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Revealed: Police Regulator Investigating Fewer Than 1% of All Complaints

Shockingly few complaints are being properly investigated by either police forces or the independent regulator

Photo: Martin Bennett/Alamy

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We are risking a repeat of the Sarah Everard murder, campaigners have warned, after Byline Times revealed that almost nine in 10 complaints about police forces are not formally investigated.

Sarah Everard, 33, was kidnapped, raped and murdered in March 2021 by serving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, leading to protests and a nationwide backlash.

In the time since, it has been revealed that chances to catch Couzens for other crimes and misconduct were missed in the days, months and years before the murder. Among other things, Couzens was investigated over indecent exposure claims as much as six years prior.

Despite receiving a record 81,142 complaints concerning 134,952 different allegations in 2022-2023, Byline Times has found that only 17,098 – or 12.6% – led to a formal ‘Schedule 3’ investigation.

Forty per cent of cases nationwide ended with police forces taking no further action. 

At 14 of the 44 police forces in England and Wales examined, fewer than 3% of all complaint cases received led to a local investigation.

British police forces are largely self-regulating – handling any investigations into allegations of poor behaviour or misconduct themselves. The most serious cases of misbehaviour, misconduct and criminality, however, are handed to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) to be investigated.

But of 6,083 cases referred by police forces to the IOPC, the regulator only independently investigated or pushed for a directed investigation in 478 cases – or equivalent to 8% of referrals and 0.5% of all complaints logged at police forces. Even fewer ended up with misconduct proceedings being initiated.


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The actual figure is also likely to be lower as IOPC referrals data in annual reports also includes other statutory and criminal IOPC referrals, not just those from public complaints.

In March, the Government announced it would be conducting an independent review into the IOPC’s operations to assess its “governance, accountability, efficacy and efficiency”.

Habib Kadiri, executive director of policing accountability group StopWatch, told Byline Times: “The results of this investigation suggest that police forces are not able or willing to resolve the erroneous actions and behaviours of their own officers.

“At best, they are ill-equipped to deal with the volume of misconduct allegations they receive. At worst, forces’ systemic failure to take complaints seriously means that there is a high likelihood they will be doomed to repeat the scandals of the past (Child Q, Child X, Sarah Everard) in the years to come.”

The Everard case is not the only one in which chances to catch a criminal officer earlier were missed.

Serial rapist police officer David Carrick was the subject of a litany of criminal investigations and complaints in the more than the two decades leading up to his conviction in February for 85 serious offences, including 48 rapes.

In July, the IOPC announced that it would be using a “rarely-used power” to launch four different internal investigations to look at whether the Metropolitan Police mishandled multiple serious complaints it received about Carrick before his eventual conviction.

An IOPC spokesperson told Byline Times that “the most commonly recorded complaint type relates to police service delivery such as a lack of updates or delays in responses, rather than the more serious concerns around police misconduct”.

They added that the IOPC “only investigate the most serious and sensitive cases referred to us” and that as the police watchdog they are working with police forces to help them “improve how they handle complaints”.

Byline Times previously reported that complaint allegations against police officers skyrocketed by 24% last year compared to the year before.


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A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Government changed the definition of a police complaint in 2020 to ensure that any dissatisfaction, including misconduct, can be raised. By law, each complaint must be handled in a reasonable and proportionate manner and those who are unhappy with how their complaint has been handled can apply for a review which would be carried out independently by either the local Police and Crime Commissioner or IOPC.

“The vast majority of complaints about the police are about the delivery of duties and service and do not concern misconduct.”

A spokesperson for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: “We remain committed to our current policing mission to lift the stones and rid policing of those not fit to wear the uniform, through strengthening vetting and misconduct investigations and delivering the long-term improvements to standards and culture we have promised.

“Police take all complaints from the public very seriously and aim to deal with them in a fair, balanced and objective way using statutory guidelines from the Independent Office for Police Conduct .

“Where a complaint is upheld and officers or staff are found to have not met the expected standards of professional behaviour, we ensure that appropriate action is taken and that they are dealt with fairly and directly.”

They added: “Action is being taken and change is happening, but words from us are not enough. His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary wrote to the Home Secretary earlier this year to note ‘undoubted’ progress across forces on vetting, misconduct and counter corruption practices, and we are absolutely committed to driving further change.”

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