Putting the “PR” in IOPC Investigations?

I am currently acting  in a number of high- profile cases for individuals who believe they may have been racially profiled by the Metropolitan Police: the cases of my clients Alice Agyepong and Tariq Stanley have already attracted a great deal of media attention.

They have rightly attracted this attention because there are serious individual questions for the Police to answer in each case, and because they also highlight wider concerns about institutional racism in Policing culture and practices.

Both of my clients were disappointed by the decision of the Independent Office for Police Conduct not to take charge of the investigations into their complaints; rather the IOPC has in each case delegated the investigation to the local Force (in both cases, the Met) albeit that a right of appeal to the IOPC exists at the end of the process.

Although my clients were disappointed, I was not surprised; the IOPC rarely takes a “hands on” approach to complaint investigations, save in the most serious of cases; but how is the seriousness of a case defined by the IOPC and is there consistency in its approach to the same?

Alice Agyepong’s case, as you may recall, involved an armed raid on a family home, with guns being trained on a 12-year-old boy who had been playing (in his own house) with a toy gun. I wrote in the following terms to the IOPC stressing the wider public interest of the case, and my genuine concerns as to the impartiality and potential prejudice of any investigation conducted by the Met themselves –

Our request is in the first part based upon the statement issued by Metropolitan Police Commander Kyle Gordon on 26 July, in which Commander Gordon asserted that he had watched the Body Worn Video footage of the incident and that the Officers involved had “acted in line with their training and my expectations”, and the telephone call  our client received from Inspector Bernie Hayton on the day following the incident (detailed in her complaint) during which the Inspector asserted that the Police response/ use of force was entirely proportionate.

These statements by senior officers seem to form part of a concerted ‘public relations’ campaign on the part of the Metropolitan Police Service  (to assert that there has been no misconduct or mistakes by their Officers) which in our opinion is not compatible with a fair and impartial investigation of our client’s complaint, and rather indicates that the outcome of the complaint has already been determined.

You will also be aware, that our client’s case has garnered a significant amount of attention amongst the national media, leading to the Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, during a Radio 4 interview, outrageously accusing our client of using “rhetoric” and “inflaming tensions” about Police behaviour (particularly, Police behaviour towards Black people) despite the Minister clearly not being aware of the most basic fact about this incident i.e that it involved armed Police threatening the use of firearms upon our client and her children.

In the circumstances, given the very serious nature of this case, involving a genuine threat of lethal force against a woman and her minor children, set against a background of genuine national – and indeed international – concern about Police use of disproportionate force against Black people we submit that the right course of action, to assure our client and the wider community that a fair and impartial investigation is being undertaken would be for the IOPC and not the Met to take conduct of the same.

In response to this, the IOPC maintained their decision, replying in the following terms –

The IOPC is responsible for ensuring the police complaints system in England and Wales works fairly and effectively. We do this in a number of different ways. We investigate the most serious incidents involving the police independently, however these make up a small proportion of public complaints against the police.  We are also responsible for reviewing the handling of serious complaints when required.  We set the standards by which policing bodies handle and investigate complaints and monitor/report on the performance of police forces’ professional standards departments. We also work with police forces to improve their complaint handling.

It was never Parliament’s intention that the IOPC would investigate all complaints against the police, and the legislation and statutory guidance sets out the circumstances in which complaints must be referred to the IOPC, and the decisions the IOPC must take upon referral.  This can include requiring a Professional Standards Department of the relevant force investigate the matter.  The IOPC is not, and has never been resourced to consider all complaints. In this particular instance, we considered the referral of this matter and determined it was suitable for local investigation. Whilst the decision not to independently investigate this incident is clearly disappointing to you and your client, we have considered the referral and made our determination, as we are required to do under the legislation. Therefore, the IOPC will not be re-determining their original decision.

The same position was adopted by the IOPC in regards to Mr Stanley’s complaint, notwithstanding that his allegations include racial profiling and grossly excessive force, including entirely unnecessary handcuffing, resulting in serious injury and subjecting him to a strip- search; significant issues as to the integrity and honesty of the Officers involved have been raised. However, the IOPC position is that such a case remains suitable for internal investigation by the Met – despite their acknowledgement that Mr Stanley sustained serious injury. IOPC ‘oversight’ will in that case, as with the vast majority, be limited to sight of the report prepared by the Met’s Professional Standards Unit, and thereafter availability as the designated appeal body.

It was with some surprise, against this background, that I read last week that the IOPC has decided to assume direct conduct of the complaint investigation involving the international athletes Bianca Williams and Ricardo dos Santos, both of whom are protégés of former Olympic champion Linford Christie, who has spoken up on their behalf.

Whilst the events that happened to Ms Williams and Mr dos Santos were no doubt distressing, and doubly so because they took place in the presence of the couples’ young child, all the hallmarks of ‘seriousness’ about the case seem to fall short of the comparative factors in my client’s cases as highlighted above: the perception of racial profiling exists in all of these cases, but the levels of force used against Mr Stanley and Ms Agyepong (and her children) greatly outweigh the force used in the case of the athletes.

By way of a further comparison, I could also offer the case of my client Anthony which involved a stop/search leaving an innocent black man with a broken arm. This matter was also deemed by the IOPC suitable for local investigation (in that case, by West Midlands Police).

There seems to be a significant lack of consistency and transparency being displayed here in how the IOPC is assessing cases and determining whether independent investigation is required, and I am, frankly, concerned that the announcement by the IOPC that it will take direct responsibility for the complaint investigation into the Williams/ dos Santos case is little more than a “PR” exercise, primarily motivated by the public profile of the individuals concerned, and that of their mentor Linford Christie.

How can the ordinary man or woman in the street have faith that the IOPC is diligently discharging its much touted role as the “Police Watchdog”  in a rigorous, analytical and truly objective and independent way if its assessment of “seriousness” seems to have more to do with who the complainants are, than the actual facts of the complaint?

None of the questions my clients frequently raise about the fitness for purpose of the IOPC are being answered by this sort of inconsistent approach; at least, not answered positively.

As ever, Claimants are left with far more likelihood of justice through the Court system than our dysfunctional Police complaint process.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.