Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 760 - 779)



  760. Is it the MDP wishing to investigate more or the Home Office wanting to pass that on because of increasing workload and decreasing numbers?
  (Mr Comben) It is neither of those things, in my view. As Mr Scott-Lee described, it is a question of who is best placed to investigate this crime at this time. That is the driver for it. Discussions on serious crimes always revolve around that, not whose territory necessarily is it, but who is best placed to investigate it. We have cases which occur within the MoD estate which anybody else would say that the MDP should investigate, but we know better because in our discussions with Home Department colleagues we know it is part of a series or it is related to some matter they are already investigating, so they will investigate it. It is almost a case by case decision at the serious crime level, but for routine matters, if it occurs within the MoD estate, we would investigate it.

  761. You say it is relative to expertise but if one year you investigated 16 I would guess—I do not know what the relevant numbers would be for other police forces—that the numbers of rape investigations had been considerably higher, so you might say that you have not actually got the practical expertise—I am not doubting the ability of your officers to investigate—or the day-to-day experience.
  (Mr Comben) Because those 16 would have been investigated by a much smaller number of officers. You could have in another force a much larger number of rape allegations but if they are investigated by a larger CID complement—because five per cent is very low compared with Home Department forces; it is invariably more than double that—it is not a simple equation.

  762. But this is presumably all over the country. Have you a rape team that investigates all over the country?

  (Mr Comben) No, we do not have a rape squad. There is no need for that. All the senior detective officers attend the same training as Home Office senior detectives. They have the same capability, the same mobility to investigate a rape as any others. If there is ever an occasion where it is one of these very notorious cases where an individual has been responsible for a whole series of rapes the length and breadth of the country, we would not deal with that. That would be an agreement between our Chief Constable and the Home Department force chief constable to say who is best to investigate it. In those kinds of scenarios, the invariable decision would be that this is one for the Home Department force to investigate, not for us.

  763. I presume that the MDP have all the facilities that you would expect in a Home Office force, like rape suites and the like?
  (Mr Comben) No. We do not have those facilities and that is why, listening at the back of the room, I picked up a point in the earlier conversation. This mutual working arrangement actually grows out of a practical need. On a day to day basis, Home Department forces help us every day by allowing us to use their rape suites, their identification suites, but it is not one way traffic. It would be wrong for the Committee to feel it is one way traffic. You heard earlier on about the difficulties of child abuse cases today. We all know about those. We have a detective sergeant in the MDP who is an expert in this area, one of several, and that officer has given consistent assistance to her local Home Department Force where they have not had the resources to investigate and where they have not had available to them at that time those particular skills. We rely a lot on Home Department forces. That is the practical reason why we work in cooperation, but it is not an entirely one way street.

  764. If you have to rely on Home Office forces to give you assistance in a material way, why do they not do the whole job?
  (Mr Comben) Two reasons. One of the reasons why we do not have the resources is it is not cost effective for us to have them. Many Home Department forces share identification suites. In my time in the Metropolitan Police, we only had four for the whole of London—it may have gone up now—and divisions had to share them. There is a cost effective reason why, even if we had the money, it would not be cost effective for us to set up some of these suites and so on. Why do we not just hand the case over? Because we exist to provide a civilian policing service to the Ministry of Defence and these matters happen within the Ministry of Defence estate. Invariably, they have Ministry of Defence connotations or connections and that is why we investigate them, but we investigate and work in cooperation.

  765. You would agree presumably that, when it was first set up, it was envisaged that the MDP would be for minor offences?
  (Mr Comben) If we are absolutely objective about it, back in 1987 and in the years before that, the force was more involved in a much larger number of what some people might call `minor offences' for a whole variety of reasons. The number of crimes that the MDP are investigating has reduced and amongst those there is now, because a lot of the minor offences have gone, a larger proportion of serious matters, but it is part of the evolution of policing. Unfortunately, I have been around long enough to recall when Home Department forces sent for Scotland Yard to assist them with murder investigations. In the latter part, I was one of the officers that was sent to other forces and to other countries to help investigate murders for exactly the same reason: that they did not have the experience in practice and they did not have the equipment. That has moved on now. There is no longer a need for such a department as Scotland Yard to do that. In a microcosm, that is what has happened to the MDP. It has got more experience; it has become more effective; it has more technical equipment and it can now investigate a range of offences that it could not have done in the early days prior to 1987. That has happened in all policing, and thank goodness it has.

