[Dr William McCrea in the Chair] — Metropolitan Police

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 19th March 2014.

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Photo of Tessa Munt Tessa Munt Liberal Democrat, Wells 9:30 am, 19th March 2014

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea.

I beg hon. Members’ patience while I set out what I want to talk about, which is of a complicated nature. It concerns six territorial support group officers who were based at Paddington Green police station in June 2007: Police Constable Mark Jones, who was my constituent; PC Neil Brown, whose MP is my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes; PC Steven White, whose MP is Kwasi Kwarteng; PC Simon Prout, whose MP is Richard Harrington; PC Giles Kitchener, whose MP is Mrs May; and Police Sergeant William—known as Bill—Wilson.

My constituent, Mark Jones, first contacted me in April 2012. He told me what had happened to him and his colleagues. I consider every case on the basis of whether or not the person has been treated fairly, so I decided that the only thing to do was to take this matter up.

This whole sorry saga commenced on Friday 1 June 2007, following the arrest of two Arab youths, Basil Khan and Ahmed Hegazy, and the apprehension and eventual release of a third youth, Omar Mohidin, by seven Metropolitan Police Service territorial support group officers who were in a carrier on the Edgware road in London W2. I shall use the abbreviations MPS and TSG from now on.

A complaint was made by the one black officer on the carrier, PC Amechi Onwugbonu, about the treatment of the youths by the six white police officers. PC Onwugbonu had challenged the six officers about their behaviour on many previous occasions. By the nature of the work that these officers did, sometimes some force was necessarily used. When he challenged the officers, they clearly advised him that if he had a problem with the way that they had behaved, with which they saw no problem, he should take his allegations to a senior officer. It is important to note that the youths who were arrested did not make any complaint about their treatment until the following day, and only after they had been made aware of the details of PC Onwugbonu’s complaint via the directorate of professional standards.

During the evening of 1 June, the six officers were made aware that a serious complaint had been made about their conduct, but they were not given details. By that time, the six officers had completed their handover of the youths and their case notes, and the officers had been examined by an independent forensic medical examiner, who checked them for injuries, primarily on their knuckles. The six officers were informed in the early hours of Saturday 2 June 2007 that they were on gardening leave. About five days later, all the officers were recalled to Paddington Green police station. Mark Jones and Bill Wilson were suspended immediately and escorted from the station. Neil Brown, Steven White, Simon Prout and Giles Kitchener were dispersed and placed in separate teams across the MPS.

In about September 2007, the six TSG officers—regardless of their employment status at any particular time, I will refer to them as TSG officers—became aware that a civil claim against the Metropolitan Police Commissioner had been made by Basil Khan, Ahmed Hegazy and Omar Mohidin for false imprisonment, assault and battery, damages for anxiety, distress, inconvenience, stress, pain, humiliation, discomfort and loss of liberty, breach of the Equality Act 2006, and breach of the Human Rights Act 1998.

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 plea and case-management hearing was set for 6 April 2009, and a full criminal trial was scheduled for 5 October 2009 at Kingston-upon-Thames Crown court. For 28 months, these officers—and their families—lived with the knowledge that if they, as police officers, were found guilty of racist crimes, they would face prison sentences of three years, minimum. In November 2009, after a four-week trial, the six TSG officers were all unanimously acquitted of all charges at Kingston Crown court.

I should like to return to some of the events that occurred 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 CCTV footage at Paddington Green police station originated from 29 different cameras that covered the relevant time, from 5.30 pm on 1 June 2007 through to 12 noon or thereabouts on the following day.

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.

PC Onwugbonu’s initial allegations were numerous and very serious. He told the court that he had not visited the cells of the two claimants, Khan and Hegazy. He was asked about that in court on two separate occasions. He was then shown CCTV evidence that, of course, had only just been disclosed. The officers were watching CCTV tapes at night, once the court case had finished for the day; they were trying to catch up throughout the four weeks of the court trial. The evidence shows him visiting the cells and photocopying custody records. Clearly, there is a data protection issue there, because custody records hold data about people being held in the police station, including their address, phone numbers and other personal information.

PC Onwugbonu told the court that PC Mark Jones had been walking on Hegazy’s back, that he saw Neil Brown offering to fight Hegazy, and that Basil Khan was beaten by Mark Jones in the carrier while it was in the station yard. A specific allegation, later supported by Basil Khan, was made that Mark Jones had attacked Basil Khan with

“in excess of 40 full blown punches and kicks”.

