Former Chief Constables: Gross Misconduct - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 22 May 2023.

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Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:08, 22 May 2023

To ask His Majesty’s Government how many former chief constables are awaiting police gross misconduct hearings.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, since 2020-21, the Home Office has substantially increased the data that it collects and publishes on police misconduct as part of the police misconduct in England and Wales statistical bulletin. It is working closely with the sector to improve the overall quality and consistency of the data that it collects. This does not include cases which have been referred to misconduct proceedings where those proceedings have not concluded.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, how can it possibly be right for former Chief Constable Mike Veale to have been able to dodge a gross misconduct inquiry in Cleveland for almost two years, while tarnished officers of lesser rank have been brought to account? May I remind the House that arrangements for the Veale hearing in Cleveland were the sole responsibility of a legally qualified chair, whose name is unknown, even though the law does not permit this individual to remain anonymous. What does that say about public accountability of the police in Cleveland? Finally, when I met my noble friend the Minister and Mr Chris Philp, the Policing Minister, recently—I thank them for that meeting—I made it clear that, unless the mysterious chair has now fixed a date for the start of the hearing, I would call on the Government today to use their reserve powers under Sections 79 and 91 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 to end the impasse. Is it not time that this matter was finally resolved?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, the law is not being flouted. Arrangements for the misconduct hearing of the former Cleveland chief constable Mike Veale are a matter for the Cleveland PCC and not the Government. Any questions regarding who has been appointed as the independent, legally qualified chair would need to be directed to the PCC accordingly. As noble Lords will expect me to say, I will not comment further on that particular case. However, in answer to the second part of my noble friend’s question, I can say that operational policing is, as he knows, not a Home Office matter—it is for chief constables—but he is correct that the Home Secretary has powers under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 to ensure an efficient and effective policing system that protects public safety. That includes the power under Sections 40 and 40A of the Police Act 1996. However, these are for use only when either the police force or the local policing body itself is failing or will fail to discharge its functions in an effective manner. They are very much a last resort, and we do not believe that the current situation in Cleveland requires these powers to be used, as the PCC has appointed an LQC to the panel for Mr Veale’s misconduct hearing.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the meeting he arranged, but will he please guarantee that the Home Office will never again stand idly by in a situation where a police and crime commissioner, in this case Leicestershire’s, employs as it chief adviser, and then as its chief executive, a twice-disgraced ex-chief constable facing an allegation of gross misconduct—all with substantial public money? Do the Government understand how offensive this is, both to the police force in question and to the general public?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The noble Lord makes a very good point. As he knows, in the case he describes, the usual and correct procedure was not followed in that county. I am very pleased it has finally been followed, so I agree with him.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat

My Lords, this House owes a debt of recognition to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for his perseverance in this matter. Of course, there are obviously serious matters relating to the relationship between police officers and the law. I wonder if the Minister would care to comment on the words of the chief constable of the BTP, the transport police, who says:

“If I was to commit a crime, get arrested and give my details, there is no obvious system check that would flag that I’m a police officer if I didn’t choose to tell them”.

Does the Minister think that is an issue? If it is a problem, what are the Government doing to solve it?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I join the noble Lord in praising my noble friend’s commendable tenacity on this subject. Regarding the circumstances the noble Lord describes, I was not aware of them. Of course, he will also be aware that we have launched a review, which concludes this month, into the whole misconduct and dismissals process. With a bit of luck, it will report back in the next month or two, according to the Policing Minister in the other place. It will include a number of these issues, and I hope that will be dealt with then.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, if there were a gold medal for stonewalling, my noble friend would deserve to win it. The answers that he gives are obfuscatory and reveal nothing. Will he please consider again the questions asked by both my noble friend Lord Lexden and the noble Lord, Lord Bach? Will he also reflect on the point that came up during the debate we had in the Moses Room a week or two ago? I suggested to him, and he completely ignored the suggestion, that we should have a police ombudsman in this country: somebody who can exercise the sort of authority—dispassionate and impartial—exercised by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my noble friend for his praise, which is very welcome. I remember that debate in Grand Committee and I am afraid I did not ignore his suggestion; I dismissed it. In fact, a number of bodies oversee policing, including the College of Policing, the IOPC, HMICFRS and a variety of other alphabet-soup organisations.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, why can we not have anonymity in accusations of sexual offences, particularly rape? They are a special category of criminal offence where the reputations of the innocent can be destroyed, even by chief constables like Mike Veale. The law is unfair, and I have raised this issue repeatedly over the years. I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, on his unrelenting campaigning on this issue; the House is deeply indebted to him.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Obviously that strays well outside the remit of this Question and the department, but I will make sure that the noble Lord’s reflections are taken back to the appropriate people.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

I will follow on from the good idea of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about having a police ombudsman. In their original Answer to this, the Government rather washed their hands of the whole issue of police and crime commissioners, which did not seem appropriate, as this Government set them up and put in the rules, parameters and laws—rather poorly, I think, but they did so. It is therefore wrong to throw away all feelings of guilt after things have gone wrong.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, as the noble Baroness is aware, we have conducted a two-part review of PCCs. The second part is due to be enacted soon.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

My Lords, behind all this is the question of Operation Conifer, in which the reputation of a former Prime Minister and statesman was deeply and horribly smeared by the lies of a convicted paedophile, whose views were described by the police as “credible”. Given the obvious misdemeanours, mistakes and mishandling of the whole case, operations within the police seem to have been incredibly slow. The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, has asked endless questions over the years and this issue has never been brought to a head. Is it therefore not time for the Government, while not interfering with police operations in detail, to endorse and set up a completely independent inquiry to bring this appalling libelling and slandering of a now-deceased Prime Minister to an end? It is totally out of accord with the normal standards of justice and fairness in this country.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Many noble Lords have raised similar, very good points in recent debates. I shared this opinion with my noble friend Lord Lexden when we met last week. Having said that, there have been four inquiries into this case and all concluded that there was nothing more to do. However, I heard my noble friend Lord Howell’s concerns and will reflect them back to the department.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, and my noble friend Lord Bach, who have been campaigning on these issues for a considerable period of time. The Minister’s answers are simply not satisfactory. The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, has raised time and again the misconduct of Mike Veale, the former chief constable. The Minister simply comes back with a list of regulations, sends up smoke and does not answer the question. This is a really serious matter that deserves the highest priority from the Government, but we are not getting it. When will the Minister give us the answers that the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, is demanding?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I hope very soon. The noble Lord is also aware that there are a large number of things that I absolutely cannot say—a point I have reinforced from the Dispatch Box on a number of occasions. That will remain the case until this is concluded.