Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Gyimah.)
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea.
I beg hon. Members’ patience while I set out what I want to talk about, which is of a complicated nature. It concerns six territorial support group officers who were based at Paddington Green police station in June 2007: Police Constable Mark Jones, who was my constituent; PC Neil Brown, whose MP is my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes); PC Steven White, whose MP is the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng); PC Simon Prout, whose MP is the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington); PC Giles Kitchener, whose MP is the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May); and Police Sergeant William—known as Bill—Wilson.
My constituent, Mark Jones, first contacted me in April 2012. He told me what had happened to him and his colleagues. I consider every case on the basis of whether or not the person has been treated fairly, so I decided that the only thing to do was to take this matter up.
This whole sorry saga commenced on Friday 1 June 2007, following the arrest of two Arab youths, Basil Khan and Ahmed Hegazy, and the apprehension and eventual release of a third youth, Omar Mohidin, by seven Metropolitan Police Service territorial support group officers who were in a carrier on the Edgware road in London W2. I shall use the abbreviations MPS and TSG from now on.
A complaint was made by the one black officer on the carrier, PC Amechi Onwugbonu, about the treatment of the youths by the six white police officers. PC Onwugbonu had challenged the six officers about their behaviour on many previous occasions. By the nature of the work that these officers did, sometimes some force was necessarily used. When he challenged the officers, they clearly advised him that if he had a problem with the way that they had behaved, with which they saw no problem, he should take his allegations to a senior officer. It is important to note that the youths who were arrested did not make any complaint about their treatment until the following day, and only after they had been made aware of the details of PC Onwugbonu’s complaint via the directorate of professional standards.
During the evening of 1 June, the six officers were made aware that a serious complaint had been made about their conduct, but they were not given details. By that time, the six officers had completed their handover of the youths and their case notes, and the officers had been examined by an independent forensic medical examiner, who checked them for injuries, primarily on their knuckles. The six officers were informed in the early hours of Saturday 2 June 2007 that they were on gardening leave. About five days later, all the officers were recalled to Paddington Green police station. Mark Jones and Bill Wilson were suspended immediately and escorted from the station. Neil Brown, Steven White, Simon Prout and Giles Kitchener were dispersed and placed in separate teams across the MPS.
In about September 2007, the six TSG officers—regardless of their employment status at any particular time, I will refer to them as TSG officers—became aware that a civil claim against the Metropolitan Police Commissioner had been made by Basil Khan, Ahmed Hegazy and Omar Mohidin for false imprisonment, assault and battery, damages for anxiety, distress, inconvenience, stress, pain, humiliation, discomfort and loss of liberty, breach of the Equality Act 2006, and breach of the Human Rights Act 1998.
In October 2008, the Crown Prosecution Service authorised charges against all the officers. Neil Brown was suspended and Steven White, Simon Prout and Giles Kitchener were put on restricted duties. Mark Jones was charged with racially aggravated common assault and a racially aggravated section 4 public order offence, as well as two charges of misconduct in public office; Neil Brown, having been suspended, was charged with a racially aggravated section 4 public order offence, using threatening words and behaviour, and two charges of misconduct in public office; and Bill Wilson, Steven White, Simon Prout and Giles Kitchener were charged with a single count of misconduct in public office. All those charges were hugely damaging to the officers’ careers and reputations.
A plea and case-management hearing was set for 6 April 2009, and a full criminal trial was scheduled for 5 October 2009 at Kingston-upon-Thames Crown court. For 28 months, these officers—and their families—lived with the knowledge that if they, as police officers, were found guilty of racist crimes, they would face prison sentences of three years, minimum. In November 2009, after a four-week trial, the six TSG officers were all unanimously acquitted of all charges at Kingston Crown court.
I should like to return to some of the events that occurred during the 28 months between the charges being laid and the criminal trial taking place. The Metropolitan Police Service concealed and withheld material and substantial closed circuit television evidence from the officers and their lawyers. There were numerous formal requests from solicitors and orders from the court to reveal any CCTV evidence held by the police. The defence team was checking a dusty property store log two days before the criminal trial began. The six TSG officers discovered that directorate of professional standards officers—the police who investigate the police—had seized vital CCTV tapes 28 months earlier, just two days after the incident, and had hidden the evidence. Had the TSG officers not found this log and presented it to the Crown Prosecution Service, the DPS officers would not have admitted their seizure of the CCTV tapes and would never have handed them over.
It was not until the night before the Crown court trial that the DPS handed over 13 CCTV tapes, which held 2,000 hours’ worth of footage, that it had seized about two years before. This evidence was critical in proving the officers’ innocence. The CCTV footage at Paddington Green police station originated from 29 different cameras that covered the relevant time, from 5.30 pm on 1 June 2007 through to 12 noon or thereabouts on the following day.
The DPS officers had seized and viewed those 13 CCTV tapes, as proved by the entry in the DPS log. It is believed that the log was disclosed by mistake. Additionally, there was a CCTV tape from the Boots chemist on Edgware road—the arrests took place directly outside. The DPS officers seized and viewed that tape. The entry in the DPS log states: “viewed, not helpful”. That CCTV tape has not been provided, despite numerous requests, and those present at Kingston Crown court were not told of its existence. The MPS has refused to provide any account of the tape’s whereabouts.
The MPS compounded the problems by producing for the court a false and grossly misleading engineer’s report, which stated that the CCTV cameras were not working and were broken on the evening of 1 June 2007. In fact, the engineer concerned was reporting on a completely different system, rather than the system relating to the officers’ case. The MPS knew that its so-called evidence was false, as officers had already viewed the relevant CCTV footage at that point.
