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Home affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 494
Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 18 July 2012
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Shamik Dutta, Police Action Lawyers Group, and Megan Phillips, Police Action Lawyers Group, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Order. Can I call the Committee to order, and could I refer all those present to the Register of Members’ Interests where the interests of members of this Committee are registered. Are there any more declarations to be made other than on the register? Mr Michael?
Alun Michael: Chair, my current interest is being a candidate for the election of Police Commissioner in South Wales.
Chair: This is the first session in the Committee’s inquiry into the IPCC, the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The Committee has wanted to do this for some time, so this is our opportunity to look at the history of the IPCC and also to look at ways in which the organisation can be improved. Can I thank you, Mr Dutta and Ms Phillips, for submitting written evidence and for coming before the Committee as our first witnesses? As our first witnesses you have a real opportunity to shape the way in which this inquiry is going to develop. Could I start with you, Mr Dutta? In your written evidence you talk about islands of good practice in the work of the IPCC, but the rest is basically a criticism of what they have done. Why have they failed when they were welcomed so warmly when they were first established?
Shamik Dutta: Thank you for inviting us. I think the first point to make is that it takes great courage on the part of our clients, who are the victims of police misconduct, to bring police complaints. Unfortunately, in their experience that courage is not necessarily reflected in the manner in which the IPCC has operated. I think that the cultural issues that arise from the specific points that we have made in the dossier are, first of all, we are witnessing a lack of courage on the part of the commission both from investigators and case workers. Secondly, there is quite often a lack of transparency, which does nothing to give confidence to our clients-the victims of police misconduct. Thirdly, there is an issue where our clients often find that the IPCC confuses its duty of independence with neutrality-they are two different things and they affect all of the functions that we have provided in our written submissions. Finally, over the years, in the past at least-and we have raised this with the IPCC-we have found that there have been times when our constructive criticism and those of our clients, based upon their own experiences, have been met in an overly defensive manner, which prevented the IPCC from learning from our clients’ experiences. I think those are the key cultural issues that our clients have identified and that we have identified, and we welcome the appointment of Anne Owers in this regard, because she has a strong track record of affecting cultural change in very difficult and challenging environments.
Q2 Chair: Yes, we will hear from Dame Anne Owers later this morning. Ms Phillips, if you were looking at a percentage of your clients that were satisfied or dissatisfied with the operation of the IPCC, what would that percentage be, or if you want to give them marks out of 10?
Megan Phillips: I think it would be hard to give a percentage in terms of clients. I think from my personal clients’ perspective, I think I have seen two very good IPCC independent investigations out of over 20 to 25, so I think the percentage is probably very low.
Q3 Chair: So, it is a pretty low percentage?
Megan Phillips: Yes, I am afraid that it is.
Q4 Chair: Are your clients saying to you, "This has to change", they are clearly not satisfied with the status quo? Is that right, Mr Dutta?
Shamik Dutta: Absolutely. They often find that the route to accountability does not lie in the police complaints process, it lies through civil litigation, and something has to change, where our clients cannot rely on the police complaints system as a whole, over which the IPCC has guardianship. They are utterly demoralised quite often at the end of cases and feel that the complaints system has not served their best interests, or even their most basic expectations.
Q5 Chair: Ms Phillips, who do they think the system benefits? If it does not benefit the client, when the clients come to you and they are dissatisfied with what the organisation has done, who do they think is behind the expectations that have been so sadly dashed?
Megan Phillips: Well, I think what they see is, as Mr Dutta mentioned, a lack of courage to try and hold police officers to account. As we put it in our written submissions, where there is no independent corroborating evidence there is a tendency on the part of investigators to always agree with police officers’ accounts of events, as opposed to our clients’. Even though what we see, in terms of that evidence, is real difficulties with that officer’s evidence. I think that what our clients see, in subsequent civil claims, is the same evidence and those civil claims are settled. Accountability is achieved but not as against the individual officers. What our clients were striving for was to bring those officers to account through the complaints process.
Chair: You may have to speak up just a little bit louder; the acoustics in this room are not very good.
Megan Phillips: Sorry.
Q6 Michael Ellis: Well, first of all can I say that I think the work that you do is a very valuable work, and I congratulate you on it, in acting to represent people in these issues. The IPCC has called for new investigatory powers. Your evidence has described the failure of case workers, I think you were just referring to that, to grasp the extent of the powers that are already available. Do you believe that the commission has adequate powers now to properly investigate allegations of misconduct or misfeasance in public office? Does it have the resources that it should have in order to properly investigate these issues and to be an effective watchdog?
Shamik Dutta: In respect of the powers, I think there are two different issues. One is in respect of the power of investigators when they are tasked to investigate death and serious injury matters. The second is in respect of the powers available to case workers when they are dealing with the IPCC’s appellate function. In respect of the investigator’s powers, that is something I think that my colleague, Ms Phillips, will be able to talk about. I will start off by talking about the appellate function. Quite often in our experience, those case workers who are dealing with the appeals process do not grasp that they are able to depart from the view that has been taken by the local force investigating. As we have explained in some of our evidence, we have given some cases where there have been instances where the case workers have failed to appreciate that they are able to uphold complaints, even in the absence of independent or corroborative evidence. Also there has been a case that has come to light, and there have been other examples as well that we have heard, where a case worker has failed to appreciate his or her role within the process: for example, by saying it is not our job to look at whether an arrest was lawful or not. That ignores the clear breach of codes of conduct on the part of individual officers, which is likely to have taken place in any claim for false imprisonment or unlawful arrest.
Q7 Michael Ellis: Would you say that is always invariably relevant- those issues? Because there may have been an initial breach in the due course for arrest, it does not necessarily follow that later misconduct can be proven.
Shamik Dutta: Well, it would be very rare circumstances where an individual officer does not have reasonable grounds to suspect an arrest is necessary, yet goes ahead, if that is the arrest, that would not amount to some form of misconduct. There are some cases where, for example, an individual officer would not necessarily be liable, because it would have been in the briefing or something of that nature. Generally speaking, most unlawful arrests would necessarily engage codes of conduct and misconduct. In respect of the individual investigator’s powers perhaps I can pass over to Ms Phillips on that.
Megan Phillips: I think what our clients-and I know our members’ clients-have seen in the past is a reluctance on the part of investigators in death and serious injury investigations to see those matters as conduct matters in which officers may have committed a criminal offence or may have acted in a way that would justify bringing disciplinary proceedings, therefore, despite the available evidence that we see, not using their powers to interview those officers. I think what is difficult from our clients’ point of view is comparing that situation with a situation in which members of the public were involved in, say, a fight or a restraint, and the lack of parity with an ordinary criminal investigation, if you can call it that.
Q8 Michael Ellis: You seem to be saying, correct me if I am wrong, that you feel the IPCC has adequate powers and resources, but there is a mindset issue that you both are unhappy with. You take the view that investigators come in and they have the mindset that they are going to uphold the earlier investigation of the local force in question- am I right with that characterisation of your beliefs?
Megan Phillips: Yes.
