South Yorkshire Police hold private misconduct hearing despite rule change

Jo Byrne, assistant chief constable of South Yorkshire Police, who chaired the hearing
Jo Byrne, assistant chief constable of South Yorkshire Police, who chaired the hearing
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A Yorkshire police constable has faced disciplinary proceedings behind closed doors four months after the Home Secretary ordered forces around the country to hold misconduct hearings in public.

A South Yorkshire Police officer, Pc Carpenter, appeared before a disciplinary hearing last week after being accused of inappropriate behaviour towards colleagues. He admitted misconduct and was handed a written warning.

“There may still be occasions where the anonymity of officers may be necessary.”

Neil Bowles, South Yorkshire Police Federation

The meeting was held in private because of concerns about the health and welfare of the officer and witnesses who may have been called to give evidence.

Since May 1, police forces have been required to hold such hearings in public in a bid to make the disciplinary system more transparent and increase public confidence, though exceptions can be made.

When asked about the hearing by The Yorkshire Post, South Yorkshire Police said in a statement: “Representations were made by both parties involved for the hearing not to be held in public. After careful consideration, the chairperson, SYP Assistant Chief Constable Jo Byrne, made the decision for it to be held in private.”

Pc Carpenter was accused of three breaches of the standards of professional behaviour in relation to discreditable conduct and authority, respect and courtesy.

In a note about misconduct hearings on its website, South Yorkshire Police says: “The purpose of a public hearing is to show that the police disciplinary system is open and transparent, will demonstrate that we do hold officers that breach the standards of professional behaviour, or those that are found guilty of misconduct, accountable for their actions.”

Plans to make forces hold hearings in public were unveiled last year as one of a raft of measures to improve confidence in the complaints system.

In March, Home Secretary Theresa May said: “The government has always been clear that the vast majority of police officers in this country do their job honestly and with integrity. They put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public.

“But the good work of the majority threatens to be damaged by a continuing series of events and revelations relating to police misconduct.”

She added: “The public need to have confidence that the complaints system is fair and effective and that the disciplinary system effectively holds corrupt officers, or those who are guilty of misconduct, to account for their actions.”

Guidance handed down to forces this year says that efforts should be made “to ensure as much of a hearing is held in public as possible”.

But it says the chairman of the hearing, having taken into account a list of possible exemptions, should consider whether “the particular circumstances of the case outweigh the public interest in holding the hearing in public”.

It adds: “A hearing should not be held privately or notice withheld for administrative reasons; or because of concerns to the reputation of the force or police arising from the hearing being public.”

Neil Bowles of South Yorkshire’s Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said: “The Federation had concerns about internal conduct hearings, not criminal matters, being heard in public as it could have had a profound effect on the individuals’ future employment.

“However if you combine this with the introduction of legally qualified hearing chairs in January 2016, it will ensure openness and transparency to the proceedings and above all ensure fairness to all parties. There may still be occasions where the anonymity of officers may be necessary.”

The hearing was the first to be held by South Yorkshire Police since the rules changed in May.

In the Yorkshire region’s first public misconduct hearing in July, Pc Andrew Leggott, a police officer of nine years standing, was dismissed by Humberside Police’s Chief Constable Justine Curran. Pc Leggott, 32, assaulted two men when he was among officers called to a disturbance in Scunthorpe.