Saturday, 1 September 2012

IPCC: Published Article by Jeremy Bamber

The following article was written by Jeremy Bamber and published by "No Offence" the Criminal Justice Forum on Friday 24th August 2012. 

An Independent Police Complaints Commission: sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? But who will guard the guards themselves? 

Roman society wrestled with the same question that today’s society cannot answer: who polices the police? The public have always required protection from corrupt or negligent police officers and in today's society this protection is supposed to come from The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). Police corruption is a growing problem and in the last five years alone investigations handled by the IPCC rose from 30 to 150. The IPCC needs to cope with their ever increasing work load, but it also has to address how to make their investigations more successful. Police corruption not only affects the standards of policing, and undermines public faith in this service but the tactics employed by the IPCC and Police to maintain wrongful convictions have wider repercussions for us all.

Only at the end of July this year the IPCC wrote in a letter to me “we are completely independent of the police service and are responsible for making sure that the police complaints system in England and Wales works effectively and fairly.”[1] This statement suggests that they are autonomous, self-reliant and unconstrained when they investigate complaints against serving police officers.  But the IPCC have no powers to investigate the actions of retired police officers, which is why so many retire when they face an IPCC investigation. Quite why police officers should be granted immunity from investigation upon retirement is unknown.  No other criminal is given immunity from investigation, even if they have been law abiding for twenty years. Even the Metropolitan police are currently looking to bring charges 27 years after the murder of PC Keith Blakelock in a remarkable turn of events since the original conviction of Silcott, Braithwaite and Raghip in 1987, which was overturned in 1991 when forensic tests suggested fabricated interview records. There is no statute of limitation for ordinary criminals, even if they have retired from a life of crime many years previously.  Police officers on the other hand gain immunity from investigation as soon as they retire which effectively allows a serving police officer to act corruptly or negligently with impunity. I believe that police officers should still be responsible for their actions upon their retirement. Under the current system the IPCC are the only organisation which can investigate the actions of serving police officers, but the IPCC doesn’t actually do this itself.  They state, “our role is to forward your complaint to the relevant police authority........for them to consider.[2]

In the process of investigating how a miscarriage of justice has occurred, a large amount of documents are filtered through by the Defence and evidence accumulated, and a cyclic process then begins. For example in my case between 1991 and 2012, there have been over 100 complaints made against Essex police in relation to my case, 24 made during 1991 alone. Further complaints have been made in the past ten years including seventy nine in the last 18 months. On each occasion recently the IPCC have accepted the advice from Essex police not to discipline or prosecute any of the police officers that have had complaints lodged against them.  On many occasions Essex Police have applied for a “dispensation” on grounds that my complaints were not lodged within 12 months of the alleged offence, which is tricky given that the complaints could only be made after disclosure was granted by the police themselves, many years after the date of the offence. Another excuse for “dispensation” has been that the officers have retired. In some cases the IPCC have waited for considerable periods with a complaint lodged and during this time the offending officer has retired.

The IPCC therefore have instructed Essex police officers to investigate themselves, which goes against the grain of being 'completely independent'.  All police complaints are investigated within the same police authority, except on the rare occasion when the complaint is so serious as to warrant an investigation by police officers from a different authority. 

It is quite possible that a police officer facing a complaint will be investigated by a colleague, a friend of a friend, or a friend of a family member.  This is especially so in my case which involved over two hundred police officers from the Chelmsford area all being investigated by Chelmsford officers themselves. Therefore, police officers would potentially be able to discuss the nature of the complaint at their leisure.  The public should not be surprised when their complaints are not upheld.  Often evidence has been 'lost' or 'mislaid' making it impossible for an investigation to reach a conclusion.

The IPCC’s work is closely tied to other MOJ Departments including that of the CCRC. I am sure that I am not the only person who has lodged complaints with the IPCC, and the progress of the complaint was deliberately stalled until the CCRC made an announcement, the defendant then finds that his or her complaints are dismissed very suddenly. These government departments are clearly dependent on one another for decision making. And yet the CCRC claim that their role is not to investigate the conduct of police officers and the IPCC maintain that they are not to be used as leverage to overturn a conviction.

This dimension is employed by the police to avoid having to investigate complaints, the IPCC say that the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has already investigated matters. In a letter from Charles Garbett, the Acting Chief Executive and Treasurer of the Essex Police Authority, dated 2nd August 2012, he states: “the documents held by the Force in regard to your complaints were available to the CCRC and no issue has been raised by them in respect that the Force has not co-operated with them”.[3]

The case documents total approximately three and a half million pages, three hundred and forty thousand of which are concealed behind a Public Interest Immunity certificate (PII). A good analogy would be: it’s as difficult as trying to find a single needle in a haystack. Firstly, the CCRC needed to be looking for the needle and my complaints have been made since my submissions to the CCRC, who therefore cannot possibly have looked amongst the documents for my specific complaints and secondly the CCRC may have had access to the 'haystack' but the fact that they didn't find the 'needle' doesn't mean that the 'needle' didn't exist!

The IPCC have been provided with two DVD's which contain all the documents and case photographs that the CCRC couldn't find, but which prove specific police complaints.  The IPCC have now been given that 'needle' from the 'haystack', and I wonder what excuse will be given by Essex police for not investigating these current police complaints.

The public may believe that the IPCC actually police the police, but they do not.  The police actually police themselves. Most of the time police complaints even fail to be investigated.  When an investigation does occur they are rarely upheld as a police officer can avoid scrutiny by simply retiring.  This loophole has been slightly tightened recently, but not made entirely obsolete.  Retired police officers are still immune from an IPCC investigation.

Just as Juvenal wondered who is to 'Guard the Guards' themselves, it is likely that he would be equally dissatisfied with the actions of the IPCC, were they to be responsible for 'guarding the guards', just as the public are today with how the IPCC police our police, some two thousand years later.

Until police complaints are investigated by a truly independent organisation, corrupt or negligent police officers will continue to avoid being properly investigated. The Home Affairs Select Committee is due to report on the effectiveness of the IPCC in September 2012.  It is to be hoped that this immunity for officers, whether they are in service or retired, becomes a thing of the past and equally it must be correct and lawful that all officers should be accountable for their misconduct. I also welcome the proposal by the new head of the IPCC, Dame Ann Owers, to recruit more people from outside of the police. Whether this move will bring about the radical changes needed remains to be seen but in the meantime it is a step in the right direction. 

For further resource on how judicial processes interfere with overturning wrongful convictions see publications:

Bamber, J, Gilfoyle, E, May, S, How judicial procedures obstruct miscarriages of justice from being overturned: the search for truth in an adversarial system.

Naughton, M. The Criminal Cases Review Commission: Innocence Versus Safety and the Integrity of the Criminal Justice System.

Robbins, J. The Justice Gap Series

Sekar, S. (ed. Mansfield, M.) The Cardiff Five: Innocent Beyond Any Doubt.

[1]    Letter dated 31st July 2012 from the IPCC to Mr J Bamber
[2]    Ibid 
[3]    Letter dated 2nd August 2012 from Charles Garbett to Jeremy Bamber

Jeremy Bamber

Jeremy Bamber
Innocent Jeremy Bamber