A seven-year misconduct hearing against six Bedfordshire Police Officers has collapsed.
The six officers faced seven years of uncertainty after the death of Leon Briggs in Luton in November 2013.
The panel chairman has requested an urgent review of the seven-year investigation after it was announced that the misconduct hearing is to be discontinued.
Six police officers were initially due to be subject to the hearing to decide matters relating to Use of Force and Duties & Responsibilities as directed by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
However, following concerns raised by Bedfordshire Police, the IOPC removed its direction to the force to pursue these proceedings last night (Thursday), and the hearing concluded today (Friday) with the panel discontinuing all charges against the officers.
Legally Qualified Chair Peter Nicholls finalised proceedings by saying he felt public confidence in policing should not be affected by this case, but he hoped a review would be conducted of the IOPC investigation to ensure the delays, issues around disclosure and lack of transparency would be avoided in future.
Responding to the news, Jim Mallen, Chairman of Bedfordshire Police Federation, said:
“The outcome of the hearing – while welcome – comes as no surprise and means our colleagues can finally get on with their careers and lives, having been investigated over this incident for approaching seven years.
“Police officers are out there every day, fulfilling a difficult and challenging role on behalf of society.
“Officers have no issue with being held accountable for their actions – we are the most accountable of public services.
“But how can it be just or justified that, following a tragic incident, you have your lives put on hold for so long?”
Jim added: “Six colleagues were suspended from duty for more than five years as part of this process.
“A cloud has unfairly been hanging over them since 2013. This has changed their lives, their family’s lives and the officers’ careers immeasurably.
“The Independent Office for Police Conduct has serious questions to answer about their handling of this case and the competency – or frankly lack of it – displayed throughout their investigation.
“At times it has been a shambles.
“Why it has taken approaching seven years for us to get to this point?
“More than £1million of public money has been spent on these officers’ pay while they were suspended – all they wanted was to be out there doing what they loved doing.
“Not to mention the soaring cost of the protracted investigations and legal proceedings and hearings. The public will rightly be outraged at the cost of all this to the taxpayer.
“It goes without saying that all investigations into the conduct of officers must be fair, timely and transparent.
“This IOPC Investigation had numerous failings with regards to the disclosure process, that meant the officers could not be guaranteed a fair hearing.
“Once again this case highlights the incompetent standards of the former Independent Police Complaints Commission.
“Things must change, and they must change fast, and we are pleased that the work of the IPCC/IOPC is now firmly under the microscope of the new Government and all MPs in Parliament. Enough is enough.”
“Finally and importantly, we must also pay credit to our colleagues for maintaining their professionalism and dignity throughout the extremely stressful process.
“Bedfordshire Police Federation has been proud to support them from day one.
“We also thank their legal team for their hard work.”
Assistant Chief Constable Jackie Sebire said:
“Firstly, our thoughts are with the family and friends of Leon Briggs who will understandably be upset and frustrated by this outcome.
“Our thoughts too are with the officers involved in this matter who have been living with uncertainty since Mr Briggs’ death on 4th November 2013.
“The force has always wanted a fair and transparent hearing to provide answers to the family of Mr Briggs and provide confidence to the public.
“However, we became aware during the initial legal arguments of failings in the independent investigation, which called into question the proportionality, fairness and the public interest in continuing with this hearing.
“Those concerns, coupled with the likelihood of yet further delay to proceedings, which have already gone on for an unacceptable length of time, meant we were left with little option but to ask the IOPC to review its decision over directing the hearing.
“We must be mindful that there is still an inquest due to be held. However, it is important to stress that none of the officers involved in this hearing were accused of causing or contributing towards Mr Briggs’ death.
“The welfare of people in our care is paramount and, irrespective of the outcome of this failed investigation, we have already brought in a raft of measures over recent years to improve our approach to mental health and other vulnerabilities.
“An example of this is the introduction of our Mental Health Street Triage which has prevented 588 police detentions of people under section 136 of the Mental Health Act in a 12-month period to March 2019.
“This is a regrettable and unfortunate situation which could, and should, have been resolved a long time ago.”
Mr Briggs was detained in Luton on the afternoon of 4th November 2013 and taken to Luton Police Station where he fell ill.
He was subsequently taken to Luton & Dunstable Hospital where he was pronounced dead a short while later.
An independent investigation was carried out by the IOPC, and a file was submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service which decided against any criminal charges in 2018.
