Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 5 FEBRUARY 2002
STEVENS QPM, MR
140. I thought, for example, that when the process
was clearly being strung along, with a view to making everyone
weary, a Chief Officer had the power to go ahead in the absence
of the individual, now; is that used?
(Sir John Stevens) It is rarely used.
(Mr Blair) It is rarely used, mainly because M'Learned
Friends have a number of views about this. Let me give you an
example of a case that I have just been aware of, where three
of our Commanders have sat for two and a half weeks of legal argument;
this is awesome. It is the same, and I know, Chairman, you have
got an interest in this, on corruption issues. We have just had
a case at the Old Bailey that was listed for three days of legal
argument, well the legal argument lasted for seven weeks, including
three trips to the Court of Appeal. We have people who are going
to use every weapon at their disposal.
141. Obviously we tinkered last time and tinkering
does not seem to have delivered, do you have any suggestions as
to what we should do next?
(Mr Blair) I think a lot of it would
be about making clearer the rules of process and procedure. Most
of these arguments are about abuse of process, and the arguments
go on and on and on; and it seems to me that it is not a healthy
process for all of these things, as the Commissioner says, to
be based on court martial law. Most of these, I think, should
not have lawyers involved; obviously, a lawyer should be involved
if somebody is going to be risking their job, but for the rest
of it I think that a reduction in the legal representation might
142. Right; fewer lawyers. I think we would all
vote for that.
(Sir John Stevens) There are obviously
no lawyers around the room.
Chairman: Yes, there are one or two.
143. Just on that point, did you say, Mr Blair,
that now a majority of the disciplinary cases are not from complaints
from the public but from action taken by senior officers?
(Mr Blair) Yes.
144. Surely, one answer would be that, I have
always understood that the disciplinary procedure for the police
is long and complicated, because obviously you are going to have
people from the public complaining about what police officers
do, and that might be because they bear a grudge, or whatever;
surely, if an officer has a complaint against a constable or a
sergeant, that should not be done with lawyers and that sort of
procedure, it should be a much more straightforward disciplinary
procedure, like you would have in other Services, or in other
places of work? Is that a distinction you would be happy to see?
(Mr Blair) I would be very happy to see
that, but the point about the discipline regulations is, whether
they come from a public complaint or they come from an internal
report, they end up with the same level of discipline charge and
the same level of representation.
145. And that is what is wrong?
(Mr Blair) I think we are in danger of
it becoming overly legalistic. Just another example, if an officer
refuses to accept a reprimand then the only answer is a full Discipline
Board. It is a very complex and legal process that needs to be
(Sir John Stevens) And there is no principle of restoring
justice, where you can get two people together; and once you get
the lawyers involved, as we all know, there are people holding
their positions, and so on and so forth, and it just is not good
for the organisation, and leads to some of the cases that we all
read about now and again.
146. Can you give us a "for instance"
of what might trigger this process, of a senior officer making
a complaint about a constable or a sergeant?
(Mr Blair) One that I saw earlier, which
actually goes back to Mr Winnick's comments, was an officer who
made a lewd and offensive remark to a female officer in a sergeant's
presence, and the sergeant just said, "Right, that's it,
I'm reporting you for that." And that process goes right
147. And it goes through and then you have lawyers,
for something like that, you have lawyers present?
(Mr Blair) Lawyers right through, yes.
148. During which time everybody is suspended
on full pay, are they?
(Mr Blair) To be fair, we have reduced
the number of suspensions, we have halved the number of suspensions;
but it is difficult, when officers are facing discipline, to get
the full work out of them. To be fair, there are other parts of
the process that are not as good as they should be. We have not
got enough people sitting on Discipline Boards, and there are
delays, and so on; it is not all the fault of lawyers and defendants,
I am sure we have got processes that we can speed up.
149. But you have halved the number of suspensions?
(Mr Blair) We have halved the number
150. So, in other words, if somebody is accused
of something relatively minor, they can carry on working?
(Mr Blair) Yes.
(Sir John Stevens) But your point, Chairman, I think
is well made, that there are a lot of people who have been suspended,
or a number of people who have been suspended, for extremely long
periods of time on full pay.
151. They certainly are. You mentioned a case
a moment ago, of Gurpal Virdi, whom I remember coming to see you
about some years ago, then I went away for a few years, and I
have come back, and it is still going on?
(Sir John Stevens) The good news is that
it is finished now. We hope to see him tomorrow, and that will
152. For how long has that been going on?
(Sir John Stevens) For four, four and
a half, years.
153. Where do these rules lie, are they in legislation;
how many of these rules can you tear up, as a management, as it
were, and how many do you need to have done through legislation?
(Sir John Stevens) We cannot tear any
of them up; we would be hauled in front of the courts if we did
154. But where do they lie, in the Police Act?
(Mr Blair) The Police Discipline Regulations
is a piece of primary legislation.
155. And how much of those do you think are addressed
by the Police Reform Bill?
(Mr Blair) I do not think any of them
are addressed by the Police Reform Bill.
156. Firearms, very briefly. What is the main
source of firearms used in crime in London, and do we need tighter
(Sir John Stevens) We think certainly
we need tighter controls over imitation firearms and those that
can be converted. There is a large number of firearms coming into
this country from Eastern European bloc countries; those firearms
can be purchased at very cheap cost, and they are coming overland
into London. The amount of firearms circulating in London now,
I think I drew attention to it some five or six months ago, is
immense, and it is one of the problems that Trident is dealing
with, and it is one of the problems that are around. There has
been a 43 per cent increase in the use of firearms in London in
the last year, and it is something that is very, very worrying
indeed. I think, for the people of London to think that this is
the so-called just black on black crime, that is about, is a mistake.
And if I lose any sleep it is over the loss of life of innocent
people who are involved in cross-fire with firearms, or police
officers whose lives might be lost; and I think we have really
got to try to stem the amount of firearms running around the streets
at the moment.
157. Do you have some ideas?
(Sir John Stevens) Yes, we do. That would
be linked into Trident, in terms of also pressing for legislation,
as far as imitation firearms are concerned and conversion of those;
and we will be driving in very hard, in terms of where these firearms
are coming in, but it is very difficult. But it will be wrapped
up, I think, into the street crime aspect.
158. Do you go back to the countries in Eastern
Europe where the source is and ask for assistance from the local
(Sir John Stevens) Yes; but if you are
going to places like Bosnia and Kosovo, and places like that,
the amount of co-operation you are going to get is not going to
be that high.
159. Of course, yes. You may consider it minor,
but it is a source of a lot of low-level mayhem in the North East;
air weapons. Can anything be done to reduce the number of those
in circulation, are there any changes that should be made, in
(Sir John Stevens) I think the changes
that may well need to be made are those air weapons that can be
converted into use as firearms, because they are so well made,
in terms of the structure, that by drilling through you can use
them for a .38 round, or the like. And I think there is a need
for legislation in relation to that, Chairman.