Home AffairsWritten evidence submitted by Newham Monitoring Project [IPCC 10]

“ONE RULE FOR THEM, AND ANOTHER RULE FOR US”
SUBMISSION FROM A COMMUNITY-BASED PERSPECTIVE BY NEWHAM MONITORING PROJECT (NMP)

1. About Newham Monitoring Project

Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) is a grassroots community-based anti-racist organisation, founded in 1980 by local people to monitor both racist attacks and the response to them by statutory agencies, in order to effectively campaign around the resultant issues for justice and change. Our remit today encompasses work across six East London boroughs, strengthening communities to challenge racial discrimination and violence, police misconduct and civil injustice. We provide independent advice, support, advocacy and a 24-hour emergency helpline to people of Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic or Refugee backgrounds, supporting hundreds of people every year.

We also undertake community outreach and educational projects and campaign work around issues arising from our casework. NMP has worked alongside others in support of the Stephen Lawrence family and contributed to the many voices that called for replacement of the former Police Complaints Authority. In recent years, we have been involved in the public support and assistance of a number of well-known cases seeking to hold the police to account, including Mauro Demetrio, the families caught up on anti-terrorist raids in Forest Gate in 2006 and the relatives of Jean Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson and Mark Duggan. NMP has also supported the many families campaigning tirelessly for justice following a death in custody as part of the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC).

2. Foreword

One rule for them, another rule for us” is a phrase routinely used by our cases both before (referring to the police) and also during (referring to the police investigators) the process of making a police complaint. Our experience of working at a community level repeatedly demonstrates that the distinction between the police and those who hold them to account is viewed as imperceptible.

This submission focuses on the experience of the client group NMP predominantly serves—people from Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic or Refugee (BAMER) backgrounds—in relation to making complaints against the police. Using the evidence of our casework, we outline the difficulties and barriers faced by this group as a result of existing powers and processes and make recommendations for improvement. We also support a separate submission to this inquiry as part of the Network for Police Monitoring.

3. Explanatory Note

As an organisation working at a grassroots community level it is important to understand that the context of our client experience of the IPCC falls into two distinct categories:

(i)Police complaint cases where the IPCC acts as an appeal-body only.

(ii)Police complaint cases where the IPCC manages or supervises the investigation.

Both are addressed in this submission and we make it clear, where relevant, which group we are referring to. To understand why the experiences of these two groups (and concurrently NMP’s experience) may be different, we give a “typical picture” of the clients in these two categories below:

(i)Police complaint cases where the IPCC acts as an appeal-body only:

The complaint falls outside of the remit of those either managed or supervised by the IPCC and is therefore investigated by the Professional Services Department (PSD) also commonly known as (and referred to here as) the “DPS”.

The majority of the complainants are unable to access formal legal representation for their case, but lack the confidence or ability to make their complaint without support.

NMP therefore provides support and any representation (free of charge) and acts as the main contact for complaint correspondence.

The interaction these clients have with the IPCC is usually limited to the “appeals” stage, ie appealing an investigation outcome decision by the DPS, which, if successful, typically leads to an IPCC recommendation for the DPS to reinvestigate either the whole or aspects of the complaint.

(ii)Police complaint cases where the IPCC manages or supervises the investigation:

These cases typically relate to deaths involving police contact or in police custody, allegations of police racism or cases involving the use of police firearms or taser.

The majority of these complainants are able to access legal representation.

NMP’s role therefore involves supporting clients throughout the legal process. However, with the exception of circumstances where information provided by the IPCC to the client or lawyer is subject to confidentiality, we are usually aware of and follow the progress of the IPCC in investigating the complaint.

4. Executive SummaryKey Findings

This report responds to the scope of the inquiry:

The independence of the Commission;

The powers and responsibilities of the Commission; and

The effectiveness of Commission investigations.

Under the following terms of reference:

Whether the Commission has improved the scrutiny of police practices.

Whether the Commission has the right powers and resources to carry out its role effectively.

Whether investigations lead to improvements in police practices.

Our key findings are:

The creation of the IPCC has failed to impact at a grassroots level.

The IPCC has not resolved significant and obvious weaknesses in the process and procedure for making a complaint, resulting in a system that falls woefully short in its ability to be independent, accessible or effective, specifically:

The oversight of the police complaints system under the IPCC does not seem to have eradicated bias towards the police.

