Chief constable and experienced detective, Mick Creedon asks how the judge in the Hookway police bail case will be held accountable given his decision's impact on crime investigation.
Chief Constable Mick Creedon
I have no legal qualifications but do have over 31 years police service, many as a senior investigator, and am one of the dwindling few who remember the time before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 when matters of custody, detention, interview and handling suspects were ‘governed’ by the somewhat archaic, flexible and vague Judges Rules.
PACE has brought real clarity around areas including stop search, the searching of premises and particularly the arrest, interview, detention etc of suspected offenders. For over a quarter of a century the Police Service has worked within these rules and whilst there has been clarification of some detail, the interpretation on the critical issue of the detention clock is one that has held good with politicians, operational police officers, defence solicitors and with judiciary. As a senior investigating officers for many years, I was well used to dealing with the PACE clock very carefully and the whole issue of managing the investigative process within clearly laid down time constraints is one that we have all become very used to. Outside of the complex world of the terrorist arena, the PACE clock limitations of 96 hours has been properly managed by the Service for many years and as far as I am aware there has been little or no abuse. The Codes of Practice have been very clear as to how we should interpret this.
Over this quarter of a century, the whole area of investigation has become more complex. When PACE was debated and written forensics were largely limited to fingerprints and have now been overtaken with the real complexity of footwear intelligence, DNA, tool marks, glove mark databases etc. Added to this is the huge opportunity, complexity and demand caused by high tech crime investigation, computers, CCTV, telephony and increasingly the additional burden of interpreters, cross border and international evidential requirements. Suffice to say that despite these increased complexities, the Police Service has continued to manage the detention of prisoners within the rules and conventions clearly outlined in PACE and the Codes of Practice.
Suddenly, the case of R (Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police) and City of Salford Magistrates Court and Paul Hookway has hit the Service (and partners) like an almighty sledgehammer. I echo the thoughts of Michael Zander, who is both a QC and an Emeritus Professor at the London School of Economics when he wrote in Criminal Law and Justice Weekly on the 18th June this year. Zander simply said “Sometimes one asks oneself, how did the judge manage to arrive at that result”. As a senior leader within the Police Service, I have to echo Professor Zander’s views and cannot avoid thinking this judgement is perverse in the extreme. I am not legally qualified, nor do I pretend to be so, however I am an experienced police officer and someone who understands the PACE legislation and feels on both an individual and an organisational basis, I have fully complied with what was expected by those who made the law nearly 30 years ago. I have also spoken to a huge number of senior and junior ranking officers and to members of the legal profession. We all find this judgement completely staggering and ask ourselves the same question as to how this could come about in the face of such a long held and acceptable practice. Even more amazing is the fact that our surprise is echoed by politicians of all parties and by senior officials within the Civil Service. I have yet to find a single person working in the field who understand or agrees with the judgement of Mr McCombe and of course his decision has thrown into complete disarray established and proper investigative processes that have held the Service good for so long.
We are now in the position of ACPO working closely with the Home Office and with ministers seeking to address this situation and in fact the Minister for Policing, the Rt. Hon. Nick Herbert has actually had to announce the Government’s intentions to introduce emergency legislation to “restore the law on the calculation of time spent in police detention to what is commonly understood to be prior to the judgement.” We all know that this legislation is likely to be unopposed - by the politicians who represent the public and are accountable for their decisions through the ballot box.
So my abiding concern is to how one individual judge, sitting in a divisional court, can arrive at this decision. I don’t comment on the rights and wrongs of the reason why this came before the divisional court, nor of GMP’s use of the warrant of further detention for the murder suspect. What I do comment on is the complete chaos that an individual judge has caused to entire Police Service – the very service that is simply seeking to do its best to protect vulnerable people, to reduce crime and to apprehend and hold to account criminals within an established legal framework. Through this single decision we now face several weeks of real difficulties for investigators working at the front line. To deal properly with vulnerable victims, complex cases and difficult suspects requiring careful investigation and thorough interview within the constraints caused by this judgement is simply impractical – and in fact there is a genuine concern that this might cause some of them to be kept in custody when it would have been much fairer to grant bail and give them back their liberty whilst investigations continued. There are a number of operational risks which have been spelt out very well by my colleagues working so hard in this area to rectify this matter and hopefully the service will, as ever, do the best we can in the interim to deal with these risks. Nonetheless one has to ask oneself, how one individual judge is able to make this decision and to whom are they accountable?
From the outset of this case, it is apparent that those representing GMP were putting forward an argument that their actions were based on long established and unchallenged practices. The court were being asked to consider aspects of PACE which no court had previously considered but nevertheless were used and established throughout the country on thousands of occasions every day for over 25 years. The Administrative Court in Manchester must now ask itself why a case which went to the very heart of modern day policing was suitable for consideration by a ‘single judge’ after argument from a single barrister?
Surely there has to be a better legal system than one which allows the individual judgement and belief of one judge to overturn the basis on which criminal investigations have been managed for more than 25 years. Did the High Court not pause to consider the possibility that this was a matter which should be placed before a full Divisional Court with notification to interested parties such as the Home Office or the Law Society to allow them to make representations?
As a Chief Constable I am rightly fully accountable for my decisions and the consequences – when they are wrong there a host of bodies and agencies who will ensure I am properly challenged. We as a service are accountable and the Peelian principles of the ‘Police are the public and the public are the Police’ still hold good; we have to answer to the public for what we do, how we do it, when we do it etc. I can only reflect privately and now publicly as to whom the Administrative Court in Manchester is accountable to for this decision and perhaps pose the question as to where the needs of the victims of crime were within their thinking.