Seven detectives to face disciplinary charges: After an inquiry costing millions, the action against West Midlands Serious Crime Squad officers has attracted criticism. Terry Kirby reports

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The Independent Online
SEVEN DETECTIVES up to the rank of superintendent are to face a total of 28 discipline charges as a result of the inquiry into allegations against the West Midlands Police Serious Crime Squad, the Police Complaints Authority announced yesterday.

Ten further officers would have faced a total of 20 discipline charges had they not left the West Midlands Police under medical or normal retirement procedures, while 102 officers are to be - or have been - given informal 'advice' about failures to adhere to force procedures, codes of practice or irregularities in recording interviews.

The authority said there was insufficient evidence to bring disciplinary charges over changes to interview records or overtime payments, although the Independent understands that one of the seven charged faces a charge relating to the disposal of a page of interview notes in contravention of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Confession evidence formed the backdrop for public concern about the squad and led to its disbandment in August 1989.

The remaining six officers face charges in connection with the mishandling of payments to informers.

All the charges are of 'falsehood or prevarication' under the Police Discipline Code and relate to the making of false statements or documents. Penalties can range from a reprimand to dismissal. The men will be legally represented at the hearings later this year before the Chief Constable of Durham, Frank Taylor, who will apply the 'beyond reasonable doubt' standard of proof.

The scale and nature of the discipline charges in the context of the inquiry by West Yorkshire Police attracted criticism yesterday from police and lawyers for men freed by the Court of Appeal because of doubts about the reliability of confessions. David Twigg, solicitor for the police officers, said: 'When the inquiry began we were told that it would not result in peripheral discipline charges . . . all we have got is a handful of peripheral discipline cases which are put forward as a pretence of justification.' He said that the charges over small amounts of informants' money had to be seen in the context of an inquiry costing several million pounds.

Charles Royle, whose company has represented most of those freed by the Court of Appeal, said it was 'unfortunate' that the disciplinary hearings would not be in the public domain.

Mark Phillips, another Birmingham solicitor involved in the affair, said: 'It is very surprising, bearing in mind the cases before the Court of Appeal, that these officers are not going to face any penalties. This demonstrates a lack of accountability of the police about such matters; it is almost as though there is an unwillingness to call the police to account.' Chris Mullin, the Labour MP who campaigned on behalf of the Birmingham Six and who last year called the West Midlands force 'the most corrupt in the country', said: 'I don't think it is satisfactory that those who retired should get off scot-free.'

The charges come nearly eight months after Barbara Mills QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, decided that no officers should face criminal charges, despite the recommendations of West Yorkshire Police that 16 officers be charged and the quashing of more than a dozen convictions by the Court of Appeal. At least eight appeals are outstanding.

Donald Shaw, the Assistant Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, said in his report on the working practices of the squad that officers operated without control, made excessive overtime and expenses claims and failed to keep proper records. He also criticised senior officers for failing to supervise payments to informants - the issue at the centre of the discipline charges.

In its report on the inquiry yesterday, the authority said it had reviewed 79 cases covering the 97 complaints, as well as 10 investigations into informants' payments.

The authority said the inquiry had shown the management of investigations 'lacked professionalism'. Interviews with suspects 'verged on the oppressive' with too much reliance placed on informants. The authority also questioned the judgement of senior officers in denying suspects access to a solicitor.

It said the majority of incidents occured in the early days of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act; it was clear the implications of the legislation were not well understood by a number of officers.