Shamik Dutta: I think it is difficult for us to say, in terms of whether it has adequate resources. You know, we are not privy to decisions that are made, in terms of why some decisions are made on the basis of resources and whether they are made on another basis. Certainly, there have been instances where we have seen decisions that seem to be made on the basis of resources as opposed to the right decision on the basis of the evidence. Without the will, without the culture of courage in the face of conflicting evidence, in the face of death and serious injury cases where there is evidence that conduct matters arise, without that will, increased resources would not necessarily be put in the right place. I think that is the point we are trying to make.
Q9 Alun Michael: You have already referred to the question of interview. Normally with a criminal event, you have a first-hand account taken from whoever is alleged to have committed the offence, in an interview under caution. Now, that does not always happen in IPCC investigations. There appear to be reasons for that, but what are the implications and what are your comments on it?
<?oasys [pc10p0] ?>Megan Phillips: There are implications if officers were not interviewed under caution in matters where we say there was the available evidence to treat death and serious injury investigations as a conduct matter. The most stark practical consequence of that is when you come to an inquest some several years later and officers give evidence to that inquest that is heard by the jury, in compliance with article 2-the ability to have gained that available evidence that we have from an interview has been lost. So, officers give evidence on the basis of prepared statements, quite often having conferred with their colleagues.
Q10 Alun Michael: Do you accept that there are sometimes reasons for not taking an interview under caution and are you calling for a change in practice?
Megan Phillips: Our clients accept that there are, of course, cases where officers may not have-there may not be evidence-
Q11 Alun Michael: But your clients may or may not understand this. I am asking what you are recommending.
Megan Phillips: Oh, quite. Yes, there are cases where there may not be evidence that officers committed a criminal offence or misconduct offence, but what we are seeing is there is a reluctance to identify where that is a possibility at the outset.
Q12 Alun Michael: So what are you suggesting?
Megan Phillips: I think, like Mr Dutta said, that a sea change needs to be made, in terms of an unwillingness to identify that evidence and to then interview.
Shamik Dutta: As things stand, the powers exist to interview under caution where there is a conduct matter, where there is evidence that offences may have been committed.
Q13 Alun Michael: So you are saying that ought to be universally the case?
Shamik Dutta: Well, we are saying that it needs to be enforced properly on the basis of the evidence and at the moment we find that it is not. Quite often decisions are made which are not based on the evidence available, or where it is clear to us that the evidence dictates that they should be interviewing under caution, but it is simply not being enforced. That is where we come back to the cultural issue. There is a cultural issue within the organisation in respect of lack of courage in these circumstances.
Q14 Nicola Blackwood: As I understand it, and correct me if I am wrong, is your argument that if a member of the public were to become involved in some kind of situation where lethal force had been involved, they would routinely be interviewed under caution, and the concern here is that that does not occur routinely with police officers? Can you explain how the IPCC would normally explain that?
Shamik Dutta: Well, the IPCC have explained in the past that officers have the ability in law to use lethal force in self defence. However, this obviously <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>overlooks the fact that all of us have the right to use lethal force in self-defence. Although officers have been given greater powers, in terms of arrest, and so on, this issue in relation to lethal force should be universally applied and the test should be universally applied. That is what we are saying. There should be parity in relation to the manner in which criminal investigations are conducted, and investigations into death resulting from the use of lethal force with police officers.
The interviewing of officers under caution point is just part of the jigsaw. There are also other issues where we have found that there is a disparity. For example, in disclosure provided to officers prior to interviews. There is an issue where we have found that disclosure provided to officers is often much greater than that which would be provided to a defendant in a criminal investigation. There are also issues in relation to timeliness where a decision is taken to interview police officers. Quite often the interview takes place many months down the line, whereas in criminal proceedings you would find the decision to arrest and to interview are almost instantaneous. There are various aspects of the investigatory process where we are seeing a disparity, and one that cannot be justified in law, as far as we are concerned.
Q15 Nicola Blackwood: What do you think the impact of this disparity has on public confidence?
Shamik Dutta: Well, I think it goes without saying that the disparity, where it cannot be logically and rationally explained, will lead to complainants refusing to accept, quite justifiably, that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is fulfilling its functions, that there is going to be a thorough investigation through which they will discover how their loved ones died. Without these procedures in place there is no other conclusion they could come to, particularly where they see the disparity between ordinary criminal proceedings and those against police officers.
Megan Phillips: I think it is quite common for our clients to feel very much, "Why should they be treated differently than I would be?"
Q16 Nicola Blackwood: A recent case where this occurred was the case involving Mark Duggan. What is your assessment of the way in which the IPCC handled that case?
Shamik Dutta: I think we have to be fair to the family and also the lawyers acting for the family there. If you have specific questions relating to that particular case we are happy to communicate those back, but because we are not acting in that case it would probably be inappropriate for us to comment. Also, there are obviously rules in respect of ongoing cases and the extent to which we can actually speak about them in public and before this Committee.
Q17 Mr Clappison: Just very briefly on your view as to how the police are seeing these matters, I think you make some very good points about the need for <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>full investigation. From the point of view of the police, when you are saying the police are in the same position as the rest of us, the police are called upon by the nature of their duty and their oath to intervene in situations that are very difficult, where a member of the public would not intervene. Also what you are saying, would it not put the police on the same basis as a suspect in a case, if they were to be regarded as under suspicion from the beginning? If there was evidence that a policeman had behaved improperly, that would make them a suspect. Without that evidence, should you not draw a distinction between somebody who is a suspect because of the circumstance that make them a suspect-involvement in criminal activity-and a police officer who is carrying out their duties?
Shamik Dutta: The problem that we have found is that it is where there is evidence that officers should be treated as suspects, they are not being treated as suspects-where there is available evidence as well as where evidence arises in the course of an investigation. For example, where an investigation begins on the basis that it is not a conduct matter-where the officers are not suspects-further evidence emerges that might suggest that there are discrepancies, or disputes of facts, and evidence arises where they should be treated as a suspect. The review is not taking place that would lead to the different type of investigation taking place thereafter. It is only once we arrived at inquest proceedings, many months or even years down the line, where the officer’s evidence can be tested at all, so that is the nub of the issue that we have identified.
Q18 Chair: There is a number of private security firms involved in the administration of justice. I do not know whether you have seen the Committee’s report into the death of Jimmy Mubenga. Should we look at powers to deal with firms that are involved, such as G4S and others, within the criminal justice system, or should they just be left to one side, Mr Dutta?
Shamik Dutta: I think, given that it seems there is going to be much greater privatisation of policing functions-and there already has been-we would adopt the submissions made by INQUEST in this regard. Clearly an investigation into a death in custody, into a death following police contact or involving contact with a private security firm like G4S, must be allowed to travel in the direction in which the evidence allows it to. The investigation should not be restricted by the fact that certain individuals who may have been actors in that or relevant witnesses cannot be incorporated. It is fairly clear and we would adopt the INQUEST position on those.
Chair: What do you think about that, Ms Phillips?
Megan Phillips: I think that is right. I think that it would not be satisfactory for an investigation to be left with gaps that could be filled by those.
Q19 Mr Winnick: The IPCC was of course created, as we know, in 2004 to have public confidence, first and foremost, in the police system when it came to complaints. Do you feel that the number of former police officers makes it more difficult for that impartiality to be seen?
