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February 24th 2015

Andrew Petherbridge

Figures show police are failing to handle many complaints against them appropriately

Andrew Petherbridge

Andrew Petherbridge

Legal Executive and Head of Civil Liberties

Figures show police are failing to handle many complaints against them appropriately

By Andrew Petherbridge, Associate of Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Neil Hudgell Solicitors – an expert in handling claims against the police for unlawful arrest, unlawful detention, assault and human rights breaches

police2-150x150By Andrew Petherbridge, Associate of Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Neil Hudgell Solicitors – an expert in handling claims against the police for unlawful arrest, unlawful detention, assault and human rights breaches

HUMBERSIDE Police have defended recent figures which have shown a 24 per cent rise in complaints against them – claiming many are ‘low level’, ‘misunderstandings’ or issues that can be ‘addressed immediately’.

Defending the increase being some way higher than the national average (15 per cent), a spokesman suggested the figures had painted a
false picture of where the force stands nationally, hinting that they had been inflated due to a policy or recording all complaints – no matter how small.

The force also said it had been the victim of a number of ‘complainers’ – people making a series of complaints about the same matter – with each being recorded as individual complaints.

Overall, in the Humberside force area there were 541 complaints made between April 2013 and March last year, a rise from 437 the previous year. The IPCC said the complaints included 923 separate allegations. Across the country, complaints rose by 15 per cent to 34,863.

“Many matters reported to us are of a low level, and could be categorised as service recover, the process where misunderstandings or issues can be addressed immediately,” the spokesman said in the Hull Daily Mail recently.

“Due to local practices in Humberside, we record them as complaints at the moment, although we are looking to change this to bring ourselves more in line with other police forces.”

One thing the force spokesman did emphasis was its dedication to “rigorously investigate” any complaint made against the force.

However, the figures relating to this bold promise simply fail to stack up.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) upheld close to a third (30 per cent) of 37 appeals in which people had been unhappy that Humberside Police had not recorded their complaint against them.

More than fifth (27 per cent) of 48 appeals from people unhappy with the force’s investigation into their complaint were also upheld.

These are figures which don’t breed confidence in the force. It suggests mistakes are on the rise, and when complaints are subsequently made, many are not sufficiently investigated, if at all.

Given my role as an Associate of The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives at Neil Hudgell Solicitors, in which I handle a variety of claims against the police, my clients range from those who have been wrongfully arrested and accused of serious offences to those who have been subjected to assaults by the police.

Unfortunately, making a complaint is not a quick and easy process. For many, solicitors included, it is a frustrating process. Our role is often to use our expertise and legal knowledge to break through the barriers often in place at the start of the complaints process, and ensure the matter reaches those in senior positions.

Dame Anne Owers, IPCC chairman, said the figures nationally not only suggested many police forces were struggling to get their investigations right the first time, but posed “serious questions about whether they get it right the second time either.”

It is hard to disagree. For a force to identify ‘complainers’ as a reason for a rise in figures to the local media is somewhat dismissive of the mistakes forces make in itself.

There needs to be a much easier, more transparent complaints system, but until that is the case, we will continue working to ensure our clients complaints are fully investigated and resolved.

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