C: THE NEED FOR INDEPENDENCE (continued)|
The investigation of a complaint
63. Investigations into complaints which have not
been resolved informally or withdrawn or been the subject of a
dispensation from the PCA are undertaken by the police themselves.
An investigating officer (IO) is appointed and the officer who
is the subject of the complaint is notified. The IO will conduct
the inquiries considered to be relevant and in due course prepare
a report on the case. Sometimes the IO will be from another police
force, and sometimes-usually in serious cases or where particularly
sensitive or difficult issues are raised-the investigation will
be supervised by the PCA, but it will always be a police investigation.
64. For some critics from outside the police world,
it is the fact that the investigations of the police are undertaken
by the police that is the central weakness in the whole process.
Arguments advanced in favour of this conclusion included both
the claim that existing police investigations were inadequate
and the view that, whether or not existing investigations were
inadequate, an investigation which was independent from the police
was essential from the point of view of appearances and the confidence
of the public.
The quality of existing investigations
65. How far investigations carried out under present
procedures are or are not adequate was a matter on which we received
conflicting evidence. Police witnesses argued that as much or
more care was paid to these investigations as to normal criminal
investigations. For ACPO, Mr Bensley claimed that "the quality
of investigation we undertake is extremely thorough" and
that study of the average files into a conventional crime under
investigation and into an investigation of a police officer would
show "we put far more effort, unnecessarily so in many people's
view, into investigating complaints against police"; he
noted also that these files will have been seen not just by the
officers doing the work but by the deputy chief officer of the
force, the CPS and the PCA, so weaknesses would be spotted.
For the Police Superintendents' Association, Chief Superintendent
Parkinson was adamant that investigations were very thorough,
adding that he had had personal experience of this.
For the Police Federation, Mr Broughton described complaint investigations
as "robust and effective".
66. Mr Bensley
said that he attached great importance to the quality and individual
skills of officers in forces' complaints and discipline departments
and regarded it as an important training ground which all sergeants
who were about to be promoted to inspector should go through.
Mr Whitehouse accepted that in practice it was for the chief
constable of each force to take what action was necessary to ensure
that complaints and discipline departments were given a high status.
He felt that proof of their competence was "the fear ...
in which discipline and complaints departments are held by most
Mr Moorhouse, for the PCA, indicated that these departments were
probably better staffed now than in earlier years, in that posts
were increasingly filled by officers with particular skills as
part of their career development rather than officers near the
end of their career for whom forces could not find any other posts.
67. As for the quality of the investigations Mr Moorhouse
took the view that, while there were times when additional information
might have been obtained and that sometimes interviewing methods
were conducted too informally, "The vast majority of [complaints]
investigations which we see are thoroughly and objectively carried
Mr Cartwright, the Deputy Chairman, added that:
"If you suffer a fairly normal crime, a burglary
shall we say, the case will be investigated by a constable or
a detective constable. Make a complaint against a police officer
and the investigating officer has to be a chief inspector and
may well be a superintendent. The extent to which sometimes complaints
which do not appear to have a lot going for them are thoroughly
investigated and the extent to which the investigation goes into
seeking witnesses, house to house investigations and things of
that sort, was a very considerable surprise to me when I first
joined the Authority".
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Dame Barbara
Mills, stated that she was " impressed .... by the quality
of [investigation] reports, by their objectivity".
68. Some outside groups painted a different picture.
Liberty claimed that "all legal practitioners in this area
are aware of cases where the investigating officer appointed to
a complaint has conducted a less than full inquiry or a less than
vigorous interview of the 'complained about' officers".
Liberty's Director, Mr Wadham, reported that when acting for
complainants lawyers took steps to ensure that they were present
during such interviews to prevent any malpractice or pressure
from the IO.
The Police Action Lawyers Group went further, stating that:
"Investigating officers suppress, manipulate
and invent evidence according to its relevance to the complainant's
allegation. Independent witnesses favourable to a complainant
are easily persuaded to make brief, uninformative statements and
words supportive of the officers under investigation are inserted
without witnesses ever being aware of their significance."