Shamik Dutta: It would affect public confidence, yes. I think that in relation to investigators, it depends on there being systems in place to ensure that, whoever the investigator, the right job is being done, that the evidence is being followed and gathered, and the law is being applied as it should be. Clearly if there are a large number of former police officers acting in these roles within the IPCC there will necessarily be a cultural issue in relation to how the organisation operates. It is understandable why members of the public would be disappointed in relation to cases of this nature involving death and serious injury. There may be a large number of former police officers involved, particularly given that they would expect the Independent Police Complaints Commission to be separate in every possible way. I think that the lack of public confidence is understandable, but what I would focus on more is whether or not systems are in place within the organisation to ensure that whoever the investigator, they are doing the right job.
Q20 Mr Winnick: Do you think it is practical for an organisation looking into complaints about the police and having some knowledge of the day-to-day matters that the police must be involved in to be able to do such a job without employing former police officers, and in some cases pretty senior ones?
Shamik Dutta: This is why I am talking about systems-systems of oversight and systems of accountability within the organisation. Those are the systems that are required to ensure that whoever the investigator, the correct job is done. It is these systems that need to be honed in order to ensure that investigations follow the correct course.
Q21 Mr Winnick: Do you take the view that the organisation should be reorganised, or can it be reformed, in your opinion, to give the public the confidence that you believe is lacking at the moment?
Shamik Dutta: Our clients desperately need a strong and independent body overseeing police complaints, whether that is in relation to the appellate function or whether it is in relation to the investigatory function or guardianship. It is absolutely necessary that an independence exists. There have been, as I say, islands of good practice. There have been instances where guidance, in relation to disclosure for example, has been brought in that could have had a great effect on public confidence, as well as the quality of investigations. The problem is enforcement quite often, and those cultural changes, we hope, can be remedied.
Q22 Lorraine Fullbrook: I would like to ask if you think the expansion of the IPCC into Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs-SOCA is understandable, but the UK Border Agency as well-is causing a problem in this regard, with officers not knowing the parameters of their function.
Shamik Dutta: It is not a question that we have addressed. It is not something that we as a group, in the Police Action Lawyers Group, have dealt with at all or discussed. So, it would not be proper for me to give you my own personal view on it, I think.
Q23 Dr Huppert: In your evidence you say that, "The most common failing our clients experience is refusal by an investigating police force to uphold a complaint simply on the basis the account provided by a complainant conflicts with the accounts provided by the officer complained against or his colleagues". That is rather unusual, clearly, because the police must be used to the idea that different people say somewhat different things. Do you have evidence, and is there any way of getting evidence, to suggest this is actually bias, as opposed the problems with investigating something where ultimately there are just two sides to a story?
Shamik Dutta: I think that, as we have said in the submission, there is a failure to critically analyse conflicting accounts, which would not be evident in relation to ordinary criminal proceedings. Having said that, in those ordinary criminal proceedings you would ordinarily have interviews taken under caution and that quite often does not happen in IPCC investigations. The failure to critically analyse accounts is something that we think is systemic, and that the balance of probabilities is the same standard of proof in relation to those and also civil proceedings. Quite often matters that are torts-that are unlawful in common law-also involve conduct issues, yet where police complaints will be considered not capable of proof, in the words of the investigators and also the appeal case workers, those individuals subsequently go on to secure apologies, damages and quite often admissions of liability from the police force in question.
From our clients’ perspective, and from our perspective, it is very difficult to reconcile those two positions: where on the one hand the IPCC have considered that a complaint is not capable of proof, even after an appeal, but when the matter falls into the hands of the police force in question it is able to take action by way of restitution and redress. That disconnect is very hard to explain and very difficult to understand. We certainly cannot understand it from the basis of the justifications that have been put forward so far.
Q24 Dr Huppert: I follow what you are saying, and it does seem rather hard to see how it worked like that. Ultimately we have to make recommendations on how the IPCC should change its behaviour to fix it. What exactly would you like them to change to take account of this, while still leaving that space where there is genuine lack of evidence?
Shamik Dutta: I think the IPCC has drafted new guidance for case workers. I think that, as with the guidance on disclosure, it comes down to enforcement. I think part of that is where institutional themes are identified, the first step in addressing those, on the part of the IPCC, is to accept that they exist-to accept that there is a problem. That first step is sometimes not taken in our view. Once that first step is taken, supervision of case work can have that at the forefront-have it as a live issue at the forefront. From there, we would hope that further improvements could be made. Obviously, the IPCC is answerable to committees such as yourselves.
It would be important, I think, to look at the reports that are produced by the IPCC, but to do so with a degree of healthy concern about some of the statistics that are produced. For example, I was looking at their submission on appeals and they have referred to over 50% of those who replied to their satisfaction survey being satisfied. Now, if we look at where that comes from, that comes from their most recent report. They say that 6,476 appeals have been lodged. Now, of those, only 789 people responded to the questionnaire. Of those 789, 54% said they were satisfied. So, we are looking at, in total out of all the appeals received, 6.5% of people wrote back to the IPCC to say, "We are satisfied with what you have done"-less than 7%.
Q25 Chair: At the end of the day you want this organisation to be reformed and improved and given more powers and more resources. If that happens you are happy with it to stay, are you?
Shamik Dutta: Our clients need an independent body. They cannot rely on the force whose conduct has been called into question to investigate adequately in some instances and it is important that the IPCC is independent. I think that in terms of enforcement powers, there needs to be improvement; in terms of cultural change there needs to be a great deal of improvement. But it cannot be improved without the right mindset and the right cultural changes.
Megan Phillips: Yes, I think, as we said at the beginning, that it is about using the powers and resources that they already have available to them, and I think that is through the cultural change that is needed.
Q26 Chair: One of the concerns we have heard over a number of years has been the delay in producing reports. Nicola Blackwood mentioned the Mark Duggan case, and of course, you have to be cautious about what you say about that. But it just takes so long, doesn’t it? In the middle of all this families are very worried about it. Is delay an issue that you need to see resolved?
Megan Phillips: Delay is certainly an issue, particularly in relation to death and serious injury investigations that then obviously impact on an already creaking coronial system to get the inquests heard. There is tension between ensuring that the investigation is thorough, at the same time as insuring that it is done in a timely fashion. But there is a real significant delay which our clients-
Q27 Chair: Is there anything that you have uncovered that indicates that the race of the complainant is an issue, in the way in which the IPCC deals with complaints?
Shamik Dutta: I think we would need to go back to our members with that question. In terms of complainants generally, yes. Black and minority ethnic members of the public are disproportionately complainants, I think it is fair to say. In terms of how they are dealt with by the IPCC, that is something we need to take back to our members and ask about that, and we are happy to provide further evidence on that.
Chair: Mr Dutta and Ms Phillips, thank you very much for opening our inquiry into the IPCC. We will obviously want to hear from you through the course of this inquiry. If you have any information that is relevant to us, please do write in to the Committee. Thank you very much.
Shamik Dutta: Thank you.
Megan Phillips: Thank you.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Doreen Lawrence OBE, gave evidence.
Q28 Chair: Mrs Lawrence, thank you very much for coming to give evidence to this Committee. You have obviously been before and we are most grateful to you. As you probably heard me say at the beginning, this is our new inquiry into the IPCC and we are very keen to hear from you on a number of aspects of this. Do you think the organisation is failing?
