Independent Police Complaints Commission - Home Affairs Committee Contents

4  Refocusing the Commission's work

36.  The IPCC's resources are prioritised between different kinds of cases and, at the moment, the Commission devotes more attention to issues that impact on people's lives directly than to counter-corruption activity.

Corruption in the police

37.  However, given current concerns about corruption in the police force, it is worrying that the Commission's capacity to deal with cases involving "fitting people up", "withholding evidence" and "covering up" is limited.[35]

38.  Irregularity in relation to evidence and perjury are the most prevalent form of corruption allegation recorded by the police, with 3,758 allegations between 2008 and 2011. In its second report on Corruption in the police service in England and Wales, the IPCC noted that it would require a significant transfer of resources and powers to the IPCC if it were to assume a much more prominent role, particularly in cases that require covert operations. The Commission referred officers to the Crown Prosecution Service in 45% of the cases independently investigated or managed between 2008 and 2011, suggesting that where the Commission has been involved, it has regularly found a case to be answered where corruption allegations have been made. However, the IPCC only independently investigated 3% of corruption cases and managed 12%.[36]


39.  Following the altercation between Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP and police officers on 19 September 2012, we were concerned that the IPCC opted to supervise the investigation into the circumstances surrounding a police officer's claims to have witnessed the incident in Downing Street, rather than to mount an independent investigation. The Metropolitan Police is carrying out the investigation—Operation Alice—with the lightest of supervision from the Commission. The allegation that a serving police officer may have fabricated an account and concealed that he was an officer is an extremely serious matter and raises broad questions about the integrity and honesty of some officers. When we took evidence on this matter from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, we asked him why the investigation had not been passed on to the Commission for independent investigation. He responded that "we did try. We did ask them; of course, they concluded they either could not or would not".[37]

40.  We also wrote to Sir Jeremy Heywood who claimed that his role had been heavily circumscribed. However, investigations may have proceeded more expeditiously either had the Metropolitan Police been more forthcoming with certain details (such as Mr Mitchell's request to see the police log book) or if Sir Jeremy had shared with the police the e-mail purporting to be from a member of the public and other issues arising from his investigation. A simple sharing of information could have helped to alleviate whatever problems had been caused, in this as in many other, lower-profile cases.

41.  This case raises fundamental questions about police integrity. We will return to the implications of the September 2012 episode following the conclusions of Operation Alice, when we will be taking evidence from Deputy Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan. This will form part of our investigations into leadership and standards in the police. DAC Gallan wrote to us on 11 January to update us on the progress of the investigation, telling us that that the Metropolitan Police had so far spent £82,500 to staff an investigation into events that lasted less than 60 seconds.[38]

42.  Public confidence in the police has been shaken: Operation Yewtree, Operation Alice, the Hillsborough Inquiry, Operation Elveden and Operation Pallial all cast doubt on police integrity and competence. It is in these circumstances that the public ought to be able to turn to the IPCC to investigate and we believe that the Commission ought to have a more prominent role in each of these operations.

43.  Some kinds of complaint are simply not appropriate for Police Complaints Departments to investigate themselves. Cases involving serious corruption, such as tampering with evidence, should be automatically referred to the IPCC for independent investigation. The Government has committed itself to provide more resources for the IPCC to investigate the Hillsborough disaster. Once that investigation is complete, that funding should be maintained and dedicated to anti-corruption cases.

44.  Allegations following the altercation between Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP and police officers raise fundamental questions about police honesty and integrity. The alleged unauthorised disclosure of information to the press on the night of 19 September 2012 and the alleged fabrication of an eye-witness account on Thursday 20 September 2012 are extremely serious; if officers could do this in a case involving the protection of the Prime Minister's own home, it raises the question how often might this be happening outside the gaze of the national media. As Mr Mitchell said, "if this can happen to a senior government minister, then what chance would a youth in Brixton or Handsworth have?".

45.  We support the Commissioner's "relentless pursuit of the truth" in this matter and believe that the West Midlands Police Federation were wrong in calling for the resignation of a cabinet minister. However, it was clearly hasty of the Commissioner to tell the media that he was 100% behind his officers and to say to Rt Hon David Davis MP that the investigation had been closed when it had not been investigated with any rigour.

46.  We note the Commissioner's intention to ask another force to independently review the investigations underway in Operation Alice—while this is a welcome safeguard, it is no substitute for independent investigation by the IPCC. The IPCC should investigate this case independently and the Government should additional provide funds, if necessary, as it has for Hillsborough.


