More than half of complaints made about sexual misconduct of police officers were closed without being formally investigated last year, NationalWorld’s analysis of official figures has revealed.
The police watchdog said it would expect the majority of serious allegations to be investigated and will be “dip sampling cases to check whether forces are dealing with these allegations appropriately”.
Police misconduct processes are currently under the spotlight after Metropolitan Police officer David Carrick admitted to a series of rapes and sexual offences, committed over an 18-year period. During this time, he came to the attention of the force numerous times - but still faced no misconduct action nor any criminal sanctions.
The Met has apologised to the victims both for the fact that Carrick was able to “use his role as a police officer to prolong [their] suffering”, and for the fact that the force was aware of at least nine incidents relating to Carrick, including allegations of rape, domestic violence and harassment, between 2000 and 2021.
The Home Office has now asked all police forces to check officers against national crime databases to identify if anyone has “slipped through the net”. The Metropolitan Police is also reviewing 10 years of misconduct cases, which involve close to 1,100 officers and staff, to make sure no-one who could have been disciplined, sacked or prosecuted has been missed.
However, NationalWorld’s analysis of official figures shows that across England and Wales, the majority of public complaints about alleged police sexual misconduct are not even formally investigated - which means the officers or staff subject to complaints did not face the prospect of being sacked, or of their case being pursued in court.
More than 70 claims of sexual assault by police not investigated
In the year to March 2022, police forces across England and Wales dealt with 270 complaints from the public alleging sexual misconduct by staff or officers, analysis of data published by the police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), shows.
Forces dealt with 30 of these complaints (11%) informally. A further 113 (42%) were recorded formally but were closed without an investigation. This means in both scenarios, the officers or staff subject to the complaints could not face disciplinary proceedings or face court.
Just 127 allegations (47%) were deemed serious enough to be investigated, meaning the issue could, if necessary, result in misconduct proceedings or criminal prosecution.
Of the 143 allegations made but not investigated, the majority - 79 - were claims of sexual assault. The other allegations were: 14 of sexual harassment, 27 of other sexual misconduct, and 23 who claimed a police officer or staff member abused their position for a sexual purpose. This allegation type is categorised as abuse of position rather than sexual misconduct.
Of these complaints, 13 allegations of sexual assault, three of sexual harassment, seven of other sexual misconduct, and seven of abuse of position for a sexual purpose were all dealt with informally. This is in spite of the law stating that any allegations which might be a criminal or disciplinary matter must be recorded as a formal complaint.
The police complaints process explained
All complaints from members of the public must be logged by police forces. Complaints can cover a wide variety of matters - from the use of force, to discriminatory behaviour, to the driving of police cars. With each complaint, the force has to decide whether it is serious enough to be formally recorded, using criteria set out in the law. Complaints can be resolved without being formally recorded, but if the complainant is not happy with this they can then ask for it to move to a formal process.
Data by the IOPC shows that more than a third (37%) of allegations resolved by local forces in 2021/22 were dealt with informally. The most common way a complaint is resolved informally is through the force offering an explanation - with 48% of cases handled informally in 2021/22 ended this way. Other common informal resolutions include the force deciding to take no further action, an apology being offered, or individual or organisational learning taking place.
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.
This resulted in three quarters (76%) of formally handled allegations not being investigated in 2021/22 - totalling 56,000 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.
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 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.
It is also worth noting that 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.
What has the response been?
A spokesperson for the IOPC told NationalWorld: “Our annual complaints statistics are based on information provided to us by individual police forces. The statutory guidance does allow police forces to handle complaints in a range of ways and outside of investigation in certain circumstances, including those that may be repeated, spurious, or vexatious. However, we would expect the majority of serious allegations made to be subject to investigations.
“As part of our work on the theme of Violence against Women and Girls, which includes sexual misconduct, we are examining what matters forces refer to ensure they make us aware of all appropriate cases. 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.”
The spokesperson said their complaints statistics were currently ‘experimental’ and the vast majority of the 120,000 allegations overall received each year were dealt with by forces themselves and only referred to the IOPC if they met certain criteria.
The spokesperson added: “Complainants who are not satisfied with the handling of their complaint have a right of review to the relevant appeal body, either the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office or the IOPC. The most serious cases would come to us. This ensures there is oversight of the system and allows us to identify and address trends and themes in complaints handling where necessary.”
Phil Jones, from the Police Federation of England and Wales, which reporesenmts rank-and-file officers, said: “The results from the Police Misconduct Statistics show that only a very small percentage of police officers are dismissed from the service as a result of a complaint. The vast majority of police officers provide the best service they can in very challenging circumstances and are committed to protecting the public and bringing offenders to justice.
“Police officers are responding to increased demands on their services and at times things can and do go wrong. Many complaints do not justify formal investigation or action as can be seen - 88% of complaints resulted in no action. I encourage senior leaders to promote the use of reflective practice in policing, in order that lessons be learnt in a more efficient and effective way to maximise the service to the public.”
A Home Office spokesperson added: “Police officers who fall seriously short of the acceptable standards of behaviour are not fit to wear the uniform. Part Two of the Angiolini Inquiry will examine police culture and vetting processes so we can root out vile behaviour amongst the ranks and restore public trust in policing.”
A spokesperson for the Mayor of London told NationalWorld: “The Mayor supports the renewed action being taken by the reforming Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley to identify and remove any officer in the Met who falls short of the standards expected by policing and the public. As the Mayor has been saying for some time, Londoners deserve better. Sadiq will continue to support Sir Mark to tackle these issues with urgency and conviction so that we see the step change in culture that’s urgently needed in the Met as we work to build a safer London for everyone.”
Discussing the revelations about Carrick, Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “That Carrick’s horrific pattern of egregious behaviour was known to the Met, and they failed to take appropriate action, demonstrates just how broken the systems which are supposed to keep the public safe from perpetrators of rape and abuse are.
“This case is a horrendous example of police failures and their complete lack of oversight and accountability. The police are clearly incapable of identifying perpetrators in their midst, even when they exhibit textbook patterns of predatory behaviour. The catalogue of missed opportunities include when vetting him as a new officer who had already been reported to the police, as well as the lack of investigation into reports of domestic abuse and other misconduct.”
Ms Simon continued: “Even when officers are reported for sexual misconduct they often evade disciplinary action and remain in their jobs. The police are failing to look at patterns of behaviour, meaning repeat perpetrators slip through the net or get away with a slap on the wrist.” She added that EVAW stands “in solidarity with the victims and all survivors who may find the details of his abuse distressing and re-traumatising.”