The following blog has been written by Father Andrew Birks who was one of the four former Metropolitan Police Officers who were completely exonerated after an investigation that lasted nearly 11 years.
Father Birks published a petition to get the current complaints process completely overhauled following his own experiences of the decade-long investigation into both himself and his colleagues.
The petition recently reached the 10,000 signatures required for a formal response from, in this case, the Home Office.
‘In April, I created a petition which called for there to be an Inquiry into the state of the police complaints system and the role of the IOPC.
Last month the total went over the first magic number of 10,000 signatures to the petition which meant the Government must reply with a response.
The Home Office response is nothing short of shameful and goes nowhere near responding to the issues raised in the petition.
It is like a skipping rope with no rope, and therefore, no substance.
The Home Office, in their reply, acknowledge that “police integrity sits at the heart of the British system of policing by consent”, which I wholeheartedly agree with.
The Home Office then goes on to state that it is “critical that allegations of misconduct are dealt with quickly and effectively”, for the benefit of the public and police – so why won’t The Home Office tackle timeliness?
The Home Office apparently are reviewing and implementing several packages to reform the police complaints system.
They refer to a report written by Major General Chapman – but this report was written back in 2014, nearly five years ago, and does not refer to the timeliness (or lack of it) in any of the 39 recommendations.
Whilst it is true to say, that there is a view that the current system allows for transparency and fairness, under the guidance of a Legally Qualified Chair, this only happens when it reaches a hearing!
The Home Office, in this reply, fail to take account of how the FULL current process is damaging policing and the reputation of the complaints system, whilst creating victims of police officers who are held to account, often for years, with very little support for the officer concerned.
Last month, I met with The Director General of the IOPC, who apologised to me for the way in which the Sean Rigg case had been handled.
Currently, there is an internal investigation and a criminal complaint lodged for the conduct of IOPC Officers within the Sean Rigg case.
This case lasted for over 10.5 years and was wholly avoidable.
Commissioner Cressida Dick has refused to meet with me, citing AC Helen Ball as the person I should be speaking to as Head of Professional Standards.
Helen Ball has refused to meet with me to discuss my experience.
Therefore, no apology or willingness to learn.
Sadly, on a near daily basis, I see reports of cases which have taken years to complete, which The IOPC seem to be quite jubilant about, claiming that 80% of their reports are written within the first year.
Whilst this is clearly an improvement, it is still something to be ashamed of, and it does not give a true representation of the process.
Once the IOPC report has been written, the recommendations must be agreed or disagreed with by the officer’s home force (or Appropriate Authority as it is known in the Reg’s).
This process is the ’23/7′ process and can take months and months and even years to complete.
In my case, the report was sent to the MPS in early 2015, then because of disclosure and investigative failures by the IOPC, the MPS finally responded to the IOPC in early 2018.
A High Court action by my legal team seemed to speed up the process, and shockingly, at court, a timetable was drawn up as to when responses should be made by.
Following the IOPC’s Sarah Green’s flawed decision, it took the MPS and the IOPC a further seven months to provide the details of the allegations for each officer, which to me seemed very odd given that the allegations had been directed in March, or had they?
Ten thousand pages of disclosure were served just three months before the hearing leaving very little time for anyone, (including the IOPC), to understand the details of the documents it had purportedly gathered as evidence.
We were still receiving more disclosure during the hearing.
The suggestion therefore that the allegations are being dealt with quicker are sadly, and simply, disingenuous.
When I met with Michael Lockwood, it was clear to me that he wants to see a much more improved, expeditious service from the IOPC and Forces alike.
I truly believe that he will work hard to achieve this, and I am ready to support him where I can.
However, Mr Lockwood’s vision will never happen until complaints against police are handled expeditiously within a stated period of time, whilst focusing on a quality and well-resourced report.
This applies just as much to Police Forces themselves who also take just as long.
For far too long now, Professional Standards Unit up and down the country, and the IOPC have tried to blame each other for delays.
This must stop – it is affecting the health and well-being of each and every officer you deal with.
I urge all those who investigate police officers, to take account of the timeliness of your investigations, for I fear that at some point you will be asked to account for your actions (or lack of) in a Coroners Court.
We now need 100,000 signatures for a debate in parliament given the issues that I raise in the petition.
I ask each and every one of you to sign the petition and get everyone else you know to sign it to in the hope that we can continue to raise this issue at the highest levels.
By signing the petition, you will be asking the Government to focus on the following issues:
The system needs overhauling to include
(i) Time limits for investigations and 28-day updates
(ii) Officers served notices ASAP
(iii) Final Reports served on all parties.
(iv) Disclosure processes – regulated
(v). Replace 23(7) process with a structured review process.
(vi) Regulated structure of welfare and support.
I look forward to your support as we work together to protect the ones who protect us’.