I read in the news this week that the Police Federation has called for legislation to restrict the length of time which misconduct investigations are allowed to continue for.
Police Federation Conduct Lead Phill Matthews described the current regime in which investigations can drag on for years as “inhumane” and rather naively suggested that in no other profession can misconduct investigations drag on for so long.
He also described the current regime as “draconian” in its harshness towards Police Officers. Whilst I fully appreciate that Mr Matthews is doing his best to represent his members, I have to beg to differ with that characterisation. From my point of view, as a Solicitor who represents the victims of Police misconduct I have to say that my clients and I often find the complaint investigation process, led by each constabulary’s Professional Standards Department, to be almost laughably biased towards the Police officers, almost always favouring their version of events over that of members of the public, and tending towards awarding only the lowest level of sanction “Management Advice” even when misconduct is proven.
“Management advice” is a very minor reprimand; really only a slap on the wrist. Sometimes, in fact, I suspect it is really a slap on the back administered over a cup of coffee…or alternatively, not even given at all, as I established at a trial against West Midlands Police a few years ago.
So Mr Matthews and I approach the Police complaint/ disciplinary system from two very different vantage points; but one thing I certainly do agree with him about is that the whole process should be dramatically speeded up.
Whilst Mr Matthews lambasts the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) for the duration of its investigations, I can absolutely echo that criticism and direct it at the Professional Standards Departments which are staffed by his federation membership.
No doubt, Police officers accused of serious misconduct experience a lot of mental pressure and anxiety whilst awaiting the outcome of a complaint investigation, but then so do the victims of Police misconduct themselves, who often find insult added to injury as month after month the enquiry into their complaint drags on and on without resolution – and very often with what I consider to be a very unjust final outcome.
I have blogged previously about the high profile case of my client Paul Ponting – unlawfully arrested, assaulted, strip- searched and subjected to a wrongful prosecution – who after several years of litigation won £35,000 from Lancashire Constabulary.
Paul and his wife instituted a complaint about what had been done to him on the very night that he was arrested (19 June 2014). In February 2015 a report was sent which purported to conclude ‘no wrongdoing’ on the part of the Police, but in regards to which I lodged an appeal on Paul’s behalf as the investigation had not bothered to actually take a statement from Paul himself or the three members of his family who witnessed the events. In June 2015 Lancashire’s PSD indicated that the complaint was being “reviewed” and subsequently (July 2015) “errors” were admitted in regards to the handling of the complaint. Notwithstanding this, in September 2015, Lancashire PSD purported to dismiss the complaint for a second time!
Following further representations from myself on behalf of the Pontings, in June 2016 (2 years after the initial complaint was filed) Lancashire stated that the complaint would be handed over to an independent Force, namely Cumbria Constabulary, for re-investigation. But when in November of that year other complaints brought by Mr Ponting were indeed passed to Cumbria for review – this complaint relating to the events of June 2014 was not one of them.
At the present time, almost four and a half years later, the Pontings have still received no satisfactory resolution to their complaint, although thankfully their civil compensation claim has been successfully completed, as part of which the Chief Constable wrote a personal letter of apology to Mr Ponting. None of the Police officers involved in Paul’s arrest, assault and strip- search have faced any disciplinary action whatsoever.
This type of situation is far from unique. My client Mr E T whose claim for unlawful arrest, false imprisonment, assault and malicious prosecution against the Metropolitan Police I settled for £46,000 also brought a complaint against the officers involved, which took over 3 years to come to a disciplinary hearing, at which all allegations of misconduct against the officers were dismissed.
My client Zahi instituted a complaint, also against the Met Police, after he was subjected to an unlawful arrest (which we believe heavily influenced by the colour of his skin) and an aggressive assault involving the attacking officer choking him, and a subsequent humiliating strip- search. Whilst his claim for damages is presently ongoing, and likely to result in a substantial pay-out, the complaint that he brought took over 5 years to reach a resolution when, despite the IPCC (as then was) finding that the officer who had assaulted Zahi had a case to answer for misconduct, the chairperson conducting the misconduct meeting dismissed all allegations against him, finding in favour of the officer on every count.
A ‘draconian’, obtuse, frustrating and often glacially-paced process the current misconduct regime might be; but in my opinion, it is the public, not the Police who suffer most at its hands.