Independent Police Complaints Commission - Public Accounts Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 20-39)


24 NOVEMBER 2008

  Q20  Mr Mitchell: Okay but you have been drafting other staff into investigations. It says at 1.16 that you have redeployed staff from support activities such as nightwatchmen, custodians and floor cleaners into investigations.

  Ms Furniss: No, no they are investigations staff whose job was previously—

  Q21  Mr Mitchell: I was just joking then but it must have led to less adequate investigations because you are drafting staff in who are not used to the work.

  Ms Furniss: These are people who were qualified and trained investigators but whose job previously had been to oversee quality assurance and not undertake to lead investigations. We have also brought some people in who had retired. There is a senior investigator who had retired from the IPPC who we asked to come back. We have done that kind of thing but we always make sure that the staff are qualified.

  Q22  Mr Mitchell: Is there any way in which this strain that you are under makes you more inclined to take the word of the police because that is the easy way out? I notice from 3.22 that there is an impressive list here that includes the Superintendents' Association, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Federation who are all expressing satisfaction which is not necessarily always felt by complainants. Because you are under strain is that going to make you more inclined to accept the police's word?

  Ms Furniss: Absolutely not.

  Q23  Mr Mitchell: Can you guarantee that?

  Ms Furniss: I can absolutely guarantee that, Mr Mitchell. The whole purpose of the IPPC is to follow the evidence and to determine the truth of what has happened. That is our job and if at any point we were suggesting that we were inclined towards the police we would lose the whole value of the organisation. Our job is to follow the evidence and come to some kind of judgment about what has happened; to search for the truth and report that. It is often extremely unpopular, it is not what people want, and it is often much more complex than the individuals involved would like it to be. They would like us to say, "Someone was at fault; this should happen," or they would like us to say, "No-one was at fault; this should not happen." Our job is to report publicly and honestly what we find, and we do that.

  Q24  Mr Mitchell: Have you transferred delays then from independent investigations to managed investigations, which have got worse?

  Ms Furniss: I beg your pardon, I am sorry, I did not understand the question.

  Q25  Mr Mitchell: Has the burden of delaying investigations been transferred from independent investigations to managed investigations?

  Ms Furniss: It may need me to explain slightly the managed investigations. We have a single member of staff who oversees the work that is being done and holds the police to account. It is actually police resources that do the investigation, not IPPC resources. We will set the terms of reference and provide oversight but actually it is the police team that do the investigation.

  Q26  Mr Mitchell: So your job is easier because you just oversee it?

  Ms Furniss: I am sorry?

  Q27  Mr Mitchell: Your job is easier because you are overseeing it rather than actually doing it?

  Ms Furniss: It is certainly less work for us if we manage them yes, absolutely, but it is a proper decision, it is a judgment that has to be made by the regional director. In the past it was the commissioner that made this decision but now it is the regional director. It is a proper decision that has to be made of whether this case can be adequately investigated and can the public have confidence if this case is investigated by the police as opposed to the IPPC but with our oversight? That is our role.

  Q28  Mr Mitchell: To follow the point made by the Chairman, you have some regions which are worse than others. It looks to me from paragraph 14 of the summary that one of the worst regions is the South East. My philosophy of life is that the worst regions are the South East and London! Is that because of particular problems with the Met and what are you doing to bring up the number and quality of investigations and the responses in that area?

  Ms Furniss: What happened, Mr Mitchell, was that at the beginning of the organisation's life it got the resourcing wrong for London and the South East. It was not that the staff were not up to the task.

  Q29  Mr Mitchell: You are diverting resources now from other areas?

  Ms Furniss: We have moved work or moved resources depending on which we could do. Obviously where an investigation is required in the centre of London it is much more difficult. We need to move the people to be able to do the investigation. Where it is an appeal we can move the paperwork, so we have done that, and you may be pleased to know that we are actually in the process of recruiting extra staff.

  Q30  Mr Mitchell: That could lead to problems in other areas.

  Ms Furniss: It has had a marginal impact on that but over time that will work out. For example, we have recruited additional staff in Yorkshire, which I am sure will please you, so the appeals are going to our staff in Yorkshire and they will be able to dedicate time to catching up and clearing the backlog. As I said earlier, we have actually done that very successfully.

  Q31  Mr Mitchell: In paragraph 2.7 why are commissioners not formally approving the reports prior to publication? Is it they are just too harassed to do it or is it bone idleness or why?