47.  There are several avenues for redirecting Commission resources to better uses. When a referral or complaint is received, a commission casework officer makes a "mode of investigation" decision, with the power to investigate cases independently, manage or supervise an investigation by the force concerned, or decide that cases can be investigated locally by the police without oversight. The Police Superintendents' Association did not believe that the provision for supervised investigations added value. In supervised investigations, the Commission sets the terms of reference but the investigation is conducted by the police and the complainant has a right of appeal to the IPCC against the findings. The Association believed that this could be confusing to complainants who were told that the investigation was being "supervised" by the Commission and yet in reality there was no active supervision of the case.[39]

48.  We heard from two expert mediators, who suggested that substantial cost-savings could be achieved at the same time as increasing public satisfaction by applying mediation and restorative justice techniques to certain kinds of police complaints. Lawrence Kershen QC described how mediation was "faster than most investigative processes. It is certainly cheaper" and said that "it [...] has the potential to build a relationship; and the outcomes that are possible through the mediation process are far richer than that which might be possible through an adjudicative process".[40] He cited work that was taking place at Thames Valley Police, where mediation was being used to deal with certain complaints.[41] Anthony Glaister argued that in typical complaints procedures "the panoply of the process [...] takes over the complaint" and that mediation could offer a much more direct and satisfying route.

49.  Mediation and restorative justice present rich avenues for improving the handling of police complaints. The Commission should set out best practice protocols for their use in appropriate cases and the use of informal or local resolution systems should be independently monitored to ensure that it is not used inappropriately in relation to conduct that would justify criminal or disciplinary proceedings.

Appeals upheld: the frontline is failing

50.  The most serious call on Commission resources that could be cut back was the number of appeals from individual police forces.

51.  To ensure that these cases do not undermine confidence in the police and ensure that malpractice is rooted out, a well-functioning police complaints system is essential. However, the frontline of the police complaints system is not working effectively. In the past year, the number of appeals to the Commission about police forces' handling of complaints has grown and the proportion of appeals upheld has increased significantly. During 2011-12, 31% of appeals into investigations conducted by police forces were upheld and 61% of appeals into a police force's decision not to formally record a complaint were also upheld: in other words, the police do not appear to be very good at investigating themselves.[42]

52.  Dame Anne Owers believed that "what we need to do is have more resources to dig into what is going on at the front end of the system, as well as to be able to deal with the very serious cases and the appeals at the back end of the system".[43] She said that she "would want to see a decrease in the number of appeals coming to us, which represented good work earlier on".[44]

53.  There is clear evidence that cases are often handled poorly. Last year, the Commission upheld 60% of appeals made against forces' decisions not to record complaints for investigation and it upheld over 30% of complaints into local investigations and the outcomes of local investigations.[45] Errors in the decision about whether to record a complaint are particularly deleterious, as they give the complainant the impression from the outset that a case is not being taken seriously, or even that the force is trying to cover up misconduct.

54.  We heard that many officers were also unhappy with the way that complaints were dealt with at the level of the Professional Standards Department (PSD) within a police force. The Police Federation of England and Wales said that the IPCC did not intervene in cases in which PSDs had "allegedly conducted a poor, biased or even corrupt investigation". It believed that the Commission should investigate such allegations, as the perception among officers was that PSDs were "a law unto themselves, without the independent scrutiny afforded to all other officers".[46]

55.  The Commission has a duty to improve public confidence and oversee the performance of the complaints system—its "guardianship" role. The Commission told us that it carried out its guardianship role in relation to "priority areas" to seek to ensure that improvements are delivered across the system.[47] The IPCC's current priority areas are deaths and serious injury involving the police, serious police corruption, police use of stop and search powers and other issues affecting young people's confidence in the police and policing of protests and public order incidents. In 2011, the Commission launched the Right First Time campaign, designed to improve the way forces handle complaints.[48]

56.  The IPCC is now publishing complaints data about individual forces which reveals significant variation both in the number of complaints made and in the number of appeals directed to the IPCC that are upheld. In Dyfed Powys just 15% of appeals to the IPCC were upheld last year, but in North Wales and Northumbria over 50% of appeals to the IPCC were upheld.

