The IPCC has published guidance on how evidence should be collected in the immediate aftermath of an incident where a member of the public has died or been seriously injured during contact with the police.
If approved by the Home Secretary, all police forces in England and Wales will be obliged to make use of the guidance in the event of fatalities or serious injuries resulting from firearms operations, incidents in custody or other police contact.
The guidance sets out what the IPCC will expect following these incidents. Key policing witnesses (officers directly involved in the incident):
- Should be separated as soon as operationally safe to do, so as not to confer, or unintentionally influence each other’s accounts
- Should provide personal initial witness accounts before they go off duty, to enable the IPCC to identify lines of enquiry and secure evidence that might otherwise be lost
- Should not view their own body-worn video before offering an initial witness account, so that those accounts recall what officers experienced during the incident – rather than what they saw or heard on the video.
Separating officers after an incident to prevent conferring is designed to ensure that officers provide individual accounts of what they themselves saw, heard and did. This avoids actual or perceived collusion or their accounts being unintentionally influenced by those of others. This could affect the integrity of evidence and damage public confidence in the process. The IPCC has repeatedly stressed that this should happen as soon as it is operationally safe to do so – for example, during an ongoing terrorist incident, the police operation takes precedence and any separation of officers would obviously wait until the risk to lives had passed.
IPCC Deputy Chair Sarah Green said:
“A critical role of the IPCC is to investigate deaths or serious injuries following contact with the police. We investigate with an open mind, so it’s vital that we get the best evidence from police witnesses as quickly as possible – which in turn helps promote public trust in the process.
“We have proposed fresh guidance to help us achieve that aim. The measures we have outlined do not treat police officers as ‘suspects’, but as witnesses whose early individual accounts will help ensure the integrity and smooth running of the critical early stages in any investigation.
“It’s in everyone’s interest that the process for gathering evidence is swift, clear and transparent. It helps the public have confidence that police actions are independently scrutinised. It speeds up our investigations which is precisely what the police, bereaved families and complainants want.”
The guidance originated following an independent review into the IPCC’s investigation into the death of Sean Rigg and the IPCC’s own review of its investigations into deaths. The IPCC carried out a 12-week public consultation on the draft guidance which ended in May 2014. The IPCC also took into account the Court of Appeal’s observations in its judgment in the case of Duggan and Delezuch about the lawfulness of post incident procedures and best practice, which commended the IPCC’s position.
The IPCC has subsequently worked with external stakeholders, both within and outside the police, to reach this final version. It provides for a process to ensure the integrity of evidence while gathering essential information in the early critical stages of an investigation. It also, however, recognises the challenging operational environment that police work in.