Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480
THURSDAY 25 JANUARY 2001
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
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.
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
485. Does that mean to say that as framed at
the moment or in the proposals in front of us it will present
(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 caseit is a little while ago
now, it was 1996where 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?
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
491. You have adequate resources to train, particularly
(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.
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.