Police misconduct claims cost £44 million

My investigation into the amounts paid out by police forces across England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland concluded with two pieces in today’s Times:

Police misconduct costs forces £44m
We need this data to catch and fix problems in system

This is the first-ever disclosure of compensation payouts for public liability claims and clearly shows the value of freedom of information. The high percentage of claims that settle out of court is worrying as it hides the extent and exact nature of allegations of police misconduct.

Also surprising, was that many police forces didn’t actually know how many times they’d been sued or even how much taxpayer money they’d paid out in public liability compensation. How can we have an informed debate about police conduct and the ‘compensation culture’ when the data is unknown? (I’ll be posting up the full database of responses soon.)

In the UK, we have little knowledge about the machinery of government – those records and data created and maintained by the state in the course of its public service duties. Yet this is the data that citizens must have if they are to meaningfully hold the state to account.

How professional and competent are the police? This is a question that gained new relevance in light of the fatal shooting by the Metropolitan Police of an innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menzes. In order to answer this question I made Freedom of Information requests to all 55 police forces asking for data about the number of claims received, their progress and final payouts over the past five years.

The results were intriguing and showed that record-keeping continues to be a problem for many police forces. A sizable majority could not say how many claims had resulted in court action, not did they always know how much they had paid out in settlements and it took quite some digging for some forces to even know how often they’d been taken to court!

The reliance on government-imposed mandates at the expense of direct accountability became clear. If it’s not required by Whitehall, many forces simply don’t see a point in keeping accessible data, even if it is clearly in the public interest – such as the amount of taxpayer’s money they’re paying out for police misconduct. For example, Kent Police provided no information at all stating that “we do not at present collect or collate this information and therefore are not in a position to provide it.” Cheshire Police told us that wrongful arrest was “every day sort of stuff” and they “don’t have any need to keep [the data] in the format you asked for.”

Another surprise was that Cleveland Police, which is in the top 3 for both compensation and claims per 100,000 – stated that since 2004 they have stopped recording the number of court actions.

Many forces were loathe to be compared with each other. Durham claimed that its data was “unique and should not be used as a comparison with any other Force response you receive.”

Some forces claimed the only way they could determine if a claim had resulted in court action was to look through hundreds of files at a cost that ranged from 10 minutes per file (Wiltshire Constabulary) to 60 minutes (Strathclyde Police).

The Metropolitan Police, North Yorkshire Police and Greater Manchester Police force claimed (incorrectly) that the data was already published in their annual reports and failed initially to provide page numbers to hundred-page documents. While Warwickshire Police incorrectly used the data protection act to hide the amounts paid out in compensation.

Only 23 per cent of claims make it to court and several forces succeeded in keeping 100 per cent out of court. This is either good or bad news depending on one’s point of view and the exact nature of the claim.

Court is expensive so there is a value-for-money argument in settling cases. But if the claim is a legitimate complaint of police misconduct then there is a public interest in knowing the details so that any systemic problems can be identified and fixed. If every allegation is brushed under the carpet and the claimants paid to keep silent, then problems aren’t known and can’t be fixed.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has brought a claim against the police to know if the force required a confidentiality agreement to be signed before agreeing to pay out.

Police forces which failed to respond to the FOIA request

South Yorkshire Police
West Yorkshire Police
Hertfordshire Constabulary
Humberside Police
Leicestershire Constabulary
Nottinghamshire Police
Surrey Police

Kent County Constabulary responded but said “we do not at present collect or collate this information.”
Dorest Police said: “It’s a bit of a mess really, the numbers don’t add up.”


11 Responses to “Police misconduct claims cost £44 million”

  1. Aron Pilhofer says:

    Great stuff, Heather!

  2. Elena says:

    Shocking stuff – great read! Thanks Heather!

  3. Hedley Bennett says:

    Thank you for this report but, surely, it cannot just be left there. I was shocked to discover that a number of Police Authorities made no response whatsoever whch raises serious question about accountabilty. But then the line between police and criminal is sometimes very fine.

  4. Joan M Paolo says:

    I am not surprised police are continually being sued.I have lost all faith in the British Justice System since our son was arrested in November 2007.He has been on bail fot 2 months already with no charges made. He was bailed again yesterday for a furter 6 weeks but I have been told by his solicitor that this situation could continue for many monthsan it frequently does. Our son has been assaulted and it has been an extremely stressful time for all of us. Perhaps you could advise us of how we
    ensure that this bail situation can be stopped. The Police just make excuses surely there should be a time limit for the amount of time they can keep ypu on bail or a limit on the number of times they can re-new bail.I am determined that once they have made a decision I will commence proceedings against the police.

  5. amalik says:

    I can sympathize with JM Paolo. I am in a situation where police pre-charge bail has been repeatedly applied for 4 months and is still continuing. I am now being threatened with the sack from my employer due to my “uncertain situation”. What is most galling is that I was only arrested for knowing through a family member people who were charged with committing an offense and the charges have now been dropped against those people yet I am still in a pre-charge bail condition. Even my solicitor is getting frustrated – he keeps saying he can’t understand the police action. I shall prosecute the police for malicious use of bail if they ever manage to make a decision. I urge everyone else to do the same.

  6. ggodoy says:

    Some Police agencies are so large that they often wrap innocent people in tons of paperwork and financial distress, and it becomes the accused persons(often falsely accused)responsibility to untie the knots caused by the uncaring police

  7. Hakim says:

    my story is still on i was a victim of a fraud and police arrested me! i am on my 6 bail and i have to return today i presume for another bail….. my solicitor under legal saying that is normal to keep rebailling me but hang on a minute i am on the 6th one! and more to come i really do not know what i to do

  8. Chris says:

    That is a lot of money wasted. It’s important for all police forces, both big and small, to have an internal group that prevents such abuses.

  9. SIMON says:

    Any latest developement on police bail abuse. Can they just keep bailing you forever??

  10. heather says:

    Hi – I don’t really know anything about police bail. Is it a problem?

  11. rbaker says:

    my son was arrested when he called the police after he was attacked in a shopping center by 5 boys. he is a child with learning difficultires and did not understand why they were arresting him. he struggled and 9 officers restrained him until he passed out. ambulance called, taken to hospital, when he woke they took him to the police station, he was bailed without charge. 3 witnesses told the police at the time he was the one attacked and that he had learning difficulties but they chose to ignore them, the officers were rude ,my son has injuries from the arrest and will never trust the police again. why do they not get the full picture instead of letting the attackers go? no witnesses questioned at the scene to establish facts just the opinion of half the story…

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