POLICE forces often fail to take further action against officers and staff subject of complaints because the independent police watchdog “often inexplicably pursues vexatious allegations”, it has been claimed.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has rejected the claims, made by Ché Donald, the vice chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales.
A new investigation, led by the BBC Shared Data Unit into the efficiency of the police complaints system, found there were often cases when police forces took no further action against officers or staff – despite the watchdog’s recommendations.
The IOPC has carried out 1,895 investigations into police cases since it was formed in 2018 to replace the old IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission).
Of those investigations, the results of 881 have been published, and in total there were 181 cases where the IOPC felt a reasonable tribunal could find misconduct in respect of the individuals involved, including 11 in Wales involving 19 officers or other police staff.
Use the tool below to search for misconduct hearing outcomes for police forces in Wales and England:
The IOPC cannot punish officers directly – it can only recommend police forces launch their own tribunals, at which officers and other staff can be penalised and dismissed if their misconduct is proved.
This was the case in 2018 when the watchdog recommended a case for misconduct after an arrested man, while in custody in Ystrad Mynach, took drugs and medication he had hidden on his person.
Gwent Police agreed with the recommendation and took what was termed as “management action” against one of the officers involved in the incident.
Often, however, forces’ misconduct panels in Wales and England have taken no further action against officers (43 per cent) and staff (34 per cent), most commonly because they decided no misconduct had taken place.
This includes a 2018 investigation into North Wales Police conduct, after a woman was murdered by her former partner in July 2016.
The IOPC investigated previous police reports made by the victim and recommended that three officers should face misconduct proceedings. The force agreed, but those officers were later cleared at disciplinary hearings.
In other cases, misconduct panels have taken no further action because officers or staff had already left the police force. This was the case during a 2018 IOPC investigation into how South Wales Police handled reports of threats made in August 2016, in an incident that ended in a fatal road collision.
The watchdog found a 999 operator had shown “dismissiveness in dealing with the callers”, but, because that member of staff subsequently left the force, no disciplinary proceedings could take place.
Questions have been asked about whether the IOPC has fulfilled its objective to speed up investigations, make them more independent, and improve justice. Last year, a committee of MPs launched a new inquiry into the effectiveness of the watchdog.
Mr Donald said he hoped the MPs’ findings would “establish a fairer system for all”.
“For years we have been concerned over the time it takes to conclude police disciplinary investigations,” he said. “Protracted and disproportionate misconduct investigations have ruined the lives of too many police officers and their families, by damaging their mental health due to the stress.
“Additionally, delays are detrimental to public confidence in the system, with complainants also being affected by any delays.”
But Kathie Cashell, the IOPC’s director of strategy and impact, said she rejected claims the watchdog too often investigates “vexatious allegations” – claims without any real merit, often made as the result of a personal grievance – against the police.
“We have published three years of outcomes data – that shows we investigated nearly 1,800 subjects,” she said. “We found there was a case to answer in 35 per cent of those.
“When you look at things that stopped short of misconduct proceedings – so unsatisfactory performance or reflective action procedures – 60 per cent of the individuals we investigated needed some form of action after those cases.
“Police forces agreed with us on 64 per cent of occasions. I just don’t see where the evidence is that the IOPC is pursuing vexatious allegations.”
Ms Cashell said she hoped the MPs would recommend “better collaboration” across the police complaints system.
“With better cooperation we can improve the timeliness of proceedings,” she said. “I think cultural change within the complaint system itself and policing is needed so it is not so defensive when things go wrong.
“We need a police force that is really open to working to resolve those issues, to really listening and to taking the opportunity to learn. We want it to become the norm for people to call out behavior that does not meet professional standards, and that happens from within.”