PC Onwugbonu’s initial allegations were numerous and very serious. He told the court that he had not visited the cells of the two claimants, Khan and Hegazy. He was asked about that in court on two separate occasions. He was then shown CCTV evidence that, of course, had only just been disclosed. The officers were watching CCTV tapes at night, once the court case had finished for the day; they were trying to catch up throughout the four weeks of the court trial. The evidence shows him visiting the cells and photocopying custody records. Clearly, there is a data protection issue there, because custody records hold data about people being held in the police station, including their address, phone numbers and other personal information.
PC Onwugbonu told the court that PC Mark Jones had been walking on Hegazy’s back, that he saw Neil Brown offering to fight Hegazy, and that Basil Khan was beaten by Mark Jones in the carrier while it was in the station yard. A specific allegation, later supported by Basil Khan, was made that Mark Jones had attacked Basil Khan with
“in excess of 40 full blown punches and kicks”.
Mark Jones is a muscular man, and one would expect Basil Khan to have been seriously injured; the only injury Basil Khan had was a 4 mm bruise behind his left ear, which may or may not have been a result of his arrest. It defies logic that those allegations were accepted without corroborating medical evidence. The CCTV shows Mark Jones exiting the carrier and entering the police station, rather than remaining in the carrier and beating Basil Khan.
The MPS has chosen to rely on the youths’ complaints because they are similar to those made by PC Onwugbonu. It should be noted, however, that the youths concerned made no complaints until at least six hours after arriving in custody on 1 June 2007. Additionally, they were asked about their welfare by a police doctor, two police sergeants, a police inspector and two independent charity lay visitors. The claimants made allegations only after Detective Inspector Belej from the DPS telephoned custody and spoke to their solicitor at approximately midnight. That call was never logged. DI Belej had received PC Onwugbonu’s allegations by that time. The six TSG officers only discovered that that highly suspicious call had taken place because of the CCTV. The youths’ solicitor was cross-examined at the Crown court trial and told the court that DI Belej
“told me what the case was about”.
After the call, the solicitor was seen to return to Mr Hegazy and spend 90 minutes in consultation. It was after that consultation that the youths’ allegations were first raised.
I now return to the general course of events. In early 2010, Bill Wilson retired from the MPS. It is standard practice for the police to investigate after any officer has been involved in a criminal trial. That investigation involved the DPS. Following the DPS investigation, the six officers were informed in March 2010 that no disciplinary action would be taken against them. In early 2010, however, the six TSG officers made a formal complaint to the MPS about the conduct of the investigation and PC Onwugbonu’s statements, which had been disproven during the trial. Simultaneously, the friends and families of the six TSG officers complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, as is their right.
The officers were told that there would be an internal review of the case. In March 2010, Mick Johnson, the chief superintendent of the TSG, told the six officers individually that they were being removed from the TSG and forcibly returned to front-line borough policing, despite their skills and qualifications. The six TSG officers appealed against the decision to remove them. Commander Bob Broadhurst, who headed territorial policing at the MPS, ruled that the officers were to be removed before the appeal was even heard, so that is what happened.
After Bill Wilson retired, the five remaining TSG officers invoked the “fairness at work” process and completed the necessary paperwork. The officers filed their application with the employment tribunal on the grounds of race discrimination in March 2010. Mark Jones and Neil Brown went on sick leave from April 2010. To comply with the MPS employment dispute process, a fairness at work adviser-investigator—a senior civilian member of staff who headed the “fairness at work” department—was appointed. The first adviser-investigator reported that the decision to remove the officers from the TSG would stand but offered some recognition that the process had been handled poorly. The TSG officers appealed on the basis that the finding was unsound because they had evidence that the decision to remove them from the TSG predated their appeal.
A new adviser-investigator, Superintendent Victor Olisa, was appointed. In late 2010 he provided a draft of his final report, which referred to the fact that he could not rule out racism, but the final report did not contain that reference. During the final meeting, he told Neil Brown, Simon Prout and Giles Kitchener that he had had meetings a short while previously with his mentor, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mark Simmons, and the directorate of legal services, during which he was informed—and he was just passing on the information—that if the officers did not drop their employment tribunal proceedings, the MPS would look to join the defendants into the civil proceedings being taken by the youths. This is known as making the officers part 20 defendants, which makes each individual liable for his actions as a police officer while under the direction of his employer, the MPS. Normally, a police officer acting within the remit of police duties would expect the commissioner to cover the liability for those actions. It is effectively their insurance at work. I understand that this is the first time officers have been joined in as part 20 defendants. MPS officers will be required to defend their actions while on duty and under the direction of their superiors in court. Should that situation continue, there is probably a case for ensuring that every police officer in the UK is made aware that his or her actions might need individual personal insurance cover. It also has implications for discipline. Police officers are required to carry out commands, not negotiate the risks of future court action as a result of any ordered action by a superior officer.
What happened to the complaints of the friends and families of the TSG officers? Following the discovery the day before the criminal trial was due to start on 1 October 2009 that substantial evidence had been withheld by the MPS for two years and four months, the families of all six TSG officers raised complaints about the handling of the investigation by the DPS. Complaints were made that evidence had been withheld from the Crown Prosecution Service, the lawyers, the prosecution and the defence teams. Complaints were also made about the racially biased investigation by the DPS officers in favour of the prosecution team and about the evidence of PC Onwugbonu. The complaints were dealt with in two parts: the IPCC in Cardiff handled the discrete issue of failure to disclose CCTV evidence to the CPS and others, and the DPS handled its own internal investigation into the remainder of the complaints about the investigation, particularly, for example, the contamination of witness statements.
