Call for end to secret police misconduct hearings

The first misconduct hearing for a police chief constable in 30 years is set to open today before a panel of unknown inquisitors at a secret location somewhere in Yorkshire.

Grahame Maxwell, 49, chief constable of North Yorkshire Police, has been charged with gross misconduct over allegations that he unfairly helped a relative in a police recruitment.

The Times highlights the case as part of investigation revealing the extent to which police disciplinary hearings are concealed by a cloak of secrecy.

Since 2004 the Independent Police Complaints Commission has given police forces the power to hold displinary hearings in public. But since then only one such hearing as been held, the paper reports. Last week it was revealed that the gross misconduct hearing for PC Simon Harwood, the policeman who pushed newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson to the ground at the G20 protest in 2009, would be held in public.

Calling for more such hearings to be opened up, The Times said in a leader comment: “There is an inexorable trend towards openness in public life. In an age when the maintenance of official secrecy is threatened, quite legally, by the proliferation of immediate forms of communication, authorities need to offer a very good case if they are to be exempt. In the case of the law enforcement agencies themselves, there is no compelling reason why police complaints should routinely be heard in secret.

“Starting with the Thatcher governments, Britain has been through three decades of change in the organisation of its public services. Though policing has not remained untouched over that period, reform has been less thorough than in other areas. Detection rates have declined and so has public satisfaction with the police. Every popular poll tells the story that the public do not believe the police shares its priorities. Part of the necessary change must be to open police conduct up.”

Press Gazette reported last month on new proposals from the General Medical Council which could see more misconduct hearings involving doctors heard in secret.

Central News editor Scott Wilford said that the move by the GMC move was: “Nothing to with fairness to doctors, it is simply an attempt to throw a cloak of secrecy over doctors’ misconduct.”

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