21 February 2020

The Director General of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), Michael Lockwood, has given written reasons dated 20 February 2020 for his decision to rescind the IOPC direction for five police officers to face disciplinary action for gross misconduct following the death of Leon Briggs. Bedfordshire Police Force (the Appropriate Authority, AA) asked the IOPC to review and rescind their decision earlier this week. As a result of this turn around, the misconduct hearings will no longer proceed and the officers face no further action.
 
Leon, a 39 year old father of two from Luton, was detained under the Mental Health Act (section 136) and restrained on the street by police officers. He was then transported to Luton Police Station and placed in a cell where he was further restrained. Leon became unresponsive and an ambulance was called. He was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead on 4 November 2013. The misconduct hearings had been due to consider allegations against three officers for breaching the standards of professional behaviour in relation to the use of force, and allegations against all five officers for breaching standards relating to ‘duties and responsibilities’.
 
The hearings were listed to start on 3 February but were delayed due to a last minute legal challenge brought by the officers claiming unfairness in the proceedings. This legal challenge was unsuccessful and drew criticism from the court because the officers’ representatives withheld vital information. They faced further criticism from the misconduct Chair and Panel for raising additional legal arguments at what should have been the start of the hearings. It was noted by the Chair that such matters should have been addressed beforehand and could be seen to obstruct the hearings which had already lost significant time. In his decision of 20 February, the Director General of the IOPC described these proceedings as ‘wholly unmeritorious’ and a contributory factor in the inability to complete the misconduct hearing.
 
On 17 February, two weeks after the hearings were due to commence, the AA requested the IOPC to rescind their decision to direct proceedings. Whilst the IOPC were responsible for investigating and identifying if officers should face disciplinary action, the AA are responsible for presenting the evidence against the officers. The AA had already indicated that whatever the decision by the IOPC it would offer no evidence against the officers thus rendering the IOPC’s decision academic. However, the IOPC’s decision was not based on this factor. In the IOPC Director’s written decision of 20 February there appears to be an underlying criticism of the approach of the AA to these disciplinary proceedings and a wider concern raised about a lack of clarity between the roles of the AA and IOPC in relation to disclosure. 
 
Another significant factor was delay, the fact that any reconvened hearing could not take place until 2021, eight years after the death. The Director General of the IOPC expressed himself to be ‘disturbed by the exclusion of the family from the process’ and made a ‘finely balanced’ decision to rescind its directions to bring disciplinary proceedings against the officers. He said the decision ‘weighs heavily on my mind’ and it is clear that he felt compelled to do so by the circumstances. The Director General also noted that the decision would have a ‘profoundly negative effect upon public confidence in the police complaints system’.  
 
Margaret Briggs, mother of Leon Briggs said: "As a family we are devastated and outraged at this decision. We have spent the last three weeks in a state of limbo waiting for the hearing to start. We cannot understand why the issues raised at this stage were not dealt with earlier. It is over six years since my son’s death and to be told that the officers will not face any public scrutiny is further denial of justice and accountability for Leon.
 
It is important not just for us as Leon’s family to have answers about what happened that day, but to make sure others don’t die in similar circumstances. We have lost all faith in the IOPC and systems that are meant to ensure officer’s wrongdoing will not go unchecked especially when it results in the loss of life of a vulnerable man. This decision sends a wider message that officers can act with impunity, a message that should be a cause for concern for everyone.”
 
Jocelyn Cockburn and Gimhani Eriyagolla of Hodge Jones and Allen solicitors said: “One cannot escape the feeling that this disciplinary process was designed to fail. These misconduct hearings were not brought in good faith – the Bedfordshire Police acting as the Appropriate Authority (AA) is not independent of the officers subject to disciplinary proceedings. The conflict of interest is clear. There has been delay at every stage of the investigation and it has been contributed to most recently by the police officers and their representatives raising a legal challenge to prevent the hearings going ahead and thereby to frustrate justice. The conclusion that there has been a failure to ensure the integrity and independence of the misconduct process is inescapable. Yet again this family has been seriously let down by a system which appears to be weighted in favour of protecting the police rather than serving the interests of justice. The impact of this dysfunctional system on a bereaved family should not be underestimated and the disciplinary system, particularly as it relates to death in custody, should be urgently reviewed.”
 
Anita Sharma, Head of Casework at INQUEST said: “It is deplorable that this disciplinary hearing has been stopped before it even started. The fact that no officer will be held to account for potential wrongdoing demonstrates the inadequacy of the police complaints process and ineffectiveness of the IOPC. The lack of independence is startling in a flawed system which allows a force to decide whether or not to present a case against its own officers.
 
The obstructive actions of the police and their representatives from the outset significantly contributed to the excessive delays and creates a culture of impunity. Through no fault of their own, bereaved families are being consistently failed and traumatised by this faux system of ‘accountability’. There must now be a radical overhaul of the complaint process to ensure no officer is beyond reproach.”
 
The inquest into the circumstances of the death of Leon Briggs is to be held in January 2021.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

For further information and to request a photo of Leon, please contact Sarah Uncles on 020 7263 1111 or [email protected]k

INQUEST's Head of Casework Anita Shama has been working with the family of Leon Briggs alongside INQUEST Lawyers Group members Jocelyn Cockburn and Gimhani Eriyagolla of Hodge Jones and Allen solicitors, Dexter Dias QC of Garden Court Chambers and Adam Straw of Doughty Street Chambers.

Case background:

The 2017 Angiolini Review on deaths in police custody noted the perception of bereaved families and campaigners that police sit above the law, and that a different set of rules apply to them. It found that long delays in the investigation and legal processes following deaths in custody to highly damaging to cases and extremely harmful for families, for officers and for public confidence. The review made a series of recommendations on addressing this, many of which are outstanding.
 
In October 2019, the IOPC withdrew directions to bring gross misconduct charges against police staff involved in the death of Thomas Orchard. The IOPC held that it was no longer in the public interest to bring to proceedings.