Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340
TUESDAY 5 MARCH 2002
340. When a policeman is disciplined internally
first of all there is an investigation, I assume, followed by
a disciplinary process which is started by some trigger mechanism.
So distinguishing the two functions in terms of how long they
should last, do you find that normally the actual disciplinary
process from the moment it is triggered lasts on average excessively
long or can last too long compared with, say, a court case in
the crown court?
(Mr Wadham) I think the whole process, both the investigation
process and the disciplinary process lasts too long for police
officers and it is not in the interests of the complainant or
the police officer for that to happen.
341. When we are trying to put a time limit
on one or the other, it seems to me it is easier to put a time
limit on the actual disciplinary process?
(Mr Wadham) I think that must be right because once
the evidence has been gathered then the process is relatively
(Mr Wadham) So there is no reason why a time limit
should not be put on that part of it.
343. Many criminal cases, the investigation
might take a couple of years but there would be a frightful row
if the actual case lasted more than two months, even with adjournments,
it is that aspect.
(Mr Wadham) Exactly. In the criminal process there
are time limits, although there are differences I see no reason
why there should not be time limits in relation to the disciplinary
344. In relation to the process?
(Mr Wadham) In relation to the process rather than
345. Just back to time limits in terms of completing
an investigation. I understand why you do not support that but
would you support the right of a complainant to have a progress
report let us say every three months? Would that be a useful machine?
(Mr Wadham) As I said, I think part of the difficulty
with the lack of public confidence in the system is that the complainant
can be in a position that a statement is taken from them and then
months and sometimes years may go on and nothing happens and then
they get told the complaint is not upheld or whatever. Often a
lot of work has gone into that by police officers investigating
other police officers and it seems unfortunate that there is not
a progress report, that the complainant is not kept up to speed
on what is happening and the way in which the investigation has
been conducted because it is much more likely that they will come
out of the process feeling satisfied regardless of the outcome
than they do under the current system. The more transparency the
better the degree of public confidence in the system.
346. Can I take you back for a moment to David
Cameron's questions about malicious complaints, vexatious complaints
and fabricated complaints. Have you given consideration to the
complaint which is organised by a criminal group specifically
to interfere with the justice system during the process of a case
rather than the vexatious or malicious complaint which comes in
afterwards because of a grievance as to the outcome? Should there
be room for action against that type of complainant?
(Mr Wadham) It is not something I have put thought
to before and I do not know of any examples of it, I am not saying
it has not happened.
347. We have received some evidence from the
Police Federation and I have had discussions with senior police
officers and it does happen.
(Mr Wadham) Obviously we would want to look at that.
I am really concerned about any proposals that damage the ability
of people to make complaints in these circumstances given the
failure of the current system. I am concerned also that if we
put police officers in a privileged position, so that complaints
made against them could lead to criminal prosecutions, why are
we doing that compared with doctors or lawyers, I say, perhaps
we should be protected in the same way. I think that is very problematic.
348. I would like to turn now to the Public
Interest Disclosure Act. I would guess that most people believe
that the provision in that Act to protect people against victimisation
has worked reasonably well since it has been in place. The police
are exempt from that protection, they are not considered as employees.
Would you like to see the whistleblowing provision extended to
(Mr Wadham) I think some of the difficulties with
the police in the past have been that sensible, reasonable, honest
police officers have not felt able to report malpractice to their
employers and to others and that anything which encourages honest
police officers to do a better job and to expose malpractice must
be a good thing. I think that Act should apply to police officers.
349. At the moment they do have recourse to
the grievance procedure if they whistleblow and are then acted
upon. Are there deficiencies in that process?
(Mr Wadham) I think giving the police clear rights
to whistleblow under the Act would be much more sensible than
having processes which just work on an internal basis. I think
it would send the right message to honest police officers that
they can expose corruption. I think not just in relation to police
complaints but in relation to miscarriages of justice in relation
to corruption there were significant numbers of honest police
officers who knew about what was going on and they did not blow
the whistle and anything we can do to encourage them would be
a very positive step. I think that Act should definitely apply
to police officers. It may need to be tinkered with and amended
but in general the principle is the right one.
350. Finally, we have talked a little about
the independence of the Police Complaints Commission. The Bill
envisages the Chairman being appointed by the Queen with the recommendations
of Ministers. Would you like to see something a little more transparent
(Mr Wadham) I would prefer bodies like the Police
Complaints Authority or the Commission to have some process whereby
appropriate parliamentary committees would have some kind of say.
I imagine in relation to police complaints the Home Affairs Select
Committee would be the obvious body. How that would work in practice
I am not sure but I think it must be right because although theoretically
the appointment by the Queen is a protection, in practice decisions
are made by the Government of the day and I think there should
be some process of accountability, some process of transparency.
351. One or two other miscellaneous matters.
Going back to police complaints, in Northern Ireland they have
had an independent complaint system for some time now, have they
not? How is that working and are there any lessons that we might
learn from that experience?
