Hillsborough inquiry ‘lacks power to find out the truth’

The IPCC was at the centre of the inquiry into the Hillsborough Disaster
The IPCC was at the centre of the inquiry into the Hillsborough Disaster
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THE police watchdog tasked with investigating the Hillsborough cover-up as well as allegations against a string of senior officers is “woefully under-equipped” and lacks the power and resources to get to the truth, a devastating report by MPs has found.

In a scathing analysis of the capabilities of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), a report published this morning concludes the watchdog is “on the brink of letting grave misconduct go uninvestigated” within Britain’s police force.

The watchdog was set up almost a decade ago to investigate the most serious complaints against the police, as well as the Serious Organised Crime Agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the UK Border Agency.

It recently launched the biggest-ever inquiry into British policing after an independent report found South Yorkshire Police had attempted to shift the blame for the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster on to the fans involved.

The IPCC is also investigating a string of senior and ex-police chiefs from across the North of England including Sir Norman Bettison, who stepped down from his role as chief constable of West Yorkshire Police last year after allegations about his own Hillsborough role.

But the report by the influential Home Affairs select committee says the IPCC often does little more than “scratch the surface” of serious complaints.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: “When public trust in the police is tested by complaints of negligence, misconduct and corruption, a strong watchdog is vital to get to the truth – but the IPCC leaves the public frustrated and faithless.

“Nearly a quarter of officers were subject to a complaint last year. Many were trivial – but some were extremely serious, involving deaths in custody or corruption. It is an insult to all concerned to do no more than scratch the surface of these alleged abuses.

“The IPCC investigated just a handful and often arrived at the scene late, when the trail had gone cold. The commission is on the brink of letting grave misconduct go uninvestigated.”

The report said the IPCC lacks the resources necessary to “get to the truth”, and has had its funding slashed further by the Coalition Government.

The watchdog should have a statutory power to force implementation of its findings, and in the most serious cases it should instigate a “year on review” to ensure its recommendations have been properly carried out, the committee said.

IPCC investigators should also be able to take immediate control of a potential crime scene during the crucial “golden hours” and early days of an investigation into deaths and serious injury involving police officers, the committee recommended.

It also called for action after the IPCC warned the committee that a backlog of appeals had begun to build up since the need to make financial savings had obliged it to reduce its complement of temporary staff.

Labour said the report strengthened its argument to scrap the IPCC altogether and introduce a new, more powerful body.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, the MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, said: “The Home Affairs select committee is right that the IPCC is not strong enough to tackle the problem when policing goes wrong.

“That is why I called for radical reform of police accountability last year, including replacing the IPCC with a new Police Standards Authority.

“For the public to have confidence in the high standards of British policing, they also need to know that there will be swift, robust action when policing goes wrong.”

New powers to help the IPCC investigate the Hillsborough Disaster were rushed through Parliament last year, and Home Secretary Theresa May pledged the commission would be given whatever resources it needs to carry out a proper investigation into the biggest scandal British policing has ever known.

But in combination with a series of high-profile misconduct cases involving senior officers from across the North, Hillsborough has left some MPs warning of a crisis of confidence in the police service.

A Home Office spokesman said this was something the Government is determined to address.

“Improving police professionalism and integrity are at the cornerstone of the sweeping reforms we are making to the police force, and the IPCC has a key role to play,” he said.

“We are already working to ensure the organisation has the powers and resources it needs to manage the challenges it is currently facing, and we will shortly announce a package of new measures designed to further improve the public’s trust in the police.”