My Lords, there has been much criticism of the police complaints and misconduct process from the perspective of members of the public being unable to achieve justice, but much less has been said about the impact on the officers under investigation, to which I alluded in the last group. When we come to consider Clause 43 and Schedule 4 to the Bill, I will remind the House of the changes the Government brought about in the Policing and Crime Act 2017 to limit the length of time members of the public could be kept under investigation by the police and on police bail. The Government accepted the unfairness of suspects being kept in suspense for months, even years, with the threat of prosecution still hanging over them. This is something many police officers face, with even graver potential consequences than someone who is accused of a criminal offence—potentially losing their livelihoods through being sacked or required to resign from the police service.
When I was a police inspector in charge of a relief, or shift, of officers, a woman who had been arrested and taken to one of my police stations made an allegation of indecent assault by a police officer during a routine search to ensure that she did not have anything that could cause injury while she was being held in a cell. I heard a commotion in the custody suite and went to see what was happening, only to find her spreadeagled on the floor with one officer on each limb. The situation was explained to me: she had resisted being searched, fighting with the female officer designated to search her, and had to be restrained. I asked the prisoner if she was okay and if she was going to behave herself now, and then ordered two female officers to take her into a cell to be searched, much to the concern of male officers, who I ordered to remain just outside the cell door.
Another prisoner, who was present in the custody suite and subsequently interviewed in prison by officers from the complaints unit, corroborated to some extent the female prisoner’s account—a scuffle and then being held down on the floor—although her allegation was actually of indecent assault by a female officer during the search, out of sight of the witness. When the complaints unit took all the female officers who had been on duty that night away for questioning simultaneously and suspended one from duty, I asked that I be interviewed as I was also a witness who had seen nothing untoward.
As a result, I was interviewed as a suspect under caution in a criminal investigation. Although I had already qualified for a promotion, it was delayed for 18 months, and the local area police commander recommended that I face a full disciplinary hearing for lack of supervision, with a recommendation that I be sacked—perhaps related to having recently separated from my wife and having sought permission to cohabit with a man, or perhaps not.
The day that the local area commander retired from the police service, the headquarters complaints and discipline department responsible for scheduling discipline hearings dropped all proceedings against me, and I was promoted. But in the intervening period, my health suffered, my marriage ended and my career was on hold, even though I had done nothing wrong and, arguably, in coming forward as a witness, everything right.
This is but a relatively minor, albeit personal, example of the impact that prolonged police misconduct investigations can have, which, unlike criminal investigations, have no effective time limits placed upon them.
In another, more recent example, two police officers from Nottinghamshire faced a similar scenario. Both were involved in the detention of a female who had been arrested and charged with very serious offences at the Bridewell police station in the city. She was behaving in a violent and suicidal manner. Both police officers were accused of assault as they individually dealt with her in custody and tried to prevent her from self-harming. Those officers had to endure seven years and three investigations by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and its successor, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, of what was, in essence, a straightforward assault allegation which was fully captured on CCTV. When it eventually came to a hearing in April 2018, the Police Federation successfully argued abuse of process, due to breaches of regulations, lack of disclosure, errors and delays by the investigating body. It was subsequently discovered that it had dismissed evidence that would have cleared both officers.
In November 2013, officers in South Bedfordshire responded to a call about a male who was attempting to kick down the door of an address before running in and out of shops and into the road. The male was detained for mental health assessment and restrained for his own safety. He was placed in a police vehicle and transported to a police station. Regrettably, he died while in police custody. One of the officers gave a full account of his actions. His clothes were seized and, by the end of the week, he was informed that he was a suspect in a criminal investigation for gross negligence manslaughter, unlawful act manslaughter, misconduct in a public office and offences under the health and safety Act. The following week he was suspended from duty.
Four years later, the officer was informed that the CPS had decided that no charges should be brought again him, but he remained suspended. The suspension was eventually rescinded in April 2019, when he returned to work, although in a restricted capacity. During that time, he had received very few updates from the IPCC and was not given any explanation as to why it was taking so long.
In February 2020, six years and three months after the incident, the officer attended an IOPC-directed gross misconduct hearing. During those proceedings, it was discovered that an investigation review had been conducted by the IPCC in 2014—six years earlier. The IPCC had admitted that it had had insufficient resources and experience to conclude the investigation expeditiously. Inconsistencies were also discovered between the CCTV evidence and the witness evidence. As a result, Bedfordshire Police withdrew from prosecuting the misconduct hearing. The IOPC eventually withdrew the direction to hold a misconduct hearing. The officer was cleared of any wrongdoing and returned to work on full duties in March 2020.
The impact on the officer’s health and relationships has been devastating. One of the other officers involved was deemed too ill to give evidence at the inquest because of the post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the incident and the way in which the aftermath had been dealt with.
Police misconduct hearings are already chaired by an independent, legally qualified person, taken in turn from a pool of qualified chairs. This amendment would see these independent, legally qualified chairs who are experienced in the operation of the police misconduct system, reviewing misconduct investigations to ensure that there is good and sufficient reason for the length of time taken to bring misconduct proceedings, balanced against the seriousness of the allegations.
There is a requirement in existing regulations for those conducting police misconduct proceedings to write to the local policing body if the proceedings have not been concluded within 12 months, and again every six months after that. These are reported to directly elected mayors and police and crime commissioners, none of whom are likely to have the level of expertise and experience that the independent, legally qualified people who chair misconduct hearings have. Indeed, in the light of the events last week, one has to question whether some police and crime commissioners might be best placed to judge police misconduct at all.
The amendment would require such reports to go to one of the independent, legally qualified chairs instead. Currently there is no power for the directly elected mayor or the police and crime commissioner to make any directions as a result of receiving the report of the delay in the investigation. The amendment would allow the independent, legally qualified chair to terminate misconduct proceedings if there were no good or sufficient reasons for the delay.
I know from bitter personal experience how devastating prolonged periods under misconduct investigation can be, and the impact it can have on your career, your health and your loved ones—even more so when you know that you have done nothing wrong. This amendment simply gives independent oversight of misconduct proceedings by legally qualified, experienced misconduct hearing chairs to hold the police and the IOPC to account to ensure that these matters are concluded without unreasonable delay. I beg to move.