The national Federation’s conduct and performance chair has criticised the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) at a Government inquiry, stating that for the sake of the police service it is vital that the best investigators receive the best training to investigate members.
Phill Matthews made the comments when he addressed the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the role and remit of the IOPC this week.
Criticising the depth of knowledge investigators have, Phill also said they were “absolutely unaccountable”.
“You cannot get disclosure from the IOPC and I don’t think they understand it properly,” he added, before adding that he would have more confidence in retired officers delivering the job.
“There are some very good people working for the IOPC, but there are others where we see a staggering lack of knowledge.”
Phill repeated the Federation’s calls for a 12-month cap on police disciplinary inquiries, as he outlined the damage long delays in investigations into officers’ conduct could have on their mental health, their families and colleagues.
He continued to say there should be sanctions for the IOPC when it failed to meet these deadlines.
“A delay doesn’t serve complainants or our members at all,” he added.
“There must be some form of teeth because at the moment there is absolutely no incentive for the IOPC, or appropriate authority, to deal with things promptly and properly because they don’t need to. If there was an incentive, like there is for police when you must get a case in front of a hearing within a set period, you would invest the time and money to do that.”
With a £72 million budget and 1,000 staff, Phill insisted there was no problem with resources.
“It’s how they are using it,” he added.
Phill also highlighted the need for greater transparency and feels the organisation is “shrouded in secrecy”, suggesting it needs to be audited in the way forces are.
The IOPC, he explained, has failed on numerous occasions to explain why a case is over-running, but he highlighted poor disclosure as a contributing factor.
Phill explained that a case ended up dragging on for seven years because the IOPC failed to disclose an expert statement, corroborating the officer’s account, at the beginning of the case.
“It is inevitable that there will be complaints made against officers, but just because there is a complaint doesn’t mean an officer has done something wrong,” added Phil, who praised colleagues for the challenging and risky work they do.
“They are dealing with some of the most chaotic and dangerous individuals in society – and they are put in confrontational situations with those individuals.”
His comments were backed by Victor Marshall OBE, professional standards co-ordinator, who gave evidence on behalf of the Police Superintendents’ Association and said: “The ‘justice delayed, justice denied’ exists across the whole system because we feel for everybody when these things drag on. Obviously, it has an impact on officers, their families, and careers – but absolutely it has an impact on complainants and answers need to be given. The longer these things go on the worse the situation becomes.”
Phill acknowledged the IOPC, which replaced the IPCC in 2018, had made improvements and there was a better understanding between the watchdog and the Federation.
“It’s a step in the right direction and its director general, Michael Lockwood, has done a great deal to build trust with the Federation and is trying to reform his organisation but it’s the speed of change we are not content with,” he added.
To safeguard genuinely delayed cases, the Federation is recommending a Legally Qualified Chair should then be appointed and should have the power to terminate or conduct robust case management to bring cases to swift conclusions, safeguarding both the complainant and an officer’s position.
After the session he said: “We appreciate being given the opportunity to provide evidence to the committee and hope this will in turn make a tangible difference and establish a fairer system for all. The Federation will continue to lobby Parliament on these issues.”