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IPCC: is it time to put down the police’s pet watchdog?

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As a series of scandals continue to rock the cops, Socialist Worker shows that the organisation that is supposed to police the police is worse than useless
Issue 2303
Police out in force at last weekend
Police out in force at last weekend’s Occupy protest in London (Pic: Fabrizio Bilello)

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is under constant criticism for failing to seriously investigate police crime.

Eleven cases of alleged racism in the Metropolitan Police have been referred to the IPCC.

These have emerged since an officer was recorded racially abusing a black man during last summer’s riots.

The organisation is also investigating police corruption in the Stephen Lawrence case.

But the organisation’s record since it was established in 2004 gives little reason for optimism.

For instance, the IPCC is responsible for investigating deaths in custody.

Yet for 1,429 people who died in police custody between 1990 and 2011 not a single police officer has been convicted. On this central issue, the creation of the IPCC in 2004 made no difference whatsoever.

The IPCC replaced the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) following the 2002 Police Reform Act.

A report at the time stressed the importance of an independent body.

It wanted to avoid a situation where “the police retain sole discretion as to whether to record a complaint” then control any investigation.


The immediate background was the Macpherson inquiry into the failed police investigation into

the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993.

Published in 1999, the Macpherson report found the investigation to be utterly inadequate. It put enormous pressure on Tony Blair’s New Labour government to reform the police.

Labour offered a sop.

The IPCC is made up of 12 independent commissioners.

By law none of these people can have worked as police officers. Yet many of those who carry out the organisation’s investigations are former police officers.

According to the IPCC annual report for 2011 eight out of nine senior investigators are former police officers, as are ten of 27 deputy senior investigators and 18 of 85 investigators.

This does not include people who worked for the police as civilians.

John Crawley, one of the first commissioners, decided not to apply for a second term. He said the IPCC “has not produced any significant change in the fairness and rigour of the police complaints system”.

The IPCC has been dogged by complaints since it was set up.

The Police Action Lawyers Group represents over 100 lawyers on the IPCC’s advisory board.

It complained to the organisation’s chair in October 2005 that “mediocrity appears to flourish unchecked, unmarked and, in many instances, unacknowledged”.

In 2008 the lawyers resigned. They pointed to a pattern of favouritism towards the police and complaints being dismissed despite powerful evidence supporting them.

A BBC Radio File on Four investigation this January found the IPCC directly investigated only 88 out of more than 31,000 complaints in 2011.

Otherwise forces that received complaints against them investigated themselves, though in a few cases the IPCC oversaw investigations.

The same year there were 4,600 appeals to the IPCC against the police forces’ own investigations. It upheld just 29 percent of them.

‘Justified and proportionate’

  • The IPCC repeated police claims to Mark Duggan’s family that he had shot at police when he was killed in Tottenham.
  • The IPCC refused to recommend disciplinary action against the police who shot and killed Jean Charles De Menezes on a tube train in Stockwell, south London, in 2005.
  • The IPCC doesn’t count any death where the person had not been formally arrested as a “death in custody”.
  • In 2006 CCTV outside a Sheffield nightclub recorded police punching and restraining 20 year old Toni Comer. The IPCC ruled that the police used “justified and proportionate force”.

Victim charged with assault

The case of Courtney Bland shows why there is so little faith in the IPCC. Police charged the black teenager with assaulting a police officer.

Courtney had faced an unprovoked assault and racist abuse.

His family complained to the Metropolitan Police and then the IPCC.

Both said there was no evidence to take further action.

However when Courtney’s family started a civil action the Met paid out £25,000 in an out of court settlement.

‘Heavily biased towards police’

Merlin Emmanuel has described the IPCC as “akin to the fox inspecting the security on the chicken house”.

Merlin is the nephew of reggae singer Smiley Culture, who died during a police raid on his home last year.

Samantha Rigg-David’s brother Sean Rigg died in Brixton police station in 2008.

She said, “The IPCC is heavily biased towards the police.

“We found it completely unwilling to robustly investigate my brother’s death at the hands of Brixton police.”


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