The terms of reference for the IPCC Cardiff investigation were that DPS officers had failed to review crucial CCTV evidence and had subsequently withheld a number of CCTV tapes from the Crown court, the CPS and the defence and prosecution teams. The DPS officers involved were Detective Inspector Belej, Detective Sergeant McQueen and Detective Sergeant Fraser, who is now retired. The IPCC specifically looked at whether the officers failed—and, if so, whether that failure was deliberate—to disclose the internal CCTV evidence of the custody suite and the external view and whether the prosecution and, subsequently, the defence counsel might have been misled by any failure to include the evidence on the used and unused schedules. It also looked at who obtained the CCTV evidence around the Paddington Green police station and when, as well as the subsequent continuity of that evidence. It also looked at any policy decisions, lines of inquiry or communication on the recovery of CCTV evidence and the review, use and disclosure of potential evidence. It considered and reported on whether any criminal or disciplinary offences were committed by any police officer or member of the police staff involved in the incident.
In September 2011, the IPCC in Cardiff concluded that the conduct of the DPS officers in this case gave such serious cause for concern that
“DI Belej and DS McQueen should both have a case to answer for Gross Misconduct in respect of their conduct set out in the Report”.
The IPCC has no remit to rule on the conduct of a retired officer. DS Fraser retired from the MPS during the process and before the IPCC published its report. The MPS initially refused to hold a discipline board, but MPS Commander Julian Bennett put pressure on the IPCC not to go ahead with the hearing and to allow the DPS officers to plead guilty to misconduct only. He said that the view of the panel was that the events in question were misconduct “at best”. If the hearing proceeded, he said that there might be a finding of no misconduct at all. In March 2013, a disciplinary board scheduled to last two weeks was deemed to be over after two days. The IPCC, despite its statutory direction to hold the gross misconduct board, is powerless to insist that the board proceeds to hear the case. A disciplinary board can be organised and listed at the direction of the IPCC, but can be dismissed by the MPS at any stage.
The IPCC directed the MPS to comply. Statute requires the MPS to comply with IPCC directions, but that statute is powerless once the gross misconduct board begins. In this case, Commander Julian Bennett allowed the DPS officers to plead guilty to plain misconduct on day two and passed down a written warning as a sanction for hiding and denying the existence of 13 CCTV tapes and producing a false engineer’s report to the Crown, the prosecution and the defence. The six TSG officers’ solicitor, Lynne Burns, wrote to the Metropolitan Police Service on 30 April 2013, claiming that the decision to allow the DPS officers to plead guilty to misconduct only was irrational and unfair. She stated:
“Just to put this into context, the failure to disclose and knowing concealment of CCTV evidence does not represent one or two requests but numerous letters where questions relating to CCTV were ignored or answered falsely, Advocates Questionnaires, Joint Requests for Disclosure, Orders of the court ordering disclosure all either ignored or responded to in a knowingly false or misleading manner”.
On the DPS investigation, the six TSG officers accused in 2007 were investigated by three officers from the DPS. From that point onwards, the six officers were subjected to a racially biased, dishonest investigation, involving blatant, deliberately withheld and concealed material evidence, lies, cover-ups and falsified evidence submitted to the Crown court as the MPS attempted to secure a conviction against the officers at all costs, even though the legitimate evidence did not support its case. In 2012, the DPS investigated the matter. Officers Detective Chief Inspector Neligan and Detective Sergeant Morley returned a report that indicated that there was no case for the officers—DI Belej and DS McQueen—to answer.
The DPS report was appealed by the six TSG officers to the IPCC in Manchester. In May 2013, that appeal was upheld. The IPCC’s appeal report was damning and highly critical of how the DPS investigation had been conducted. It held that, among many other points, the original investigation by the DPS officers was conducted in a biased manner in favour of the prosecution and in favour of one black police officer over six white police officers, stating:
“On balance the significant catalogue of errors made by the DPS Officers shows a bias in the investigation often dismissing evidence which would have supported the Defence”.
The IPCC indicated that consideration must be given to further disciplinary action against the DPS officers and PC Onwugbuno, and that consideration must be given to potential criminal prosecutions. The IPCC held that the investigation showed bias against the six TSG officers and that the black police officer’s failure to tell the truth on 25 occasions at Kingston Crown court could not be put down to “stress”, as accepted by the original investigating officers. The IPCC referred the case back to the Metropolitan Police Service for re-investigation.
I will now move on to the second investigation. The Metropolitan Police Service referred the investigation back to the same DPS officers—DCI Neligan and DS Morley—who carried out the original, flawed investigation into DI Belej and DS McQueen, who were their own DPS colleagues. The investigation is ongoing. It is worth noting that the DPS officers concerned have, as I understand it, remained in operational posts. DI Belej is a supervising inspector in counter-terrorism and border control at Heathrow, and DS McQueen remains in the DPS, investigating misconduct.
The six TSG officers have been threatened on two occasions that they should withdraw their employment tribunal proceedings or face being joined into the civil action. I have already mentioned one occasion, namely when Superintendent Victor Olisa passed on the message, but in January 2011 the now-retired MPS Police Federation general secretary, Dave Bennett, passed on the same threat allegedly from the DPS commander Peter Spindler.
