Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340 - 359)



  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 simple.

  342. Yes.
  (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 process.

  344. In relation to the process?
  (Mr Wadham) In relation to the process rather than the investigation.

Mr Singh

  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.

Mr Prosser

  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 the police?
  (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 or democratic?
  (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 investigators?
  (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.

David Winnick

  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 eroded—seriously eroded—by 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 by those—

  359. There are lives taken away.
  (Mr Wadham)—and that should not happen and that is why we have a police force.

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