Mark Jones is a muscular man, and one would expect Basil Khan to have been seriously injured; the only injury Basil Khan had was a 4 mm bruise behind his left ear, which may or may not have been a result of his arrest. It defies logic that those allegations were accepted without corroborating medical evidence. The CCTV shows Mark Jones exiting the carrier and entering the police station, rather than remaining in the carrier and beating Basil Khan.

The MPS has chosen to rely on the youths’ complaints because they are similar to those made by PC Onwugbonu. It should be noted, however, that the youths concerned made no complaints until at least six hours after arriving in custody on 1 June 2007. Additionally, they were asked about their welfare by a police doctor, two police sergeants, a police inspector and two independent charity lay visitors. The claimants made allegations only after Detective Inspector Belej from the DPS telephoned custody and spoke to their solicitor at approximately midnight. That call was never logged. DI Belej had received PC Onwugbonu’s allegations by that time. The six TSG officers only discovered that that highly suspicious call had taken place because of the CCTV. The youths’ solicitor was cross-examined at the Crown court trial and told the court that DI Belej

“told me what the case was about”.

After the call, the solicitor was seen to return to Mr Hegazy and spend 90 minutes in consultation. It was after that consultation that the youths’ allegations were first raised.

I now return to the general course of events. In early 2010, Bill Wilson retired from the MPS. It is standard practice for the police to investigate after any officer has been involved in a criminal trial. That investigation involved the DPS. Following the DPS investigation, the six officers were informed in March 2010 that no disciplinary action would be taken against them. In early 2010, however, the six TSG officers made a formal complaint to the MPS about the conduct of the investigation and PC Onwugbonu’s statements, which had been disproven during the trial. Simultaneously, the friends and families of the six TSG officers complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, as is their right.

The officers were told that there would be an internal review of the case. In March 2010, Mick Johnson, the chief superintendent of the TSG, told the six officers individually that they were being removed from the TSG and forcibly returned to front-line borough policing, despite their skills and qualifications. The six TSG officers appealed against that e decision to remove them. Commander Bob Broadhurst, who headed territorial policing at the MPS, ruled that the officers were to be removed before the appeal was even heard, so that is what happened.

After Bill Wilson retired, the five remaining TSG officers invoked the “fairness at work” process and completed the necessary paperwork. The officers filed their application with the employment tribunal on the grounds of race discrimination in March 2010. Mark Jones and Neil Brown went on sick leave from April 2010. To comply with the MPS employment dispute process, a fairness at work adviser-investigator—a senior civilian member of staff who headed the “fairness at work” department—was appointed. The first adviser-investigator reported that the decision to remove the officers from the TSG would stand but offered some recognition that the process had been handled poorly. The TSG officers appealed on the basis that the finding was unsound because they had evidence that the decision to remove them from the TSG predated their appeal.

A new adviser-investigator, Superintendent Victor Olisa, was appointed. In late 2010 he provided a draft of his final report, which referred to the fact that he could not rule out racism, but the final report did not contain that reference. During the final meeting, he told Neil Brown, Simon Prout and Giles Kitchener that he had had meetings a short while previously with his mentor, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mark Simmons, and the directorate of legal services, during which he was informed—and he was just passing on the information—that if the officers did not drop their employment tribunal proceedings, the MPS would look to join the defendants into the civil proceedings being taken by the youths. This is known as making the officers part

20 defendants, which makes each individual liable for his actions as a police officer while under the direction of his employer, the MPS. Normally, a police officer acting within the remit of police duties would expect the commissioner to cover the liability for those actions. It is effectively their insurance at work. I understand that this is the first time officers have been joined in as part 20 defendants. MPS officers will be required to defend their actions while on duty and under the direction of their superiors in court. Should that situation continue, there is probably a case for ensuring that every police officer in the UK is made aware that his or her actions might need individual personal insurance cover. It also has implications for discipline. Police officers are required to carry out commands, not negotiate the risks of future court action as a result of any ordered action by a superior officer.

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. The six TSG officers’ solicitor, Lynne Burns, wrote to the Metropolitan Police Service on 30 April 2013, claiming that the decision to allow the DPS officers to plead guilty to misconduct only was irrational and unfair. She stated:

“Just to put this into context, the failure to disclose and knowing concealment of CCTV evidence does not represent one or two requests but numerous letters where questions relating to CCTV were ignored or answered falsely, Advocates Questionnaires, Joint Requests for Disclosure, Orders of the court ordering disclosure all either ignored or responded to in a knowingly false or misleading manner”.