  766. You may have heard, when we were asking questions of the previous witness, the question of whether your deputy chief constable thought that the current provisions in the Bill would present MDP officers with a very difficult decision to make and the Defence Police Federation would have wanted the Bill to go further in the definition of where they should intervene. Could I have your views, please?
  (Mr Clarke) We have scenario'd the circumstances should the Bill be enacted. There are four questions which officers will have to ask themselves and they will have to go through this process almost in the heat of the moment. The four questions systematically might be: is there sufficient time to inform the Home Department police force? Will doing so frustrate or seriously prejudice the purpose of why I have got this power? Are there reasonable grounds of suspecting that an offence involving the use or threat of violence against any person has been committed? Is there reasonable ground to believe that the exercise of the power is necessary in order to save life or in order to prevent or minimise injury? It has taken me a while to articulate those but the reality of awareness by officers, of training, that is the check list that they are going to have to go through in order to exercise this power. It is that which was referred to, particularly last week by my deputy, and particularly by the Defence Police Federation. Again, it is those tests of reasonableness. Mr Scott-Lee was talking about proportionality as well. That will be the test under European legislation. There again there is the opportunity for officers, when they exercise their power, gosh, bang, bang, bang; yes, I need to act. In hindsight, in the cold light of day, others may sit and pore over those actions and someone may say, "Actually, we do not feel now . . .", whether it be in a court of law or wherever, but I come back to the issue. This is about trying to afford that reasonable protection to officers who are making those difficult decisions in the heat of the moment when circumstances present themselves in front of them.

  767. That sounded like a definite maybe to me.
  (Mr Clarke) I think those are difficult questions.

  768. We would welcome further clarification because we have an opportunity in front of us with this Bill, before it is enshrined in law, to try and make your officers' lives possibly easier, as we heard from the Police Federation.
  (Mr Clarke) It is on this basis that the discussions have been had with ACPO and ACPOS and therefore I have certainly not scenario'd it further than that.
  (Mr Legge) We debated very carefully, both within the Department and subsequently with the Home Office, whether we should ask for wider powers for action in emergencies. We deliberately went for a very narrow definition of risk to life or injury, firstly because that would be a relatively simple decision for the police officer to make and, secondly, in case anybody thought that we were trying to drastically expand the role of the MDP, which we are not.

Mr Davies

  769. This goes back to my earlier question about Private Thomas. What about your liaison with the Royal Military Police? How do you divide up responsibilities with them and deal with them? Do you have a protocol with them? Can you tell us something about that?
  (Mr Clarke) Yes, there is a protocol and we work very closely at a senior level and on the ground. We also have the Defence Police Chiefs Forum where myself and the head of each of the provost services meet to discuss practical issues and issues of difficulty and the like. There is a Defence Council instruction which is the protocol in terms of our relationship, of working with the Services. It is very clear; it is well understood. That is my belief of it, having tested it at senior levels and at ground levels within the last three months.

  770. Does it make sense to have these two separate policing organisations in the military and the other provost organisations—maybe even the RAF, but let us take the Royal Military Police.
  (Mr Clarke) There is a sense to it. That is with my knowledge of three months. Others will be far better qualified in terms of the history of it.

  771. Could there be greater sense in merging them?
  (Mr Clarke) Personally, I have not thought about it.
  (Mr Legge) The principal answer to that would be that Service personnel are subject to the Service Discipline Acts. Those are particular and peculiar regulations and rules which they have to observe. The various Service police forces are there to ensure that that legal framework is observed. They also have an operational role overseas which the Ministry of Defence Police clearly do not. There is a fairly clear distinction both in policy terms but also in practical terms. The Service police will operate where civil property and civilians are not involved, where it is solely Service personnel. Otherwise, it would normally in this country be the Ministry of Defence Police.

  Chairman: It is an issue that was raised in our initial evidence session about the proliferation of different sorts of police forces in the Armed Services. It is something that we can come back to but this Bill does not suggest that we undertake immediate consolidation of all the current police forces that operate, dealing with Armed Services personnel and with Ministry of Defence property and so on.

  Mr Davies: This Bill would be the opportunity to change the statutory framework affecting the Royal Military Police or any other provost police force, if we choose in Parliament to do so.

  Chairman: It is something we can comment on.

Mr Key

  772. I can confirm what we have been told about the need to coordinate with county police forces, in particular, for shared facilities. There was a notorious case last year where small arms were stolen from Lark Hill and that case was immediately investigated and is still under investigation by the Ministry of Defence Police, the Royal Military Police and initially Wiltshire Constabulary. The three suspects were taken to Salisbury Police Station for questioning because there was not an appropriate suite available for the Ministry of Defence Police in Lark Hill. My constituent, Mr McHugh, had 12 policemen entering his house and has still not been compensated to the tune of £149 for the damage caused by the police. I would be very grateful if the Chief Constable could look at that urgently. However, I digress. The deputy chief constable has told us that the detectives in the MDP are trained to the same level as the Home Office police forces. Can I ask him to confirm that the MDP CID branch conform to all the accreditation courses which are on offer to the Home Office Constabulary?
  (Mr Comben) I can confirm that.

