By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor
A while ago I asked if Cressida Dick, the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, would uphold Sir Robert Peel’s 9 Principles of Policing. The Peel Principles underpin the police’s Code of Ethics, which include the requirement to “be diligent in the exercise of my duties and responsibilities” (Standard 6).
After the recent counter-terrorism raid in Willesden, North London, Ms Dick has an opportunity to show how she meets this Standard. She could immediately
- issue body worn cameras to all firearms officers,
- insist on their use, and
- back proposed changes to post-incident investigations.
In doing so, the Commissioner would
- meet her own duties and ethical requirements,
- assist officers in theirs, and
- lead other forces by example.
This is why.
London Counter-Terrorism Raid Shooting
On Thursday 27 April, Metropolitan Police officers shot a 21-year old woman in a planned counter-terrorism raid in Willesden, North London. The woman was arrested on suspicion of terrorism-related offences on her release from hospital a few days later.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”) investigated right away. It reported that:
Initial accounts have been provided by all of the key police witnesses and the majority have now provided their detailed accounts of the incident, in line with current authorised police practice. None of those key police witnesses, those who were inside the property at the time the woman was shot, were wearing body worn video.
It is unlikely that there will be any other video footage taken from inside the woman’s home during the raid. If so, the IPCC’s investigators will have to rely upon the evidence of the officers involved. This situation is unsatisfactory because the officers involved can confer about what happened before providing their accounts. If the shooting victim has a different version of events, it will be hard for her to counter the police’s consistent and similar evidence.
The potential for abuse is obvious. But how can body worn cameras help?
Benefits of Body Worn Cameras
Police officers have used body worn cameras in the UK since 2005. In October last year the Met announced that it was issuing cameras to 22,000 frontline officers. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, promoted their use as he said they help the police get “the best evidence possible” and make sure the public can “hold us to account”.
He’s right on both counts.
As a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police I often disagree with police policies, procedures, and (mis)conduct. But on the use of body worn cameras I agree with the former Commissioner, especially when it comes to holding the police to account. As I explained here, body worn camera video evidence helped my client Paul Smith (details used with permission):
- argue his case at the police station immediately after arrest,
- secure his release from custody without charge, and
- recover fair compensation as an innocent victim of police misconduct.
In doing so, the video also
- helped the police deal with the consequences of officer misconduct, and
- saved the taxpayer the cost of a court trial.
Even though the police need to improve their body worn cameras policy, I am firmly of the view that cameras are helpful and should be issued to all front-line officers as soon as possible.
But firearms officers must get this equipment first given their dangerous, and sometimes deadly, role. Influential voices in the police agree. According to Simon Chesterman, the National Police Chiefs Council lead on armed policing, firearms officers are “falling over themselves to get hold of these cameras”.
Inconsistency and Delay
So what’s the problem?
It is likely that the Willesden raid was conducted by “SAS-style” Counter-Terrorism Specialist Firearms Officers.
These are Authorised Firearms Officers who have undergone extra training. They deal with terrorist incidents and hostage situations among other duties.
In October 2015 the IPCC noted that, in contrast to Authorised Firearms Officers, Specialist Firearms Officers do not routinely wear body worn cameras. (Then) IPCC Commissioner Jennifer Izekor raised this glaring inconsistency in a letter to Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.
In that letter the IPCC recommended that armed officers involved in “overt” operations should be equipped with body worn cameras “at the earliest opportunity”. Despite this recommendation, over a year and a half later it seems from the Willesden raid that Specialist Firearms Officers are still waiting. Simon Chesterman says that the Metropolitan Police intends to have every uniformed firearms officer wear one by the end of 2017. Why the delay?
(It’s worth noting the different treatment of “overt” and “covert” operations. The police are grappling with how to incorporate body worn cameras into undercover (“covert”) operations. A source says they use cameras fitted in buttons to avoid exposure.
No such issues arise with “overt” policing matters though. Anyone watching the footage from the planned Willesden counter-terrorism raid could be in no doubt. See the mobile phone footage from across the street here. This was a very public “overt” incident. The uniformed, armed officers, did not attempt to hide the operation. It will be interesting to know if the officers involved in planning considered using body worn cameras.)
Despite broad agreement about the use of body worn cameras, police representatives and the IPCC disagree about how to investigate incidents involving death or serious injury. Firearms officers are particularly affected because of their role.
Simon Chesterman complained that the fears of post-incident investigations put off potential firearms recruits. He said that “There are things in the background that, if we don’t get them right, will put people off.”
To “counter some of the myths the Police Federation are putting out” the IPCC published its “Draft statutory guidance to the police service on achieving best evidence in death or serious injury matters” on its website. It sent the draft Guidance to the Home Office in February.
One of the proposed changes relates to how police officers presently confer with colleagues after death or serious injury incidents, which can include those involving firearms. The draft Guidance says:
Separation and prohibition on conferring
- Any conferring between witnesses has the potential to undermine the integrity of their evidence, and to damage public confidence in the investigation. As a result, non-police witnesses are routinely warned not to discuss the incident in question either before or after they have given their accounts. The same should apply to policing witnesses.
- Once the key policing witnesses have been identified: 20.1 They should be instructed not to speak (or otherwise communicate) about the incident with each other, or any other potential witnesses, both before and after they have given their accounts. 20.2 If it is necessary for key policing witnesses to discuss the incident with each other to avert a real and immediate risk to life, the extent to which such discussion has taken place, the justification for doing so and the content of that conversation, must be recorded as soon as possible.
20.3 From the moment it is operationally safe to do so, they should be kept separate until after their detailed individual factual account (“DIFA”) is obtained.
This change in the approach to taking police witness evidence was described by Sarah Green, the IPCC Deputy Chair, as merely “mirroring the approach police take with all key witnesses”. I agree with the IPCC on this. Allowing police officers to confer before providing their statements undermines investigations and public confidence.
The use of body worn video would help both sides of this debate. While it might not tell the whole story, it would ease the burden on officers. Their individual video footage could be reviewed along with their written accounts. And it would help speed up investigations, as it did in my client Paul Smith’s case. If firearms officers have acted appropriately, and are not “trigger happy” as was once suggested by their SAS trainers, then body worn video will help prove that and allow them to get on with their important work.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, whose reputation will forever be linked to the fatal shooting of an innocent man, Jean Charles de Menezes, could take the lead here in three ways:
- Issue body worn cameras to firearms officers immediately.
- Insist that body worn cameras are required in all matters involving firearms officers, even covert operations.
- Support the IPCC’s draft statutory guidance on achieving best evidence in death or serious injury matters to promote transparency.
Doing these things would make sure
- Metropolitan Police officers and their representatives,
- the IPCC, and
- the public
all know she is listening to their concerns, taking them seriously, and promoting the highest ethical standards within the Force. Win: win: win.
Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police. Read more from him on the Donoghue Solicitors blog.