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Daily slams ‘murky’ police practices as sacked cop given anonymity

Sarah CrewA regional daily has been barred from reporting the name of a sacked police officer – despite having previously published his name.

The Bristol Post has been refused the right to name an Avon & Somerset Police officer who committed an act of gross misconduct “so serious he was sacked on the spot.”

Chief constable Sarah Crew, left, imposed the reporting restrictions at the police misconduct hearing which prompted the officer’s dismissal, claiming it would “protect the identity of people involved, including juveniles”.

This was in spite of the force itself having previously revealed the disgraced officer’s identity in a publicity notice on its own website ahead of the proceedings, which was then reported by the Post.

Following chief constable Crew’s judgement, the newspaper has now vowed to fight what it called the “murky practice of granting dodgy coppers anonymity”.

In an editorial informing readers about the decision, the Post said it “would never have any intention of naming the children involved” in the case.

It stated: “Only in rare and exceptional circumstances should a police officer be granted anonymity.

“It is in the clear public interest for the public to know who they are, and in the case of misconduct hearings, ensures that public confidence in the police service is maintained.

“The underlying principle is that not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done. Granting the officer anonymity makes the entire process opaque and gives them undue protection.

“What makes this all the more ironic is that just two days before the hearing, chief constable Sarah Crew expressed concerns publicly about how some of the officers under her command are allowed to continue working for the force.”

The decision comes amid ongoing industry debate about the transparency of police misconduct hearings.

The National Union of Journalists demanded an official investigation into the matter last year after The Times revealed that one in four such hearings were being held in private.

An investigation by Jody Doherty-Cove, then of Brighton daily The Argus, and The New Statesman’s Michael Goodier previously found 212 police staff across England and Wales dismissed for gross misconduct had left service without either their names or the reason for their sacking being made public.

And just three months ago, Hampshire police and crime commissioner Donna Jones pledged to hold misconduct hearings in public after a probe into previously unreported police dismissals by Southern Daily Echo digital reporter Maya George.

Chief constable Crew had chaired the “accelerated hearing” and was alone on the panel when she made the decision.

The only details revealed by Avon & Somerset Police about the sacking of its employee, now known only as “PC X”, are that he had misused its computers by looking up details of two call logs without having a legitimate reason to do so while off-duty in March this year and disclosing some of the contents to a third party outside the force without a policing purpose.

In its editorial, the Post added: “The truth is that police misconduct cases are somewhat of a law unto themselves, which sometimes makes them convenient places to sweep unpleasant things under the carpet and out of public view.

“They are not always chaired by the chief constable alone but, especially for longer, more complex hearings, often by an independent legally qualified chair sitting on a panel of three alongside a senior officer from the constabulary and a lay person.

“It is to these people – the chief constable, LQCs, everyone on a misconduct panel and Avon & Somerset Police as a whole – that we have a clear message. Every time an officer accused of misconduct has their identity wrongly protected, we will call you out.

“We will do this until this murky practice of granting dodgy coppers anonymity ends. It is in the public interest.”

An Avon & Somerset Police spokesperson told HTFP: “We’re wholly committed to rooting out officers who betray the professional standards expected of them and fully recognise that holding misconduct hearings in public is vital to maintain the trust and confidence of the public.

“The presumption is always that a misconduct hearing, or a special case or accelerated hearing, should be held in public. This is to ensure we are as open as transparent as we can be, and there is clear accountability around the decisions made, either by a panel led by a legally qualified chair, who is independent of policing, or in the case of an accelerated hearing, in front of a chief constable.

“There may be certain circumstances where it would not be appropriate for an officer to be named, for example, where the naming of the officer, or details of the case, could risk the identification of a vulnerable victim or complainant, against their wishes.

“Each application for anonymity is dealt with on a case-by-case basis and in one recent misconduct hearing, a legal representative acting for Avon and Somerset Police successfully challenged an application for an officer to be given anonymity, because it was in the public interest for him to be named. This application was successful.

“Avon and Somerset chief constable Sarah Crew has chaired four accelerated hearings to date, of which three were in public.

“In addition, when she was deputy chief constable, Sarah Crew invited in a documentary company and allowed them unrivalled access to the work of the professional standards department, to give a comprehensive insight into a side of policing that remains largely unknown to the public. A three-part series is due to be broadcast on Channel 4 next year.

“In relation to the accelerated misconduct hearing held last Friday, the initial decision was for proceedings to be held in public, but when the hearing started, it was clear the details of the allegations would clearly identify people not named in the original notice, including juveniles, and the chief constable was left with little choice but to continue proceedings in private.

“The outcome of the case, including a summary of the case and details around the officer’s dismissal, was published proactively on the Avon and Somerset Police website, following the conclusion of the hearing.”