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2 August 2021

Secret police: A quarter of officers sacked for serious offences are hidden from public

An exclusive New Statesman investigation reveals that the public has been kept in the dark about hundreds of barred police officers in England and Wales.

By Michael Goodier

The public has been kept in the dark about almost one in four of the police officers dismissed from the service for gross misconduct across England and Wales, due to loopholes in transparency regulations.

An exclusive New Statesman investigation, in collaboration with the Brighton Argus, into the records of officers dismissed for serious offences has revealed 212 individuals, ranging from police community support officers (PCSOs) to chief inspectors, who were struck off without either their names or misconduct being made public. This is despite regulations introduced in 2017 stating that barred officers should be placed on a public list by the College of Policing, except in instances that would cause serious harm. The regulations say that “where a person recorded in the police barred list is a police officer or former police officer… the College must publish the entry relating to that person”.

The offences these officers were dismissed for include domestic abuse, sexual harassment, possessing and distributing indecent images of children, racism, colluding with suspects, engaging in sexual relationships with vulnerable people, excessive use of force against suspects and members of the public, breaching Covid-19 restrictions, and drink driving, among others.

Some of these officers were dismissed in “private” meetings away from the press and public, or were granted anonymity. Others were sacked in supposedly public meetings, or had notices placed online, of which there is no current record.  

However, a New Statesman investigation can now reveal many of the officers secretly kicked out of the profession following gross misconduct hearings: names that are on the College of Policing’s public barred list but that are unknown to the public as they have never been released.

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Some of these names include:

  • Alexander Maloney, of West Yorkshire Police, who was barred after being arrested for possession and distribution of indecent images of children, including owning devices containing 53 static images of child abuse. The force did not publish details of this case due to ongoing proceedings, but did not make the matter public after they had concluded either. According to Leeds Crown Court, he was sentenced in November 2018. 
  • Andrew Tideswell, of Nottinghamshire Police, was already on a final warning after calling a murder victim a “paedo gay boy” and a victim of grooming “a bit of a slut”, when he was caught breaking Covid-19 restrictions by booking a hotel for a Tinder hook-up. Nottinghamshire Police did not respond to any of the New Statesman’s requests for comment. 
  • Jonathan Lau, of Leicestershire Police, who was barred after he attempted to photograph women in a closed changing cubicle at Hinckley Leisure Centre through a gap at the cubicle base. Leicestershire Police refused to comment directly on this case, but said if it has not issued a name publicly then the hearing will have been held in private following a decision made in line with the Police Conduct Regulations. 
  • David Ollerenshaw, of South Yorkshire Police, who became involved in an intimate relationship with a suspect, attempted to interfere with a criminal investigation involving that suspect, and also failed to diligently conduct a separate investigation. The force claims to have temporarily advertised his misconduct hearing, but did not confirm that this advert included his name and the case details.

One officer from Thames Valley Police, who had already left the force, was subsequently barred from being an officer again after a number of racist, highly offensive and derogatory comments were discovered in messages on their phone. Thames Valley did not respond when the New Statesman asked about making their name public.

Another officer was barred after engaging in a sexual relationship with a vulnerable person. They also disclosed police information to an unauthorised person, falsely claimed to be sick, and attempted to acquire illegal, controlled drugs. Their force – which we are also not naming – threatened the New Statesman with an injunction to prevent publication of the officer’s name, or the names of any other of its barred officers, despite these names being found on the public list.

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The revelations come after a difficult year for public trust in policing. Met Police officer Wayne Couzens was convicted of the rape, kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard on 9 July 2021. His name was published on the public police barred list on 27 July – meaning any member of the public can now look him up and find out why he is no longer an officer. However, this depends on the high-profile nature of the case and his name already being known.

[see also: After Sarah Everard: What the case revealed about violence against women]

What should be happening?

The 2017 regulations state that when an officer is dismissed from the force, their name has to be placed on the College of Policing’s “barred list”This list is supposed to be public, in order to increase openness and transparency within the police.

However, the list’s current set-up means someone can only be found if a member of the public already knows the name of the officer they are searching for – and many of these names have never been released, despite the College of Police stating they are “generally already in the public domain”.

This is in contrast to the medical profession, the education profession and the legal profession, all of which publish publicly available notices whenever someone is barred that include the name of the person barred.

A New Statesman investigation was able to view 872 names on the list, added in the period from 26 January 2018 to 2 June 2021 – the vast majority of the total. The names were then checked against police websites and public news sources for record of their dismissal. We were unable to find any public record of dismissal for 212 names, almost one in every four on the list.

When contacted, some forces informed us they had published (and since removed) details for 48 of those names at the time – for whatever reason, these were not picked up and widely publicised, and the notices published by the forces have been removed.

On several occasions, the New Statesman found that names that should be on the barred list were not on the list. Those include PC Alex Price, who was dismissed after having sex in a police vehicle. That is despite their colleagues’ names appearing on the list.

In some cases, the officer’s offences had been made public but not their name. In others, such as the case of PC Simon Zebaida of the Metropolitan Police, their name has been made public but not their offences (in Zebaida’s case, possession of one Category A and two Category C images of children). The Metropolitan Police did not comment on publishing these details, but Zebaida’s name has been reported in the press, and his offences can be found in his entry on the barred list.

