Ban On Police Conferring

17 January 2014, 18:59

Police officers are going to be banned from comparing stories after shootings in which people die.

It follows the death of Mark Duggan (right), whose shooting in Tottenham in 2011 sparked the London riots.

Watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) say they plan to issue new guidance advising that officers should be separated before they give statements about what happened.

Forces will be obliged to "have regard" to the guidance once it is signed off by the Home Secretary.

An IPCC spokeswoman said: "It's our view that officers should be separated in death cases before they give their accounts."

Conferring among officers has been a controversial issue in a number of cases, including the death of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes.

In the wake of the 2005 shooting of the innocent 27-year-old, the IPCC said that the "accepted practice" of letting police discuss what had happened before making statements should be reviewed.

It said: "The difference in the treatment of police and civilian witnesses to this incident are not acceptable or justifiable. Members of the public were expected to be interviewed and make statements soon after witnessing a most traumatic incident without being able to confer with other witnesses and provide a joint account.

"The police officers involved were allowed to return to their own base, refresh themselves and confer. This was and is accepted practice. However, the IPCC has raised its concerns regarding the post incident procedures put in place after other incidents where police firearms are discharged."

The family of barrister Mark Saunders, who was shot and killed when he pointed his shotgun at officers at his home in Chelsea, west London, after a drinking binge in May 2008, tried to argue that an investigation into his death was unlawful because officers had conferred, but this failed.

However the Association of Chief Police Officers did change its guidance to say there was no need for officers to compare notes, although it stopped short of banning the practice.

Mark Duggan's family also launched a bid to have a judicial review of police protocol on the issue, but again were unsuccessful.

In a statement following a meeting with the Duggan family on Tuesday 14 January 2014, deputy chairwoman of the IPCC Rachel Cerfontyne said: "This inquest and our own review of the way we investigate deaths show the problems that can arise when officers confer when writing up their notes following fatal incidents.

"We have therefore decided to issue our own statutory guidance on post-incident management following death or serious injury. The guidance will cover conferring and the separation of officers. Legally, we have to consult on the content of this guidance.

"Once agreed by the Home Secretary, we will expect police officers to comply with it, and call them to account if they do not."

Deb Coles, co-director of the charity INQUEST, that supports families bereaved by deaths in custody, welcomed the move to stop conferring.

She believes the practice, along with police officers refusing to be interviewed by the IPCC, are two of the most significant reasons for lack of confidence among grieving relatives.

"The issue about conferring is long overdue and we have seen a number of cases where conferring has frustrated the robustness of the investigation process," she said.

"Allowing officers to speak with colleagues before providing an account raises the possibility of contamination. The practice is really undermining family and public confidence in the mechanism for holding police officers to account.

"Failure to co-operate and the issue of conferring are some of the the most contentious and significant reasons for bereaved families' and public lack of confidence in the whole investigation mechanism."