Birmingham Mail dubs secret police misconduct hearing 'worrying'

The Birmingham Mail has dubbed West Midland’s Police secret misconduct hearing for an officer who allegedly had an inappropriate relationship with a vulnerable person as “worrying”.

The paper has outlined its concerns in a leader column, in which it said there is a clear public interest in reporting the allegation.

It follows West Midlands Police yesterday holding a secret misconduct hearing for the officer who is alleged to have had an inappropriate relationship with a vulnerable person.

West Midlands police has refused to name the officer or any details of the case, despite Home Secretary Theresa May ruling misconduct hearings should be open to the press and public months ago.

May said such cases should be held in pubic so they are “more robust, independent and transparent”.

The Home Secretary also said the public needed an assurance that corrupt officers or those guilty of misconduct were held to account for their actions.

The editorial says: “When anonymity orders are made in criminal and civil courts, we at least have the right to know who is applying for the orders and on what grounds.

“In acting as the eyes and the ears of the public, the press also has the right to oppose such orders.

“In this specific case, there is a clear public interest in reporting allegations that any officer has had an inappropriate relationship with a vulnerable person.

“If there is a concern around vulnereability, measures can be put in place to protect the person.”

It added: “It’s especially worrying considering what we have seen in the West Midlands since these hearings became public.”

West Midlands Police said the decision to hold the hearing away from the public was taken by an independent panel chair not employed by the police.

In response, the Mail pointed out that since the start of the year, three-person misconduct panels have been chaired by a legally-qualified independent person, and not a senior police officer.

Under national misconduct rules, the chair is entitled to hold part or all of a hearing in private.

There are ten factors that they take into account, including concerns over the health and welfare of the police officer or another witness. But the paper said it had not been given the reasons for the decision to hold the meeting in private.

Speaking at the Strategic Police and Crime board, chief constable David Thompson has spoke about his unease about certain misconduct hearing being held in public.

He said: “It does worry me a little, but it’s the system that we have and all officers should be conscious of that.

“There are some cases where it should absolutely be held in public. But some of the cases have involved very embarrassing behaviour from officers.

“When there are complaints about the conduct of officers it’s very important the public know they are being dealt with fairly and properly.

“The move to independent chairs has taken it to more of a judicial process rather than an employer hearing. They are not about criminal issues, these are issued about a job with an employer.”

A spokesman for West Midlands Police said: “A police misconduct hearing in public is chaired by an Independent chair, who is not a police offer or member of staff.

“The decision is made on a case by case basis and is based upon a number of factors, including the transparency of the police misconduct or complaints system, the vulnerability, physical or mental health of the complainant, witnesses, officers subject to the proceedings or any other third party and other factors relating to sensitive police operations.”

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