8th April 2009
Hopes were high when the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was launched in April 2004 that there would now be a reformed police complaints system – providing legal rights for complainants – that was above all independent, so that police were not investigating themselves.
After 20 years working for a housing and social care agency in inner-city Birmingham, I joined the IPCC, as one of 18 new commissioners, with the aim of righting injustices. We claimed to be the most powerful civilian oversight body in the world, and we prepared to change the world. Five years on, I decided to leave. So what had gone wrong?
Only around 100 IPCC investigations, plus 150 police investigations “managed” by the IPCC, are undertaken each year, compared to 29,000 complaints.
The majority of those 100 are not even complaints about day-to-day policing, but concern incidents where Article 2 of the Human Rights Act – the police’s duty to safeguard life – may be involved, and by law require IPCC investigation.
Some, such as the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube in 2005 and possibly the death last week of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in London, rightly attract great public concern. But the question, “Do you have to be dead before the IPCC takes an interest in your case?”, is too near the truth.