On the civil, or part 20 proceedings, when the six TSG officers did not withdraw their employment tribunal proceedings against the MPS, the MPS joined four of the six TSG officers—Mark Jones, Neil Brown, Steve White and Bill Wilson—into civil proceedings brought against the commander of the MPS by Basil Khan, Ahmed Hegazy and Omar Mahidin. Such a move might suggest that the TSG officers were being victimised for having the temerity to challenge the MPS’s decisions and to issue proceedings against it. The youths brought their civil claim with the assistance of Bhatt Murphy, a firm of solicitors that specialises in actions against the police. The youths submitted their claims in 2007 and all are funded by the taxpayer through legal aid.
The MPS has presented its civil defence so as to justify joining the officers in part 20 proceedings. The MPS has told the High Court that this civil case is highly unusual, because, in the opinion of the six TSG officers, the black officer—PC Onwugbonu—contradicts the white officers’ evidence. The MPS has effectively delegated responsibility for proving innocence a second time to those six TSG officers—bearing in mind that they already won their case in the Kingston Crown court—rather than acting on the court’s findings and defending them. That was DAC Mark Simmons’s justification for his decision to bring the officers in as part 20 defendants. The MPS, through the director of legal services, has suggested that it should not disclose the IPCC report, which is highly critical of the original DPS investigation, to the youths in the civil proceedings. There is, however, a legal obligation to comply with the disclosure rules and it must be of concern that the MPS has suggested that such a crucial document should not be disclosed.
DAC Mark Simmons, who was commander of the DPS at the time, is the senior client and has instructed the MPS legal team to use statements to the High Court that they know to be incorrect. Two examples are as follows. Statement one says:
“The Defendants’ (the MPS’) DPS investigation was carried out appropriately and in good faith in the circumstances.”
The MPS, and DAC Mark Simmons in particular—he was the DPS commander at the time—knew that the DPS officers did not act appropriately or in good faith. DI Belej and DS McQueen had concealed and withheld over 2,000 hours of CCTV footage, a fact which was established at the trial at Kingston Crown court and by two independent IPCC investigations. Furthermore, the officers had pleaded guilty at the misconduct hearing in March 2013.
False statement two reads:
“PC Onwugbonu has, since the day in question, supported the allegations made about officers by the claimant”—
the claimant being the youths. That is untrue. The MPS heard PC Onwugbonu admitting that he had been mistaken or had lied on at least 25 occasions during his evidence to the Kingston Crown court trial, and his evidence was totally discredited. Judge Southwell’s direction to the jury before summing up said:
“My direction is that you will have to be careful in examining PC Onwugbonu’s evidence, important as it plainly is to the issues which you have to decide in the case of each of these five men, before you declare yourself sure that he was honest and reliable in respect of what he said.”
There is therefore no justification for the MPS to make such a statement in its defence to the High Court.
The MPS also tampered with personnel or staff records to produce false records for the six TSG officers. In 2013, as part of disclosure in part 20 proceedings, it came to the six TSG officers’ attention that their staff records had been tampered with. In March 2010, following their acquittal by unanimous verdict at the trial at Kingston Crown court, they were told that no internal disciplinary sanctions or actions were to be brought against any of them. They have discovered, some six years later, that a false account has been created for each of them on their personnel records, illustrating that a finding of guilt was made against each of them, that “words of advice” were given to each of them in 2009 and that the complaint was substantiated. Someone within the MPS or the DPS has manufactured a totally false set of personnel records for each of the officers. It is deeply concerning that formal records have been tampered with just in order to support the MPS’s case. The six TSG officers have tried to discover who was responsible, but the MPS alleges that it is unable to find out.
Such are the extreme lengths that the MPS and the DPS will go to demonstrate how tough and politically correct they are on alleged racism within the ranks that they will accept the word of one black officer over six white officers and then conceal material evidence that contradicts the black officer. The officers strongly believe that this is a case of reverse race discrimination and political correctness gone completely mad. To use layman’s terms, the DPS had tried to fit them up for crimes that they did not commit and knew that everything it had massively undermined the prosecution case. The decisions by the IPCC in Cardiff and the IPCC in Manchester should have triggered a response from the Metropolitan Police Service to admit finally that their DPS officers had acted in an inappropriate and racially biased manner.
Finally, I want to touch on what the officers—and I, having got enraged about this situation—might want. They want some sort of admission of wrongdoing, including an open acknowledgement of how the officers were treated, an acknowledgment that the investigation and referral to Kingston Crown court was seriously flawed and racially biased, and an acknowledgement that the three DPS officers—McQueen, Belej and Fraser— acted dishonestly in their handling of the investigation. They want an acceptance of blame that personnel records have been tampered with, an acknowledgement of further victimisation and an apology for these actions. They want some sort of compensation and settlement of the employment tribunal proceedings, which are still ongoing, for the loss of earnings, damage to reputation by substantive adverse press coverage, and damage to career and stress since 2007—seven years ago. They want the MPS to support its officers fully in the civil actions brought by Hegazy, Khan and Mohidin, and not to insist that they be separate defendants under part 20. In those proceedings, they want the MPS to make the court aware of the serious independent rulings against the DPS officers and PC Onwugbonu. That will help to create a level playing field.
I have written to Commissioner Hogan-Howe. I had a reply from Commander Allan Gibson, which was pretty dismissive. I wrote again to Commander Gibson and I do not think that anything is moving forward particularly. I know that one of my colleagues in the other place has raised the matter and his concerns. He was assured that the whole business would be looked into, but as of the end of January the investigation had not been carried out by a senior officer.
The Metropolitan Police Service must have spent between £2 million and £3 million defending itself in the situations I have recounted. It was trying to secure a conviction against the six TSG officers, but it wasted public funds defending its actions. It refuses to admit any wrongdoing. The MPS refuses to settle the case, preferring to spend substantial amounts of public money defending the actions of those whom the IPCC has found guilty of bias, and whom it has also directed should face gross misconduct proceedings and possible criminal proceedings.
