November 30 2023

Double standards: How police forces are failing communities and officers alike

Double standards: How police forces are failing communities and officers alike

PIcture by The Essex Tech (Flickr)

police - yellowThe Independent Police Complaints Commission released a significant report today, highlighting serious failings in the way that police forces deal with complaints of discrimination. It makes for disturbing reading, to say the least.

The IPCC examined 202 completed cases to determine how West Midlands, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire police forces deal with allegations in relation to any kind of discrimination including race, disability and age. Three-quarters were race allegations. Of 170 complaints from the public alleging discrimination, only 94 were investigated and, of those, no discrimination allegations were upheld – yet overall the three forces upheld between 11 and 13% of complaint allegations from the public. By contrast, over half of the 32 investigations into discrimination allegations raised by the police themselves were upheld.

Our findings are stark – generally complaints of discrimination made by members of the public are poorly handled from beginning to end – in relation to the way the complaint is investigated, the conclusions drawn and, importantly, the contact with the complainant. It is vital that police forces deal effectively with allegations of discrimination. For particular sections of the community, likely to be more distrustful of the police, or more vulnerable – or both, they are [the] litmus test of confidence in policing as a whole and of the police’s understanding of the communities they serve.’
Dame Anne Owers, IPCC chair

The report also found that there was insufficient training in diversity – and that this results in two things: complaints and, secondly, that those complaints were not well handled. From a personal perspective (see Whistleblower’s Diary), I find that very pertinent.

My experience of diversity training is that it was bodged into a frankly substandard computer format, patronising and often failed to make its own point through poor interpretation and bad delivery by trainers. The police need to get to grips with this, as the existing method is turning an essential subject into a complete farce, devoid of meaning and way off target.

Other findings from the report are no less staggering:

  • Eight out of 10 cases were not properly assessed, failing to take into account the gravity of the complaint and/or the officer’s previous disciplinary record;

  • In 42% of cases, local resolution was being inappropriately used in cases that needed to be investigated because if substantiated they might have led to misconduct or criminal proceedings;

  • 60% of local resolutions and 44% of investigations did not meet basic standards, and this rose to two-thirds and a half in cases that were handled at local level, rather than by professional standards departments;

  • In nearly a fifth of cases, complainants were not directly contacted, and around two-thirds of eventual decisions were poorly communicated to complainants;

  • In a quarter of investigations, findings were not based on evidence and in general the balance of probabilities was not properly applied.

The responses of the forces themselves show that the developing rift with the IPCC remains alive, well and appears to be growing.

A report of this significance does present opportunities for learning and insight. We are very disappointed the IPCC did not seek to properly engage with us about this work to enable the force to share its approach on improving complaints procedures.
The report suggests the forces do not appear to have a good understanding of the communities they serve and we look forward to understanding how the IPCC have reached this conclusion.’
Deputy Chief Constable Dave Thompson, West Midlands Police

However, this apparent clash should actually be seen as a positive sign: the IPCC exists to provide scrutiny and oversight, something which cannot be done in a cosy relationship. If we want to see the police genuinely put the past behind them and face up to the future, then the odd slap around the chops can only do good.

It is not, solely, communities that are being failed by the police though. Professional Standards Departments pose a real and significant risk to officers themselves.This was very pointedly demonstrated in a Westminster Hall debate on the 19th of March 2014, with Lib Dem MP Tessa Munt leading the charge when she shone some light on the sorry tale of six members of Scotland Yard’s Territorial Support Group based at Paddington Green (White policemen ‘sacrificed on altar of political correctness by Met Police). I have to say, even setting aside my own nods of recognition, the Hansard (HERE) makes for grim reading: exposing Professional Standards, and the twisted system in which it operates, as an apparently toxic barrel of waste.