  Ms Furniss: I should just point out of course that I am responsible to the commissioners and not for the commissioners, they are the board but, having said that, no, it is not idleness or being too harassed; it is we were not recording in a single file commissioners' approval. There was absolutely no doubt whatsoever that all those reports were approved by the commissioners.

  Q32  Mr Mitchell: They were?

  Ms Furniss: They were absolutely approved. They go out with a letter from the commissioner or they go out with a press release with the commissioner's name on it, but there was not a signed form on the file which the auditors could see which said "I, Commissioner X, have signed this Report off", and we have changed that since the auditors helpfully pointed it out to us.

  Q33  Mr Mitchell: You have done two surveys of the general public and they seem to be slightly daft because you have asked people who have not necessarily got any knowledge of what you are about whether they approve of it. That is rather like the famous American survey in the 1950s which got 56% of the population to say that they approved of the Metallic Minerals Act when there was no such Act! It is a daft survey, is it not, to ask people who do not know anything about it what they think of it?

  Ms Furniss: Parliament gave us the responsibility of improving public confidence in the complaints system. That is a statutory responsibility in the Police Reform Act that the public should have confidence in the police complaints system. Whether or not they wish to use it, they should have confidence. It is important, is it not, in our society that the public know that they can make a complaint against the police; they know they can do so if they ever wish to and if they do wish to that they know how to, and if they wish to and know how to that they will also have confidence that it will be dealt with properly. In order to determine whether the public do have confidence we have to ask all of them.

  Q34  Mr Mitchell: Okay. You do not seem to seek the views of complainants and what they think, which I think is a serious problem. We have a complaint here from Tony Wise, you have probably got a copy of it. I do not expect you to answer now, it comes from "Wise Fozzie Bear", and he complains that his case was not properly investigated and there was collusion between the investigating officer and the police and it was an entirely unsatisfactory outcome. You will only come across this if you actually get the views of complainants. Can you give a response to Mr Fozzie Bear?

  Ms Furniss: To Mr Wise are you talking about?

  Q35  Mr Mitchell: Mr Wise, yes, in writing, not now.

  Ms Furniss: Of course, I am very happy to.

  Q36  Chairman: Do you know this case?

  Ms Furniss: Yes.

  Q37  Chairman: Tell us now then.

  Ms Furniss: It is currently on-going, Chairman, so I do not think it would really be appropriate for me to comment on the detail of it, but he is a man who has made a number of complaints to the police which have been investigated and he has appealed and those have been investigated and there is one current outstanding one which he recently submitted which we are currently looking at. I am very happy to send you a note.

  Chairman: If there is anything you want to send out to us in confidence then you can.[1] Thank you, Mr Mitchell. Geraldine Smith?

  Q38  Geraldine Smith: It is very important that the public do have confidence in your organisation. However, at the end of the day you do not monitor the recommendations that are made if you have upheld a complaint. If you look at a police force and you think there is something wrong there because you have upheld the complaint and you have asked for changes in the procedures but then you do not do anything about it to make sure that that happens, what is the point of your existence if you do not follow it through?

  Ms Furniss: I think what the auditors identified was that we had not got a systematic way of answering your question. The weakness is that we have not actually got a systematic way where we could show the auditors and show you how our recommendations have been implemented. It is not true to say that we do not know what is going on.

  Q39  Geraldine Smith: If you do do it, how do you actually do it?

  Ms Furniss: I was just going to go on to explain that. There are a number of ways. First of all, the commissioner responsible for each force (and each commissioner has responsibility for three or four police forces) will talk to the force before they make their recommendation so they will check that the recommendation is actually going to solve the problem that has been identified. They will check that the force is going to implement the change made and they will often talk to them during and after the recommendations are made to check that that has happened. I can give you lots of examples where that has happened both locally and nationally where problems identified by us have resulted in change. For example, a man killed himself in a cell having tied a noose round a plughole strainer, and as a result of that we recommended that police forces should change the design of their plugholes, and they have done so. In a very high profile case in one particular force where witness protection broke down and the couple were killed, that force has now got one of the best witness protection systems in the country as a result of the learning done from major mistakes that were made in that particular case. So there are a number of cases where very real problems were identified, recommendations were made, and we can give you evidence of the changes that were made as a result. Those are local individual forces. Some of them have national implications. One of the ways that we are currently really pushing the learning is through our bulletins. We have now published five Learning the Lessons bulletins where we identify and encapsulate into a single bulletin lessons to learned from a number of different cases.

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