Doreen Lawrence: Yes, because as a member of the public, I do not feel like they are as independent as they should be. Over the years in many high profile cases, especially for the black community-and I presume from my perspective, when I think about it-it is still police officers investigating police officers, even though those officers are retired. So, for me, it gives the air that they are still protecting each other.
Q29 Chair: In respect of your son’s case, the death of your son, you complained to the IPCC, how do you feel they dealt with those issues?
Doreen Lawrence: None of our complaints have been upheld. All the reports have come back that there is no case to answer. I feel that sometimes they have not delved deep enough, because the latest thing that has been coming out recently is about police corruption around from the start of Stephen’s case. That continues to be, that there is some underlying-where officers are concerned. I think it is twice we have been to the IPCC and twice they have said there is no case to answer for those officers.
Q30 Chair: Turning to the issue of police corruption and the call that you made for a public inquiry into the latest allegations that have surfaced, and the new information, were you pleased or disappointed that the Home Secretary has instituted a review as a result of what you have asked for? Because you did not get the public inquiry that you have asked for. Are you satisfied with the review that is now to be headed by Mark Ellison QC?
Doreen Lawrence: I am not satisfied as such, because I look at it like a starting point. I am optimistic, if there is anything to come out of this review, that there will be a public inquiry, because I think it needs to be delved into a little bit deeper than the outcome that the review is going to give us. I have spoken to Mark Ellison QC and he is trying to reassure me that through his investigation he will leave no stone unturned, and if there is anything that comes out he will have to go to the CPS. He feels that the powers that he has will allow him to do that. I am quietly optimistic, but at the same time, I think, over the years I have seen what happened around Stephen’s case, every time we think we have come to a point where you can draw a line, something else raises its head. I am waiting to see what happens.
Q31 Chair: You would like a public inquiry?
Doreen Lawrence: Yes.
Q32 Chair: You still would like a public inquiry, but you have accepted what the Home Secretary has set up, and you feel this is a first stage that might indeed lead to a public inquiry at the end of the process?
Doreen Lawrence: Yes. That is what I feel.
Q33 Chair: Are you or your family involved in the review process that Mr Ellison will lead?
Doreen Lawrence: I have had a first meeting with Mark Ellison and he has said that on any questions that we have, he is open for us to come and speak to him. I can only take him at his word, because he was involved in the prosecution of those two individuals. I think in the early stages, as prosecutor, he was a little bit closed where the family was concerned, but as the trial went on he became a lot more open and was willing to discuss things with us. So, on that, I am taking him at his word.
Q34 Chair: Do you think you have reached the stage where you have had to call for a public inquiry, because organisations like the IPCC have failed to deliver what you expected of them? Would you be calling for a public inquiry if you felt the organisation had your confidence?
Doreen Lawrence: No, I would not be calling for that. When we saw the Home Secretary, as one of the things she was saying about the IPCC-and I had to point out to her that I had no confidence in them because of what has happened over the years. I feel that if the IPCC was as independent as I think they were meant to be, I would have a lot more confidence. But at the moment I have no confidence in them whatsoever.
Q35 Chair: You mentioned police investigating police, would you prefer it if this organisation had no investigators who were police officers? That all the investigations ought to be conducted by people who had no connection to the police force?
Doreen Lawrence: Definitely so. I remember when the IPCC was first set up and one of my questions was about ex-officers. I was told at the time that because of the new organisation and because people would not have the experience in investigating incidents they had to use ex-police officers, but as time goes on they would look to change that. Over the years that has not changed. I know recently I have heard on the news that they are looking to bring in independent people who are not police officers. I think time will tell on that, but at the moment, I do not think that they are doing what they were set up to do.
Q36 Mark Reckless: Ms Lawrence, as I am sure you are aware, the majority of complaints against the police are investigated by the police force concerned- generally it is the professional standards directorate. What do you think of the robustness or otherwise of that process?
Doreen Lawrence: I have no confidence. I can only go by my own experience of what happened around Stephen’s case, but I have lost count of the number of different investigations that have happened and different police who have come in to investigate. I think the primary example is that during the private prosecution when we had officers who were leading us to believe that the first investigation was wrong. Then when we had the inquest, when one of the officers got up and said that he felt the first investigation went well and the only problem was between the family and liaison officers. Now, that just makes me-in fact it made me very angry at the time, because they were making me believe that the first investigation was so flawed, but then when it is time for him to get up and speak out against those officers he chose not to.
Q37 Mark Reckless: I served as a member until last year of the Kent Police Authority. To try and give ourselves and the public some assurance as to how complaints were investigated, we instituted a random dip sample of different complaints and we would go through the whole file, and then come to our view on whether we thought the complaint had been properly dealt with. Do you think that with the elected Police and Crime Commissioners coming in from November, they might be able to play a similar role perhaps in overseeing complaints, and seeking to assure the public that they were being dealt with rather than merely as the police themselves would want?
Doreen Lawrence: I think where the new Commissioners are coming in, we have no idea of the background of those officers and where they are coming from. So, to say that-I suppose I have doubts about that, because you don’t know who these Commissioners are going to be-they could be an BNP for all we know-so that doesn’t fill me with any confidence either.
Q38 Mark Reckless: But the fact that they are elected by the public rather than merely being from the police themselves, would that not be something that would give you any confidence?
Doreen Lawrence: But how is the public going to be able to elect these Commissioners? I do not understand the procedure of how that is going to work. I think until we are quite clear about the procedure and how these Commissioners are going to be elected, I will reserve my views at the moment.
Q39 Mr Winnick: Without your and Mr Lawrence’s determination, there would have been, as we know, no Macpherson inquiry, and we praise you for the manner in which you fought so well to make sure that following the terrible murder of your son there should be a thorough inquiry into all the circumstances and certainly what happened as far as the police are concerned. Mrs Lawrence, you were faced with incompetence, corruption and racism arising from what occurred after Stephen was brutally murdered in April 1993. The question that I want to ask you is: do you feel that as a result of what happened, the Macpherson inquiry, the changes that have undoubtedly occurred, the IPCC, there is a different culture, and what you had to face would no longer be the position?
Doreen Lawrence: Definitely. There is a different culture, I would agree with that, but families are still facing difficulty. Families still feel that they have not been given-or their concerns have not been addressed in the way in which they would like. At the trust, we get so many families coming in complaining that this is-
Q40 Chair: This is the Stephen Lawrence trust?
Doreen Lawrence: The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. Families are complaining about their experience of the police officers, and what has happened to them within the family. Things may have moved on quite a bit, but I still feel that families are still experiencing difficulty and racism from the police force.
Q41 Mr Winnick: But less? As you were indicating?
Doreen Lawrence: Can I say less? It is difficult to say whether-you can only go by what those families are experiencing. There is a lot of change within the force I would say. My experience of the force is completely different from what it was back in 1993. I have experienced a load of officers who are very genuine and very supportive, but there is still an element there that needs to be addressed.
Q42 Bridget Phillipson: Mrs Lawrence, you have talked about the lack of independence of the IPCC as you see it, and you have talked about the fact that many of those carrying out investigations are former police officers. Are there any other reasons that you feel the IPCC are not as independent as you would like them to be, and perhaps are not as fair a watchdog of the police as they should be?
