Police watchdog is branded 'unfit for purpose' by former officer

Police watchdog is branded ‘unfit for purpose’ by former officer-turned-clergyman who was suspended on full pay for FIVE YEARS before being cleared of any wrongdoing

  • Former officer turned priest suspended on full pay for years hits out at watchdog
  • Andrew Birks, 44, was one of five officers probed on Sean Rigg’s custody death
  • The officer was cleared after being under investigation for a total of 11 years
  • But the embattled police watchdog wouldn’t let officer quit to become a priest  

The police watchdog was labelled ‘unfit for purpose’ yesterday by a former officer turned priest who was cleared after 11 years under investigation.

Andrew Birks, 44, was one of five policemen probed for misconduct over the custody death of Sean Rigg in Brixton, south London, in 2008.

The officers were referred to the IOPC, then known as the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but after two lengthy probes they were vindicated.

The police watchdog was labelled ‘unfit for purpose’ yesterday by a former officer turned priest, Andrew Birks, pictured above, who was cleared after 11 years under investigation 

Mr Birks launched two judicial reviews to quit the Metropolitan Police and train for the priesthood while the investigations rumbled on.

However he was barred from leaving and was suspended on full pay from May 2014 until he was cleared in March last year.

Mr Birks, now assistant curate at St Barnabas’s Church in Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, said: ‘I don’t think there is anybody that thinks the IOPC is fit for purpose in the current form.

‘Nearly everything the IOPC touches takes years to resolve. People think that if it has taken years then there must be something in it. But it hasn’t taken years because of the work, it is because of the incompetency of the investigation by the IOPC.

‘The IOPC are so incompetent because there is no skill base. If you were in the police and dealing with a death you would have the homicide team – you wouldn’t send in the shoplifting squad. Within the IOPC you are dealing with really serious offences which can be difficult – especially when the investigators have no speciality at all. The whole thing seems toy-townish.’


Andrew Birks, 44, left, was one of five policemen probed for misconduct over the custody death of Sean Rigg (right) in Brixton, south London, in 2008

He likened his case to Operation Midland, Scotland’s Yard shambolic VIP child sex abuse inquiry that also proved an embarrassment for the IOPC.

Writing in the Daily Mail in October, former High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques said the IOPC investigation was ‘lamentable and inadequate’.

In April 2018 another senior judge, Mr Justice Garnham, had said the IOPC was ‘grossly inefficient’ in its dealings with Mr Birks.

Mr Birks, who had always intended to become a priest following a spell with the police, said: ‘Sir Richard Henriques noticed the common denominators – the length of the time of investigations; that they were substandard and that those doing the investigations should be making decisions a lot quicker.

‘The taking of statements wasn’t done with any sort of skill. You have two High Court judges who are saying these investigations have failed because of the skills and abilities of the IOPC.

‘It is an indictment of how bad things are. Every force gets these complaints and it takes ages. It wouldn’t happen in any other organisation.

‘Every police officer should be accountable. Now if you get a complaint you know it is going to last for so long.’

Mr Birks, who trained for the priesthood while suspended, is seeking compensation from both the IOPC and the Met.

He said he was diagnosed with stress and anxiety in 2016 and post-traumatic stress disorder in 2018 as a result of the delays.

He apologised to the family of Mr Rigg – while maintaining that the five officers did everything they could for him.

Mr Birks launched two judicial reviews to quit the Metropolitan Police and train for the priesthood while the investigations rumbled on. However he was barred from leaving and was suspended on full pay from May 2014 until he was cleared in March last year

‘I feel sorry for the family for losing their brother or son,’ he said. ‘And I feel sorry they have had to wait for this length of time for any kind of closure.

‘Whether they have received it after this time is a doubt. Nobody should have to wait that long to have answers about how their brother died.’

Relatives campaigned vigorously for justice follow the death of the 40-year-old musician, who had schizophrenia.

Mr Rigg was behaving erratically when he was arrested and taken in a police van to custody, where he collapsed and died.

In a statement, an IOPC spokesman said of the criticism: ‘These views do not reflect or take into account the totality of our work into police misconduct and corruption and the impact we have had on improving police practice, nor does it reflect our current operations.

‘We have acknowledged, on a number of occasions, that we want our investigations to be quicker and we are making great strides to do so.

‘Where investigations are complex, or where there are related proceedings – for example criminal or coronial hearings – the IOPC cannot control or influence the timings and our investigation may be paused.

‘The IOPC has apologised to the Rigg family and to Mr Birks for any unavoidable delays.’

On Friday, the body released a report explaining how it intends to improve in the wake of Operation Midland. It said it would now be able to reopen misconduct probes if ‘there are compelling reasons to do so’.

In October, MPs on the Commons home affairs committee announced they would investigate the running of the watchdog, including its probe into Operation Midland.

Mr Birks said he would be willing to give evidence. 

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