21 February 2020
As the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) withdraws its direction to compel a force to hold a gross misconduct hearing following the death of a man in custody which left five police officers in limbo for almost seven years the Police Federation of England and Wales has called for all legacy cases to now be reviewed and better disclosure training for investigators.
Thirty-nine year old Leon Briggs died in hospital on 4 November 2013 after becoming ill at Luton police station where he was being detained under the Mental Health Act.
It took until March 2018 for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide none of the five police officers and one detention officer who had had contact with Mr Briggs before his death should face criminal proceedings.
Following that decision the IOPC pressed on with pursing misconduct proceedings against the officers, directing their force – Bedfordshire Police – to hold a gross misconduct hearing which was due to have run from 7 February to 28 February.
But today the IOPC announced it had rescinded its decision, which came after the Federation flagged numerous failings regarding the disclosure process which meant the officers could not be guaranteed a fair hearing.
IOPC Director Michael Lockwood contacted PFEW’s conduct and performance lead directly after the hearing having reviewing the matter and pulling the plug on the case to discuss how the process can be improved going forward.
Responding to the revelation, PFEW Conduct and Performance Lead Phill Matthews, said: “This case highlights all that was wrong with the old IOPC and misconduct system with some shocking errors being made throughout investigation processes.
“The IOPC has blamed the force for offering no evidence but if they don’t believe there is a case to answer it cannot be right that the IOPC can compel that officers be put through a process which is detrimental to their health and wellbeing, and costly to the public.
“It is a shame this case could not have been pulled sooner by its investigators, and that it got to the stage where Mr Lockwood himself had to review it before rescinding the decision to direct.
“We must remember that at the heart of this incident a man lost his life and it is only right that the actions of the officers who had contact with him are scrutinised and this has been done. I appreciate today’s developments will come as little comfort to Mr Briggs’ family and the IOPC must also look at how they deal with families who find themselves in these tragic situations,” said Mr Matthews.
He continued: “This matter must be a catalyst for change and all long-running cases must now be reviewed with the same vigour before they too come to hearings - particularly outstanding legacy cases from the IPCC era and for massive improvements from investigators.
“If ever there was a case that exampled the need for Time Limits on police misconduct investigations, this is it,” said Mr Matthews.
Jim Mallen, Chair of Bedfordshire Police Federation - which supported the officers throughout the investigation - said: “This has been a long, arduous, stressful and draining process for all concerned.
“The outcome of the hearing – while welcome – comes as no surprise and means our colleagues can finally get on with their careers and lives, having been investigated over this incident for approaching seven years.”
Mr Mallen, who says the IOPC has some “serious questions to answer about their handling of this case”, added: “It goes without saying that all investigations into the conduct of officers must be fair, timely and transparent.
“We must also pay credit to our colleagues for maintaining their professionalism and dignity throughout the extremely stressful process. Bedfordshire Police Federation has been proud to support them from day one,” Mr Mallen concluded.
Legally Qualified Chair Peter Nicholls hopes a review will be conducted of the IOPC investigation to ensure the delays, issues around disclosure and lack of transparency will be avoided in future.