Why Police Misconduct Investigations Must Be Reformed

By Iain Gould, solicitor

At 11a.m. on Monday 26 October, two Police officers of West Midlands Police face a disciplinary hearing for gross police misconduct.

The hearing will take place in public. Police disciplinary hearings became public (subject to certain exceptions) on the 1 May 2015.  That change, along with others, was aimed to create a “more robust, independent and transparent” police disciplinary system.

But have the reforms into investigations of police misconduct worked? Read on to find out why I think not.

Police Misconduct Allegation

The two West Midlands Police officers due to be brought to account on Monday face an allegation lodged by my client, Alex Faragher in January 2014. (Alex gave me permission to use her details.)

Ms Faragher’s complaint centered on an incident that happened during an enquiry into an alleged domestic violence assault.

Two male officers attended upon her shortly after the incident but Alex was too upset and distressed to provide full details. The officers subsequently tried to contact Alex on her mobile phone but were unable to get through.  Accordingly, they left her a message but then failed to hang up properly.  Their subsequent conversation was then mistakenly recorded.

In the two-minute recording (an extract of which you can listen to here) one officer allegedly says to the other, “F…….  bitch, I specifically said, “you’re not going to give us the run around are you?” “No I want to press charges” she said. “F……. slag”.

A second officer then referred to writing their own version of her witness statement after her boyfriend had been arrested for assault.  He can allegedly be heard saying, “Either that or the only other thing we do is go back, f….ing draft the statement out ourselves and then just get the bitch to sign it”.

Later that evening, unaware of the voice recording on her phone, Ms Faragher went to Sutton Coldfield Police Station to give her statement to the same two officers.  Ms Faragher believes that her treatment at the Police Station was equally unprofessional because the officers did not take her dyslexia into account. They prepared a statement in her name and on her behalf and persuaded her to sign it without her first being permitted to read it and further because the officers then ignored her requests to amend particular parts of her statement.

It was only upon her return home later that evening that she both saw and heard the voicemail on her phone.  After hearing it, she felt “victimised and humiliated”. She said, “They turned up after 6:30pm and tried to call me and mistakenly didn’t hang up.  I picked up the conversation they then had in the police car that was recorded as a voicemail. I could not believe what I was hearing.” she said.

Photo of Iain Gould, solicitor, who discusses police misconduct investigation reform.
Iain Gould, solicitor, discusses police misconduct investigation reform.

Police Misconduct Complaint

In line with the policy set by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”), one would assume that the resulting investigation would take a relatively short period of time.  When Ms Faragher first complained she gave the police a copy of the recording along with a detailed account of what had happened.  She has since co-operated fully with the investigators.

Despite this, it took an investigator from the Force’s Professional Standards Department six months to finalise their investigation and produce their Complaint Investigation Report.

The Report was inadequate, even after all that time and my client’s help. Although both officers were interviewed under caution on the 3 April 2014, the Report failed to identify the officers’ response to the recording and answer a crucial question: do they accept that it’s them?

Both officers did however provide an account of subsequent events at the Police Station. Both maintained that they had acted properly at all times and any allegation of misconduct (in this respect) was denied.

After consideration, the investigating officer decided to not uphold this aspect of the complaint on the basis that there was no evidence available to corroborate either Ms Faragher’s account or the officers’ account.

But the Investigating Officer concluded that the officers had a case to answer in relation to the allegation that they had spoken about Ms Faragher in a discourteous and disparaging manner. This part of the complaint was upheld and will be addressed at the misconduct hearing.

Complaint to the IPCC

Whilst Ms Faragher was pleased that the officers were to be brought to account in relation to the taped conversation, this was only part of her complaint and the fact remained that the officers’ treatment of her at the station was unprofessional.

The decision of the investigator was, in my opinion, perverse, and designed to protect the officers from further scrutiny and a form of damage limitation.

On my advice, she appealed to the IPCC, the independent police watchdog.

On review by the IPCC in December 2014, it was found that whilst there was no evidence available to corroborate either the officers’ account or Ms Farragaher’s account of events at the police station, the taped recording added weight to my client’s complaint, particularly the comment that the officers would “go back, f….. draft the statement out ourselves and then just get the bitch to sign it”.

Accordingly, the IPCC case worker found that on balance, Ms Faragher’s complaint held “more credibility” and therefore upheld the appeal and decided that there was a case to answer for gross misconduct for both the recording and what happened at the police station.

The police disagreed.

In March 2015, West Midlands Police told the IPCC that they did not accept its recommendation that the officers face a Gross Misconduct hearing about events at the Police station.

In May, the IPCC stated that their original decision held and that West Midlands Police should include the additional complaints.

As a result, both will be addressed at Monday’s hearing.

Justice Delayed

On the face of it, West Midlands Police are harbouring two delinquent employees who should be dealt with as soon as possible.

But it has taken nearly two years from when Ms Faragher lodged her complaint to get them to appear before a Gross Misconduct hearing. All the time those officers have continued to work, although they are now reported to be on restricted duties in “non-public facing” roles.

Natural Justice demands that investigations into alleged police misconduct are full and fair, and that disciplinary proceedings are finalised in an expeditious manner.

Maintaining a system where police investigations are undertaken by officers in the same force leads to a perception of bias. And because there is no limit on the extent of investigation process or the time allowed, the most that the IPCC can demand is that the investigation process “should be proportionate to the nature of the complaint”.

The biggest stumbling block in assuring public trust and accountability in the police is the sense that internal discipline is not implemented effectively.

Cases like Alex Faragher’s show that, while reforms like public hearings may help, there is much more to do.

Contact me for help with you police misconduct matter using the online form below or via my firm’s website.

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Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.