Complaints are often dismissed for being “out of time” despite mitigation being presented around the complainant’s mental health, awareness of how the complaint system operates or language-support needs, which are pertinent issues to BAMER communities in relation to police complaint matters.

The IPCC has failed to make an impact on apparent misuse of the local resolution system by the DPS.

The IPCC does not acknowledge poor handling of first stage complaints by the DPS allowing bad practice to continue.

The current police complaints system frequently disadvantages a layperson despite purportedly being accessible to them.

Deadlines in relation to complaints only apply to complainants, not to the IPCC (or DPS) putting the complainant at a disadvantage.

The protection that the IPCC should offer is inaccessible to those involved in an ongoing police investigation.

The IPCC needs to be able to compel officers to be interviewed as witnesses.

The IPCC has failed to make any detectable impact on poor or discriminatory practice relating to the use of stop and search powers.

5. How these Findings were Reached

1. In our experience the majority of complaints are undertaken by the DPS, not the IPCC, with the IPCC acting only as an appeal body. Frequently complaints are rejected outright by the DPS. The result is that the police are investigating themselves and this is reflected in the public perception reported to us that the police lack accountability.

2. The IPCC has not resolved significant and obvious weaknesses in the process and procedure for making a complaint, resulting in a system that falls woefully short in its ability to be independent, accessible or effective. Specifically, the oversight of police complaints system under the IPCC does not seem to have eradicated bias towards the police. The existence of the IPCC has done little to improve the process of everyday police complaints in terms of robust, impartial and independent handling of complaints or improved prospects of complaints being successfully upheld. When the IPCC become involved at the appeal body stage, their role as an effective review body or adjudicator has, in our experience, frequently already been undermined by the process that has gone before.

3. At the appeals stage the IPCC are presented with a minimum of three documents:

(i)the original complaint;

(ii)the initial investigation outcome response from the DPS; and

(iii)the complainant’s appeal in response to the DPS’ investigation outcome.

4. The “format” for the DPS response is often problematic: it first summarises the substantive of the complainant’s grievance from the DPS’ viewpoint and then responds with what investigations it has carried out and the decision it has made in relation to each complaint point.

5. The fact that the DPS is allowed to summarise or reinterpret the complaint (without consulting the complainant in the process) and then proceed directly to investigating it on these terms presents the first and major barrier to the process. In our experience, the DPS summary/interpretation is often inaccurate and frequently biased in favour of the police. Information that has often been painstakingly presented to the DPS, identifying the precise alleged breach of police regulations, is reorganised “selectively” (with some parts removed completely) and then responded to in a manner that is at best confusing and often lacks any evidence of a thorough investigation having been carried out.

6. This can be further compounded at the stage that the IPCC becomes involved either as an appeals body or when overseeing or carrying out aspects of the investigation of the complaint themselves. The number of former police officers working within the IPCC and doubts over the impartiality of the lawyers based within the IPCC are a source of severe tension at a community level. In our experience, the IPCC is not seen as an independent body.

7. Complaints are often dismissed for being out of time despite mitigation being presented around the complainant’s mental health, awareness of how the complaint system operates or language-support needs which are pertinent issues to BAMER communities in relation to police complaint matters. If a complaint is lodged against the police beyond a year after the incident giving rise to the complaint, the DPS seek to dismiss it instantly. Complainants can provide mitigation to the IPCC in these circumstances. However, informally the IPCC have advised us in the past that the only grounds they will consider are those of the severity of “sexual abuse against a child”.

8. For many complainants from BAMER backgrounds, including young people, making the decision to complain against police is a difficult one that they fear may lead to further reprisals. Added to this, the vast majority of people are not aware of how the process works or where to seek support hence a delay in submitting a complaint. In a high number of our cases, complainants have mental health issues that are often intertwined with the misconduct or targeting they feel they have experienced from the police and wish to complain about. Furthermore, many police complaints arise from a situation that the complainant feels has compounded their mental health issues (heightened anxiety, depression, paranoia).

9. The system takes no account of this, leaving us in the difficult position of having to inform people redress is unlikely to occur. Consequently, many people are forced to accept suspected wrongdoing leaving them with an overt sense of being excluded despite being the most vulnerable.

10. The IPCC has failed to impact on apparent misuse of the local resolution system by the DPS. In our experience, clients who meet with the DPS to discuss a complaint and have a statement taken are almost by default advised to take the path of local resolution which can only result in “words of advice” being given to an officer rather than any heavier sanction that could result from a full investigation.

