1.an interruption or temporary revocation the suspension of a law
2.a temporary debarment, as from position, privilege, etc.
3.a deferment, esp of a decision, judgment, etc.
To a police officer it is often known as gardening leave but it is in reality a very serious situation to find yourself in. It generally means that a serious allegation has been made against you and the force believe it is justified to remove you from your duties until the investigation is completed. The difficulty many people have, particularly when officers are suspended for a long time, is that it is generally on full pay. Media reports will highlight how a wayward officer (allegedly) is sitting at home on full pay that is coming out of the public purse.
It is only fair to point out that in such cases the officers are, as in the criminal justice system, innocent until proven guilty and the decision to remove from policing operations is one each individual force makes. There are many cases of officers being suspended and a quick google search will highlight them.
The list could go on and on. What the links above are intended to show is that there is considerable variety in the seriousness of allegations that can lead to suspension. We have the case of the special constable who reportedly gestured to football fans the score of the match and there is the ongoing matter of the murder case dropped due to breaches of PACE by a detective superintendent. Racism is clearly unacceptable and an internet search shows that it is clear that such “hot” topics will often lead to suspension too. I make no further comment about the cases. The officers involved are subject to investigation and it is not my place to comment further on the specifics.
Considering the variety of matters that can lead to suspension it would be worthwhile exploring what the suspension criteria is. Thames Valley Police have been kind enough to place their policy on the internet for public view.
It is, in police terms, a short policy document but the crucial sections are 3.2 and 3.4
..that officers shall not be suspended unless the following applies:
(a) the effective investigation of the matter may be prejudiced unless the officer concerned is so suspended; and
(b) the public interest, having regard to the nature of the report, complaint or allegation, and any other relevant considerations, requires that he should be so suspended.
3.4 then covers a number of additional factors to consider. Whilst each force will have its own policy it is fair to assume that such policy will follow ACPO guidance and overall will cover the same points.
This brings me to the Hillsborough Report and the allegations that have been put before Sir Norman Bettison. I should reiterate that this matter is ongoing and Sir Norman deserves the same courtesy in law as anyone else. However, it is interesting to note that in light of the allegations he was not suspended from duty despite calls that he should be from some quarters. Yet this is where the anomaly lies. Looking at the allegations, the huge international attention that Hillsborough gains and the fact that Sir Norman was Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police you have to wonder why he wasn’t suspended. If the TVP policy is a benchmark then the allegations appear to tick several boxes.
PC Simon Harwood was suspended from duty during the Tomlinson case. He was subject to trial at court for manslaughter, acquitted and then went to disciplinary hearings. What was expected to be a 4 week hearing was finished in a mornings business with the entry of an early guilty plea. He was sacked immediately. This is all as it should be. However, it is also known that Harwood offered his resignation prior to the disciplinary hearings and this was refused. This is an option a Chief Constable (or Commissioner in Harwood’s case) has when the officer in question is suspended. If an officer is not suspended then they are free to resign. Why? In loose terms by resigning the officer negates the possibility of a disciplinary hearing and the implications on his/her pension are considerably reduced.
We then have to look at the case of Stuart Hyde the currently suspended Chief Constable of Cumbria Police. Cumbria were very quick to suspend Mr Hyde. I don’t know the details of the allegations but what is in the public domain is the view of the IPCC.
“The assessment has revealed that while some matters may require an investigation by Cumbria Police Authority, the allegations as they stand either do not amount to serious misconduct or are based on unsupported suspicion and therefore do not warrant IPCC involvement.”
It seems somewhat at odds to see that Mr Hyde is suspended over a matter which the IPCC feel there is no need to be involved yet Sir Norman remained in post notwithstanding the enormity of the Hillsborough allegations.
Policing has come a long way over the last few years. Forces continually strive to achieve the best results and public confidence is the ethos behind everything we do. We have news reports across all the traditional media channels and the rise of social media only increases public awareness of issues revolving around the police, our day to day business and the actions of our officers at every rank. All the more reason that the decision to suspend officers is transparent and consistent nationally.
Suspending an officer is obviously no easy matter and needs careful consideration. The proportionality of the sentencing of offenders in the courts is constantly being challenged. Trenton Oldfield got 6 months imprisonment for causing a public nuisance yet serial burglars or domestic violence offenders may get less. The same disparity appears to apply to the suspension of police officers. It seems the decision making rationale is somewhat arbitrary and across the country there is much inconsistency.
Sir Norman Bettison is subject to serious allegations which he vehemently denies. He has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Yet last week he offered his resignation with immediate effect. In a statement issued by the West Yorkshire Police Authority they stated that his continued presence in post
“has become a distraction to policing in West Yorkshire now and in the future.”
The Hillsborough matters are a long way away from being completed and who knows what is yet to be uncovered. Yet with the resignation of Sir Norman, in a similar style to Mr Andrew Mitchell MP, the West Yorkshire Police Authority have done nothing to promote public confidence in the accountability of police officers in this country by leaving the fire escape open.