Civilian squad to investigate police crimes

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The Independent Online

The police will no longer investigate fellow officers involved in deaths in custody, shootings and allegations of serious corruption under plans to be announced by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary.

Investigators from the Customs, Inland Revenue, Serious Fraud Office and legal profession are expected to carry out inquiries into complaints of serious police misconduct. They could also take over investigations in such controversial topics as allegations of racism and abuse of stop-and-search powers.

It follows criticism and suspicion of a system in which officers investigate the alleged wrongdoing of colleagues. If all the proposed changes to the existing independent Police Complaints Authority are accepted, its budget is expected to balloon from £3m a year to between £10m and £15m.

On Wednesday the Home Office plans to publish a consultation document in which Mr Straw and Charles Clarke, minister responsible for the police, will outline proposals for change to a system that deals with 17,000 complaints a year. They are expected to say regional teams of non-police experts who could include Department of Social Security staff, Ministry of Defence officers and firearms experts will take over investigation of the most serious cases.

This would include deaths in custody, running at about 60 a year, serious assaults, fatal accidents involving police vehicles, corruption and shootings involving police marksmen.

Greater openness and fuller publication of PCA findings are other likely proposals. At present the body, which does not employ serving or former police officers, oversees investigations and can bring in detectives from outside forces to examine the most serious allegations of misconduct.

Fatal-shooting cases such as that of Harry Stanley will be investigated by civilians. He was shot by Scotland Yard officers in an east London street while walking home from a pub carrying a wooden table leg. His case was investigated by officers from Surrey Police.

Internal police teams will retain responsibility for investigating less serious public complaints, the bulk of allegations of wrongdoing.

The consultation document is based on two reports on reform of the police complaints system. The main one, by the KPMG consultancy, was commissioned by the Home Office.

The second, unofficial report, by a panel that included a chief constable, was set up by Liberty, the civil rights group. It recommends civilian experts investigate serious complaints and one-quarter of less serious ones.

These would include areas such as racism, homophobia and stop and search. Liberty also wants officers to be forced to co-operate with any inquiry and to be legally compelled to give evidence.

The name of the PCA is also expected to be changed to make it clearer to the public that it is independent.

The proposed changes to the PCA are expected to be announced on Wednesday by the Home Office. At the Police Federation annual conference in Brighton Mr Straw is also expected to defend the Government's law-and-order recordafter Tory attacks on Labour's crime-fighting record.

Mr Straw is expected to highlight the extra money provided for more officers, increased funding for technology, reform of the criminal justice system and tough measures in resent legislation.

But William Hague, the Tory leader, plans to step up his assault on Labour when he speaks at the conference. He is expected to call for less emphasis on such issues as race- awareness courses and more on fighting crime.