"The investigating officer makes a prejudicial
assessment of the evidence. The Investigating Officer's role
is extremely crucial as s/he determines which police officers
to interview. A lack of rigour and determination when interviewing
police officer suspects, renders any potential action against
any offending officers extremely difficult."
The submission from the solicitors Birnbergs was
along similar lines, claiming that "It is the almost universal
experience of complainants and their lawyers that the bulk of
Investigating Officers are hostile, aggressive, dismissive and
A submission from JUST TV included evidence suggesting improper
behaviour by police forces in a number of specific cases, such
as creating delays and lack of impartiality.
69. As already indicated, in serious cases a police
force might arrange to have the investigation conducted by a different
either because it wanted to ensure that the inquiry was seen to
be more independent than one conducted by themselves or because
the PCA were supervising the case and instructed them to. We
received evidence of some cases where investigations by outside
forces had been relatively well regarded by complainants.
The PCA explained that it was only a small proportion of investigations
which were handled by outside forces, though a much higher proportion
of the more serious cases
were handled this way.
70. Witnesses had differing opinions also as to whether
the quality of police investigations was significantly improved
by the process of supervision by the PCA. The key features of
supervision are that the supervising PCA Member must approve the
selection of investigating officer; he or she can impose requirements
necessary for the conduct of the investigation, determine the
strategy for the inquiry, and hold regular meetings with the investigating
team; and he or she must formally indicate that the inquiry has
been satisfactorily completed. Around one thousand cases
are currently taken on for supervision by the Authority each year,
of which around half are cases which it is mandatory for the Authority
to supervise. ACPO witnesses stated that PCA supervisors did
their work "thoroughly, meticulously and independently",
though the Police Superintendents' Association did not think that
PCA supervision made any difference "in terms of the thoroughness
of the investigation".
The Police Action Lawyers Group thought that supervision did
at least reduce the superficiality with which complaints investigations
were otherwise conducted.
Mr Miller, from Birnberg & Co., citing evidence from the
Lapite case and from the less serious Nightingale
case, questioned the effectiveness of PCA supervision in strong
and took the view that the "supervising member is a Home
Office appointed civilian .. who has no investigative role and
in reality the function amounts to no more than advising IOs on
further investigation to undertake based on briefings by the IO".
Assessment of the existing process
and public confidence
71. In an inquiry of this nature this Committee cannot
in practice establish for itself whether or not police investigations
of the police are properly conducted. It may be that part of
the reconciliation between the two different pictures described
above is that whereas the large majority of investigations are
properly conducted some are not, including some serious ones.
It does not take a great number of inadequately conducted investigations-whether
the inadequacy arises from inefficiency or from corruption-to
undermine public confidence in the whole system.
72. Indeed we are impressed by the consistently expressed
view of the Police Federation that even if no investigations were
improperly conducted the public still would not have confidence
in a system which was based on the police investigating themselves.
As Mr Broughton put it to us, even though his members knew that
police investigations against police officers were well conducted
"there is a public perception that is not good enough. We
see that on the ground ..".
The Criminal Law Committee of the Law Society, noting that "The
fact that investigations are currently conducted by police officers
gives rise to feelings which undermine confidence in the impartiality
of the system" also called for the development of an independent
investigatory body "because of the continuing belief that
a system in which the police investigate themselves is both 'wrong
in principle' and 'biased in practice'".
73. There was almost no argument in the evidence
we received against the conclusion that independent investigation
would be desirable in principle, not least because of the boost
this would give to public confidence in the system. We are of
the same view. There are however practical considerations
which also need to be addressed.
Obstacles to independent investigation
74. The issue is the extent to which independent
investigation can be introduced while ensuring that investigations
are effective and affordable. These qualifications to the overall
principle are significant. While there was little or no evidence
against the principle of independent investigation there was substantial
evidence against it on practical grounds. The main obstacles
were outlined by the Police Complaints Authority in a 1994 report
and in their evidence to this inquiry.
