Examination of Witnesses (Questions 760
TUESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2001
D LLOYD CLARKE,
760. Is it the MDP wishing to investigate more
or the Home Office wanting to pass that on because of increasing
workload and decreasing numbers?
(Mr Comben) It is neither of those things, in my view.
As Mr Scott-Lee described, it is a question of who is best placed
to investigate this crime at this time. That is the driver for
it. Discussions on serious crimes always revolve around that,
not whose territory necessarily is it, but who is best placed
to investigate it. We have cases which occur within the MoD estate
which anybody else would say that the MDP should investigate,
but we know better because in our discussions with Home Department
colleagues we know it is part of a series or it is related to
some matter they are already investigating, so they will investigate
it. It is almost a case by case decision at the serious crime
level, but for routine matters, if it occurs within the MoD estate,
we would investigate it.
761. You say it is relative to expertise but
if one year you investigated 16 I would guessI do not know
what the relevant numbers would be for other police forcesthat
the numbers of rape investigations had been considerably higher,
so you might say that you have not actually got the practical
expertiseI am not doubting the ability of your officers
to investigateor the day-to-day experience.
(Mr Comben) Because those 16 would have been investigated
by a much smaller number of officers. You could have in another
force a much larger number of rape allegations but if they are
investigated by a larger CID complementbecause five per
cent is very low compared with Home Department forces; it is invariably
more than double thatit is not a simple equation.
762. But this is presumably all over the country.
Have you a rape team that investigates all over the country?
(Mr Comben) No, we do not have a rape
squad. There is no need for that. All the senior detective officers
attend the same training as Home Office senior detectives. They
have the same capability, the same mobility to investigate a rape
as any others. If there is ever an occasion where it is one of
these very notorious cases where an individual has been responsible
for a whole series of rapes the length and breadth of the country,
we would not deal with that. That would be an agreement between
our Chief Constable and the Home Department force chief constable
to say who is best to investigate it. In those kinds of scenarios,
the invariable decision would be that this is one for the Home
Department force to investigate, not for us.
763. I presume that the MDP have all the facilities
that you would expect in a Home Office force, like rape suites
and the like?
(Mr Comben) No. We do not have those facilities and
that is why, listening at the back of the room, I picked up a
point in the earlier conversation. This mutual working arrangement
actually grows out of a practical need. On a day to day basis,
Home Department forces help us every day by allowing us to use
their rape suites, their identification suites, but it is not
one way traffic. It would be wrong for the Committee to feel it
is one way traffic. You heard earlier on about the difficulties
of child abuse cases today. We all know about those. We have a
detective sergeant in the MDP who is an expert in this area, one
of several, and that officer has given consistent assistance to
her local Home Department Force where they have not had the resources
to investigate and where they have not had available to them at
that time those particular skills. We rely a lot on Home Department
forces. That is the practical reason why we work in cooperation,
but it is not an entirely one way street.
764. If you have to rely on Home Office forces
to give you assistance in a material way, why do they not do the
(Mr Comben) Two reasons. One of the reasons why we
do not have the resources is it is not cost effective for us to
have them. Many Home Department forces share identification suites.
In my time in the Metropolitan Police, we only had four for the
whole of Londonit may have gone up nowand divisions
had to share them. There is a cost effective reason why, even
if we had the money, it would not be cost effective for us to
set up some of these suites and so on. Why do we not just hand
the case over? Because we exist to provide a civilian policing
service to the Ministry of Defence and these matters happen within
the Ministry of Defence estate. Invariably, they have Ministry
of Defence connotations or connections and that is why we investigate
them, but we investigate and work in cooperation.
765. You would agree presumably that, when it
was first set up, it was envisaged that the MDP would be for minor
(Mr Comben) If we are absolutely objective about it,
back in 1987 and in the years before that, the force was more
involved in a much larger number of what some people might call
`minor offences' for a whole variety of reasons. The number of
crimes that the MDP are investigating has reduced and amongst
those there is now, because a lot of the minor offences have gone,
a larger proportion of serious matters, but it is part of the
evolution of policing. Unfortunately, I have been around long
enough to recall when Home Department forces sent for Scotland
Yard to assist them with murder investigations. In the latter
part, I was one of the officers that was sent to other forces
and to other countries to help investigate murders for exactly
the same reason: that they did not have the experience in practice
and they did not have the equipment. That has moved on now. There
is no longer a need for such a department as Scotland Yard to
do that. In a microcosm, that is what has happened to the MDP.
It has got more experience; it has become more effective; it has
more technical equipment and it can now investigate a range of
offences that it could not have done in the early days prior to
1987. That has happened in all policing, and thank goodness it
766. You may have heard, when we were asking
questions of the previous witness, the question of whether your
deputy chief constable thought that the current provisions in
the Bill would present MDP officers with a very difficult decision
to make and the Defence Police Federation would have wanted the
Bill to go further in the definition of where they should intervene.
Could I have your views, please?
