Lawyer says long wait for apology about investigation highlights problems in the police’s ability to investigate themselves and learn from mistakes
A 27-year-old woman who was arrested and forcibly strip searched by male police officers after leaving a Chelsea night club in March 2011, has finally received an apology from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) for the way in which the investigation into the actions of the custody sergeant on duty that evening was conducted and the “poor service” she received through the complaints process. However, no action can be brought against those responsible because they have since retired.
Last year, the MPS agreed to award Miss X £37,000 in damages for the original incident.
Clair Hilder, solicitor and senior associate at law firm Hodge Jones & Allen said that the complaint she submitted on behalf of her client last year to the Metropolitan Police has finally resulted in the MPS conceding that there were “service failings” in regard to how her previous complaints were handled, citing the “complete lack of communication between various bodies within the MPS…”
The complaint was the third submitted during a three-year period on behalf of Ms Hilder’s client, who is subject to an anonymity order, and was sent in March 2015. This specifically dealt with the fact that following the IPCC directing that the custody sergeant responsible for overseeing Miss X’s care should face gross misconduct proceedings, there was a two-year wait for the hearing to take place. The week before the hearing was due to take place it was cancelled and Miss X was informed that the custody sergeant had actually faced disciplinary proceedings for the lesser offence of misconduct two years’ previously and therefore, could not face gross misconduct proceedings arising from the same incident.
The complaint raised four issues:
- The lack of information provided to Miss X regarding the misconduct proceedings which had already been held into the conduct of the custody sergeant.
- That the misconduct meeting was not postponed as it should have been pending the outcome of Miss X’s appeal to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
- The lack of communication from the investigating officer and involvement of Miss X into the proposed gross misconduct hearing against the custody sergeant.
- The complete lack of communications between various bodies with the MPS, which meant that Miss X has been waiting approximately two years for the gross misconduct hearing to take place only to find that it could not happen due to a procedural technicality.
The response Ms Hilder received last month admitted that Home Office guidance was not followed in relation to Miss X being invited to the misconduct meeting for the custody sergeant.
The MPS said that the errors occurred because “two reports, one a complaint and the other a conduct matter, ran in parallel, when they should have been linked and dealt with as one and that should have been identified by the staff at DPS (the Directorate of Professional Standards.”
Further, it said that any misconduct meeting should have been postponed pending the outcome of Miss X’s appeal to the IPCC, and that the result of the misconduct meeting that took place in error, was not communicated to Miss X as it should have been.
In response to the complaint, the Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) Serious Misconduct Investigation Unit, said:
“It has taken some time to identify what ultimately went wrong with our service to you and why the MPS itself failed to meet the requirements set down by strict Home Office and IPCC Guidelines into dealing with complaints…on our part the process appears to have been over complicated, which in turn has caused the errors you have rightly raised…I would like to personally apologise to you on behalf of the DPS, my predecessors the MPS as a whole…I can assure you that lessons have been learnt and there are systems now in place to prevent this reoccurring again.”
It is also noted that there were failings on the part of the investigating officer, and the case officer in the DPS. Both would have had cases to answer now that would have been subject to management action. However, both have retired from the MPS.
Clair Hilder, says: “My client was subject to a humiliating ordeal at a time when she was clearly vulnerable and in need of medical attention. The officers involved acted in clear breach of professional regulations, taking an unjustified, callous and cavalier approach to the strip search.
“To add insult to injury there has since been delays and failings in relation to my client’s complaint about her treatment. My client had to appeal to the IPCC for acknowledgement that the strip search was unjustified. Thereafter, she was not kept up to date about the misconduct proceedings against the officers involved and had to complain to obtain details about what happened, finding out later on that the custody sergeant has never faced gross misconduct proceedings.
“While we welcome the apology, it shouldn’t have taken repeated attempts and many years to uncover the inefficiencies within the MPS. The custody sergeant involved has been let-off with no more than a warning to do better next time and others will face no action because they have since retired. Ultimately it means that justice cannot be done.”
- Miss X was arrested by police officers after leaving a nightclub where she suspected her drink had been spiked. Following her arrest, she was taken to Chelsea Police Station where she was unnecessarily strip searched. CCTV showed that the strip search was performed in a cell by one female and four male officers. She was held down whilst every item of her clothing was forcibly removed, with her bra cut from the front of her body. She was then left naked in a cell with CCTV broadcasting images of what was taking place back to the custody desk.
- In May 2013, an IPCC report into the incident recommended that the custody sergeant on duty should face a charge of gross misconduct over her failure to make any record of the strip search or to ensure it was carried out in accordance with the PACE codes of practice, which outline the powers of the police. The IPCC recommended that five PCs should also face misconduct proceedings for conducting the strip search in breach of the PACE codes and not questioning the instruction they were given. The IPCC concluded it was arguable that the multiple failures of the officers involved combined to inflict ‘degrading treatment’ on the woman, constituting a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
- Following the report, two of the officers involved in the strip search were issued with formal written warnings and three faced management action. The custody sergeant has not faced gross misconduct proceedings as recommended by the IPCC. Instead, she received management action which involved her being told that if she worked as a custody officer in the future, she should familiarise herself with the rules that relate to custody procedure; and should ensure she seeks support from her line manager until she is confident that she can perform the role to the required standard.
For further information, please contact:
Kerry Jack at Black Letter Communications
020 3567 1208
Notes for Editors
Hodge Jones and Allen
- Hodge Jones and Allen is one of the UK’s most progressive law firms, renowned for doing things differently and fighting injustice.
- For almost 40 years’ the firm has been at the centre of many of the UK’s landmark legal cases that have changed the lives and rights of many people.
- The firm’s team of specialists have been operating across: Personal Injury, Medical Negligence, Industrial Disease, Civil Liberties, Criminal Defence, Court of Protection, Dispute Resolution, Employment, Family Law, Military Claims, Serious Fraud, Social Housing, Wills & Probate and Property Disputes.
- Co-founder Patrick Allen is still at the helm of the firm he co-founded in 1977.
- In 2016 the firm launched Hearing their voices – a campaign to raise awareness and build conversations around the issues and the injustices we might all face.