75. The first problem was the purely practical one
of cost. If all complaints investigations were to be undertaken
by an independent body then several hundred investigators, plus
support staff, would be needed. It would cover the whole of England
and Wales and to be effective in this it would have to operate
on at least a regional basis. These centres could not easily
be placed in existing police premises without threatening to destroy
the appearance of independence they are designed to encourage.
Although some of the necessary resources might be diverted from
existing police expenditure on complaints investigations, this
would still leave a need for extra resources for start-up costs.
There was also doubt in the evidence as to whether a separate
body could avoid conducting the work on a more expensive basis
than the police, given that the latter were able to absorb some
of the overhead and other running costs of their complaints and
discipline divisions into the rest of their budgets and operations.
Police witnesses were anyway concerned at the proposition that
an independent body could derive most of its funding by a switching
of funds from police complaints departments.
They argued that when duties to investigate misconduct were imposed
on police forces in 1964 no extra funding was given and that to
withdraw those duties now would not remove the need for police
investigators because forces would still be responsible for investigating
alleged criminal activity by police officers. A reduction in
funding for police forces for this purpose would directly affect
staffing and divert resources from investigating other crime.
The Police Federation took the view that restraints on police
funding were tight anyway and they did not think it would be appropriate
to fund a new investigatory body from existing police funding.
76. The second issue concerned staffing. It was
generally envisaged that a new body would recruit from a number
of different sources, including investigators from other departments
such as Customs and Excise and the Department for Social Security
and perhaps from the private sector for such expertise as accountancy.
All the new investigators from these sources would need training
in police systems. It would be possible to recruit police officers,
either on retirement or on secondment, who of course would not
need the same training. But if too high a proportion of the new
body's staff were former police officers this again might jeopardise
the objective of being seen to be independent.
77. A third issue was whether a new body would get
sufficient cooperation from the police. The police would be under
a duty to cooperate, but it was recognised nevertheless that almost
any group had a natural tendency to stick together in the face
of what might appear to be a threat from outside the group. Many
witnesses saw this as a problem, but one which could be overcome.
For instance Mr Broughton, for the Police Federation, said that
there was now in the police "a great willingness to analyse
and explain when things go wrong ... I do not think there will
be a wall of silence",
although the Police Superintendents' Association, while in favour
of independent investigation in principle, was less confident
on this point.
HM Inspectorate of Constabulary noted that the non-police members
of the investigatory body-Customs and Excise, DSS etc.-were currently
involved in day-to-day partnerships with the police and expressed
concern that "police officers will be more guarded in their
dealings with their law enforcement partners if they also investigated
complaints against them".; they feared also that in discipline
investigations external investigators might "unwittingly
be a step towards the formation of a more defensive police culture".
Mr Miller, from Birnbergs, thought however that independent investigators
would be no "more obstructed by the police closing ranks
than the present people who do that job. I think the most important
thing is that there are investigators who are investigating allegations
with vigour ...".
Mr Michael thought that there was no reason to fear such a reaction
to non-police investigators so long as it was clear that they
were part of a wider team.
78. Two other practical disadvantages to do with
the effective management of police forces were mentioned: first,
the fact that where a crime was alleged this would still have
to be investigated by the police anyway, so that two separate
inquiries would become necessary and, secondly, that the management
information which well-managed forces gain from their complaints
and investigation work would be lost. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary
laid some emphasis on this, fearing that "If chief constables
are relieved of the burden of being the disciplinary authority
... they will lose some of the responsibility, accountability
and authority for their force".
