Corrupt police will be sacked, says Straw

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The Independent Online
The Government is to give chief constables the power to sack and discipline corrupt and dishonest police officers - many of who are accused of exploiting the system to escape punishments.

Under the plans, to be announced by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, on Monday, the burden of proof against officers is to be lowered and the "right of silence" will be removed. Also a six-week fast- track system will be introduced to prevent officers dodging punishment by taking sick leave then retiring on medical grounds.

Mr Straw, however, has backed down from the introduction of an independent disciplinary system, allowing the police to investigate themselves, a move condemned last night by civil liberty campaigners.

The sweeping changes follow widespread criticism of the current disciplinary system which Edward Crew, the Chief Constable of West Midlands police, said was so weak that he knew staff who were so untrustworthy they could not get a job in a supermarket, but he was powerless to dismiss them.

Earlier this year a report by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, recommended fundamental changes to how police officers are disciplined after concluding that corrupt officers are delaying and escaping punishment. Sir Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said his force could have as many as 250 corrupt officers.

Mr Straw has adopted some of the inquiry's recommendations, although he has given in to the police lobby on a number of important points.

The Independent understands that the changes include shifting the burden of proof at a hearing from "beyond reasonable doubt" - the measure used in criminal proceedings - to the "balance of probabilities" formula of civil courts.

Chief officers will be given powers to conduct disciplinary hearings in the absence of officers claiming ill health and, in some cases, to cut sick pay.

Cases in which officers are accused of serious misconduct or corruption must be heard within six weeks.

Officers claiming long-term sickness may have to obtain independent evidence, and officers could be suspended without pay to remove the incentive to drag out proceedings.

The "double jeopardy" rule - where an officer cleared by the courts of criminal activity cannot then be disciplined by his force before or after his trial - will be abandoned.

Police are believed to have won on several areas including dropping proposals to hold the hearings in public rather than private. Plans to remove the right to a legal representative in all but the most serious cases has also been ignored. The Government has rejected having an independent investigation service, an idea that is supported by many police officers.

John Wadham, director of Liberty, the civil rights organisation, said: "Without an independent body to examine allegations of corruption and wrong-doing the public cannot be sure that police officers are escaping justice."