Doreen Lawrence: Apart from talking about the retired officers in there, I don’t know that much more about them. All I can talk about is my experience of it when we went to them with our complaints around Stephen’s case, but until they change the culture of who is investigating and who they have, then I don’t think anything will be any different. The culture needs to change.
Q43 Bridget Phillipson: Just returning to the issue of complaints that are dealt with internally by the police, where they are not referred or where the complaint doesn’t take the case to the IPCC, it seems sometimes to be the case that when a complaint is made internally to the police there is a lack of transparency about the process, with the emphasis that that should be dealt with, with the complainant and perhaps a senior officer in that police station or on that force. What are your views on that? How do you think we might make people more aware of their right to complain to the IPCC and to take that complaint further if they are not happy with how a force has dealt with that complaint?
Doreen Lawrence: At the moment, there is a family over in Nottingham who have been experiencing, you would probably call it harassment from some police officers within the force there. I think they went to the force itself with their complaint and nothing happened, and they have taken their complaints to the IPCC and still nothing happens. People don’t have any confidence, and it is like, "Where do we go?" Years ago, they used to have local Race Equality Council’s if there was anything, and they would focus on case workers, but that has gone, so families and people are left with nowhere to go. I think sometimes this is why-and this is like the family I am talking about, one of my big worries for that family, especially as they have some young boys, is that whatever complaints they are making because nobody is addressing them, they feel it is something they have to do themselves. That is just creating a culture of young people getting themselves into trouble because they feel that no one is addressing the problem that they are experiencing. I am not saying that is happening to everybody, but at the moment that is what I am hearing. All I can do-the last email I had from the family I sent over to the CPS. I just think somebody needs to do something, somebody needs to listen to what the family is saying. The IPCC is not listening.
Q44 Chair: But do you endorse the view of Ms Phillipson that if it is dealt with right at the start efficiently and effectively, and somebody listens to the complaint at the local police force, that the number of complaints that go to the IPCC would be reduced? It is the way in which the front line deal with these people?
Doreen Lawrence: Yes. Well, definitely. But then if the front line is not dealing with it where do they go?
Q45 Chair: So, even a robust internal system would not be enough? You would need to go somewhere else?
Doreen Lawrence: If the internal has not been robust enough in order to support what the complainant is saying then they need to have somewhere they can take it to. I presume that the IPCC was set up for families and individuals to be able to do that.
Q46 Lorraine Fullbrook: Just following on from that, Mrs Lawrence. You said earlier that you have no confidence in the IPCC, and that you are looking forward to the time when independent case officers come in rather than retired police officers. For other families to have confidence and for confidence to be restored by the IPCC what other reforms do you think are necessary?
Doreen Lawrence: I sometimes wonder if the IPCC has enough teeth to deal with things. Okay, the IPCC was set up by the Government, but did they give them enough powers in order to deal with things? I do not know the answer. Sometimes I think that is what is necessary, because if you do not have the teeth to deal with things when something occurred then what do you do? You may just have retired police officers as investigators, but is the IPCC allowed to take on independent people? I have no idea, but that is something that needs to be looked into.
Q47 Chair: Mrs Lawrence, as well as taking up the issue of your son, on which you have campaigned on so many years, you have become a spokesperson as far as racism in this country is concerned. Do you think it is getting better-as far as the way in which the police are dealing with these issues?
Doreen Lawrence: In some cases, yes. I think people feel that they can challenge racism a lot better than they were able to do before, because I think people never talked much about it, but it is more out in the open. They will not tolerate it as much as the used to. So, racism has moved on, but I still feel that we need to be able to challenge it at every level when it happens, and don’t let people get away with it.
Q48 Chair: I noticed the fact that you attended the first day of the hearing of the John Terry case. Do you think the issue of role models is very, very important in the way in which they deal with this issue?
Doreen Lawrence: Definitely, definitely. I am possibly speaking out of turn here, but somebody like John Terry, I must say, is held up so high by young people. Regardless of what was the outcome of that judgment I felt that his behaviour is something that should not be seen as anything more than-he said a racist thing and that should have been addressed straightaway and not left for however many months. I do not think it has been dealt with in a way in which it should have been, because young people still see him and hold him up as one of their heroes, and that is not right.
Q49 Chair: Going back to the IPCC, you were present when there were convictions in the case of Stephen Lawrence. Is that ongoing? Is that still being investigated? Are there more prosecutions on the way as far as you are aware?
Doreen Lawrence: Yes. I am told there are more lines of inquiry that police have followed up on. I understand there are some officers who feel that enough time has been spent on Stephen’s case already, and that they should draw a line rather than following up the lines of inquiry that are still outstanding.
Chair: Mrs Lawrence, thank you very much for coming in. If there are any other cases that you know about, such as the Nottingham case, which you feel would be interesting to this Committee and our inquiry, we would be most grateful if you could send them to us.
Doreen Lawrence: Okay. Thank you.
<?oasys [pg6,cwe1] ?>Examination of Witness
Witness: Dame Anne Owers DBE, Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, gave evidence.
Q50 Chair: Dame Anne, welcome back to the Home Affairs Committee, and on behalf of the Committee can I congratulate you on your appointment? I am not sure whether "congratulate" is the right word in view of the evidence we have heard so far, but we do congratulate you on your appointment as the new chair of the IPCC. Why did you take on this job, knowing full well there were all these criticisms of this organisation, and you yourself in the foreword to the annual report said that it lacked resources and powers?
Dame Anne Owers: Because it is a job that needs doing, and a job that needs doing well. I believe within the IPCC there are people who are doing it and who need more support to do it. It is a crucially important job, particularly in view of what is happening in policing generally at the moment. That was the reason.
Q51 Chair: But the two key issues that you highlighted in your report were resources and powers. If we turn to resources first of all, you have a budget of about £34 million, as I understand it. How much more do you need to regain the confidence of people like Doreen Lawrence, Mr Dutta and others?
Dame Anne Owers: That is almost a piece of string question. I think the point is that there are two areas of work where the public expect the IPCC to be more visible and the IPCC needs to be more visible. The first is the ability to take on more independent investigations. We do more than we did. This year we will have completed 130 independent investigations, which is a lot more than we used to do. However, there are areas-as we pointed out to the Home Secretary-such as police corruption, where the public would expect independent investigation or at least the IPCC to have a role in investigation of that kind.
That is one area. The other is what is loosely referred to as oversight or guardianship. Part of that is the appeals jurisdiction, which has been referred to in your earlier evidence. Part of it is our ability to dig into what is happening at the police level of complaints. The structure that Parliament has set in place has the IPCC very much at the top of the pyramid, but what we are finding, even in our appeals, is that all is not well at the bottom of the pyramid. Last year, we upheld 60% of appeals against not recording complaints at all. We upheld over 30% of complaints into local investigations and the outcomes of local investigations. We know that there is not confidence at the bottom end, and what we need to do is have more resources to dig into what is going on at the front end of the system, as well as to be able to deal with the very serious cases and the appeals at the back end of the system.
Q52 Chair: Because the Government took a long time to fill your job.
Dame Anne Owers: They did.
Q53 Chair: I think there was a long wait; this Committee was very anxious that it should be filled. When you met the Home Secretary and she offered you this job, did you say, "I am only taking it on if these things are sorted out", you surely couldn’t have taken on this job knowing that the problems existing in the IPCC would not be resolved? Because you applied-you weren’t head-hunted I assume; you applied for this.