[see also: Former Met chief Ian Blair: The Tories are “much more disengaged” from policing]

A lack of transparency and accountability

Many of the never-before-published names were hidden from public view because their misconduct hearing was “held in private”. 

This means journalists aren’t allowed to attend the meeting and report on the name and/or details of the case.

In some cases, reporters were not even informed a hearing was going ahead. However, new regulations mean that since 2020, journalists now have to be told about every hearing so they can argue why it should be public (though cases pre-dating the change can still be heard under the old regulations).

According to our analysis of data from 19 different police forces, around one in five hearings (19.6 per cent) have been held in private since 2018.

The decision to hold a case in private is usually made by an independent legally qualified chair (LQC). However, some “accelerated case hearings” (when an officer ought to be fired without delay) are run by chief constables, who take the decision themselves whether to keep the hearing secret. It is usually the decision of the deputy chief constable as to whether the chief constable chairs a hearing.

Home Office guidance states that the presumption should “be of transparency where possible” and hearings must not be held privately out of concern for a force’s reputation. When deciding on cases, the transparency of the police misconduct system and the wider public interest must be considered. 

The possible justifications given by the chair or chief constable for holding cases in private are that a public misconduct hearing could affect the vulnerability and mental health of a witness or the officer involved, lead to the identification of police sources or informants, jeopardise criminal proceedings, or impact on national security.

The New Statesman was able to find the names and details of many private cases on the barred list, despite the College of Policing also having to check for potential harm before it publishes them on its list.

There are likely to be even more private cases that have not been placed on the barred list, meaning that the officers uncovered in this investigation could represent a fraction of the total.

The College said: “The decision to publish an individual on the public barred list is a decision by the College and the information published as to the reason for dismissal will not necessarily contain the information the LQC felt could not be disclosed. Therefore, there is no reason not to publish the individual on the public barred list.” 

Frank le Duc is a Sussex-based journalist who has worked for the Times and Financial Times, been editor-in-chief of regional newspapers, and now runs hyper-local news site Brighton and Hove News.

He says: “The misconduct hearings for the most serious matters should be held in public in a similar fashion to, say, a professional disciplinary hearing for those practising medicine.

“These hearings should take place in public in recognition of the extra powers, responsibilities and duties entrusted to those working in those fields.

“In practice, there seems to be a growing number of reasons put forward for making exceptions and keeping information, including people’s names, from the public – in whose name these services are carried out, and whose taxes pay for them.”

Le Duc highlighted the disciplinary case of Jon Mills, an ex-Sussex officer who failed to investigate the stalking of Shana Grice, a teenager who was murdered by her stalker after being fined £90 for wasting police time after reporting him to police.

He says unsuccessful “bizarre” attempts were made to withhold the officer’s first name, which risked inadvertent defamation of innocent officers.

In another Sussex case, a police officer whose failure to disclose evidence led to the collapse of two trials was granted anonymity by a disciplinary panel despite being previously named in court.

“It seems at the moment there are piecemeal steps to row back from a default position of openness,” Le Duc says. “In my view, [lack of transparency] is more likely to undermine faith in the police to root out corruption and lawbreaking in their own ranks.

“Corruption thrives out of the light,” he adds.

In west London, one reporter was escorted from the Metropolitan Police’s Empress State building after learning, shortly before a disciplinary hearing was due to start, that the entire case would be heard in private.

In Hampshire, reporter Ben Fishwick was unable to report on a police officer who was sacked for pursuing “private personal relationships” with women he met on duty. 

Fishwick, who has worked for The News in Portsmouth since 2012, says: “Greater transparency at police misconduct hearings is badly needed – the way the current system operates can still give the impression forces can mark their own homework, and at the same time choose if anyone gets to know about wrongdoing.

“Many hearings are run by independent legally qualified chairs, but even then they will still be joined by a senior police officer from the same force as the subject of proceedings.

“Some are run by chief constables doing their best to sit in judgement of members of their own constabulary – the conflict of interest in deciding guilt, punishment and publicity is just too great to continue.”

The National Police Chiefs Council declined to give a statement, but made clear there was no conflict of interest when chief constables chair accelerated hearings, as this only happens when evidence against the officer is incontrovertible.

A spokesperson for the College of Policing said: “Details of officers and special constables (but not police staff) who have been dismissed for conduct matters are published by the College of Policing, unless certain exemptions apply. The list is updated monthly, with names added by the end of the following month.

“As agreed with the Information Commissioner’s Office, the public list is searchable. As details of police hearings and outcomes are now largely published on force websites and reported in the media, the names of individuals who are dismissed from policing are generally already in the public domain. 

“In accordance with the legislation, the details held on the public list will include the name and force of the officer concerned, their rank and number, the date and reason for dismissal. Information will be held on the public list for five years from the date of publication.”

[see also: Boris Johnson’s plans to reform policing are short of funding and ambition]

Correction 14/9/21 The New Statesman originally reported the Thames Valley Police officer referred to in this piece was “dismissed”. This was inaccurate – they had already left the force before being barred.

Update 14/9/21 The New Statesman has removed a name originally revealed in this piece, in light of new information received since publication. The name remains on the College of Policing’s public database, and under police misconduct regulations (10.4), names ought to be checked for harm before they are placed on the list.