I should be grateful if the Minister would apply herself to the question whether it is sensible and advisable to take police officers into part 20 proceedings when they are acting as police officers under the direction of their superior officers. It seems mad that we must then move to something pretty similar to the American system, where police officers may well have to take out personal insurance for anything they may do on duty, as well as off duty. It would be helpful if the Minister would consider at some point—not today—how the IPCC can have no remit to rule on the conduct of a retired officer. Retirement does not absolve a person from blame, but the IPCC cannot take any action in that case. Will she also comment on the whole charade over disciplinary boards, and the fact that the IPCC can organise, list and give direction on what should happen, but that can be dismissed by the MPS at any stage?
I know that several colleagues want to join in the discussion, but I reserve the right to rise and say something else.
Order. I commend the hon. Lady for bringing such a serious matter before the House. We must give time for the Front-Bench spokesmen to respond, and their speeches will start at 10.40 am. I remind hon. Members that we cannot debate matters in which there are active criminal proceedings.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) on bringing up this difficult, complicated case; it is greatly to her credit that she has done so. It would be easy for all of us, in this age of political correctness and in the light of some of the allegations, to sweep it under the carpet. That is not to say that there are not fundamental, general problems with the Metropolitan Police Service, which I want to deal with more generally, having been a Member of Parliament in London for 13 years. It is perhaps ironic that the MPS has, with good cause, great sensitivity about race-related incidents—I shall talk a little about the Stephen Lawrence affair in a moment or two—but that in spite of that sensitivity it seems to be engulfed in controversies, such as the one that has been outlined in detail this morning. The hon. Lady described an appalling state of affairs, and I hope that the Home Office will pay considerable attention to what happened.
It would be an understatement to observe that the Metropolitan Police Service did not enjoy its happiest decade or so in the noughties and beyond. It is still deeply damaged by revelations over the Stephen Lawrence case, which, distressingly, continue to this day. The organisation was of course brought into fresh disrepute following the controversial shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in Stockwell in July 2005, and the manslaughter in my constituency of the newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson some three or four years ago. I am sorry to say it, because like many people from the right of the political divide, my instincts are to favour authority, including the police service, but I have been worried; I have spoken many times in the House and written articles on my grave concerns about the way the Metropolitan Police Service has operated, and about failings by its leadership. Frankly, there have been mendacious and at times calculated attempts by senior figures in the Met to disguise what happened during various events, including those we have heard about today, and to influence public opinion in its favour.
In the case of Jean Charles de Menezes, we were told at the outset that he was an illegal immigrant who bore resemblance to a terror suspect; that he had vaulted a ticket barrier; and that traces of cocaine were found in his urine. The picture was not entirely dissimilar in the less well-known case of Ian Tomlinson. When the newspaper vendor died of a heart attack on the streets of the City of London in April 2009 during the G20 protests, most people probably instinctively had faith that the police were doing their best in difficult circumstances—and the police do operate in difficult circumstances, as we all know. After people had witnessed sanctimonious street warriors antagonising police officers, a sharp shove to an obnoxious protester would not have made headlines, had the victim in question not died. The official line would be that a stressed officer in a tense situation lashed out, hitting an innocent person in the mêlée. Following the clash, the man walked off, and died only later of a heart attack, as the riotous crowd prevented him from getting medical attention.
The problem, of course, with that version of events, as put out by the Metropolitan Police Service at the time, was that it was plainly untrue. Fortunately—in contrast to the position in the case set out by the hon. Lady—there was a substantial amount of CCTV footage, which was not indiscriminately destroyed by the police. Therefore video clips of the incident appeared later, revealing that the victim had been hit across the legs with a baton by a masked police officer in what was clearly an unprovoked attack. A subtle shift in message followed, through the selective leaking of information about Tomlinson’s background and behaviour. I am very sorry to say that was clearly not an isolated incident for the Metropolitan Police Service. Its apparent relationship with the media continues, and it seems to think it needs to be able to put out its own line on stories, as has been shown in various incidents that I shall refer to.
The Tomlinson matter was of course of some concern to me. I was reassured within days of the incident in a private meeting with the Independent Police Complaints Commission that a thorough investigation of the background to the incident was under way, yet the IPCC’s handling of the case came into question, as did its handling of the case that we heard about this morning, particularly in relation to its cosiness with the police in the capital.
Appalling as both the de Menezes and Tomlinson incidents were, I believe that it was the subsequent public relations management of the events, and the police culture that that revealed, that so harmed confidence, trust and faith in our law enforcers. In the case of de Menezes, I have always suspected that the public would have forgiven the Met had it immediately admitted that a terrible mistake had been made. Similarly, in the Tomlinson case, where media hyped the prospect of attacks by rent-a-mob anarchists, we had a situation not entirely removed from the frenzied situation on the streets of London in July 2005, when the fear of Islamic terrorism loomed large. Once again, I believe that the decent majority of the public would have been happy to accept that the Metropolitan Police are unable to micro-manage the conduct of all their officers at all times. It was the spectacle of coppers deliberately closing ranks and trying to distort the truth that utterly undermined the police force.
After both incidents, we were assured that lessons had been learned, so it has been incredibly disheartening to see controversial events in the current decade handled in a similarly opaque, if not outright deceptive, way. I refer, of course, to the shooting of Mark Duggan on the streets of Tottenham in August 2011 and the so-called plebgate incident a year or so later, which led to the political demise of a Cabinet Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), after his fateful encounter at the gates of Downing street with a dishonest police officer.
