Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480 - 493)



  480. In the case of Mr Geraghty there was no question of Mr Rucker, who was the Assistant Secretary at the time, inviting you to investigate that case?
  (Mr Comben) I know about what you are discussing, of course. Mr Rucker was in the same situation as any other complainant, any other member of the public. We discover some crimes ourselves but most crimes are reported to the police. Most allegations of a crime are reported to the police by other people, and that is what happened in this case.

  Chairman: Mr Key, you are being very specific to an individual case here rather than discussing general issues.

  Mr Key: Yes, I am.

  Chairman: You are also asking Mr Comben very specific questions.

  Mr Key: Yes.

  Chairman: Where he may not, I do not know, he was not actually present there—

  Mr Key: I think he was very familiar with this case.

  Chairman: He is obviously very familiar but it is the balance between raising the general points for our further consideration out of this to spending time going over the minutiae of an individual case.

  Mr Key: It is absolutely crucial, Madam Chairman, that we establish the relationship between Ministers and the Chief Constable and, therefore, the accountability or otherwise of the Ministry of Defence Police if we are talking about extending their jurisdiction. If you are instructing me that I must not ask any more questions, that is your prerogative.

  Chairman: No, I am not instructing you on that. I am asking that you do not get too tied down in the minutiae of one or two individual cases but look to draw general lessons from it.

Mr Key

  481. I have no intention of challenging the Chair so I will carry on until you instruct otherwise. It is very important if we are to draw general conclusions that we start from the specifics. That is precisely why I am pursuing the particular case which was spectacular in its effect. In this case there was one other thing which I recall as being a matter of great public interest at the time. There was the question of an interim report on an investigation which it was certainly alleged was requested by Mr Rucker from the Ministry of Defence which would not have occurred in a Home Office force. We actually had the Ministry of Defence asking for an interim report on the investigation to see whether or not it should be pursued. Can you confirm that?
  (Mr Comben) I cannot confirm that an interim report was asked for or provided because I do not think it was. I can only now go back to the general. You have the operational independence of the Chief Constable on the one hand but it is entirely appropriate in my eyes for the Secretary of State, whether it be for Defence or the Home Department or anywhere else, to ask for a report at any time about a matter that is receiving national attention or is of national importance. That is a provision that the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence have but it was not asked for. I am talking about the general, I see no objection to it.

  482. Could I move to a broader perspective, you will be relieved to know, Madam Chairman. The Ministry of Defence Police is technically an agency.
  (Mr Comben) Yes.

  483. That agency is accountable to the Secretary of State. I am concerned about this because it does make it quite different from a Home Office force. I know in a lot of respects they are very similar. This question of accountability is very important indeed. I wonder if the Ministry of Defence is going to be acting more and more alongside Home Office police forces in the future under the concordat, understanding arrangements, and whether in fact there will be problems of accountability on your part which you might see arising?
  (Mr Comben) I see no operational or command or management problems with us being an agency. I will pass, perhaps, over to Mr Miller and also to Mr Crowther who is deeply involved in this. The differences that being an agency make to the policing, the workings of the MDP are very small indeed. What the agency has done, it has brought to us a sense of business efficiency which has happened in Home Office forces under a different title, best value and things like that.
  (Mr Miller) It is worth making a general point about agencies. The whole point about agencies in the Ministry of Defence is to give the Chief Executive concerned more independence, more management freedom, than the conventional line structure provides. It was really very much against that background that one has to view the decision to set up the Ministry of Defence Police Agency.
  (Mr Crowther) Could I say that I have seen two Chief Constables operating within the MoD Police and both have been extremely jealous of their operational independence. I would endorse what Mr Comben has said, that the agency status manifests itself most clearly in the matters of business efficiency and in targets that we are set to achieve rather than in the operational thing.

  484. Yes. I recall that the previous Chief Constable, very distinguished previous Chief Constable, expressed misgivings in the corporate plan about the lack of clarity and the consequences of that which meant that Ministry of Defence Police officers were sometimes acting rather in the dark, did not quite know the consequences of their actions. Is this new section of the Act as proposed in response to that concern of Mr Boreham?
  (Mr Comben) Yes, I think it is. The definition of MDP jurisdiction as it is at the moment causes some very difficult decisions to have to be made on the street in the heat of an incident by MDP constables and officers of Home Department Forces. They have to make the major decision. The Bill before you at the moment clears up one of those particular difficulties but still leaves the MDP constable and, in certain instances, the Home Department constable with some very, very fine and difficult decisions to make on the streets at the moment and no doubt we will explore it at some time or other. The emergency provisions in the Act, which are completely new, as it is framed very tightly present them with a very, very difficult decision to make in those particularly difficult circumstances.

Mr Randall

  485. Does that mean to say that as framed at the moment or in the proposals in front of us it will present difficulties?
  (Mr Comben) The jurisdiction at the moment—

  486. Is the difficulty?
  (Mr Comben) —has a difficulty in deciding if an incident is in the vicinity because it is only "in the vicinity" which is a term not defined and a term which has to be judged on a case by case basis. The Home Office officer has to decide "Is this incident in the vicinity of MoD land" because that officer can only, in those circumstances, ask for our assistance. Under the proposals that you are examining vicinity is extended to cover the whole land so there is no question of any more does anybody have to decide "Am I in the vicinity or not? Is the incident in the vicinity?" What I am saying is under the emergency provisions in the Bill that difficult question is swapped, or exchanged, for an equally difficult decision about whether there is injury or a threat to life and no doubt we will come on to that at some time.