Dame Anne Owers: I did apply for it, yes, I did. Certainly in my first meeting with the Home Secretary after I had taken on the appointment I indicated to her that there was a capacity problem: capacity in terms of resources and capacity in terms of powers and those conversations are ongoing with the Home Secretary and her officials as we speak.
Q54 Chair: Was it a conditional appointment? You said, "Well, I will do this job but I want to make sure these things change" or were you just accepting what you were given?
Dame Anne Owers: I didn’t make it a condition of taking on the job, no, partly because I didn’t know until I got into it exactly what was going on. What I knew was being reported, what I knew was on the face of it but it is only when you get into a job that you discover what you really need.
Q55 Chair: You have started a recruitment drive-we have heard about it earlier-and one of the main concerns of people who complain to the IPCC is that there are too many police officers investigating other police officers-obviously not serving officers but former officers; it is that connection that is a problem for people. Do you have any vision that you want to set out today that basically says, "No more police officers. We need independent people to do these investigations"?
Dame Anne Owers: The position I have always set out-and I have set out publicly twice already-is that we need both. We do need some ex-police officers because of the skills that they bring, because of their capacity to understand what is going on, to ask questions, because of their previous experience. When I was chief inspector of prisons around half of my inspectors had been governor grades in prisons.
They were among some of the strongest and most robust of my inspectors, which is why we chose them, because they hated to see people doing the job badly. That is the kind of police officers we need to have but we also need to have them as a minority of our investigators and we need to balance that with people who have experience in other areas and who can ask why do you do it that way, as well as knowing how best to do it. It is that balance that I am seeking.
Q56 Chair: You would like to see the majority of people who work for the IPCC and conduct investigations to be non-police officers.
Dame Anne Owers: That is already the case. The majority of our investigators-
Q57 Chair: But are you going to make that an even bigger balance or-
Dame Anne Owers: Yes, we would like to bring in more people from outside, and that is why we are doing a recruitment drive in the autumn and why also we are training up some of our own case workers, who come from non-police backgrounds, to be investigators. I think getting the balance right is important. However, as your previous speakers have said, it is not just about the people you take in, it is the way they do the job; it is the culture.
Q58 Chair: A final question that is quite parochial, you just closed the East Midlands IPCC branch.
Dame Anne Owers: Yes.
Q59 Chair: I am not sure whether it was timed because of your appearance before this Committee, but why have you done that?
Dame Anne Owers: It was led by budgetary requirements. We have had to make significant budgetary cuts, as have the rest of the public sector. We had to take some tough decisions. We also had leases coming up for renewal that were not going to be renewed at that point, so that is the background to that decision.
Q60 Mr Clappison: Can I support what you have just said about police officers? To say that there are no police officers who should be employed would be to imply that there are no police officers who are decent, hard-working, law-abiding people. We know the vast majority of them are public-spirited and do an excellent job.
There are, however, cases of police corruption from time to time, and I know that the research you have carried out shows that the public expect you to investigate those cases and you have said that you stand ready to do so. What would be the advantages for you of taking on that role particularly, and do you think it would help to reduce police corruption if you are more active in dealing with it?
Dame Anne Owers: I think it is an area where our survey showed that the public are least confident about the police investigating themselves, for obvious reasons. It is also, of course, the case that good police, not just in the IPCC but throughout the country, hate corruption because it affects them all, it tarnishes every single police officer every time there is one of these cases.
I think we would like to be able to take on more cases. We would not be able to take them all on independently because some of it obviously involves the covert gathering of evidence, which we would need to supervise, but we are doing quite a bit, particularly in terms of the Metropolitan Police at the moment. It is an area that we would want to look to be able to take on-
Q61 Mr Clappison: We can expect to see you do more then, broadly.
Dame Anne Owers: That is subject to resources.
Chair: Thank you, are you done, Mr Clappison?
Mr Clappison: Yes.
Q62 Alun Michael: You said that the system remains complex for both the citizen and the police to understand. What do you think can be done to simplify the process?
Dame Anne Owers: I think that is something that we are going to be looking at in the coming months. One of the things, as I said, is that we are set up to have oversight over the whole complaints system. One of the practical things we are doing at the moment is issuing new statutory guidance to police forces and appropriate authorities about how they should deal with complaints under the new Act.
Q63 Alun Michael: So, clearer operations and the police force-
Dame Anne Owers: Clearer, and that is going to be part of a suite of documents, some of which will be aimed at the public and complainants.
Q64 Alun Michael: Could I just try on three particular aspects, firstly, performance improvement, the suggestion is that people, in many cases, don’t want people to be sacked, they just want things to be put right. Is that going to be part of your philosophy?
Dame Anne Owers: It is now part of our powers. We now have the power, under the new Act, to recommend performance improvement, as well as disciplinary matters.
Q65 Alun Michael: I am aware of that-it is something I argued for-but is it going to be part of the philosophy?
Dame Anne Owers: Well, we hope so, yes. The whole aim ought to be to settle things at the right level and in the right way.
Q66 Alun Michael: The second thing you referred to was sometimes things not being recorded locally or being recorded as resolved and they haven’t been. Is that a big issue?
Dame Anne Owers: It is clearly an issue, given the percentage of those cases that we overturn on appeal. Hopefully it will be a bit less of an issue now that the distinction between direction and control and conduct has been changed under the new Act. Basically, the message that we are sending out to forces, the message we hope forces will hear is if someone complains it is a complaint.
Q67 Alun Michael: Finally, with the Lynette White case we have seen something where the Commissioner has been extremely robust over a very long period of time but seems to have been defeated by the court system, if I can put it that way. Is there a need for reform there too?
Dame Anne Owers: In what way? I am not quite clear why-
Q68 Alun Michael: It seems to have got tied up in bureaucracy after all these years.
Dame Anne Owers: I haven’t really got enough information on that case, Mr Michael, to be able to answer you sensibly.
Q69 Alun Michael: Okay. Perhaps you could write to me about it.
Dame Anne Owers: Please, I am very happy to put something in writing.
Alun Michael: Thank you.
Q70 Dr Huppert: Dame Anne, you will know that the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act makes a few changes to the way complaints are dealt with within forces. In particular, it gives greater discretion to the police service in the recording of complaints and decisions to dispense with a complaint or discontinue an investigation. I don’t think those provisions have yet come into force. When they do, do you think they will be helpful or unhelpful to your role and public confidence in the system?
Dame Anne Owers: The idea is to reduce some of the bureaucracy-some of the toing and froing that currently happens between ourselves and police forces. Of course, the whole idea of a complaint system, of any good complaint system, is that you resolve it and you resolve it properly as close to the source of the complaint and as quickly as you can, so that is the aim.
One of the things that the Act does clearly is to pass more to police forces, including some appeals, which would currently come to the IPCC. That is one of the reasons why, in my earlier answer to the Chairman, I was saying that I think that gives us both the responsibility and the necessity to be very alert to what is going on at local level and to be feeding back to Chief Officers and to the new Police and Crime Commissioners, the way in which their forces are dealing with complaints.
Q71 Dr Huppert: Will you have the ability to at least scrutinise in some way what happens within the police forces or will it be essentially a black box that you can’t access?
