IPCC: Protecting corrupt police, betraying public confidence

By Keji Dalemo | Thu 15 May 2008

The ability of the government to establish a body fully able to investigate complaints against the police has been called into question following the resignation of more than 100 lawyers from the police watchdog advisory board

The Police Action Lawyers Group (PALG), a nationwide coalition of lawyers representing members of the public who have lodged complaints against the police, resigned from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) expressing “increasing dismay and disillusionment” at “the consistently poor quality of decision making at all levels of the IPCC”.

The joint resignation letter from two of the PALG’s leaders to IPCC chairman Nick Hardwick was sent on behalf of the entire group of lawyers and signalled the last straw for the lawyers who said the IPCC’s handling of their earlier attempts to highlight their concerns had been “pitifully poor”.

The PALG had been on the IPCC advisory board since its inception in April 2004 yet within a year members found themselves confronted by a multitude of cases complaining about police misconduct that the IPCC had failed to handle properly. These cases included racism, corruption, violence, fabrication of evidence and even deaths in custody.

In October 2005 the PALG presented Nick Hardwick with a dossier containing 12 examples of cases highlighting some of the most serious failings which had yet to be addressed despite continually been brought to the attention of the IPCC.

An investigation carried out by the Guardian earlier this year showed poor administration to be rife within IPCC with casework managers with no legal qualifications and little relevant experience making crucial decisions; complainants being treated rudely and indifferently; and extreme delays- some going back years.

The same investigation seemed to support the widely held belief that the police are given immunity exposing the IPCC as biased in favour of police even rejecting cases where the evidence supporting the complainant was compelling.

A case in point is that of Toni Comer. In January 2008, the IPCC rejected a complaint alleging assault made by Comer who was famously captured on CCTV being battered by a male police officer outside a nightclub in Sheffield in July 2006.

The police were called after Comer was alleged to have caused criminal damage to a car outside the Niche night club which she was evicted from. The CCTV footage, which surfaced a year after the incident and subsequently made the news nationwide, showed PC Mulhall of South Yorkshire Police punching the then 18 year old Comer fives times while she lay on the ground after the two had taken a tumble down some steps while, drunk, she was said to have resisted arrest. The tape then showed Comer being taken to the police van with her trousers around her ankles.

PC Mulhall said in statement “…I struck her as hard as I was able with my right fist in an attempt to subdue her. There was no apparent effect so I did this twice more. When she continued to resist handcuffs, I now struck her as hard as I was physically able in an attempt to deaden her arm. In the end, I had to use brute force.”

It later transpired that Comer was an epileptic and the movements regarded as “resisting arrest” may have been caused by a fit.

The IPCC report on the incident concluded that “police officers are entitled by the law to use justified and proportionate force” on someone who is resisting arrest.

Comer’s lawyer responded “…Ms Comer has never had any confidence in the police complaints system and her scepticism has proved to be well-founded given today's decision."

A still from the shocking CCTV footage showing Toni Comer assaulted by a gang of British police officers

IPCC defending failure

In one of the most harrowing examples of police brutality and state enabled unaccountability, the IPCC last August ruled that no police officers should face disciplinary proceedings for the death of Roger Sylvester in 1999.

Sylvester fell into a coma and died a week after being restrained and arrested by 8 police officers after they attended a call reporting Sylvester naked and behaving strangely outside his home in Tottenham, North London.

The investigation into the killing of Sylvester began in October 1999 and was passed onto the CPS who in November 2000 decided that the officers involved should not be prosecuted. An inquest jury in October 2003 however returned a unanimous unlawfully killed verdict. The verdict was later quashed in 2004 after the case was passed onto the IPCC to investigate and the Metropolitan police requested a judicial review.

Using the report completed by the IPCC, the CPS in 2005 again concluded that there was “insufficient evidence” to prosecute the officers involved.

Nicola Williams, one of the three IPCC commissioners investigating the case, told attendees at a public meeting held in November last year that “the circumstances of his [Sylvester’s] death and the process that followed were unacceptable. I am sure that the length of time taken to reach this decision can only have compounded his family’s grief. I am very sorry about that”. Williams continued that “given the passage of time” the IPCC were unable to recommend appropriate disciplinary action.

While the IPCC were still defending their failure to bring to book the Met police for the death of Sylvester, the IPCC were put in charge of investigating the death of yet another African, Frank Ogboru, who died, 26 September 2007, while being restrained by police who were called because of an argument involving Ogboru at the flat he was staying in while visiting London from Nigeria.

Despite several eyewitness accounts stating that Ogboru was restrained by more than 4 officers and was audibly distressed repeatedly pleading “I can’t breathe” and CCTV footage showing the incident, on 30 April 2008 the CPS released a press statement concluding that the police could not be held accountable for the death of Mr Ogboru as the level of restraint used was ‘reasonable’ and that a jury was hence likely to find it lawful.

The CPS report continued that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to prosecute the police’s restraint tactics as having breached a ‘duty of care’ to Ogboru. In a last ditch attempt to present an illusion of a thorough, impartial investigation, the CPS stated that they considered ‘other possible offences’ such as a breach in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the same and only grounds that the Metropolitan Police were found guilty of for killing innocent Brazilian Jean Charles De Menezes, but concluded, again, that there was ‘insufficient evidence’.

The IPCC’s investigation into the death of Frank Ogboru attracted public criticism from the beginning when the IPCC formally announced that Ogboru had died in hospital when he had in fact died at the scene while being restrained by the police.

The IPCC press release announcing the CPS decision continues to imply that Ogboru died at the hospital instead of at the scene of police restraint.

A still from the shocking CCTV footage showing Frank Ogboru assaulted by a gang of British police officers

External Links
Police Abuse Footage (TMGN): Toni Comer
Police Abuse Footage (Mirror): Frank Ogboru
Bhattmurphy - Crisis of Confidence in the IPCC
Guardian - Four men, five punches and a boot: A 19-year-old woman is arrested
Roger Sylvester: What is the value of an apology if you are denied justice?

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No IPCC justice for "unwitting" murder of Christopher Alder

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The IPCC has consistently and systematically failed to properly investigate cases of racism, corruption, violence, fabrication of evidence and even deaths in custody.

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