  487. I cannot actually see that somebody could fail to see how "vicinity" in this Bill in front of us is actually clearer than it was previously but I am sure I have missed the point.
  (Mr Morrison) There are two different provisions. The notion of "vicinity" still applies to the standing arrangements made between chief constables, chief officers of police, but the matter will be addressed between the chief officers of police. In respect of the provision that allows individual constables to request assistance, which was formerly limited to the vicinity, in other words quick one-off cases, if you like, putting it rather crudely, in respect of that sort of incident the restriction to within the vicinity has been removed. So there is still a vicinity issue in discussing the standing arrangements between chief officers but where there is a need for a quick decision maybe by a constable on the spot that distinction has gone.

  488. Mr Comben, just going back to you again, you are saying you swap one thing for another in terms of officers?
  (Mr Comben) Yes.

  489. In many ways this is still not satisfactory as laid down here?
  (Mr Comben) That is the result of a lot of negotiation. It stems from the principle of primacy for geographical Home Office forces. We respect that, we recognise it and we understand it. There are difficulties of when police officers and other public servants come across incidents, there is a very strong legal and moral obligation to do the right thing and try and help. Now what the present Bill says, it says that is recognised but we have put forward the absolute minimum. If someone's life is at risk or they are at risk of very serious injury then the Bill proposes that the officer can step in and do something, but that does not extend to other very serious offences where the public will probably expect us and other people to step in and do something about it. The cases that Mr Crowther and I put together for you illustrate those very, very well. The case—it is a little while ago now, it was 1996—where a lodger was staying in a one parent family and he took away the little girl and went off with her, it received national media attention and every police force in Great Britain was looking for that little girl, fearful of what was going to happen to her. Two MDP CID officers were on their way to court one morning when they saw a man and a child they thought were the people that the national hunt was out for. They had no jurisdiction, they could not contact the local force. They had no facilities but even so the time taken to contact the local force may have caused the man and the little girl to go. They stepped in, absolutely right, that was the missing girl, that was the missing man, they were detained and handed over to the local police force immediately. Interestingly enough, and you will read about that case in your paperwork, citizens' powers were very, very difficult and citizens' powers are very fragile anyway, but if they had made the wrong identification, which is very, very easy, you see a man and a little girl in the street and you think it is the description that has been circulated, if that was not the right couple or no offence had been committed then a citizen's arrest would be equally unlawful.
  (Mr Crowther) What we are saying is the Bill does the absolute minimum to deal with the most difficult cases.

  Chairman: Thank you, Mr Comben. That is an excellent illustrative case example. We will certainly look forward to the cases you have prepared with Mr Crowther to inform us better on just how we should deal with these changes in the legislation. Are there any further final points?

Mr Key

  490. Yes, please. It is my loss that I have not been to Wethersfield and it is still my ambition to get there because I do not share the misgivings of some people that the Ministry of Defence Police officers are worse trained than Home Office police officers in most respects. There is one respect in which I need convincing and that is in respect of CID. As I mentioned earlier, that was identified some years ago as being an area of some doubt. First of all, could you say whether it is the clear intention of the Ministry of Defence Police to be as good across the board in all respects including CID and the investigation of serious crime as any Home Office police force and, secondly, whether you have adequate resources to train your police offices in that respect?
  (Mr Comben) I can give a very positive response to all of that. Ministry of Defence Police officers are selected from the same pool of applicants as put themselves forward for Home Office forces. We select and recruit to exactly the same standards, the national agreed standards, in every respect. Recruit training, CID training, follows the national curriculum, National Police Training Curriculum. All of our instructors are certified against the same standard as Home Office instructors. At Wethersfield we have trained officers from Home Department Forces in their recruit training. Our CID course is franchised so we have trained the CID officers from other forces, certainly in and around East Anglia and that kind of thing. There are Home Office recruits in Wethersfield today being trained by MDP instructors and Home Office instructors, it is a joint venture, they were in training school as I left yesterday. For our more specialist CID training that we cannot provide, we send our CID officers to Home Office training centres to receive it. So the standards of training are exactly the same in every respect, we just add on the firearms to recruit training, but otherwise the syllabus and the way it is presented, the standard to which it is taught, is exactly the same.

  491. You have adequate resources to train, particularly CID officers?
  (Mr Comben) We have adequate resources to train them because otherwise we would not be franchised by National Police Training to do it. Whether we have adequate resources in another respect is a more difficult question.

Mr Randall

  492. You could always have more.
  (Mr Comben) Everybody needs more resources.

  Mr Key: Thank you, Chairman.


  493. Thank you very much, Mr Key and Mr Randall. Can I then now adjourn the Committee and end this initial session of evidence taking from Mr Miller and from all your colleagues. Can I thank you very much indeed for the time you have given us and the contributions you have made. I do not think I am alone in the Committee in saying I have certainly learnt things I was not previously aware of and I have found it extremely useful and interesting to give rather more of my time and attention than I perhaps normally would to some of the matters we have covered in the last three sessions. Can I also join colleagues in saying how impressed I have been in my own personal contact with Ministry of Defence Police, Mr Comben, and also heartened by the very clear partnership that does exist between yourselves and the civilian police force in the clear and common objective of all police forces to protect and secure the citizen and the Defence estate. Thank you very much to you and your colleagues. Thank you very much for your attendance this morning. I think it has been extremely interesting and enlightening for Members of the Committee.
  (Mr Comben) Thank you, Madam Chairman. I will take those remarks back.

  (Mr Crowther) If the Committee wishes to visit Wethersfield I am sure we can arrange it very easily and it will be interesting.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

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