Leading Article: A most serious crime, so why has no one been punished?

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The Independent Culture
TEN YEARS ago this newspaper started to expose what has since become Britain's longest-running corruption scandal: the activities of the West Midlands Police Serious Crime Squad. Since then 32 prisoners - the latest only last week - have been released by Appeals Tribunals persuaded that they had been convicted on Crime Squad evidence which was uncorroborated, unreliable and very probably forged. Even now, all these years later, there are still at least seven more appeals pending.

By the end of this sorry affair it is likely that nearly 40 citizens, most notably the Birmingham Six, will have been wrongly convicted after being framed by this notorious, and now disbanded, "elite" squad.

What there has not been, however, and may well never be, is the conviction of a single detective concerned. Despite a full investigation by the Police Complaints Authority, which sent the files on six officers to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and a recommendation that disciplinary charges be brought against seven detectives, just four of the Squad's officers were ever admonished, and then only for minor disciplinary offences.

There are any number of explanations, or rather excuses. Juries are reluctant to convict police officers, not least because the witnesses against them are by nature of bad character themselves. There is also a difference between deciding that confessions or notes of "verbals" are "unsafe"and actually proving that they were forged.

However, it is hard to avoid the feeling that the system, when it comes to police scandals, is weighed heavily on one side of the balance. That is exactly the kind of impression that the police must seek to end. In the aftermath of the Stephen Lawrence case, with a full-scale investigation going on into corruption in the Metropolitan police and with the appeals against Midlands convictions still going on, the police must be seen to clean up their act.

The remedies are there. It is long since time that independent outside investigation of complaints against the police was established. There is no acceptable reason for the delays in taking action against officers - let alone the kind of delays that allow police to retire before disciplinary action is considered. And it is long after time that officers alleged to have been guilty of fraud and criminal tampering with evidence should be prosecuted. It may be that juries do not like to convict officers who take short cuts with the law. But it is for a jury to decide that, not a prosecution service so intimately involved with the police.