On the Mitchell affair, although similar minor tussles occur between police and members of the public each and every day in our city, the damaging aspect of the encounter was that it reinforced the view that the Met goes to great efforts to protect its own, even if that is at the expense of the truth coming out. This makes it difficult for the public to trust that the organisation and its members are bastions of justice for the ordinary man and woman. In addition, when the Met’s top team is embroiled in such squabbles, focus inevitably rests on handling the media and careful construction of a PR narrative, rather than on fighting crime. Londoners can be forgiven for not seeing the plebgate row as especially critical to dealing with the problems on the streets, but none the less, it reflects a deep-seated mendacity in the police’s approach.
Even if Londoners are unconcerned about the fates of Messrs Duggan, Mitchell, de Menezes and Tomlinson, or of the territorial support group officers to whom the hon. Member for Wells referred, such incidents make even middle-class, Tory-voting residents in my constituency doubt the word of the Metropolitan police in a way that would have been unimaginable only 15 or so years ago. Londoners are, I am afraid, finding it increasingly difficult to trust that our law enforcers are law-abiders. Indeed, it is remarkable that many middle-class Londoners who would never previously have questioned the police are now inclined to think again.
At the time of the Tomlinson investigation, The Daily Telegraph advised:
“As a newspaper, we have a long record of defending the police even in the most difficult circumstances...Yet it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so, especially when the police themselves seek to cover up the failings that inevitably beset any organisation.”
Those words could have come from the mouths of many dozens of my Conservative colleagues, and they have certainly come from mine. That whole culture has to stop. For sure, there will always be mistakes, and it would be completely wrong for the errors of a few to undermine the elements of excellent police work done by the many. There is no excuse, however, for the mendacity apparent in the attempts at manipulation of public opinion that follow too many high-profile, controversial Metropolitan police slip-ups.
The immediate reaction of the Met’s leadership should always be transparently and without favour to seek out the truth, to isolate problems and to apply the rule of law to its own officers when necessary. It is understandable and inevitable that the initial police instinct is to close ranks when confronted by public aggression. The leadership, however, should recognise that the majority of those whom they police by consent—thankfully in this country we still have a passion for the notion that policing is by consent—are reasonable and understand some of the real pressures that the police find themselves under, in particular here in the capital city. Only by being honest and transparent with the public when mistakes have been made can trust be restored in the Metropolitan Police Service.
Rather like the hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt), I came here because of what was originally a constituency inquiry. I commend her for securing the debate and for the eloquent way in which she went through everything that she has found in her research and been told by constituents. We have had meetings to discuss the subject.
I am not making an attack on the Metropolitan police or the police service generally, and I do not wish to discuss other cases or any of the points ably covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field). I am talking about my constituent, Mr Simon Prout, and his colleagues who were on the TSG detail that night. They have been treated badly by the system, and they were not given any of the rights that we expect for people generally in employment, in public or private service, or as citizens. That is the scandal that I see.
I do not expect the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), to comment on that particular case. I thank her for being present today, because the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims has been taken ill. I am sure that everyone joins me in hoping that he has a speedy recovery. I am sure that the Under-Secretary will deal with the matter in an extremely competent and professional manner, but I understand that she may not comment on the particular case. There are serious points at stake to do with justice, fairness, authority, transparency and, above all, accountability in the DPS, the IPCC and the system generally. Serving police officers have to rely on those things if they are to have justice for themselves.
Even now, despite all the clear and obvious failings, the Metropolitan police refuse to be held accountable or to take proper action. I, too, have corresponded with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and received a reply similar to that of the hon. Member for Wells. The case has ruined the life of my constituent, Mr Simon Prout, and his colleagues. He has done nothing wrong, but he has lost eight years of service, suffered ill health and lost prospects and promotion. It has ruined his whole career. That is not an exaggeration; I have discussed it at length with him, and his colleagues feel exactly the same. Had they been found guilty of misconduct or done things that were wrong, they would have fully expected the consequences—not only losing their job, but facing proper proceedings with ultimately serious effects. Going into their job, they were fully aware of that, but they did none of those things.
What I found so unbelievable about the case when I heard the details from my constituent, and what I will focus on today, is the ability for the IPCC recommendations to be completely ignored and dismissed. What is the organisation there for, if it can be completely ignored and dismissed? The case highlights the serious need to improve accountability within the Metropolitan police. At the moment, there is little procedure to ensure that justice is secured. That is all the more troubling when we consider that in this case the victims of police misconduct were the police officers themselves. Serious issues were swept aside and ignored. If that was the case for serving police officers, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Furthermore, there can be no doubt that there was clear evidence of gross misconduct, and that the two DPS officers, Detective Inspector Bellej and Detective Sergeant McQueen, should have faced such charges and dismissal. The IPCC even recommended dismissal. What happened, however, was that the case was passed around the Met; the two officers were given a first warning on their personnel file, which disappeared quite quickly, because the whole process took so long. In a normal employment matter, such things go off the file anyway. The officers should have been dismissed, but in actual fact they faced no action and got away scot-free. How can that happen? Despite the IPCC’s recommendations, the Metropolitan Police Service held its own hearings and allowed the officers to face only minor misconduct proceedings. They were allowed to continue their work for the Met, as the hon. Member for Wells explained. That is the crux of the matter.
First, why do we have a complaints and investigation body that can be ignored, at such cost to individuals? Secondly, why is there no recourse against that? Thirdly, why are people such as Simon Prout and his colleagues forced to battle to secure justice for themselves, only to be told, even when they are proved right, that nothing will happen and no punishment will be handed down?
