New bid to tackle corrupt police

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Police officers in elite squads should be moved around frequently to stop them being tempted into corruption, the Government will be told today.

The Police Complaints Authority, which deals with allegations of police malpractice, will use its first meeting with the Home Office today to urge a shake-up of specialist crime units in England and Wales to prevent "endemic corruption".

Peter Moorhouse, chairman of the PCA, is also expected to call during discussions with Alun Michael, the Home Office minister, for officers suspected of falsifying evidence or taking bribes to be subject to the same kind of disciplinary procedures as other workers, and for an end to officers evading punishment by retiring on health grounds.

Mr Moorhouse believes that specially selected officers serving in the country's six regional crime squads should be regularly rotated to prevent them forming close bonds with local criminals. The concerns come in the wake of last month's criticism of the South East Regional Crime Squad, when a judge threatened 20 detectives with contempt of court proceedings after a drugs case collapsed because evidence had been destroyed.

Mr Moorhouse said yesterday that the failure to rotate officers led to "endemic corruption - corruption of evidence or financial corruption".

An authority spokesman said yesterday: "The question of how long officers spend in these squads has been on the agenda since November 1991 when we produced a report on the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad. Yet the debate still continues."

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) insisted that ethical and management standards in the police service were higher than ever and that deployment of officers must remain a matter for individual chief officers. Paul Whitehouse, Chief Constable of Sussex and vice-chairman of Acpo's personnel and training committee, agreed that in "high pressure" situations there was always potential for corruption, but said such behaviour was "very much the exception, not the norm".

Acpo is in agreement, however, with Mr Moorhouse's call for a change in the standard of proof needed to discipline corrupt officers. At present, a discipline case must be proved "beyond reasonable doubt", the standard required in criminal trials. Both the complaints authority and Acpo believe that disciplinary hearings should be judged on a balance of probabilities - the standard practice in Scottish police forces.

The Police Federation, the union for officers up to the rank of inspector, said it would continue to campaign against any change in the burden of proof. Fred Broughton, the chairman, said: "We have to deal with professional criminals that tactically will make allegations against police ... These matters have to be properly investigated. But they have to be tested to make sure that the allegations are substantiated. That's all we ask, that there's a fair, just system."