On the DPS investigation, the six TSG officers accused in 2007 were investigated by three officers from the DPS. From that point onwards, the six officers were subjected to a racially biased, dishonest investigation, involving blatant, deliberately withheld and concealed material evidence, lies, cover-ups and falsified evidence submitted to the Crown court as the MPS attempted to secure a conviction against the officers at all costs, even though the legitimate evidence did not support its case. In 2012, the DPS investigated the matter. Officers Detective Chief Inspector Neligan and Detective Sergeant Morley returned a report that indicated that there was no case for the officers—DI Belej and DS McQueen—to answer.

The DPS report was appealed by the six TSG officers to the IPCC in Manchester. In May 2013, that appeal was upheld. The IPCC’s appeal report was damning and highly critical of how the DPS investigation had been conducted. It held that, among many other points, the original investigation by the DPS officers was conducted in a biased manner in favour of the prosecution and in favour of one black police officer over six white police officers, stating:

“On balance the significant catalogue of errors made by the DPS Officers shows a bias in the investigation often dismissing evidence which would have supported the Defence”.

The IPCC indicated that consideration must be given to further disciplinary action against the DPS officers and PC Onwugbuno, and that consideration must be given to potential criminal prosecutions. The IPCC held that the investigation showed bias against the six TSG officers and that the black police officer’s failure to tell the truth on 25 occasions at Kingston Crown court could not be put down to “stress”, as accepted by the original investigating officers. The IPCC referred the case back to the Metropolitan Police Service for re-investigation.

I will now move on to the second investigation. The Metropolitan Police Service referred the investigation back to the same DPS officers—DCI Neligan and DS Morley—who carried out the original, flawed investigation into DI Belej and DS McQueen, who were their own DPS colleagues. The investigation is ongoing. It is worth noting that the DPS officers concerned have, as I understand it, remained in operational posts. DI Belej is a supervising inspector in counter-terrorism and border control at Heathrow, and DS McQueen remains in the DPS, investigating misconduct.

The six TSG officers have been threatened on two occasions that they should withdraw their employment tribunal proceedings or face being joined into the civil action. I have already mentioned one occasion, namely when Superintendent Victor Olisa passed on the message, but in January 2011 the now-retired MPS Police Federation general secretary, Dave Bennett, passed on the same threat allegedly from the DPS commander Peter Spindler.

On the civil, or part 20 proceedings, when the six TSG officers did not withdraw their employment tribunal proceedings against the MPS, the MPS joined in four of the six TSG officers—Mark Jones, Neil Brown, Steve White and Bill Wilson—into civil proceedings brought against the commander of the MPS by Basil Khan, Ahmed Hegazy and Omar Mahidin. Such a move might suggest that the TSG officers were being victimised for having the temerity to challenge the MPS’s decisions and to issue proceedings against it. The youths brought their civil claim with the assistance of Bhatt Murphy, a firm of solicitors that specialises in actions against the police. The youths submitted their claims in 2007 and all are funded by the taxpayer through legal aid.

The MPS has presented its civil defence so as to justify joining the officers in part 20 proceedings. The MPS has told the High Court that this civil case is highly unusual, because, in the opinion of the six TSG officers, the black officer—PC Onwugbonu—contradicts the white officers’ evidence. The MPS has effectively delegated responsibility for proving innocence a second time to those six TSG officers—bearing in mind that they already won their case in the Kingston Crown court—rather than acting on the court’s findings and defending them. That was DAC Mark Simmons’s justification for his decision to bring the officers in as part 20 defendants. The MPS, through the director of legal services, has suggested that it should not disclose the IPCC report, which is highly critical of the original DPS investigation, to the youths in the civil proceedings. There is, however, a legal obligation to comply with the disclosure rules and it must be of concern that the MPS has suggested that such a crucial document should not be disclosed.

DAC Mark Simmons, who was commander of the DPS at the time, is the senior client and has instructed the MPS legal team to use statements to the High Court that they know to be incorrect. Two examples are as follows. Statement one says:

“The Defendants’ (the MPS’) DPS investigation was carried out appropriately and in good faith in the circumstances.”

The MPS, and DAC Mark Simmons in particular—he was the DPS commander at the time—knew that the DPS officers did not act appropriately or in good faith.

DI Belej and DS McQueen had concealed and withheld over 2,000 hours of CCTV footage, a fact which was established at the trial at Kingston Crown court and by two independent IPCC investigations. Furthermore, the officers had pleaded guilty at the misconduct hearing in March 2013.

