Corrupt and incompetent police officers have avoided detection because of a broken system of checks that have shaken public confidence in the integrity of the service, MPs said today.
A new regime of “professionalism and integrity” must be introduced following high-profile scandals like the Hillsborough cover-up, the revelation of corrupt links between police and media, and the first sacking of a chief constable for 30 years, according to a new report by the influential home affairs select committee.
The study highlighted eight current exceptional inquiries into police failings that have cost the taxpayer more than £23m and involved nearly 300 officers – but have so far led to only five prosecutions. The MPs heard evidence of excessive sick leave and perks including generous hospitality.
The committee called for an end to “police investigating police” in serious cases to try to rebuild public confidence in a police service that had ten of its highest-ranking officers under investigation at the start of this year.
Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the committee, said: “Broken systems of accountability and a patchwork of police standards and training, have allowed a minority of police officers to get away with corruption and incompetence which is blighting an otherwise excellent service with dedicated officers.
“The days of Dixon of Dock Green are over. The new landscape of policing requires a new type of police officer ready to meet the new challenges.”
Four years on from the death of homeless man Ian Tomlinson, the report expressed concern that there was still no national register to ensure that disgraced officers who quit to avoid a disciplinary hearing could not play the system to rejoin another force.
Mr Tomlinson died on the street after being beaten and shoved by a Metropolitan police officer who had previously been able to retire from the force on medical grounds despite facing a disciplinary hearing. He rejoined the Met after a stint with another force where he also faced complaints.
Harwood was finally drummed out of the Met 11 years after he first left at a rare public disciplinary hearing after being found not guilty for the manslaughter of Mr Tomlinson.
Home Secretary Theresa May has since said that officers will face disciplinary penalties even after they have left the force. But the MPs called for the register of dismissed officers to be brought in immediately and criticised the system that led to the re-recruitment of Harwood.
“This speaks of a high-risk lack of coordination between forces,” said the report ‘Leadership and standards in the police’ out today. “Nor should officers be able to see retirement as a ‘get out of jail free card’ for misconduct.”
The MPs said that the sanctions for officers guilty of serious misconduct should be extended so that they are “fined” from their generous pension packages in the future. Officers currently have to be convicted of a criminal offence before they face the prospect of losing their pensions.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We have already announced a package of integrity measures to tackle misconduct and promote transparency and a more open culture in the police.”
The report comes at a time of rock-bottom morale in the police service, with entry wages for a constable set to fall to £19,000 from £23,000.
The committee said that it meant some chief constables would be earning more than ten times the wage of the lowest paid for the first time, the committee said, though pointed out that none of those senior officers would be black. Twenty years after the Lawrence inquiry, the committee said it was “shameful” that none of the top jobs was currently held by an ethnic minority officer.
The cross-party committee of MPs also expressed dismay at the long-running ‘Plebgate’ inquiry into the Downing Street confrontation between officers and former chief whip Andrew Mitchell and its aftermath that has cost more than £144,000 so far.
Police forces should not be allowed to play any part in investigations such as the Plebgate inquiry but should pay for them to be investigated the police watchdog, it said.
The new College of Policing, which has been in operation for a year, is drawing up a new code of ethics for officers in England and Wales. Chief Constable Alex Marshall, the chief executive, said: “The report published today by the Home Affairs Committee contains many key areas of work that the College of Policing is driving forward. We have established an integrity programme for the police service which is aimed at strengthening professionalism.”