Sun, 25 May 2008

Final may not always be final

When the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) confirmed reception of my appeal to the decision of the IPCC-supervised enquiry, it made clear that this would be the last step of this process:

Please note that the decision made by the IPCC about your appeal is final.

This was again reiterated with its decision about my appeal:

If you have any questions or need more information about this please contact me. However, this decision is final.

Until now I understood this to mean that – in the process of a complaint to the IPCC – the IPCC's decision in an appeal was the last possible step of this process. Apparently, not always.

From the press release on the ‘Damning Verdict on Police Complaints watchdog’:

Nicola Dennis, a mother of three, (represented by Stephen Cragg) made her complaint about the police after enduring a terrifying ordeal one Saturday morning in November 2005. Nicola was spending a quiet morning at her home with a friend when armed officers suddenly appeared at her door. It turned out later that they were chasing the possibly armed suspects of the murder of PC Sharon Beshenivsky in Bradford the previous day.

Nicola was pulled out of her house at gunpoint, pushed to the ground and made to lie face down with her hands cuffed behind her back. Nicola was convinced she was going to be shot at any moment. She was only released when it became clear she had nothing to do with the suspects. Later that day an officer came to Nicola's house and made a clumsy attempt to provide an explanation of why the officers had acted as they did. Nicola was told that she just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The court heard that Nicola remembers that the officer told her 'when it's one of our own we go in harder'.

Nicola was horrified and upset at the way she had been treated by the officers. She made a complaint to the Metropolitan Police. Her complaint was not upheld so she appealed to the IPCC, the public watchdog tasked with overseeing police complaints. But the appeal findings she got from the IPCC were confusing. The caseworker even muddled up the actions of the two officers involved. One of the officers was criticised for being 'over zealous' but the caseworker did not match her criticism with a clear finding about whether his actions were right or wrong in law.

Nicola applied to the High Court for the IPCC's appeal findings to be reviewed by a judge on the basis that they were flawed and irrational.

High Court Judge Mr Justice Saunders found in the favour of Nicola Dennis and ruled that the IPCC's appeal decision must be quashed. From the draft judgment:

41. I am satisfied that taken as whole this appeal decision is fatally flawed and is irrational in that it is based on a misunderstanding of the facts and lack of clarity in reasoning which renders the decision difficult to understand. It also includes criticisms of a police officer which are unjustified.

47. I have been supplied with and have considered further written submissions as to remedy. Having considered those submissions together with my findings, I am satisfied that the appeal decision [of the IPCC] must be quashed.

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