A damming 2022 report has found that hundreds of individuals who should have failed their vetting checks may be serving as active police officers. Amid serious concerns regarding the leadership within UK law enforcement, government figures also indicate that mass numbers of officers are leaving the force—proving that a position in the police is no longer considered a “job for life.”
The recently released report—which was commissioned by the former Home Secretary, Priti Patel—was conducted by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and exposed a systemic problem with the current vetting process.
After looking at eight forces across the country, the watchdog deemed leading officers’ decisions as “questionable at best.” Of 725 sample cases closely examined in the review, there were concerns about 131 officers cleared to serve in law enforcement. However, the report clarified that the true total could be much higher.
The extensive investigation went on to note: “Identifying unsuitable applicants should start during the recruitment process. Too often, this process is not rigorous enough. Some forces appoint applicants without seeking references from previous employers or checking their educational qualifications.”
“Some forces have failed to consider the link between misogynistic behaviour towards colleagues and similar behaviour towards members of the public. And some are not responding robustly enough when presented with misogynistic behaviour in the workplace. We examined 264 complaint and misconduct investigations. In almost one in five cases, we were unimpressed by the force’s decision-making,” the report continued.
Since the murder of Sarah Everard in 2021 at the hands of a serving police officer, societal discussions have been ramped up regarding the failings of the UK law enforcement to properly vet their officers. As the report states, one of the most significant issues presently is the police’s lacklustre approach to detecting and dealing with misogyny and misconduct in its own workforce.
According to the BBC, one of the most common forms of misconduct is the harassment or assault of an individual that had previously sought help from the police. In one example, Nicola Brookes explained how a Sussex police inspector targeted her for a sexual relationship in 2015 because she was in bad health and a victim of stalking.
Although she consented to sex on one occasion, the officer was sacked for gross misconduct in 2020 because he “abused his position to deliberately engage in intimate relations” with several women, an investigation found. Brookes told the BBC that if he had been regularly vetted, a relationship with another woman in 2012 could have been investigated earlier.
Public scandals such as this have plagued the police over the past few years. Ranging from displays of overt racism, sexual assault allegations and prolific child sexual offences. It’s safe to say that public confidence in the force has massively depreciated. According to a YouGov poll from March, the number of Britons saying the police are doing a good job has fallen from 75 per cent to 53 per cent in just two years.
That’s not where the problems stop either. It appears that the core organisational issues that exist within the police are not only letting in unsuitable candidates, but also forcing decent officers out.
Government figures have revealed that the number of voluntary resignations from the police service in England and Wales has increased by 72 per cent, from 1,996 in 2021 to 3,433 in 2022. Voluntary resignations now account for 42 per cent of all police leavers, compared to 33 per cent in the previous year.
The Conversation recently spoke with 100 former police officers across the UK to try and understand the reasoning behind such a mass exodus. The most common response: poor leadership and organisation.
According to the former officers, the culture of the police had many feeling as though the force is not only reluctant, but strongly opposed, to update or change its practices. This resistance to modernity will only hinder progress, and if the police continue to heed a “culture of defensiveness,” then it says very little for the future of law enforcement.
A harrowing report by BBC Northern Ireland (NI) has brought to light the details of allegations that two police officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had manipulated a suicide victim’s body, photographing them and later sharing the images and videos online. Though the incident itself is said to have occurred in 2017, it has only now found itself in the spotlight with full disclosure.
The family of the victim in question spoke to BBC NI Spotlight on the horrific discovery of their loved one’s abuse by the two officers who were called to the scene when the body was found in 2017. The father of the deceased male told the news outlet that he was first informed of the allegations 18 months after the death of his son—and was told to keep quiet on the details.
“They informed me that two police officers had been questioned regarding my son and photographs that might have been taken of my son,” he told BBC NI Spotlight. The family were told that “it was a very serious affair and we weren’t to discuss it.” Details, like the fact that the victim’s genitals had been exposed in the photographs, were “drip-fed” to the family, as per the BBC’s report.
The sister of the deceased told the publication that the two police officers had also reportedly moved her brother’s body around the room (in which he was found) into various positions and poses for pictures and videos. The family were also informed that additional edits/stickers were added to the imagery such as “an exclamation bubble coming out of my brother’s mouth making fun of the way that he was.”
The Photoshopped speech bubbles were part of the images that were shared on social media, among the pictures of his exposed genitalia, and involved what the sister believed was the word “taig”—a derogatory term for Catholics. She told BBC NI Spotlight that she could not fathom how or why anyone would be as heartless to mock a victim of suicide.
Unsurprisingly, the father stated that he is “physically sick to this day” over the accusations against the officers—haunted by the thought that these actions were happening while he was in the house. “Those police officers were in the house while I was there—asked me to leave the room—and I done everything they asked me to at the time,” he continued. “And all that keeps coming back to me is why did I leave the room, because that must have been when they done it, when they took the photographs.”
This particular case surfaced as part of a “much broader and more complex case encompassing investigations into 11 separate and related incidents” of police misconduct “spanning several years,” said NI’s Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson. One of the officers being questioned has been suspended during the length of the investigation on full pay, as per BBC NI Spotlight. The family’s lawyer, Pádraig Ó Muirigh, has also queried this decision.
In an inquiry that has lasted an “unacceptable” five years, “I think the family and the wider public has a right to know why someone has been suspended so long on full pay,” Ó Muirigh added. This case seems just the latest in a long line of examples of serious and gross misconduct by police officers across the UK. Not only does the case of Sarah Everard obviously come to mind but the family’s lawyer cited the very similar incident of murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in June 2021—on discovery of their bodies, Met Police took images of the women and shared them on WhatsApp groups.
One such message of the sisters read: “Unfortunately I’m sat next to two dead birds with stab wounds.” The constables in question have each been jailed for 33 months. The suicide victim’s sister has since told the BBC that following the handling of her brother’s case, she had lost faith in the PSNI going forward. “I couldn’t even lift the phone and dial 999 now if I was in an emergency. I wouldn’t want them near me or my family because they can’t be trusted.”