57.  We note the Commission's clear analysis of individual forces' complaints statistics and its endorsement of 38% of the appeals it received—a welcome indication that the Commission is willing to call forces to account in many cases.[49]


58.  The following table shows the number of appeals completed by the IPCC into each force, the number that were upheld and, in the third column, the percentage of cases that were upheld. In Northumbria and North Wales, the IPCC decided that the police force had made the wrong initial decision in over half of all cases. Again, Warwickshire showed the best record—the IPCC upheld 15% of cases, the same percentage as it upheld in Dyfed Powys.
Police force Total appeals completed Total appeals upheld Percentage upheld
Northumbria 146 7853
North Wales 73 3852
Greater Manchester 15776 48
Devon and Cornwall 13765 47
Merseyside 139 6647
Lancashire 158 7246
Northamptonshire 59 2746
Suffolk 46 2146
Cleveland 49 2245
Cumbria 29 1345
South Wales 86 3945
Nottinghamshire 65 2843
Bedfordshire 67 2842
Dorset 43 1842
West Midlands 285 11942
West Yorkshire 227 9542
Avon and Somerset108 4441
Lincolnshire 54 2241
Staffordshire 54 2241
Surrey 67 2740
Durham56 2239
Kent 108 4239
Metropolitan1,149 42037
Derbyshire69 2435
Gloucestershire54 1935
Thames Valley 158 5535
Norfolk60 2033
Hertfordshire62 2032
South Yorkshire 65 2132
British Transport Police 7122 31
Sussex 105 3331
Wiltshire 55 1731
Cheshire 54 1630
City of London20 630
Humberside 66 2030
West Mercia 161 4830
Essex 154 4429
Hampshire 113 3329
Gwent 45 1227
Cambridgeshire 61 1626
Leicestershire 74 1622
North Yorkshire 43 921
Dyfed Powys40 615
Warwickshire 34 515
Total4,926 1,86638

59.  Nick Hardwick, who was the first Chair of the IPCC from 2002 to 2010, said he hoped that Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) would look at that data and hold Chief Constables to account for the number of complaints, the number of overturned recording decisions and the number of appeals upheld.[50] The IPCC could play an important role in helping PCCs to interpret its statistics and develop actions for improvement.

60.  The root of the problem is that the front line of the police complaints system is not working. It is unacceptable that Police Standards Departments had made the wrong decision in 38% of appeals. The number of appeal upheld varies wildly from force to force, as does the proportion of appeals upheld by the IPCC and Police and Crime Commissioners must take decisive action where a force is shown to be failing. The Commission's robust handling of appeals is welcome, but it is costly. Far more effort should be made to ensure that correct decisions are made in the first instance at the level of individual forces. We have written to each chief constable to ask for the staff complement and budget of their Professional Standards Departments.

61.  Where a threshold of 25% of appeals are upheld, the Commission must demand a written explanation from Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners, which should be followed by a six month probation period. After that time, if the proportion of appeals upheld is not reduced below the threshold, a "complaints competency investigation" must be held into the reasons for the inaccuracy of decisions made at the local level. This should involve a joint report by the IPCC, HMIC and the local Police and Crime Commissioner, which would lead to proposals that would be binding on Chief Constables. If applied now, these measures would affect all but four forces.

Learning the lessons: giving the IPCC authority

62.  The IPCC's prioritised could be refocused on the most serious cases if its day-to-day work genuinely led to improvements in policing practices. This is also vital for ensuring public confidence.

63.  However, we received evidence that the IPCC's investigations do not always result in improvements in police practice. As Natasha Sivanandan put it, "the failure to learn lessons from previous incidents leads many members of the public to feel a lack of confidence in the IPCC and the police: why are the lessons of earlier police shootings not learnt and new guidelines and laws not developed?".[51] The National Police Improvement Agency said that the Commission could improve policing practice by analysing common contributory factors to adverse police events, to highlight national priorities for improvement.[52]

64.  The Commission had been involved in the scrutiny of key policing areas such as custody detention, police use of firearms, command and control and the response to issues concerning vulnerable people.[53] The Commission produced a series of bulletins called Learning the Lessons (now at edition 16) to ensure that lessons learnt in one police force area were shared with other forces.[54] The Police Federation agreed that the Learning the Lessons programme had been successful, in particular in the area of custody.[55] Recent editions included advice on dealing with people who are drunk and incapable, recognising when a person needs medical attention, protocols with the health and ambulance services". However, the advice was not reaching all police officers.[56]

