Police Complaints and Accountability

Sittings in Westminster Hall – in the House of Commons at 4:56 pm on 11th April 2019.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Rebecca Harris.)

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham 5:03 pm, 11th April 2019

It is a pleasure the see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.

My constituent Nicholas Churton was murdered in his own home, in the heart of Wrexham, on 23 March 2017 by Jordan Davidson. Davidson is responsible for this horrific crime and for other attacks, for which he is now serving a 30-year prison sentence. However, the events leading to these crimes revealed grave errors by the police and by the probation services in Wrexham and north Wales.

I have secured knowledge of the detail of those errors only with the assistance of Jez Hemming of the Daily Post newspaper in north Wales. For the bulk of this case, I have secured no co-operation whatever from North Wales police. Indeed, I now believe that I, along with the public, was misled deliberately about the facts of the case to conceal those errors, and that there has been a systematic cover-up involving North Wales police, the probation service, the community rehabilitation company, the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

The facts are that Davidson was released from prison in December 2016. He was under the supervision of the community rehabilitation company. A number of errors were made in his supervision, as was conceded by the probation service in an internal inquiry report on which I have been briefed, although I have not seen it. However, this evening I want to focus on the police.

On 19 March, while on licence, Davidson was arrested by North Wales police and taken into custody for possession of a knife. It appears that he was charged, but in any event he was released by the police and given bail, despite being on licence. The CRC was not notified by the police of his arrest until 24 March, the day after he had murdered Nicholas Churton.

After murdering Mr Churton, Davidson threatened others in central Wrexham. One of my constituents gave me this account:

“I came across Jordan Davidson and he was trying to commit robbery on an elderly gentleman, he was threatening him;
this elder man was begging me to tell Jordan not to kill him. As Jordan was distracted by me the man left swiftly. He then turned on me he pulled a machete out, (the one used in the murder) demanded I told him where I lived and where my family were, of which I did not do. He told me at this time he had already killed two people, which I unfortunately found out later had some truth as he did murder one man. I managed to get away and phone the police as soon as I could.”

After Davidson’s arrest, which involved commendable bravery on the part of individual North Wales police officers, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, as it then was—now the Independent Office for Police Conduct—commenced an inquiry into contact between Mr Churton and North Wales police before Mr Churton’s death. That inquiry, which I will call IOPC 1, has now concluded. Contrary to IPCC policy, I, as the local MP, was not informed about the inquiry or its terms of reference.

In December 2017, following Davidson’s trial, I saw a summary of the prosecution case used at the trial. That was the first communication that I received about the case, and I was shocked by its contents. I immediately wanted to know why Davidson had been released from police custody on 19 March, four days before killing Mr Churton. I emailed the then chief constable, Mark Polin, and asked him why that had happened. He replied that because the matter was subject to an IPCC inquiry, he could not respond to my question. I now know that that was untrue. In fact, the IPCC inquiry related only to communications between Mr Churton and the police prior to Mr Churton‘s murder. There was no inquiry into the circumstances of Davidson’s release from custody on 19 March. In April 2018, following my own questions and inquiries, the IOPC commenced an inquiry into his release which has still not concluded.

Let me ask the Minister a number of questions. First, why did North Wales police and the IPCC fail to tell me of a police conduct inquiry involving a murder and additional serious assaults in the middle of my constituency? Secondly, who decided to exclude the police decision to release Davidson on bail after his arrest for possession of an offensive weapon from the terms of reference of the IPCC inquiry, and why was that done? Thirdly, why did the then chief constable of North Wales, Mark Polin, tell me that there was an inquiry into Davidson’s release when there was not?

Fourthly, was the North Wales police and crime commissioner notified of the inquiry by the IPCC in 2017, and of its terms of reference? Is there an obligation to notify PCCs of such inquiries? If a notification was made in this case, when was it made? Fifthly, was the family of Nicholas Churton notified of the inquiry, and the fact of the release of Davidson four days before his murder? Sixthly, why did the probation service and the CRC fail to highlight the fact that the release of Davidson was not included in the IPCC inquiry? Should they have done so?

To my mind, we have a cover-up in this case. I was not told, as I should have been, of the inquiry into the death of my constituent. The release of Davidson on bail by the police was, I believe, concealed from Mr Churton’s family, from me, and from the public who were endangered by him. I was misled by the then chief constable of North Wales police, who told me that the release was the subject of an inquiry when it was not. At the suggestion of the IOPC in a letter that I received yesterday, I have now made a formal complaint to North Wales police and crime commissioner about this, although I am very disappointed that it required action by me for them even to investigate the matter.

My concern is that the present system permitted all this to happen and allowed the police and the IPCC to cover up serious misconduct which, in this case, led to a murder in the heart of my constituency a few days later. This misconduct was not notified, to my knowledge, to anyone outside North Wales police, including the IOPC and the family of the deceased, until I raised it myself. I had to tell the family of the deceased of the release of Jordan Davidson.

