Chairman's Blog

IPCC - fit for purpose?

I have not included names as, whilst I have no problem publicly criticising an institution, I draw the line at public "floggings" for individuals. I have never supported or saw the need for public hearings.

Let me start with this undeniable truth - policing needs to be accountable; it is one of the foundation stones of policing by consent. However, that accountability must command the confidence of the public and police officers. Police officers must have confidence that IPCC investigations will be assessed at the appropriate level, will be timely and will get to the truth exonerating the innocent and exposing the guilty.

This blog should not be read as any form criticism of our own Professional Standards Department who tried so hard to persuade the IPCC to see sense throughout this investigation. For that they have my thanks and appreciation.

If you're sitting comfortably I will begin...

On 17th November 2016, a Kent Police sergeant saw the end of his 3.5 year ordeal at the hands of the IPCC with the conclusion of a 3 day public hearing.

In July 2013, this custody sergeant started his shift just like any other shift. He booked in a prisoner and the following day at the start of his next shift he bailed that same prisoner out to appear at court. Sometime after his release, this man tried to take his own life and consequently this became a mandatory referral to the IPCC.

This custody sergeant was served with a regulatory notice of investigation for gross misconduct and suspended. I quickly got his suspension reviewed and he was returned to work on restricted duties where he would remain until 17th November 2016.

In essence this sergeant was accused of failing to take proper care of this prisoner at the booking in and release processes, failing to complete a couple of forms and failing to follow a custody nurse's advice to transfer the man to hospital immediately upon booking him in. I did tell him to buckle-up for a long journey, but this simple case would surpass my expectations.

In September 2013 the IPCC wanted to interview this sergeant, but they didn't have access to all the custody CCTV. He couldn't really countenance giving an account without viewing the CCTV so the interview was postponed by mutual agreement with the IPCC.

Christmas 2013 came and went.

Over 12 months later, in October 2014, I was contacted by a new IPCC investigator wanting to make arrangements to obtain an initial account from the sergeant.

I expressed astonishment at this desire for an initial account some 15 - 16 months after the incident; hardly initial by any definition of the word. In my conversations with the investigator it became clear the issue with the CCTV had not been resolved and many other basic enquiries had not been conducted. Equally clear was an apparent lack of knowledge of the case. E.g. I asked if she had contacted the psychiatric nurse who visited the prisoner in his cell on 12th July 2013 as this was a highly relevant enquiry. The IPCC investigator did not know what I was talking about and it was obvious she hadn't even read the custody record upon which that important visit was recorded; upon which so much important information was recorded. I wrote to the investigator outlining a long list of basic enquiries that should have but hadn't been completed.

Christmas 2014 came and went.

In March 2015, I was again contacted seeking an interview with the sergeant. I sought pre-interview disclosure as per the Home Office Guidance (the rules that provide fundamental protections for any police officer under investigation) to which the investigator replied:

"The IPCC does not subscribe to the Home Office Guidance."

When it came to the date of the interview, the IPCC investigator even declined to confirm or deny whether certain relevant evidence had been obtained. Yes, the IPCC investigator went "no comment", yet was surprised when the sergeant, in the face of non-compliance with the disclosure rules, declined to answer any of her questions.

Christmas 2015 came and went.

August 2016 then saw papers served on the sergeant for a gross misconduct hearing. The IPCC's approach to the bundle of evidence upon which they sought to rely to prove their case was at best chaotic. It was little more than a lucky dip; stick your hand into the bran tub of evidence and see if you pull out something of relevance. CCTV discs weren't served until the last minute and then they were served without the relevant passwords making it impossible to view them.

This then resulted in an adjournment until 15th, 16th & 17th November 2016.

Key to this case, as conceded in the hearing by Presenting Counsel, was whether the custody nurse had advised the immediate transfer of the prisoner to hospital, and the sergeant had ignored that medical advice; whether he had failed to take proper care of the prisoner.

It was clear the custody nurse had at best misremembered the incident. E.g. she failed to record her alleged advice to transfer the prisoner to hospital in her contemporaneous medical notes or on the custody record; she had marked both these documents as the prisoner being FTBD - fit to be detained; a transfer to hospital being necessary only if his condition worsened. On the CCTV the custody nurse could be heard reaching an agreement with the custody sergeant over the prisoner's care regime that did not include hospitalisation.

Frankly it is shocking the IPCC investigator or anyone else in the IPCC was so incompetent they could not reach an objective view of the available evidence. It was obvious to a blind man on a galloping horse the custody nurse's account simply didn't make sense.

The impact of this investigation on this custody sergeant has been awful. He went to work to do a normal shift 3.5 years ago and has been treading water on restricted duties ever since; treading water with dismissal hanging over him like some dark cloud. This investigation has lasted for 20% of his total career. The stress and anxiety for this sergeant has been intolerable.

If the impact on the officer isn't enough, this case has proved to be a scandalous waste of public money. The people of Kent have been denied the full operational services of a sergeant for 3.5 years. The hearing alone has cost thousands of pounds.

The custody sergeant was found on misconduct only - failing to complete two forms and was given the lowest formal outcome possible, management advice; for an investigation that, in my considerable experience, should've been finalised in 6 months, not seven times that.

This investigation had all the hallmarks of a presumption of guilt from the outset. At no time did it feel like a search for the truth. Consequently this case and a number of others have now left me devoid of any confidence in the IPCC and its ability to conduct fair, open, transparent and independent investigations. Every interaction I now have with them is coloured by a deep rooted suspicion of their motives.

When the IPCC was created I was firmly of the view that I would judge them on their record. I was prepared to give them every chance to prove themselves. I now see them as an organisation that is not fit for purpose. Their problems will not be solved with a name change or some superficial tinkering. It is time to start again.

Ian Pointon
Kent Police Federation