11. The IPCC does not acknowledge poor handling of first stage complaints by the DPS allowing bad practice to continue. The current system appears to lack any mechanism to implement improvements or lessons learnt into the system. If an appeal is upheld by the IPCC, they simply refer it back to the DPS to reinvestigate—potentially to the same DPS investigator. The complainant has no assurance that any action will be taken to improve examples or patterns of poor investigation by the DPS. This does little to inspire confidence.

12. By way of example of the above, the following are instances of poor handling by the DPS which we have reported and that have received no scrutiny by the IPCC:

allowing irrelevant speculation on the victim’s character by police officers;

providing statements to the investigation to form part of the “evidence” to dismiss a complaint;

misinterpretation or lack of understanding of basic law;

failure to identify or interview witnesses or officers pinpointed by the complainant; and

no explanation of what attempts have been made to secure relevant evidence in a timely manner (when it has not been secured) and instead simply stating that it cannot be located or that an attempt has been made but has not been responded to.

13. The current police complaints system frequently disadvantages a layperson despite purportedly being accessible and accommodating to them. As outlined above, a complainant wishing to appeal to the IPCC is often presented with the onerous task of having to “unpick” the DPS investigation outcome, explaining how and why their complaint has been misinterpreted, challenging a lack of investigation, defending their character and arduously researching the law for themselves to explain how the DPS have misinterpreted it. The average layperson is at a disadvantage in this process because they are essentially “going up against” the work of a police investigator who has potentially greater experience of dealing with an evidence-based investigation within a legal framework.

14. Complainants often tell us that they feel the DPS have deliberately manipulated a complaint outcome into a confusing long-winded document leaving them with the impossible task of needing to appeal using detailed analysis which is far better suited to a trained eye.

15. Deadlines in relation to complaints only apply to complainants, not to the IPCC (or DPS) putting the complainant at a disadvantage. At the first stage of a complaint, the DPS rarely indicate how long it will take them to respond and are extremely reluctant to give updates on their investigation to reassure the complainant. This process can take many months. Where an update is given, it is often scant of detail and complainants have no avenue to direct any complaint over the length of this process.

16. When the Investigation Outcome is received from the DPS the complainant has to appeal within 28 days without exception. Once an appeal is submitted, an estimated timeframe that is very “generous” to the IPCC (several months), is given for response. Frequently this is not adhered to, with no explanation given—the onus is on the complainant to chase the IPCC. Effectively the complaint disappears into a system where the complainant has no control over the issue they raised and the IPCC appears to have no accountability for how it conducts its investigation.

17. If a complainant is unhappy about the length of time of the complaint process, there is no guidance on who to complain to or how. If the complainant is forced into the position of trying to complain, they are effectively complaining to the IPCC about the IPCC, having already predictably been through a process of complaining about the police to the police, giving rise to a sense of inequality.

18. Tight deadlines on one side whilst the other is given a prolonged and extendable period to respond tips the balance of favour away from the complainant who often has to submit their documents in a hurry.

19. If a complaint is wholly or partially successful, it is returned to the DPS to reinvestigate and the whole process starts all over again. Yet again the complainant can wait months for a DPS response and then if they wish to appeal, wait even longer for another appeal to occur. With the complaints process being so slow, it undermines both the chances of a fair outcome (as evidence is harder to secure over time) and potential benefits of lessons learnt or changes in practice that could result from an upheld police complaint.

20. The protection that the IPCC should offer is inaccessible to those involved in an ongoing police investigation. We receive a high volume of complaints at a community level from people unhappy with how the police are handling an investigation—either where they are a victim of crime, where they are being investigated themselves for a crime or in many cases where their complaint relates to the police’ failure to identify them as the victim, which is common in racial harassment cases. In this situation there seems little advantage in making a complaint as it will be dealt with so slowly. Potential complainants fear that making a complaint will result in victimisation, damage their case or have a negative impact on the ongoing criminal investigation process against them.

21. For example, a black client of NMP was unhappy at being investigated in a situation where they contended they had been the victim of an assault by another black person. They reported to us that police attending the scene of the assault had treated them in a racially discriminatory manner saying words to the effect of “You lot are all the same, always fighting amongst yourselves, you need to shake hands and sort it out”. This “advice” had been given to our client in the back of an ambulance during treatment for serious facial injuries.

