This site's coverage of the Police and Crime Commissioner reform has been, in a very Cromwellian way, 'warts and all'. TopOfTheCops covers the bad as well as the good, and points out the inconvenient. It should be remembered however that, overall, this writer takes the view that the PCC reform is a Good Thing, even worthy of initial capitalisation, although that places him on the opposite side of many in policing.
As one example of the good take the recent conclusion of the investigation into PCC for North Wales, Winston Roddick CB QC. Someone had suggested that Mr Roddick had been telling porkies about where he lived when he submitted his nomination before the elections. That was a serious allegation, not only against one of her majesty's Counsel, who only ever speak the truth, but also because it would have involved a criminal offence, which does not look good on your record if you are in charge of police governance and tackling crime in your area.
Happily for Mr Roddick the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigated the matter and decided not to refer the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service. A different PCC in another matter has suggested that referring their investigations to the CPS is just what the IPCC do, but clearly not in the case of Mr Roddick.
Now, in normal circumstances, pretty much anywhere else in public life that would be the end of it. We would not be privy to the detail of the investigation. We would not find out the reasoning that lay behind it. We would have to like it or lump it, as it were, but things are not this way in PCC world, for here we have a right to know.
Thanks to one of the better parts of the PCC reform, where the IPCC accept a case involving allegations against a PCC, including all that could be criminal, the final report of the investigator becomes a public document. We do not only see the decision of the IPCC, but also some account of the investigation and why the investigator came to the conclusions they did.
What openness! There is a facility for redaction of certain matters, and for delay in publication while criminal proceedings take place, but we actually get to see the report without it having had to go to the Home Affairs Select Committee first.
Imagine for a moment what it would be like if that were the case for all criminal investigations, and not just PCCs and their Deputies. You and I, the people who pay for the investigations, and in whose name they are taken forward, could look at the results and even do a bit of “armchair auditing” to see whether there are any problems with them. Extraordinary that this happens, or perhaps more extraordinary that it doesn't!
Anyway, this development has allowed the 4 unelected candidates in North Wales to have their say, and to complain about redaction of addresses and express their doubts about the conclusion. Well, you can assess that yourself – this whole system is very, well, Protestant – virtually a Reformation in criminal investigation. Cromwell would be proud!
For my part, I struggle to agree with them. It seems to me that Mr Roddick is completely exonerated by the IPCC report. The investigator approached Mr Roddick's mobile phone provider and secured details of which mobile phone masts his phone was using for 44 critical days to see if that shed any light on where he was living. And given that, on all but a few of those days, his phone was keeping busy the mobile phone mast within 500 metres of the address that he had been claiming to live at, it appears that everything was in order. If Mr Roddick wasn't living there at that time, he would have had to plan in advance to make sure that his mobile phone was living there, just in case anyone complained. Unlikely. Case closed.
The rest of the argument seems to be about the impact of him having homes elsewhere, and how long he intended to stay, but I can see why someone might find the mobile phone evidence good enough to provide a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card, provided the right 44 days were chosen.
So, what does this tell us more generally?
1. Criminal investigations of the IPCC will result in a report for the public to read, not just a decision.
2. The IPCC will not always refer the results of their investigation to the CPS. When there is no reason to believe someone has committed an offence there is no reason to, and indeed no power to.
3. There's a good chance the IPCC and possibly anyone they investigate will have spotted that the report will be made public. This changes the dynamic. There is now less of a reason for PCCs under suspicion to say “it would not be appropriate for me to comment”, as there's a good chance their most relevant comments to the investigators will become public knowledge anyway. Maybe some will see the benefits of being open and transparent right from the start, rather than have a report emerge just as the dust was settling that then prolongs any political difficulties they experience as a result of an investigation.
4. The IPCC are quite happy to seek out mobile phone records to help tie people to places and times in their investigations. I have previously suggested one case where that might be helpful and it only took a few minutes use of the relevant OFCOM database for me to locate the phone masts most likely to assist. Have a go yourself!
5. Despite the IPCC's investigation and their internal quality-control process, no-one seems to have spotted that “electoral role” should actually have been rendered as “electoral roll”.