Our new ‘Must Read’ section is dedicated to sharing the words of some of the top bloggers from within the emergency services, NHS and armed forces – both past and present.
The blogs are hand-picked by our team but do not necessarily represent the views of Emergency Services News.
Instead, they reflect the experiences of individuals who have first-hand experience of what they are writing about.
Today’s blog is written by former Met Police Officer, Andrew Birks, who is now an ordained Priest.
Father Birks is one of the five Met Officers who were recently subjected to an investigation that last nearly 11 years.
The investigation was widely covered in the mainstream media.
“Just over 2 months ago I, along with 4 other colleagues in The Met Police were exonerated after an investigation, independently investigated by the IPCC and IOPC.
The hearing for me was a directed hearing.
After 2 weeks of evidence in an Abuse of Authority hearing which exposed serious concerns about the investigation and questioned the honesty and integrity of the lead investigator, Mr Noonan, we had a 4 week hearing which further exposed the weaknesses of the case and concerns about this investigation which had lasted over 10 years.
Five years ago, this month the MPS suspended me from the service and withdrew my resignation, (within 48 hours of it being effective), as a tool to prevent me leaving the force to take up a new vocation with the church.
As I said in my last blog, the mental health and general health implications which impacted on me because of the failure by the MPS to ensure they had followed the procedures and policies properly, (in relation to my suspension), are still with me today, being diagnosed with anxiety and stress in 2016 and PTSD in October 2018 as a direct result of the investigation into me.
I noticed that the College of Policing launched a new program last week called Oscar Foxtrot, or ‘OK’. Whilst I will always fully support any measure which helps to provide welfare for police officers, especially those suffering mental health issues, I remain concerned that there still seems to be this serious view that the onus remains on the officer to take actions around their own welfare. It is never easy to talk about the things that are confusing and making us feel unwell. It’s never easy, to admit, given the role of an emergency service worker, to stop and ask for help and to perhaps show what might be perceived as a ‘kink In the armour’, or a ‘weakness’ but in reality that’s exactly what we have to do.
Despite the views of many in this country we remain human beings. Police Officers can never be replaced by robots or computers and therefore each human police officer has real human emotions. They have families at home; parents getting old or dying perhaps; children sitting exams; financial worries; health worries of their own; the list is endless. Then on top of that police officers come to work and deal with extremely stressful situations which are often taken to heart and taken home to meet the ‘home situations’ and then come back to work for more! The vicious cycle must be broken, and it certainly is good news that the issues of mental health in the police service is being taken seriously.
It remains for me a concern that there are others out there who have been and are being caused mental health issues through poor management and lack of leadership from senior officers especially when officers are under investigation. The stress and concern that face an officer who is served with a Reg 15 notice is immense. For those who are then subjected to restrictions or suspended from their work, it can have a huge impact on their day-to-day life. As I have said before, this is not saying that police officers should not be investigated or asked to account for their actions – it is about saying that when these things happen, there needs to be a realisation from Forces and the IOPC that the officer’s welfare must come first.
In five years of the suspension, not once did the IOPC consider my welfare. The MPS weren’t much better with one person asking me “what welfare are you expecting from us?”
Yesterday (8th May 2019) an MPS officer was cleared of Misconduct allegations brought against him when the IOPC forced the MPS to hold a hearing – despite the MPS saying ‘no case to answer’. The stress and suffering that officer will have gone through is undeniable, and I recognise that any investigation will cause this. What really exacerbates the issue for me is that Forces and especially the IOPC seem to take years and years to come to any kind of conclusion. In Yesterday’s case, the file was passed to the CPS in October 2017, who took 7 months to decide to take no further action; and in parallel the IOPC forced the MPS to hold a hearing in March 2018 – 15 months later the hearing is effective and then not proven.
It is nothing short of shameful that these things take so long and have the impact that they do on the officers concerned, their families and colleagues. The delays are purely indefensible and wholly avoidable.
As I have repeatedly said, the Police Complaints system is broken. There needs to be fundamental changes to the way it works and to reduce the time it takes from the start of the investigation to the final report being written; and then from the decision to hold a hearing, to finally holding that hearing.
It is only through imposing realistic time limits into the process that any sort of confidence can be achieved in the way the system works. Currently the system simply creates victims, not just of the officers, but of those who complain too. Yesterday’s case, and ours demonstrate that there are no winners – just people left battered and scarred.
The IOPC refer to yesterdays case as a legacy case – nothing could be further from the truth. The IOPC need to stop referring to these as legacy cases – the IPCC changed its name and management structure – nothing else. It still held the same investigations – to say anything other is simply deceitful.
I would urge you to sign it and then pass it on around your colleagues and families to get this figure up to the 10,000 required and the 100,000 for a debate in parliament. Only through direct action can we achieve the change required.
Only thought this change can we begin to establish and grow confidence in the complaints system – one thing is for sure – the current system cannot continue”.