Dame Anne Owers: No, we have the ability. In law, we have the ability to do it. Clearly, we don’t want to turn ourselves into an inspectorate, but we do have the ability to look. What we don’t have are the resources to do it because what are we not to do? Are we not to do independent investigations? Are we not to do appeals and do them well? It does come down to an issue of whether we have the resources to do it.
Q72 Dr Huppert: Can you just confirm that there is no way that any complainant would be barred from having access to you, that they would still have appeal rights outside the police service initially?
Dame Anne Owers: If their complaint is dealt with by way of local resolution, which means that that can only happen if there are no issues of misconduct, no issues of criminality and no issues of human rights that could come from that. If it is dealt with by way of local resolution then those cases will not come to us-that is the structure of the Act-and the appeal will be to the Chief Officer or his or her delegate.
Q73 Dr Huppert: If the complainant is alleging that there are issues of criminality, misconduct and so forth, then they would be able to take it further through you.
Dame Anne Owers: Then there must be a local investigation, that is what is said and, in those cases, the outcome of that would be appealable to us, yes.
Q74 Mark Reckless: You mentioned the Police and Crime Commissioners. Clearly the IPCC are at the apex of the complaint system, but what role would you envisage for those Police and Crime Commissioners in the complaints building?
Dame Anne Owers: I think that in practice they are probably going to get complaints that ought to go to police forces, and dissatisfied complainants who ought to come to us, so we will need to have some very clear protocols in place with the PCCs so that those complaints that fall within the Police Reform Act go through the right gateway. I also think that at the other end one of our big problems-and it has been referred to before this Committee and in evidence to you-is how do we make sure that the things that we have said need to happen as a result of a complaint actually are happening?
Yes, you can resolve things for the individual complainant, but the whole idea is that then forces, in general, take on the message and do things better. One of the things that we need to work on is the way in which we can develop mechanisms to check whether what we have done has made a difference because that is the point. The Police and Crime Commissioners do form a place where I would envisage discussions going on between Commissioners, heads of casework and themselves about what is happening and if it is not happening why isn’t it happening?
Q75 Chair: In respect of private security firms that are now very much part of the criminal justice system, what kind of powers would you want to deal with them? The Committee has produced a report into the death of Jimmy Mubenga, who was escorted by two G4S guards onto a plane. Are you seeking more powers over the private sector in respect of the new powers you are seeking over the police?
Dame Anne Owers: Yes, we are. At the moment, we have powers over private sector contractors, but only if they are designated and certified as custody officers. If they have that then we can investigate just in the same way as you would the police, but if they are not so designated we don’t. I take a very simplistic view that if people are doing the job of the police then they should be subject to the same complaints procedure as the police, so what we are seeking is power over that. That can be provided and should be provided in legislation, but it would also be possible to include it in contracts being let and that is part-
Q76 Chair: That is what you would like to see happen, you would like to see an inclusion in private sector contracts with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, a reference to an appeal to the IPCC.
Dame Anne Owers: A reference to our jurisdiction in relation to complaints that are equivalent to those under the Police Reform Act. That would be a quick fix but I would like to see it embedded in legislation for the avoidance of any doubt in the future.
Q77 Chair: In respect of your powers to be able to see police officers, which I know you are concerned with-if they don’t wish to co-operate, that is the end of it-you would like to make sure that that is also enshrined in legislation.
Dame Anne Owers: I would. I have the same aim as your witnesses from PALG, in the sense that I want to get to the truth of what happened. I want to get police officers to come in for interview and to make that as effective, as expeditious as possible. At the moment we have a system that is about as effective as pigeon post, to be honest. It is a bit like playing blind man’s bluff. You get a statement, okay, so you need to ask questions. You produce a series of questions, hundreds of questions, pass them through a lawyer to the police, months later they come back with the answers, you then need to ask supplementary questions. This is no way to do business. It is not a way of getting to the truth.
I would like police officers to come for interview in the same way that in conduct matters the regulations state that they must attend for interview. It is a significant lacuna that if we are just beginning an investigation into death and serious injury where we don’t yet know whether there are issues of criminality and conduct-and I take absolutely the point that where those emerge we need to be absolutely robust in dealing with them-there isn’t any power at all.
Q78 Chair: To be fair, there is a lot of criticism from police officers about the way in which the IPCC do their job. The federation, in particular, has been very concerned because they don’t believe that you are being fair. Do you take that on board? Have you met them to see what their concerns are?
Dame Anne Owers: We meet them regularly and, yes, I am very aware of their concerns. The important thing is that we are accurate, objective, credible and independent.
Q79 Chair: Because they don’t think you are independent. It is not just the complainants-it’s also the police who have criticisms.
Dame Anne Owers: Some police, the federation, in some areas, have criticisms, yes.
Q80 Alun Michael: Could I just explore one area? In relation to the police, there is the Independent Police Complaints Commission-a very robust system that has been tested over the years, but very often in individual cases the police are involved and so are the Crown Prosecution Service, who have an inspectorate but they don’t have anything like the same sort of clarity in terms of complaints.
Would you accept that sometimes it is difficult to know who decided what between those two if, wisely, police engage the Crown Prosecution Service at a fairly early stage? Is that something you are going to look at in terms of an equity of investigation, particularly when there is an overlap between the responsibilities of the two?
Dame Anne Owers: I am reluctant to get into thinking out loud about what the CPS might need by way of inspection.
Q81 Alun Michael: Are you going to think about it quietly then?
Dame Anne Owers: Yes, certainly in the review of article 2 of deaths that follow police contact we are looking at the whole range of what happens. It is certainly a problem for us that we don’t have any powers at all about the outcomes of what happens, in the sense that where we feel that there may have been criminal conduct we pass it over to the CPS who, quite rightly, as an independent prosecuting authority must make their own decisions. Where we decide there is a case to answer for misconduct the police carry out the misconduct proceedings as they choose and we are not responsible for the outcome. I think very often in the public mind there is dissatisfaction with the eventual outcome that backtracks to dissatisfaction with the IPCC, and I think we need to make clear where our jurisdiction begins and ends and also to look at those joins.
Q82 Alun Michael: I appreciate that sometimes it is the people looking for a specific outcome and if they don’t get that they are not satisfied. However, in other cases it is a question of being satisfied that they have been listened to and that somebody has got to the bottom of what went wrong.
Dame Anne Owers: Absolutely.
Alun Michael: Would you accept that there is a need to look at systems widely, not just the way that police officers operate but the way police officers operate within the wider criminal justice system?
Dame Anne Owers: Absolutely, and I think that is where some of the dissatisfaction with our appeals jurisdiction comes from-that we are a paper-based appellate authority. We do need to get beneath that to how complainants are handled-it is very often, as you say, the way in which police deal with a less serious complaint but a complaint that is nevertheless important to the citizen and goes to the whole issue of the relationship between citizens and the police. That is what we need to get to.
Q83 Michael Ellis: Dame Anne, you have launched this review into how the Commission deals with serious cases and I’m just wondering why you feel that review is necessary. Do you think that that is going to uncover issues that need urgent remedial action and what has it uncovered so far?
Dame Anne Owers: Two preliminary points. First of all, I didn’t start the review, it was already in train before I was appointed and, secondly, it hasn’t yet started. The reason it hasn’t started is because I have had a few other things to do since I was appointed, like the process for appointment of new Commissioners, so it will kick off properly in the autumn.
