Scrap ‘get out of jail free card’ for police, MPs urge

POLICE officers such as former West Yorkshire chief constable Sir Norman Bettison who retire while facing gross misconduct charges should be barred from ever working for another force, a report by MPs says.

Sir Norman Bettison.
Sir Norman Bettison.

A report on policing standards published today by the Home Affairs Select Committee cited the case of Sir Norman as it called for measures to stop officers seeing retirement as a “get out of jail free card” for misconduct.

The former chief inspector at South Yorkshire Police retired in October last year after the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report, claiming allegations that he was involved in a cover-up after the 1989 disaster were a “distraction”.

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It later emerged that he would have faced a gross misconduct hearing if he had stayed in post after trying to “manipulate” the way complaints about his handling of the Hillsborough disaster were referred to a watchdog to protect his own reputation.

The select committee said plans announced by the Government to continue with gross misconduct hearings even when officers leave the force should be “enacted with immediate effect”.

And it recommended that the newly-established College of Policing should compile a register of officers who have been dismissed or retire with disciplinary proceedings pending, with all applicants for a policing job to be checked against the list.

It said: “Officers who are dismissed by one force, or who retire to avoid disciplinary proceedings, must not be allowed to resume service with another.

“This speaks of a high risk lack of co-ordination between forces. Nor should officers be able to see retirement as a ‘get out of jail free card’ for misconduct.”

The report’s authors called for officers to have their pensions docked for the most serious cases of misconduct in a bid to improve ethics within the service.

They recommended a new code of ethics be established and for all new officers to obtain a Certificate in Knowledge of Policing.

The report comes shortly after fresh allegations were made against the Metropolitan Police that undercover officers spied on members of murdered Stephen Lawrence’s family. And there are currently at least eight investigations underway as a result of police failings, the MPs said, which have so far cost £23m.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: “Broken systems of accountability and a patchwork of police standards and training, have allowed a minority of officers to get away with corruption and incompetence which is blighting an otherwise excellent service with dedicated officers.

“The days of Dixon of Dock Green are over. The new landscape of policing requires a new type of police officer ready to meet the new challenges. Honesty, integrity and transparency are essential components of the policing DNA.”

MPs said they were “disappointed” that the Independent Police Complaints Commission “does not yet have a full complement of investigators” for its probe into the aftermath of the Hillsborough tragedy.

The report also cited the “many egregious cases of alleged corruption and incompetence” at Cleveland Police, where Sean Price became the first chief constable to be dismissed in 35 years. Its authors said they were “concerned” that Keith Bristow, who is due to become head of the new National Crime Agency, was leading the investigation into the force as well as a probe into abuse at children’s homes in north Wales.