I do promise that the last post will be coming soon. In the meantime this story caught my attention.
In August 2010 two Kent police officers were called to detain 52 year old Colin Holt, who had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Holt was allegedly restrained by the officers and allegedly died of positional asphyxia.
Two years later, on the 7th September 2012, Rene Barclay of the Crown Prosecution Service announced that the two Kent police officers are to be prosecuted. He said " It is alleged that on 30 August 2010, whilst acting as a police officer, namely as a police constable, PC Leigh and PC Bowdery misconducted themselves in that, without lawful justification or excuse, they wilfully neglected to take reasonable and proper care of Colin Holt, a person in police detention."
This matter will now be going to trial and it is important that nothing more is said about the details of this case which might prejudice any trial.
The case does raise some important issues. Once again these officers, and Holt's family, have had to wait two years before the outcome of the investigation and a prosecution decision. The pace of Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigations is outrageously slow.
The most concerning aspect of this case is the charge. In the case of Tomlinson/Harper the charge was one of manslaughter. In that case a jury acquitted PC Harper. He will face a disciplinary hearing for breaches of force policy and procedure and may lose his job.
If it is believed that officer's are responsible for a death then why isn't the charge manslaughter? Have the IPCC and CPS decided that the public, who make up juries, are too reluctant to convict police officers of manslaughter when carrying out a job in difficult circumstances? Have they now decided to charge this offence for breaches of policy and procedure, that would normally, and in any other role, be dealt with by internal discipline procedures.
The IPCC are anxious to show, a small but vociferous minority, that they are independent. To do that they are desperate to build a list of convictions of police officers. If you look at the CPS guidance on the prosecution of the offence of Misconduct in Public Office (contrary to common law) it clearly states that the charge should not be preferred if there is evidence of a statutory offence. So the preferring of the charge suggests there is no evidence of manslaughter or any other substantive offence.
The charge of Misconduct in Public office is a serious one and is indictable only and carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The charge is being used more and more frequently to deal with misconduct issues by police officers. The offence is committed when:
- a public officer acting as such
- wilfully neglects to perform his duty and/or wilfully misconducts himself
- to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public's trust in the office holder
- without reasonable excuse or justification
In the meantime, Tom Winsor will be taking over as Chief HMIC and he and the Home Secretary will be going ahead with their program of cutting pay and pensions and implementing their perception that the role of a police officer is no different to any other job. Except, of course, they won't give us the right to take industrial action like any other job. They still expect us turn out for work any time to sort out the latest riot or public event. If there is a whiff of you doing something wrong or making a mistake you can expect the IPCC to pour all over it for two years and prosecute you for Misconduct in Public Office if they think there is half a chance of taking a police officers scalp.
Police officers are now treating the role as just another job. Why shouldn't they? Why would anyone want to go the extra mile or take any risks when there is no support and utter contempt from your masters. When this attitude becomes endemic you will see the difference. I shall be glad to be out of it.