‘Strong need for a cultural change’ in police complaints system – MPs

Commons Home Affairs Committee urged the police watchdog to make sure ‘no-one can evade justice for police misconduct’.

01 March 2022

A culture of “obstruction and delay” remains in the way some complaints against police are handled, MPs have warned.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee urged the police watchdog to make sure “no-one can evade justice for police misconduct”.

The committee said there was a “strong need” for cultural change while making a series of recommendations on how disciplinary procedures for forces in England and Wales should be improved.

MPs looked at the role of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) in overseeing the process and called on the body to “drive change” and do more to give the public more confidence in the system.

Setting out their findings, the committee said a “culture of obstruction and delay remains in some cases” and that the IOPC must “ensure no-one can evade justice for police misconduct”, adding: “The public perception remains that complaints against police are unlikely to succeed and would only result in minimal sanctions if officers were found to have committed misconduct.”

According to their report, there is a “clear absence of urgency and a culture of non-co-operation from some police forces involved in investigations.

“Appropriate sanctions must follow for any officer served with disciplinary proceedings, whether serving or retired.”

It found “some forces and officers treat complaints against them as challenges to their authority or matters to be sidestepped”, adding: “We have heard that officers too often see complaints against them as matters to be deflected rather than opportunities to root out those whose behaviour demeans the office of constable or to clear the names and reputations of those who conduct themselves according to the professional standards required…

“There is a strong need for a cultural change, established by and led from the top, to ensure that lessons are learned, that actions are taken to redress poor and unprofessional behaviour, and that police officers remember always that the trust of the public on which they depend needs to be earned and constantly maintained.”

Many people still feel “badly let down” by the complaints process despite some progress being made to improve it, the committee said.

It highlighted what it described as the “acute failures” of Operation Midland, the multimillion-pound investigation which saw detectives duped by false claims of a VIP sex abuse ring made by fantasist Carl Beech.

The committee said the experiences of Lord and Lady Brittan were an “example of how the police complaints system can go so badly wrong”, warning there were many other cases that also left complainants feeling “let down by a system failing to treat their complaints with the severity they merited”.

“Lengthy inquiries, poor communications and opaque processes are still having a detrimental impact on complainants and officers alike,” the MPs.

They told the IOPC and police forces to be quicker at resolving complaints and to provide better information and support for those involved.

Committee chairman Dame Diana Johnson said the IOPC does “deserve credit” for the progress it has made in the four years since it was established, with the “vast majority” of investigations completed within a year and “clear strands of work to build relationships and improve public perception”.

But she added: “The fact remains that more work remains to be done. Over the course of the inquiry we heard from individuals and communities who feel badly let down.

“The succession of scandals in recent years has left public confidence in policing at a perilous point.

“The IOPC will need to ensure that it drives change to create a complaints system people can have full confidence in. There must be no repeat of past mistakes.”

Director general Michael Lockwood said the IOPC would “carefully consider” the recommendations, adding: “We welcome the committee’s call for cultural change in policing so there is a less defensive response to complaints, greater co-operation with investigations and evidence that our learning recommendations are implemented – we agree these are vital to improving public confidence in the police complaints system.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said it would also consider the findings.

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