Page last updated at 01:14 GMT, Wednesday, 7 April 2010 02:14 UK

Police watchdog IPCC attacked by MPs

Nick Hardwick
IPCC chairman Nick Hardwick said the MPs' report was flawed

Complaints about the police in England and Wales take too long to investigate, says a cross-party group of MPs.

The Home Affairs Select Committee said the Independent Police Complaints Commission was failing to win trust.

They criticised the watchdog, saying retired officers could end up investigating their old force.

The watchdog's chairman, Nick Hardwick, attacked the report, saying some of its findings, including the role of retired officers, were "demonstrably untrue".

The select committee's report followed a BBC Radio 4 investigation which raised questions about the watchdog's effectiveness.

The MPs said that the IPCC had handled cases in a "distant and non-empathetic manner" and was failing to win confidence.

It called for the body to be more transparent and better at sharing its initial evidence - but also warned that public confidence was damaged when investigations took too long to be resolved.

It said that in most cases, a complainant just wanted an apology from a force over a minor issue.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz MP said: "It is clear to us that the IPCC requires reform of some kind.

Hears appeals against the way a police force dealt with a complaint
Deals with mandatory referrals such as deaths in police custody
Can investigate a complaint directly
Can either manage a police force's investigation of a complaint or supervise an investigation

"The IPCC's statutory duty is to increase public confidence in the police complaints system in England and Wales.

"We do not see how by failing to put complainants at the heart of the investigation process, using ex-police officers to investigate their former force, and by passively allowing a postcode lottery in the handling of complaints by local police forces to exist, the commission achieves this task.

"We hope that a successor committee will look at these issues in the detail they deserve and urge the reforms that the IPCC sorely needs."

But the report prompted an angry response from IPCC chairman Mr Hardwick, who said it did not present a balanced picture.

He accused the MPs of only taking evidence from hostile witnesses. A separate MPs' report had earlier concluded the IPCC had raised public confidence, he said.

Avoiding conflict

"We are disappointed that the committee accepted and reported as fact a number of assertions these witnesses made which are demonstrably untrue," he said.

"There are absolutely no circumstances in which an IPCC investigator with a police background can investigate a former colleague with whom they worked.

"Whilst ensuring, through the rigorous oversight of our commissioners, that we avoid conflicts of interest, we believe that the skills and professionalism of former police officers are hugely beneficial to our work.

"We believe the high levels of public confidence in the IPCC, which are reflected in repeated independent public opinion surveys, reflect our commitment to carry out our work and reach conclusions fairly, impartially and solely on the evidence."

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