‘In June 2007, a complaint was made by the one black officer on a Territorial Support Group (TSG) carrier, about the treatment of two Arabian youths by six white police officers. In October 2008, the Crown Prosecution Service authorised charges against all the officers.
Neil Brown was suspended and Steven White, Simon Prout and Giles Kitchener were put on restricted duties. Mark Jones was charged with racially aggravated common assault and a racially aggravated section 4 public order offence, as well as two charges of misconduct in public office; Neil Brown, having been suspended, was charged with a racially aggravated section 4 public order offence, using threatening words and behaviour, and two charges of misconduct in public office; and Bill Wilson, Steven White, Simon Prout and Giles Kitchener were charged with a single count of misconduct in public office. All those charges were hugely damaging to the officers’ careers and reputations.
A full criminal trial was set for 2009 and, during the 28 months between the charges being laid and the criminal trial taking place, The Metropolitan Police Service concealed and withheld material and substantial closed circuit television evidence from the officers and their lawyers.
There were numerous formal requests from solicitors and orders from the court to reveal any CCTV evidence held by the police. The defence team was checking a dusty property store log two days before the criminal trial began. The six TSG officers discovered that directorate of professional standards officers—the police who investigate the police—had seized vital CCTV tapes 28 months earlier, just two months after the incident, and had hidden the evidence. Had the TSG officers not found this log and presented it to the Crown Prosecution Service, the DPS officers would not have admitted their seizure of the CCTV tapes and would never have handed them over.
It was not until the night before the Crown court trial that the DPS handed over 13 CCTV tapes, which held 2,000 hours’ worth of footage, that it had seized about two before. This evidence was critical in proving the officers’ innocence.
The DPS officers had seized and viewed those 13 CCTV tapes, as proved by the entry in the DPS log. It is believed that the log was disclosed by mistake. Additionally, there was a CCTV tape from the Boots chemist on Edgware road—the arrests took place directly outside. The DPS officers seized and viewed that tape. The entry in the DPS log states: “viewed, not helpful”. That CCTV tape has not been provided, despite numerous requests, and those present at Kingston Crown court were not told of its existence. The MPS has refused to provide any account of the tape’s whereabouts.
The MPS compounded the problems by producing for the court a false and grossly misleading engineer’s report, which stated that the CCTV cameras were not working and were broken on the evening of 1 June 2007. In fact, the engineer concerned was reporting on a completely different system, rather than the system relating to the officers’ case. The MPS knew that its so-called evidence was false, as officers had already viewed the relevant CCTV footage at that point.
What happened to the complaints of the friends and families of the TSG officers? Following the discovery the day before the criminal trial was due to start on 1 October 2009 that substantial evidence had been withheld by the MPS for two years and four months, the families of all six TSG officers raised complaints about the handling of the investigation by the DPS. Complaints were made that evidence had been withheld from the Crown Prosecution Service, the lawyers, the prosecution and the defence teams. Complaints were also made about the racially biased investigation by the DPS officers in favour of the prosecution team and about the evidence of PC Onwugbonu. The complaints were dealt with in two parts: the IPCC in Cardiff handled the discrete issue of failure to disclose CCTV evidence to the CPS and others, and the DPS handled its own internal investigation into the remainder of the complaints about the investigation, particularly, for example, the contamination of witness statements.
The terms of reference for the IPCC Cardiff investigation were that DPS officers had failed to review crucial CCTV evidence and had subsequently withheld a number of CCTV tapes from the Crown court, the CPS and the defence and prosecution teams. The DPS officers involved were Detective Inspector Belej, Detective Sergeant McQueen and Detective Sergeant Fraser, who is now retired. The IPCC specifically looked at whether the officers failed—and, if so, whether that failure was deliberate—to disclose the internal CCTV evidence of the custody suite and the external view and whether the prosecution and, subsequently, the defence counsel might have been misled by any failure to include the evidence on the used and unused schedules. It also looked at who obtained the CCTV evidence around the Paddington Green police station and when, as well as the subsequent continuity of that evidence. It also looked at any policy decisions, lines of inquiry or communication on the recovery of CCTV evidence and the review, use and disclosure of potential evidence. It considered and reported on whether any criminal or disciplinary offences were committed by any police officer or member of the police staff involved in the incident.
In September 2011, the IPCC in Cardiff concluded that the conduct of the DPS officers in this case gave such serious cause for concern that: “DI Belej and DS McQueen should both have a case to answer for Gross Misconduct in respect of their conduct set out in the Report”.
The IPCC has no remit to rule on the conduct of a retired officer. DS Fraser retired from the MPS during the process and before the IPCC published its report.
The MPS initially refused to hold a discipline board, but MPS Commander Julian Bennett put pressure on the IPCC not to go ahead with the hearing and to allow the DPS officers to plead guilty to misconduct only. He said that the view of the panel was that the events in question were misconduct “at best”. If the hearing proceeded, he said that there might be a finding of no misconduct at all. In March 2013, a disciplinary board scheduled to last two weeks was deemed to be over after two days. The IPCC, despite its statutory direction to hold the gross misconduct board, is powerless to insist that the board proceeds to hear the case. A disciplinary board can be organised and listed at the direction of the IPCC, but can be dismissed by the MPS at any stage.
The IPCC directed the MPS to comply. Statute requires the MPS to comply with IPCC directions, but that statute is powerless once the gross misconduct board begins. In this case, Commander Julian Bennett allowed the DPS officers to plead guilty to plain misconduct on day two and passed down a written warning as a sanction for hiding and denying the existence of 13 CCTV tapes and producing a false engineer’s report to the Crown, the prosecution and the defence.’

This is an horrific and unconscionable mess. Policing is in real and present danger, not only of continuing to fail members of the public, but also, through clearly toxic internal culture, creating miscarriages of justice with impunity.

Looking at the IPCC figures – that show internal investigations are dealt with in all cases – and comparing it against what happened with the TSG officers, it’s quite apparent that there is much, much more to worry about, and it would be irresponsible of the IPCC to walk away – for all intents and purposes leaving the false impression that Professional Standards Departments are acting in a way that is beyond reproach.

If ever the case was made for the IPCC to absorb all Professional Standards functions and turn the Commission into the sabre-toothed tiger that is clearly needed, then it has been made today.