(Mr Wadham) The police complaints system in Northern
Ireland is different from these proposals because all complaints
are investigated independently but nevertheless the complaints
system has been working well. There were some difficulties about
the recruitment of investigators at the beginning but I think
that the ombudsman there has a considerable amount of experience
about where to get people from and I would hope those lessons
can be learnt by the Commission. It is said, for instance, that
you have to set a thief to catch a thief and you have to have
police officers investigating other police officers because they
are the only ones who know what bad practices police officers
can get up to, I do not accept that. I think that Nuala O'Loan
in Northern Ireland has found good people and has been working
well. Obviously there has been controversy about her investigation
in relation to the Omagh bombing but I think that the ordinary
less significant controversial cases have been working better
than anyone expected. I know that she has been in touch with the
Home Office civil servants about how this process should work.
I think there are some good things going on there.
352. What kind of people is she employing as
(Mr Wadham) She has had to employ, I think, more seconded
police officers than she would have liked. I think that may be
inevitable at the beginning of a process. What we said in our
original proposals on police complaints was that there should
be some kind of limit on the number of seconded or ex or retired
police officers used by the Commission and I think that is important.
Inevitably police officers currently have one set of the skills
necessary but there are others such as Customs and Excise, and
she has had some experience in recruiting those I believe. There
are other groups of people who do the same kind of investigatory
work that the police do and we need to be looking for those people
to be employed by the Commission. Because she has been pioneering
this work she has got lots of helpful ideas about how you get
people, how you train them, the extent to which you need to second
other people from outside.
353. One other aspect of the Bill, because we
have tended to concentrate on police complaints, do you have any
concerns about the plans for community support officers, ie non
policemen who will have some powers?
(Mr Wadham) Despite the concern we have about ensuring
that police officers obey the rules, the reality is that police
officers do have a significant amount of training given to them
about the law, about human rights, about the way in which they
should deal with members of the public and of course now they
have a very sophisticated complaints mechanism. That is one side
of the bargain, so to speak, between the police and the citizen,
the other side of the bargain is that we give police powers. I
am very reluctant to see individuals given powers without those
other protective mechanisms, without accountability, without a
complaints mechanism, without proper training. Obviously it is
cheaper but I think there may be some real problems when those
individuals confront members of the public, some of whom will
be difficult. I would prefer policing functions to be carried
out by police officers.
Chairman: Mr Winnick has some questions.
354. Yes, somewhat outside this particular aspect,
Mr Wadham, but connected with police matters. Has your organisation
changed its mind at all about stop and search?
(Mr Wadham) Our position on stop and search is that
it is probably an inevitable power that the police should have.
There are problems with how it is actually exercised. For instance,
on efficiency terms, the numbers of arrests which occur as a result
of stop and search are proportionately very small and the number
of convictions that arise is even smaller. Of course there is
a real issue about you being something like six times as likely
to be stopped if you are black or from an ethnic minority in London
than if you are white. There are real issues about it but we do
not say it should be abolished, we say it should be controlled
properly and not used as in a sense the first investigatory tool
of police officers.
355. Would it be right to say that much if not
entirely, well shall we say much of your criticism in the past
has been along the lines you have just said, that it is black
people who are far more likely to be stopped than otherwise, and
if that is no longer likely to be the case is not stop and search
an effective method in dealing with criminality?
(Mr Wadham) Stop and search focuses on a particular
kind of criminality, it focuses on criminality for which evidence
can be obtained by stopping and searching someone on the street.
For instance, white collar crime, organised crime, drug dealing
generally at the higher levels are very unlikely to be identified.
What you will find is low level theft, the possession of offensive
weapons, the possession of small amounts of drugs, etc. I am not
saying those should be ignored but by putting resources into stop
and search by definition you are not putting resources into these
other crimes and perhaps the police have concentrated too much
on stop and search as a device irrespective of the discrimination
or otherwise. In fact, so far as I understand the research, one
of the issues about the disproportionate number of ethnic minorities
and black people stopped and searched is because of the choice
of policing on the streets in that way. In other words, it may
be that it is not all racism in the police force but actually
it is because there are proportionately more ethnic minorities
and black people on the street than there would be in the general
population, particularly in London in terms of those statistics.
I understand there is some evidence to that effect. That does
not mean that the police should be using this system. It may be
one possible technique that they have but I think it is discriminatory
because of the choice of using that technique rather than another
and I do not think it is a very effective or efficient technique
if the conviction statistics compared with the stop and search
statistics are anything to go by.
356. You do accept, of course, that criminality
is an attack on basic civil liberties?
(Mr Wadham) The possession of small amounts of drugs
perhaps should not be a criminal offence.
357. Mugging and the rest, you accept a law
abiding person going about their business is having their civil
liberties seriously erodedseriously erodedby criminality?
That is a factor which cannot be disputed.
(Mr Wadham) Victims of crime obviously have their
human rights violated by the perpetrators of those crimes. Burglary,
theft, mugging, assaults are crimes and should remain crimes and
the police should investigate those crimes.
358. The denial of civil liberties is far greater
than anything the state is likely to be involved in?
(Mr Wadham) I think the issue of civil liberties and
human rights is actually primarily about the relationship between
the citizen and the state. Of course private individuals do nasty
things to other private individuals and if the police do not protect
them there may be a violation by the police in failing to protect
victims but the philosophy and the concepts of civil liberties
and human rights actually apply particularly between the citizen
and the state. I think the terminology I would not accept but
of course people are very badly injured and hurt and affected
359. There are lives taken away.
(Mr Wadham)and that should not happen and that
is why we have a police force.