I think the impetus for the review, which is a review into the way deaths following police contact are looked at and investigated-not all serious cases-comes from some of the concerns that you have already heard from witnesses and that you have heard in evidence. There is a desire to have a proper conversation with those affected-with families and communities and with those representing them; some of the people who have been critical of the IPCC-about the way in which we carry out those investigations and then to decide what we need to do better.
Q84 Michael Ellis: Is this review going to uncover some attitudinal problems within the IPCC? Some of the evidence that we have heard indicates a belief in some quarters that it is not a question of resources or powers available to the IPCC, but it is an attitude issue. It is a culture of accepting what investigators from the IPCC are told by local police forces when they go and inquire into matters. It is something that is an inbuilt cultural acceptance of police accounts of what has gone wrong. Is that something you are confident that you can deal with?
Dame Anne Owers: It is something that I, like you, have heard. I have to say it is not something that I have observed in my conversations with people who are doing those investigations-quite the contrary; there is a healthy scepticism very often about the first account. I think one of the things that we have talked about quite a lot internally in the IPCC is the fact that the first account you get is very often the police account, by definition, and you must treat that as something that is alleged, in the same way that you would treat anything else that was told to you at that point. You must start off with a blank page. I think that in general that is how we need to do our work, and it is certainly an approach that I am seeing.
Q85 Michael Ellis: Do you accept that just because one set of accounts gives one account and the other gives a diametrically opposite account, that that is something that is invariably going to result in a finding of no case to answer, as far as the IPCC are concerned?
Dame Anne Owers: No, no, it isn’t-it isn’t at all. First of all, distinguishing between investigations and appeals, in investigations, we have a chance to dig into that a great deal, which is precisely what we do, why we need powers to compel people to come for interview, for example. In the Ian Tomlinson death, that is why we looked at 1,200 hours of CCTV. In investigations, we have the resources and we have the ability to dig in.
In appeals it is more complicated because we get 6,500 appeals a year. We can’t do 6,500 mini-investigations but, having said that, following discussions with people like your early witnesses, we have issued new guidance to our case workers, which does remind them what the balance of probabilities means and the lawfulness issue that was brought earlier. We do listen; we are not always as defensive as it may seem.
Q86 Nicola Blackwood: You mentioned earlier concerns about resources and you weren’t sure what you could not do, but most of us think the IPCC merely supervises police authorities. We were quite surprised to read that you also supervise UKBA, SOCA, HMRC and, of course, we have the NCA coming online as well. I just wonder if you could tell me what proportion of your work involves supervision of those other bodies and what sort of supervisory roles does that involve.
Dame Anne Owers: I am afraid I can’t give a quantitative answer to that, but I can certainly provide evidence in writing to the Committee. Basically, any work that we do for them is paid for separately. The £34 million budget includes the money that will be paid to us by those other authorities for doing work for them and on their behalf.
Q87 Nicola Blackwood: But with the same number of staff and the same resources that you have in physical terms?
Dame Anne Owers: No, it would be in addition to the budget that comes from the Home Office. It is still, given that, a small budget. As we have said many times in many forums, we have fewer resources than the Professional Standards Department of the Metropolitan Police alone.
Q88 Nicola Blackwood: Have you been involved in discussions about exactly how it will work when the NCA comes online and how that will change the way that you are working?
Dame Anne Owers: Not yet, no, but those discussions are beginning to happen.
Q89 Chair: Dame Anne, there is no regulatory framework at the moment to ensure that your recommendations are followed up or enforced. You can make your recommendations, but Chief Constables and, indeed, the Commissioner don’t need to implement them. Are you seeking legislation to ensure that that happens as well?
Dame Anne Owers: Yes, one of the statutory powers that we are asking for is that there should be some formal response to our recommendations. There should be a requirement formally to respond with an action plan and so on. Having said that, I think if that exists then that does put a responsibility on us to check what is happening. One of the most effective things I was able to do as Chief Inspector of Prisons, having absolutely no regulatory power whatsoever over any prison, was year on year to report on how many of our recommendations had been achieved or partially achieved.
That is really important for an independent regulatory body-to be able to show that you have made a difference. I think there should be a requirement to report back on recommendations and indeed on other findings. Why is it, for example, that there is such inconsistency among police forces in the number of complaints recorded and the number of complaints upheld?
Q90 Chair: But this goes back to the problem raised by Ms Phillipson with Doreen Lawrence. If it is dealt with in the first place in a way that reassures people without delay, the need for people to complain to the IPCC will diminish. Do you feel you have a role in training police officers and police forces as to how they should deal with these complaints, because there doesn’t seem to be an organisation doing this at the moment? It could save people a lot of time and the taxpayer a lot of money.
Dame Anne Owers: Yes, I think if we were to become a police training body that would be entirely different. I do think that that has to be a responsibility for the police services, but what we are doing, as I was saying to Mr Michael, is reissuing our statutory guidance. I will be looking to our Commissioners and to the others with contacts in forces to press Chief Officers and their representatives, and the new Police and Crime Commissioners, as to how that guidance is being used. At the moment, we are getting more appeals rather than fewer. It has started to flatten out, but I would want to see a decrease in the number of appeals coming to us, which represented good work earlier on.
Q91 Chair: In terms of the number of ethnic minority investigators you have, the number of women investigators, what is the percentage?
Dame Anne Owers: I can tell you in terms of black and minority ethnic, I can’t tell you in terms of women, but I can let you have that in writing. It is about 13% of our investigators from black and minority ethnic backgrounds as we speak.
Q92 Chair: Thank you. What you have set out today in this first session of the Committee’s inquiry is quite a long wish list and having heard from Mrs Lawrence and from others today that is going to get much longer. It may well end up the organisation that you chair is going to be quite different from the organisation that you took over so very recently. Are you ready for this?
Dame Anne Owers: I don’t think it is going to be that different. I think what I am seeking is the ability to do what the IPCC was set up to do and what people within the IPCC, in my experience, want to be able to do. I am not talking revolution, what I am talking about is an organisation that has been operating for eight years, that has learned a lot, that has made some mistakes along the way but has made a difference along the way: fewer deaths in custody, fewer road-traffic deaths from police contact, a lot of work on domestic violence, as well as individuals whose cases have been able to be investigated properly. What I am looking for is the ability to take that on for the next period and be able to do what we need to do.
Q93 Chair: In a year’s time, when you come back before us to tell us the progress that has been made, what is your headline figure that you would like to tell the Committee, well, we have made these improvements?
Dame Anne Owers: In a year’s time I would want in some of those areas that we have talked about for us to be developing ways of dealing with it. I would want to be able to tell you that not only do we have a grip on our own investigations and appeals, which has already been happening, but that we have a better sense of what is happening in police forces. I would want to be able to tell you that we have or are about to get sufficient resources and powers for us to be able to do the job that we want to do.
Chair: Dame Anne, thank you very much for coming today on the first day of our inquiry into the IPCC.
Dame Anne Owers: Thank you.
Chair: We will be writing to you in the course of our inquiry and if you have any information that will be of assistance to the Committee I would be most grateful if you could send it to us. Thank you very much.
Dame Anne Owers: Certainly, thank you very much.
Chair: Thank you.