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Independent Office for Police Conduct

Volume 818: debated on Wednesday 2 February 2022


Asked by

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

My Lords, the IOPC’s annual reports provide an assessment of its work, including details of its performance against targets. Such information is available on the IOPC’s website. We expect the IOPC annual report for 2020-21 to be published shortly. A review of the IOPC led by an independent reviewer, announced by the Home Secretary last year, is due to start shortly. It will consider the organisation’s effectiveness and efficiency.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the IOPC for some valuable recent work, but what action has it taken in response to the “profound concerns” voiced by the Home Secretary on 15 June last year about its investigation into Operation Midland, founded on the fantasies of Carl Beech, from which senior Met officers were able to walk away without reprimand because the IOPC could not be bothered to interrogate them? Also, is it not against the public interest to withhold from Parliament the IOPC report on the gross misconduct of Mike Veale, a man discredited for ever by his biased investigation, when he was chief constable of Wiltshire, of allegations against Sir Edward Heath, at a time when the IOPC itself found him guilty of lying?

I agree with my noble friend: I also pay tribute to the recent work of the IOPC, much of which has been in the headlines in the last couple of days. We are not minded to initiate a public inquiry into either Midland or Conifer. It is important that the IOPC is an independent watchdog and essential for the public to have confidence in our model of policing.

My Lords, the IOPC has just produced a damning report about misconduct by some Met police officers and the culture that it found. The IOPC says:

“We believe these incidents are not isolated or simply the behaviour of a few ‘bad apples’”,

and that officers who challenged or reported unacceptable behaviour were “harassed, humiliated and excluded.” There is clearly a major problem. An inquiry chaired by Dame Elish Angiolini has been ordered in the light of the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard, and that has not been the only appalling incident involving police officers that has occurred. In the light of this latest damning IOPC report, will the Government now put the Angiolini inquiry on a statutory footing, with the ability to compel witnesses to attend and have documents produced, in order to provide backing and support for officers who want to blow the whistle on unacceptable behaviour and should not have to face harassment, humiliation and exclusion for doing so? Will the Government now also reconsider their position on regarding misogyny as a hate crime?

My Lords, I join the noble Lord in expressing my absolute disgust at some of the IOPC’s reporting under Operation Hotton. It provides for very painful reading that members of the police could have said such offensive things in any environment. As I have said before, the Home Secretary can decide, in conjunction with the chairman, whether to put the Dame Elish Angiolini inquiry on a statutory footing if it is not meeting its terms of reference. We brought in the duty to co-operate last year, and police and organisations can find themselves sanctioned if they do not.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel reported last June that the IOPC is not properly resourced to do the work it is charged to do? We saw cases going backwards and forwards between the MPS and the IOPC because of lack of funds. Can the Minister assure the House that the IOPC will be properly funded to do the important anti-corruption work it does?

The budget for 2021-22 is £69.6 million and will remain so for 2022-23. The IOPC employs about 1,000 staff, and nearly 30% of them have a police background—so I think it is pretty well resourced.

My Lords, it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, wishes to speak virtually. I think this is a convenient point to call her.

My Lords, the IOPC does not work alone to deal with investigations. We know that investigations can take time, but can the Minister tell me where delays in the system are occurring and what the Government are doing to help alleviate them?

I think noble Lords would agree that we have seen good improvement in the IOPC’s performance in the last couple of years. We are still keen to see further improvements and greater transparency, so back in February 2020 the Government introduced reforms to the IOPC to streamline its decision-making further and increase its effectiveness. There is absolutely no doubt that there is so much more to do to improve trust in the police complaints system and to raise awareness of the IOPC’s role.

Does my noble friend the Minister agree with me that questions of transparency and accountability in relation to the conduct of the police have never felt more keenly vital to our well-being as a society? In the light of all the information now available—and going back to the Question originally asked by my noble friend Lord Lexden—is it not disgraceful that the completely discredited Operation Conifer has still not been examined by a fully independent inquiry? Surely no one can have any confidence, in this or any day and age, in the police simply marking their own homework.

I most certainly agree with my noble friend that trust in the police has never been more fragile than it is at the moment. Operation Conifer underwent several rounds of scrutiny, but there is further to go. Today’s report certainly means that the police have a way to go before they regain the public’s trust.

My Lords, whatever our differences, I have no doubt that the Minister feels as disgusted as I do—I want to say that. This was horrific hearing and reading for all of us. However, would she like to have just one more go at my noble friend Lord Rosser’s question? The question was not “can” the Home Secretary put these inquiries on a statutory footing but “will” she. This is important for trust in the independence of the inquiry. It should be independent of both the Home Office and the Government, and the police. Will we, please, now have a fully statutory independent inquiry?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is going to be disappointed because I have said in the past and will repeat that if the Home Secretary feels that the inquiry is not fulfilling its terms of reference, she can put it on a statutory footing. Of course, it is a decision for the Home Secretary.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right to express disgust at the findings of the IOPC against the Metropolitan Police, but why is the Metropolitan Police not being held to account? Why is its leadership not being held to account and why is there not a thoroughgoing review of the structure and leadership of that force?

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary said today that there are questions about leadership in this whole horrible affair.

My Lords, may I refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, on Operation Conifer? It really is disgraceful that an honourable Prime Minister, known for his integrity, has been impugned by somebody proven to be a liar.

I note my noble friend’s comment. I do not know what his question was but I would say to noble Lords that it clearly is terrible when someone is investigated for something for which there was no case to answer. I also go back to a point I have made time and time again: there have been well over 4,500 convictions for non-recent child sexual abuse.