(Mr Clarke) We have scenario'd the circumstances should
the Bill be enacted. There are four questions which officers will
have to ask themselves and they will have to go through this process
almost in the heat of the moment. The four questions systematically
might be: is there sufficient time to inform the Home Department
police force? Will doing so frustrate or seriously prejudice the
purpose of why I have got this power? Are there reasonable grounds
of suspecting that an offence involving the use or threat of violence
against any person has been committed? Is there reasonable ground
to believe that the exercise of the power is necessary in order
to save life or in order to prevent or minimise injury? It has
taken me a while to articulate those but the reality of awareness
by officers, of training, that is the check list that they are
going to have to go through in order to exercise this power. It
is that which was referred to, particularly last week by my deputy,
and particularly by the Defence Police Federation. Again, it is
those tests of reasonableness. Mr Scott-Lee was talking about
proportionality as well. That will be the test under European
legislation. There again there is the opportunity for officers,
when they exercise their power, gosh, bang, bang, bang; yes, I
need to act. In hindsight, in the cold light of day, others may
sit and pore over those actions and someone may say, "Actually,
we do not feel now . . .", whether it be in a court of law
or wherever, but I come back to the issue. This is about trying
to afford that reasonable protection to officers who are making
those difficult decisions in the heat of the moment when circumstances
present themselves in front of them.
767. That sounded like a definite maybe to me.
(Mr Clarke) I think those are difficult questions.
768. We would welcome further clarification
because we have an opportunity in front of us with this Bill,
before it is enshrined in law, to try and make your officers'
lives possibly easier, as we heard from the Police Federation.
(Mr Clarke) It is on this basis that the discussions
have been had with ACPO and ACPOS and therefore I have certainly
not scenario'd it further than that.
(Mr Legge) We debated very carefully, both within
the Department and subsequently with the Home Office, whether
we should ask for wider powers for action in emergencies. We deliberately
went for a very narrow definition of risk to life or injury, firstly
because that would be a relatively simple decision for the police
officer to make and, secondly, in case anybody thought that we
were trying to drastically expand the role of the MDP, which we
769. This goes back to my earlier question about
Private Thomas. What about your liaison with the Royal Military
Police? How do you divide up responsibilities with them and deal
with them? Do you have a protocol with them? Can you tell us something
(Mr Clarke) Yes, there is a protocol and we work very
closely at a senior level and on the ground. We also have the
Defence Police Chiefs Forum where myself and the head of each
of the provost services meet to discuss practical issues and issues
of difficulty and the like. There is a Defence Council instruction
which is the protocol in terms of our relationship, of working
with the Services. It is very clear; it is well understood. That
is my belief of it, having tested it at senior levels and at ground
levels within the last three months.
770. Does it make sense to have these two separate
policing organisations in the military and the other provost organisationsmaybe
even the RAF, but let us take the Royal Military Police.
(Mr Clarke) There is a sense to it. That is with my
knowledge of three months. Others will be far better qualified
in terms of the history of it.
771. Could there be greater sense in merging
(Mr Clarke) Personally, I have not thought about it.
(Mr Legge) The principal answer to that would be that
Service personnel are subject to the Service Discipline Acts.
Those are particular and peculiar regulations and rules which
they have to observe. The various Service police forces are there
to ensure that that legal framework is observed. They also have
an operational role overseas which the Ministry of Defence Police
clearly do not. There is a fairly clear distinction both in policy
terms but also in practical terms. The Service police will operate
where civil property and civilians are not involved, where it
is solely Service personnel. Otherwise, it would normally in this
country be the Ministry of Defence Police.
Chairman: It is an issue that was raised
in our initial evidence session about the proliferation of different
sorts of police forces in the Armed Services. It is something
that we can come back to but this Bill does not suggest that we
undertake immediate consolidation of all the current police forces
that operate, dealing with Armed Services personnel and with Ministry
of Defence property and so on.
Mr Davies: This Bill would be the opportunity
to change the statutory framework affecting the Royal Military
Police or any other provost police force, if we choose in Parliament
to do so.
Chairman: It is something we can comment
772. I can confirm what we have been told about
the need to coordinate with county police forces, in particular,
for shared facilities. There was a notorious case last year where
small arms were stolen from Lark Hill and that case was immediately
investigated and is still under investigation by the Ministry
of Defence Police, the Royal Military Police and initially Wiltshire
Constabulary. The three suspects were taken to Salisbury Police
Station for questioning because there was not an appropriate suite
available for the Ministry of Defence Police in Lark Hill. My
constituent, Mr McHugh, had 12 policemen entering his house and
has still not been compensated to the tune of £149 for the
damage caused by the police. I would be very grateful if the Chief
Constable could look at that urgently. However, I digress. The
deputy chief constable has told us that the detectives in the
MDP are trained to the same level as the Home Office police forces.
Can I ask him to confirm that the MDP CID branch conform to all
the accreditation courses which are on offer to the Home Office
(Mr Comben) I can confirm that.
