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Police Federation

Blog: A fairer police misconduct system for all

26 January 2021

Conduct and Performance Chair Phill Matthews

Conduct and Performance Chair Phill Matthews spotlights what must change as he prepares to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee tomorrow morning.

An officer stops a motorist for driving dangerously – the legal clock starts counting down from six months. Six months to gather the evidence they need to get the case to court. But if the motorist complained about the officer there’s absolutely no limit to how long it can take for that complaint to work its way through the system. Surely that’s got to be wrong.

Over the past year the Federation has been working hard lobbying Parliament for a change in law to introduce a 12-month time limit on disciplinary investigations against officers from the moment an allegation is made.

By building up enough evidence to show the damaging, and often long-lasting, impact of investigations which have dragged on for an unacceptable amount of time, we can prove to MPs this issue is very real and something must be done because enough is enough. We now have that evidence.

We have spoken to officers who have been left mentally scarred after being investigated either by their force Professional Standards Department or the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

Sadly, one officer has been left with PTSD as a result of an IOPC investigation going on for seven years and I know he is not the only one. We have lost many dedicated officers with exemplary service because of the toll it has taken on them. I want to thank members who have come forward with their stories as I can appreciate this is a difficult thing to do.

These hard-hitting stories from real officers have now been shared with MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee as part of its inquiry into the police complaints system and the IOPC which will also take a look at public confidence.

On Wednesday I will be appearing in front of Yvette Cooper (via Zoom!) to give evidence on what must change and why, which doesn’t just include the devastating impact on my colleagues, but also how damaging long investigations can be for members of the public.

Each day an investigation goes on is a cost to the taxpayer – not to mention how long some families have had to wait for a conclusion so an inquest can go ahead, and they can get the closure they so desperately need.

There was a Bedfordshire case which went on for six years and an investigation into the actions of six officers rightly began – officers are always held accountable for their actions and it is a fundamental element of policing as we police by consent. But it dragged on for all this time only to collapse in February last year after multiple failings and poor disclosure.

Public trust in the system will simply erode if people do not think their complaints will be dealt with quickly. This issue is already something many complainants frequently express.

This is why we will also be calling for improvements to the quality of IOPC investigator training, particularly in relation to post incident procedures and disclosure – as this case is one of many which have let officers down and ultimately the family seeking answers down.

We are encouraged the IOPC is keen to work with us rather than against us. However, the issue of investigations rumbling on for more than a year still continues and the system must be made fairer for all.

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