'Thousands' of corrupt officers may be in police after vetting errors, warns watchdog

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The number of police officers who may be serving in England and Wales but failed vetting checks could be in the “low thousands”, a watchdog has warned. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) examined 11,277 police officers and staff across eight forces, as well as 725 vetting files, while also considering 264 complaint and misconduct investigations, and interviewing 42 people.

The watchdog, which has a “statutory responsibility for the inspection of the police forces”, found cases where criminal behaviour was dismissed as a “one off” and applicants with links to “extensive criminality” in their families were hired as officers.

The report also revealed red flags over a prospective officer who could have presented a risk to the public, officers with a history of complaints or allegations of misconduct still moving between forces; and basic errors resulting in the wrong vetting decisions.

Some staff were also found to have criminal records, many others were alleged to have committed a serious crime, some had substantial undischarged debt, and others had relatives linked to organised crime.

There were around 131 cases where inspectors said vetting decisions were “questionable at best” and in more than half of those the inspectors disagreed with the decision to grant vetting clearance.

The watchdog also found an “alarming number” of female officers who said they had been subject to “appalling behaviour by male colleagues”.

Following the report, HMICFRS has made 143 recommendations, one of which states improvements must be made in the standards used for assessing and investigating misconduct allegations, as well as in the quality and consistency of vetting.

Matt Parr, Inspector of Constabulary, said: “It is too easy for the wrong people to both join and stay in the police. If the police are to rebuild public trust and protect their own female officers and staff, vetting must be much more rigorous and sexual misconduct taken more seriously.

“It seems reasonable for me to say that over the last three or four years, the number of people recruited over whom we would raise significant questions is certainly in the hundreds, if not low thousands… it’s not in the tens, it’s at least in the hundreds.”

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He insisted pressure to meet the Government’s target of recruiting another 20,000 new officers by March next year “cannot be allowed to act as an excuse” for poor vetting.

Mr Parr added: “The marked decline in public trust for policing is undoubtedly linked to the prevalence of some of these dreadful incidents we’ve seen in recent years, and you should have a higher standard of who gets in and who stays in if you’re going to look to reduce those kinds of incidents.”

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said it was “disappointing that HMICFRS have found that, even in a small number of cases, forces are taking unnecessary risks with vetting”.

“I have been clear that culture and standards in the police need to change and the public’s trust in policing restored. Chief constables must learn these lessons and act on the findings of this report as a matter of urgency.”

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National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt said: “Chief constables, supported by national bodies, will act on these recommendations and put the problems right because we cannot risk predatory or discriminatory individuals slipping through the net because of flawed processes and decision-making.

“The confidence of the public and our staff is dependent on us fixing these problems with urgency, fully and for the long term. Police chiefs are determined to do that.”

The report had been commissioned by Priti Patel when she was Home Secretary, following the murder of Sarah Everard, who was killed by serving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens when he used his warrant card under the guise of an arrest to kidnap her.

This review did not look at the specifics of his recruitment to the police force, but the findings will raise serious questions about whether he could have been stopped from getting a job with the Met had improved security checks been in place.

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