News

A Toxic Culture?

February 14 2020

In March 2017 PC Keith Palmer was killed while defending Parliament from a terrorist. In August 2019 PC Andrew Harper was killed while investigating a suspected burglary. These are only 2 of the 50 police officers killed between 1990-2010. Few of us face the risks ordinary police officers run. This does not excuse what is set out below. It does explain why it is so necessary, if their work and sacrifices are to be worthwhile and the public gets the policing it is entitled to, that the issues raised below be properly addressed.

What follows is not a comprehensive list of every scandal affecting the police. But it is an overview of their range over five decades.

  1. 1972-1977: Sir Robert Mark’s campaign to root out corrupt officers within the Flying Squad and CID, resulting in more than 500 officers being dismissed or “resigned”. He memorably stated: “a good police force is one that catches more crooks than it employs”.
  2. 1974-1989: The West Midlands Serious Crime Squad – eventually wound up after allegations of incompetence, malpractice and abuse of power, leading to over 100 cases collapsing or being overturned on appeal. An investigation into its activities led to some disciplinary action but no prosecutions, a decision for which the DPP (Barbara Mills) was severely criticised.
  3. 1970’s: The activities of various police forces in the Irish miscarriage of justice cases – the Guildford Four (1974), the Birmingham Six (1975), the Maguire Seven (1976).
  4. 1978-1982: Operation Countryman – an investigation into corruption within the Met and City of London Police in the late 1970’s. Information was released in 2018 about efforts made by the Met and the DPP (Sir Thomas Hetherington) to cover up the scale of wrongdoing and obstruct the investigation by the Hampshire and Dorset police.
  5. 1979: The death of Blair Peach during an Anti-Nazi League demonstration against the National Front in Southall. In 2010 a police report stated it was likely that a Metropolitan Police officer “struck the fatal blow” and attributed “grave suspicion” to one unnamed officer, who may also have been involved in a cover-up with two colleagues.
  6. 1981: Operation Swamp, the subsequent Brixton riots and the Scarman report into how the police used their “stop and search” and other powers.  Numerous recommendations were made.
  7. 1980’s – 2010: South Yorkshire Police’s failures in the Rotherham child exploitation scandal. The Jay Report described how the police failed to investigate adequately or at all the reports they were receiving over at least a decade of child sexual grooming.
  8. 1989: The Hillsborough stadium tragedy. Two reports – the 1990 Taylor Report and the 2012 report by the Independent Panel – described the extent of South Yorkshire Police’s negligence, attempts to shift blame on others and pervert the course of justice.
  9. 1993: The investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the resulting 1999 Macpherson Inquiry which found that many Scarman recommendations had not been implemented. Macpherson, unlike Scarman,  described the police as “institutionally racist”. Subsequently it was revealed the police had spied on the Lawrence family.
  10. 2003-2020: The failures of the Greater Manchester Police in relation to Operation Augusta and child sexual exploitation, described in the Newsam report published this week. The report’s statement that: “The authorities knew many were being subjected to the most profound abuse and exploitation but did not protect them from the perpetrators. This is a depressingly familiar picture and has been seen in many other towns and cities across the country.” could apply to a number of places and police forces round the country.
  11. 2006-2011: Allegations were made during the News International inquiry that the police were selling confidential information to journalists. This was to be looked at in the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry which never went ahead.
  12. 2009: The death of newspaper seller, Ian Tomlinson, as a result of police assault during G-20 summit  protests.
  13. 2011:  It’s revealed that various undercover policemen had infiltrated environmental groups for a number of years, entering into deceitful relationships with activists and fathering children. In 2015 the Met apologized to women “tricked into relationships” over 25 years, closed the units and made financial settlements of circa £3 million. An “Undercover Policing Inquiry” into “appalling practices” in undercover policing was set up. It has yet to report.
  14. 2012 onwards: Cleveland Police has 5 Chief Constables in 6 years, the first in this list being dismissed for deceit and misconduct. In 2019 it is put into special measures following an independent report describing it as “inadequate” in all fields, “directionless, rudderless and clueless”, “putting the public at risk” with some officers “not acting with honesty, integrity and competence“.
  15. 2014: Operation Midland into child abuse allegations made by Carl Beech against politicians and others is launched. In 2019 following his conviction on multiple counts of perverting the course of justice, the Henriques Report identifies extensive failings in the original investigation.
  16. 2015: Police Scotland are criticised by a judge for breaching data privacy laws and the ECHR when spying on journalists and their communications with their sources. Similar breaches were committed by Cleveland Police.
  17. 2018: The Met’s anti-corruption unit is under investigation for corruption in relation to allegations of assault, racism, child abuse and child grooming.
  18. 2018: Cliff Richard is paid £400,000 by the South Yorkshire Police for its behaviour over the raid on his home in relation to historic child sex abuse allegations, including informing the BBC about the raid.
  19. 2005 to date: there have been 4 Metropolitan Police Commissioners. Ian Blair resigned after falling out with the London Mayor; his successor resigned because of his links with one of the journalists implicated in phone hacking; Hogan-Howe lasted 6 years. Under his leadership Operation Midland is set up and people arrested under Operation Yewtree and bailed for lengthy periods without charge, a practice later banned. His replacement in 2017 is Cressida Dick, the senior policewoman in charge when a blameless electrician was killed in 2005 following terror attacks.
  20. 2020: The Met refers itself to the police watchdog for its failure to act on recommendations made by Sir Richard Henriques to investigate two others for perverting the course of justice in relation to abuse allegations arising from Operation Midland.
  21. 2020: A review led by a former Met Police Commissioner states that the police are unable to deal with a huge increase in fraud cases.
  22. 2020: This month a report by HMICFRS on all 43 police forces states that the public has lost faith, having “rumbled” that the police are unable to investigate most crimes. The charging rate in the year to March 2019 fell to 7.8% of all reported crimes in England and Wales.

