Criticism of the IOPC is “perfectly justified” says Fed chair

28 January 2021

Gwent Police Federation chair Steve Thorpe has supported the Federation’s national conduct and performance chair in his criticism of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) yesterday.

Phill Matthews told the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the role and remit of the IOPC that there is “absolutely no incentive” for the IOPC, or appropriate authority, to deal with things promptly and properly.

He also said the organisation is shrouded in secrecy, that staff lack the right depth and breadth of knowledge, that it failed to get the right training and it was “absolutely unaccountable”.

Steve said he fully supported the comments and that they were “perfectly justified”.

“Long-drawn-out disciplinary investigations are having a devastating effect on so many colleagues; ruining their careers, leaving a mark on their mental health and on their loved ones,” he said.

“Our Time Limits campaign showed those effects very clearly yet, despite the fact that the IOPC and forces are required to provide explanation for investigations taking longer than a year, the issue is still continuing. Phill’s comments are perfectly justified and enough is enough. We need a system which has consequences for breaching the time limit and the ability to proceed.”

Criticising the long delays in investigations into officers’ conduct and outlining the damage that caused to officers, their families, colleagues and the complainants themselves, Phill repeated the Federation’s calls for a 12-month cap on police disciplinary inquiries and said 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 said.

Phill continued: “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.”

But he said funding was not the issue since the IOPC has a budget of £72 million and 1,000 staff and that it was how the watchdog was using that funding causing the problems.

The IOPC, he explained, has failed on numerous occasions to explain why cases are 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.

He was critical of some of the staff at the IOPC.

“We don’t think they have the right depth and breadth of knowledge; we don’t think they have the right training and they are absolutely unaccountable,” he explained, “You cannot get disclosure from the IOPC and I don’t think they understand it properly.”

Phill said he would have more confidence in retired officers, who work well in forces’ professional standards departments, taking on roles in the IOPC.

“There are some very good people who work for the IOPC, but there are others where we see a staggering lack of knowledge,” he added, “We just want the best possible investigators with the best possible training and knowledge to investigate members because that is best for members and the police service.”

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.

It also wants to see greater transparency at the IOPC with Phill suggesting that it should be audited in the same way as forces are.

Phill praised rank and file 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. It is inevitable that there will be complaints made against officers, but just because there is complaint doesn’t mean an officer has done something wrong.”

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.”