Independent Police Complaints Commission - Home Affairs Committee Contents

6  Treating officers differently from the public

80.  The impression that the Commission tends to favour officers is amplified by practices which treat officers differently from other members of the public. In our interim report, Powers to investigate the Hillsborough disaster: interim Report on the Independent Police Complaints Commission, we noted that police officers are rarely interviewed under caution in circumstances in which an ordinary member of the public would be.[75] This risked losing important evidence and was of particular concern to the families of people who die in custody.

81.  When someone dies in custody, and in other serious cases where an officer may be implicated, a referral must be made to the IPCC for investigation. The Commission must assess at the outset whether officers "may have" committed criminal or misconduct offences. If so, the matter should be recorded as a "conduct" matter with special requirements and the investigator has the power to interview relevant officers under caution. If the case is not recorded as a "conduct" matter, the investigator will not have the power to interview those officers under caution.[76]

82.  An interview under caution provides safeguards for the officers concerned and ensures that any evidence obtained in that interview is admissible in any subsequent legal proceedings. The Police Action Lawyers Group and Inquest suggested that interviews that were not taken under caution might not be admissible in court in a case against the officers involved. The Group said that it had experience of cases where the threshold that officers "may have committed criminal and/or misconduct offences" had clearly been met—for example in restraint-related deaths—but the decision was not made to proceed with a conduct investigation under "special requirements". Often relevant officers were not interviewed at all, or interviews did not take place until an inquest, which could be many months after the event. This was a major issue of concern to the families of individuals who die in police custody. The Police Action Lawyers Group argued that

Families [...] feel that such a decision, which [...] means that investigators do not have the power to interview officers under caution, shows a lack of impartiality on behalf of the investigator, who will often be a former police officer.[77]

83.  The Police (Complaints and Conduct) Bill would introduce new powers to compel officers to attend an interview in cases being investigated directly by the Commission. However, as we noted in our interim report, this may not be an adequate substitute for an interview under caution and should not be allowed to exacerbate the Commission's tendency not to investigate serious cases as conduct matters with special requirements. Witnesses suggested that legislative reform may be required to ensure that officers are interviewed under caution in serious cases, except where it is "beyond reasonable doubt" that a misconduct or criminal offence has not been committed that officers should not be interviewed under caution.

84.  We also noted in our interim report that the Police (Complaints and Conduct) Bill did not solve the problem that retired officers involved in the Hillsborough disaster could not be obliged to attend an interview. One way to achieve the co-operation of retired officers would be to amend officers' contracts to include a clause that requires them to have a continuing duty, even after retirement, to assist in any police or IPCC or other investigation, since evidence of police misconduct can often surface years after a police officer has retired.[78]

85.  The issue of interviewing officers in cases involving death and serious injury is indicative of a culture of treating officers differently from members of the public. Where officers are not interviewed promptly under caution, this can lead to weaker evidence and loss of confidence in the process of investigating serious matters such as deaths in custody. The application of the threshold test for special requirements should be reviewed, so that officers are routinely interviewed under caution in the most serious cases, exactly as a member of the public would be.

86.  The Government should revise the legislative definition of the threshold. One option would be that death and serious injury cases should be treated as "conduct" matters with special requirements and officers interviewed under caution except where it is "beyond reasonable doubt" that a misconduct or criminal offence has not been committed.


87.  Several of the shortcomings of the Commission that we have explored so far were as much about public perception as they were about practice. These concerns could be allayed to some extent by an effective communication strategy. However, the Commission's outreach and engagement work with media, public and police has been a source of further criticism.

88.  StopWatch suggested that there was a need to raise awareness of the Commission's work by communicating some of the positive results. Prosecution outcomes, misconduct and recommendations could be more widely publicised in a format which was easy to understand and accessible.[79]

89.   Commission guidance provides that contact on the progress of an investigation should be made every 28 days. In 2008, the National Audit Office found that this was being done effectively.[80] However, families felt they were not kept up to date on the progress of investigations. Others were dissatisfied because the information given was inadequate. The Police Federation argued that officers under investigation were also given updates that were often uninformative.[81]

90.  The Federation also cited "ill-considered and provocative press releases", which it said were "often quite biased and prior to sufficient evidence being gathered" and believed that Commission communications ought to be more neutral in tone until a clear picture had emerged.[82]

91.  Inquest pointed to a pattern where partial and untested information about initial post mortem findings was reported by the media as fact. It believed that the Commission should ensure that any misinformation was corrected immediately.[83] It said that the cases of Mark Duggan, Ian Tomlinson and Jean Charles de Menezes had all been mismanaged.[84] In the Duggan case, the Commission issued a statement that said one of their staff members had "inadvertently" misled the media, but damage in terms of family and community confidence in the independence of the investigation had been done.[85] The Commission should ensure the accuracy of any statements released to the press and should also correct any misinformation in relation to an incident which has made its way into the public domain.[86]

92.  The Commission said that it would be producing a "suite of communications products" aimed at ensuring the changes to the complaints system and the revised statutory guidance were communicated to all relevant audiences, including potential complainants, in the most accessible and appropriate way. This would include a range of documents available in both hard copy and on the Commission's website explaining the various stages of the complaints process and signposting individuals to where they can get more information.[87]

93.  The adequacy of communications between the IPCC and the public can have serious implications. Some of the violence that raged across London in the summer riots of 2011 may have been avoided if anger had not been intensified by inaccurate statements made by the IPCC.

94.  Accurate and timely information is also vital in retaining confidence in the complaints process. The Commission should be required to set out a timetable for an investigation for complainants and to write to them to explain any deviation. If the Commission orders a police complaints department to reinvestigate, it should also set a timetable for that investigation and any deviation should be explained to both the complainant and the Commission. There should be sanctions if the process and timelines are not followed.

95.  The Commission should communicate positive outcomes through different channels, including social media. Prosecutions, misconduct findings and recommendations to forces must be more widely publicised in a way that openly demonstrates the scrutiny of the police.

75   Home Affairs Select Committee, Powers to investigate the Hillsborough disaster: interim Report on the Independent Police Complaints Commission, Tenth Report of Session 2012-13, HC 793, 10 December 2012 Back

76   Ev 102 [Police Action Lawyers Group], para 5 Back

77   Ev 127 [Bhatt Murphy Solicitors], para 5 Back

78   Ev w68 [Natasha Sivanandan] Back

79   Ev w20 [StopWatch], para 5 Back

80   National Audit Office, The IPCC, November 2008, para 26 Back

81   Ev 90 [PFEW] Back

82   Ev 90 [PFEW] Back

83   Ev 115 [Inquest], para 49 Back

84   Ev 115 [Inquest] Back

85   Ev 115 [Inquest], para 50 Back

86   Ev 109 [Police Action Lawyers Group], para 8 Back

87   Ev 81 [IPCC], para 13 Back

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Prepared 1 February 2013