It is a dismal list. It could be twice as long.

To a financial investigator, this picture is very familiar. Despite innumerable inquiries, changes in the law, disciplinary proceedings, recommendations, new procedures, training, apologies, compensation paid, some prosecutions and that perennial favourite – “lessons have been learnt” – bad, criminal behaviour (which all the people doing it would clearly have known was wrong) and incompetence have repeatedly occurred in forces all over the country over decades. Not one or two “rotten apples”; whole orchards of them. There has been a culture of poor leadership, cover-up or the truth only coming out many years later and of other key agencies turning a blind eye, aiding and abetting or failing to set or demand high standards of probity and professionalism.

Above all, there has been a failure to ask why such problems keep on happening, despite all the remedial steps taken and all the apparent learning of all those lessons.

It is irrelevant that there are many policemen, possibly even the majority, who don’t behave in this way. The same could be said of banking. The professionalism, hard work and good name of the honest good guys are tarnished by the bad, useless ones. The bad drive out – and demoralise – the good.

Policing depends on consent. Trust is essential to that consent. Scandals and incompetence erode that trust. How can our cherished system of policing work then?

Perhaps – like banking – it is time to realise that there is something systemic and deep-rooted and toxic in police culture which allows or encourages or does not stop officers from behaving badly. Perhaps – like banking – it is time to make the hard cultural changes needed if training and rules are to work. Perhaps – unlike banking – it is time for senior leaders to take real responsibility not merely talk about it. Perhaps – like banking – it is time to realise that even successful or vital sectors or professions can in reality be really rather more second-rate than we like to pretend. Perhaps we should stop deluding ourselves that our key institutions are as good as we sometimes rather vaingloriously claim. The police are not the only body of which this could be said, of course.

Law and order are the most basic functions of the state. But the police should not be treated as a sacred cow. A comprehensive, dispassionate and ruthless look at how the police operate and real tough action to change it for the better are needed.

What are the chances?

On Leadership and Good Investigations

October 14 2019

It is generally a good idea, when facing severe criticism from an inquiry, not to try and justify the behaviour which has been criticised. No good will come of it: you will look like someone paying lip service to the findings who really thinks you’ve done nothing wrong.

It is advice which the Metropolitan Police singularly failed to follow in their response to the report by Sir Richard Henriques on Operation Midland, the now notorious investigation into alleged child abuse. The day of its publication the Met’s response focused on why no senior officer had done anything wrong despite the long list of failings catalogued: 43 in total, including that, in obtaining search warrants without being fully transparent about the evidence they had, the police had broken the law.

This is about as serious a failure as it is possible to have by public servants whose primary and most important duty is to uphold it. Not break it.

The Met’s apology for the upset caused by the searches seemed to be quite unequal to the failure – the sort of apology you might make if you’d inadvertently interrupted someone having a bath – rather than a realisation of the very great damage done to policing and the administration of justice if those tasked with it cannot be bothered to behave lawfully.

The report by the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) the following day adopted the same self-justifying tone to explain why there was no basis for disciplining any of the officers involved despite its comprehensive investigation, one so comprehensive that none of the officers involved had been interviewed. What would the IOPC consider an inadequate investigation to be?

One of the critical failings was the police deciding – and publicly announcing – that allegations (of murder and child rape) were true and believable before they had been investigated, as a result of an obligation to believe a victim and, indeed, to call them a victim rather than a complainant. Paragraphs 1.11-1.35 of the report on why these two practices are so seriously prejudicial to proper investigation, the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof (the foundations of our entire criminal justice system) are very well worth reading. In consequence, one of the judge’s most important recommendations was for the police not automatically to believe complainants: “If one policy decision results from this review I trust that the instruction to ‘believe’ a victim’s account will cease.”  The police seem disinclined to follow this advice. Even Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner, despite being a QC, seems not to understand that belief in an allegation is not necessary to investigate it properly.

