Police officers blocking the investigation of complaints must be held to account, say MPs in a new report that has found ‘a culture of non-cooperation’ in police forces with complaints dragging on for years.
A new report from the Home Affairs Committee said confidence in policing was now at ‘a perilous point’ following a series of crises and called upon the new police watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct, set up just four years ago, to build confidence in the complaints system. ‘There is a clear absence of urgency and a culture of non-cooperation from some police forces involved in investigations,’ the MPs found. The report described as ‘unsatisfactory and unedifying’ to hear the police blame the IOPC for delay while the watchdog countered officers ‘drag their heels’ in cooperating. ‘A culture needs to be created within police forces – establish by and led from the top – that requires rapid open and non-defensive response in to complaints,’ the MPs added.
The committee highlights delay in complaints handling that ‘in extreme cases’ can be dragged out for ‘over several years’. ‘It should not be necessary to compel officers to cooperate with investigations,’ the report said. ‘Those responsible for blocking the progress of investigation must be held to account. The IOPC must utilise its powers at an early stage to minimise delays. Police forces, officers and their unions must also take responsibility for ensuring bad behaviour is rooted out.’ MPs call for an enhanced role and more funding for Police and Crime Commissioners to enable them to work more closely with local forces and ‘to record and systematically monitor the root causes of complaints and recurrent issues that affect their communities disproportionately and how their forces resolve those issues’.
‘Over the course of the inquiry what we heard from individuals and communities who feel badly let down,’ commented Dame Diana Johnson MP, chair of the committee. ‘… The succession of scandals in recent years has left public confidence in policing at a perilous point. The IOPC will need to ensure that it drives change to create a complaint system that people can have full confidence in.’
The committee highlighted the ’sorry story’ of Operation Midland, the investigation into the baseless allegations against prominent public figures, as an example of how the police complaint system ‘can go so badly wrong’. ‘Those investigating potential police misconduct should be ashamed of leaving any vulnerable person feeling as if they are, themselves, a suspect. The families of the now-deceased Lord Brittan and Lord Bramall, as well as the former MP Harvey Proctor, have been left feeling that no one has been sanctioned for the mistakes identified by Sir Richard Henriques in the Operation Midland inquiry and its aftermath. That is a result that satisfies no-one and does nothing to improve confidence that officers will be held to account when an investigation goes quite so badly wrong.’
MPs warned that there are many other cases ‘without the advantage of being high profile and attracting publicity’ that also left complainants feeling let down by a system.