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27 January 2021
The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) is lobbying MPs for a 12-month time limit on police disciplinary investigations and sanctions when they overrun.
Today (January 27), Conduct and Performance Chair Phill Matthews gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on behalf of PFEW as part of its inquiry into the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and the police complaints system.
He praised rank and file colleagues for the challenging and risky work they do: “They are dealing with some of the most chaotic and dangerous individuals in society - and they are put in confrontational situations with those individuals. It is inevitable that there will be complaints made against officers, but just because there is complaint doesn’t mean an officer has done something wrong.”
The length of time that investigations into officers goes on is damaging for officers, their families, colleagues and complainants, Mr Matthews told MPs. Our evidence submission to the committee in September contained a dossier of hard-hitting case studies which illustrated the detrimental effect of protracted investigations.
“A delay doesn’t serve complainants or our members at all,” said Mr Matthews.
Victor Marshall OBE, Professional Standards Coordinator, giving evidence on behalf of the Police Superintendents' Association supported our argument, saying: “The ‘justice delayed, justice denied’ exists across the whole system because we feel for everybody when these things drag on. Obviously, it has an impact on officers, their families, and careers – but absolutely it has an impact on complainants and answers need to be given. The longer these things go on the worse the situation becomes.”
The Federation wants a 12-month time limit from allegations being made. That would compliment new regulations relating to police and crime commissioners being given explanations when cases take longer than 12 months.
Mr Matthews added: “There must be some form of teeth because at the moment there is absolutely no incentive for the IOPC, or appropriate authority, to deal with things promptly and properly because they don’t need to. If there was an incentive, like there is for police when you must get a case in front of a hearing within a set period, you would invest the time and money to do that.”
The IOPC has a £72million budget and 1,000 staff which is bigger than some county forces. “There is no problem with resources it’s how they are using it”, Mr Matthews observed.
To safeguard genuinely delayed cases, the PFEW recommends a Legally Qualified Chair should then be appointed and have the power to terminate or conduct robust case management to bring cases to swift conclusions, safeguarding both complainant and officer's position.
The IOPC has failed on numerous occasions to provide us with explanation on why a case in overrunning, according to Mr Matthews, but poor disclosure is one of the contributing factors.
A case ended up dragged on for seven years because the watchdog failed to disclose an expert statement at the beginning of the case which they had obtained, corroborating the officer’s account.
“We don’t think they have the right depth and breadth of knowledge; we don’t think they have the right training and they are absolutely unaccountable,” he explained. “You cannot get disclosure from the IOPC and I don’t think they understand it properly.”
Asked whether we wanted to see more retired officers working for the IOPC, he said they work well in PSDs so agreed that would not be an issue – but admitted he would have more confidence in retired officers to deliver.
“There are some very good people who work for the IOPC, but there are others where we see a staggering lack of knowledge.
“We just want the best possible investigators with the best possible training and knowledge to investigate members because that is best for members and the police service.”
Mr Matthews acknowledged the situation has improved since the IPCC became the IOPC with a better understanding between organisations.
“It’s a step in the right direction and its Director General Michael Lockwood has done a great deal to build trust with the Federation and is trying to reform his organisation but it’s the speed of change we are not content with.”
He also highlighted the need for greater transparency and feels the organisation is “shrouded in secrecy”, suggesting it needs to be audited how forces are.
Commenting after the session he said: “We appreciate being given the opportunity to provide evidence to the Committee and hope this will in turn make a tangible difference and establish a fairer system for all. The Federation will continue to lobby Parliament on these issues.”
Watch the session here: