failed to investigate an allegation that a female prisoner had been given heroin by a detective in his force. An employee of a firm of Middlesbrough solicitors told a civilian custody officer on 7 April 1997 that her client had indeed been supplied with heroin. That information was passed on to an inspector who informed Detective Superintendent Mallon. However, Mallon made no effort to investigate this allegation and indeed raised it directly with the detective concerned. He thus thwarted any operation to ascertain the truth or otherwise of the allegation. He has now pleaded guilty that between March 1997 and May 1997 he failed to investigate an allegation that a detective had supplied a controlled drug to a female prisoner.

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On 23 May 1997, it emerged that two detectives—the one who was a known drug abuser and the one who was a risk taker; or the "tools for the job", according to West Yorkshire police—had taken a prisoner from police cells to identify houses he had burgled, but in truth the prisoner was supplied with heroin and taken to a pub by the officers. That information comes from the West Yorkshire report on which Mallon relies. The prisoner was a known heroin addict and was on charges of theft and burglary. The detectives had stopped by a garage on the way to the pub and returned with some "gear"—a euphemism for controlled drugs. At the pub, the prisoner was given two pints of beer and allowed to use a controlled drug. Due to the drinks and drugs, and not quite knowing what he was doing or where he was, the prisoner signed a statement admitting to a number of offences that would be taken into consideration at his forthcoming trial. That was how the clear-up rate of crime was improved in Mallon's Middlesbrough.

When the prisoner was returned to his prison cell, the custody officer noticed the remains of a wrap of heroin still in his possession. This was a roll of aluminium containing heroin which the prisoner had been given by one of the detectives and had already used. Traces remained on the aluminium.

Mallon said to me on BBC television, on "North of Westminster", that allegations saying that he had pleaded guilty to drug-related offences were "lies". He also claimed in The Northern Echo that five of the allegations related to an incident in which it was claimed that a prisoner was taken out of a police station and given drugs. He says that he was satisfied that no drugs were passed. In fact, the drugs would end up in Holm House prison with the prisoner's belongings—the aluminium foil and the heroin clinging to them—when the prisoner was remanded to the prison. All these facts were uncovered by Operation Lancet, whose team ensured that the incident was thoroughly investigated.

The fact that a prisoner had been given drugs by one of his detectives was known not only to Mallon. He sent one of the detectives back into the cell—prior to the prisoner's removal to Holm House—and ordered the custody sergeant to allow him access. The detective told the prisoner that he must keep his mouth shut—a prudent course which the prisoner had felt he should adopt anyway. Mallon then addressed junior officers in the force and told them they, too, must keep their mouths shut and forget about the incident. At this meeting, Mallon even praised the officer whom he knew to be on drugs. He did this in a hectoring and dismissive fashion, setting no example to the young officers at all.

On 4 February 2002, Mallon pleaded guilty to failing to investigate allegations that detectives had supplied a controlled drug to a prisoner and, following his guilty plea, he was required to resign from the force. He also pleaded guilty to the fact that he did not pass on information in his possession when this incident was investigated by another officer.

Zero tolerance seemed to be based on a drug-abusing detective and a risk-taking detective having obtained statements from a prisoner so sozzled on booze and heroin that he admitted to other offences. Not all members of the public were enamoured of the policy. Two of them made a number of serious allegations of criminal conduct against the two detectives—the drug abuser and the risk taker—or rather, the "tools for the job". The allegations

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were reported to a police constable who brought them to the attention of his inspector. A report was prepared by that inspector, but when the report was presented to Mallon, he deleted the majority of the allegations and instructed the inspector to prepare a diluted version. These were serious allegations that required investigation. The inspector retained the original report, which clearly showed that certain allegations had been deleted and that comments had been written on it by Mallon in his own handwriting. This document is a smoking gun in relation to Mallon's lies, and provides clear evidence that he was protecting officers who should have been prosecuted rather than protected.

Mallon has already pleaded guilty to all the above charges, and accepted that they amount to neglect of duty, misconduct to a member of a police force, falsehood and prevarication, and discreditable conduct. For this, too, he was required to resign. The passing of drugs and the cover-up thereof are serious disciplinary offences to which to plead guilty, along with the other guilty pleas. I should add that had Mallon made his guilty pleas to the West Yorkshire police—who conducted a review of the evidence—they would, of necessity, have come to the conclusion that there was sufficient standard of proof to support a criminal prosecution.

The West Yorkshire police report says that, given Mallon's denials of wrongdoing, it would be difficult to prove criminality. But Mallon denies no more; he has pleaded guilty to wrongdoing and to criminality. He has also pleaded guilty to failing to investigate reports that drug dealers were being tipped off to the imminence of a drug raid.

Police officers executed a search warrant in respect of drugs that might be found on premises in Marton road, Middlesbrough. On their arrival it became evident that the occupier had been warned. No drugs were found. One of the officers dialled 1471, and obtained details of the last incoming call before the search. The number was that of Middlesbrough police station.

Mallon caused no inquiries to be made, because he knew who had made the call and why he had made it. The house that was raided had been the house of not only a drug dealer but an informant. He was on the books of Middlesbrough CID during Ray Mallon's watch. Certainly he would not be a witness who might have been relied on had Mallon ever been brought before a criminal court.

