Complaints cost ScotlandYard pounds 1.5m to settle

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The Independent Online

Home Affairs Correspondent

Scotland Yard has paid out nearly pounds 1.5m to settle 48 substantial court claims for assault or false imprisonment over the past two years - but has taken disciplinary action against only four officers as a result.

Although dozens of police were involved in the civil actions which resulted in payments ranging from pounds 10,000 to pounds 550,000, only one officer was cautioned, another fined and two "given words of advice".

Yesterday MPs and lawyers said the lack of any apparent action against officers suggested the Metropolitan Police did not take the matter seriously.

Chris Mullin, the Labour MP, said: "It is quite remarkable that, despite these enormous payments, so little appears to happen to those responsible for the payout. I really think it is about time that the officers who are costing millions of pounds of taxpayers' money for their actions are called to account."

Mr Mullin had asked for details of all cases which resulted in payments of pounds 10,000 or more over the past two years. Although those totalled pounds 1,477,114, added to the payout for smaller claims and settlements, the total damages figure was nearly pounds 2,800,000 with a huge bill for costs on top.

However, yesterday Scotland Yard said that in the bulk of the serious cases there had been no formal complaint made. "We take civil proceedings very seriously and review all the cases thoroughly, but cannot proceed if civil litigants decide not to make a formal complaint. We do not want bad apples in the police and would welcome complaints," said a spokesman.

Last year, Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, aroused controversy when he said that solicitors and complainants saw the police as a "soft option" to sue.

Lawyers said yesterday that those who feel they have suffered injury or injustice at the hands of the police generally opt to sue, because they can have legal representation, access to evidence and have the matters aired in public. The secretive complaints procedure gives them no such rights.

Further, Section 88 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act gave the commissioner power to refer a case to the Police Complaints Authority if he believes an officer may have committed a criminal or disciplinary offence.

Yesterday Fiona Murphy, a solicitor from Birnberg and Co, in London, said: "These statistics illustrate that there is no reason for clients to have confidence in the police complaints procedure." The objective of clients was to see officers disciplined but they had no option but to pursue expensive civil suits, she added.