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Stephen Lawrence Tuesday, 23 February, 1999, 14:12 GMT
Who polices the police?
Who polices the police graphic
Critics of the police, who have been commonplace this week as details of the Stephen Lawrence report seep out, say most forces are a law unto themselves.

Stephen Lawrence case: Timeline of events
But it is not strictly true. Police officers in England and Wales, right up to the rank of Chief Constable, are regulated by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace).

Complaints from the public are dealt with by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) but each force also has internal complaints and discipline (C&D) teams.

Hundreds of complaints

The PCA supervises more than 900 complaints a year, which vary from rudeness to excessive force, unlawful arrest and suspicious deaths in police custody.

Less serious complaints are often dealt with by way of an explanation or apology by the officer involved.

Elmore Davies
Detective Chief Inspector Elmore Davies of Merseyside Police is serving a five year jail term for corruption
More serious complaints must, by law, be investigated. Usually the force involved, or a neighbouring force, will investigate under the supervision of a PCA member, although this is not always the case.

The PCA member will also decide how the inquiry should be carried out, read all the statements and see all the relevant evidence.

At the end of the day the PCA has the right to say whether or not it is satisfied with the way a force handled an investigation.

After an investigation there are three options:

  • The PCA may approve an informal disciplinary action, such as "advice" or "admonishment".

  • The PCA may decide a formal disciplinary hearing is required, but this will only happen if it feels it can be proved the officer has breached the Police Discipline Code. Punishments available vary from fines to loss of rank and seniority and even dismissal from the service.

  • The Crown Prosecution Service may decide to go ahead with criminal charges. These will be dealt with before any internal disciplinary proceedings. A conviction will invariably mean the loss of the officer's pension.

    In the year to 31 March 1998 18 police officers in England and Wales were prosecuted as a result of complaints. Crimes included rape and theft - and some form of disciplinary action was taken against officers in a quarter of all cases.

    Rotten apples

    Neil Pearson and cast of Between the Lines
    Neil Pearson (centre) investigated corrupt fellow policemen in Between the Lines
    Each force has a complaints and discipline team, such as the Metropolitan Police's Complaints Investigation Bureau, which was dramatised in the BBC TV series Between The Lines.

    These teams are responsible for weeding out corrupt or inept officers.

    In Northern Ireland, where policing is set against an even more sensitive background, the Independent Commission for Police Complaints (ICPC) runs on a similar basis to the PCA.

    Irish and Scottish differences

    The Royal Ulster Constabulary also has its own complaints and discipline department.

    The PCA does not have a Scottish equivalent and all complaints are dealt with by individual Chief Constables.

    People who are dissatisfied with the way their complaints are handled can appeal to Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland.

    Trevor Hemmings, of the police monitoring group Statewatch, says the current system in the UK is "absurd".

    He said it amounted to self-regulation and had failed miserably.

    'Justice must be seen to be done'

    Mr Hemmings told BBC News Online: "There is a need for a truly independent body to investigate the police, which would have integrity and the appearance of fairness."

    "The PCA is uniformly criticised by both the police and the grass roots. It's a joke and has no credibility whatsoever."

    Michael Menson
    Michael Menson...critics say his death proves the Met has not changed
    Mr Hemmings said the cases of Ricky Reel and Michael Menson - two men, one Asian and one black, whose families complained about the way their deaths were investigated - showed the Metropolitan Police had learned nothing from the Stephen Lawrence case.

    Statewatch is an independent civil liberties group, which monitors the police. It is a non-political educational charity.

    'Must be independent'

    The Police Federation, which represents police officers, also wants to see a system which will be seen as wholly independent of the police service.

    The federation's vice-chairman, Ian Westwood, says: "We believe the current system is effective but it's never going to look effective to the public. For credibility purposes we need an independent body."

    But Mr Westwood said an independent investigative group was in the process of being formed in Northern Ireland but he said such a body could not be formed overnight and would have to rely, at least initially, on officers seconded from the RUC.

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    23 Feb 99 | Stephen Lawrence
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