Officers cleared after six-year IPCC probe

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Two Nottinghamshire police officers have spoken of their ordeal after being left in limbo for nearly six years during an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) criminal and misconduct investigation before finally being exonerated of both last month.

They spoke out after the police watchdog addressed Federation discipline leads at a recent national seminar, outlining the need for improved engagement moving forward as the organisation restructures itself to help improve service delivery and manage its expanding remit.

The male and female PCs revealed how their own drawn-out inquiry was finally thrown out after the IPCC ‘did not even bother’ to attend the misconduct hearing they themselves had ordered.

The misconduct panel was scathing in its verdict on the conduct of the IPCC whom it accused of ‘significant failings’ and ‘significantly departing from the regulatory framework.’

It went on to say: ‘the IPCC have accepted that their initial investigation was flawed’ and that ‘the IPCC explanation for subsequent delays is incomplete and inadequate’ before adding ‘it should not have taken nearly six years to resolve these issues.’ For all those reasons, it concluded ‘there cannot be a fair hearing of these proceedings.’

The panel found that even if they hadn't kicked the case out as an abuse of process, there was insufficient evidence to make a finding of gross misconduct against the two officers. The IPCC’s response to the panel over the abuse arguments levelled at it by the federation was also ‘wholly inadequate’. There was over a year between the final report being submitted and the officers being informed they would face a hearing with no explanation as to why.

Bizarrely, the IPCC failed to even turn up at the final hearing, despite allocating six people to attend an earlier one.

Although welcome, the panel’s ruling could not have come at more critical periods in both officers’ lives - just weeks after the birth of a first child, for one, and just days before the wedding of the other.

“I feel very aggrieved,” said the female officer. “I’ve had 17 years of exemplary service, working in a high-stress policing environment, going into conflict situations, dealing with murderers, rapists and protesters. I was a tutor constable for nine years and my disciplinary record is exceptional and yet my life has been on hold for the past six while I’ve been hostage to this investigation.

“Both myself and the other officer remained on ‘full’ duties and we were not abstracted from our main role while this investigation encompassed our lives. This is highly unusual in most investigations let alone gross misconduct.”

The officers’ nightmare began they were accused of using ‘disproportionate, unreasonable and/or unnecessary force’ against the same female detainee in two separate incidents in July 2011, which they denied. After she complained in October the same year, the IPCC launched an investigation, which they themselves quashed in 2013 before re-opening the whole enquiry again later that year.

The 38-year-old female PC said: “I complied with all the IPCC demands while the months turned into years. I spent 18 hours completing the paperwork they requested  on my anniversary, a few days before Christmas, using rest days and whatever time I had off. Then, nothing from them until an email at 5.30am on the morning of the hearing itself.”

Although “relieved” at the outcome, she added: “I would not wish this on anyone. In the run-up to my wedding, it was like an episode of Don’t Tell the Bride - my fiancé had to organise everything because my life was consumed by this investigation.

“The effect on the quality of mine and my husband’s private life has been devastating - I know I have been prevented from applying for a mortgage, upgrading my car and in general spending the money I have been earning on improving my circumstances for fear of being unemployed.

“I also completed my Sergeant’s exams while under investigation but have turned down the opportunities to act up and get a portfolio together to progress my career as I felt I could not cope and give my best due to the added stress and anxiety of the investigation.”

The male PC, now 31, also told how his son, now two months old, was born a few weeks before the panel ruling: “What should have been a time of unhindered joy was somehow tinged with this great cloud hanging over me. I was fearful that I might lose my job, and not be able to support my wife and my family.

“When this all started I was a 24 year-old, fresh out of training, which was hard to deal with. I even wondered whether I might go to prison. I had to put all my plans on hold - I wasn’t able to move anywhere, change roles, apply for another position under career progression or resign either.

“The way the IPCC has handled this is unacceptable - at one time my case was being dealt with by someone with no grasp of police work at all. If police officers did the same, we would rightly be investigated. Then to cap it all, they didn’t even turn up to the hearing - what a complete lack of respect to everybody involved.”

The officers’ lawyer, Mark Wardley, of Straw & Pearce solicitors, called the case the “worst example of IPCC failure” he had ever come across. He said: “These are two top grade officers who should never have been placed in this situation in the first place yet they were initially treated as witnesses and then became suspects. The IPCC were far too slow to deal with enquiries and used a raft of different investigators, who all reached separate conclusions. The whole thing was a mess.”

Difficulties with full disclosure of information and lack of communication were some of the key issues raised by Conduct and Performance Liaison Officers (CAPLOs) at the seminar.

Phill Matthews, conduct lead for the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “This case demonstrates the sorts of issues that, sadly, officers all over the country are facing.

“This was an abuse of process - the IPCC even tried to investigate the complaint under the wrong regulations, which the panel correctly ruled on. Unfortunately the whole, protracted experience has had a devastating effect on the officers, who have now been completely cleared.

“These types of failings must become history, and a fairer investigative process introduced when the IPCC restructures later this year.

“We have made some progress with the organisation in recent months and are starting to have a better dialogue with them at national level. But there is a long way to go, and we will be monitoring their progress at every step of the way. In the meantime we will continue to highlight cases of injustice and fight our members’ corner.”

The Federation asked the IPCC if they wished to comment and about their plans for using the learning from this result to improve decisions moving forward.

The IPCC claimed that the delays were partially caused by a Judicial Review process and re-starting their own investigations. IPCC Commissioner Derrick Campbell said: “Although there were some procedural delays over which we had no control, we recognise that our investigations took longer than we would have wished. We very much regret our part in the delay and the understandable frustration and concern that it has caused the complainant and the officers. That investigation concluded in September 2015. In March 2016 the CPS decided not to prosecute and following exchanges with the force, in October 2016 we directed Nottinghamshire Police to hold gross misconduct hearings for two officers.”

The hearing scheduled in February this year was adjourned by the panel after Nottinghamshire Police and the IPCC accepted it had proceeded under the wrong regulations.

The panel stayed the proceedings at the rescheduled hearing in May, deciding the officers could not receive a fair hearing because of delay. The IPCC was not required to attend that hearing,” he added.