On that guilty plea, too, Mallon was required to resign. He also pleaded guilty to lying—on 27 November 1997, when being interviewed for police purposes. He was, in fact, required to resign on 11 of the 14 charges to which he pleaded guilty.

It must also to be said that when allegations against Mallon's officers became a flood rather than a trickle, Mallon stayed mum. He declined to impart any of his knowledge to Operation Lancet's inquiry team. He hindered the operation from the outset and ensured that it stretched far beyond its natural life, at a heavy cost to the taxpayer—a cost of £3.3 million, not the £7 million tagged to it by the operation's detractors.

Of that, £1.9 million has been returned by central Government to local ratepayers; but Mallon perpetrated a fraud on those ratepayers. He made allegations about key

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members of the Operation Lancet inquiry team, requiring each and every allegation to be investigated. That cost the ratepayer £369,223. Needless to say, none of Mallon's allegations were substantiated. Then there were the costs specific to him within Operation Lancet—some £320,589—as well as, of course, a proportion of the operation's online costs. Mallon gave the Teesside ratepayer a total bill of £689,812, all of which would have been saved had he fully co-operated with Operation Lancet and pleaded guilty to the disciplinary offences at the outset.

Why did Mallon do it? Why did he ruin a police career? He breached those disciplines and committed those offences, knowingly and deliberately, because he did not wish to damage his reputation as Robocop, because he did not want the public to know that his policy was based on passing drugs for information, obtaining admissions from prisoners of other offences they might or might not have committed, clearing up the crime rate in an entirely bogus fashion—on false pretences—and using drug-abusing and risk-taking detectives, his "tools for the job", to do it.

This was his policy. This was his watch. It is by his own mouth and his own guilty pleas that he stands convicted. His vanity was such that he preferred to turn a blind eye to drug dealing rather than acting as a senior police officer with duties in the force and to the local community.

We do not need a police force of zero tolerance that rides roughshod over human rights. The streets may be clear in totalitarian countries, but we do not want their tactics here. We have, and must abide by, the rule of law. Middlesbrough people deserved better. They did not deserve to be deceived by Mallon.

They deserve, and have now got, a dedicated police force acting within—rather than without—the law.

Mallon walked on the wild side. He pleaded guilty to 14 disciplinary offences, and was forced to resign from the force. The evidence against him was such that, had he not pleaded guilty, he would have been found guilty. He knew all along that he was guilty, and he will be guilty to the end of his days.

I am glad to say that Cleveland police are confronting daily drug problems in Middlesbrough and elsewhere on Teesside. Their policy is to arrest a drug dealer a day, and by Monday of this week 134 operations—involving searches of people, vehicles and premises—have been carried out in the Middlesbrough district alone. Some 127 warrants have been issued under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and 122 people have been arrested, 75 per cent. of whom were male. Drugs to the value of £12,500 have been recovered, and £24,500 in cash has been seized. Positive results have been achieved in 70 of the 134 operations.

I am grateful to the Minister for listening courteously to me as I have given the background to Operation Lancet. In the short time available, I ask him to confirm that, on two separate occasions, Mallon entered unequivocal guilty pleas to all 14 disciplinary charges after having maintained his innocence for more than four years; that the offences were drug-related and linked to a culture of passing drugs in prison cells to gain information, tipping off drug houses of impending raids, and using drug addicts as informers; and that such disciplinary charges are extremely serious. Mallon was a senior officer with

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23 years in the service at the time that the offences were committed, and because of their seriousness he was required to resign from the service forthwith.

I also ask the Minister to confirm that the offences were not, as one noble Lord described them, "minor matters"; that members of the Cleveland police authority unanimously proposed that all papers relating to Operation Lancet be eventually returned to the Crown Prosecution Service, having regard to Mallon's guilty pleas; that Mallon was not cleared of criminal conduct in June 2000 or at any other time; and that West Yorkshire police had to agree that, given the lifestyles, convictions and nature of the individuals with whom Mallon was dealing—drug-abusing detectives and informants who were drug dealers themselves—it would have been impossible to reach a conviction beyond reasonable doubt before the Mallon pleas.

I also ask the Minister to spare a thought for the chief constable of Cleveland police, Barry Shaw, who has been much maligned throughout Operation Lancet. He is the oldest chief constable in the country. He could have retired two years ago, but he wished to see Operation Lancet through to its conclusion. He wanted to leave behind a decent and efficient police force that is free from the taint of corruption. He wanted to confront the social problems of our time, which are not of his making, and to create a police force able and willing to work with the public, notwithstanding the difficulties. He should be praised, not berated, for those policies, and I trust that the Minister agrees.

The Taylor review will inform the deliberations of the Home Office in establishing a new independent police complaints commission. Cleveland police have contributed to the review, which will make its report to the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary must ensure that Mallon's delaying tactics and allegations against key members of the Operation Lancet team can never be repeated. In the form of Operation Lancet, they have cost the taxpayer dear. I thank the Minister in advance for his answers.

The debate might seem routine, but it goes to the heart of our society. Do we want a society that is decent and built on the rule of law or one in which anything goes, rules can be bent and the rule of law discarded? I know the sort of society that I want, that the Minister wants and that the people want.

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