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New measures to tackle police corruption must be properly funded

4 min read

On 10 March 1987, a 37-year-old private detective named Daniel Morgan was found dead in the car park of a south London pub with an axe embedded in his head. No-one has ever been convicted of his murder, despite five separate investigations

This week a long-awaited report by the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel - established in 2013 to shed light on the killing and police handling of the case—found that the Metropolitan Police’s failure to take a critical look at its past failings, as well as concealing or denying failings, constituted a form of institutional corruption.

Speaking in Parliament, home secretary Priti Patel said the panel’s findings represented one of the most devasting episodes in the Met’s history, and called on the Commissioner and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (​HMICFRS) to look into its findings and report back.

The Metropolitan Police concealed or denied failings to protect the organisation’s public image

Police corruption is an issue of long running debate and discussion in the UK. However, defining and assessing its prevalence across the 43 forces in England and Wales is difficult, as are the solutions to tackle and prevent it.

Corruption for a police officer is, broadly, anything that falls within the statutory definition of "corrupt or other improper exercise of police powers and privileges" in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. Examples can include perverting the course of justice, receiving payments or benefits in connection with the performance of duties, or providing confidential information.

According to data from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), the body responsible for overseeing police complaints in England and Wales, they received 490 overt referrals for corruption in 2020/21, with the overwhelming majority relating to abuse of powers for sexual gains.

The IOPC statutory guidance sets out the issues that fall within the mandatory referral criteria – conduct issues which authorities are legally bound to refer into them for investigation. However, the Home Secretary told Parliament that questions remain about the watchdog’s ability to hold the police to account and announced that the next periodic review of the IOPC would be brought forward to start this summer. “This will include an assessment of the IOPC’s effectiveness and efficiency,” she said.

Despite being the main police watchdog, the IOPC investigate only around of one fifth of referrals relating to police corruption themselves, independent of government and police forces. Local policing bodies and chief officers – a Chief Constable or Commissioner – also have responsibilities to investigate complaints. While these internal misconduct investigations must be delegated to someone who is able to act impartially, a 2015 report by HMIC highlighted concerns around a lack of confidence amongst some local managers. The report also argued that it remains “imperative that forces have the systems, structures and processes in place to ensure the effective, timely and fair investigation of public complaints and misconduct reports.”

The Daniel Morgan panel report highlighted this issue regarding internal investigations in a particularly stark light; stating that the Metropolitan Police concealed or denied failings to protect the organisation’s public image.

In response, the Metropolitan Police accepted that corruption and the “malicious acts of corrupt individuals” were a major factor in the failure of the first Morgan investigation. In a statement, it apologised for its failure to bring those responsible for Morgan’s murder to justice. Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave, who led the response to the panel, said the Metropolitan Police had completely overhauled its ability to identify corruption since Morgan’s murder.

The Home Secretary is expected to report back to Parliament shortly when the relevant bodies have submitted their responses to the report. Given the seriousness of the findings, it is likely that there will be strident cross-party calls for urgent reforms to ensure the structure and culture of the police do not enable corruption to flourish.

However, any proposals for changes must also be backed up with a commensurate increase in funding for both police forces and the IOPC. As the 2015 HMIC report makes clear, investigating corruption requires the use of specially trained staff, such as surveillance teams, and access to specialist technical equipment; all of which come with high costs. The Home Office Police Funding Settlement 2021/22 was largely welcomed, but many have warned that forces in England and Wales still face difficult decisions about where to find savings.

As this week’s panel report made clear, without proper resourcing there can be no effective fight against corruption.

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