This guest blog has been written by Father Andrew Birks, a former Met PC who, along with several other Met PCs, was recently exonerated after an investigation that lasted nearly 11 years following a death in police custody.
These are Father Birks own words and opinions based on his own experiences:
‘The system of Police complaints is, quite simply broken, and broken beyond repair. There is no other disciplinary system in the world who would routinely take years to come to conclusion following an investigation. The system in its current state is unsustainable and must change.
Six weeks ago, my colleagues and I were exonerated from an investigation which had lasted for just short of 11 years.
In May of 2014, 2 days before I was due to leave the MPS to join the church, I was told by my Bishop, (and therefore my prospective ‘boss’!) that I had been suspended from the MPS to prevent me leaving so that a 2nd investigation could take place into a death in Custody.
Still to this date no senior member of staff (as per ‘The Reg’s) has contacted me to let me know this, and I have never been served suspension papers.
The following day I was told that the MPS had also rescinded my resignation acceptance.
Again, no document was sent to me confirming this, but it was of course widely reported in the press, with accusations that I was leaving to avoid justice.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
I was left feeling distraught, emotional and completely lost by what should have been a standard and prescribed process for suspending officers under investigation. I quite simply became a victim, thanks to the inability of senior managers to follow a policy.
The investigation itself has quite simply been of such poor quality that a High Court Judge, Mr Justice Garnham, in February of 2018 described it as poor and ‘grossly inefficient’.
Suddenly at the beginning of the hearing, the MPS and the IOPC were able to suggest time limits as to when certain parts of the process would be completed.
Deadlines were set by which responses would be completed.
This was simply astounding given that right up until the morning of the first day of the hearing we had been asking how much longer this would take, and yet, faced with a Judicial Review, both parties [The MPS and the IOPC] were suddenly able to provide a timetable.
It did little to impress the Judge who recognised that the delays have been absolutely indefensible; the style of investigation was linear; and that my cases should have been severed and dealt with in 2016, if not 2015.
During the hearing the statement by IOPC Lead Investigator Steven Noonan was criticised by Mr Justice Garnham, saying his statement “begged more questions than answers”, and referred to part of his statement as ‘disingenuous’.
Whilst awaiting the Judgement, the IOPC decided that I would have a direction for 3 of the initial 5 allegations at Gross Misconduct level and therefore I faced a wholly directed hearing, despite the MPS saying I had no case to answer for any of them.
The decision came through on the 25th April 2018, that the MPS Review of my Suspension had been unlawful and was referred back to the MPS to make a fresh review of the need to maintain my suspension or terminate my suspension.
From that date we were expecting the service of disclosure in preparation for the hearing which we were told would be held at the earliest opportunity. We heard nothing until we were told that service of the disclosure would be the first week of September – we finally received them in late October, without the allegations which followed in late November and didn’t seem to reflect what we had been told we would be facing back in March.
The hearing itself drew more criticism of the investigation and the role of the Lead Investigator. After a 6-week hearing, we were all finally cleared of all allegations.
What is completely evident from my experience is that the actions of the IOPC (and the MPS to a lesser extent perhaps) in this process has left behind a legacy of victims, not just the officers involved, but also the family and the local community.
There were no winners on the day the Misconduct Panel delivered their judgement – only victims created by this outdated, dysfunctional and broken system.
There have been some very dark days through my almost 5 years of suspension, from reading an iPad being held by my Bishop, looking at a BBC News article about me being suspended; the panic that ensued trying to inform my partner, my family and those close to me – most of whom had already been informed; to seeing my path before me being bricked up.
Paranoia kicked in very quickly, I was scared, afraid, emotional.
I didn’t know who to trust. I would find myself shaking for no reason; waking up in the middle of the night scared, sweating, heart racing.
Most of those feelings remain with me today.
I was initially examined by the MPS psychiatrist who diagnosed stress and anxiety back in February 2016, followed by a diagnosis in October 2018 of PTSD caused by the whole situation.
This process has undoubtedly taken its toll, but not just on me – also on my partner, my family and my friends.
The sad reality is that I am not alone. There are hundreds of Police Officers out there who are faced with the same situation.
There are hundreds of police officers who are out there being accused of wrongdoing with what seems like a witch-hunt going on around them.
There are hundreds of police officers out there whose health and wellbeing are being attacked by the complaints system.
The System needs to change.
It is important to remember that every police officer who goes out on duty, does so not knowing what that duty will bring them.
They do so without regard often for their own safety but more so for the public they serve. I have always said that when the actions of police are questioned, it is absolutely right that they are investigated, but that investigation should be fair, independent and expeditious.
Police Officers are not above the law, but they are not beneath the law either.
The Federation has been campaigning for a change to the Regulations so that Time Limits can be imposed to ensure that officers are not held in obeyance to an allegation for years and years.
I fully support that campaign.
Our Police forces can deal with some of the most horrific and detailed crimes within months, yet IOPC and Professional Standards Investigations take years and years.
THIS MUST STOP!
The disclosure processes take far too long and there is no confidence that even when things get to a hearing, disclosure has been properly and legally complied with. That must be properly regulated. The ‘ping-pong’ that exists between the Appropriate Authority (the police force) and the IOPC upon completion of the Final Report needs to be scrapped and replaced with an independent assessment, which would mean that the Appropriate Authority can remain independent, especially when directed to hold hearings they disagree with.
With the above in mind I have set up a petition – yes! another petition!! – but it really is important that we at least get the government and hopefully parliament to recognise that the complaint system need a complete overhaul, and the role of the IOPC needs to be properly reviewed.
Please do sign this petition – if you are a serving officer or not – it is your ability to speak up for all who are suffering at work because of the culture surrounding investigations; or if like me you are still suffering the effects of an investigation.
Don’t forget to get your families and friends to sign up to – it’s really important we get our voice back on this one!
Finally, from me! Please do not suffer alone.
As I said earlier, there have been some very dark and testing times for me during the investigation.
If you are in need, please talk to someone and get some help. Counselling and therapy really have helped me to cope – you’re not alone.
The Federation can always put you in touch with support groups who can help, and I am always willing to be contacted if you need someone to speak to about what your experiencing.
Our health and wellbeing are more important to us and our families than the job!’
If you would like to make contact with Father Birks, then please contact us and we will pass your details on.
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