HC Deb 22 January 1942 vol 377 cc446-8W
Mr. E. Smith

asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to the strictures passed on the chief constable of Warwickshire by a solicitor and by the borough justices of Warwick in the course of certain proceedings brought by the chief constable against a member of his force; whether he has made inquiry into the allegations as to the method of the administration of discipline by the chief constable of Warwickshire; what action he proposes to take in the matter; and what steps he proposes to take with regard to the representations made by the Warwickshire Standing Joint Committee for an amendment of the law to allow a right of appeal to members of county police forces against disciplinary awards of a county chief constable?

Mr. H. Morrison

In view of these public criticisms, I decided to hold an inquiry locally into the allegations which had been made about the administration of discipline in the Warwickshire County police force and, for this purpose, I appointed a Committee of Inquiry, consisting of officials who were experienced in the administration of discipline in a civilian organisation. The committee held an exhaustive inquiry into these allegations and heard evidence of past and present members of the police force who had complaints to make against the chief constable, or his method of administering discipline. The committee also, of course, heard the chief constable and the evidence of witnesses who volunteered to give evidence on his behalf. All the parties concerned, namely the borough justices who made the allegations, the clerk of the standing joint committee representing that committee who attended the inquiry, and the chief constable himself, expressed their satisfaction at the close of the inquiry with the procedure adopted by the committee, and stated that the witnesses had had the fullest opportunity of putting their case before the committee, and that the hearing had been completely impartial.

The committee came to the conlcusion that there was no foundation for the allegation that the discipline in this force is a discipline created by fear or a discipline of the character exacted under a Gestapo system. The borough justices informed the committee that, while the allegations made by them were made in good faith, they were not made on the justices' own knowledge, but were based on ex-parte statements made to them by former members of the force, whose evidence was heard by the committee at the invitation of the borough justices. While the committee could not endorse the strictures of the borough justices, thinking them exaggerated, and, indeed, unfair, they were convinced that the chief constable was unduly severe in some of his punishments, although they were satisfied that he had been influenced neither by any spirit of vindictiveness nor by unjust motives but by the feeling that in those instances the defaulter was prevaricating or was insubordinate to his superior officers. The committee found upon an analysis of statistics from 12 comparable counties that, whereas in Warwickshire during the period from March, 1929 to October, 1941, 797 police officers were charged with disciplinary offences, in the other 12 counties taken together only 1,627 were charged, though in Warwickshire a high percentage (about one-third) of the alleged defaulters were found not guilty. The number dismissed in Warwickshire was 32 as against a total of 59 in the other 12 counties, and in Warwickshire four times as many men were dismissed as in any one of the other counties. The number of men required to resign in Warwickshire was 10 as compared with an average of 8 for the other 12 counties. As regards reduction in rank, there were 14 in Warwickshire as compared with 23 for all the other 12 counties, while the reductions in rank in Warwickshire were nearly three times as high as the number in any of the other county forces. The committee also found that the manner of the chief constable towards his subordi- nates in the course of disciplinary inquiries was at times so excitable as to suggest that he had lost his temper, but that the allegation of improper treatment of alleged defaulters was an exaggeration of what actually occurred in the course of the proceedings.

The standing joint committee of Warwickshire have accepted the findings of the Committee of Inquiry as a fair summing up of the evidence submitted by the witnesses, and have decided that they would not be justified, as the responsible police authority, in taking any disciplinary action against the chief constable. I have discussed the position fully both with representatives of the standing joint committee and with the chief constable himself. While I am most anxious to ensure the maintenance of a proper standard of discipline in all police forces—and I am sure that the House will agree with me in this—I am satisfied that the conclusions reached by the Committee of Inquiry are right. The inquiry has served a useful purpose, and I have every reason to hope that nothing but good will come of it. The chief constable who, I am satisfied, is a public servant with a high sense of duty, and has been unsparing in his efforts to increase the efficiency and to promote the welfare of members of his force, informed me that he accepted the findings of the committee and their implications, and that he would be guided in his future disciplinary decisions by the considerations to which I- is attention was called by the Committee of Inquiry. With regard to the representations of the Warwickshire standing joint committee for an amendment of the existing law to allow a right of appeal to members of county police forces against disciplinary awards of a chief constable, these are at present receiving consideration but I am not yet in a position to make any statement on the prospects of legislation on this controversial question.