It’s a question I’ve posed before, but I’ve just read a book, The Crocodile Court, which is basically about a West Midlands Police Sergeant who falls foul of the discipline system and what happens after that. I’ll not spoil it too much in case you want to read it.
Let’s be honest, Professional Standards, or whatever you want to call them, have never been popular in any of their incarnations, but they are a necessary evil.
My point is this, (and once again my experience is restricted to the Met so if any of you ‘Crunchers’ want to tell me how it is in your Force I’d be pleased to hear it), in the good old days, at least up to the beginning of the 2000s, in my opinion and experience, Professional Standards were at least reasonably fair and I’ve known several Complaints Officers who would look hard for an informal resolution rather than go the whole hog.
In Complaints and Discipline, as in Policing in general, it is important to be able prove or disprove any allegation. No Man’s Land is a result that doesn’t really satisfy anybody.
There are those out there who won’t like this but it is a fact that spurious and vexatious allegations ARE made for a variety of reasons.
If, for example, an allegation of assault or incivility is made against an officer or group of officers and that/those officer(s) vehemently deny the allegation, it is possible that it’s a false allegation. If it is possible to prove or demonstrate that the allegation is, or is likely to be, false, then why should we not do it?
In the early 90s I was asked by our Complaints Unit to do a Timeline for an allegation of assault made by a group of people against a DC and a DI. So I read all of the ‘witness’ statements and produced a Timeline that completely covered a very large table, and when I presented my Timeline to the Complaints Unit they had no alternative but to concede that whether these officers had or hadn’t assaulted anybody, the evidence of the ‘witnesses’ could not be relied upon because they clearly weren’t all where they claimed to be in their statements, and could not possibly have seen what they claimed to have seen. Result – Complaint Discontinued due to lack of evidence.
Fast Forward to 2015 and what do we have now?
Professional Standards Departments who seem to be hell-bent on prosecuting or disciplining officers at the drop of a hat. It seems to me (my opinion only) that they’re not too interested in finding any evidence which would assist the accused or undermine their own case, or maybe even, just establishing the TRUTH.
When it comes to Crime (and allegations of assault etc against Police Officers are exactly that) the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 tells us exactly what our roles and responsibilities re Disclosure are,
The Code of Practice requires the police to record and retain material obtained in a criminal investigation which may be relevant to the investigation. In particular:
all police officers have a responsibility to record and retain relevant material obtained or generated by them during the course of the investigation. Material may be photographed, video-recorded, captured digitally or otherwise retained in the form of a copy rather than the original, if the original is perishable, or the retention of a copy rather than the original is reasonable in all the circumstances
- the officer in charge of the investigation has special responsibility to ensure that the duties under the Code of Practice are carried out by all those involved in the investigation, and for ensuring that all reasonable lines of enquiry are pursued, irrespective of whether the resultant evidence is more likely to assist the prosecution or the accused
- the Code of Practice creates the roles of disclosure officer and deputy disclosure officer, with specific responsibilities for examining material, revealing it to the prosecutor, disclosing it to the accused where appropriate, and certifying to the prosecutor that action has been taken in accordance with the Code of Practice.
- the disclosure officer is required to create schedules of relevant unused material retained during an investigation and submit them to the prosecutor together with certain categories of material
- non-sensitive material should be described on form MG6C and sensitive material should be described on form MG6D.
Most of the ‘Time Bombs’ sit within the Unused Material, i.e. material that the Police possess that they do not seek to use during their proceedings. The most obvious, and recent example might be tha case of the TSG 6 where hours of CCTV were not disclosed to the Defence, CCTV evidence which ultimately helped clear those officers of any wrongdoing.
Their Judgeships feel so strongly about it they have issued a Judicial protocol explicitly for Unused Material.
“Disclosure remains one of the most important – as well as one of the most misunderstood and abused – of the procedures relating to criminal trials. Lord Justice Gross’ review has re-emphasised the need for all those involved to understand the statutory requirements and to undertake their roles with rigour, in a timely manner.”
Even the Attorney General’s Guidelines bangs on about it “The amendments in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 abolished the concept of “primary” and “secondary” disclosure, and introduced an amalgamated test for disclosure of material that “might reasonably be considered capable of undermining the prosecution case or assisting the case for accused“.”.
You can’t just ignore evidence you don’t like.
So what the hell is going on? I have heard way too many instances in the past year or so where Professional Standards Officers stand accused of playing fast and loose with the requirements of Disclosure and Unused Material. Why?
I have, occasionally, been described as an Organisational Terrorist (thank you for that SIB), god knows why, maybe it’s to do with the number of times I challenge the establishment and try to tease the truth out. Now, I’m more in danger of being described as a Conspiracy Theorist.
It can be no coincidence surely that in the last decade or so, the number of occasions where we have heard about alleged abuse of process by Professional Standards offices has increased alarmingly?
Is this mass incompetence?
Is this a positive act to try and reduce the number of serving police officers cheaply?
Is this a vendetta against certain officers.
Is it lack of appropriate training (although I’d be horrified if it was)?
Have ACPO (or whatever they’re called today) had a National Meeting and decided upon a protocol to keep the plebs in their place?
Whatever the answer is, I find it absolutely frightening that this is not just one Force doing things somewhat differently to the others. This is a Method.
I’m not going to rake them all up again, but in the last year or so we have heard several instances whereby Professional Standards appear to be operating to a different set of rules to everybody else, and if you read The Crocodile Court you’ll be familiar with one more, and the terrible consequences of incompetence.
I’m absolutely certain that if asked we could all name one, if not two or more, cases of DPS/PSD abusing the system and bullying the officer into submission, whatever the reason for that behaviour might be.
So what exactly HAS happened to Professional Standards?
Why has it happened?
Is it just in London or does it happen elsewhere (I know the answer to that one).
Any examples gratefully received.