Everyone can be sure of one thing – there is no place in the police, or society, for a man like David Carrick. As someone who spent years investigating misconduct and criminality conducted by a small number of serving police officers, there is little news that’s more distressing to me than hearing about such cases. It is distressing because such matters tarnish the reputation of the vast majority of officers and staff who simply go to work in order to help others and act with integrity. But, more importantly, it is distressing because of the harm that has been caused to Carrick’s victims and the increase in fear for some women that the case will cause.
As with the murder of Sarah Everard by former PC Wayne Couzens in London in March 2021, important questions are being asked about how the police could have better managed the risk that some officers present to women. Just one case is unacceptable; however, as the police service draws from society, sadly there will always be certain individuals whose attitude towards women means that policing is the last activity in which they should be employed. As regards recent events, the main focus for policing will be whether vetting procedures and the assessment / handling of allegations are sufficiently robust to identify and prevent such individuals from holding office.
It is a fact that such cases are a small minority. Aside from the two cases mentioned here, most of us would struggle to recall others. Assertions in the media that the police service is rotten to the core are not just sensationalism but inaccurate. In a recent article by The Guardian it was revealed that 68 officers were convicted of crimes which also included sexual crimes and violence in 2022. Of course, the numbers guilty but not convicted will be higher, as some allegations could not be proven to the required standard. However, for context, there are 134,000 serving officers in England and Wales alone.
When it comes to the police, however, there is sometimes a double standard applied regarding accountability that isn’t applied to other public services. In 2022 Dr Krishna Singh, a North Lanarkshire GP was convicted of sexually abusing 48 patients over a 35 year period. But no sweeping claims were made about doctors in general or that the NHS was rotten to the core. No-one called for doctors’ phones to be seized on a wholesale basis and examined for signs of offending, as was proposed for police officers. Nor were such claims made in the aftermath of the revelations about mass murderer Dr Harold Shipman. However, the police, being the primary law enforcement agency means that when such incidents occur, scrutiny is called for and rightly so. The case of Carrick has presented the service with the best opportunity to reduce the likelihood of such matters happening again and this opportunity must be taken at all costs.
Domestic violence in the police
Dealing with domestic violence cases requires considerable skill, understanding and judgement. This is especially so when the suspect is a police officer employed in the same organisation and for whom the employer has a duty of care to the employee as well as to the victim.
It has been widely reported that Carrick is alleged to have grabbed a female victim’s neck in circumstances which suggest that this was domestic violence. This has generated speculation as to why he wasn’t sacked at that point. But put yourself for a moment in the position of a senior officer who, for reasons that, without all the facts, we can only assume, is faced with making a decision on the matter. Imagine that the allegation was investigated and the only evidence obtained was that of the victim’s claim that it had happened. We may well believe them but, in the absence of corroboration and in the event of a denial from the suspect, it is highly unlikely that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) would decide to pursue charges.
So what then happens to the officer? Does one run the risk of losing an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal as the officer was dismissed on an uncorroborated allegation? There may, of course, have been more information available. But these are the types of highly challenging decisions that senior officers find themselves confronted with daily. As a police officer, I made a point of dealing with allegations of domestic violence robustly but this is not always the case nationwide and much more needs to be done, including when the alleged perpetrator is an officer. If the officer’s view is that violence is appropriate in their own relationship, how can they possibly support victims in similar circumstances or bring offenders to justice during the course of their duties?
Vetting of officers
Any review of circumstances must include an examination of the vetting procedures that are undertaken at point of entry to the service and on an ongoing basis. But it is naive to think that initial vetting can always identify such individuals. From my own experience I know that pressures on vetting departments are immense because of the legacy of government cuts. Having allowed approximately 20,000 officers to leave the service without being replaced, the Conservative Government commenced an urgent recruitment drive, whereby vetting departments, in order to meet deadlines, were required to process hundreds of additional applications on top of the baseline numbers.On occasions, external candidates who were offered positions in the police turned them down and opted to work for other employers as start dates were so adversely affected by delays in vetting procedures. It is cases such as Carrick’s that causes this issue to bite the service in the rear and ultimately leads to poorer standards.
