Any complaints? Why the IPCC is failing us all
Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor at Donoghue Solicitors, specializing in actions against the police compensation claims
The IPCC has recently published its police complaint statistics for 2009/2010.
Since the IPCC’s formation in 2004, every police force in the UK has recorded a rise in the number of complaints made against it. The largest increase was recorded in Northamptonshire, a staggering 425% rise in 6 years. The average increase was 113%. The IPCC’s interim Chair Len Jackson thinks that this universal increase in complaints is a credit to the IPCC themselves, saying that ‘improved confidence and access has encouraged those who previously were not inclined to complain that making a complaint is worthwhile.’ While this may be so, as an actions against the police solicitor, a more telling statistic is the fact that only 10% of these cases proved ‘misconduct’ on the part of the officers concerned.
So while (in Len Jackson’s opinion), it may have never been easier to make a complaint, it is extremely hard to prove misconduct against the police within the complaints process, as two recent cases prove.
The anti-war protester
Audrey White was a prominent anti-war protester, and a founding member of the Merseyside branch of the Stop the War Coalition. During a peaceful protest at the Labour Party Conference in 2008, Greater Manchester Police officers forcibly removed a Gordon Brown facemask she was wearing, injuring her in the process. Mrs. White’s complaint to GMP fell on deaf ears. The police denied it saying that their actions were ‘reasonable, necessary and proportionate’.
Two years and significant legal costs later they formally apologized and paid her significant compensation.
The concerned partner
51 year old Karim Allison tried to intervene when his partner was being booked for a minor traffic offence. The police officer involved took exception to Mr. Allison’s attempted involvement and produced evidence which was used to obtain a criminal prosecution against him. After a jury trial it was found that, on the balance of probabilities, Mr. Allison’s convictions were obtained using fabricated evidence.
Again, Mr. Allison’s complaints to Cleveland Police and appeal to the IPCC fell on deaf ears.
Three years later after the initial incident Mr. Allison obtained substantial compensation and the apology he ought to have received at the outset.
Prof. Aaron Levenstein once said, ‘statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.’
The IPCC’s press release reports that nearly 50% of complaints relate to incivility or neglecting duties. This neatly side-steps the fact that the majority of complaints relate to other, more important, things: assaults; malicious prosecution; discrimination; and harassment, telling examples of which are described in the above cases. It strikes me that the IPCC’s slant on the statistics produced benefit no one, especially themselves as an independent body. The police’s failure to apologise is usually vindicated by the IPCC (less than a third of all appeals to the IPCC are upheld). For the public, this leads to the perception that the police can aggressively deny complaints as more often than not they will be supported by their regulator.
Contrary to the IPCC’s press release spin, the above cases are not unusual in my experience. Granted I deal with a great many complaints and claims against the police. My services have never been more in demand. However, clients often come to me after the police have already rejected their complaints or unsuccessfully used the simplified local investigations process. By that point the police have usually already lost whatever goodwill they may have had.
The police, and the IPCC, should be more willing to accept responsibility for failures at the outset. As legal costs are not paid for dealing with complaints, I have no doubt that a great many people would happily accept a heartfelt apology early on, along with a promise to learn from mistakes. This would save time, money and for the innocent victims of police misconduct, a great deal of unnecessary stress. In these straightened times, isn’t that what the IPCC and police should work to achieve?