773. Could you tell us a little about the MoD
rapid response team that has been set up? I do not know how many
there are but it is an important development that there is a rapid
response team trained to attend incidents at Ministry of Defence
(Mr Comben) If you are talking about our operational
support unit, it has not recently been formed; it has been formed
many, many years ago. It is complemented of 50 officers, though
it is not currently up to strength, and it is a team of very fit,
able officers who are trained in public order to Home Department
force standards. They are obviously trained and equipped with
firearms as other MDP officers are. They are also trained and
equipped to deal with nuclear and biological incidents, as the
Metropolitan Police and some other Home Department forces are,
and they are there to supplement and support our territorial operations
around the country. If, for example, there was some major incident
forthcoming at one of our establishments, wherever it might be,
we would deploy that force to bolster the local resources which
were insufficient. It is nothing new; it is nothing to do with
this Bill. They operate within the existing MDP Act. They are
just a mobile force with extra training to go to extra places.
774. Chairman, it does have relevance to this
Bill to the extent that extra powers are being sought for the
Ministry of Defence Police, and whatever it may be called and
if it is not a rapid response team it is probably part of an area
policing team, I understand that there was indeed a training exercise
carried out quite recently in the South of England at a Ministry
of Defence establishment and the Home Office police force who
were alongside discovered that this specially trained unit had
not been trained in hostage negotiation nor in incident management
nor of course did they have any custody facilities. Are you envisaging
spending more time on that sort of training which apparently is
(Mr Comben) I do not know of the particular incident
you have described nor of those comments, but we do not, to the
best of my knowledge, have hostage negotiators and we do not foresee
at the moment that we would take on such a role. If there was
a hostage situation inside the MoD environment I am sure that
that is the kind of incident which we would immediately in discussion
with our Home Department colleagues hand over to them.
Mr Key: Could I change tack. I am very
happy to give way to somebody else who wants to come in.
775. Before you do can I come in on training.
In circumstances where an MDP officer has arrested somebody in
what is considered to be an emergency situation, are they then
responsible for reporting the crime, taking it through the legal
process and even appearing in court, if necessary? In your experience
do MDP officers have sufficient experience in that area? What
is the point where it moves from the MDP to the Home Office?
(Mr Comben) Let me deal, firstly, with MDP cases.
Our officers have been trained in the same way, have the same
ability and the same resources to prepare the case files for the
CPS, for the Procurator Fiscal or the authorities in Northern
Ireland the same as any other police force. That carries on quite
normally. If we are talking about the new emergency powers suggested
in this Bill, inherent in those emergency powers is the first
question which the Chief Constable elicited which is officers
must say, even though it is a life-threatening incident, can I
contact the Home Department force? If after answering the four
questions and intervening in that situation they must hand it
over to the Home Department force at the earliest opportunity.
When the Home Department force arrives we obviously hand it over
professionally but we hand it over and our officers would prepare
their evidence and give their evidence to the Home Department
force and from then on it would be a Home Department force prosecution
or a Home Department force report. We would contribute professionally
to their report. There is no suggestion in the emergency powers
in this Bill that our involvement goes one stage beyond that which
is absolutely necessary. Our task is merely to prevent injury,
to save life, nothing more. From that moment on we hand it over
lock, stock and barrel to the Home Department force.
(Mr Legge) That, of course, would have to be spelt
out in detail in the revised Protocol which follows the legislation.
776. On that basis presumably MDP police officers
could and perhaps already have found themselves as witnesses in
a court case?
(Mr Comben) Many times. It is a daily occurrence.
777. That is the decision of the Home Office
(Mr Comben) Absolutely.
Chairman: And then the relevant authorities.
Thank you. Does anyone want to come in before Mr Key continues
his questions. Mr Key?
Mr Key: Thank you, Chairman.
Chairman: Is this still on jurisdiction?
778. Yes it is but I will move on. If what you
have just described is the case, Deputy Chief Constable, where
the Official Secrets Act is involved and where it is perfectly
clear that Ministers wish to see an investigation of an individual
citizen's property, why does the Ministry of Defence police then
raid a house rather than the Home Office police force?
(Mr Comben) Well if it is an investigation being undertaken
by the Ministry of Defence Police then it is right and proper
and legally allowed for the MDP to search (rather than raid) the
person's house. As I think I said in a previous session, that
is always done in liaison and co-operation with the local police
force. We never just go out into non-MoD parts of the country
searching people's houses. We do not do it.
779. Why do you think the National Union of
Journalists is so concerned about the extension of powers which
is being sought in this Bill?
(Mr Comben) I think unfortunately, Madam Chairman,
there has been a fundamental and serious misunderstanding and
we worked very hard in the previous session to try and explain
it and put this to bed once and for all. The concerns that have
just been mentioned are about clause 6. Clause 6 is nothing to
do with the Ministry of Defence Police. It is nothing to do with
civil policing. The Chief Constable of Suffolk, whom I suspect
is still with us, has no interest in clause 6. His officers have
the necessary tightly constrained (quite properly by Parliament)
provision under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984.
Can we please make it absolutely clear to everybody that clause
6 is a power being sought by the military provost authorities
as part of the bulk of the Bill to bring them up to date every
five years with things that they do not have at the moment. It
is of no concern to the MDP.