Independent Police Complaints Commission - Home Affairs Committee Contents

2  The purpose of the IPCC

7.  The police continue to inspire confidence and pride, from their contribution to the Olympic Games to the everyday assurance of seeing officers on the beat. Yet public faith in the police has been tested in recent years: the deaths of Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson, the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel and the circumstances following officers' altercation with Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP are perhaps the most high-profile examples. Behind these highly publicised cases lie thousands more in which members of the public complain about the conduct of police officers for many reasons: oppressive behaviour, assault, malpractice, discrimination, neglect of duty, unfairness, and simple rudeness amongst others.

8.  The main purpose of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is to increase public confidence in policing by ensuring that justice is done where the police are accused of this kind of wrongdoing. It does this by:

i.  its oversight of the functioning of the police complaints system;

ii.  considering appeals where people believe that a police investigation has got it wrong; and

iii.  conducting its own investigations into the most serious matters, referred to it by the police or under its own initiative.

9.  Our witnesses were sceptical of its record.[1] The Newham Monitoring Project described the Commission oversight as "a system that falls woefully short in its ability to be independent, accessible or effective";[2] The Police Action Lawyers Group reported that its clients' experiences with the Commission were "rarely positive, often frustrating and sometimes utterly demoralising";[3] and Doreen Lawrence told the Committee that she had "no confidence in [the Commission] whatsoever".[4]

10.  We heard significant concerns that the processes and procedures maintained by the Commission were not robust enough. As the Police Action Lawyers Group put it, "our clients can expect islands of good practice scattered amongst a sea of ineffective conduct in respect of the IPCC's investigatory, supervisory and appellate functions".[5] Our inquiry raised the following issues:

a)  failure to locate evidence and propensity to uncritically accept police explanations for missing evidence (including forensic, CCTV and other evidence from the scene);[6]

b)  lack of "investigatory rigour" and "thorough investigation";[7]

c)  slowness in responding to complaints and conducting investigations;[8]

d)  reliance on scene of crime officers from the force under investigation; [9]

e)  lack of skills and experience of qualified lawyers and prosecutors;[10]

f)  failure to critically analyse competing accounts, even with inconsistencies between officers' accounts or an compelling account from a complainant;[11]

g)  the Department of Professional Standards in the force being investigated was allowed to summarise the complaint (without consulting the complainant) and then proceed directly to investigating it on these terms;[12] and

h)  the requirement for a complainant to attend the police station where the offence may have taken place, after a traumatic experience in custody.[13]

11.  Inquest noted "dismay and disillusionment" at "the consistently poor quality of decision-making at all levels of the IPCC" and unsuccessful attempts to raise concerns through the IPCC Advisory Board, where "follow-up on agreed action points has been pitifully poor".[14]

12.  In an inquiry of this nature, we recognise that we were unlikely to hear many "good news" stories, where complainants were satisfied with the outcome of their contact with the IPCC. It is important to bear in mind that the fact that a complainant was not satisfied with the outcome does not in itself demonstrate that the outcome was wrong.

The basis of mistrust

13.  At the core of public mistrust lies the suspicion that police are getting away with misconduct and criminality. We found three main causes for this mistrust:

1.  complaints are often investigated by the force about which a complaint or referral has been made;

2.  the IPCC continues to employ a significant number of former police officers, some who held senior posts in the force, who may naturally favour their former colleagues; and

3.  the police often do not interview officers after cases involving death and serious injury, although they would routinely do so for ordinary members of the public.

We will return to each of these points in the body of this report, but for now we note that Commissioners themselves ought to be the pillars of trust in the IPCC. The twelve Commissioners who served during 2011-12 are set out in Annex I, along with the five new commissioners who were recently recruited. Most Commissioners received a salary of £75,000-£80,000 and the Chief Executive received a salary of £130,000-£135,000.[15]

14.  Nick Hardwick, former Chair of the IPCC, expressed his regret that Commissioners had been given a managerial role and separated from the investigatory process. No one who has served as a police officer can become a commissioner and so oversight by a Commissioner would be a significant guarantee of independence.[16] The Police Action Lawyers Groups agreed that Commissioners should have more direction and control over investigations instead of leaving critical decision making in the hands of investigators who are often ex-police officers. It proposed that improved accountability for those Commissioners could be secured through Commissioners being answerable to external reference groups.[17]

15.  The public do not fully trust the IPCC and without faith in the Commission, the damaged public opinion of the police cannot be restored. Unfortunately, too often the work of the Commission seems to exacerbate public mistrust, rather than mend it.

16.  The independence and oversight offered by Commissioners is at the heart of the role of the IPCC. It is wrong that their day-to-day work is frequently far removed from the cases being investigated. Commissioners should be given a more active role in overseeing major cases and take personal responsibility for ensuring that a clear process and timetable is laid out for anyone involved in a complaint or an appeal.

1   Ev w21 [StopWatch], para 10 Back

2   Ev w15 [Newham Monitoring Project], para 4 Back

3   Ev 101 [Police Action Lawyers Group], para 2 Back

4   Q 34 [Doreen Lawrence] Back

5   Ev 101 [Police Action Lawyers Group], para 3; Ev 111 [Inquest], para 18 Back

6   Ev w10 [CAMPAIGN4JUSTICE]; Ev 112 [Inquest], para 29 Back

7   Ev w10 [CAMPAIGN4JUSTICE]; Ev 113 [Inquest], para 31; Ev w16 [Newham Monitoring Project], section 5 Back

8   Ev 112 [Inquest], para 29 Back

9   Ev 112 [Inquest], para 29 Back

10   Ev w51 [Anton Venter] Back

11   Ev 105 [Police Action Lawyers Group], para 39; Charles Kirk believed the Commission would "rubber stamp" the Police's version of events "without cursory inquiry or scepticism", Ev w24 [Charles C Kirk], para 11; Ev w13 [Netpol], para 8 Back

12   Ev w16 [Newham Monitoring Project], section 5 Back

13   Ev 95 [BMH UK], para 24 Back

14 ; Ev 111 [Inquest], para 19 Back

15   IPCC, Annual report and statement of accounts 2011/12, HC 292, July 2012

The terms of six operational Commissioners are coming to an end in 2012. The Commission has recently recruited five new Commissioners to replace those departing. In addition, the Home Office is undertaking a recruitment campaign to appoint both a new Commissioner for Wales and another Commissioner to reflect the increased workload of the Hillsborough investigation. Back

16   Q 268 Back

17   Ev 109 [Police Action Lawyers Group] Back

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Prepared 1 February 2013