65.  Moreover, the decision whether to implement Commission recommendations remains that of the respective force—there was no mechanism to ensure recommendations were enforced. A statutory framework in which Commission's recommendations require a published response by the responsible authority within a specific period of time could help to reinforce public confidence, particularly following high profile cases of public concern. It could also allow the new Police and Crime Commissioners to follow up on the issues raised.[57] The Commission said that the public did not understand why it could not "make the police take action".[58]

66.  The Commission reports on the outcome of investigations and makes local and national recommendations to help to ensure that the same thing does not go wrong again. The Commission also publishes investigation reports, research studies and complaint statistics on its website.[59] At the moment, however, IPCC recommendations are merely advisory. The frustration at the system felt by some witnesses was apparent. One witness said:

Each time, following an appeal, the complaint was sent back to the West Midlands Police. This beggars belief in this case. The IPCC advise the Force have a legal duty to comply with their directions and Statutory guidelines, but there appears to be absolutely no enforcement, or enforcement mechanism. It is clear in my case that the Force knows this and is exploiting the system.[60]

67.  The Police Superintendents' Association believed that the Commission's ability to make recommendations should be enhanced with a power similar to the Rule 43 power available to coroners, which provides coroners with the power to make reports to a person or organisation where the coroner believes that action should be taken to prevent future deaths.[61] Such a power could apply to police-wide practices or to particular forces.

68.  In one case, the Commission "requested" that the Metropolitan Police Service reconsider a request for personal data to be expunged and "informed" the service that a copy of a compulsory form "should" be provided.[62] This kind of light-touch recommendation is a long way from the kind of clear instructions for improvements that Dame Anne Owers said: "there should be a requirement formally to respond with an action plan".[63] She suggested that Police and Crime Commissioners could contribute by ensuring that the Commission's work led to improvement across the service:

we need to work on [...]mechanisms to check whether what we have done has made a difference [...]Police and Crime Commissioners do form a place where I would envisage discussions going on between Commissioners, heads of casework and themselves about what is happening and if it is not happening why isn't it happening?[64]

69.  It is a basic failing in the system that there is no requirement for forces to respond to recommendations from the IPCC, still less to implement them. We recommend that the Commission be given a statutory power to require a force to respond to its findings. In the most serious cases, the Commission should instigate a "year on review" to ensure that its recommendations have been properly carried out. Any failure to do so would result in an investigation by HMIC and the local Police and Crime Commissioner, as a professional conduct matter relating to the Chief Constable.

35   IPCC, Corruption in the police service in England and Wales, May 2012 Back

36   IPCC, Corruption in the police service in England and Wales: second report, May 2012 Back

37   Oral evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 8 January 2013, HC 617-ii, Q 154 Back

38   Ev w75 [DAC Patricia Gallan] Back

39   Ev 78 [PSAEW], para 9.4 Back

40   Q 408 [Lawrence Kershen QC] Back

41   Q 414 [Lawrence Kershen QC] Back

42   IPCC, Police complaints: statistics for England and Wales 2011/12, p 1-2 Back

43   Q 51 [Dame Anne Owers] Back

44   Q 90 [Dame Anne Owers] Back

45   Q 51 [Dame Anne Owers] Back

46   Ev 91 [PFEW] Back

47   Ev 80 [IPCC], para 6 Back

48   Ev 82 [IPCC], para 19 Back

49   IPCC, Police complaints: statistics for England and Wales 2011/12 Back

50   Q 274 Back

51   Ev w72 [Natasha Sivanandan], para 30 Back

52   Ev w53 [NPIA], para 11 Back

53   Ev 75 [PSAEW], para 2.2 Back

54   Ev 75 [PSAEW], para 2.3 Back

55   Ev 91 [PFEW] Back

56   Ev 117 [Inquest], para 66 Back

57   Ev 88 [IPCC], para 74 Back

58   IPCC, Corruption in the Police Service in England and Wales, Report 2, 24 May 2012; Ev w22 [StopWatch], para 15; Ev 116 [Inquest], para 64; Ev 75 [PSAEW], para 1.5 Back

59   Ev 73 [Home Office], para 16 Back

60   Ev w42 [Donna M Gardner], paras 77-79 Back

61   Ev 75 [PSAEW], para 2.4; this refers to Rule 43 of the Coroners Rules 1984; Back

62   Ev w44 [David Mery], para 14 Back

63   Q 89 [Dame Anne Owers] Back

64   Q 74 [Dame Anne Owers] Back

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Prepared 1 February 2013