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Police Misconduct Cases

Volume 827: debated on Monday 6 February 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the work of legally qualified chairs in police misconduct cases.

My Lords, the Government have launched a review into the process of police officer dismissals to ensure that the system is fair and effective and removes those who are not fit to serve. This will include an assessment of the composition of misconduct panels, including the impact of the role of legally qualified chairs.

My Lords, is it not astonishing and deeply disturbing that in Cleveland, a legally qualified chair whose name is unknown to the public is holding up a gross misconduct hearing, announced in August 2021, at which Mike Veale, the discredited policeman who besmirched the reputation of Sir Edward Heath, will finally be called to account? When asked about this, Ministers say that an anonymous chair may delay proceedings when it is in the interests of justice to do so. They also say that it would be inappropriate to comment further since proceedings are ongoing. Proceedings are not ongoing—they have not even started. How can it possibly be in the interests of justice to delay indefinitely this hearing while giving no explanation at all as to the reasons? The Home Office will surely have made full inquiries about this matter since I have raised it several times. What does my noble friend have to say about the extraordinary state of affairs in Cleveland?

My Lords, I am afraid that I will have to go over old ground. The arrangements for the misconduct hearing of the former chief constable Mike Veale are a matter for the Cleveland police and crime commissioner, and the management of the hearing itself is the responsibility of the independent legally qualified chair appointed to it. My noble friend is right that legally qualified chairs must commence a hearing within 100 days of an officer being provided with a notice referring them to proceedings, but this period may be extended when a legally qualified chair considers that it is in the interests of justice to do so. I am afraid that I will have to repeat the old mantra that it would be inappropriate to comment further while these proceedings remain ongoing.

My Lords, given that the Leicestershire PCC, Mr Matthews, refused the chair of the panel’s request for Mr Veale to be interviewed by the panel, as the law demands he should be, what is HMG’s view of Mr Veale’s resignation last week from his post as interim chief executive officer of the OPCC?

My Lords, the appointment of staff is a matter for police and crime commissioners but, as the noble Lord is right to point out, they are required by legislation to seek the views of their police and crime panel when appointing to senior positions within their office. I note Mr Veale’s resignation but the Home Office has no role in such appointments and it would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment on this matter directly.

My Lords, in matters of police misconduct, there is a delicate balance to be drawn between local accountability and local flexibility on the one hand and consistency in dealing with these cases on the other. Does the Minister agree with the inspectorate that there is a need to standardise decision-making processes when dealing with misconduct, and do the Government accept all the recommendations contained in the An Inspection of Vetting, Misconduct, and Misogyny in the Police Service report?

My Lords, on the latter point, I think the police forces have accepted all the recommendations. As regards the consistency of decision-making, that is one of the things that the dismissal review panel is going to consider. The first term of reference is to:

“Understand the consistency of decision-making at both hearings and accelerated hearings”,

so the answer is yes.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a legal assessor for regulatory panels. My noble friend will know that Parliament has established an independent regulatory panel in respect of almost every profession that exists. Those regulatory panels have the power to make interim orders of conditions and suspension when appropriate, and they can very often make their interim order within a few days of the referral of the complaint. Should the police not consider that model?

My Lords, again, I refer my noble friend back to the fact that the dismissal review is ongoing. It would be foolish of me to pre-empt the outcome of the review’s findings.

My Lords, in the circumstances of the case raised by the noble Lord, is the Minister saying, in effect, that there are absolutely no circumstances under which the Home Office will intervene, even though this case is continuing not to be dealt with, month after month? He will know that under Section 40 of the Police Act 1996, the Home Secretary can intervene if a PCC is not being effective. Why will the Home Secretary not intervene?

My Lords, as I say, I am unable to comment on ongoing cases. I know that irritates the House and I apologise for doing so, but there are specific circumstances which make me unable to comment.

My Lords, it is now almost two and a half years since the Independent Office for Police Conduct found sufficient evidence for there to be a misconduct hearing. I see that the Government cannot intervene in police conduct itself but will they encourage the police to speed up the handling of these misconduct hearings, which have now drifted on for so long and so inadequately?

My noble friend makes an extremely good point. I certainly encourage them to speed this up. Having said that, this is a particular case. It is considered to be in the interests of justice for the legally qualified chair to go beyond the normal 100 days. Beyond that, I cannot go.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, twice said that the legally qualified chair in this case was anonymous. That is not universally the case. In many other forces, legally qualified chairs are named. Indeed, proceedings describe who is on the panel. Why is Cleveland different?

My Lords, can my noble friend find out and tell the House? Does he not realise that every answer that he has given in this stonewalling performance has been utterly unsatisfactory? He has made the Home Office seem completely impotent. At the very least, we need to know who this anonymous man or woman is.

I thank my noble friend for not accusing me this week of being incompetent, at least. I will do my very best to find out the answer to that question.

My Lords, would the Minister like to address the question asked by my noble friend Lord Hunt? It was not about an ongoing investigation. It was a point of principle. Does he accept that there are circumstances under which the Home Secretary can carry out an investigation under the statutory powers already available? As a matter of principle, does he accept that?

Do the Government agree that the chairmen and members of police misconduct panels should never be open to any suggestion of conflict of interest arising from their previous careers?

My Lords, is it not possible for the Secretary of State to carry out the implementation of what is being delayed? Why is it not being done now?

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, particularly as past chairman of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation. None of this would have happened if the disgraced policeman, Mike Veale, had faced an independent inquiry into his witch hunt against the late Sir Edward Heath, as this House has repeatedly demanded. The Home Office keeps referring to all these inquiries, but they were all carried out by the police themselves, marking their own homework, and are no substitute for a judge-led review of how the good name of a distinguished former Prime Minister was deliberately besmirched—at great cost to the taxpayer.