It is now over two years since Nicholas Churton was brutally murdered. We need an independent investigation into how this happened. I have no confidence in the various bodies and organisations that I have referred to because none of them and none of the systems worked to reveal the errors in this case, which had catastrophic consequences. What we need above all is some transparency and honesty from the organisations involved. The family of Nicholas Churton, with whom I have been working, deserve that honesty.

I have a great deal of respect for the Minister, and I hope that he will assist me in sorting out a system that can deliver transparency and openness to enable us to have confidence in the organisations that operate on our behalf in our communities.

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (London) 5:02 pm, 11th April 2019

I congratulate Ian C. Lucas on securing this debate, which I think is his second on this specific subject in Parliament, which reflects his persistence and passion for getting to the truth of some clear evidence of failure of the system in this tragic murder. If he will allow me, I would also like to place on record my personal condolences and sympathy to the family of Nicholas Churton. The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. The death is a tragedy and, I am sure, extremely difficult for the family to deal with. We do not want to compound it by creating a sense of the system not learning from or being honest about the past. I know the hon. Gentleman to be a man of common sense and experience in this place. When I hear him articulate his feeling that he has been personally misled and talk about a systematic cover-up, I know that he will not be using that language lightly. I take that seriously and congratulate him on his persistence and his campaign on this. Clearly, the Daily Post and Jez Hemming have been an active partner in that.

Jordan Davidson is now rightly serving a life sentence for his wicked and senseless murder of Mr Churton. I join the hon. Member for Wrexham in recognising the bravery of the two North Wales police officers, PCs Rhys Rushby and David Hall, who were attacked with a hammer when they arrested Davidson and have subsequently attended the National Police Bravery Awards 2019. The key thing surely is that the family and the hon. Gentleman feel comfortable that an honest process is under way to learn from the mistakes that clearly were made. In that context, let me address the remainder of my remarks to the issues that he raised about the police and the IOPC, which were the main focus of his remarks.

For the information of the House, I place on record that the probation service had a number of questions to answer, given that Jordan Davidson was subject to statutory probation supervision at the time. The Wales Community Rehabilitation Company had to complete a serious further offence review and identified a number of deficiencies in the management of Jordan Davidson. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service subsequently oversaw the Wales CRC’s implementation of the improvement actions from the SFO review. My understanding—I stand to be corrected—is that all actions on that SFO action plan for Jordan Davidson had been completed at the end of November 2018, and the effectiveness of the actions continues to be monitored through contract management assurance activity and governance.

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman met the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. Friend Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) in December last year to discuss his concerns about the case. He will be aware that the Minister remains of the view that there was no evidence of systematic failings that would warrant an inquiry. I hope he is more satisfied than he is with the police’s role in this case that the probation service has addressed the issues and failings and that the action plan has been implemented.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham

On that point, for clarification’s sake, it is correct that I met the Minister from the Ministry of Justice. We decided to await the outcome of the outstanding IOPC 2 report, because there are issues relating to the communication between the police and the probation service that will become clear only when that report concludes.

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (London)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for placing that important clarification on the record. As he made clear, this tragic case is subject to investigations—plural—by the Independent Office for Police Conduct. The IOPC’s first investigation was concerned with North Wales police’s contact with Mr Churton, and that concluded in October last year. It identified cases to answer for misconduct for two officers and urged the force to review its procedures in recognising vulnerability, grading and resourcing and making use of intelligence. I understand that the force has already undertaken work in some of those areas since referring Mr Churton’s death to the IOPC. I had that confirmed personally to me by the assistant chief constable.

As the hon. Gentleman said, a second IOPC investigation into the force’s involvement in the management of Jordan Davidson remains ongoing. He made the point that the investigation has already run for a year. I understand, having asked the question, that the IOPC expects to complete it by this summer. I hope that reassures him. He will understand that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further while that investigation is ongoing. He and I will have to wait until the respective investigation reports have been published and potential proceedings have concluded.

I heard clearly the hon. Gentleman’s frustration about his engagement with the police and the system and the degree to which he feels misled—a powerful word in this context. I understand that he has been in correspondence with and met senior members of North Wales police to discuss its organisational learning, its response to date and intended actions. If he feels that contact has not been substantive or that there are issues that continue to need to be addressed, he and I should discuss that. I can certainly help him to make that point directly to North Wales police’s leadership.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham

Just to clarify the position, I met the police around the time of the conclusion of the first IOPC inquiry; I think that was within the last six months. I had no communication at all from the police before then. It is fair to say that North Wales police now has a new chief constable and that this case relates to the previous regime, so to speak.

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (London)

I note both points, and I note from reading the reports of previous debates and the briefing for this one that the previous chief constable held the view that he was heavily restricted in what he could say and the information he could pass on. However, I understand that, under new leadership, the engagement with the hon. Gentleman is more forthcoming, and I welcome that. I note also his comments about the police and crime commissioner.