False statement two reads:

“PC Onwugbonu has, since the day in question, supported the allegations made about officers by the claimant”— the claimant being the youths. That is untrue. The MPS heard PC Onwugbonu admitting that he had been mistaken or had lied on at least 25 occasions during his evidence to the Kingston Crown court trial, and his evidence was totally discredited. Judge Southwell’s direction to the jury before summing up said:

“My direction is that you will have to be careful in examining PC Onwugbonu’s evidence, important as it plainly is to the issues which you have to decide in the case of each of these five men, before you declare yourself sure that he was honest and reliable in respect of what he said.”

There is therefore no justification for the MPS to make such a statement in its defence to the High Court.

The MPS also tampered with personnel or staff records to produce false records for the six TSG officers. In 2013, as part of disclosure in part 20 proceedings, it came to the six TSG officers’ attention that their staff records had been tampered with. In March 2010, following their acquittal by unanimous verdict at the trial at Kingston Crown court, they were told that no internal disciplinary sanctions or actions were to be brought against any of them. They have discovered, some six years later, that a false account has been created for each of them on their personnel records, illustrating that a finding of guilt was made against each of them, that “words of advice” were given to each of them in 2009 and that the complaint was substantiated. Someone within the MPS or the DPS has manufactured a totally false set of personnel records for each of the officers. It is deeply concerning that formal records have been tampered with just in order to support the MPS’s case. The six TSG officers have tried to discover who was responsible, but the MPS alleges that it is unable to find out.

Such are the extreme lengths that the MPS and the DPS will go to demonstrate how tough and politically correct they are on alleged racism within the ranks that they will accept the word of one black officer over six white officers and then conceal material evidence that contradicts the black officer. The officers strongly believe that this is a case of reverse race discrimination and political correctness gone completely mad. To use layman’s terms, the DPS had tried to fit them up for crimes that they did not commit and knew that everything it had massively undermined the prosecution case. The decisions by the IPCC in Cardiff and the IPCC in Manchester should have triggered a response from the Metropolitan Police Service to admit finally that their DPS officers had acted in an inappropriate and racially biased manner.

Finally, I want to touch on what the officers—and I, having got enraged about this situation—might want. They want some sort of admission of wrongdoing, including an open acknowledgement of how the officers were treated, an acknowledgment that the investigation and referral to Kingston Crown court was seriously flawed and racially biased, and an acknowledgement that the three DPS officers—McQueen, Belej and Fraser— acted dishonestly in their handling of the investigation. They want an acceptance of blame that personnel records have been tampered with, an acknowledgement of further victimisation and an apology for these actions. They want some sort of compensation and settlement of the employment tribunal proceedings, which are still ongoing, for the loss of earnings, damage to reputation by substantive adverse press coverage, and damage to career and stress since 2007—seven years ago. They want the MPS to support its officers fully in the civil actions brought by Hegazy, Khan and Mohidin, and not to insist that they be separate defendants under part 20. In those proceedings, they want the MPS to make the court aware of the serious independent rulings against the DPS officers and PC Onwugbonu. That will help to create a level playing field.

I have written to Commissioner Hogan-Howe. I had a reply from Commander Allan Gibson, which was pretty dismissive. I wrote again to Commander Gibson and I do not think that anything is moving forward particularly. I know that one of my colleagues in the other place has raised the matter and his concerns. He was assured that the whole business would be looked into, but as of the end of January the investigation had not been carried out by a senior officer.

The Metropolitan Police Service must have spent between £2 million and £3 million defending itself in the situations I have recounted. It was trying to secure a conviction against the six TSG officers, but it wasted public funds defending its actions. It refuses to admit any wrongdoing. The MPS refuses to settle the case, preferring to spend substantial amounts of public money defending the actions of those whom the IPCC has found guilty of bias, and whom it has also directed should face gross misconduct proceedings and possible criminal proceedings.

I should be grateful if the Minister would apply herself to the question whether it is sensible and advisable to take police officers into part 20 proceedings when they are acting as police officers under the direction of their superior officers. It seems mad that we must then move to something pretty similar to the American system, where police officers may well have to take out personal insurance for anything they may do on duty, as well as off duty. It would be helpful if the Minister would consider at some point—not today—how the IPCC can have no remit to rule on the conduct of a retired officer. Retirement does not absolve a person from blame, but the IPCC cannot take any action in that case. Will she also comment on the whole charade over disciplinary boards, and the fact that the IPCC can organise, list and give direction on what should happen, but that can be dismissed by the MPS at any stage?

I know that several colleagues want to join in the discussion, but I reserve the right to rise and say something else.