The misconduct hearing, directed by the IOPC, was due to start on 3rd February, but has been subject to several legal arguments.
As a result, the case against one of the officers was discontinued last week.
Then, earlier this week, Bedfordshire Police requested the IOPC review its direction over the hearing after raising several concerns about the IOPC investigation, including disclosure of relevant material and the length of time it had taken.
The IOPC, while not agreeing with all of the points laid out by the force, yesterday (Thursday) decided to remove its direction to Bedfordshire Police to pursue these proceedings.
Critical points of its decision included the fact the hearing would now not realistically conclude until after the inquest in 2021, and the fact the allegations were not said to have caused Mr Briggs’ death and were unlikely to result in any officer being dismissed even if the allegations were proved.
Following removal of the directions, Bedfordshire Police today (Friday) offered no evidence and asked the panel to dismiss all charges against the officers formally.
Police and Crime Commissioner Kathryn Holloway said:
“As a Police and Crime Commissioner, I have no jurisdiction whatsoever over a misconduct hearing or involvement in it.
“I can only begin to imagine the significant disappointment and additional anxiety for Leon Briggs’ family given today’s events.
“I am also frustrated that those involved in the hearing did not have the opportunity to give their explanation of what happened.
“This outcome is not at all what either Bedfordshire Police or I were seeking – or welcome.
“All parties in this unacceptably extended process deserve justice.
“I have been informed that, during the proceedings, it became clear that there had been failures to disclose all information to the subjects; these include an internal review within the IPCC (of 7th August 2014) which was heavily critical of failings within the original investigation.
“Cumulatively, this meant any findings against the officers were highly unlikely and continuing with the hearing could only put Mr Briggs’ family through even more anguish.
“I, therefore, support the police’s Chief Officer team in a position which had become unavoidable.
“The Chair of the hearing also made it absolutely clear today that the blame for the collapse of these proceedings lies with the Independent Office for Police Conduct, and not Bedfordshire Police.
“The coroner will now, finally, establish the exact cause of Mr Briggs’ death.
“I most sincerely hope this will bring some closure and comfort to his family.”
Andrew Birks (Twitter @AGBirks), one of the Metropolitan Police Officers who was exonerated after an IPCC/IOPC investigation that lasted nearly 11 years, told Emergency Services News:
“As I said last March, there are never any winners in these misconduct processes, especially when they have lasted for years and years. These processes continue to simply create more victims and fail to achieve answers for all those the IOPC are supposed to represent. Today’s announcement is nothing short of shameful, and the IOPC should be hanging their heads in shame rather than blaming Bedfordshire Police.
“It is clear that the family of Mr Briggs will no doubt be disappointed with the outcome of this failed Misconduct Hearing, and rightly so. This investigation has achieved nothing. It has simply failed – the failings quite clearly lay at the door of the IOPC and no one else. It is now time for the IOPC to look clearly at the senior team responsible for this mess, suspend the Regional Director who had overseen this failing, and many others.
“It is now time for the Government to take seriously the issue of how long these investigations take – and to implement new rules to ensure that investigations and, where required, hearings are done within a reasonable and expeditious period of time, whilst also ensuring a thorough and independent process for all.
“I look forward to the Home Affairs Select Committee, of the new parliament, confirming that they will continue with the inquiry into the IOPC and the police complaints system.
“My thoughts are with the officers and their families who will have had over 6 years of pressure and uncertainty in this long, drawn out, process”.
An IOPC spokesperson said:
“Leon Briggs was 39 and experiencing a mental health crisis when he died in police custody in Luton in November 2013.
“Leon Briggs’ family have waited many years for the actions of the police officers involved to be scrutinised in public.
“The last minute actions of Bedfordshire Police and the most recent delays mean that his family have been denied that right.
“Bedfordshire Police’s announcement earlier this week that it would offer no evidence to its disciplinary panel means that the hearing had no prospect of proceeding.
“As a responsible public authority confronted with these circumstances, we have regrettably and reluctantly agreed to withdraw our directions to Bedfordshire Police.
“Our decision to withdraw did not end these misconduct proceedings – that was the decision of Bedfordshire Police to offer no evidence to its panel.
“To ensure public confidence in policing, transparency and accountability, we have always been of the view that the evidence should be put before a Bedfordshire Police disciplinary panel. We will continue to work with the Coroner to provide any evidence we have to the forthcoming inquest.
“New legislation which came into effect on 1 February means the IOPC will have more control over these cases in the future.”
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