Mills orders urgent inquiry into CPS

Beleaguered DPP under attack after judicial review judgments
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The Director of Public Prosecutions, Dame Barbara Mills, last night announced an urgent inquiry into the Crown Prosecution Service's handling of serious complaints against the police. Her decision came amid calls for her resignations over two cases this week where CPS decisions were quashed by the courts. In both the CPS had decided against prosecuting police officers in connection with two deaths in police custody.

The High Court yesterday reserved judgment in a third judicial review, which challenged a CPS decision not to bring assault and perjury prosecutions against former West Midlands Serious Crime Squad officers who extracted a confession from a suspect, Derek Treadaway, by suffocating him with plastic bags.

In the face of mounting public criticism, Dame Barbara said the inquiry would examine CPS internal procedures and the particular handling of the cases of the deaths of the Nigerian-born Shiji Lapite and the Irishman Richard O'Brien in custody in 1994. The inquiry will be by an independent person whose name, with terms of reference, will be published next week.

Speaking on BBC's Nine O'Clock News, the DPP said: "If it transpires that it is just these two cases, and I don't want to minimise that, because that's bad enough in itself, but if it transpires that it's only the two cases which have had the problems, then I hope the public will be reassured about the rest of the cases."

But Deborah Coles, co-director of the pressure group Inquest, which monitors deaths in custody, said Dame Barbara's position as head of the prosecuting service was already "untenable" and she should stand down. Ms Coles said: "The DPP has admitted that her decisions in these cases are fundamentally flawed. Inquest considers this to be a shocking indictment of the way the Crown Prosecution Service handles cases involving allegations of police violence. These proceedings have revealed a shambolic decision-making process for which the DPP is ultimately responsible. In those circumstances, we consider her position to be untenable."

John Wadham, of the civil-liberties campaign Liberty, agreed she should resign if the inquiry were to find she had made wrong decisions. But he added: "We would prefer to look at the systems to see whether in fact there are problems with the police being prosecuted."

A CPS spokesman said they were concerned about what went wrong in the two cases but they successfully prosecuted 1.3 million cases a year. "It is possible there was human error. There may be a flaw in our decision- making ... We may need to offer further training to staff or guidance to prosecutors."

Sir Iain Glidewell, a retired Court of Appeal judge, is already heading an inquiry into the workings of the CPS. The Treadaway case has already been the subject of a civil-court ruling in an action for battery, when Mr Justice McKinnon awarded Mr Treadaway pounds 50,000 in damages after finding "on a high degree of probability" that officers had obtained a confession to robbery by subjecting him to "nothing less than torture" by attempting to suffocate him with plastic bags.

Yesterday his counsel, Patrick O'Connor QC, told the court that he had been "suffocated to unconsciousness" when the plastic bags were put over his head during a robbery inquiry in 1982. Mr O'Connor said his client's "will was broken" and he signed confessions leading to a 13-year jail sentence for robbery and conspiracy to rob.

The convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal last year after the Crown did not seek to rely on police evidence in relation to the confessions.

But the CPS ruled out prosecutions, saying that the evidence was insufficient and that there was no realistic chance of conviction.