Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 740 - 759)



  740. I am sure we are reassured by these declarations. Do you think that you run an efficient policing operation?
  (Mr Clarke) We can always be more efficient. I genuinely believe there are greater efficiencies that we can make within the MDP in terms of how we do our job, how we succeed at it, whether we can replace roles of individual officers by using other equipment, for example cameras, and I think that is a continuing process and a continuing change of process. We will be more efficient in the next two, three or four years. It is a little early for me to say, three months into the organisation at the moment, but there are things that I would want to look at in greater detail where I believe we can produce efficiencies.

  741. So you are not satisfied with the effectiveness or the efficiency of the organisation in the force as you took it over?
  (Mr Clarke) I did not speak at all about effectiveness.

  742. What about effectiveness?
  (Mr Clarke) Again, it is a little bit early for me to say in terms of three months into it. I know that we have been effective in respect of the key targets that we have been set and which have been agreed. We are reaching those targets. If that is the measure of effectiveness, I am satisfied that we are being effective at the moment, yes.

  743. Have you heard of the case of Private Trevor Thomas?
  (Mr Clarke) No, I have not.

  744. You should have done because I have had correspondence about this with the Minister for the Armed Forces who is not in his normal place on this Committee this morning. I find it hard to believe he would have responded to me on such a subject without checking with you, the Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police. Let me briefly tell you what happened. In May 1998, Private Trevor Thomas was attacked. He was serving at that time with the 16 tank transporter squadron in Fallingbostel, Germany. He was attacked by a number of fellow soldiers, led by Corporal Hardy. It was a very serious assault. The Ministry of Defence Police took so long to pursue the complaints and were so lackadaisical and inefficient in doing so that the case did not come before the Army prosecution service until last year. His attackers were only arraigned in July 2000, more than two years after the incident, as a result of which the court martial decided that too long a period had passed since the incident for a trial to take place and the case against them was dismissed. The Minister, in response to me, has distinctly laid the blame not on the Army prosecution service but, because the investigation was in the hands of your force, he has laid the blame on your force. That is a very serious indictment of your efficiency or effectiveness—call it what you will. I accept that it happened before you took over the force and it is a pity that that case has not been drawn to your attention personally.
  (Mr Clarke) I am unable to comment, other than that I am advised by a whisper in my ear that that is a Royal Military Police investigation.

  745. It is nothing to do with the MDP?
  (Mr Legge) If it took place in Germany and it was in relation to serving personnel, I am not familiar with the case either, but I would strongly suspect it was the Royal Military Police and not the Ministry of Defence Police.

  746. The Royal Military Police handle cases in Germany, whereas a similar case in this country would be handled by the Ministry of Defence Police?
  (Mr Legge) It would depend. If it was a case that was involving simply military personnel with no involvement of civilians or Ministry of Defence property, it would be handled normally by the military police force concerned.

  747. If it was the Royal Military Police, I withdraw any suggestion I implied about the non-performance of the Ministry of Defence Police.
  (Mr Legge) The Ministry of Defence Police have no jurisdiction outside the United Kingdom.

  Mr Davies: I will take this forward with the Royal Military Police.

  Chairman: Given that other Members of the Committee have been waiting for 15 minutes or longer, Mr Davies, how much longer do you wish to pursue this particular item?

  Mr Davies: I just wish to say one more thing and that is that I think we have the opportunity in this Committee to pursue this case with the Royal Military Police. At an earlier session of this Committee, I pointed out that I found the distinctions between all this fragmentation of police forces within the military sphere very confusing and, frankly, problematic. Clearly, I shall have to pursue this with the RMP. Thank you very much.

Mr Watts

  748. There seems to be a question mark over the motivation for the Bill. We have heard that there is a sinister plot by the Ministry of Defence to get either a national police force or to get new powers that they can use against strikes if there is a fuel dispute. In your view, has this Bill been developed by pressure from the Ministry of Defence or from your force itself?
  (Mr Legge) Since I have lived with this for the last four and a half years, the proposals initially came from the Ministry of Defence Police in terms of difficulties that they had encountered in the policing that they were carrying out. You had, for example, the ten examples of the emergency situations where MDP officers were finding themselves in difficulties. It was the sheer practical consequences of what was happening on the ground.

  749. The motivation, as I understand it—correct me if I am wrong—is that at the moment the MoD police are called on some occasions to act to support a civilian force. All this Act is potentially doing is clearing up some of the grey areas about the powers of the military police which worry your force when they are involved in these activities.
  (Mr Clarke) Yes. In three months, I have neither been told of a plot; nor have I detected a plot, but what I do detect is a great motivation from officers, particularly at constable level, who need that clarity and that support to do their job actually on the streets.

  750. If the Bill is passed, it will support the military police and add to the general feeling that they are being supported by Parliament and that some of these areas have now been clarified?
  (Mr Clarke) It will support the work—forgive me for correcting you—of the Ministry of Defence Police, not the military police.


