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IOPC calls for system to flag criminal allegations against officers

It follows the finding of gross misconduct in the case of a former Met PC who failed to investigate thoroughly incidents of Wayne Couzens flashing.

The IOPC is calling for a national system that would ensure forces are told when criminal allegations are made against serving officers.

It follows a finding of gross misconduct today in the case of former Met PC Samantha Lee. The officer, who had resigned last year, was found to have failed to correctly progress enquiries into the allegations of Wayne Couzens’ indecent exposure, and then provided a misleading account when questioned by IOPC investigators.

The IOPC is due to talk this week with the NPCC on such a system while local recommendations have already been made to the Met around developing a system that automatically flags when an officer is under criminal investigation. A futher recommendation was also made to the force to improve the initial investigation of sexual offences. 

Such a system is something that BTP Chief Constable Lucy D’Orsi has already called for.

In January she wrote a blog post outlining: “If I was to commit a crime, get arrested and give my details, there is no obvious system check that would flag that I’m a police officer if I didn’t choose to tell them.

“As it stands today, I could be arrested by the police and nobody but me would know I am the police. In my view, this is a priority issue for our attention. Otherwise, others could fall through the cracks and go on to do harm.”

The IOPC recommendations have stemmed from their own investigations into the Met’s handling of the two allegations of indecent exposure at the McDonald’s restaurant in Swanley as well as Kent Police’s handling of an alleged indecent exposure at Dover in June 2015.

The allegations were all linked to Couzens’ vehicle at the time. The Met was informed of the Swanley incidents three days before he kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everard. 

IOPC Director of Operations Amanda Rowe said: “Our investigations into the Met and Kent Police’s handling of the indecent exposure allegations highlighted there is no system in place to alert forces when a police officer becomes a crime suspect.

“We believe this needs to change. It may not have prevented Couzens from committing his crimes, but if it is combined with the change in culture that policing recognises is necessary, it could help prevent it from happening again in the future. That’s why we’ll be exploring this possibility of this with the NPCC later this week.

“We have also been working closely with the Angiolini Inquiry, sharing evidence to inform its work looking at cultural issues within policing and addressing the broader concerns around women’s safety in public highlighted by Sarah Everard’s death.”

In the case of Ms Lee – IOPC investigators established she spent a maximum of 20 minutes of the hour allocated to her to interview McDonalds' branch on March 3 2021. 

IOPC investigators found she did not progress CCTV enquiries; and did not record on the crime report a statement from the manager, till receipts from the suspect, and initial accounts from the victims. She did not carry out all the necessary intelligence checks to establish who was driving the car despite an initial check on the registration showing Couzens as the only male keeper of the vehicle.

The officer expected the investigation to be allocated to another team but had not made that team aware of that despite it being her responsibility to do so.

In his evidence, the restaurant manager said that he had shown Ms Lee CCTV footage and told her it could be downloaded on to a USB stick.

He also said that he explained to her that Couzens’ registration plate could be seen in the CCTV footage of the second incident.

For her part, Ms Lee denied that this was the case, saying that he had told her that there was no CCTV.

In her evidence, Ms Lee said: “I accept that I could have done more around CCTV and evidence gathering, that was errors on my part and I accept that,” she said.

“And as much as I have thought it over and over, I don’t believe that anything I could have done would have changed the tragic outcome of what happened later that day.”

Today, a panel found that she had been dishonest about her actions - and that she would have been dismissed. 

A separate IOPC investigation, completed in May 2022, found a case to answer for misconduct against Kent Sergeant following a report a motorist had indecently exposed himself to a pedestrian in 2015.

The man did not want to support the investigation but the regulatory body also found that the officer did not carry out CCTV enquiries or seek to identify further witnesses. He further did not contact Couzens to establish if he was still the registered keeper of the car involved.

The Sergeant was found to have breached police standard for duties and responsibilities during a misconduct hearing but that it did not amount to misconduct. He was to undergo reflective practice, including training on sexual offences and input on investigative processes.

Kent Police has also received recommendations including the introduction of a guidance document for volume crime investigations.

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