Suspended police to take early retirement

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FOUR suspended South Yorkshire Police officers who are under investigation over serious allegations of corruption and theft involving remand prisoners, have been allowed to take early retirement on medical grounds.

The officers, a chief inspector and three constables, were suspended from duty after allegations surrounding the running of a cell block at Doncaster police station which contained about 20 remand prisoners who could not be housed in local prisons. The officers were alleged to have received payments from prisoners in return for privileges.

The result of an inquiry into the case, conducted by officers from West Yorkshire Police, has been with the Crown Prosecution Service since the beginning of the month. But the retirement of the officers means they cannot later be disciplined if the CPS decides against criminal charges.

The practice of allowing officers to take medical discharge and enhanced pensions while being under investigation has concerned the Police Complaints Authority and has twice been criticised in reports by the House of Commons home affairs committee.

However, the Independent understands that the Sheehy inquiry into police pay and responsibilities is likely to recommend changes to the criteria governing retirement on medical grounds.

The decision by South Yorkshire Police is significant, since the force came under criticism for allowing two senior officers who were facing a disciplinary tribunal over the Hillsborough tragedy to take early retirement on medical grounds after doctors said they were suffering from stress.

In a statement yesterday the force refused to give the names, ages, or career details of the four officers, saying no charges had been laid and 'it will be unfair to the officers and their families'.

Chief Superintendent Brian Mole, head of the force's complaints and discipline department, said the retirements would have no effect on the question of possible criminal prosecution.

The chief inspector was in charge of the unit when it was raided by investigating officers as a result of the allegations in November 1991. The chief inspector and one of the constables was suspended immediately; the other two officers were suspended later.

The force said that the chief inspector, who went on sick leave shortly after the suspension, together with two of the constables, were retiring as a result of stress; the third constable was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. All will leave the force at the end of March, or early April.

It is understood that the Sheehy inquiry, which is set to report in May, is considering recommending the introduction of a new rule that police officers seeking medical discharge should be adjudged over whether they are fit for the jobs they do, rather than for general service in the force.

Officers who seek medical discharge, which can give an enhanced pension, do so on the basis that they are unfit for all police duties, despite the fact that some have only desk jobs or duties not requiring physical exertion.

The Sheehy committee is said to be alarmed at evidence that there are more officers taking retirement on medical grounds each year than normal retirement.