79. On balance, most of the official bodies involved
in the present system-with the exception of the Police Federation-were
uncertain that the practical obstacles to full independent investigation
had been shown to be outweighed by the advantages. ACPO witnesses
emphasised that they had no objection in principle to independent
investigation but they considered that the practical difficulties-they
cited principally cost factors-made it an unattractive option;
they also noted the danger that although the new body might enjoy
public confidence initially, in practice this might disappear
as soon as it began to come to findings that complainants were
The Police Superintendents' Association also suggested that,
much as it might be the case that only independent investigation
would satisfy the public, it would not necessarily work better
HM Inspectorate suggested that removal of the complaint investigation
role from the police was the "too easy answer" and that
"The most careful consideration is needed. ... That steps
are not taken that will undermine the very nature of [an] envied
The Chairman of the PCA argued that although public confidence
must be the objective "no alternative [to the present system]
has yet been shown to be better" and that "To change
the system to an independent system without evidence that it is
going to be a better system, and indeed perhaps with some contrary
evidence, would be a very unwise step"; in his view a better
approach would be to introduce much greater openness into the
present system so that the public could see how effective it was.
80. A different view was taken by non-official observers
and participants in the system. In the Hayes report on a new
system for Northern Ireland one of the objections to independence-the
issue of the police's continuing responsibility for investigation
of criminal allegations against the police-was addressed by giving
that function also to the independent body.
Liberty called for independent investigation (though, as we note
below, they made suggestions for steps to be taken in that direction
as an alternative to a full move towards a new independent body).
The Police Action Lawyers Group, arguing in favour of independent
investigation, felt that "there is a fundamental flaw in
requiring sometimes vulnerable people to give their accounts of
police abuse to other police officers ... An independent complaints
and investigation system would create a culture where complainants
and their advisers would be more willing to cooperate with investigating
officers"...; they felt also that "tinkering with the
current procedure [would] not lead to any great improvement"
and that a new body should be set up.
the same process-without the possible supervision by the PCA-is
applicable to those investigations, which are the majority, which
do not arise from complaints. Back
Appendix 11. Back
10-12; files were also open to scrutiny by HM Inspectorate of
Constabulary (Q 46). Back
Bensley gave evidence as Chairman of the sub-committee on Complaints
and Discipline of ACPO's Committee on Personnel and Training. Back
List of Unprinted Memoranda.. Back
48. One such case was the investigation led by the Kent Constabulary
into the handling by the Metropolitan Police of the Stephen Lawrence
murder inquiry. The PCA report on that case indicated that by
Dec 1997 the investigation team has "undertaken 523 actions
or tasks related to a line of inquiry, taken 160 statements, conducted
seventeen major interviews, some of several days' duration, and
have, in total, spent 16,000 working hours on the inquiry." Back
JUST TV; Mr Stuart Bower; Ms Susan Caddick (see List of Unprinted
PCA indicated that 20 out of 644 investigations currently under
supervision by the Authority were being conducted by outside forces,
but of the 74 cases which arose from voluntary non-complaint referrals
to the Authority (which tended to be more serious than the average
complaint case) 10 were being conducted by an outside force. Back
a higher number of actual complaints, and including a number of
important (154 in 1996/97) non-complaint cases voluntarily referred
by the police. Back
10, para 1.3. Back
24, para 9. Back
Review of the Police Complaints Authority 1991-1992
HC(1993-94)396, pp. 15-16; Appendix 10 paras 16-20. Back
Hayes report proposals for Northern Ireland envisaged funding
the independent investigatory body by transfers of resources from
elsewhere in the system (para 14.2). Back
44 and Appendix 2; recent parliamentary answers have indicated
that estimated costs of complaints and discipline departments
of certain police forces for 1997/98 are Metropolitan Police £13.9m,
Greater Manchester Police £2.1m, Merseyside Police £1.6m,
West Midlands Police £1.7m, Northumbria Police £0.9m
(though the figures are not necessarily all on the same basis)
Official Report 18 Nov 1997 col 98 W and 19 Nov 1997 col
215 W. Back
for example QQ 322-323 (Liberty). Back
15 paragraph 9. Back
15 paragraph 9. Back
159 and Appendix 4 para 6. Back
15 paragraph 9. Back
410 and 415. Back
report, para 13.70. Back
410 and 415.. Back