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Independent Office for Police Conduct

Volume 813: debated on Thursday 8 July 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent assessment they have made of the work of the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

My Lords, the IOPC’s annual report, signed off by the Home Office, provides an assessment of its work, including details of performance against targets. The 2020-21 report will be published very shortly. On 15 June, the Home Secretary announced that she is bringing forward the next periodic review of the IOPC, which will consider the organisation’s effectiveness and efficiency.

My Lords, why has this organisation not published the results of its inquiry, which started two years ago, into the disgraced former chief constable, Mike Veale? He is the man who infamously said that Sir Edward Heath was 120% guilty while investigating allegations against him. Are the Government going to take heed of the demand from six former Home Secretaries—both Labour and Conservative—for an independent investigation of misconduct during Operation Midland, including that of the IOPC, which failed even to question the most senior police officer involved, Mr Rodhouse, and was unable to provide an adequate explanation to the Home Secretary when she asked for it?

My Lords, there were quite a few questions there but, as I said in my first Answer, the Home Secretary has announced that she is bringing forward the periodic review of the IOPC. The Home Affairs Select Committee has taken evidence for its inquiry into police complaints and discipline and into the IOPC’s role and remit in general. As part of this, the committee questioned relevant parties, including the IOPC, regarding Operation Midland and its subsequent investigation. We understand, as my noble friend knows, that Lady Brittan has submitted evidence to this, but the overall point is that the IOPC is an independent body from the Government.

Is my noble friend the Minister aware that my experience with Operation Conifer, as the then chair of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation, persuaded me that the IOPC is not fit for purpose? Far from it—in effect, it allows the police to carry on marking their own homework, reinforcing a flawed process grievously lacking in genuine accountability. Is it not now time for radical reform?

I know that my noble friend has ongoing concerns about the handling of Operation Conifer by Wiltshire Police and the mechanisms for scrutiny of it, including by the IOPC or the IPCC, as it was at the time. The governance structures of the organisation were reformed back in 2018 to streamline decision-making and increase accountability, and we think that it has made good progress since then. The Government introduced further reforms to the IOPC in February last year, including giving it new powers to investigate matters on its own initiative.

My Lords, Graham Snell was brutally murdered by a lodger he had not invited into his home. He had complained to the police, but they failed to follow up those complaints. The IOPC investigated and it took eight months to highlight the multiple failings in this investigation, but nobody faces any penalties as a result. Does the Minister agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that radical reform is needed, because there needs to be an investigative body that can issue penalties?

My Lords, the IOPC is now completing investigations in just over eight months on average. This is considerably better than the IPCC, which averaged over 11 months in its last year of operation, 2016-17. As I said earlier, the Home Secretary has brought forward a review of the IOPC.

My Lords, returning to the vexed subject of Mr Veale, who has already been described as “disgraced”, is the Minister aware that he was recently appointed by my successor as police and crime commissioner for Leicestershire to a senior adviser’s role in his office, as reported by the Times on 8 June? Regardless of the police and crime commissioner will not reveal the salary and responsibilities of Mr Veale, do the Government approve in principle of someone who was twice a senior chief constable and is subject to a serious review by the Independent Office for Police Conduct being appointed to a senior post in the office of a police and crime commissioner?

My Lords, without talking about any individuals, some time ago we made clear through legislation that going to a different force or retiring cannot exempt someone from being prosecuted or followed up for an offence for which they are a suspect. That is all I will say on that matter. It is up to the PCC whom they appoint.

My Lords, paragraph 264 of chapter 9 of the independent panel report into the murder of Daniel Morgan quotes the then deputy head of the predecessor to the IOPC as saying that while

“the IPCC … does investigate a small number of corruption cases you are aware that we are not currently resourced to carry out many or large corruption enquiries”.

Unlike its predecessor, does the IOPC have enough resources to investigate police corruption and, if not, who investigates if there are many or large corruption inquiries? Could it be the force itself that is accused of covering up misconduct?

In terms of capacity, the IOPC budget for 2021-22 is £69.6 million and it employs approximately 1,000 staff. To that extent, I think it is well-resourced.

What is the Home Secretary expecting to get from bringing forward her review of the Independent Office for Police Conduct? Does she expect advice on whether its powers and resources should be strengthened and increased, since only 80% of conduct investigation cases are resolved within 12 months? Or does the Home Secretary have doubts about whether the IOPC—a body that this Government created—should now continue in existence at all, as she regards it as neither effective nor efficient? After all, a Home Secretary does not bring forward a periodic review of a body without having some view about the future of that body.

As she announced last month, the Home Secretary is bringing forward the review of the IOPC in part due to some concerns about Midland. The review will consider the IOPC’s governance, accountability, efficiency and efficacy, and should ultimately lead to better outcomes not only for the organisation itself but for the public and the police. It is quite routine for arm’s-length bodies to be reviewed, and doing it now is timely.

My Lords, I welcome the Home Secretary’s recent words that

“profound concerns exist about the handling of the IOPC’s investigation into Operation Midland”,—[Official Report, Commons, 15/6/21; col. 128.]

to which I am sure she would wish to add Operation Conifer, as my noble friend Lord Hunt rightly emphasised. Now that the next review of the IOPC is to be brought forward, can we be told when it is going to happen? Does my noble friend share the hopes of many of us, in this House and elsewhere, that it will shed further light on the appalling blunders of the past in this area and who was and still is responsible for them?

I reassure my noble friend that the review will be expedited, as soon as possible. There will of course be an independent reviewer, and I will keep noble Lords and the House updated as to the timelines of the review.

My Lords, in March this year the noble Baroness advised the House that, from this autumn, the Government would ask police forces to identify and record where any crimes of violence against a person are perceived by the victim to have been motivated by hostility based on their sex or gender. Has the consultation with the National Police Chiefs’ Council taken place? Has the Home Office produced guidance on this issue, and what is the timetable for its implementation? I realise that she may not have this specific information to hand but, if she has not, would she agree to write to me and place the letter in the Library of the House?

My Lords, the consultation with the National Police Chiefs’ Council on the request to identify and record any crimes of violence against the person that the victim perceives to have been motivated by hostility based on their sex is in progress. Home Office officials have met with stakeholders to discuss the new requirement and the ability of police forces to record this data on their systems. Further discussions are scheduled with force representatives, with a view to start collecting from the autumn. When further updates are available, I will write to the noble Baroness and others on this issue.