Police forces have become complacent and are guilty of "taking their foot off the accelerator" in the battle against corrupt officers, the head of Britain's police watchdog has warned.
Nick Hardwick, chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said that the case of Ali Dizaei should serve as a "wake-up call" to those charged with rooting out corruption.
In an interview with The Independent, Mr Hardwick also fired a warning shot across the bows of the Conservative Party, which is committed to installing directly elected commissioners to run police forces across Britain.
He said that doing so would increase the likelihood of corruption because popular media-friendly officers, such as Dizaei, would be harder to remove from office. And he said cuts in police budgets, in the middle of a recession, would also contribute to an increase in malpractice. In the wide-ranging interview, Mr Hardwick also called upon the Government to give the IPCC more powers.
"We are becoming complacent about corruption and I think the Dizaei case should be a wake-up call," he said. "To say it has gone away would be a very bad mistake. There are no forces that are free of corruption and you should be most worried about the forces that tell you they are free of corruption."
His comments come just days after the IPCC secured a conviction against Ali Dizaei, the most senior police officer to be imprisoned in Britain for 33 years. Dizaei had arrested a man in a personal dispute about money, despite knowing he had committed no offence. The officer, a Metropolitan Police commander, then fabricated a claim of assault against the man. He was jailed for four years and Mr Hardwick described him as a "criminal in uniform".
But despite success in that case, Mr Hardwick said more needs to be done. He said: "When corruption starts to emerge it will get attention and we will try to drive the problem down for a bit, then we take our foot off the accelerator and it re-emerges.
"This [Dizaei] is a wake-up call, let's not wait, let's not go through this cycle again. We need a consistent and determined effort from the top, from the police leaders. There has to be a consistent message that this [corruption] is not acceptable."
Mr Hardwick added: "There are some people who say this is a very uncomfortable message," he said. "They do not want to look too hard [for corruption] and they do not want to hear this. But Dizaei teaches us that if we do not deal with it now then in the end it will just get worse. No one is talking about a witch-hunt, we just need to be really consistent about this."
As well as the Dizaei case, the IPCC has had three recent convictions of Metropolitan Police officers who misused their corporate American Express cards. Six others have been charged and the investigation is ongoing. But Mr Hardwick says that these cases are typical of many others which have not yet come to light. "By its nature you do not know how much corruption is there. But it is always there. We just do not know how much is beneath the water."
Mr Hardwick says that modern technology has helped corruption thrive. He cites examples of officers using the police computer system to pass information to criminal associates. Yesterday Mark Bohannan, a Metropolitan Police constable of 25 years, was convicted of exactly that.
Mr Hardwick also warned that police budget cuts could contribute to corrupt officers escaping detection. He added: "The pressure is to put officers on the front line. The question will be 'Why put money into people operating at headquarters who do not provide reassurance and all they do is worry people?' The answer will be to take them out of there. If you talk to heads of Professional Standards Departments they tell you they are really worried about what happens to budgets."
Corrupting influences: Police scandals
By Adam Bowie
1877: The Turf Fraud Scandal
Harry Benson and William Kurr made their living stealing fortunes from unsuspecting victims. Yet Scotland Yard was unable to catch the pair. When they were eventually caught they explained that Chief Inspector Nathaniel Druscovich and Inspector John Meiklejohn had been in their pay since 1873 and had provided information about the police investigation. The scandal caused such controversy the Detective Branch was folded into the CID.
1957: Brighton Borough Police Force
Scotland Yard detectives were sent to Brighton to investigate allegations of corruption in the force. Several weeks later Chief Constable John Ridge and two of his CID officers were arrested and charged with corruption. Ridge was acquitted but the two CID officers went to prison. The trial judge said that until there was a change in the force’s leadership he felt unable to believe any evidence from Brighton Police.
1964: The Challenor Case
The Flying Squad’s Harold Challenor broke records for making arrests – 100 in seven months. Many defendants claimed to have been beaten or had evidence planted on them. He met his match when attempting to plant drugs and a gun on Donald Rooum, who happened to be a member of the National Council for Civil Liberties. Rooum requested forensic tests be carried out on his clothes which found no evidence of possession. Challenor was charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice but was deemed unfit to plead citing mental health problems
1989: West Midlands Serious Crime Squad
The Birmingham-based squad was disbanded in 1989 after allegations of misconduct in several cases. Keith Twitchell had his manslaughter conviction quashed after 17 years after admitting to his crimes in what Stephen Solley QC called “a scenario of torture that beggars belief” – Twitchell told the court how officers had handcuffed him to a chair and placed a plastic bag over his head. In another case, George Glen Lewis was cleared of armed robbery and awarded £200,000 compensation after a court ruled he had made up his confession after being beaten by the squad. The West Midlands squad was also involved in the unsafe convictions of the Birmingham Six. No officer has ever been successfully prosecuted.
2005: AMEX scandal
Concerns were raised by a Metropolitan Police auditor in 2005 following claims that several officers were using their force American Express cards to buy personal goods. Auditors examined hundreds of unchecked expenses claims totalling £6m before estimating that up to £1m may have been stolen. Three people have been convicted and six are charged. The investigation is ongoing.
2010: Bohannan convicted
Mark Bohannan, a constable of 25 years, was found guilty of handing confidential information to his cocaine-using wife and her drug dealer Syed Imtiaz Ahmed in exchange for free drugs and money. The Met officer’s information allowed Ahmed’s large scale drug dealings to continue undetected. Bohannan was found guilty of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.