The police had then left and as the situation had not been dealt with appropriately the two parties had ended up crossing paths again later, resulting in the police being called and a subsequent investigation into our client. Due to the need to liaise with the police over the ongoing investigation and to make representations that the client was in fact a victim of crime, the client felt they had no choice but to let the initial matter drop for fear of antagonising the police and jeopardising her position. The matter was of course raised in dialogue with the police, when advocating for an improved ongoing investigation, but no redress was offered.

22. The IPCC needs to be able to compel officers to be interviewed as witnesses. The need for this has recently been highlighted by the death of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, where the 31 officers present have not been interviewed.

We have come across similar issues in other cases and note that there appears to be a secondary practice where officers who are called to interview appear to use delaying tactics to allow the six-month mark to pass meaning they cannot be prosecuted for assault. The message this sends out to the public is that police officers are evading scrutiny over serious matters of public concern.

23. The IPCC has failed to make any detectable impact on poor or discriminatory practice relating to the use of stop and search powers. The feedback we receive at a community level is that the existence of the IPCC is not seen as a deterrent to discriminatory or poorly carried out stops. The IPCC identifies stop and search as one of its target areas, yet appears to have implemented no changes to address barriers faced by young people or people from BAMER backgrounds in relation to making complaints. Complaint rates around stop and search remain low.

24. In 2004, The 1990 Trust published “Stop & Search: The views and experiences of Black communities on complaining to the police—A study conducted for the Metropolitan Police Authority”. The report made a series of recommendations around improving the complaint process, including:

“Recommendation 7: It is recommended that the newly established Independent Police Complaints Commission develop specific information that clarifies:

(i)How to make a complaint regarding Stop and Search,

(ii)What the procedure will be, and

(iii)Possible outcomes.

This must be further supported by greater transparency in the investigation of complaints. Complainants should be kept regularly informed of the progress of investigations and the outcome of all criminal, disciplinary and administrative investigations into alleged violations.”

25. In 2012, the IPCC website contains no specific guidance on making complaints about Stop and Search, maintaining the same lengthy and arduous complaints process for complaints of this nature as for others. In an area of policing as contentious as this, with complainants having an increased likelihood to be vulnerable minors or from marginalised backgrounds facing discrimination, it is unfathomable how an independent body could have overlooked implementing any new measures in eight years.

6. Recommendations

1. In our view the current system needs radical restructuring longer term. The public is unlikely to have confidence in any complaints system that places so much emphasis on internal investigation by police officers. For confidence to increase there needs to be a body which is demonstrably independent from any police force, and which has sufficient powers, resources and will to robustly investigate police misconduct.

2. There is a need to establish a faster and fairer process for all police complaints. A single point of contact should be established and a transparent, easily understood structure for the resolution including clearer deadlines for response and avenues for information and redress when responses are late. All complainants should have the right to know that their complaint will be taken seriously and properly investigated, and there should be absolute clarity in procedure.

3. In the short term, there is a need for an urgent review of the practice of allowing the DPS to restructure a complaint without consulting a complainant and then proceeding straight to investigation, Instead, the resultant and commonplace pressure on a complainant to comprehensively complain about the police, the terms of the investigation, the process of investigation and investigation outcome should be alleviated.

4. Under the current system, the IPCC needs to develop a transparent process of sanction and accountability alongside a clearer “lessons learnt” approach to flaws in the manner the DPS carry out investigations.

5. There should be greater mitigation around late submissions of complaints, where the complainant has experienced barriers to access due to vulnerability or disadvantage, such as mental health issues or not having English as a first language. There is a need to take into account the broader interests of justice with the recognition that the exclusion of such cases may be contribute to abuses of power against a subsection of society falling under the radar.

6. The use of informal or local resolution systems should be independently monitored to ensure that they are not used inappropriately in relation to conduct that would justify criminal or disciplinary proceedings.

7. There is an urgent need to develop a clear and independently supervised system to address complaints about ongoing investigation cases.

8. The IPCC need to be granted powers to compel officers to provide witness statements.

9. A specific approach tackling the difficulties of complaining about Stop and Search needs to be developed to encourage greater reporting, through consultation with young people and community organisations. All complaints regarding stop and search should be directly referred to the IPCC given the importance of this issue and the need to promote greater accountability. A specific section on the IPCC website needs to reflect this area of work.

Newham Monitoring Project

June 2012

Prepared 1st February 2013