I am conscious of the fact that the Minister may not comment on the details of the case but, in summary, I want her to take action. First, the failures of the two DPS officers were put down to lack of experience, despite one having 18 and the other seven years of service. They made basic errors in what I imagine are standard policing steps, such as following up lines of inquiry, taking proper notes and so on. I ask the Minister to write to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to reconsider the case with much more seriousness, and to think about what action should be taken against the two DPS officers. Secondly, does the Minister agree that the case shows a problem with the system, even if she cannot comment on the circumstances? Can the case, and the systemic problems in the justice system that it highlights, be reviewed for all serving police officers?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) on bringing these serious allegations to the attention of the House. I will not comment on the substantive allegations, but will focus on wider issues that arise from her powerful speech. I make one other preliminary point: like all hon. Members present, I have seen at first hand some of the outstanding work done by the Metropolitan police, often in the most difficult circumstances. My experience of the Metropolitan police is that overwhelmingly they are honest, decent men and women trying to do a good job for Londoners. Having said that, there are clearly profound problems that need to be dealt with properly.
Turning to some of the wider lessons in this case, first, it is of course right that we hold the police to account. They must be accountable politically, and in the event of wrongdoing, that wrongdoing must be investigated properly. Secondly, it is important that police officers enjoy fair treatment and due process, including full, proper and prompt disclosure of any evidence relating to allegations against them. Thirdly, with regard to its internal procedures, and the role of the DPS in particular, it is of the highest importance that the Met conducts itself in a way that engenders public confidence, handling allegations of misconduct properly and, where appropriate, initiating disciplinary procedures. Fourthly, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) said, if the police are to command public confidence, it is of the highest importance that there is effective, independent police complaints machinery that is able to get to the heart of things that go wrong.
Turning to the next stages of action, first, I support those hon. Members who have said that serious allegations have clearly been made that require proper investigation. I hope that the Home Office will play its role, as appropriate, in ensuring that that takes place. Secondly, what we have heard today is proof positive of the need for new and much more effective independent complaints machinery. It needs to have the powers necessary to investigate, to hold to account, and to prevent obstruction from the police at any stage in the effective investigation of wrongdoing.
Thirdly, the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster was absolutely right: what we have heard today, not just in relation to the allegations made by the hon. Members for Wells, and for Watford (Richard Harrington), but more generally, is a sorry litany that demands a fundamental culture change in the Metropolitan police. If we have heard profoundly disturbing allegations today, what has been revealed by the Ellison process is also profoundly disturbing, as are the subsequent revelations about the destruction of evidence. To be frank, although the Met has much to be proud of, it has a lot to answer for.
The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster was right to say that it is of the highest importance that there be confidence in the police. From the Peelian tradition onwards, in our country we have had a system of policing by consent. Confidence is key for co-operation, to divert people from crime and prevent it, and to identify wrongdoers when crimes are committed. That confidence is damaged at our peril. The case has been made powerfully today for changes in internal and external investigation, for the Met to reflect seriously on these issues, and for the Home Office to take whatever action is appropriate. Fundamental culture change is clearly necessary.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), who is unfortunately unwell. If he could possibly be here, he would be, as I am sure you know.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) on securing this debate and on setting out the facts of the case so clearly and comprehensively. She is a determined champion for her constituents, and she and my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) have set out in their remarks the particular issues faced by their constituents. They have been the subject of a number of investigations and legal proceedings, some of which are not complete. Although I cannot comment on the facts of an individual case while proceedings are outstanding, this case, along with others recently disclosed—some going back many years—will undermine the public’s trust and confidence in policing in general and in the Met in particular.
I will ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims to meet the three Members here today who represent the officers involved in the case, as their constituency MPs, and I know he will speak to them in more detail. My hon. Friend the Member for Wells raised three specific points that I will answer now. First, she asked about officers taking part in part 20 proceedings. That is an unusual step for the Met to take. Although I am unable to comment on the details of the case I will look into that matter with the Met. I agree with her that that should not become normal practice. We clearly do not want to require officers to insure themselves.
My hon. Friend raised the issue of the IPCC dealing with retired officers. She will be aware that on 6 March the Home Secretary announced that she would look at the disciplinary system. That matter is part of that work, along with the struck-off list already being compiled by the College of Policing to ensure that officers cannot retire to avoid justice.
My hon. Friend also asked about the IPCC power to direct misconduct proceedings. I understand her concerns about the outcome of the gross misconduct hearing for the DPS officers. The disciplinary system is also being reviewed as part of the work that the Home Secretary announced on 6 March, and this case provides evidence to support changes in that area.
Briefly, my other criticism, which was implied, is of the situation that an organisation can be responsible for investigating itself. When a case goes back out to the IPCC and an order comes for reinvestigation, it cannot be the same department investigating itself, never mind the very same officers. That clearly needs to be sorted out. It is completely ludicrous.
I thank my hon. Friend for that observation. That issue will be included as part of the work being done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field), whose constituency is at the centre of so many high-profile cases concerning the Met, made an interesting and thoughtful contribution regarding this case and others, for which I thank him. The issues he and my other hon. Friends have outlined today only add to the list that the Met and its senior leadership team need to address.
The Metropolitan Police Service polices the country’s most populous and ethnically diverse area, as well as having a number of functions that extend across the UK, in particular the national lead for counter-terrorism policing. Although we all know the Met to be the biggest police force in the country, we may not realise quite how big it is. In fact, Met officers comprise almost one in four—23.5%—of the total number of police officers in the whole of England and Wales. What happens in the Met is relevant to the way our whole country is policed, both because of its size and because, in the course of their careers, many of our most senior police officers will spend one or more periods working in the Met.
