1 November 2019
A Police Federation campaign calling for statutory time limits on officer conduct investigations is being backed by Derbyshire Police Federation.
Phill Matthews, national Federation conduct and performance lead, announced last week that the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) will be lobbying Parliament for a change in the law to apply a 12-month time limit for prosecuting police officers with appropriate safeguards.
“We are all too aware of the damaging effects of long-drawn-out investigations on not just police officers themselves but also their families,” says Kirsty Bunn, secretary of Derbyshire Police Federation, “Sometimes these cases can take months or even years to conclude, causing a massive amount of stress and anxiety for those involved.
“This Federation is aiming to put a stop to this and we will be supporting this campaign.”
Phill announced the ‘Time Limits’ campaign when he addressed the Police Federation Post Incident Procedures (PIP) seminar held in Leamington Spa last Wednesday and Thursday (23 and 24 October) attended by Kirsty and Derbyshire Police Federation workplace representative Ade Hardwick.
He explained: “There’s absolutely no time limit on when a complaint can be made or to say how long the appropriate authority can take to investigate.”
Using the analogy of an officer stopping a motorist for speeding, he explained: “That officer has six months to prosecute – but if the motorist complained about the officer there’s no limit to how long it can take for that complaint to work its way through the system and that’s got to be wrong.”
Phill added: “We are talking about things that can potentially lose officers their jobs – that’s the top end but usually matters are less serious – and they take years and years to resolve.”
And he concluded: “We think a 12-month time limit on prosecutions is reasonable and we want to get that into statute, and to back that up we want to give Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) and even legally qualified chairs powers to demand progress or put a stop to prosecutions if they drag on longer than that. Part of that is to enable the speeding and simplification of the appeals process which is often what causes some of the timeliness in a lot of these cases.”
He argued investigating authorities such as the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and professional standards departments ‘hold all the cards’ and are reluctant to see those powers curbed.
Seminar delegates also heard from Andy Birks, a former Metropolitan Police officer, who was investigated for a decade and prevented from retiring before being exonerated.
Freedom of Information requests by the BBC found the IOPC and some forces were taking more than a year to investigate officers. Two thirds of IOPC cases are never proven and the cost to the taxpayer for officer wages while suspended was £13 million from 29 forces.
During the seminar, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s firearms lead, Simon Chesterman, told delegates Britain had the ‘best trained, most restrained and most professional armed police in the world’.
Advising officers to stick to the Authorised Professional Practice (APP), he said PIPs are about accountability, achieving best evidence and seeking the truth, adding: “The APP is there to make sure we have a thorough and independent investigation and that the welfare of the officers and the members of staff involved is taken care of.”
Derbyshire’s Ade Hardwick welcomed the seminar’s focus on the issues arising from not following the PIP process.
He explained: “Our colleagues from Nottinghamshire Constabulary detailed a case in which an officer was subjected to more than two years of hell when he was investigated over injuries sustained by a fleeing suspect. They highlighted the heartache and stress caused by not following the PIP resulting in an IOPC investigation.
“There was also an interesting presentation by the IOPC which covered its new focus and outlined how it was learning from past investigations.”
Steve Hartshorn, the national Federation’s firearms and Taser lead, built on the seminar’s title, ‘Back to Basics’, by walking delegates through the best practice he had learned over many years representing officers in PIP situations. Delegates also heard from the College of Policing’s Kev Nicholson and Mark Wardley of Straw & Pearce Solicitors, around the separation of police witnesses in a PIP and when it should be done - only when ‘safe, necessary and practical’.
Mark Williams, chief executive of the Police Firearms Officers’ Association (PFOA), also spoke at the seminar, reporting that five officers have been pulled back from the brink of suicide by the Welfare Support Programme, a counselling service funded by the PFOA and the Federation.
Hayley Aley, the Federation’s national wellbeing lead gave a presentation on work to raise awareness of officer wellbeing. Officers, she said, should be given the wellbeing support and tools they need to do their jobs, with different levels of support needed at the various stages in their lives and careers.
In another session, Dr Meng Aw-yong, medical director to the Metropolitan Police, delved into case studies of officers who have experienced major trauma. He revealed that a police officer dies by suicide every two weeks and there are no official statistics regarding the deaths of police staff, veterans, or attempts to die by suicide. One case involved an officer who had attended a number of fatal incidents and had delivered ‘far too many death messages’ but had ‘never once’ been asked how he was. Following these incidents, he was expected to get on with the job.
Kirsty said the seminar covered a wide range of topics relevant to PIP but that it was also useful to bring Post Incident Managers, Federation representatives and legal experts from across England and Wales together to discuss issues encountered.
“There were a few inputs from practitioners who have had really bad experiences of the IOPC. A retired Met officer who retrained as clergy was very critical of the way the IOPC operates,” Kirsty explained.