28 January 2019
As the BBC prepares to highlight ‘farcical’ police misconduct investigations, Federation Conduct Lead Phill Matthews explains why we are pushing for a statutory time limit, arguing the current process is unfair, unaccountable and inhumane.
A couple of weeks ago we saw the unedifying spectacle of an overly-zealous police regulator and prosecutors go directly against the wishes of a Crown Court judge.
In the event, the judge directed the jury to acquit the officer of all criminal charges on the grounds that ‘he was doing his duty’.
But, determined to have their pound of flesh, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) indicated they would appeal to a higher court.
Thankfully, they have now reversed that decision, but the officer’s nightmare isn’t over yet as he still faces yet another extension to his already excruciating two-year ordeal because we anticipate they will push for Gross Misconduct charges.
So for the PC concerned – who has been side-lined and removed from his important duties protecting the public for the past two years while this farce has been going on – the agony goes on. And for his wife and kids too.
We will continue to support that officer, his family and the thousands of other officers and our members who every year fall foul of the unfairest distinction of all.
Because far too many investigations into so-called police ‘misconduct’ go on for years six years, seven, even ten. Yet in no other profession would under-investigation personnel be forced to wait years to learn their fate. Even surgeons who remove the wrong kidney, or the bus driver who fatally drives his double-decker into a low bridge, aren’t treated like this. In those cases, the enquiries are dealt with, and justice is mostly swift.
We are not saying that police officers should be unaccountable. None of us want to see the small number of bad apples escape justice. We genuinely do not want them in the service.
But consider this one example: The death of Sean Rigg in custody was a tragedy – but why are the Metropolitan Police officers involved in the case are still facing gross misconduct charges nearly 11 years after the incident?
Especially after last year it was ruled none of the officers involved should be prosecuted. In February 2018 the Met Police also stopped Sgt Paul White from retiring because he would otherwise have avoided the hearing, which began this week.
As the BBC prepares to showcase the very real trauma experienced by another Met officer, PC Joe Harrington, (on its documentary show Inside Out airing Mon 28 Jan, BBC1 at 7.30pm, in selected regions, online and on iPlayer), my colleagues and I are spearheading the Federation’s campaign for a statutory 12-month time limit for investigations.
PC Harrington, whose only crime was to arrest a suspect during the 2011 London riots, had already been acquitted at Crown Court , but he and his family were subjected to nearly seven years of torment afterwards, subject to multiple investigations until he was finally exonerated last June.
Unable to switch jobs or be promoted, he was stuck in a limbo, which is why I am arguing on behalf of all our 120,000 members that investigations without time limits should be abolished.
As the BBC recently found, only five police officers in England and Wales were dismissed in the last three years following misconduct cases ordered by the police watchdog. In two-thirds of the 48 cases pursued by the IOPC, Gross Misconduct charges were not proven.
We’re calling for a time-limit not because we are trying to get officers off on technicalities, but because we argue that 12 months is a more than adequate length of time for any non-criminal investigation to be satisfactorily concluded, particularly as all the witnesses are usually already known and there is also often CCTV, body worn video or other documentary evidence that is already in police possession.
Upholding this draconian regime which is blighting so many lives is not only unacceptable, it is inhumane.
A few weeks ago we highlighted that officers are already feeling bleek, and our latest Demand, Capacity and Welfare survey unveiled next month, will demonstrate that officers are feeling far more fragile today than when they were last quizzed in 2016.
We also shone a spotlight on the Government’s long awaited firearms review, designed to examine whether firearms officers had enough protections to carry out their jobs.
The review, which took the Home Office three years to produce, summarises their so-called ‘protections’ in a mere 325 words. And the required uplift of 1500 extra firearms officers is still 600 short, only fuelling our suspicions that the threat of investigations is a major reason for the recruiting crisis in armed policing.
As a Federation we are charged with safeguarding the health and welfare of our members, which is why are so passionate about securing this time-limit.
Our members are the only 24/7service that can never say no – but they should not be punished unnecessarily – and out of step with other professions – just for doing their job. We just hope Government hears our arguments and agrees with us that their greatest asset is also the public’s greatest asset and the one thing worth protecting.