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NEWS > 03 January 2007

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Police disciplinary hearings c

Police disciplinary hearings could become "pseudo show trials" if they are held in public, rank-and-file police leaders have warned.

The police watchdog revealed last night that officers could face public hearings in "exceptional circumstances" where there were accusations of serious incompetence or neglect.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which has yet to use the power, said it had been consulting the police and other organisations about what these exceptional circumstances might be.

"This is not going to be a routine thing, only the most serious cases," a spokeswoman said.

However, police leaders warned today that in highly charged, emotional cases there was a danger that public disciplinary hearings could act as a substitute for the criminal trials process.

Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said that, despite a common perception to the contrary, police discipline was actually "very harsh".

He said that in most workplaces in the country, disciplinary hearings were held in private and that public hearings for police officers would not provide any recompense to families in cases where they had lost a loved one.

"In these highly charged, emotional cases they could become the substitute criminal trials - not the trial of the person who committed the crime, but the trial of the officers involved in the investigation as if they themselves were the perpetrators of it," he said.

"In very emotional cases, they will be turned - as the Coroner's Court system has at times - into pseudo show trials which have no bearing on the actual crime or incident the officers were investigating.

"In tragic circumstances where somebody has lost a loved one, people look for some sort of recompense and they never feel they get it - no sort of disciplinary hearing will ever provide that.

"Officers can only deal with what they have before them - not after the event with the luxury of hindsight when there is all the time in the world to consider what might have been a better way of doing things."

Mr Smyth said police disciplinary hearings were "no different to the disciplinary process that take place in any other working environment".

"There are very few circumstances where these matters are heard in public," he said. "There is a perception around police discipline that it is too light. You will not find a police officer who will tell you that. If you talk to the lawyers who deal with police discipline they will tell you it is harsh, very harsh."

Under powers held by the IPCC, officers accused of serious failings could be compelled to attend tribunals open to victims, relatives and the media.

But a case would have to meet a number of criteria in order to warrant a public hearing, and would be held only if the commission "considers that because of the gravity or other exceptional circumstances it would be in the public interest to do so", an IPCC spokeswoman said.

If relevant issues in a case have already been aired in another public forum, for example in a criminal trial or inquest, that is likely to count against holding a public disciplinary hearing.

The spokeswoman said the hearings were about "public confidence in policing". She added: "This is not a new power - we have had it since our inception in 2004, but we haven't used it.

"What we've been doing since our inception is consulting with the police and other organisations about what exceptional circumstances would be."

She cited the case of showjumper Tania Moore, who was shot dead by her former boyfriend, Mark Dyche, in 2004, as one where a public hearing could have been necessary.

Before she died, the 26-year-old had told Derbyshire Police about threats made to her by Dyche.

In October 2006, a number of police officers faced a private misconduct hearing for allegedly failing to take action.

The spokeswoman said: "While there was a murder trial, that was about the murder, it wasn't really focused on the police."

Jan Berry, chair of the Police Federation, said that admitting the public to police disciplinary hearings would "add nothing" to the process and warned it could turn them into a "circus".

"It is only right and proper that police officers are held accountable for any wrongdoing," she said.

"Police officers are not seeking special treatment but we consider admitting the public will add nothing to proceedings since very serious cases have often been heard in a court of law first, where criminal prosecutions can be brought.

"Evidence given in any follow-up disciplinary hearing would differ little from that in open court.

"Where an officer has been found not guilty of a criminal offence, it would be exceptionally rare for them to be disciplined on the same facts.

"It is important that disciplinary hearings should be objective, independent and help officers learn lessons.

"Turning them into a media circus, where people play to the gallery, will benefit no-one. It may also deter complainants, who already have the ability to attend disciplinary hearings, from doing so."

An IPCC spokeswoman denied that a disciplinary case had been identified for a public hearing. No decisions had been made, she said.


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