Police officers who accept gifts such as free tickets to Wimbledon, FA Cup final or pop concerts are damaging the service’s reputation in the eyes of the public, inspectors said yesterday.
Sir Denis O’Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, said the practice of receiving free gifts and hospitality should be banned because it risks creating a perception that police officers had conflicts of interest.
The review, by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), found that corruption was not endemic but there was a “hugely inconsistent approach” across police forces in their attitude towards accepting free gifts.
Only 20 out of the 43 forces in England and Wales issued clear written guidance to staff on whether or not to accept a gift. Fifteen of them set a limit of £75 on gratuities.
Police forces in Yorkshire bore out the inconsistencies, with some saying all gifts and hospitality should be refused and others saying it would be acceptable in certain circumstances to preserve good working relationships.
Superintendent Ray Higgins, Head of Professional Standards at Humberside Police, said: “During the course of work, staff will sometimes receive offers of gifts, which includes goods or cash, or hospitality.
“To refuse such offers may cause offence or hinder working relationships; however, to accept may be wrong. If there is the slightest doubt about the wisdom or propriety of accepting an offer of a gift or hospitality, staff are advised that it should be refused.”
A spokesman for West Yorkshire Police said: “Our view is very clear. We expect the very highest standards of police officers and staff and anyone who betrays the trust put in them by the public, by acting in an improper or unlawful way, will be dealt with.
“As the report acknowledges, such behaviour when it does occur is down to individuals letting the police service and public down, rather than any widespread systematic corruption.”
North Yorkshire is one of the forces with published guidelines already in place, with Sir Denis calling on the Home Office to take the lead towards consistency across the board.
He said: “Clearly it is for the police service, encouraged by the Home Office, to come up with standards.
“But I would have thought, in the circumstances, unless there’s a very clear public benefit, not personal benefit, it would be very strange indeed to be carrying on with that kind of behaviour.
“It leads to perceptions that you may have a conflict of interest.”
Roger Baker, who led the review, said: “You’ve got to be very clear on the reason why you want to accept tickets to the FA Cup Final, or something like that, and there are major perception issues.
“Let’s take pop concerts. The staff working in the police service were very clear that they found that was not acceptable. Public servants thought that was very, very iffy.
“And so unless there’s a really good reason which I can’t think of, then the answer to that should be ‘No, don’t’.
“Instead of just picking out pop concerts, and ‘Do I go to Premier League football matches?’ or whatever it is, there needs to be a consistency across the police.”
He added that: “No one is suggesting you can’t have a cup of coffee” and that “a box of chocolates was seen as entirely acceptable” if a member of the public wanted to show their appreciation to a police officer.