Can the Police be trusted to Police themselves?

(NOTE: 10 June 2015. This post has been updated to reflect that two of the police officers involved in the Taser story below were subsequently re-instated to Merseyside Police following their dismissal. My thanks to Jeremy Clarke-Williams of Slater and Gordon for bringing this to my attention.)

 By Iain Gould, Solicitor

Picture of Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer) and specialist in actions against the police claims.
Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer)

A man was forced to pursue numerous appeals to ensure that his police complaint was upheld.

At first blush, this would appear to be entirely unrelated to the Andrew Mitchell story, which I have previously written about.

In fact, they are linked by a common thread:

  • the mis-handling of complaint investigations by senior police officers, and
  • whether police can be trusted to police themselves.

Police Complaint after Taser assault in Liverpool

Picture of a Taser being discharged.In December 2009 PCs Simon Jones and Joanne Kelly, were on patrol in Liverpool with a Sergeant (who has since been dismissed for an unrelated matter), when they arrested Kyle McArdle for urinating in a street.

Mr McArdle was put in the back of a police van and shot with Tasers five times. (You can read my thoughts on the increase in Taser use by clicking on the link.)

The Taser barbs, metal hooks which attach to the body to transmit the electric current, were removed by an officer rather than a medical professional, contrary to guidelines (unless there is an ‘operational necessity’).

To add insult to injury, Mr McArdle was prosecuted for assaulting two of the officers. He was found not guilty at the Magistrates’ Court, and pursued a formal complaint.

Mr McArdle’s initial complaint was made to Merseyside Police themselves. He argued that the use of Taser force in the back of the police van was disproportionate. The police accepted that their officers should receive guidance on the use of their powers only and rejected the rest of his complaint.

So Mr McArdle was forced to appeal to the IPCC. They returned the complaint to the Force to consider whether the use of Tasers would have been considered proportionate if he had been lawfully arrested.

Merseyside Police’s leading Taser instructor said that the Taser assault was ‘necessary, proportionate, reasonable and in line with the officers’ training and Association of Chief Police Officers guidance’.

Given this opinion, the Force maintained their denial.

Mr McArdle again appealed to the IPCC. They re-considered the case and decided that, contrary to Merseyside Police’s internal investigation, the officers involved should have been served with notices for gross misconduct and interviewed under caution. PCs Jones and Kelly were then subsequently dismissed following the misconduct hearing.

UPDATE: I have since been informed that PCs Jones and Kelly appealed their dismissal to the Police Appeals Tribunal (“PAT”) and were re-instated to Merseyside Police following a hearing on 28 June 2014, in which their solicitor states that “the PAT unequivocally rejected the determination of the misconduct tribunal in the clearest possible terms”. Their reinstatement is confirmed in the IPCC’s updated press release which can be read on their website here.

Aside from the officers’ dismissal and subsequent re-instatement, the IPCC Commissioner criticised Merseyside Police’s investigation of the incident. In particular, he said, ‘it is a concern that Merseyside’s lead Taser instructor lacked objectivity and presented as fact the officers’ version of events without challenge’.

Andrew Mitchell’s ‘plebgate’ saga

Picture of Andrew Mitchell, 'plebgate politician' involved in a police misconduct matter.
Andrew Mitchell, ‘plebgate’ politician

The Andrew Mitchell affair (which I have commented about on numerous occasions but most recently here) revealed that the four police officers and their associates initially involved in the saga fabricated evidence about the incident at Downing Street on 19 September 2012.

At a subsequent meeting on 12 October involving three senior members of the police officer’s union, the Police Federation, Mr Mitchell sought to explain his comments and re-iterated that he had not used the word ‘pleb’, which is short for ‘plebeian’, or commoner.

Immediately after the meeting, Inspector Mackaill, one of the officers at the meeting, told waiting journalists that Mr Mitchell had not provided an account of the incident and called for his resignation.

Unfortunately for the officers at both the initial incident, which was caught on CCTV and can be seen here, and the subsequent meeting, which Mr Mitchell secretly recorded, the evidence showed that they had not told the truth.

West Mercia Police carried out an internal investigation into claims the three officers had been trying to discredit Mr Mitchell. It concluded that there was no case to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct and found that there was no deliberate intention to lie to journalists.

The IPCC, which oversaw the West Mercia investigation, said West Mercia Police had been wrong to conclude the three police officers had no case to answer for misconduct.

Deborah Glass, the IPCC deputy chair, said in her statement that the false account of the meeting provided by the police officers involved ‘indicates an issue of honesty and integrity, not merely naïve or poor professional judgment (sic)’.

She has called for a misconduct panel to be held to establish whether the three officers gave a false account in a deliberate attempt to discredit Mr Mitchell in pursuit of a wider agenda.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the IPCC’s report “made troubling reading”.

Police complaints procedure

Only serious complaints against the Police are directly referred to the independent Police watchdog, the IPCC, for investigation. These include cases involving:

  • death in custody,
  • serious injury,
  • matters involving sexual assault or sexual offences,
  • serious corruption, and
  • certain criminal offences.

All other cases are dealt with internally, by the appropriate police force’s complaints department (also known as the professional standards department (‘PSD’).

Up until May 2012, when the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act (2011) came into force, all complainants had a right of appeal following local and supervised investigations by a PSD to the IPCC.

Now that right of appeal to an independent body is restricted to only the most serious of cases, so that there is less opportunity to hold the police to account.

In both the McArdle and Mitchell cases described above, serious issues meant that the IPCC were involved. The IPCC allowed the individual police forces to investigate and decide whether there was wrongdoing or not. Following internal investigations, the complaints investigators said that there had been no misconduct that required sanction.

On appeal/review by the IPCC however, it was found that such findings were seriously flawed.

So, can the Police be trusted to investigate themselves?

Photo of Sir Hugh Orde, Chairman of ACPO
Sir Hugh Orde, Chairman of ACPO

Speaking on BBC Radio, Sir Hugh Orde, the Chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers and a former Chief Constable, said that it is ‘critical’ that there now be a fully independent police investigation system. (You can listen to the interview by clicking here).

I agree. The current system where the police investigate themselves is deeply flawed and, to restore public confidence in the police and the police complaints process, independent investigations in each and every case need to be conducted.

But is it enough simply to point the finger at the IPCC, who would no doubt say that the Mitchell and McArdle cases described above did not fit within the criteria, so that they had no authority to conduct investigations from the beginning?

Don’t the police have some responsibility too?

It strikes me that blaming the investigations process merely deflects attention away from the core issue: trust.

Public trust is damaged when we routinely hear about police misconduct at the rank and file level which is then covered up by their superiors or force complaints departments.

It is made worse when, rather than apologise and accept responsibility, senior police officers and their representatives blame everyone but themselves.

At today’s House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee meeting, the Chief Constables of West Mercia, West Midlands, and Warwickshire Police, will explain why they declined to pursue misconduct charges against the three officers involved in the October meeting.

It is hoped that the meeting will be productive and not merely a repeat of the blame game played out in the media since September last year.

The Chief Constables should be reminded of Robert Peel’s principles to define an ethical police force, and in particular, this quote attributed to him: 

‘The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.’

For more information on pursuing a civil action against the police go to www.iaingould.co.uk. Contact me using the form below or via my firm’s website.

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Images:

Taser: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Marcelo Freixo 50123:http://flickr.com/photos/marcelofreixo/8188041975/

Andrew Mitchell: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by DFID – UK Department for…:http://flickr.com/photos/dfid/4603106939/

Sir Hugh Orde: cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by Liberal Democrats: http://flickr.com/photos/libdems/3940872401/

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.