Equally important is the question of what was known about Carrick’s conduct whilst he served and whether there were opportunities to take action to prevent further incidents. It’s reasonable to ask whether allegations in different geographical areas were reviewed together. This should be at the heart of any review. It’s reasonable also to consider that further victims only came to light after Carrick was identified as an offender by the police and so the full picture of his activities may not have been known prior to his arrest.
But were early opportunities to intervene missed? It is very possible. Maybe some colleagues thought he was the type that might do such things. For years forces have operated confidential reporting systems and they are used by front line staff to report concerns about colleagues on a daily basis. That information is then assessed and researched by trained intelligence officers within a force’s professional standards department (Directorate for Professional Standards, DPS, in the Metropolitan Police) before being allocated for further investigation where appropriate. ‘Single strand intelligence’, where there is only one piece of information that cannot be corroborated or developed are also common, making positive action almost impossible, but not entirely. In the case of Carrick, it appears that there were a number of pieces of information. So how, if at all, they were collated, assessed and decisions taken, will be a central question. It is known that although Carrick worked in London he lived in Hertfordshire and so information sharing between forces, or the lack of it, will be a key issue (as was shown in the Bichard report following the Soham murders in 2002).
The point is that there is always a balance to be struck in such cases. Imagine approaching an officer’s partner on the basis of information received and asking them if they are the victim of domestic or sexual violence only to find out that there is no truth to the allegation. Imagine the potential impact on the lives of the officer, partner or children. The following day, the officer has to go back to work at the same place that made the accusation. This is not to say that such action can never be taken but there’s a very delicate balance and the safety of a potential victim should be paramount.
What now for Carrick and the police?
Some in the press have asked whether Carrick should be stripped of his pension. The emotional response is often swifter to arrive at than the logical or legal one. All police conduct rules are drawn from the Police Conduct Regulations which are enshrined in law and are therefore open to scrutiny in misconduct proceedings, the courts and employment tribunals. Carrick’s offences were conducted off-duty. The regulations stipulate that only ‘on duty’ conduct can be considered in such cases. This may leave a bad taste in the mouth but it is nevertheless a question for the government (who created the regulations) to wrestle with and change the law, if deemed appropriate. With the volume of proposed legislation remaining before the next general election, it is thought unlikely that any changes will be seen in the life of the current parliament.
One consolation is that given the breadth and depth of his offending, it is highly likely that Carrick will be given a substantial term of imprisonment. Also, as a former officer, unfortunately for him, his presence ‘inside’ will not go unnoticed by other inmates. Some speculate that Carrick should have been sacked earlier. In cases where criminal offences are admitted or the evidence is overwhelming, i.e. there is CCTV of an incident, chief officers are empowered to hold ‘fast track’ disciplinary hearings where dismissal is an option and often the purpose. Given that Carrick only admitted his offences for the first time in court on Monday 16 January, it will be for this reason that he was dismissed from the service the following day and not before. The vast majority of officers don’t want this type of person in their ranks.
It is absolutely right and proper that searching questions are asked in relation to the dreadful cases involving Couzens and Carrick. Systemic as well as any individual failings need to be identified and prompt action taken. If individual failings are highlighted then appropriate sanctions and/or training should be applied, assuming the actions were merely negligent.
Part of any review must also consider whether any suspicions were held by colleagues but went unreported. Some ask whether it is a coincidence that both were serving officers in the Met, which employs 34,000 officers or nearly 25% of the total in England and Wales. So is the Met statistically more likely to employ such people because of its size or are there systemic or cultural issues at play? Recently appointed Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley was given the role partly due to his commitment to bring about changes in the organisation. He has spoken widely about this most recent case and states that he is indeed committed to addressing the issues.
It can only be hoped that he and his fellow chief officers nationally make this issue a priority in order that the safety of women can be better protected and the reputation of the police service improved. The latter is not just for the benefit of the police service itself, it is in the national interest that there is greater trust and confidence in the police. Only then will the public will engage more as witnesses, jurors and, importantly, as victims. Trust and confidence is especially crucial for victims of domestic violence who the overwhelming majority of police officers want to help and support.