  751. Picking up on the specific case which appears to refer to the RMP, on the general issue of complaints, what has your experience been of complaints from civilians about the operation of the Ministry of Defence Police, especially if it is in the vicinity of rather than within what is clearly MoD territory? For instance, the kind of examples that we were given of the Ministry of Defence Police travelling between one clear MoD site and another, seeing an incident where it appeared that a law was being broken and the public expected uniformed personnel who were passing to stop and deal with it. Has there been a growing number of complaints from the public about how the MoD Police have operated or dealt with such situations?
  (Mr Legge) First of all, in the general sense of complaints against the Ministry of Defence Police, the Ministry of Defence Police Committee receives a quarterly report from the deputy chief constable, who is responsible for handling complaints. The rate of complaint over the four years or so that I have been involved has remained both fairly constant and very low. I was director of policing in Northern Ireland with responsibility for the RUC, and comparatively, for a force of 3,500 which is the size of the Ministry of Defence Police, they have a very low rate of complaint. I am not sure, and I would be subject to correction from my left, whether we have had any complaints by members of the public that Ministry of Defence Police officers have stood by and let crimes happen. The examples we have given you illustrate situations where Ministry of Defence Police officers faced with violent crime happening have felt obliged to intervene. They felt that it was not right that they should stand to one side but, in doing so, they have been exceeding their constabulary powers with the consequences that have been discussed before this Committee earlier. Mr Clarke or perhaps Mr Comben with longer experience might be able to identify complaints of MDP officers not acting. I cannot say I am aware of one.
  (Mr Comben) As Mr Legge said, the level of public complaints in the MDP is very low, not as low as we would like it to be of course, but to get a grasp of that it is about ten per cent of the level of complaints in a force of about 3,500 in a Home Department. There are reasons for that. It is not that we are all better behaved. It is because we deal with a more restricted public, as was mentioned earlier on, and in a more restricted number of situations. We do not have the difficult town centres to police at weekends and that kind of thing. We do not do the amount of traffic prosecution which often leads to complaints. I performed a very similar role in the Metropolitan Police before transferring to the MDP. My area of responsibility was north east London, which has its policing problems. Having done the discipline role for the last six years in the MDP, the profile of public complaints—i.e., what the public complains about—is exactly the same in the MDP as it was in the Metropolitan Police; perhaps not so many complaints about stop and search because we do not do so many and not so many complaints of assault. When assault complaints are made, they are about the application of quick cuffs and injury to the wrists. We get our share of incivility, of not doing the job speedily enough and that sort of thing, but I have spotted no differences at all in the MDP. The cross-section of complaints is exactly the same. There is a potential for complaints to grow as many of our officers are transiting between one place and another. It is something we keep a very close watch on and, as you have just been told, we give a quarterly report to our Police Committee. Complaints and discipline are also overseen by the chief HMI who examines all our complaint records once a quarter, but complaints against the MDP are actually on the decline, thankfully. We put a lot of effort into the training of officers, a lot of effort into learning lessons from complaints. We debrief every officer who has had a complaint made against them, whether they are substantiated or not. I often debrief officers personally to try and get a very high level of input into learning lessons from it, but it is much the same as in a Home Department force, although at a very much lower level.

Mr Randall

  752. In your annual report and accounts, I notice that in appendix A, Complaints Against the Police, the total cases completed went up dramatically from 1998/9 to 1999/2000. Is that because you resolved those complaints?
  (Mr Comben) `Resolving' is a technical term within the police complaints procedure. What it means is that more were completed, more were finalised and dealt with and put away during that year. The reason for that is that we made extra effort. We focused on it and put every effort we could, under somewhat difficult circumstances, into clearing these cases up in as short a period as we could. That is why cases completed can actually exceed the complaints in a given year, because you are completing those from the previous year.

  753. Would you be able to tell me which areas complaints have gone up in?
  (Mr Comben) The numbers are very small, so there is always a danger in looking at increases from one to two or 10 to 20.

  754. I take your point that we are talking about small-ish numbers, but irregularities in procedure have gone up and incivility has gone up. Is there any specific reason for that?
  (Mr Comben) There can be peaks and troughs from year to year. When the figures are so low, one incident can distort the whole year. For example, if we had, as we have had, a demonstration where 20 demonstrators all make a complaint that they were assaulted while being lifted off the road, I am afraid our complaint figures go through the roof and it is just one incident.

  755. Mr Clarke, I do not think in the numbers we were given of the complement of the MoD Police we were given the breakdown between CID and uniformed officers. Were we?
  (Mr Clarke) I think it is about 320 CID.
  (Mr Comben) It is 165. There was an increase of five from 1987 to 2000 in the number of CID officers. There was an increase of about 30 in the fraud squad.

  756. About five per cent of the complement is CID?
  (Mr Comben) Yes.

  757. It says again in this annual report that almost 60 per cent of the CID complement is deployed to prevent and detect crime within the Defence estate. What do the other 40 per cent do?
  (Mr Clarke) Forgive me because I am not sure of the context. My deputy has responsibility specifically for CID within the force, but those are the headquarters detectives in say, for example, the fraud squad etc.
  (Mr Comben) I think that is what you are talking about.

  758. "Almost 60 per cent (91) of the CID complement is deployed to prevent and detect crime within the Defence Estate, spread across all of the United Kingdom."
  (Mr Comben) That is territorially.

  759. It goes on to say, "An increasing number of offences of rape and other serious offences against the person are being investigated by the Force; during the past year 30 allegations of rape have been investigated compared to 16 in the previous year. Again this is not necessarily solely an increase in crime, but more a reflection of offences being investigated by the MDP rather than by other police forces." Why do you think the MDP should be investigating more offences of rape now than they were a couple of years ago?
  (Mr Comben) Because of the protocols that we agreed with Home Department forces, more of those offences are being investigated by the MDP. The law always permitted them to but, as was said perhaps by yourself, the force has evolved and now has the capability to investigate these offences, so more offences are being investigated by the MDP; whereas in the distant past they would have been handed over to a Home Department force.

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