We believe that much work has been done in the time since Mr Churton’s tragic murder in order for North Wales police to embed and improve understanding in relation to their procedures for the effective management of risk. That work has been carried out in advance of the publication of the IOPC reports, in order to ensure that it is positioned as well as possible to respond to any emerging recommendations.

Examples of that work include a full review of the force’s control room policies in relation to the grading of incidents and resource deployment, which has resulted in a single update force control centre policy. Regular meetings have been established between the managed response unit supervisors and the control room supervisors to share learning. Furthermore, in January 2018, the force introduced a structured monthly audit process on individual call performance, which now captures important information on the nature of the call to the force and the initial actions of the call handler. Those supervisors will also be subject to audits to ensure that their intervention and supervision of vulnerable incidents is monitored.

I understand that the force has also invited the hon. Gentleman to visit its joint control room to gain a better understanding of how it acts as the vital first point of contact between the public of north Wales and operational police officers. That will provide an opportunity to experience the processes in action, to assist with the understanding of procedures for the effective assessment and management of risk and the deployment of officers. I hope the visit will provide the hon. Gentleman with an awareness of how the force manages incidents of this type and that he will witness the work the force has already implemented as a result.

I get a sense from that that the North Wales police have been active in responding to evidence of failings in their processes, and that the force is more proactive and constructive in its engagement with the hon. Gentleman and, I understand, the family as well. I hope he will welcome that.

At the heart of this is the issue of how police complaints are managed and the timeliness of investigations, which has been a long-standing problem. The hon. Gentleman reflected that frustration in his remarks and I am sure it is felt deeply by the family as well.

We have encouraged substantial reform in the way in which the IOPC manages complaints and streamlines processes. Complaints made against the police must be responded to in a way that maintains trust, builds public confidence and allows lessons to be learned. I am the first to acknowledge that the current system can sometimes be confusing, opaque and frustrating for the public and for Members of Parliament representing them.

I am delighted to say that the IOPC is now completing more investigations more quickly than ever before. As evidence of that, in the first full financial year since its inception in January 2018, approximately 80% of the IOPC’s investigations were completed within 12 months, which is a 20% improvement on the previous year. That is the highest performance in the history of the organisation.

The average time taken to complete investigations to final report is 10 months. Of the 538 active cases that the IOPC inherited from the IPCC, more than three quarters have now been closed, and in 2018 it closed more investigations than were opened. Importantly, the improvements in timeliness have not caused the quality of investigations to fall. Through the ministerial board on deaths in custody, the IOPC is also leading on work with other stakeholders to drive improvements in how they work in IOPC cases.

What I take from this debate is that the hon. Gentleman continues to feel not only deep misgivings about how the system—both the probation service and the police—handled the tragic murder and the events leading up to and after it, but a deep frustration about how, since then, the system has, in his clear view, failed to engage appropriately with him in his job representing his constituency and the family. This debate will be watched closely in Wrexham and by the authorities there, and that message will not be lost on them.

The hon. Gentleman asked some direct questions to which I do not have the answers today, but I undertake to get back to him. The feedback we have had from North Wales police is that it is beginning to action fundamental changes to its processes in response to evidence of failings.

The hon. Gentleman has heard from me today that the IOPC intends to conclude the second investigation by the summer and to publish both the first and the second investigation reports together. He and I will have to wait to see the outcomes. He has also met the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. Friend Rory Stewart to get a clearer sense of the changes that the probation system has made in response to its failings.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham

My key concern is that Davidson’s release from custody was not made subject to IPCC investigation by North Wales police or by the IPCC, and no one outside the force knew of that fact. It was only when I highlighted it that the investigation commenced. My concern is that the systems are still not in place to make sure it cannot happen again.

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (London)

I understand that message very clearly, and it will be heard by the IOPC. I undertake to make sure that the IOPC has absorbed the message. My understanding is that the first investigation looked at the police’s dealings and contact with Nicholas Churton and the second is looking specifically at their contact and dealings with Jordan Davidson, but the hon. Gentleman’s point is well made. Through the mechanism of this debate and the follow-up, I undertake to make sure that the message is clearly understood by the IOPC as it finalises its work for publication, hopefully this summer.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman again on his persistence in pushing the system hard to be more transparent in its processes and more rigorous in learning from mistakes. I completely understand why that should matter both to him and to the family. I have confidence in the IOPC in terms of the rigour and increased pace of its work. If it says it will be done by the summer, I am sure it will be.

I have given some undertakings to the hon. Gentleman on trying to get some detailed answers to his detailed questions, if I can, within the scope of what is allowed. I am sure North Wales police has heard loud and clear his messages concerning his frustration about the force’s historical dealings with him.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Before the House adjourns, I thank everybody who works so hard and such long hours to support and look after us here in the Palace of Westminster, and who have spent extra time that they were not expecting to spend in the run-up to Easter. I wish all of them, and all hon. Members, a happy and peaceful Easter holiday.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.