10 sexual misconduct complaints against West Midlands Police not formally probed last year

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10 more complaints of sexual misconduct by West Midlands Police officers or staff were closed without a formal investigation last year, meaning they could not face the prospect of being sacked

Ten complaints of sexual misconduct by West Midlands Police personnel were closed without being formally investigated last year, new analysis by the publishers of BirminghamWorld reveals.

The figure - the third highest of any force in England and Wales, behind the Metropolitan Police (13) and South Wales Police (12) - includes two complaints about sexual assault.

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Closing complaint cases without investigation means the officers or staff involved cannot face the prospect of being sacked, or of their case being pursued in court.

The data shows that across England and Wales, fewer than half of the complaints alleging sexual misconduct by police officers or staff that were closed last year (2021/22 financial year) had been formally investigated.

The figures come as the Met is currently seeking to regain the trust of the public after a series of high profile scandals, including the murder of Sarah Everard by serving Met Police officer Wayne Couzens.

Couzens, who was already serving a whole life sentence for murder, has now been handed a 19 month prison sentence for three flashing incidents, one of which was committed while on duty, and in February, former Met police officer David Carrick was jailed for at least 30 years for a string of rapes and other offences against women.

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The police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), had said it would be checking “whether forces are dealing with these allegations appropriately”. Now new figures, obtained from the watchdog through a Freedom of Information request, reveal more details about these misconduct complaints and the police forces they involved.

West Midlands Police HeadquartersWest Midlands Police Headquarters
West Midlands Police Headquarters | Shutterstock

The figures for West Midlands Police

The figures show that in 2021/22, of the 12 complaints about sexual misconduct received, 10 cases were closed without being formally investigated.

This means they were either dealt with informally, or formally recorded but closed without an investigation. This means that just 17% of the complaints were formally investigated. Two of the complaints were about sexual asssault.

8 of the cases were dealt with informally.

The figures published by the IOPC do not include any complaint cases which began before February 2020, when the process changed, so are likely to underestimate the full number of complaints handled.

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West Midlands Police hasn’t responded to our request for comment on these figures.

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What about other police forces?

New figures obtained from the watchdog through a Freedom of Information request, reveal more details about these misconduct complaints and the police forces they involved.

The figures show thirteen complaints of sexual misconduct by Metropolitan Police personnel were closed without being formally investigated last year, and 12 complaints of sexual misconduct by South Wales Police personnel were closed without being formally investigated.

Figures from the IOPC show the number of complaints against police of sexual assault, sexual harassment, abuse of position for a sexual purpose or other sexual conduct which were closed in the year ending March 2022, and how each was dealt with.

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Of the 143 complaints about sexual misconduct which were closed without a formal investigation, 13 (9%) were about Metropolitan Police officers or staff.

At Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary, none of the seven complaints about sexual misconduct received that year were formally investigated, including four alleging sexual assault.

The way complaints were handled varied widely by police force. At some, all complaints of sexual misconduct were formally investigated, at others it was none. The End Violence Against Women Coalition said that “questions must be asked about why such incidents and reports are not being treated more seriously”.

Watchdog to check whether forces are ‘dealing with allegations appropriately’

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said police forces dealt with the “vast majority” of complaints but that the “most serious cases would come to us”.

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“For those cases handled by forces themselves, we will be dip sampling cases to check whether forces are dealing with these allegations appropriately, in line with the legislation, and with appropriate levels of victim care.”

It said its guidance to police forces did allow for some complaints to be handled without an investigation, such as those which were “repeated, spurious or vexatious”.

The police complaints process explained

Members of the public make tens of thousands of complaints about the police every year, covering a wide variety of matters from the use of force, to discriminatory behaviour, to the driving of police cars.

All complaints from the public must be logged by police forces. Most are dealt with by the force directly - each force has a professional standards department that oversees this area - but certain serious matters must be referred to the IOPC.

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With each complaint, the force has to decide firstly whether it is serious enough to be formally recorded, using criteria set out in the law.

More than a tenth (11%) of sexual misconduct allegations resolved by forces across England and Wales in 2021/22 were not formally recorded and were instead dealt with informally, IOPC data shows. Ways for complaints to be resolved informally include the police offering an explanation or apology or the force deciding to take no further action. If the complainant is not happy, they can ask for the matter to move to a formal process.

If a complaint is formally recorded, in some circumstances it must be referred to the IOPC, which can decide to run its own investigation. If this doesn’t happen, the force decides whether to investigate the complaint itself.

Investigations can end in the officer or staff member going through misconduct proceedings, which can result in them losing their job, or facing criminal prosecution. In reality, this happens incredibly rarely, as of all the 33,602 complaint cases dealt with formally in 2021/22, just 68 - 0.2% - resulted in the officer or staff member facing misconduct proceedings. None resulted in criminal proceedings.

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Nearly half (47%) of formally recorded allegations of sexual misconduct were not investigated in 2021/22 - totalling 113 separate claims. In these cases, the officer or staff member cannot face misconduct proceedings and the force may seek to address the complaint in another way - for example, by offering an apology or explanation - or decide to take no further action.

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