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'Abuse of disciplinary process' heaping mental torture on officers, federation warns


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Misconduct panel throws out another 'not-fit-.for-purpose' caseFallout: 'Even if a police officer is not dismissed at a hearing, the mental trauma can cause permanent damage '

Fallout: 'Even if a police officer is not dismissed at a hearing, the mental trauma can cause permanent damage '

Date - 23rd May 2019
By - Nick Hudson - Police Oracle
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Officers are being “taken off the streets” suffering permanent psychological damage from a widespread abuse of a “not-fit-for-purpose” disciplinary process, policing has been warned.

Rank-and-file today demanded chiefs use “other means” rather than gross misconduct hearings as the health and careers of police personnel are being “substantially impacted” by a system they claim is broken.

And the abandoning of a misconduct hearing yesterday against a decorated officer may yet prove a turning point following recent reinstatement cases of dismissed officers through police appeal tribunals.

Police were forced to scrap costly disciplinary proceedings against PC Paul Bridger who had already been cleared a year ago by a jury of beating up a man in a drunken brawl.

Although PC Paul Bridger is hoping to finally return to work after being suspended for two years while the action was brought against him by Sussex Police – the hearing again raised more searching questions for policing to ask itself.

The independent panel, in dismissing all the allegations, was unequivocal that there had been an "abuse of process" against the response officer – citing an unreasonable delay in bringing about the action.

The force had previously commended his bravery for chasing and arresting a rape suspect while injured.

But years later he faced a criminal prosecution after being arrested and charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm in 2017.

He was accused of threatening a member of the public during a drunken brawl outside an Eastbourne nightclub while off duty on January 5 that year.

A jury cleared him during a trial a year ago after he insisted he acted in self-defence – an argument he still maintains.

Fellow officer Robert Rangeley was convicted of the same charge after the court heard he attacked Martin Lovett so violently he let out "screams of terror".

Recorder Kenneth Hamer said 39-year-old Rangeley, a police officer for 16 years, brought "disgrace on the police service".

He was spared jail but ordered to pay his victim £1,500 in compensation and complete 170 hours of unpaid work.

Despite PC Bridger's acquittal, the force persisted with disciplinary action against him, claiming he breached professional standards of behaviour amounting to discreditable conduct, the tribunal in Lewes was told.

Lawyers acting on his behalf said there had been "substantial delays" in a disciplinary investigation which simply repeated the contents of the trial at which he was acquitted.

His barrister Mark Aldred said: "The evidence is exactly the same as the evidence in the trial.

"In various parts of the investigation there seems to be two months here and three months there that simply are not adequately explained."

During the hearing Amy Clarke, the barrister acting on behalf of the force, said: "The reality is they (the professional standards department officers) are spinning plates like every other investigatory officer in this force."

Panel chairman Victoria Goodfellow told the hearing the delay in bringing the case had been found to be "substantial" and "considerable" and had a "significant impact" on the officer as well as the memories of witnesses being asked to give evidence.

Relatives of PC Bridger, who were present, wept with relief when the decision was announced.

The misconduct investigation was launched immediately after the incident but was put on hold so as not to prejudice the trial.

The disciplinary hearing took place almost a year to the day after the jury returned its verdict and some two and a half years after the incident.

In that time the force spent thousands of pounds on legal advice and buying court transcripts of the trial – a cost which had to be approved by police chiefs because it was so expensive, adding to the delay in the investigation, the hearing was told.

None of the witnesses the force intended to call to question during the hearing were able to attend because they were not given enough notice.

One of them had never even responded to attempts by officers to make contact, the panel was told.

After the hearing Adam James, PC Bridger's solicitor, said he hoped to return to work soon, adding: "He's obviously very relieved."

Sussex Police Federation deputy secretary Mark Cullern said the investigation had a "substantial impact" on PC Bridger's life, health and career, adding: "The current misconduct procedures are clearly not fit for purpose and are being abused up and down the country.

"There are far too many officers appearing in gross misconduct hearings which should be dealt with by other means, including performance management.

"Having the risk of dismissal from your employment hanging over you for two-and-a-half years is completely unacceptable in any industry.

"Even if a police officer is not dismissed at a hearing, the mental trauma can cause permanent damage which can lead to the removal of another constable from the streets."

Superintendent Steve Boniface, head of the force's professional standards department, said: "We await the full rationale of the panel, which we will fully consider along with the officer's reinstatement from suspension."

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