The belief that victims must be believed without question did not come from nowhere. It arose in part in response to previous police failings. In 1982 Roger Graef’s documentary series about Thames Valley Police caused a stir when the episode entitled “A Complaint of Rape” showed male policemen treating a female rape victim with harsh dismissiveness. This led to important and valuable changes in how the police investigated this most serious and sensitive of crimes. Similar changes have been made with regard to how child victims of sexual abuse are treated, both by the police and by the courts when they give evidence. All of this is welcome: old-fashioned assumptions (that women are asking for it, that children are liars) are no basis on which to investigate crimes.

Some old-fashioned attitudes still persist though: young troubled girls in care are seen as not “nice” and in effect asking to be abused by their attackers, the assumption this time being wrapped up in the mistaken and nonsensical notion that an underage child has given “consent”. At the other end, the police have veered from ignoring crimes alleged against the famous (Savile) to pursuing them with unseemly malice and a misguided focus on making media headlines (Cliff Richard).  (If there is one thing to be regretted from the decision to abandon the second half of the Leveson Inquiry is that there was no examination of the police’s relationship with the press and whether this is compatible with their policing role. It is something which needs much more scrutiny than it is, for obvious reasons, ever likely now to get.) It as if the police veer from one position to another in response to the scandal du jour without any understanding of – or firm attachment to – the long-standing principles underlying the criminal justice system

Now the police have adopted the spuriously sentimental assumption that a victim should be believed without question. To do so is fatally to confuse therapy and care with investigation. The former is laudable but not the role of the police. The latter is.

For investigators to do their job properly they need two skills above all: emotional intelligence – empathy, an ability to understand human behaviour and motivation and build a relationship with both (alleged) criminal and victim. The second is to have what Graham Greene described as the “splinter of ice in the heart”, the judgment and analysis that makes them look coolly and dispassionately at the facts, to base their opinions on what they have found and not what they would like to believe to be true, that makes them remember that they need to find and test the evidence and ensure that it is good enough to convict someone to the standard required.

As the report put it:

“Any process that imposes an artificial state of mind upon an investigator is, necessarily, a flawed process. An investigator, in any reputable system of justice, must be impartial. The imposed ‘obligation to believe’ removes that impartiality.”

If the police allow sentimental beliefs, preconceived opinions and assumptions, pressure from the media or politicians to override the judgments they need to make, they are doing a profound disservice – to the victims (who need their complaints taken seriously and investigated properly, a crucially important difference to simply being believed), to the defendants (who are entitled not to be accused publicly – or at all – on the basis of opinion unsupported by any evidence), to the public’s faith in policing, to the administration of justice itself.

What is so dismaying about the police’s response to the Henriques report is not just the rush to protect their own, the desire to explain why disciplinary action was unjustified, the belief that incompetence and negligence were not sufficient to merit any kind of action.  The approach was that the police had broken no disciplinary rules; they did not intend to cause harm and there was no evidence of criminal behaviour so that was that.  The level of incompetence and negligence on display, the failures in basic investigative tradecraft were simply to be ignored.

No: what’s worse is the assumption that nothing more than this can or should be expected.

The police had passed the low bar expected of them.  43 failings in one inquiry can happen but no-one need take any responsibility.

It is a stunning failure to understand what leadership means.  Leadership means, in essence, taking responsibility for what happens in your watch – even if you are not personally to blame.  Those senior officers who were in position when this lamentable series of failures occurred were the leaders in charge.  If leadership is to mean anything, if setting an example to all those in the police service matters, if an apology is to be meaningful, if learning lessons is to be something other than a cliché to be trotted out, if integrity at the top of policing is to have substance, then those in charge of this inquiry should, in all honour, take responsibility and resign.  Not seek to evade it with self-serving justifications and remorseful cries of “Oh, if only I’d done something different.

The Home Secretary (not noted for either her empathy or integrity or, indeed, her understanding of the criminal justice system – as this article suggests – has apparently asked for a further inquiry to be carried out – though since it is to be carried out by the very body which has come up with the practices roundly criticised by the Henriques report, don’t build your hopes too high. In the meanwhile, the Prime Minister has made great play of his intention to fund 20,000 more police for our streets.  Without wishing to downplay the work of ordinary policemen or, indeed the need for effective policing, with this sort of inadequate leadership and incompetence on show, it is worth asking whether this really is the best use of public money?  Maybe fixing the problems identified by Sir Richard Henriques and implementing his recommendations might come before spaffing money on more police. It can’t, after all, cost that much to remind police leaders of that well-known saying: “The buck stops here.

Why justice matters

August 11 2019

At the start of a week described by the government as “Crime Week”, this article is a reminder of why the rule of law and a properly functioning criminal justice system matter.

 

 

Photo by Joel & Jasmin Førestbird on Unsplash