At this point, I must recognise, along with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), that the overwhelming majority of Met officers do their jobs well, serving the people of London with dedication and professionalism. But, as the Home Secretary said on 6 March:
“In policing, as in other areas, the problems of the past have a danger of infecting the present and can lay traps for the future…Trust and confidence in the Metropolitan police and in policing more generally are vital and a public inquiry and the other work I have set out are part of the process of repairing the damage.”—[Official Report, 6 March 2014; Vol. 576, c. 1065.]
In 2012 the Government abolished the Metropolitan Police Authority, which was only partly and indirectly elected. For the first time, the Met is truly accountable to Londoners; the commissioner is accountable to the Mayor of London, who is elected by all Londoners, and the Mayor and his deputy for policing are scrutinised by the policing and crime committee of the London Assembly.
I have already mentioned that the Met is responsible for policing the most ethnically diverse area in the UK. While it is the most diverse force in the country, with 10.5% of officers from minority ethnic backgrounds, that proportion falls well short of the proportion of the population; the 2011 census figures show that just over 40% of Londoners are from non-white ethnic groups. As the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims said to the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) at Home Affairs questions last Monday,
“While the police work force is more representative in terms of gender and ethnicity than it has ever been, there is still much more to be done by forces.”
He also said:
“The Metropolitan police plan to recruit 5,000 new constables between now and 2015, and their aim is that 40% of them should be from a minority background, to reflect the population of London as a whole. This indeed is a serious issue, which the Metropolitan police are addressing.”—[Official Report, 10 March 2014; Vol. 577, c. 15.]
My hon. Friend the Member for Wells has set out the issues of race and diversity that are at the centre of her constituent’s claim against the Metropolitan police. I want to be very clear on this matter: treating anyone differently on the basis of the colour of their skin—whether they be black or white; police officer or member of the public—is always unacceptable.
As well as the work the Home Secretary has announced, the increased accountability of the Met through the Mayor and the increasingly representative ethnic mix of its officers are a good start in rebuilding the public’s trust in the Met. However, other issues have been identified that the Met needs to address.
There has been criticism of the culture of the Metropolitan police, in particular that it is an obstacle to changing how the Met works and how it deals with members of the public. That is one reason why, as the Home Secretary made clear in her statement on 6 March, we need to continue our work to reform the police and its culture.
From this autumn, all police forces will, for the first time, have the opportunity to bring in talented and experienced leaders from other walks of life to the ranks of inspector and superintendent. Those coming in will receive world-class training and bring fresh perspectives, opening up policing culture. A significant number of those officers will be joining the Met, and I know that they will have the support of the commissioner and his senior leadership team as they get to grips with the issues the Met faces. The Home Secretary was clear in her statement to the House on the significance of those changes, particularly of bringing high achievers from other fields into policing. The public need to know that policing is not a closed shop and that they can challenge the way in which things are done.
Where the police fall short of our expectations, the IPCC has a key role to play in ensuring that complaints and misconduct are dealt with as fairly and as transparently as possible. Hon. Members may have seen the publication on Monday of its “Review of the IPCC’s work in investigating deaths”, in which it recognises that it, too, needs to increase the diversity of its staff and to improve its engagement with families. The IPCC will ensure that, in future, families are involved in developing the terms of reference for investigations and are provided with meaningful and regular updates.
As the House will be aware, we are already moving £18 million this year into the IPCC to enable it to deal with all serious and sensitive cases, avoiding the issue of the police investigating themselves when things go seriously wrong. The IPCC will also receive £10 million of capital funding, so that it can establish further regional bases, enabling it to respond quickly to incidents wherever they occur. In conjunction with the Home Secretary’s announcement of a review of the misconduct system and of additional protection for whistleblowers, that will enable the IPCC to demonstrate clearly that it is truly the guardian of the police complaints system, and that the public can have trust in its ability to investigate allegations of police misconduct effectively.
However, police forces also need to play their part in stamping out inappropriate conduct. Misconduct and gross misconduct hearings, even where there has been an independent investigation, remain for forces to convene. Here, the Met has a good story to tell. Comparing 2012 with 2013, the total number of complaints decreased by 14%, from more than 16,500 to just more than 14,000. Meanwhile, the number of gross misconduct hearings rose from 49 in 2011-12 to 70 in 2012-13, and there have already been 70 hearings in the first nine months of this financial year. The number of police officers dismissed without notice has increased from 30 in 2011-12 to 47 in 2012-13.
I am sure that my hon. Friend understands that I do not have that information at my fingertips, but I will ask officials to look into that and see what information we can provide her with.
Some 42 officers were dismissed between April and December last year. While there has been no scientific analysis of the figures, if the number of complaints is falling, but the number of officers dismissed is rising, that tells us at least that the efficiency of the Met’s disciplinary system is improving. While work remains to be done in the area by the Met and other forces, we can see that the work that has been done is already having a positive outcome.
Clearly, issues of trust and confidence in the Metropolitan police remain for both the public and some of their own officers and staff. While it will take some time to work through the historical issues that have been the subject of so much attention of late, I know that the commissioner is determined to ensure that the Met is fit for the purpose of policing one of the great cities of the world in the 21st century. The Home Secretary and Ministers have trust in Sir Bernard to make those changes and to lead the Met through those challenges, and the residents of and visitors to London can have trust in the Met too.