Gross police negligence or malpractice should be severely punished

Today is the start of the inquest into the death of Ian Tomlinson in the G20 protests last year. The kettling tactics used by the police to squeeze protestors against the tripling of student fees a few months ago could easily have caused further fatalities. Certainly they caused immense discomfort to young and old alike, when they were herded on to the narrow confines of Westminster Bridge and squashed there without let-up for 5 hours, even though their only offence was that they were peacefully demonstrating against the government reneging on a major election promise earlier in the same year.

Then there was the revelation that over several years undercover police officers had infiltrated various groups, including using sexual liaisons for spying purposes, in order to defend fossil fuel companies against climate change protestors. And now it has emerged that Delroy Grant, in a 20 year rampage of rape, violence and burglary, could and should have been apprehended in 1999, but went on to commit another 146 offences including 23 sexual assaults. Yet action against those police officers responsible has been nugatory.

Worse, the Delroy Grant case is far from unique.  Two years earlier a taxi driver, John Worboys, was convicted of drugging and assaulting 12 women and probably a further 19 women. As a result 5 officers were ‘disciplined’, which according to Police Regulations can involve (but not made public, though it clearly should be)  anything from words of advice through warning, final warning, to dismissal. Just weeks later another serial sex attacker, Kirk Reid, was found guilty of raping and assaulting 71 women over 7 years, and again the evidence is that he could well have been caught earlier. Again, five more officers were disciplined.

In all such cases lives have been traumatised by indefensible police failure. As a response, words of advice or warnings are piffling.   Clearly in these very serious cases all the officers concerned should be sacked since their gross incompetence to do their job is manifest. But just moving on from one job to another is hardly an adequate deterrent when so many lives have been wrecked in the wake of such failure. Where corruption or some other breach of the criminal law is involved, police officers should be charge with a criminal offence and, if found guilty, sent to prison. Where, as in the cases cited here, a criminal offence is not apparently involved, the matter should be pursued further in the civil courts, either by the victims or by a public authority on their behalf. Delroy Grant’s victims were very largely elderly women and are very unlikely to take up court proceedings. In all such cases it should be a duty on the DPP to take civil action against the police officers who have so drastically failed the public confidence placed in them.

  1. I agree with the above, but pursuing civil claims against the police has a number of pitfalls.

    It is very difficult to bring a civil action in negligence against the police. There is no general duty of care owed by the police to individual members of the public. The parents of the last victim of the Yorkshire Ripper, Jacqueline Hill, tried to sue the police for failings in the police investigation which prevented Peter Sutcliffe from being brought to justice sooner. The basis on which the courts struck out the claim was that if the police were overly litigation-conscious it would mean their functions would be carried out in a ‘detrimentally defensive frame of mind’ (Hill v. Chief Constable of West Yorkshire). Also, questions of public policy work against the claimant in such cases.