Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)



140.  I thought, for example, that when the process was clearly being strung along, with a view to making everyone weary, a Chief Officer had the power to go ahead in the absence of the individual, now; is that used?

  (Sir John Stevens) It is rarely used.
  (Mr Blair) It is rarely used, mainly because M'Learned Friends have a number of views about this. Let me give you an example of a case that I have just been aware of, where three of our Commanders have sat for two and a half weeks of legal argument; this is awesome. It is the same, and I know, Chairman, you have got an interest in this, on corruption issues. We have just had a case at the Old Bailey that was listed for three days of legal argument, well the legal argument lasted for seven weeks, including three trips to the Court of Appeal. We have people who are going to use every weapon at their disposal.

141.  Obviously we tinkered last time and tinkering does not seem to have delivered, do you have any suggestions as to what we should do next?

  (Mr Blair) I think a lot of it would be about making clearer the rules of process and procedure. Most of these arguments are about abuse of process, and the arguments go on and on and on; and it seems to me that it is not a healthy process for all of these things, as the Commissioner says, to be based on court martial law. Most of these, I think, should not have lawyers involved; obviously, a lawyer should be involved if somebody is going to be risking their job, but for the rest of it I think that a reduction in the legal representation might be helpful.

142.  Right; fewer lawyers. I think we would all vote for that.

  (Sir John Stevens) There are obviously no lawyers around the room.

  Chairman: Yes, there are one or two.

Mr Cameron

143.  Just on that point, did you say, Mr Blair, that now a majority of the disciplinary cases are not from complaints from the public but from action taken by senior officers?

  (Mr Blair) Yes.

144.  Surely, one answer would be that, I have always understood that the disciplinary procedure for the police is long and complicated, because obviously you are going to have people from the public complaining about what police officers do, and that might be because they bear a grudge, or whatever; surely, if an officer has a complaint against a constable or a sergeant, that should not be done with lawyers and that sort of procedure, it should be a much more straightforward disciplinary procedure, like you would have in other Services, or in other places of work? Is that a distinction you would be happy to see?

  (Mr Blair) I would be very happy to see that, but the point about the discipline regulations is, whether they come from a public complaint or they come from an internal report, they end up with the same level of discipline charge and the same level of representation.

145.  And that is what is wrong?

  (Mr Blair) I think we are in danger of it becoming overly legalistic. Just another example, if an officer refuses to accept a reprimand then the only answer is a full Discipline Board. It is a very complex and legal process that needs to be got through.
  (Sir John Stevens) And there is no principle of restoring justice, where you can get two people together; and once you get the lawyers involved, as we all know, there are people holding their positions, and so on and so forth, and it just is not good for the organisation, and leads to some of the cases that we all read about now and again.

146.  Can you give us a "for instance" of what might trigger this process, of a senior officer making a complaint about a constable or a sergeant?

  (Mr Blair) One that I saw earlier, which actually goes back to Mr Winnick's comments, was an officer who made a lewd and offensive remark to a female officer in a sergeant's presence, and the sergeant just said, "Right, that's it, I'm reporting you for that." And that process goes right through.

147.  And it goes through and then you have lawyers, for something like that, you have lawyers present?

  (Mr Blair) Lawyers right through, yes.


148.  During which time everybody is suspended on full pay, are they?

  (Mr Blair) To be fair, we have reduced the number of suspensions, we have halved the number of suspensions; but it is difficult, when officers are facing discipline, to get the full work out of them. To be fair, there are other parts of the process that are not as good as they should be. We have not got enough people sitting on Discipline Boards, and there are delays, and so on; it is not all the fault of lawyers and defendants, I am sure we have got processes that we can speed up.

149.  But you have halved the number of suspensions?

  (Mr Blair) We have halved the number of suspensions.

150.  So, in other words, if somebody is accused of something relatively minor, they can carry on working?

  (Mr Blair) Yes.
  (Sir John Stevens) But your point, Chairman, I think is well made, that there are a lot of people who have been suspended, or a number of people who have been suspended, for extremely long periods of time on full pay.

151.  They certainly are. You mentioned a case a moment ago, of Gurpal Virdi, whom I remember coming to see you about some years ago, then I went away for a few years, and I have come back, and it is still going on?

  (Sir John Stevens) The good news is that it is finished now. We hope to see him tomorrow, and that will be settled.

152.  For how long has that been going on?

  (Sir John Stevens) For four, four and a half, years.

Mr Cameron

153.  Where do these rules lie, are they in legislation; how many of these rules can you tear up, as a management, as it were, and how many do you need to have done through legislation?

  (Sir John Stevens) We cannot tear any of them up; we would be hauled in front of the courts if we did that.

154.  But where do they lie, in the Police Act?

  (Mr Blair) The Police Discipline Regulations is a piece of primary legislation.

155.  And how much of those do you think are addressed by the Police Reform Bill?

  (Mr Blair) I do not think any of them are addressed by the Police Reform Bill.


156.  Firearms, very briefly. What is the main source of firearms used in crime in London, and do we need tighter controls?

  (Sir John Stevens) We think certainly we need tighter controls over imitation firearms and those that can be converted. There is a large number of firearms coming into this country from Eastern European bloc countries; those firearms can be purchased at very cheap cost, and they are coming overland into London. The amount of firearms circulating in London now, I think I drew attention to it some five or six months ago, is immense, and it is one of the problems that Trident is dealing with, and it is one of the problems that are around. There has been a 43 per cent increase in the use of firearms in London in the last year, and it is something that is very, very worrying indeed. I think, for the people of London to think that this is the so-called just black on black crime, that is about, is a mistake. And if I lose any sleep it is over the loss of life of innocent people who are involved in cross-fire with firearms, or police officers whose lives might be lost; and I think we have really got to try to stem the amount of firearms running around the streets at the moment.

157.  Do you have some ideas?

  (Sir John Stevens) Yes, we do. That would be linked into Trident, in terms of also pressing for legislation, as far as imitation firearms are concerned and conversion of those; and we will be driving in very hard, in terms of where these firearms are coming in, but it is very difficult. But it will be wrapped up, I think, into the street crime aspect.

158.  Do you go back to the countries in Eastern Europe where the source is and ask for assistance from the local forces there?

  (Sir John Stevens) Yes; but if you are going to places like Bosnia and Kosovo, and places like that, the amount of co-operation you are going to get is not going to be that high.

159.  Of course, yes. You may consider it minor, but it is a source of a lot of low-level mayhem in the North East; air weapons. Can anything be done to reduce the number of those in circulation, are there any changes that should be made, in your view?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think the changes that may well need to be made are those air weapons that can be converted into use as firearms, because they are so well made, in terms of the structure, that by drilling through you can use them for a .38 round, or the like. And I think there is a need for legislation in relation to that, Chairman.

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