  773. Could you tell us a little about the MoD rapid response team that has been set up? I do not know how many there are but it is an important development that there is a rapid response team trained to attend incidents at Ministry of Defence establishments.
  (Mr Comben) If you are talking about our operational support unit, it has not recently been formed; it has been formed many, many years ago. It is complemented of 50 officers, though it is not currently up to strength, and it is a team of very fit, able officers who are trained in public order to Home Department force standards. They are obviously trained and equipped with firearms as other MDP officers are. They are also trained and equipped to deal with nuclear and biological incidents, as the Metropolitan Police and some other Home Department forces are, and they are there to supplement and support our territorial operations around the country. If, for example, there was some major incident forthcoming at one of our establishments, wherever it might be, we would deploy that force to bolster the local resources which were insufficient. It is nothing new; it is nothing to do with this Bill. They operate within the existing MDP Act. They are just a mobile force with extra training to go to extra places.

  774. Chairman, it does have relevance to this Bill to the extent that extra powers are being sought for the Ministry of Defence Police, and whatever it may be called and if it is not a rapid response team it is probably part of an area policing team, I understand that there was indeed a training exercise carried out quite recently in the South of England at a Ministry of Defence establishment and the Home Office police force who were alongside discovered that this specially trained unit had not been trained in hostage negotiation nor in incident management nor of course did they have any custody facilities. Are you envisaging spending more time on that sort of training which apparently is lacking?
  (Mr Comben) I do not know of the particular incident you have described nor of those comments, but we do not, to the best of my knowledge, have hostage negotiators and we do not foresee at the moment that we would take on such a role. If there was a hostage situation inside the MoD environment I am sure that that is the kind of incident which we would immediately in discussion with our Home Department colleagues hand over to them.

  Mr Key: Could I change tack. I am very happy to give way to somebody else who wants to come in.


  775. Before you do can I come in on training. In circumstances where an MDP officer has arrested somebody in what is considered to be an emergency situation, are they then responsible for reporting the crime, taking it through the legal process and even appearing in court, if necessary? In your experience do MDP officers have sufficient experience in that area? What is the point where it moves from the MDP to the Home Office?
  (Mr Comben) Let me deal, firstly, with MDP cases. Our officers have been trained in the same way, have the same ability and the same resources to prepare the case files for the CPS, for the Procurator Fiscal or the authorities in Northern Ireland the same as any other police force. That carries on quite normally. If we are talking about the new emergency powers suggested in this Bill, inherent in those emergency powers is the first question which the Chief Constable elicited which is officers must say, even though it is a life-threatening incident, can I contact the Home Department force? If after answering the four questions and intervening in that situation they must hand it over to the Home Department force at the earliest opportunity. When the Home Department force arrives we obviously hand it over professionally but we hand it over and our officers would prepare their evidence and give their evidence to the Home Department force and from then on it would be a Home Department force prosecution or a Home Department force report. We would contribute professionally to their report. There is no suggestion in the emergency powers in this Bill that our involvement goes one stage beyond that which is absolutely necessary. Our task is merely to prevent injury, to save life, nothing more. From that moment on we hand it over lock, stock and barrel to the Home Department force.
  (Mr Legge) That, of course, would have to be spelt out in detail in the revised Protocol which follows the legislation.

  776. On that basis presumably MDP police officers could and perhaps already have found themselves as witnesses in a court case?
  (Mr Comben) Many times. It is a daily occurrence.

  777. That is the decision of the Home Office force obviously.
  (Mr Comben) Absolutely.

  Chairman: And then the relevant authorities. Thank you. Does anyone want to come in before Mr Key continues his questions. Mr Key?

  Mr Key: Thank you, Chairman.

  Chairman: Is this still on jurisdiction?

Mr Key

  778. Yes it is but I will move on. If what you have just described is the case, Deputy Chief Constable, where the Official Secrets Act is involved and where it is perfectly clear that Ministers wish to see an investigation of an individual citizen's property, why does the Ministry of Defence police then raid a house rather than the Home Office police force?
  (Mr Comben) Well if it is an investigation being undertaken by the Ministry of Defence Police then it is right and proper and legally allowed for the MDP to search (rather than raid) the person's house. As I think I said in a previous session, that is always done in liaison and co-operation with the local police force. We never just go out into non-MoD parts of the country searching people's houses. We do not do it.

  779. Why do you think the National Union of Journalists is so concerned about the extension of powers which is being sought in this Bill?
  (Mr Comben) I think unfortunately, Madam Chairman, there has been a fundamental and serious misunderstanding and we worked very hard in the previous session to try and explain it and put this to bed once and for all. The concerns that have just been mentioned are about clause 6. Clause 6 is nothing to do with the Ministry of Defence Police. It is nothing to do with civil policing. The Chief Constable of Suffolk, whom I suspect is still with us, has no interest in clause 6. His officers have the necessary tightly constrained (quite properly by Parliament) provision under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984. Can we please make it absolutely clear to everybody that clause 6 is a power being sought by the military provost authorities as part of the bulk of the Bill to bring them up to date every five years with things that they do not have at the moment. It is of no concern to the MDP.

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